The Relationship Between Systems Change and Being Present with Others

June 3, 2014

If you’ve come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

— Lilla Watson

Man cannot be one thing in one area of his life and another thing in another area of his life.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Despite the hiring of peers, the mental health system still has not implemented the recovery and trauma-informed values advocated by both SAMHSA and by people with the lived experience of mental health recovery. The New Freedom Commission (2003), Olmstead Decision (1999), and IOM Report Crossing the Quality Chasm (2006), have all called for a transformation of the mental health system from a focus on maintenance to a vision of recovery of a life in the community but the old system chugs along increasingly out of touch with common sense approaches that inspire hope, self-determination, empowerment and so much of what every human being longs for.

Person-centered planning requires a system-wide shift in communication, as well as adaptation of recovery-oriented, trauma-informed values. Tomorrow, Dan Fisher, W. Reid Smithdeal and I are offering a free webinar that will provide administrators, managers, providers of mental health services and others with some essential communication tools needed to transform their systems to being recovery-based, trauma-informed and empowerment focused. A system-wide shift in communication is needed and we must move away from the hierarchical, one-size-fits-all way of thinking to instead practicing mindfulness and presence with every one… We are changing the conversation and re-defining mental health service and support delivery systems. And for that matter- we are moving beyond systems to community building. However, for the purpose of this webinar we will focus on transforming mental health and behavioral health systems.

The webinar will use Emotional eCPR (eCPR), a primary prevention public health education program that teaches anyone to support another person through an emotional crisis as a foundation for how to bring about a fundamental shift in our culture – be it organizational culture, or family or community culture. The principles and dynamics are transferable anywhere. eCPR is a powerful tool for enhancing interpersonal communication and cultural empathy. It teaches everyone how to implement the values of recovery on a one-to-one basis. What is instilled on the individual level has ripple effects on the group level and on the system level. Speakers will discuss how some of the components of eCPR are being taught in community mental health centers enabling providers to embody the values of recovery such

as the importance of every voice, of respecting the whole person, of being nonjudgmental, and of sharing one’s humanity with persons in distress.

We need to bring compassionate listening into our conversations and open up the dialogue, welcoming different perceptions because that is how we build alliances and heal and grow as a community, as an organization, and as a human being.

We will address the chasm between “staff” and “persons served.”

We will wrap our minds around the concept of the wounded healer, of leveling the field and respecting that we are all teachers, we are all students, and we learn together.


Daniel B. Fisher, MD, PhD: who co-founded the federally funded National Empowerment Center and serves as its executive director. He was a commissioner on the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2002-2003.

W. Reid Smithdeal, MSW, LCSW : the Recovery Services Manager for Meridian Behavioral Health Services where he coordinates clinical services.

Lauren Spiro, MA: . A schizophrenia survivor, associate director of National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery and author of Living for Two: A Daughter’s Journey From Grief and Madness to Forgiveness and Peace.

Click here for instructions for joining the webinar, June 4, 2014, 1:30pm – 3:00pm EDT, (12:30 CDT, 11:30 MDT, 10:30 PDT)

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