Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

The Mom Who Would Be Governor: How a Short Walk and a Ray of Hope Made Jan Brewer an Advocate for Recovery

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

The Mom Who Would Be Governor: How a Short Walk and a Ray of Hope Made Jan Brewer an Advocate for Recovery

Article excerpt

Arizonans first started hearing about recovery from mental illness in 1999. At the time, state regulations had recently been put into effect in an attempt to resolve the long standing Arnold v. Sarn lawsuit. Those regulations were written at the end of an era characterized by services that were hell-bent on managing, controlling and care-taking for people with mental illnesses.

But some in the provider community began to question that approach because people were not getting better. We soon learned that all of those rules about care-taking and controlling disempowered many individuals and eroded their self-determination. This realization set the stage for a breakthrough--an evolution in the way we think about and treat mental illness.

In 1999, two organizations received funds from a private foundation to train "peer support specialists." Implicit in the concept of peer support was the premise that recovery from mental illness was possible. This concept built on the foundational belief that individuals who were recovering with mental illness could, with the help of training, make a significant contribution to others struggling with challenges. Over the next several years, this concept took hold in services around Arizona.

One mother, one son

In the early days of this evolution, I met a mom in the parking lot of a Phoenix-area behavioral health clinic. Both of us had traveled there at lunchtime to meet with the clinical team that provided services for her son. I had met this young man a few weeks earlier and, based on his positive personality, I was sure he could have a strong recovery experience. I felt that I was right, but had no evidence to back up this feeling since so little had been written about recovery at this point.

As I walked, it occurred to me that I didn't even have an official role in the treatment of this young man. I was just another provider, a self-appointed enthusiast of the new hope that recovery was possible. Yet, I had already been successful in convincing the clinical team to meet with us, though they may not have known what I was talking about.

As I greeted the mom, she wondered aloud about the wisdom of our meeting. "Sometimes," she said, "I worry that my involvement will make things worse for him."

"I don't think we can make it worse," I replied. Honestly though, I wasn't certain. As we finished our short walk to the facility, I realized how important this meeting was going to be for both of us. …

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