Learning to Dance in the Rain, Rather than Weather the Storm

Mental Health Recovery: Learning to Dance in the Rain, Rather than Weather the Storm 

By Keri Barbero

National Alliance on Mental Illness-Boise President

(Originally printed in the NAMI newsletter and reprinted now with permission from Keri Barero)

The term recovery has most often been affiliated with the disease of addiction and widely used by those active in Alcoholics Anonymous as well as substance abuse treatment programs. Initially, the journey of recovering from addiction requires that an individual accept the need for help. Similarly, recovery within a mental illness appears to require some level of acceptance of the diagnosis in addition to the desire to participate in treatment, develop coping strategies and experience an improved quality of life. Mental Health Recovery has been defined differently by numerous organizations, journalists, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. Most often Mental Health Recovery is described by professionals, as well as consumers, as an ongoing, dynamic, interactional process that occurs between a person’s strengths, vulnerabilities, resources, and the environment. It involves a personal journey of actively self-managing a psychiatric disorder while reclaiming, gaining, and maintaining a positive sense of self, roles, and life beyond the mental health system, in spite of the challenges of a psychiatric disability.

Moreover, the recovery model refers to and utilizes the real life experiences of persons as they accept and effectively manage the challenges they face due to their diagnosis.

In December 2004, the United States Department of Health and Human Services—Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) recognized the importance transforming the treatment of mental health diagnoses from a traditionally medical oriented model to a more recovery based, consumer driven approach.  Significant to the recovery movement, SAMHSA identified consumers as having a key part in defining and transforming the mental health system. In doing so, SAMHSA invited mental health consumers, family members, providers, advocates, researchers and others to the National Consensus Conference on Mental Health Recovery and Mental Health Systems Transformation in an effort to further define and promote the recovery model. In the past, the “Medical Model” has viewed mental health diagnoses as an illness and focused more on limitations and “compliance,” rather than the potential for growth. The medical model has also been primarily provider or professional driven and emphasized an external focus of control. Alternatively, the “Recovery Model” advocates for and describes recovery as self-empowerment, increased consumer choice, hope, consumer responsibility, education, and consumer-run initiatives. Practitioners of the model view the individual as having a capacity for self-healing.

Furthermore, the Mental Health Recovery Model promotes and encourages individuals with mental illness to share their journey with one another and learn from each other’s unique experiences. Consumers who have been encouraged to engage in self-directed, individualized care and management of their diagnosis can often provide other consumers with a sense of belonging, supportive relationships, valued roles and community. Within the model this is typically referred to as “Peer Support” and is seen as an important component to the success of one’s recovery. Through sharing and mutual support, the model demonstrates that actively managing one’s psychiatric diagnosis on a daily basis is imperative to maintaining and reframing treatment from the professional or family member’s perspective to the person’s perspective is imperative. Understanding the role treatment plays in recovery, rather than the role recovery plays in treatment, will likely assist providers, family members, and friends to better help and support consumers.

Regardless of one’s discipline, or one’s role in the life of someone with mental illness, we can all instill hope and create an environment conducive to making healthy changes by embracing an individualized consumer driven culture. Even making small recovery based changes in the delivery of services can lead to big changes in quality of life. For example, rather than viewing the relationship between themselves and the consumer as an “expert-patient” duo, a professional can begin seeing it as a partnership where choices are presented and the consumer feels free to make educated decisions about their life as a whole. Being cognizant of the person’s environmental interactions, their community and family life, taking a minute to convey hope for improvement and having knowledge of how to obtain needed resources that you cannot provide yourself, may assist in creating a recovery based relationship. Furthermore, it is crucial to engage the consumer by using person-first language that demonstrates respect and provokes input in their care. For example, when a consumer reports increased symptoms and a decline in functioning, instead of asking if they are taking their medications or discussing pathology, ask them to help you better understand their experience, ask about their home environment, supports, peers, etc. Likewise, family members and friends can make an effort to be more open to and supportive of the consumer’s desires and expressed needs. Encouraging consumers to make choices and decisions also allows them to increase responsibility and enables family and friends to see their loved one’s strengths.

A common fear, and potential setback for consumers who have begun to recover within their mental health diagnosis, is the loss of support services such as disability payment, treatment providers, family members and group or program eligibility. Offering ongoing reassurance, support for a continued recovery within their mental health diagnosis, presenting options, and involving the consumer in decisions can be helpful in alleviating concerns.

There are many ways a consumer might begin in their journey of recovery. A few local opportunities are NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer educational course, seek out information on the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), and the new Peer Run Center for HOPE. Ultimately, as more consumers start talking about and asking for Peer Support, it will become more available, as it in other states across the country.

Keri Barbero

NAMI-Boise President

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Published in: on May 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is a great article that speaks powerfully to the reality our infinite potential!

  2. Hello everyone, it’s my first visit at this web site, and article is actually fruitful designed for me, keep up posting such articles or reviews.


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