Peer Respite/Hospital Diversion: Why it Should be Everyone’s Concern

Peer Respite should be everyone’s concern because it is a model for how each of us can be like a drop of medicine, that is, we can become a remedy together for transforming our relationships and therefore transforming society.

My intent with this blog is to compare some lessons learned from my recent medical crisis response to a similar peer-run respite response. I hope, dear reader, that you can see for yourself how far we need to go to begin arriving at a trauma-informed, empowering, compassionate response to people in crisis.

Peer Respite

My use of the term peer respite comes from the first project of its kind in the world, the Stepping Stone respite. Stepping Stone was founded by Shery Mead in New Hampshire and, since 1997, has been completely run by people with the lived experience of having survived beyond the “mental health” system. The mission of Stepping Stone—and peer respites like it—is to transform crisis into an opportunity for personal discovery. In peer respite, we can learn to transcend the limitations imposed on us, become more empowered in our own lives, and create new, healthier ways of relating with others.

Since those early days, peers have developed other peer-run respites throughout the U.S., and the terms and the approaches have evolved. They are also referred to as hospital diversion houses or stabilization houses. But all peer respites divert people from being admitted a psychiatric institution and instead offer a voluntary, home-like, trauma-sensitive setting in the community where they are assisted through the crisis. Research data shows the significant benefit of this approach to care on many levels, including cost saving, reduced recidivism rates, and an increased sense of empowerment.

Peer respites are rapidly spreading across the United States and internationally. It is important, however, to recognize that each peer respite has its own set of corporate values, principles, policies, procedures, operations, and outcomes. My blog, Soteria House and Peer Respite Summit, provides some research data on peer respites.

Similar to peer respites, the Soteria model primarily uses peers for its staff and is founded on principles of voluntary stay and the recovery model, including minimal use of neuroleptic drugs (which are the first-line intervention in conventional psychiatric care). However, Soteria is a little different from peer respite; the original Soteria house was founded by a psychiatrist, not a peer, and as a research study it had specific guidelines that prevented participation by some groups of people.

The Soteria model is also spreading across the world. In Israel, for example, there are 12 "stabilizing houses" modeled on the Soteria House model. Current Soteria Houses are doing some things differently, sometimes by choice and sometimes because of their funding source and/or policy environment.

My Recent Medical Crisis

I recently experienced a medical crisis that led to a hospitalization. My experience of being hospitalized reminded me of the peer respite approach—a trauma-informed, empowering, compassionate response. I hope that as the conventional system tries to replicate what makes peer respite outcomes so significant, we don’t lose the heart of why this approach really matters and changes lives.

I write this blog from the comfort of my own home and grateful to have returned to being very healthy. My intention is to point out some comparisons between how I was treated during my medical crisis and how people are perceived and treated in a peer respite approach.

My story begins here: I had felt ill for several days and thought it was due to having eaten some bad food. Since I was far from home and out of state, I had spotty communication with a new telemedicine doctor and was not able to get into community-based urgent care. I thought I needed an antibiotic, which I thought would be easy to obtain, but it wasn’t.

At the same time, I was getting to know Joel better. We had begun a business relationship (online) one month earlier, but when we met in-person he could see that I needed assistance and he generously offered support. From the moment we met there was a spaciousness, an openness, a presence of relational awareness. This was not reduced to the three-dimensional transactions that were taking place, but more importantly what was happening in the space between us. When he spoke, the intent of his words and his context landed deeply in me, and when I spoke, I could tell my words and context were received by him. I sensed he was taking in the entire context of my situation as I was doing the same for him.

As time went on and I grew weaker and had increasing difficulty eating, the telemedicine doctor emailed that he didn’t think I had a bacterial stomach infection and maybe I had covid. Thus, urgent care was able to quickly set up a covid test and the next morning I got the positive test result. Joel and I had briefly spoken about the possibility of his driving me to the hospital, but that day we got more work taken care of (including some preparation for me to go to the hospital).

The next morning, I realized with every ounce of wisdom in my body, mind, spirit, and environment that I needed immediate medical attention. I simply told Joel to call 911 for an ambulance, which he did without question, without hesitation. He completely trusted my mind, my judgement, my intelligence, my decision.

When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics were completely focused on context and on me, my situation, and how could they get the stretcher into the bedroom where I was. They couldn’t—at least not very easily—so they tenderly asked if I could walk 8 feet to the stretcher. I said I could, but they were so focused on my safety they vigilantly touched or had their bodies and arms (one person on each side of me) ready to help me if I faltered. I deeply felt their care and thoughtfulness; it brings tears to my eyes now.

Why, you might ask? Sadly, I think about how different it would have been if I had been in emotional crisis rather than medical crisis. I think about what often happens when 911 is called because someone is having an emotional crisis, when their emotions get so big that the simmering tea kettle boils over and they ask for help in ways that may seem—and may be—unusual. Many dear readers know what happens when untrained or improperly trained professionals (e.g., law enforcement) or people get involved—sometimes it makes news headlines. And always, even when it does not result in the person in crisis being killed, there is additional trauma to the person in crisis as well as the responders and the witnesses.

I don’t want to overly reduce the complexity of a community situation when 911 is called for a mental health crisis, but the emergency response needs to involve (among other things, e.g., community safety) a compassionate approach to help the person in crisis feel seen, heard, validated, and respected so that the person is able to more effectively communicate their needs.

I told the emergency medical team what hospital to take me to and they did, and they did so without question even though two other hospitals were closer. Again, I thought—would they have done that if I were in emotional crisis, rather than medical crisis?

At the hospital the tenderness, respectfulness, thoughtfulness for my comfort and what I wanted continued. I knew that I was in the right place and therefore I could relax and let them do whatever they needed to do. I noticed the details as I was taken immediately into a covid isolation room in the emergency department. My life was in their hands and I could give my body to them to be cared for. I didn’t need to struggle any more. I didn’t need to force myself to drink more water to try and stay hydrated because the IV fluids did it for me—they were taking exquisite care of me—body, mind, emotions—the whole package, the whole context was respected in a deep and caring way. It’s exactly what would happen in a peer respite.

In the hospital, the staff listened with presence, being in the moment with me, which created more intimacy. They had great skill at being able to focus and put aside whatever else was going on outside “us.” The doctor spoke to me as an equal partner: very personable, he wasn’t hurried, he explained my health status and asked if I had any questions. The compassion was obvious. The nurse was observant—without needing to inquire beforehand, she simply brought a pair of purple (my favorite color) hospital pants/scrubs and caringly asked me if I wanted them. I think (between us as women) she knew I would want them.

After several hours of being hydrated I was ready to be released back into the world, away from the 24/7 buzz of a large emergency department with cinderblock walls, beeping machines, and sterile everything.

And after that, I wondered whether they would have behaved so caringly if I had been in emotional crisis. That’s why peer respite is needed: it’s the peer respite model that ensures that type of response to an emotional crisis.

The Peer Respite Model

In the peer respite model, the individual is always acknowledged to be in a contextual and relational field. This is not just about what words we say and the tone of voice we use, but it is also what happens in the space between us. Peer respites model mutual relational awareness by being a safe holding space and thus a healing space (assuming the staff and all levels of the organization are aligned with collective trauma-healing policies, procedures, and practices). I use the term “collective” trauma-healing because deep, meaningful and sustainable healing happens in relationship, in community. We are not islands, as much as we would like to be sometimes!

In a mutually respectful space (e.g., peer respite) tracking how information lands in the listener is key. When I am in emotional distress or crisis, I need to know deep in my central nervous system that I am being fully seen and heard. I track this in many ways, not only by the other person’s verbal and non-verbal communication but by whether they are aligned with me. Can I feel a resonant space? Can I feel them feeling me? If not, perhaps becausethey are busy, my communication is not received—it doesn’t land—then we don’t meet in a higher level of relational awareness and the situation takes on a whole different trajectory. Healing does not happen and more layers of trauma get layered on and our sense of separation, isolation, and fragmentation are reinforced. I sense that for some people there may be a relationship between how fast that person moves through life to get some result or outcome and how deeply their intent (awarely or unawarely) is to numb their own emotional pain.

If, however, the conditions are met, then we can deepen the relational awareness in this time and space where it becomes safe to feel and be honest and where there is more capacity to relate to our wounds. I don’t have to put the social mask on to protect myself against the constant barrage of micro-and macro-aggressions so ubiquitous in our society. Rather, I have an opportunity to thaw the parts of me frozen in a trauma response, the numb parts I could not feel or look at before. In a safe space, I trust myself and the other and can continue to integrate the fragments of myself on a path of becoming whole, increasingly unattached or liberated from the past.

In peer respites they hold a lot of space for listening so we may digest, reflect, and integrate formerly unintegrated trauma information and thus become more able to meet the world as it is instead of how we would like it to be. We can unravel our own intelligence. Trauma brings fragmentation—my real self gets disconnected from the social mask I must wear to survive in the traumatized waters that the world swims in. My trauma response is the intelligence that saved me. I need time and space to honor it and bring love to the places that have been exiled so I may bring about unification, releasing past attachments that no longer serve me. We don’t need so much protection any longer because we’ve found more safety in our own bones and in building the relationships that sooth and nurture us.

I was lucky enough to experience this during my hospitalization for COVID. The flow of my entire medical situation was much easier because I knew I was not alone. I had someone who really cared nearby for whatever assistance I needed. In addition to that, my support system, which I have built over many years, was electronically engaged with texts, phone calls, and emails, keeping me blanketed with love and information that helped my healing.

But that’s not always true for many people who are hospitalized after an emotional crisis. Often, their phones and email privileges are revoked. They are treated as a burden and not listened to—certainly not with the empathic relational awareness I’m describing.

But imagine a different community response to how people in extreme emotional states are treated in the community. Peer respite is a research-proven compassionate response. It is critical that this resource expand to every community across the country.

Peer respites elevate our status so we are full partners, making all the decisions about how we want our day or our life to be, and we get support in thinking and feeling our way through the process. Many areas of our society have chosen to not fully recognize people with a mental health label or people in emotional crisis as a full partner. Psychiatric care is one of those areas. Involuntary treatment and involuntary hospitalization remove any sense of agency. People are coerced into drug treatments after a quick meeting with a psychiatrist or a doctor who may not even really listen to their concerns.

My story shows how great quality medical attention can be like peer respite where I am treated as an equal. The contrast here is to the conventional psychiatric establishment or “mental health” system where typically force, coercion, and trauma are all too commonplace. We only have to look at the increasing suicide rates in the US (and overseas as well) to understand this. Resources are few and far between for providing the response, the approach, the compassion and the intelligent relational awareness that is needed.

And finally, peer respites promote the idea that we have sovereignty over our own bodies.

The emergency room doctor recommended that I get a COVID vaccination in a couple of months but he added, that would be a decision between me and my doctor. How different that is from the way people who have gone through an emotional crisis are treated! So often we are coerced or forced into taking medications and our concerns are minimized or ignored. Just the act of giving me a choice about my medical situation and my body felt so empowering.

I am pleased to know that an international group of like-minded souls have been moving together and are taking an evolutionary step forward by creating the first ever virtual International Summit on Peer Respite/Soteria Houses to share our wisdom, inspire, and give “nuts and bolts” steps to spread peer respites and Soteria houses.

The Summit is free and takes place every Sunday in October 2021. Over 600 people are registered from 42 US states and 37 countries for this interactive series. This is an all-voluntary effort, and just over $14,000 towards a $20,000 goal has been raised for future sustainability and information dissemination purposes.

If you would like to know more or to register for the free Summit, click here: https://www.alternatives-conference.org/peerrespitesoteriasummit

In closing, I share some questions that I often ponder:

How can we develop presence and stay connected so we can invite healing?

How can we support each other to be together in our process of change and growth?

How can we enhance our capacity to respond rather than react?

How can we learn to better sense our self and sense others in the space deeper than words?

How do we recognize where we feel depleted and tired as an alarm bell indication of when we need to press the reset button for our own balance, well-being, and health?

We can’t do this alone. We need each other. How do we walk this path together?

How do we become like a drop of medicine?

What steps will we take to create more compassion around us?

How do we learn to listen to what our higher self is whispering about next steps?


Peer Respite: Why it is Everyone’s Concern

Peer respite is a model for how we can become a remedy together, how each of us can be like a drop of medicine. I find it helpful to compare my recent medical crisis to a peer respite experience. It is important, however, to recognize that the over 50 peer respites in the United States have their own sets of corporate values, principles, policies, procedures, operations, and outcomes. See my blog of September 27, 2021, Soteria House and Peer Respite Summit, for some research data on peer respites. https://www.madinamerica.com/2021/09/soteria-peer-summit/

Two months ago, I realized with every ounce of wisdom in my body, mind, spirit and environment that I needed immediate medical attention. I simply told my new friend to call 911 for an ambulance which he did without question, without hesitation. He completely trusted my mind, my judgement, my intelligence, my decision. Obviously, you dear reader are getting the condensed version of the story. My friend had seen me for several consecutive days of not feeling well (and not able to get into community-based urgent care).

The point I want to make is: The individual is always in a contextual and relational field. This is not just about what words we say and the tone we use but it is also what happens in the space between us. Peer respites model mutual relational awareness by being a safe holding space and thus a healing space (assuming the staff and all levels of the organization are aligned with trauma-healing policies, procedures, and practices).

Back to the story. Though my friend was a very new person in my life brought together for mutual business purposes, he had time and could see I needed assistance and he generously offered support. From the moment we met there was a space, an openness, a presence for relational awareness. This was not reduced to the three-dimensional transactions that were taking place but more importantly what was happening in the space between us. When he spoke, the intent of his words and his context landed deeply in me, and when I spoke, I could tell my words and context were received by him. I sensed he was taking in the entire context of my situation as I was doing the same for him.

Another point – In a mutually respectful space (e.g., peer respite) tracking how information lands in the listener is key. When I am in emotional distress or crisis, I need to know deep in my central nervous system that I am being fully seen and heard. I track this in many ways, not only by the other person’s verbal and non-verbal communication but are they aligned with me. Can I feel a resonant space? Can I feel them feeling me? If not, becausethey are busy so my communication is not received – it doesn’t land – then we don’t meet in a higher level of relational awareness and the situation takes on a whole different trajectory. Healing does not happen and more layers of trauma get layered on and our sense of separation, isolation, and fragmentation are reinforced. I sense that for some people there may be a relationship between how fast that person moves through life and how deeply their intent (awarely or unawarely) is to numb their own emotional pain.

If, however, the conditions are met, then we can deepen the relational awareness in this time and space where it becomes safe to feel and be honest and where there is more capacity to relate to our wounds. I don’t have to put the social mask on to protect myself against the constant barrage of micro-and macro-aggressions so ubiquitous in our society. Rather, I have an opportunity to thaw the parts of me frozen in a trauma response, the numb parts I could not feel or look at before. In a safe space I trust myself and the other and can continue to integrate the fragments of myself on a path of becoming whole, increasingly unattached or liberated from the past.

The flow of my entire medical situation was much easier because I

knew I was not alone. I had someone who really cared nearby for whatever assistance I needed. In addition to that my support system was electronically engaged with texts, phone calls, and emails keeping me blanketed with love.

Back to the story: when the ambulance arrived, they were completely focused on context and on me, my situation, how could they get the stretcher into the bedroom where I was. They couldn’t – at least not very easily – so they tenderly asked if I could walk 8 feet to the stretcher. I said I could, but they were so focused on my safety they vigilantly touched or had their bodies and arms (one person on each side of me) ready to help me if I faltered. I deeply felt their care and thoughtfulness; it brings tears to my eyes now. Imagine if this was how people in extreme emotional states were treated in the community.

I told them the hospital to take me to; they did not for an instant question me though two other hospitals were closer.

At the hospital the tenderness, respectfulness, thoughtfulness for my comfort and what I wanted continued. I knew that I was in the right place and therefore I could relax and let them do whatever they needed to do. I noticed the details and there were many as I was taken immediately into a covid isolation room in the emergency department. My life was in their hands and I could give my body to them to be cared for. I didn’t need to struggle any more. I didn’t need to force myself to drink more water to try and stay hydrated because the IV fluids did it for me – they were taking exquisite care of me – body, mind, emotions – the whole package, the whole context was respected in a deep and caring way.

Another point: Peer respites elevate our status so we are full partners, making all the decisions about how we want our day or our life to be and we get support in thinking and feeling our way through the process. Many areas of our society have chosen to not fully recognize people with a mental health label or people in emotional crisis as a full partner.

The story: In the hospital the staff listened with presence, being in the moment with me, which created more intimacy. They had great skill at being able to focus and put aside whatever else was going on outside “us”. The doctor spoke to me as an equal partner, very personable, he wasn’t hurried, he explained my health status and asked if I had any questions. The compassion was obvious. The nurse was observant, without needing to inquire beforehand she simply brought a pair of purple (my favorite color) hospital pants/scrubs and caringly asked me if I wanted them. I think (between us as women) she knew I would want them. After several hours of being hydrated I was ready to be released back into the world away from the 24/7 buzz of a large emergency department with cinderblock walls, beeping machines, and sterile everything.

In peer respites they hold a lot of space for listening so we may digest, reflect, and integrate formerly unintegrated trauma information and thus become more able to meet the world as it is instead of how we would like it to be. We can unravel our own intelligence. Trauma brings fragmentation – my real self gets disconnected from the social mask I must wear to survive in the traumatized waters that the world swims in. My trauma response is the intelligence that saved me. I need time and space to honor it and bring love to the places that have been exiled so I may bring about unification, releasing past attachments that no longer serve me. We don’t need so much protection any longer because we’ve found more safety in our own bones and in building the relationships that sooth and nurture us.

I am pleased to know that an international group of like-minded souls have been moving together and are taking an evolutionary step forward by creating the first ever virtual International Summit on Peer Respite/Soteria Houses to share our wisdom, inspire, and give “nuts and bolts” steps to spread peer respites and Soteria houses.

The Summit is free and takes place every Sunday in October 2021. Over 600 people are registered from 42 states (US) and 32 countries for this interactive series. This is an all-voluntary effort, and over $10,000 towards a $20,000 goal has been raised for future sustainability and information dissemination purposes. If you would like to know more or to register for the free Summit, click here. https://www.alternatives-conference.org/peerrespitesoteriasummit

In closing, I share some questions that I often ponder.

How can we develop presence and stay connected so we can invite healing?

How can we support each other to be together in our process of change and growth?

How can we enhance our capacity to respond rather than react?

How can we learn to better sense our self and sense others in the space deeper than words?

How do we recognize where we feel depleted and tired as an alarm bell indication of when we need to press the re-set button for our own balance, well-being and health?

We can’t do this alone. We need each other. How do we walk this path together?

How do we become like a drop of medicine?

What steps will we take to create more compassion around us?

How do we learn to listen to what our higher self is whispering about next steps?


1st International Peer Respite Summit starts Oct 3, 2021 FREE

As you know, we are living in a time of great transformation. Our thinking, our lives, our priorities and perhaps seemingly everything in our lives is being re-evaluated and re-aligned to meet our deepest vision and hopes for life in our community and all around the world.

Like me, you may not have heard that we are days away from the 1st ever virtual international summit which represents a significant step forward in our co-creating the emerging future. That is, a future where we use our power to build places in every community to replace the use of force and coercion in the mental health system.

Rethinking Psychiatry has partnered with MindFreedom International to convene the first International Peer Respite and Soteria Summit:

Creating Compassionate Alternatives for People in Crisis and Distress.

The virtual Summit will take place for 3 hours on every Sunday in October from 12pm- 3pm ET. Bob Whitaker is moderatoring six impressive speakers on Day 1 of the 5 day Summit.

The Soteria House and peer respite models are both ways of supporting individuals in extreme states. Both models allow individuals to stay voluntarily in a homelike environment, and come and go as they please, while enjoying 24-7 support from non-clinical staff. Neither model forces people to take drugs yet both have been documented to be very successful at helping people avoid psychiatric hospitalizations.

Come to the Summit if you would like to find out more about these innovative, research -proven significantly effective alternatives to forced psychiatry from experts, including people with lived experience. Even better, find out what you need to know to bring a Soteria House or a peer respite to your community! For more information about the Summit topics and speakers and to register for the Summit: https://www.alternatives-conference.org/peerrespitesoteriasummit

I also wanted to share a small sample of research findings from Live and Learn, Inc Research — Peer Respites where I found the data shared in this blog. For example, results from three studies with a control or comparison group are below.

Findings:

Respite guests were 70% less likely to use inpatient or emergency services.
Respite days were associated with significantly fewer inpatient and emergency service hours.

Citation: Impact of the 2nd Story Peer Respite Program on Use of Inpatient and Emergency Services. Psychiatric Services. (2015)

Findings:

Statistically significant improvements in healing, empowerment, and satisfaction.
Average psychiatric hospital costs were $1,057 for respite-users compared with $3,187 for non-users

Citation: A Randomized Trial of a Mental Health Consumer-Managed Alternative to Civil Commitment for Acute Psychiatric Crisis. American Journal of Community Psychology. (2008)

Findings:

Respite guests experienced greater improvements in self-esteem, self-rated mental health symptoms, and social activity functioning compared to individuals in inpatient facilities
Citation: Findings from a consumer/survivor defined alternative to psychiatric hospitalization. Outlook. (Vol. Spring 2002)

I did want to mention, however, there are numerous other studies. Here are just 4 published titles: LA County Innovation Peer-Run Model Cost Analysis. Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH). (2016); Innovation (INN) Program Evaluation of the Peer-Run Model. Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH). (2015); The Impact of a Consumer Run Hospital Diversion Program on Quality of Life and Recovery: A Comparative Study. Albany, NY: College of Saint Rose Institute for Community Research and Training. (2009); Evaluation of a peer‐run hospital diversion program: A descriptive study. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation. (2011)

For more information on peer respites see Research — Peer Respites where I got the information shared in this blog. I did want to mention, however, there are numerous other studies. Here are a sampling of some published titles: LA County Innovation Peer-Run Model Cost Analysis. Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH). (2016); Innovation (INN) Program Evaluation of the Peer-Run Model. Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH). (2015); The Impact of a Consumer Run Hospital Diversion Program on Quality of Life and Recovery: A Comparative Study. Albany, NY: College of Saint Rose Institute for Community Research and Training. (2009); Evaluation of a peer‐run hospital diversion program: A descriptive study. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation. (2011)

Lastly, everything you want to know about peer respites but might have had some fears about asking are found on Directory of Peer Respites – National Empowerment Center (power2u.org), including information on the 32 peer respites currently operating in the U.S., many additional research findings, how to start a peer run respite, and crisis alternatives (e.g., warm lines, etc).


FUNdraising: Making the World the Way You Want, a real unfolding situation

sometimes there is a short story worth telling. I think I have one of those.

Here is what happened. As fate had it I emailed Bob Whitacker a very brief proposed project which I was happy to lead or assist with in case MIA was already doing something similar. I will slightly shorten Bob’s response to share that he wrote “I do appreciate your writing and your suggestion, but I know that there isn’t the energy at MIA to take on something of this scope.” So I emailed back “wondering” if I could “lighten the load”.

Bob responded “… Mad in America is peripherally involved with helping Rethinking Psychiatry organizing a series of five presentations in Sundays in October related to Soteria and respite houses. The leader there is Grace Silvia, and I know they are looking for help promoting the events on social media, etc. I thought of you, and mentioned to Grace that I knew someone who might be willing to help. Could I give Grace your name?

I had never heard of Grace Silvia but if Bob points me in a direction, I am going to go- given I had a little time to do an extra project for MIA and while Bob decides what I might do for MIA I can assist someone else. The next day (Sunday) I spoke with Grace for 30 minutes and the day after that I understood more deeply what she and her team needed.

They were convening the first International Peer Respite and Soteria Summit: Creating Compassionate Alternatives for People in Crisis and Distress. The Summit was virtual on every Sunday in October (3, 10, 17, 24 & 31) from 12pm- 3pm ET. Bob Whitaker was moderatoring four impressive speakers on Day 1. Okay, I’m getting hooked.

If you are not familiar with peer respite or Soteria House, or you need a refresher as I did mostly because I needed to hear their conceptualization and approach for this Summit, below, is some of their informational material which I found quite helpful.

The Soteria House and peer respite models are both ways of supporting individuals in extreme states. Both models allow individuals to stay voluntarily in a homelike environment, and come and go as they please, while enjoying 24-7 support from non-clinical staff. Neither model forces people to take drugs yet both have been documented to be very successful at helping people avoid psychiatric hospitalizations.

David Oaks once called the founder of the first Soteria House, Dr. Loren Mosher. M.D., the ‘Schindler of our people." Former residents of both types of houses say that their experiences and what they learned was life changing. Come find out more about these incredibly promising alternatives to forced psychiatry from experts, including people with lived experience. Even better, find out what you need to know to bring a Soteria House or a peer respite to your community!

Collectively, we have the power to build safe places in every community in the world, replacing the use of force and coercion in the mental health system!

Okay, I hooked full on. On the 3rd day after meeting Grace (Tuesday, Sept 21, 2021) I began my short-term project. I will say that Grace is a visionary, process person which is lovely but I said to her on our 2nd time meeting via phone, I am strategic, intentional and goal-oriented. I like to know where I am going and why I am going there. I asked her how much money she wanted raised by Oct 31, 2021 (the last day of the Summit). I told Grace I saw this as the end date of my involvement. I think she was completely taken aback by this question of How much money? I really loved her responses, after some brief befundlement, she said “$15,000, is that doable?”

I had my marching orders. By the way I do love process but there is a time for process and there is a time for A-C-T-I-O-N!! And I am a woman who likes to get things D-O-N-E, especially this project and this 6 week time frame. I have not had this type of challenge in a few years.

Grace is working with a highly experienced and knowledgeable team of 5 people to fundraise. They had not raised any money yet via asking people to donate, however, they had somewhat of an organized plan to do so. Grace sent me the nicely laid out table of who was asking whom for money or an in-kind donation.

Their funding needs were very basis and clearly thought out. Assistance was needed for American Sign language (ASL) interpretation, editing the video of the Summit’s sessions, some web development, and post summit $5,000 was needed for monthly offerings of technical assistance and support they were going to continue to provide for groups who wanted to develop a peer respite or Soteria House in their community. Very honorable intentions, I could clearly see how this stellar group of volunteers had, over the years, developed Rethinking Psychiatry into a powerhouse-in-becoming. And they partnered with MindFreedom to bring about this Summit. The National Empowerment Center (NEC) was their fiscal sponsor for the Summit, so the money simply passes through NEC. Being a fiscal sponsor is never really that simple but for the purposes of this blog we will leave it at that. It takes time, energy and resource but most of us are psychiatric survivors so we get it. It is about love and passion and not about Money. It is about making the world right, accessible, inclusive, juste and healthy. All the honorable intentions on my check-list are being met. The stars are alligned for this project!!!! A few more stars and a few more dollars would help but we are on our way.

Leah Harris taught me a few things about FUNdraising. I witnessed her do it with enthusiasm and great passion. I am thinking specifically when Will Hall did his Go-Fund-Me and Leah led that effort very successfully to my great delight. It funded the writing of Will’s latest book which I hesitate to say I suggested he write a while back.

The other important lesson I learned about fundraising came from working on the Sunrise Center, an RC.org project to help people get off psychiatric drugs. I learned that fundraisng was about fun, it was about making the world the way you want it.

Day 1 of my engaging the Summit fundraising team, Tue, Sep 21, 2021 at 8:14 AM the email subject line was:

“SUMMIT — FUNDRAISING GOAL $15,000 by Oct 31, 2021, We’ve got this!!!!”

Part of the email I sent is copied below.

GOOD MORNING!!!!!!

My FUNdraising thought this morning is IF someone – who????- could do a go-fund me. I have a sense that A LOT of people would give a little bit.

Yes? Maybe? Thoughts?

In the meantime here is our up-to-date data thanks to Judene Shelley at NEC:

1) How many people have registered so far? 149-the number changes each day

2) How many people are you expecting to participate/attend the Summit? 300-500 people

3) How much have we raised so far – including donations from people who registered? All from people who registered, $1,500

And shortly after that email I sent another one which was my first “update” email.

I just got off the phone with Al (Galves). He previously sent a request to his 1st org for $500 with marketing materials. For his 2nd & 3rd org (listed on the organizing sheet) he is going to ask for $1,000 and he is thinking about having someone join him in a conference-call ask.

and I just donated $1,000.

peer-respite / Soteria is one of the greatest loves of my life. When I worked for the NCMHR I LOVED speaking to legislators and their staff about it and they loved hearing about it – with outcome data of course- especially when there was one in their state.

KNOW, please, that we can and will reach this goal.

ENVISION IT, EMBODY IT

Collectively, we have the power to build safe places in every community in the world, replacing the use of force and coercion in the mental health system!

ls

Dear readers, you too can be part of this historic 1st International Peer Respite and Soteria Summit: Creating Compassionate Alternatives for People in Crisis and Distress.

As of 9/22/21: $3,395 raised, 190 people registered.

Contributions of any amount are very much appreciated. Please press the “Register here” button.

https://www.alternatives-conference.org/peerrespitesoteriasummit


The Darker the Night the Brighter the Light: Five Lessons Learned This Month

Another title might be, From the darkness I brought back gems of wisdom and a soul full sense of peace.

One month ago I suddenly found myself in a very dark place where I felt vulnerable, raw, naked, humble, confused yet seeking to understand the social interaction dynamics that had triggered this journey into a seemingly bottomless pit. It’s been well over 10 years since I’ve been in such a solitary space, feeling alone, unsupported, disconnected from myself and from others.

I slowly began to emerge from the darkness 10 days ago and now I am completely out.

Going into the darkness, I remember telling people I am going through a big shift in my life. It was clear that something significant, transformational was happening. I came back with deeper feelings of connection, and a deeper sense of belonging to something much bigger than myself and a more profound sense of meaning and purpose. One lesson was about a deeper understanding of who I am separate from ego, that is, the identity I was taught and the social conditioning that has so brainwashed my thinking. And I might add the thinking of everyone around me. It’s grip on me is looser.

I feel more separated from “my story”, meaning the story I tell myself, the oppression that’s been internalized. My attachment to the story is crumbling, my ego is being dismantled resulting in a deeper sense of self-acceptance and compassion for myself and for others. It is not like I didn’t have these senses before, they just deepened. They got into my bones, cells, mind and heart more thoroughly.

The second lesson was about letting go completely – to everything, every mental/emotional attachment- so I felt more at peace and more present in the now. I got more clarity on how I live not in the present moment but often in the past, or in the future. Mostly, the past, where I repeat the same stories (this happened!) or make up new ones based on old ones – how things could be better next time, etc. Being in the now, the present moment was a BIG lesson coming out of this particular darkness. I am more aware of what I am experiencing – how I feel in my head, my heart and my body and noticing the emotions and energy of others.

I am not sure the context of my trigger is important but here it is. The biggest trigger for my descent into darkness came when someone I have known and trusted for over 20 years and who is very smart, wise and articulate unexpectedly shared a perception she had of me that completely shocked me – especially coming from her – it brought me to tears as she told me in a flat, harsh tone. I can not imagine her speaking to anyone else the way she had spoken to me, she just doesn’t behave like that. The context of what leads to our darkness may vary but to me the important point is what lessons we learn from it, and how to emerge from it wiser, and more healed. It triggered early trauma around abandonment and distrust but I have been working on those issues for decades. This darkness had a very different quality to it.

Thus, lesson #2 has to do with the quality of my listening and being present. I frequently ask myself, instead of getting defensive, What am I missing? With my heart broken wide open I was taking on her perspective – this is how she saw me. I assume others sometimes see me this way too. This helped to further crack open the old story I tell myself which allowed the deeper recognition of ego (or social mask) that is not really what and who I am. The difference with this particular time of re-evaluation time is that I have time to stay with my experience, to not hurry or stress or be pulled to get out of the darkness. I opened up to being in it and letting my mind, my awareness, my consciousness explore until meaning or a direction emerged. All the while I felt vulnerable, humbled, naked and raw – primed for new learning and experiencing!

I am forgetting some of the details or how to give words to my experience so I checked my journal. Eight days ago I purchased my plane ticket to India which was a big step. It felt emergent, empowering and certainly a contradiction to the darkness – this was only part of the antidote. Seven days ago my sentence for the day stated, “As I awake and ascend my body tingles in new multi-dimensional ways”. (Oh yes, my consciousness was exploring!). Six days ago, “As my egoic mask evaporates my spiritual self awakens”. Five days ago, “My heart is full of love, my spirit is full of belonging, my mind is at peace resting on the pillow of eternity”. Three days ago, “Imagine a world of no separation, how kind each of us would be”. These sentence a day writings come as close as I can come to to articulating this transformative level of listening where I await the emerging future- what is trying to come through. It has led to the deepest feeling of wholeness I have ever experienced that includes a deep sense of belonging on all levels imaginable- including a cosmic level!

Lesson 3: During this dark time. I did a good amount of emotional release work with other people, that is, we shared time listening to each other and facilitating deeper insight and emotional expression. I’ve done this type of emotional expression with other people an average of three times a week for the past 30 years. Without it I would not be the person I am today. Without it I never would’ve taken on leading the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery. That is to say, to a very significant extent my emotional release work with others has given me the empowered, liberated life I have today.

Lesson 4 is about the gift of meditation and being gently guided by an enlightened person. About 5 days ago I began each day listening to a free series of meditations by Depok Chopra. That helped me very significantly come out of the darkness. His words were gems sprinkled around me, easy to follow and take me into an insightful and peaceful place. I’m not plugging Deepak Chopra in particular. I’m just pointing out that there are extraordinary resources all around us and I had the good fortune of tapping into one that has been, for me, nothing short of remarkable. It came at the perfect time- when I was broken wide open and ready for something new.

Lesson 5 is really what prompted writing this blog. It was the thought that if I had never gone into that dark place I would not have had the insight, the healing, the depth of understanding myself and how to go forward in social relationships and in my life in general. If I had been drugged (“medicated”) or locked up or mistreated by society the way that our culture is so good at I would’ve missed out on so much learning and healing. The depth of wisdom that comes from dark or challenging emotional states that with good support and hard work looking at the underlying (and sometimes ancient) dynamics, can lead to enormous wisdom, insights and compassion. That is the new light I live in. It is completely different from who I was 5 weeks ago.

(stuck rrrr

We Lost a Giant Today: A Tribute to Janet Foner

We lost a giant today — a woman who, more than anyone else in my life, taught me what it meant to live a life of courage, integrity, thinking outside the box and how to be genuine while also strategic in building relationships that have had a huge impact on the world. Janet Foner was one of the most remarkable people I have ever had the pleasure to know and to work with.

My first significant memory of her was over 20 years ago during a Re-evaluation Counseling mental health liberation weekend workshop which Janet led. She held a 7am support group for ex-psychiatric inmates and it was my first time ever going to such a group. She took turns “counseling” us one at a time surrounded by everyone else. She knew my mental health story (from previous interactions) yet in my turn she asked me to say “There was never anything wrong with me.” It shocked me and struck me as a completely wild and crazy idea, given that she knew I had been labeled with chronic schizophrenia by more than one psychiatrist and I had been on and off psychopharmaceuticals for many years. I thought her direction to me was absolutely ridiculous, yet, she was a worldwide leader whom I deeply respected and trusted. So what was I to do but to try and say this “There was never anything wrong with me.” Well I said it, in this small and safe group, with affect that was flat as a pancake. Janet said, “Say it like you mean it” and she stayed with me in a loving and supportive way, urging me to take it in, to consider that notion. She never pushed hard. And over the many years that I (and hundreds of others) worked with her within the RC community she always created a safe and respectful space, inviting us to consider new ways of cleaning our perceptual lens and working towards the world we wanted to create.

That giant contradiction Janet gave me; honestly, it was a struggle for me to even try to begin to wrap my mind around it. And who was she to know better than “the experts” — the psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and virtually every mental health professional I had ever known. It was confusing. She was a force to be reckoned with. She was the embodiment of a radical contradiction to everything I had ever been taught about mental health. Might I add that at this time I had a masters degree in psychology and about 15 years of working in the field when she offered me this “There was never anything wrong with me” contradiction? Who do I trust? This wiry-haired mad-looking woman who had radical ideas about capitalism, the pharmaceutical industrial complex and oppression and who offered a vision of the world as inclusive, loving and socially and economically just.

I have worked hard and intentionally on my liberation for the (now) 29 years I have been involved in the RC community. It took me a few years to begin to wrap my mind around her radical concept and a few more years to embody the reality that in fact there was never anything wrong with me. The seed she planted began to bear big, meaningful fruit. I could see my real and genuine self separate from the mental health oppression that had been heaped on me from my earliest memories. I am not the sum of all the patterned ways I was taught to think and feel.

It is only because of the work I did with Janet Foner and other worldwide RC mental health liberation leaders (who, like me, supported Janet’s work, her brilliant mind and counseling skills) over many years that I was able to take a leap of faith and become the director of the National Coalition of Mental Health Recovery (NCMHR). In that role I got to take on — full force — the heaps of oppression that get spewed at every opportunity in the U.S. and the oppressive mindset that most people believe as “truth.” In my role I got to share my story on Capitol Hill and within many programs of the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, of being misunderstood and mistreated, and to educate decision-makers and legislators about NCMHR’s policy priorities in order to create a more helpful, more healing and more inclusive mental health system of care. And I could lead the NCMHR from my heart, with compassion, because I came to understand the social, economic and political dynamics of oppression as well as to see through that dysfunctional lens and lead us towards a path of liberation.

I am and will always continue to be eternally grateful for Janet’s tenacity and courage to bring diverse leaders together and teach many thousands of people around the world about Mental Health Liberation. Many people do not know that Janet helped form the very early Alternatives Conferences in the U.S. and she co-founded MindFreedom International and to this day she continued serving on its board. As she said in a speech she gave at MindFreedom’s Creative Revolution conference in 2007:

I remind David periodically that it is the depth of mental health oppression that is keeping us from moving forward as fast as we originally thought we would. I remind him that many of us have had years of heavy psychiatric drugs, electroshock, seclusion, four point restraint, etc. in the mental health system, and that that has made it more difficult to organize ourselves than some other movements.

But I also want to remind us that they took their best shots at us and failed, they did not get us down, they didn’t stop us, and they can’t, because we know more than they do about recovery. They assume that no one can recover, and we know people can, because we have done it, and helped others do it, too. The system repeats the same old record over and over: you are sick, there is something wrong with you, you will never get better, you can’t make it in society, you will need drugs forever. We know that those old records that play the same song over and over have proved to be useless and non-productive. In contrast, what we do is powerful, and healing. We can think around and outside of the system, and that puts us in a much better position to change things for the better.

We are the pioneers, making a space in the world for our work and our dreams to happen.

Janet Foner

From David Oaks:

Janet Foner: Thanks for Your Lifetime of Mental Health Liberation, and Three Decades of Wonderful Friendship!

This is hard to do. I miss you! I valued our regular Facetimes, with you in Harrisburg, PA and me in Oregon. Recently, I talked about updating and reissuing a poster you created many years ago for MindFreedom International. By far, this was our most popular piece of public education, appearing on walls all over the world:

Title: “The 10 Warning Signs of Normality

Readers of that humorous poster would not know that this was based on part of one of your actual workshops, which I had the pleasure of attending several times, about what is this thing we call “normality” and why do so many in the public believe it exists?

Spoiler alert: Janet talked about so-called normality as the “average of the ruling class’s distress patterns.”

I first met Janet back in 1988 in Portland, Oregon at the biggest conference ever held by the National Association for Rights Protection & Advocacy. I was giving a fun little workshop about playing a game where we each took an identity of an oppressed group, and together created a revolution. Janet asked me why don’t we do this in reality?

I got to know Janet better as we met with more and more other psychiatric survivors and allies, planning a counter-conference to the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in New York City in May, 1990. I especially recall a moment in the hallway during our event, at the new youth hostel, when Janet affirmed my own leadership in this movement. For years the word “leader” had been suspect in our field, which often substituted the word “elitist.”

Janet, your support and wisdom helped me learn that we all, everyone on Earth, need to have our leadership affirmed for nonviolent planetary revolution for the liberation of all, nature included.

You see, the founders of MindFreedom did not just pick a word that would resonate. Janet believed that with enough empowering support any of us, at any moment, can have a mind free enough to choose liberation.

Janet’s friendship and support became, I discovered, a bedrock that could never, ever be diminished. I learned that Janet wrote her Master’s dissertation on building a humane alternative to mental health. I enjoyed seeing the complex and beautiful quilts this artist created. I got to know and love Janet’s family, her two sons and beloved husband Mayer.

While my connection with Janet was mainly through MFI and our close friendship, her MFI work was actually only part of her “mental health system survivor” liberation leadership, as she called it. Janet kept this very separate from MFI, but she treasured her decades of close work with Re-evaluation Counseling, a peer-based support organization created in the 1950’s. Janet felt that RC saved her life, and she was an international leader in that other nonprofit. While not my cup of tea, I met many warm and wise people involved in RC, and valued and respected much that they offer liberation groups in the “Wide World” as movements such as ours are known in RC.

After my injury and profound disability, you made several trips here to visit and always knew how to have fun, as well as offer healing words.

Janet, you have been one of my closest and deepest friends in my life. Your amazing wisdom, no-nonsense strength, vision of Earth as we could be, decades of leadership on the MFI board, and so much more will be missed.

As never before, may your life call to others to find their leadership for nonviolent planetary revolution. Now!

Janet, you loved movies with a smart message and humor. During one of our last Facetime talks, you recommended a documentary with a title that readers of this brief tribute — and there will be more — will probably appreciate:

If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast”


Pathways to Enhance Well-Being and the backstory

This week we e-release this new free booklet, Pathways to Enhance Well-Being, https://wp.me/a3I81E-41. The evolving story provides an example of how we can follow the life pulse that moves through us – in this case – it moved through the three co-authors and manifests something new that we hope will be helpful for many people. My co-creators and I, and seemingly the stars too, were aligned on this project. For each of us, our life story has in large part been about finding pathways to enhance our own well-being and to assist others in doing the same. We came together with heart-based and soul-based intention to share some of the practices that have transformed our lives, opening our bodies and minds which allowed joy and passion to flow through us. We don’t write about our transformative process in the booklet but make no mistake – this is the energy that flowed through us and we hope that you, the reader, can feel in yourself as you expand or deepen your use of body/mind/spirit practices.

Our work, and our lives, give us many opportunities to recalibrate our steps to remain aligned with our deepest intentions. It is delightful to share with you one of the first responses to releasing the booklet. A senior manager in a large behavioral health organization stated, “Right now I am envisioning it (the booklet) being used in our Recovery Education Centers. I am going to present it to the team leaders and have them develop a class around it. Once this is done we will facilitate a class (usually 12 weeks long) in each center.”

The pre-birth of the booklet began with Linda sharing with me some of the barriers she experienced as she moved towards bringing alternative approaches (eg, meditation, breath practices, etc.) into state psychiatric institutions. Perhaps, in part, it was because she was a peer, a person with lived experience of a labeled mental health condition, she and her “techniques” were not taken seriously. Knowing that Linda had for some years been successful in bringing these approaches into the peer community I suggested we ask Peggy to look at the research on the effectiveness of these approaches on people labeled with a mental health condition. Perhaps, if there was hard data Linda could present that to the “professional” clinical staff it would help her make inroads to bringing these practices to a resistent institutional culture.

Peggy did a thorough review of the research literature on 13 different alternative approaches. Six approaches had the most significant data. We created one-pagers that shared the data. Linda’s Advisory Board said they wanted a back page to have a specific example of each approach. All this was done, edited, printed and we were finished – at least we thought so.

Some months later we came up with the idea of putting the 6 one-pagers into a booklet. Now around this time one of the state psychiatric institutions, where Linda had been trying to expand Toivo’s Healing From Within program, very suddenly fired and/or put on administrative leave 50 of their staff due to very public allegations of abuse and neglect. Understandably this increased the stress level of both people working in and incarcerated in the institution. Linda continued reaching out to them to allow more people (patients as well as staff) to participate in the alternative approach healing sessions that she offered (at no cost) weekly on-site. This lead to them contracting with Toivo, Linda’s employer, to offer Healing From Within groups on their inpatient units to both people receiving services as well as staff.

On a separate note, over 600 state mental health workers have been trained in Toivo’s Healing From Within alternative approaches to wellness.

Over some months the co-authors continued editing, making formatting and graphic decisions. Peggy brought in Patricia Nemec to put it all together into the booklet format you see.

Human Connection is the Antidote to a Culture of Isolation

Human Connection is the Antidote to a Culture of Isolation

By Lauren Spiro

December 21, 2017

When the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, was asked what the biggest disease in America was, he stated: “It’s not cancer, it’s not heart disease, it is the pronounced isolation that so many people are experiencing that is the great pathology of our lives today.”1 Thomas L. Friedman, Pulitzer prize-winning author and journalist with The New York Times, stated: “How ironic, we are the most technologically connected generation in human history, and yet more people feel more isolated than ever. The connections that matter most and that are most in short supply today are the human-to-human ones.”

I want to offer some thoughts and some hope about a process I think we are all undergoing. On the one hand, we see disruption all around us. Unsustainable systems are collapsing, resulting in an acceleration of the breakdown of our community, social, economic and political infrastructure; which, for some, leads to a fear-based amplification of prejudice and fear and a clinging to isolation and silo or wall-building.

On the other hand, however, increasingly people feel a deep sense of purpose that is activating our greatest gifts. We sense that something new, hopeful and empowering is in the process of emerging. Apparently, we need to burn through some darkness before we collectively see the light. The light is a palpable shift toward reaching for human connection; toward opening our hearts and our minds and intentionally focusing on the positive future that wants to emerge. We engage our curiosity, compassion, and courage and reconnect with our shared humanity. People are stepping up, sharing their vulnerability and wisdom and embodying a renewed sense of empowered, cooperative leadership. This is the elevation of our shared humanity.

We are increasingly engaged and experiencing profound social and personal transformation. We are realizing our essential nature and reaching for human connection within and beyond ourselves and realizing that there is nothing to fight against. We are directly engaging in co-innovating and evolving to a more just humanity and a more sustainable democracy.

Moving from the 40,000 foot perspective to an on-the-ground, personal perspective, what does this mean?

Human beings have been making war for a long time in many cultures, meaning in many minds, because the culture is a reflection of the mind. It is noteworthy to state here that there is clear and compelling historical evidence that when matrifocal societies dominated the planet there was no evidence of war. However, in our current patrifocal societies, there is no escaping the damage of war — whether we are aware of the damage or not.

I am coming to a clearer understanding that when I am not at peace in my own mind, I am waging an internal war and that war is projected onto others whether I am aware of broadcasting this or not.

The war in my head (judgment, wall building) can be framed around a variety of battles — it can be framed around the ancient and false belief that I am not good enough or smart enough, or if that other person would do something correctly or if this condition or that condition were met then all would be worked out and peaceful. I have constructed a story that tints the lens through which I see myself, others, our relationships, and the world.

If I remain unaware of how I have tinted the lens, and I remain stuck in the fear-based story, the conditions for peace will not be met. Peace is revealed in the absence of war — in the absence of isolation, fear, the illusion of separation and judgments.

If we look more deeply, we can see that the source of this war comes from the belief that we are some thing that is separate from others. This lesson that we are taught from an early age, this sense of separation and human disconnection, is so pervasive and integrated into the threads of our culture that it makes it hard to see. This experience of human disconnection, a separation of self from self and self from others, is a fundamental concept in both trauma-informed practice and in Emotional CPR (eCPR). The impact of trauma and human disconnection played out in my own early childhood, for example, by my experiencing such a profound lack of safety that it resulted in my clinging to anyone who offered safety and anything that could numb the pain.

Another result of the belief that we are some thing and this thing is separate from each other is that we get focused on protecting this thing. Whatever the thing is — our territory, our home, our family — we protect it and hold onto fear, anger and revenge, and we wait for someone else to do something differently so that we think we can find peace.

Our tinted lens reinforces the idea that that other person is different — separate from me. And this separation perpetuates conflict and war. It perpetuates the war in my head which perpetuates the war I wage with others. Inner war creates global war.

When I am practicing eCPR or genuine human connecting I am looking not from the lens of ego but from a deeper level. Meaning, I am not judging nor labeling but rather seeing the reality (under the illusion) which is that there is nothing to protect. I focus on perceiving the other person in their full humanity. The distress the person is expressing is a particular patterned way that this person’s internal war has escalated. As a supporter or listener I focus on being with them on a genuine level and assisting them in finding what is true or genuine about themselves — meaning what is deeper than the social mask they have identified as being them but is not the genuine them; it is the learned them, the ego.

I do this by seeing the genuine person underneath her lens, underneath the social conditioning, underneath her story. And when we do this we are perceiving or ‘being’ underneath our own lens. From this place, where peace is revealed in the deep connection of two people, I mirror back the best I see in her, my great hope for her, my belief in her, my knowing that together, in this moment, we will move through this.

For more on this process, see: “When the war in our mind ends, peace emerges.”

We are born and innately wired for human connection. It is a simple process but often it is not easy. If you focus and put your intention on it you will re-find it; it will emerge. Here is a beautifully simple example of a stranger successfully reaching for another person: “When Train Riders Moved Away From Passenger, This Woman Held His Hand.”

I end with two simple and eloquent quotes from Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” and “The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth.”

Club Business International (CBI), October 2017

Finding our way back again, the cure for isolation

Finding our way back again, the cure for isolation and its ills

Massive doses of human connection are needed to counter the alienating influence of technology, disruption of the village and a growing culture of isolation.

I remind myself often how wonderful it is to notice the wealth of resource and intelligence that is all around us. I just left the gym where I watch CNN (while on the treadmill) and I go from the devastation of Puerto Rico to the massacre in Las Vegas and then read an entrepreneurial magazine in the lobby.

Club Business International’s October 2017 publication stated, “When I [the editor of CBI] asked the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy what was the biggest disease in America today, without hesitation, he answered, ‘It’s not cancer, It’s not heart disease, It’s isolation.’”

One of the results of the incessant technological assault, observes Murphy, “is the pronounced isolation that so many people are experiencing that is the great pathology of our lives today.” The Editors note continues, “International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Associate Chairperson Derek Gallup counsels, ‘Certainly, continue your search for technological solutions, but, as you do so, remain constantly focused on the all-important human element. In the final analysis, your members, and how they feel about them selves and the team members- those are the critical factors that, ultimately, will determine whether your business grows and thrives… or doesn’t.’”

The Editorial also points out that Thomas L. Friedman, Pulitzer prize-winning author and journalist with The New York Times, states “How ironic, we are the most technologically connected generation in human history- and yet more people feel more isolated than ever. The connections that matter most and that are most in short supply today are the human-to-human ones.”

Personally, I am hopeful. More and more people globally are waking up and re-connecting with our shared humanity and a shared vision of a peaceful and collaborative world. Currently in the U.S. however, a great divide appears to be growing, where we see an acceleration of the breakdown of our social structure and our community infrastructure.

Unsustainable systems are collapsing and something new, hopeful, empowering and global is in the process of emerging. It seems that we need to collectively burn through some darkness before we collectively see the light. Lately, there seems to be a growing isolation and war-like posturing. Let’s shift gears and focus on a hopeful antidote that everyone can apply.

World peace begins with me
Human beings have been making war for a long time in many cultures, meaning in many minds, because the culture is a reflection of the mind.

I am coming to a clearer understanding that when I am not at peace in my own mind, I am waging an internal war and that war is projected onto others whether I am aware of it or not.

The war in my head can be framed around a variety of battles – it can be framed around the ancient and false belief that I am not good enough or smart enough, or if that other person would do something well or if this condition or that condition were met – then all would be worked out and peaceful. I have constructed a story that tints the lens through which I see myself, others, our relationships, and the world.

If I remain unaware of how I have tinted the lens, and I remain stuck in the story, the conditions for peace will not be met. Peace is revealed in the absence of war – in the absence of isolation, separation, judgments, and conditions.

If we take another step deeper, we can see that the source of this war comes from the belief that we are some thing that is separate from others. This early learning, this sense of separation and human disconnection, is so pervasive and integrated into the threads of our culture that it makes it hard to see.

This experience of human disconnection, a separation of self from self and self from others, is a fundamental concept in both trauma-informed practice and in Emotional CPR (eCPR), www.emotional-cpr.org. The impact of trauma and human disconnection played out in my own early childhood, for example, by my experiencing such a profound lack of safety that it resulted in my clinging to anyone who offered safety and anything that could numb the pain.

Another result of the belief that we are some thing and this thing is separate from each other is that we get focused on protecting this thing. Whatever the thing is – our territory, our home, our family – we protect it and hold on to fear, and anger and revenge, and we wait for someone else to do something differently so that we think we can find peace.

Our tinted lens reinforces the idea that that other person is different – separate from me. And this separation perpetuates conflict and war. It perpetuates the war in my head which perpetuates the war I wage with others. The inner war creates global war.

When I am practicing eCPR or human connecting I am cleaning the lens. By that I mean, I intentionally focus on letting go of my own judgments and labels; there is nothing to protect. I focus on perceiving the other person in their full humanity. The distress the person is expressing is a particular patterned way that this person’s internal war has escalated.

As a supporter or listener or fellow human being I focus on being with her and assisting her in finding peace. I do this by seeing the genuine person underneath her lens, underneath the social conditioning, underneath her story. And when I do this, I am perceiving or ‘being’ underneath my own lens. From this place, where peace is revealed in the deep connection of two people, I mirror back the best I see in her, my great hope for her, my belief in her, my knowing that together, in this moment, we will move through this. For more on this process, see “When the war in our mind ends, peace emerges” (http://www.mentalhealthexcellence.org/war-mind-ends-peace-emerges/)

Connection as a preventative of violence
Shortly after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 17 others were assaulted with a firearm in Tucson, Arizona in 2011 and six people died from their wounds, the mayor of Tucson, Arizona asked for a meeting with the Administrator of the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

I recall being hopeful that some federal action step might be taken to move forward in a collective and positive direction after this tragedy. About 45 of us from around the country met at SAMHSA in Rockville, Maryland, the Tucson mayor and his wife joined us via phone.

There was much talk around what some communities have done in response to similar attacks, how we might be able to prevent such attacks and where we go from here, such as community dialogues, town meetings, etc.

I listened for a long while and then spoke and I would say the same thing today: People don’t act out in desperate acts of rage – be it homicide, massacre or suicide – when they know they are connected and belong to something bigger than themselves – be it family, community or some entity that gives their life meaning and purpose. I don’t believe this behavior occurs when people know that they belong in community, that they have a safety net, a place where they are being well thought of, cared about.

If people have somewhere safe to go when they feel big feelings, whatever those feelings are – anger, rage, isolation, anxiety, sadness, etc., they would not act out so desperately, at least they would be less likely to. The invitation is to think creatively and strategize about how we rebuild our communities so they everyone knows they belong, everyone is valued and has a place.

We can and must do a better job of connecting to our own hearts and to the hearts, minds and spirits of others.

I end with two simple and eloquent quotes from Albert Einstein, “We can not solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” and “The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth.

21 June, 2017 12:58

When the war in our mind ends, peace emerges.

When we co-founded Emotional CPR (eCPR), I put my very best thinking into the project as a way of embodying how I envisioned relationships and how every person could learn how to support another person through an emotional crisis. eCPR has evolved over the years and so have I. I have a new insight and an invitation I would like to share.

First, however, I want to briefly review the features of dialogue which are essential to embody if one is to practice eCPR. These features, more elaborated, are in the eCPR workbook. In dialogue: 1) We use our authentic voice, meaning we speak from our heart, our vital center; 2) We listen from a neutral place free from preconceived notions and any resistance, and use curious inquiry to listen for meaning beneath the words; 3a) We practice deeply respecting each person and look forthe richness of their life experience, which feeds their vital center, and know they have something to teach us; 3b) Wesee the value in thoughts and behaviors different from our own; 4) We share our voice so others may understand, and suspend our beliefs as dialogue is neither debate nor an effort to convince anyone of anything; 5) We allow ourselves to feel another person’s emotions and their experience, and share ours to encourage an emotional dialogue; and 6) We understand that we are all equal and every person has something to offer, leaving status, power and privilege outside of the dialogue.

I am on a panel presentation June 22, 2017 (http://bit.ly/2rVYkgE), which has inspired me to ariculate my new learning beyond recovery and outside the ‘mental health’ education-and-advocacy bubble. The title of my presentation is Intentional Wellness, Nurturing the Soul and Conscious Self-Evolution,

A significant part of my intentional wellness journey has been learning to believe completely in myself. This includes, among other beliefs, being grounded in the wisdom and the discoveries of my life’s journey. To that end, I think of the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly.

The caterpillar tries to kill what it perceives as “foreign” cells invading the chrysalis, but it can’t. The caterpillar does not know that these foreign entities are the imaginal cells through which the caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly.

Do we as humans have imaginal cells? Do I have a destiny that I am not yet aware of?

The newest chapter in my journey of liberation is nurturing the soul. I am breaking open and letting go of attachments—including old, habitual ways of thinking—so that new learning and wisdom can emerge. All I need to do is go into stillness to find answers or the direction I will walk. I am learning that I make shifts not through my thoughts but through my feelings, my body, my intuition. I am experiencing expanded awareness, which I don’t yet have words to explain. This process, however, allows inner knowing to emerge and opens possibilities for cooperative relationships and creating the emerging future—together.

I have found that as a result of deeply embodying the practice of dialogue with others, our hearts and minds fuse and there is a deepening awareness of the light of our consciousness, which evolves us forward. The grace lifts us to transcend our cultural conditioning.

I have also found that a commitment to my liberation journey means that I recognize that the extent to which I get emotionally hooked on what someone is expressing reflects the extent to which I am not free—that my thinking is stuck on a particular belief or ideology that I have not thoroughly examined and let go. In other words, it is a blind spot—a good indicator of where I have some internal cleaning up to do.

The more deeply I listen, the more I connect to myself and to others and gain a larger understanding of our shared journey. The invitation for everyone is to transcend our social conditioning and see other ways of thinking and being in the world as valid and good—and that means that more possibilities open up. Our heart and mind expand; our perceptual barriers dissolve. We see life more clearly. We co-create a new paradigm, a new way of thinking and being with one another, and we open up to a deeper source of creative intelligence. In this fertile ground of openness, we think more clearly and therefore can more effectively co-create the communities we want. In my mind, that is a peaceful, cooperative society.

Like the caterpillar, the script of my conscious self-evolution is coded within me. To read it I place my attention on the highest frequency of my being and bring my Whole Self into harmony with that frequency. I strive to live my life in such a way that I both lift myself and lift others. My own experiential evolution is the energy that evokes others and flows through me with the fire of the force of life itself. I can feel the metamorphosis taking place (Barbara Marx Hubbard, 2011).

This sounds great but what does it mean more concretely?

I will use eCPR as an example of the process. When two people go together into the deep, dark and vulnerable space led by the person in emotional crisis but with a supporter who embodies the dialogue process mentioned above, a new way of perceiving the unfolding situation or process emerges. New insights and resources are revealed which allows not only a resolution of the crisis but inherently creates an opening for the person, who now perceives reality more clearly, to make changes in her life in order to live more aligned with her deepest values and intentions. When we get underneath what we have been taught to believe about ourselves and our relationship to the world we tap into a deeper level of creative intelligence which in turn allows us to think clearer and behave in ways that move us in the direction of the life we are creating.

One does not need to go through a crisis to find a new way of perceiving challenges and finding innovative solutions. Leading edge work is being done using a model developed by the Presencing Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which proposes a framework and methodology for understanding and practicing a learning cycle. They state that most learning methodologies focus on learning form the past while they focus on learning from the future as it emerges. In order to do this one must suspend the voices of judgment, cynicism and fear and connect with a sense of appreciation and wonder, opening up a new space of exploration and inquiry. They have a specific protocol for this process which they use to facilitate over 25,000 participants from 161 countries on an experiential learning journey. The phases of the protocol are used by groups of people working on solving a wide variety of community problems.

My intention is to create a group to work on federal mental health policy issues but that is not really part of this blog!

In closing, I submit that a new style of leadership is spreading. It will engage and energize people through taping into innate wisdom, integrity and transparency with high levels of trust and positive energy and embodying mindful listening and other emerging practices. This is a very exciting opportunity to co-create the future together; it is a big invitation.

The more deeply I let go of attachments and explore the unlimited potential of the human mind/body/spirit the more I see peace emerging on the horizon. I am so grateful to be alive today and to be part of this unfolding process.