Creating Recovery Communities

by Karen Taylor





Ron Coleman and I for many years now have been working to establish recovery houses, places were people who are ready and choose to recover can come for healing.  Our latest house was near Perth, WA, Australia and was open for a year.   We believe that most of the process of recovery is educational, so therefore the houses are an educational healing centre.  People come to learn what they already instinctively know, that they can heal themselves.  Unfortunately, psychiatry knocks out this instinctive knowledge and through the medication and the prcoess of diagnosis people become stuck in illness, believing they believing they have a chronic and enduring condition and their broken brain in the problem.

Whereas we believe the person isn't the problem, the problem is the problem and more often than not connected to "what happened to them".  Then the emotions that developed to cope with what happened are often the main sticking points.

Over the last couple of years, we have been developing our ideas at creating recovery communities.  In the past, to us, this was about creating networks of people - mainly consumers, workers and family members, but over the last couple years this has changed.  We now believe the way forward is to help create cities, villages, suburbs, towns of recovery - "wellness cities".  Our thinking has been partially influenced by the wonderful film iLars and the Real Girl' where a whole town comes together to help a person work through an unusual belief which is really about healing what happened to him.

Is it possible?  Yes, I believe so.  It would take vision, it would take a lot of cooperation, but mostly it would involve activism in local communities and a change of process in local government.  At the moment too many departments are silos, their jobs to keep what little money they have to themselves.  There is little interest in sharing this out and even less interest in understanding if the way they are currently working is actually making a real difference.  As long as they tick the boxes and are providing "best value" services, that is all they seem to care about.

Imagine, though if all the money in Health & Social Care, Housing, Education, Leisure and Environment was treated differently.  What if the agencies came together and asked across our services "how do we make a strong, healthy and caring community?".  What if instead of large acute wards, horrible hostels and group homes, we create crisis centres in homely environments, healing / recovery centres, a neighbourhood cares project, where local ordinary people are trained in Emotional CPR and International Peer Support.  So instead of neighbourhood watch schemes which look out for crime, the schemes were all about caring about people in your street.  If we halved the pharmaceutical budget, think of what we could do with that money.  General Practitioners could have budgets to prescribe anything from a walking group to Tai Chi.  We could invest in recovery guides and mentors who walk alongside people on their journey.  We could invest in family centres where dialogical processes are the norm and familes can heal.

Schools could change their educational framework to ensure that kids grew up with social and emotional skills and framework to care about themselves and the people around them.  We could provide a different education for those who are kinetic learners or just people who don't feel comfortable sitting at a desk, but give them something physical to do and lessons that are person centred so they will be achieving what they need for their future.

Let’s create a space where there are vegetables, herbs and fruit are grown on every green space and people are able to pick what they need.

Let’s make sure there are pavements and walkways on every street to encourage people to walk and get to know each other, let councils have funds for yearly street parties and events so neighbours come out of their fenced area’s and get to know each other.

Let’s promote talking to each other when we commute to work so that it will be perfectly normal to talk to the person standing by you on a squashed tube. We know that social isolation is the single biggest cause of distress for vulnerable people.
Let’s support all the retired people who want to help in building these communities, with all the skills they bring from their work days, let’s recreate a society where the Elders are looked on with reverence and respect.

Let’s actively encourage connection between elders and youth. If every holistic practitioner gave one free hour of their time to those most in need what a difference they could make in those people’s lives.  

Let’s not create ghettos of social housing where we put all the “problem People” together as its easier and then they don’t “taint” the rest of the community. Let’s ban gated communities where those that have can shut out those that don’t.
Let’s start early in trying to prevent traumatic childhoods, every teacher and play leader understanding that behavioural problems in kids are often linked to trauma.

Let’s start spaces in the community where people can come together for storytelling and yarning. Go to any Mediterranean community and you will find groups of people sitting in cafes or on benches talking away in the evenings.

Let’s take our lead from what we can learn from indigenous cultures, the importance of stories, the importance of no community being bigger than 500 people, the importance of mother nature and our role to be guardians of this planet.

Let’s create men’s sheds and women’s circles that are open and free.

Let’s instil in people a love for the land they live on and not a love for the next new commodity.
None of what’s above is new, what is new is bringing it all together to happen in each community, it needs a bottom up top down approach with people working together. I do believe that so many people are crying out to belong, to remove the isolation they feel, to connect. Connection or lack of it seems to be at the bottom of most mental distress and also effects physical health.
Let’s stop talking about this and start doing, it can only start to happen when we the people make it happen.