Supporting People in Getting Active in Their Own Recovery

Often, especially with big mental health problems like those we call “psychosis,” almost all the discussion and attention tends to revolve around what the rest of us should do to help the person, and not what the person could do to help himself or herself.

And often the “help” that is offered makes people less inclined to do things to help themselves than they would otherwise be.  People are encouraged to give up trusting themselves and instead to think of themselves as “mentally ill,” and they are encouraged to take drugs which have a general effect of making people more passive or “tranquilized.”

Of course, it can seem like a good thing to have people lose trust in their “crazy” ideas or perceptions, and to have people be passive rather than engaged in activity we see as “psychotic.”  But to really recover, people need to find ways to trust themselves again and to become active toward their own values.  So we need something different from standard kinds of “help” if we are going to really help people move into “agency,” or really taking responsibility for their own recovery.

In their presentation for the next ISPS-US online meeting/webinar, which will happen at noon EDT  on Friday 9/25/15, Lewis Mehl-Madrona MD and Barbara Mainguy MA will share their views on this topic.

In their own words, they plan to “explore the interface and the movement between at least two different worlds in which people diagnosed with psychosis interact. First and dominant is the biomedical world in which the solution to virtually all of life’s woes is to take a pill and not to make personal, relational, or lifestyle changes. Important to recognize, we believe, is that these beliefs are as prominent for medical illnesses as they are for the so-called psychiatric illnesses. Then comes the Recovery Community in which people work from passivity (the biomedical model) toward agency in which they can actively contribute and create their recovery.

“We want to suggest that most psychiatrists are so saturated in the passivity model that they do not recognize when patients present from the agency model. We suggest that the two models are more widespread than mental health and represent fundamental differences in approaching health and disease. We review some of our results in working within both worlds. Specifically, the people with whom we work within a Recovery model improve and those within the passive, biomedical model, do not.”

Lewis and Barbara will be discussing what they have found may assist people in making this shift from passivity toward agency, especially telling stories of characters with agency to indirectly implant ideas of the possibility of agency. With patience, and with the practice of “radical acceptance,” they have found that this can be very effective!

ISPS online meetings are free to ISPS members, with a donation of $5-$20 requested from others, though no one turned away for lack of funds.  Please do register, by going to if you want to attend!

(Some of you may also want to read a recent article by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Working to Recover, or Adjusting to Illness?)


About Ron Unger

I am a licensed clinical social worker and therapist who works with people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, using a respectful and skill building approach called cognitive therapy for psychosis. I also talk and teach seminars related to this approach. You can read more about me and about how I became interested in this field by going to my blog,, and clicking on the tab "about Ron Unger."
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