The Recovery Movement
"The Civil Rights Movement of this decade is Mental Health Care quality and equality."
-- Updated January 17, 2003 --

Dr. Huffine's Article on "Recovery."

    Getting on a Solid Foundation

    By Charles Huffine, M.D.

    From the Washington State Psychiatric Association Journal
    December 2002

    The recovery movement has taken hold. It grew out of consumer movements with roots in the 1930 establishment of Recovery Inc.

    This pioneering program was established with the strong support and inspiration of Dr. Abraham Lowe, a Chicago psychiatrist. It had some similarities with 12-step programs developed for individuals with substance abuse disorders.

    For many psychiatrists the recovery movement has been either not on the radar screen, or relegated to "the flavor of the month" status of bright ideas in mental health. But as NAMI, the National Mental Health Association and other advocacy groups have focused more on including consumers in their leadership, the concepts of recovery in mental health have grown and taken center stage in the advocacy movements policy agenda. Indeed state and county departments of mental health are coming on board, encouraged by advocates, particularly consumers.

    In my role as assistant medical director at the KCRSN, I have been in the middle of the move to conceptualize recovery in functional terms so that they could be supported with policy. Those who are working with adult programs are enjoying a close alliance with local NAMI chapters in promoting a concept of recovery.

    Myself and Dr. Abraham Pearlstein, a community psychiatrist from Clark County, spoke on the concept of recovery at the state NAMI convention September 6, 2002. A highly successful program on Recovery on September 19 was co-sponsored by NAMI Greater Seattle and the KCRSN.

    What do we mean when we talk of recovery for individuals with severe and limiting mental illness? We are talking about a very personal process, unique to each individual, of coming to grips with the realities of one's life. This includes recognizing an illness when it is there, understanding that it is chronic, and committing to taking care of oneself in the course of one's life.

    This means taking responsibility for one's own treatment, allying with doctors and finding what works best for oneself to limit symptoms. But more importantly, it means grabbing hold of one's sense of self, knowing who you are beyond the illness, and accounting for all of one's strengths and capabilities. It involves taking responsibility for building a life for oneself.

    That might include working towards employment and becoming self sufficient. It might include accepting an aging process and finding wisdom and spiritual strength in moments of deep contemplation. It might involve experiencing the simple joys of socializing and partaking of a sunny day with a heart full of hope and good spirit. It might involve giving expression to a creative spirit or caring for children.

    Each of these examples reflects the deeply personal nature of recovery and the impossibility that a professional could place one into a recovery process; nor could a close family member, nor a spiritual guide. It inherently involves an individual finding their own way of working around their limitations into a full life.

    Recovery is characterized not by partaking of programs where one "fits into" the best ideas of a group of professionals. Clearly some may choose to join a program in the course of their recovery process, but only if it fits their particular needs. To not want a program, or quit, is not to be a bad patient, but a competent individual if the action is taken with the goal of getting the most relevant service.

    It has taken professionals time to adjust to a services oriented system of care, rather then a program oriented one. It requires adjustments for physicians to assume a role of partner and advisor, rather then one who orders treatments.

    The move to perfect a law enabling the creation and utilization of advanced directives in mental health is very much a part of the recovery picture. The state Mental Health Division and many RSN's are interested in seeing a viable law emerge in the state legislature this year. This is a top NAMI legislative agenda.

    In my talk to the state NAMI meeting, I was asked to outline what recovery concepts may mean in children's mental health. This is really uncharted territory. My ideas derived from my work with the System of Care reform process for children's mental health nationally and locally. Wrap-around concepts would seem to apply.

    These include parent and youth empowerment, enabling youth with emotional and behavioral handicaps to rejoin a developmental process, attending to needs that attenuate an illness and partaking of the sense of hope and ambition that is part of being young. Much more needs to be done to make a recovery concept fit the developmental realities of being a child.

    As President of the Washington State Psychiatric Association (WSPA), I have urged my colleagues on the Executive Committee to take this recovery movement seriously, and I encourage my colleagues whose practice involves serving those with serious mental illness to do the same. While adjustments are sometimes painful and frightening, this is one that is here to stay. It is being promoted by consumer advocates because it is in the spirit of empowering those with disabilities and who suffer adverse social conditions and/or stigma. How can this not appeal to our physician altruism? As we understand and participate in shaping the impact of a recovery movement on our practices we will be in the lead along with our advocate allies in these efforts.

Thank You for Stopping By!

    Thank you so much for being interested in mental health care advocacy! Have a great day!


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