New Recovery Center offers holistic approach to mental health
By Eric McHenry

For some people with psychiatric disabilities, a computer education program called Training for the Future (TFTF) is an expressway to recovery: it focuses on solutions, rather than on problems; its university affiliation gives a boost to participants' self-esteem; and technological literacy has become one of the most important job skills one can possess.

But every sufferer of mental illness has different needs, Dori Hutchinson says, and work isn't always what works. That's why she and several colleagues have created the new Recovery Center for people with psychiatric disabilities. Funded by a number of public and private grants, it takes its place this month alongside TFTF in the array of treatment programs offered by the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Hitting the ground running. Dori Hutchinson, Bob Mailloux, and Larry Kohn are helping to launch the Recovery Center, for people with psychiatric disabilities. The curriculum they and other SAR colleagues have designed makes extensive use of a new fitness facility in the Shed. Photo by Vernon Doucette

"Work is only part of a person's life," says Hutchinson, SAR adjunct assistant professor and director of services for rehabilitation counseling. "Recovery has so much to do with quality of life. And that may not necessarily mean going back to work or going back to school. It may mean developing friendships, belonging to a church, having a healthy body and a healthy mind. I think we've gotten so secular in the way we provide services -- focusing on either work or school. The Recovery Center will try to be very holistic, to attend to all parts of people's lives."

Participants in the program can enroll with either matriculated (full-time) or nonmatriculated (part-time) status. Their curricular options include such courses as Connectedness: Some Skills for Spiritual Health, InHarmony Hatha Yoga, and Intro to the Internet. Matriculated students take at least two of these semester-long classes, as well as a Recovery Seminar -- "a guided exploration of personal recovery," says Hutchinson -- that is the center's flagship course.

The center places considerable emphasis on physical health as a cornerstone of total health. Bob Mailloux, SAR rehabilitation education specialist, teaches both a personal fitness course and a seminar called Healthy Lifestyles for Men, a rubric that encompasses nutrition, preventive health care, and responses to stress. For the purposes of these courses, the Recovery Center staff and students have use of a new fitness room in the Shed, which has equipment for cardiovascular, strength, and stretching exercises.

Work, though not its exclusive focus, is also integral to the holistic philosophy upon which the program is predicated. The center's curriculum includes a sequence of courses for people entering or reentering the workforce -- The Decision to Work: What about Social Security?; Choosing a Career Direction; Looking for Work: Effective Strategies for Searching; and Coping at Work.

"It's rehabilitation through education," says Larry Kohn, director of development for the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. "It's the notion that people can begin to recover not just through individual therapy or medication or self-help, but by learning skills that apply to every aspect of their lives. It's a very natural synthesis of everything we've been doing up until now at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. We've had computer training; we've had a wellness program; we've had a supported education program; we've had a supported employment program. We felt that what we really needed was to put this all into a comprehensive program, so that anybody could come knock on our door and say, ŒYou know, I don't really know what I want, but I'm sick of being a patient. Can you help me?' And we could say yes."

Hutchinson and Kohn are quick to point out that despite its well-earned reputation as a provider of services, the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation is principally a research and training center. While its potential benefits to people with mental illness are myriad, they're also ancillary to two larger projects: the development of effective services and the training of specialists. The language used in promotional materials is accordingly promise-free: "The Recovery Center offers courses in physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual practices that may support the journey of recovery."

"Our services," says Hutchinson, "are more a kind of laboratory. Our mandate is to try out different ways of providing services that facilitate people's recovery and then giving what we've learned back to the field."

Gauging the efficacy of those services, she says, will be made easier for the Recovery Center's staff by the Recovery-Oriented Management Information System (ROMIS), a computer application that logs extensive data about students before, during, and after their participation in the program. Among other things, Kohn says, the system will help explode a misconception that the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation is "creaming" -- working mainly with those whose disabilities are not severe, "the cream of the crop."

"One accusation the center has heard from time to time is, ŒWell, you're getting good results because your people aren't as disabled as ours,'" says Kohn. "ROMIS will enable us to say, ŒThese are our people. Here are the demographics and the history: age, race, how many years they've been hospitalized, how many hospitalizations, what medications they're taking, all sorts of information.'"

Research efforts at the Recovery Center will be further aided by a number of interns, either practicing or prospective psychiatric health professionals.

"We're really excited," Kohn says, "to be able to provide both volunteer and internship opportunities for BU students -- Sargent students in particular, but also others who are interested in learning about the field."

Cheryl Gagne, SAR senior training associate and assistant director of the Recovery Center, will also supervise a group of interns from the community who have experienced psychiatric disability and are now providers. Inclusion of such specialists, who have viewed mental illness from both sides, is a long-standing practice at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation.

"On our staff, we've got both people who have had psychiatric experiences and people who have not," says Hutchinson. "And that's important, because this is a center about recovery. We have to walk the walk."

For more information about the Recovery Center, call 353-3549 or e-mail

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