The main focus of the presentation was about how to put recovery into practice and for healers to become recovery oriented. Dr Ken Thompson spoke about the importance of storytelling, including the integration of consumer and practitioners stories into mental health practice in a codified way. Ken used Joseph Campbell’s metaphor of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ and the three elements of “Departure”, “Initiation” and “Return” as a framework to tell and share stories of our own and others journeys.
Ken told his own ‘hero’s journey’ towards working as a psychiatrist towards recovery oriented methods. The “Departure” was the events that lead him at the age of 15 towards a desire to work as a psychiatrist. His “Initiation” included a series of events that culminated in his time as a resident at a Bronx hospital where he was introduced to a patient called Ruby. Ruby was in her thirties, diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, and had spent her life in and out of hospitals. After working with her for two and a half years and trying all known medications with no success, Ken finally asked her “do you have any ideas about what I can do to help you.” “Yes,” Ruby said, “the next time I’m in emergency tell me to cut the shit.” Ken listened to Ruby, did as she said and as a result was discharged and did not get admitted again for 17 years. The real work was done by Ruby, but as a practitioner Ken believes his listening facilitated her recovery.
After the “Initiation” is the return, in Ken’s case it was returning to Pittsburgh and other mental health services including Grant Street Partnership where recovery is a central concept, Pittsburgh University, SAMHSA and Harrisburg State Hospital. He had a number of personal experiences including the death of his dad who was dealing with depression and a car accident in which he lost use of his thumb. The hours of therapy that went into recovering full use of his thumb brought home to him the hard work required in recovery of all types. Through all this he saw the future of mental health in which peer support is greater than professional support.
Ken has learnt that there is health in illness and knowing this brings hope. There is a core capacity in human beings to be shaped by our environment. Finding and sharing our own unique gifts is the core of recovery. The art of healing by a practitioner is the art facilitating consumer’s finding and giving their gifts, finding opportunity and meaning. The person not the illness should be at the centre of psychiatric practice.
The challenge now is how to codify and teach recovery-oriented practice in a way that doesn’t “kill” the recovery process. This can be done by familiarising practitioners with the recovery process.
‘Joy shared is doubled, sorrow shared is halved’