Healing Journey

Learning from the History of Psychiatry



“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” George Santayana

The RTE “Behind the Walls” 2 part documentary highlighted that we locked up more people in mental institutions in Ireland that any other place in the world a few decades ago [1]. “Research shows that 33,000 patients died in overcrowded and disease-ridden psychiatric hospitals between the late 1920s and early 1960s, with death rates significantly higher than in the general community” Carl O’Brien, Irish Times [2]. In Nazi Germany people with mental health issues were the first to be killed and the last to be recognised.

Athlone nurse Hanna Greally, experienced Post Traumatic Stress after spending time in England during WWII. She was sent into St. Loman’s hospital, Mullingar by her mother for “a rest”. She was admitted to the Psychiatric hospital at 19 and got trapped there for almost 20 years! Her birthplace is currently Murphy’s Law pub in Athlone with a plaque outside and her photo in the beer garden.

She wrote an excellent book called Bird’s Nest Soup [3]. The last line in the book is very poignant “I am now a sadder but a wiser woman, and one who can say with certainty that knowledge and FREEDOM are happiness”.

Sligo woman Mary Maddock and her husband Jim wrote a book called Soul Survivor [4] which gives a more recent insight into Psychiatric survival. Like many other sane people, Mary got caught up in the Psychiatric system in the early 1970s, after the birth of her 1st baby. With the help of people like Dr Terry Lynch, thankfully she freed herself from the mental “health” system. I’ve included a short video about her below [5].

I don’t think people truly comprehend what it’s like to be in a Psychiatric unit unless you have been there. “One thing you will find on Psychiatric wards that you won’t find on other hospital wards is a lot of people in various stages of tranquilisation … Psychiatry is the only medical specialty where considerable number of recipients of Psychiatric treatment consider themselves to be survivors of the actual system” Dr. Terry Lynch. Connecting to other Psychiatric survivors was a part of my healing journey.

Ivor Browne and how he helped me on my healing journey

Prof Ivor Browne has worked in the field of mental health for about 60 years. He has published a number of good books [6, 7]. A lot can be learned about the history of Psychiatry in Ireland in the last 60 years from Ivor’s great work.

While Professor Ivor Browne worked as a Psychiatrist, he is also a trained therapist, unlike most mainstream Psychiatrists who are trained in a biomedical approach and mainly prescribe drugs. Only a relatively small percentage of Psychiatrists in Ireland are trained therapists. In my experience this puts the human beings they are working with at a serious disadvantage and delays healing. “12 years of schooling and I can’t do basic therapy techniques … how did we get to this point where we as a field have become fixated on medications ?” Dr Daniel Carlat (Psychiatrist).

I first went to see Prof Ivor Browne for therapy in February 2012 for one intensive session and then he took me back in 2015 where I received about nine more sessions, including Regression therapy. The first time we met I was on 25 mg of Seroquel / Quetiapine, which is more or less the lowest dosage (it goes all the way up to 800 mg !). Ivor believes that anti-psychotic medication (mainly tranquilizers) should be used for as short a time as possible in as low a dosage as possible.

Having met doctors that seemed closed and programmed, I found myself sitting in front of someone who was very open-minded and didn’t dismiss some of the things that I said. He was able to “listen to my human story, validate my feelings and then offer an alternative perspective” to use a phrase from clincial Psychologist Lucy Johnstone. He worked in a very methodical way and gave me an action plan at the end, at a time when my life was lacking direction. He told me that I needed to “take back control of my life”. Whether I have or not over 5 years on is debatable. Life has been a struggle since mainstream Psychiatric intervention.

At the same time I’ve learned from my Tao meditations “No one can know you as well as you can know yourself. All that you can gain from a wise person is the assurance of some initial guidance”.

One of the important pieces of advice Ivor gave me was not to give my power away to other people, yet I seem to continually do so on a regular basis. It took me a long time to understand how not to give my power away and I’m still a work in progress.

While we are told by various campaigns to be open about mental health and to talk, we really have to be careful about who we talk to. While it’s not good to bottle up emotions and what we are thinking, if in distress, we also have to tell people on a need to know basis e.g. a therapist or a trusted friend. And to protect ourselves by maintaining appropriate boundaries and not over sharing with people in our social circle or community. At times however sharing how I feel has been a coping strategy, in dealing with distressing emotions.

Another way we give away power is explained in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective families [8] ~

Each time you build your emotional life on the weaknesses of others, you give your power away to their weaknesses so that your emotional life is a product of how they treat you. You disempower yourself and empower the weaknesses of others.

For example, I focused a lot on what I see as the cruelty of others in my initial treatment. Societies lack of good knowledge around mental health was a weakness that directly impacted my life. I invested a lot of energy emotionally in reacting to this injury. It particularly bothered me at night where I was left ruminating on past hurts. This was affecting my sleep but also taking up valuable head space. As well as causing me distress. It was disempowering. And still is sometimes.

I’m working on learning not to dwell on the hurt and distracting myself, so that my thought processes and energy can be spent on more productive things and on moving my life forward. Including the writing of this blog. I have accumulated a lot of important knowledge around mental health over the years and want to share that knowledge with others. If I had this knowledge back in 2008 when I went through a crisis, my healing process would be less painful and more successful. Thanks to all those who have helped me and who have been patient and supportive.


[1] Behind The Walls by Mary Raftery:

Part 1 ~ www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvxOon7CWZI

Part 2 ~ www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTOWZu0Gubo

Behind the Walls’ is a two-part documentary series charting the history of Ireland’s psychiatric hospitals. Part one lifts the lid on this vast system – during the middle decades of the 20th century, Ireland led the world in locking up more of its people per capita in mental hospitals, ahead even of the old Soviet Union.

This documentary reveals damning evidence of appalling conditions within the hospitals, information which was kept secret by the State. It also tells the remarkable story of Hanna Greally, locked up for almost 20 years, but who emerged to write about her experiences in the 1970s, becoming one of the very few to chronicle her experiences behind the walls.

Behind the Walls is a Misha Films production.

Produced and written by Mary Raftery”


[2] Call to extend mother and baby homes inquiry to mental homes


[3] Bird’s Nest Soup by Hannah Greally, 1971 ~


There is also an RTE documentary about Hannah Greally ~


[4] Soul Survivor by Mary & Jim Maddock, 2006 ~


[5] Mary Maddock: a survivor of ECT and decades of Psychiatric drugging ~


[6] Music and Madness, Prof Ivor Browne, 2008


[7] The Writings of Ivor Browne: Steps Along the Road, the Evolution of a Slow Learner


[8] The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen Covey, 1998


Other relevant information

Edward Shorter, Ph.D., author of How Everyone Became Depressed (Oxford 2013), is a social historian of medicine at the University of Toronto

http://www.dredwardshorter.com/ (includes podcasts)

Trailer for Meetings with Ivor documentary (which will air on RTE1 on 14.08.2017) ~

Article I wrote for a holistic magazine after going to see Meetings with Ivor ~

Ivor with his son Ronan speaking to Miriam O’Callaghan on RTE radio ~

(scroll down for podcast)

Pat Kenny interviews a young girl that Ivor helped called Ruth O’Doherty ~


Musician Dylan Tighe speaking to Ivor Browne ~ www.mixcloud.com/corkmidsummer/talking-theatre-dylan-tighe-in-conversation-with-prof-ivor-browne-and-chaired-by-dylan-haskins/

{ Note ~ What I discuss in part of this blog is my own experience and is not medical advice. We all have our own unique journey. I also wish to thank my teachers from school that I’m still friendly with. Eileen & Tommy Moran and Sr. Patricia Kelly}