The Value of Peer-to-Peer Treatment
The revolving door in jails, mental health hospitals and prisons is due in large part with the unsolved national crisis with mental health and substance abuse issues, and the treatments used.
Part of the problem:
· People with mental health problems get diagnosed and then medicated. Likewise, those with substance abuse issues go to detox and drug treatment to get clean. End of story? Hardly!
· Sometimes the medication or treatment helps. Other times it only masks what underlies the symptoms: trauma, despair, loneliness, fear, hopelessness, etc.
· After the effect of the medication has worn off, after the treatment, the person may be back where they started. Or worse. Maybe they haven’t the funds to replenish the prescription. Maybe it created side effects or a dependency. Or worse. Maybe they have nobody to talk with about things that drive them to the edge in the first place.
· Without peer support in the community, those with fragile mental health and sobriety issues may quickly find themselves back in desperate straits, and another trip to the emergency room, the hospital psyche ward, or jail.
Thankfully, there is an increasing acknowledgement about the value of peer support that is less about diagnosis, medication and hospitalization. Unfortunately, there are too few of them to serve the growing population in need. But here’s a glimpse at the model.
Sera Davidow founded the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community in the mid 2000s. The state was looking for a peer-support model that relied on prior patients to help the next tier of those suffering from mental illness. An article in the April 2017 issue of The Sun magazine http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/496/an-open-mind provides a look at the program attributes.
Closer to home, Project Able in Salem, Oregon, is very similar. In both cases, the remedy may involve medication and institutionalization for a time, but the emphasis is not the diagnosis or the drugs used to control the behavior. Too often, Davidow said, the mental health system uses force and coercion to control people and suffers from a “one-size-fits-all” model.
Instead, people assist and learn from one another through their “extreme states” without the involvement of doctors or clinicians. Though medical help is never far away, and useful at times, she said that the absence of medical authority allows participants to define their own experience.
With the number of people in need staggeringly high and climbing, it is clear that the community must continue to provide peer-to-peer services for those in crisis.
Similar to the treatment I did with sex offenders, the peer-to-peer model relies on having the client discover their own answers, based on their own strengths. Self reliance is frequently a better strategy than an anti-psychotic medication. Hope is always a better outcome than dependency.