Mao Tse-Tung isn’t an obvious inspiration for the empowerment, partnership and recovery of Dedi health services and support users but it was studying”Mao – The Unknown Story”, the astounding biography by Jang Chung and her husband of Red China’s infamous tyrant which I found a quotation that sums up for me the attitude most conducive to both:”Ideals are important, but reality is even more important.” In my view, which is true uninformed in many ways and just that of a self-educated service user, without retrieval – of the service and its employees, and service users alike – there may be no empowerment and without equality there can be no venture worthy of this name. What does the service actually mean by those words and anticipate itself, and of its users? If service users are actually empowered, how can their relationship with themselves, each other and also the support and its employees change? Is partnership synonymous with equality, or merely a new expression of an older hierarchy?
As soon as we use it in this new circumstance, what exactly do we mean by”recovery”?
Closer to home, England’s campaigning advocates of retrieval, rethink say,”Recovery can be defined as a personal process of tackling the adverse impact of experiencing mental health problems, despite their continuing or long-term presence. Used in this sense, recovery does not mean”cure””
There different definitions demonstrate that recovery can mean many things. Among its defining attributes, so to speak, is just this diversity, in which the identity of the experience and perception of retrieval will be reflected in the wide range of its definitions. In the same way, to the degree that support users are empowered by services, they need to empower themselvesby redefining their role, redefining their past, present and future, and by redefining their recovery, in manners appropriate, meaningful and different. To the level that support users are bombarded by providers they must partner – say, befriend – themselves and each other, and partner solutions, using a new sense of capacity, responsibility and potential.
The level of collective or individual support user participation, presuming empowerment and partnership as outcomes of same, depends upon answers to queries such as”Is the user involved in decisions about their own care or service plan?” Now, how can we answer this, honestly, in a context expanded by empowerment and partnership priorities and also informed by a commitment to healing? In my experience – by no means definitive, I admit – service and care plans are often subject to incompletion due to time and caseload pressures on staff. Paperwork must be streamlined and possibly parts of it finished by service customers with minimal mediation; the latter has been completed in the past. If the care plan is around the service user then why shouldn’t they support their support by leading it with greater than verbal answers? That’s equality. It is empowering. It is real venture, and without fanfare.
Another question asked is “Does the user have any influence over the way that these services are then delivered?” The choice of the word”influence” here intrigues me. Why if an agency user have eternally to be satisfied with only”influencing” service delivery? Should not empowerment bring real partnering in service development and the active encouragement of their employment and training of service users in the service?
Empowerment and partnership are, for me, precursors to and also the outcomes of retrieval. And powerful tools to provide service users but, if you prefer, retrieval is the engine room where they are able to really gain steam.
I didn’t always believe that. In reality, I came to the notion of retrieval by accident. In a time of resurgent illness, casting around for empathy and support, I suddenly found myself onto a webpage devoted to service user articles, such as those by influential pioneers such as Pat Deegan, Helen Glover and Wilma Boevink. Having heard nothing of recovery, I wondered: Why were not all support being exposed to this hopeful, healing and most of all self-actualising message? Why wasn’t this substance available as a matter or priority to support users? And why wasn’t local practise – because elsewhere it has grown and become a powerful force for sensible, tangible change – lined up with such a strong context for good?
It has become my certainty that embracing the healing context and procedure is, at this time and for a while to come, the ideal chance mental health staff, services and service users have of changing how we look at, reside and work with mental illness and change it to sustainable mental health. Empowerment and partnership should be synonymous with retrieval. I am not interested in being empowered or partnered on principle. I’m interested in being nicely and acting out of that with fresh intent. This presumes new strength. Do service users possess such strength?
I have had the unusual role, for a service user, of co-facilitating recovery trainings to local mental health service team. It is worth noting that in itself this is a powerful illustration of how providers are changing, and that I am thankful for the chance it gave me to meet and discuss experiences with local mental health staff, many of whom I know are now actively involved with adopting and producing the recovery context for and with their support users. At one point, during one training, when talking care programs, staff present were asked what strengths they believe support users have and demonstrate. As the only service user in the room, and although normally benign on my service and therapy, I became irate. Were those engaged with devotion and caring for the mentally ill really at a loss to identify any strength in them? Even to many working to their welfare and interested in serving them better, are the emotionally ill fundamentally helpless, the occasional, together admirable”survivor” notwithstanding?