In memory of Dr Michael Corry
Dr Michael Corry, founder and inspirer of the Wellbeing Foundation, passed away on 22 February 2010.
He was a fearless campaigner for the rights of mental health service users and all those suffering psychological distress; an opponent of bio-psychiatry and its reliance on psycho-pharmacology; an implacable campaigner for the abolition of ECT as a so-called 'therapy’; and a compassionate healer appreciated by thousands of patients.
After he qualified in 1973, Michael’s career included work as a hospital doctor in Uganda in the Amin era before he went on to qualify as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist; work as a public service psychiatrist in St Brendan's Hospital, Dublin; and private practice. His imagination and desire to get things done powered both his work as director of the EU-sponsored Resocialisation Project at St Brendan's in the early 1980s, and as a founder of the privately-funded Clane Hospital in Kildare, where he served as consultant psychiatrist from the early days.
He was a founder of the Institute of Psychosocial Medicine in Dun Laoghaire in 1987. The Institute developed from a four-partner practice into an organisation with over 20 practitioners and nationwide renown as a healing centre, and which also provides training courses and encourages research and advocacy.
In June 2004 Michael began a series of articles on depression in the Irish Times which led to the establishment of the monthly Depression Dialogues seminars which he moderated with his partner, Dr Aine Tubridy, and to the launch of the depressiondialogues website on St. Valentine's Day 2005.
In 2006 he, together with a number of mental health campaigners who supported his existential approach to the treatment of psychological distress, set up The Wellbeing Foundation to pursue the aim of substituting an experiential, holistic and compassionate approach to mental health for the drug-based and often dangerous and ineffective approach of conventional psychiatry.
The Foundation’s successful conference in October 2006, attended by almost 700 people, helped open a public debate on mental health difficulties and on modes of treatment which had previously been virtually absent. The Dialogues, the conference, and continued interventions by Dr Corry and others were partly responsible for animating a wider patients’ movement, or survivors movement as many former patients prefer, and placing increasing pressure on conventional biopsychiatry which had enjoyed an easy ride until then.
Another area in which he made a mark was that of disability. For many years Michael worked with with Rehab, which provides services to young people and adults with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities, people with mental health difficulties, people with autism and people with an acquired brain injury. It was an area dear to his heart on account of his close personal knowledge of the effect of profound brain impairment on children and families. As Rehab’s consultant psychiatrist, he championed the cause of integrating the psychiatric patient with the physically disabled, entitling them to the same educational and vocational training programmes.
He took up the cause of the sexually abused, too, in particular decrying the operation of the Residential Institutions Redress Board as an offence against the human rights of the clerically-abused. As he put it in one of his books, “This hideous legal circus, the Redress Board, that they [the victims] have been channelled towards, is a crime against humanity. One can only hope that its unconstitutional nature will be revealed, leading to its abolition, to be replaced by an open forum where the victim is not only properly compensated monetarily, but where they can have their perpetrators named and the scales of justice balanced.”
Sadly for the victims of clerical abuse in these institutions, this did not happen and they continue to be subjected to the Board’s iniquitous procedures and inadequate awards, not to mention being gagged, under pain of criminal prosecution, from speaking about their ordeal once they sign up to its jurisdiction.
Michael’s work in campaigning for an end to electro-shock 'therapy' led to a private members Bill being introduced into the Senate in 2008 which would bar the forced use of ECT — use without informed consent. While the Government did not accept the Bill as proposed, former Minister for Mental Health John Moloney started a consultation process which may lead to the first steps towards ending this practice.
But what of the private Michael?
Michael was into adventure of all kinds, so the work in Africa was a springboard for travelling and exploring there, and he kept up the travel bug until after his diagnosis, always taking off for some exotic destination quite different and distinct from the previous one.
He was a keen sailor, and used to bring a small dinghy down to Ballinskelligs every year as part of the family holiday — perfect for turns around Ballinskelligs Bay.
A big passion was horse-riding, and he loved his horse, Oscar, whose death was a big blow to him. His sense of adventure and willingness to try the new led him to start ski-ing in his late fifties, and bringing two of his children into it as well.
He also had a great interest in nature and ecology — living in the Wicklow countryside was paradise for him, where he was a keen gardener with a sense of how to seamlessly meld the cultivated and the wild. He was a contributor to and involved in publishing the first Irish eco-magazine, Source, back in the late 90s — it published from 1999 to 2001.
Michael read widely and loved poetry in particular, with a fine selection of poems made mandatory for the depression dialogues website. He was quite the art collector, and both his home and practice were packed with sculptures and paintings by artists he liked. And finally, he was an accomplished pianist and musician and spent a couple of years working with Larry Hogan and others on a musical theatre production, The Soul Show, which probably could have been very successful if they had found financial backers.
And to all of these Michael brought passion, as well as to the pamphleteering and campaigning. I recall, for example, how some of our more tactically conservative collaborators blanched when they heard Michael declare publicly "My intention is to drive a stake through the heart of psychiatry in Ireland", with all the implications of that metaphor, but that was Michael — he thought it, he believed it, and he spoke his truth, always, in private as in public.
Michael’s courage in prosecuting his ‘causes’ was immense. He had the quality of being willing, immediately and without hesitation, to go the last mile for something he believed in, or for a friend or family member, no matter the cost to himself.
For example, when he discovered that the then Eastern Health Board had diverted EU funding for his pilot Resocialisation Project in 1983, leaving it unable to continue its work of preparing long-stay, institutionalised patients for normal life, the subsequent fight was explosive. Rather than continue in an organisation which expected him to accept and collude in what he saw as theft from his clients, Michael resigned, with no job offer and no other practice.
On many occasions he put his head above the parapet on behalf of patients and their rights, and against what he saw as malpractice by psychiatrists or other doctors — over-prescribing by GPs of drugs carrying serious risks, such as SSRIs like Seroxat or Cymbalta, was a continuing theme. He was not afraid to be controversial in his pursuit of change and of justice for the psychologically distressed, nor of the consequences, however threatening. Upholders of the status quo referred Michael to the Medical Council on several occasions, but none of the referrals ever came to anything.
If opposition is any sign, then Michael’s campaigns certainly rattled the ‘great and the good’ of Irish psychiatry. Professor Patricia Casey sued him and RTE for libel in 2005, a case settled by the broadcaster, and Professor Ted Dinan of UCC made a complaint to the Fitness to Practice Committee of the IMC over his public comments on the role of SSRIs in the killing/suicide carried out by Shane Clancy in Bray in 2009.
Many of their colleagues opposed the campaign to bar forced administration of ECT, despite Irish practice in this regard breaching WHO guidelines on informed consent and falling far below best practice in comparable jurisdictions.
Above all, his patients loved him, and there were thousands. Their tributes since he died emphasise again and again his compassion, his concern, his wisdom and his exclusive focus on their need for healing.
While his consulting room was entirely private, these qualities could be seen at the Dialogues meetings, where patients, relatives of troubled people seeking some illumination, or those needing advice, found an equally safe space where they could confide, share their difficulties, and draw on others’ support. Even without any formal protocol in operation, the effect was healing, as many who attended testify.
His obvious and deep compassion was the secret, as it was also the foundation for his commitment to advocacy and campaigning. Michael was a rare being, loveable, inspiring and thoughtful, a loving warrior and a gentle rebel.