Thursday, June 26, 2008

Peer Counseling, The Middle Days

I'm still digesting, so much.
I need to go through it all and shake it out, put it in order start to finish.
My life's been very heavy on the Stretch and light on the Stabilize in recent weeks.
Here's the next installment on the notes.

We got a guided tour of the Big Binder-- our full text for the week and a polar opposite in size to the little red book.

We also got a guide through the Mental Health system, its many acronyms, and the laws most relevant to us. I learned that our state law is the RCW Revised Code of Washington and that the commentary with all the specifics on how to make the RCW work is the WAC Washington Administrative Code, names and details I was horrified to realize I didn't know despite living here my whole adult life.

It slowly started to filter through to me how public-health oriented all this was, that my turf in the below-poverty arena-- Basic Health instead of Medicaid, minimum wage instead of SSI/Disability-- was too upscale for most of the programs and agencies. Which didn't offend me-- one has to start somewhere-- but I'm just flummoxed by the weeklong steady accumulation of evidence that the sharpest cutting edge of the whole mental health industry is the bottommost rung. So much so that one of our speakers who is in a position to know states with bald confidence that the mental health care available in Monroe State Prison is better treatment than at Washington State Hospital.

I don't really have a place to put that yet, mentally.

Whether you are on Medicaid or not you *have* to be treated for any life-threatening illness including severe mental illness.

For failures to give such treatment, nonconsenual treatment, breach of confidentiality, and other forms of abuse or neglect by mental health care providers,
tell these people:
King County Office of the Ombudsmen
Dave Black, Matthew Wilson, Rosea Adams
1-800-790-8049, 206-208-5329

The better part of the afternoon went to a remarkable woman who has been the parent of a consumer for years and has started using mental health services herself after the lateness crisis. Her focus with us was on honing the two unique kickass "power tools" of peer counselors:
sharing stories, and
spotting strengths.

On sharing stories: As I'd write later, I am a fact, not a theory. Right up to meeting a peer counselor, most consumers have gotten only opinions, predictions, theories about mental illness and recovery. The Peer Counselor is one living, breathing, truth of what recovery can look like. Sharing parts of our stories form a powerful reminder that what the consumer is going through now will, over the long run, just be one part of their story. My shorthand notes call this being a "Role Model for Hope and Wellness". Even beyond this, speaking to directly to someone who's actually had detailed similar experiences is huge for a consumer, because it may mark their first chance to feel understood.

Spotting strengths is where the experience of recovery really comes in. A peer counselor who has faced down existence as a battle, knows both how being mentally ill trashes one's perspective until one can't actually recognize one's one accomplishments and strengths and we also know how to spot, adapt, and harness those invisible strengths. You simply cannot train a mental health professional to do this with the acuity and understanding of a fellow consumer.

So we had exercises working on how much story told how was appropriate under different situations, because of course one never wants to go so far that the consumer feels overwhelmed rather than connected, and we had exercises on spotting strengths, which hurt like hell. Literally. Thought my hand was going to fall off from writing and did run out of paper on my sheet to note strengths as my partner told their story. Friggin' superhero, I am telling you. One of many among us, I later learned.

We started Day Two with collective definions of Hope and Empowerment. Here's a tip, if you ever want 24 people to define empowerment, don't ask them to define "empowerment". Ask them to define "to empower". Otherwise one ends up with a very muddled set of images, followed in our case, I'm sorry to say, by equally muddled exercises for the lack of a clear common understanding of what we were trying to do. Ultimately my touchstone became "empower is the true opposite of enable". The best anchor I walked away with was the simplest definition: to empower is to alert someone to the power they already have.

Norman DeLisle, MDRC
"With Liberty and Access for All!"
GrandCentral: 517-589-4081
MDRC Website:
LTC Blog:
Zemanta Pixie

No comments: