From: Clinical Psychiatry News - February 21, 2014
Strength Based Approaches to Community Healing
By: Keris Jän Myrick M.B.A., M.S. & Annelle B. Primm, M.D., M.P.H
In the fall of 2007, a rather quirky independent film was released that to this day has a small but dedicated following: "Lars and the Real Girl."
The movie is fictional, yet it provides an exquisite example of the power of community inclusion for healing not only of the lead character, Lars Lindstrom, but also for the family, health professional, and community as a whole.
The movie's premise rests on shy and awkward Lars and his need for a deep loving relationship, which results in the introduction of his new girlfriend Bianca – a life-size "blow-up" doll he purchased from the Internet. The local family doctor, who also has a background in psychology, declares that Lars has a delusion, and the best remedy is for all to accept his delusion as it serves a purpose and will end when Lars resolves the "purpose." The family, community, coworkers, and the church parishioners are challenged to accept not only Lars, but also Bianca.
Many people diagnosed with serious mental illnesses struggle with this very issue of social inclusion, developing and maintaining relationships, and overall social connectedness, which often leads to loneliness and isolation. Symptoms, public judgments, and stigma contribute to the deep isolation and fears of social situations for people with mental illnesses. Recovery or healing from mental illness, therefore, should move beyond a focus on symptom reduction alone and must include social rehabilitation, family education, housing, and employment support. Through the recovery process, feelings of awkwardness, fear, and being judged are reduced by the fundamental things that give meaning and purpose to people's lives – of which social interaction is a critical component.
Recovery, then, requires a person-centered approach, which simply means moving from symptom reduction alone to giving priority to people's goals, and what gives meaning and purpose to their lives. As such, people receiving services for mental illness might not articulate that reducing symptoms will give their life meaning and purpose, yet, may identify dating, improving relationships with family, and securing housing or employment as their goals. A focus on goals, which gives people a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, yields an increase in motivation and engagement, and enhances the quality of the therapeutic alliance and relationship with mental health professionals, thereby increasing the possibility of symptom reduction.
How, though, can a psychiatrist, a social worker, psychologist, or peer provider working alone or in silos, succeed in meeting this complex set of needs for the people they serve, especially when moving from a narrow concentration on symptom reduction to a broader and more holistic focus on helping those with mental illness achieve a sense of meaning and purpose in life?