Over the years, social work and the methods used for service delivery has changed. It hasn’t always been an easy road. While the adage “change is good” may be true, it is also true that change can be uncomfortable and scary because it often takes us out of what we know and puts us in a strange new world.
A while back, the word recovery began to be bantered about when speaking of mental health services. At the time, many old-school social workers had a very difficult time understanding exactly what that meant. “You can’t recover from a mental illness!” could be heard throughout the hallways, even here at Kenosha Human Development Services. The resistance was easy to understand. You see, at the time, service provision for people living with a mental health diagnosis was firmly entrenched in the medical model. It was thought that as long as people showed up to their appointments with their psychiatrists and took their medications they would be as good as they could possibly be. There was little to no talk about quality of life or meaningful life experiences. Program goals were set to “maintain” an individual’s mental health status instead of helping them to thrive.
As we began to understand the path of recovery and how each individual takes this very personal journey, we realized that there was much to learn! At KHDS, we have always known that people come to us with learned behavior that works for them, whether it is appropriate or not. It is what has allowed them to survive to this point in their lives. We know that our family systems have a great influence on our lives and how we react to what happens to us. KHDS has always successfully used these theories with youth and quickly came to realize that this actually pertains to all of us. Once we applied these operational theories to our adult programs we began to learn more about recovery. We began to work with people, not for them, allowing them to create personal goals and looking at the whole person, seeking a well-rounded life experience. By listening to those we serve, our mental health services transformed from the rigid medical model of medications and appointments to one of wholistic support and life-skills.
It’s been an amazing journey this thing called recovery as anyone in recovery will tell you. In fact, you might say the whole mental health service delivery system is in recovery, in a way. It took a leap of faith by “old-school” workers, forward thinking clinicians, patience, guidance, understanding and the voices of millions of people living with mental illness, but we now know that recovery is possible. When we stop to listen and really hear what someone is telling us, we learn. And we finally know–change is good!