…and written over the Door are the words: Choice. Hope. Empowerment. Environment. Spirituality. This is the door we walk through together this month.
I spent two weeks in school this month (January 2009). The class was called Peer Employment Training, and the end result was to be a certificate as a Peer Support Specialist, making the twenty of us in the class eligible for employment in the fields of mental health and substance abuse.
The twenty of us walked in with our Superman capes and bulletproof Spandex, waiting to be empowered to lift and carry all our charges into a new world. We were very disappointed, but in a joyful way.
In just the first hour of the class, we were taught how to take off our capes and fit them for each and every person we were (will be) assigned to, and teach them how to learn to use it themselves. Instead of Advocacy, we were trained in how to make each person we serve into their own expert, empowering them to take control of their own case and not live down to their labels.
You know how psychiatry has been these past 40 years. You walk into the doctor’s office, you tell him what’s wrong, and he doesn’t hear but a few key words of what you tell him. He then uses those key words to decide upon a diagnosis, and that diagnosis tells him what drugs to prescribe you. There is little or no talk therapy, and after being given a label, you are never treated as a full human being again. They can take you to court and force you to take the medications, or force you to receive electro-convulsive therapy, or force you to go to and stay in a “hospital”, all in the name of Your Own Good, to keep you from Doing Harm To Yourself Or Others.
Voila, you are no longer a person. You are a label, a diagnosis, a stigma.
I’ve been beating my own head against that barrier for most of my life. I knew I was still a person. I knew the drugs were hurting me. Over five years ago, I told the doctors where to go, and they didn’t have enough on me to commit me somewhere. In those five years (and in the two prior years), I learned how to take care of myself, how to get well, how to recover. My recovery is not complete, but I am at least 80% better than I was under their “care”.
I walked into this class expecting to get more bruises on my head from beating against the same old wall… and they moved the wall! They had even begun to dismantle it! I grabbed my sledgehammer and did my own best Berlin imitation.
From the first, the word “recovery” was used. We were told that we were people, not labels, and were not to be defined as less than human ever again. We were told about our choices, and we learned that this new paradigm has already been in use in a few areas. There is a new hospital about 40 miles west of Asheville which mimics another hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where there are no physical restraints, there are no labels, and there are more peer support specialists than doctors. The treatment area is called the “Living Room” and is furnished accordingly. People are recovering, and are welcome to come and go as they choose, and are never ignored.
Wow. Add another wow to that. We learned about the CHEES Priniciple, which is:
CHOICE: One choice is no choice. Mental health can be achieved through the use of drugs, supplements, talk therapy, meditation, acupuncture, chiropractic, traditional Chinese medicine, and many other routes, and withholding information on any of these is dishonoring the individual.
HOPE: You are never hopeless. Sometimes you can feel so far down that you need someone to hold your hope for you until you can hold it yourself. The twenty of us were trained to do just that.
EMPOWERMENT: You are the expert on your problems and your solutions. We will help you find those sources, but you will lead us through that process. We can give suggestions, but only with your permission and only after trying to get you to see what is already inside you. We will listen to you; we will do our best to empower you to get your “treatment team” to listen to you.
ENVIRONMENT: You need to be in a place that suits you, not a “treatment center” and not on the streets. You know what is best for you. We will help you discover the options and find ways to get into what you need.
SPIRITUALITY: This was the big one. We are using the S-word again, and even the L-word (LOVE). No more impersonal decisions made on your behalf. Each of us has our own spirituality, and we peer support specialists are being trained to honor that.
Peer Support Specialists are experts, but it’s a different kind of expert: We are experts in not being experts (and that takes a LOT of expertise!). We are learning how to listen to you, how to lead you to listen to yourself. We do not know what is Right For You – only you know that.
Are you beginning to see why I am so excited about this? Are you beginning to have hope that the System will die and leave something better behind? If not, I would be happy to hold that hope for you until you are ready.
To me, the things I learned in this class were more miraculous than if we ever were to elect a black President… oh, wait, we just did, didn’t we? Damn. Am I still in the same world I was last year?
I sure hope not. I like the world I’m in now. And if we work together, praise Goddess, we will all have something good to think back on. Why wait for 2012? The old world is ending now. We can, we will create the new one together, in peace, love, and all those old sixties things (minus the drug busts). Remember CHEES and all those bad memories will start to fade.
Let’s walk through another Door together… next month.