You just had to step back

You just had to step back

ink sketch of man in foreground and other people and sign for Community Mental Health Clinic in background, 1970s style


Often, the practitioners’ stories about deinstitutionalization became a professional reflection on working between two mental health worlds. They described how they came to recognize the paternalism of the asylum system and their own role in it, but also their own misgivings about the process of deinstitutionalization. On reflection, many came to see that their own expectations of patient behaviour and potential were framed by practices that cultivated and rewarded chronicity and dependency.


A lot of the old supervisors were afraid of what was going to happen to [discharged patients]…. You got a protective feeling, over protective, really. And you got scared that this or that was going to happen to these people. And it probably did, but you just had to step back.

It’s about producing expected behaviours; if you create expectations of success, people rise to them. We were way too overprotective at first, too afraid that people would fail.

The hardest transition for me was from nurturing and fixing to stepping back and letting you solve your own problems. We thought that we were helping [people] by not letting them make bad decisions; in the end, the bad decision was not letting go. Letting go is the hardest part; you’ve got to let people succeed or fail on their own terms.