Monday, October 28, 2013

Final Countdown Interrupted - Ron's Reflections

This should have been the final blog of the three-month recovery house project in Italy, but it might not be.  Instead it could be the first blog at the beginning of at least a three-year recovery house program.

I moved into the house on the 31st July this year to take over from Paul Baker (see previous blog) by this time temperatures' had reached the high 30 degrees centigrade and it was truly hot.  All of our meetings, meals, one to one sessions and family meetings were being held under the tree in the garden.  The meetings were also heating up as we realized that time was catching up on us and there was still a lot of work that needed done.  Having met most of the clients before the project, I was amazed at how far some of them had moved forward, and at the same time was dismayed by the lack of progress of others.

Having fresh eyes come into the project each month has both good and bad aspects to it.  One of the better things I believe is that the new eyes can sometimes see things that are being missed, as the group settle into a working routine.  One of the things I saw was how some guys who weren't doing as well as expected had this uncanny ability to make themselves invisible, even when they were in groups - you could not see them.  They had this chameleon like quality that let them blend into the background.  On the other side of the coin, we had a couple of people who were not moving on, who managed to avoid working on anything, by getting right in your face and confronting you through their behaviours.  In total we had four people who were not moving forward or were moving at a really slow pace - the rest of the clients were moving on. 

I want to use this blog to explore how all the clients have in many ways helped us shape the future direction of the program.

One of the things that I learnt during the month at the house was that many truisms are true, but some still don't make the grade.  So here we go:
  1. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.  This one is definitely true.  The sooner we learn that we cannot force someone onto their recovery journey, the sooner the person will start on their recovery journey.
  2. Mother knows best.  This is most certainly not true when it comes to recovery, I'm sorry to say.  Having run a recovery house in Scotland and now the project in Italy, it has become clear that many families have pushed the person into the projects and that the people have come to the program for their families, not for themselves.  A person needs to recover firstly for their self, then perhaps for others - has been the clear learning for us during the program.
  3. Honesty is the best policy.  I am going to surprise many here, by saying, this is not true.  For recovery to really work, honesty cannot be the best policy, it has to be the only policy.  It was quickly clear that if staff were not honest about their feelings, then clients could not be honest about theirs and once again a recovery journey was slowed down.
  4. We are all in it together.  This sounds really recovery orientated and at the start of the month, I would have been right on board with this idea - said it was totally true, and not realized how patronizing that this is.  We are all in together between 9am and 5pm is much more like it.  I had forgotten how long a day really is and how as a worker, I am around for about a third of a day and normally five days a week.  Staying at the project, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day - opened my eye to a new truism that is: "a day is at least three times as long for a client than a worker.  A week for a worker is 40 hours, for the client a week is 168 hours, which is four times longer".
Finally, my time in Italy taught me a lot about myself - the main thing being, I still have a long way to go on my recovery journey.

Back to the project - the last month was one of great activity, stress, tears, joy, laughter, anger, success, failures, and yet ending with lots of hope.

But for me, the best moment, was the final evening when rejoined by Karen - we had our graduation ceremony and also presentations to the staff and volunteers.  I must confess, I cried often that evening, but in main they were tears of joy.


Ron Coleman and Karen Taylor have an international reputation as speakers and authors. They are the directors of ‘Working to Recovery Limited’ an innovative international consultancy, training and publishing company with a cutting edge approach to supporting and improving mental health provision.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Second month of the Faenza Recovery House - Paul's Story

Paul Baker tells of his experience of living and working for a month at the Faenza Recovery House in July 2013:

I arrived at the Faenza Recovery House on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon at the end of June, to take over from Karen, the role of recovery mentor to the guests and workers for the second month of the three month long Recovery house project.

The day before, Chiara, one of the guests had died whilst spending the weekend at home.

It was a sad way to begin my stay.

However, the following day a remarkable meeting took place. Chairas' mother and sister, the guests and their family members, the workers and volunteers came together to grieve and to share their memories and feelings about the life of Chiara. A meeting I believe could never have taken place in a conventional service.  As Karen has described in the previous blog a gathering that showed the strengths of the project, the humanity and belief that together we can care about and make a difference in our own and in each others lives - even in difficult and tragic circumstances.

In some ways Chiaras' passing served to strengthen our resolve and became a motif for the project. We committed ourselves to holding a celebration of Chiaras' life at the end of the month and also to hold her in our hearts.

In the following weeks I got to know the people who lived at the house, the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers, the people I worked with as volunteers and paid workers in a very deep and meaningful way. I spent most of my waking hours thinking about and working on ways of assisting people to move on with their recovery journeys - not just the guests, but all of us.

The project is unapologetically ambitious - it believes that people can and will be able to make the changes they want to make to move on with their lives and that we can accomplish this by disregarding the "mental illness" label and focus on the person instead, what had happened to them and discovering with them what they wanted from their lives.

We had some wonderful successes over the month, some seemingly commonplace, like guests riding bicycles again after many years of not doing so - or more remarkably driving a car when few people suspected this was possible. Other successes were related to the way people felt about themselves, how they saw and lived their lives and reconsidered what was possible for themselves and for others and beginning to make the necessary changes to accomplish new ambitions and new goals. Again, this was not limited to the "clients" but very much included family members and workers too.

Of course, there were also many challenges along the way, unanticipated issues and problems that we had to find creative ways of resolving, or think about in a new way so we could adapt the way we were approaching peoples needs. A key to this was and is the direct involvement of the family members of the guests (in attending the recovery training meeting twice a week, the parties and celebrations and the individual meetings that we held) to better understand everyones perspectives about the past, the present and the future. After two months, the visiting psychiatrists (who spent a day with us each week) were saying they could see great and positive changes in the people living in the house.

On the 30th July we held the celebration to honour Chiaras. life, we had a BBQ, music and dance, we unveiled a mural and presented painted ceramic tiles we made for her. Chiara means "light" and we named the project "Casa Chiara" in recognition of this and the motif of the project too.

It has been a real privilege to live and work with my friends at Casa Chiara - I will never forget you or the time I spent in the farm house and grounds, sitting and talking in the shade under our courtyard tree, tending the vegetable garden, cooking and partying.

If this is work then when can I come back?


Ron Coleman and Karen Taylor have an international reputation as speakers and authors. They are the directors of ‘Working to Recovery Limited’ an innovative international consultancy, training and publishing company with a cutting edge approach to supporting and improving mental health provision.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Back from the Italian Recovery House

I have been back from the Italian Recovery House for a few days, physically I have gone from temperatures of 31C to 12C, I am back in my own bed with my family around me as they are all on school holidays - but where is my head and heart?

How can I begin to describe this experience living with 10 people 24 hours a day whom had all signed up to recovery at the farm for 3 months.

Chaos, community, love, anger, pain, laughter, knowledge, wisdom, group dynamics - forming and storming, and the beginnings of norming.

Lack of sleep, heat, growth, story telling, making meaning, rebellion, freedom, football, volleyball, gardening, lots of pasta, tears, cycling, walking, family education, meetings, dramas.

That was in the first three weeks, a group of staff and volunteers who were and are willing to give themselves, never clock watching or hiding away in a non-existent office reading their papers - but engaged in every minute possible.  Not shying away from the emotional pain, but entering it - sharing theirs, drawing the residents pain out, supporting each other, showing love, compassion, being there.

A group of family members who grew in to a real group; caring for each other; looking at their own recoveries; and able to volunteer when we needed them.

Then just at the end of the fourth week, tragedy happened - Chiara, one of our most vocal; full of life; full of heart; residents - died at home, on weekend leave.  Not suicide, she was full of hope - days before she had confronted one of her old psychiatrists whom she had felt had done her harm.  Told what it felt like to be over medicated and restrained - then offered forgiveness, as she felt she was being listened to, as an equal - and ended with both in tears and in huge hugs - such a huge moment.

Yet she couldn't leave her old life totally alone and weekends were the time she re-entered her old comfort blanket of drink and old acquaintances.  This time, she wasn't to come back to us.  But this was no ordinary forgotten about death in mental health services, another statistic. 

Within hours, a meeting at the Recovery House had been arranged - all families and residents; and Chiara's family invited - and on Sunday evening we witnessed something extraordinary.  Not a blame and shame meeting, but everyone telling their stories of how Chiara had touched them - her heart and passion; her kindness; her laughter; her love of life. 

Not one person had been untouched by her.  Family members, staff, residents - all told their stories.  Chiara's mother told of her daughters hope and struggle of Chiara to recovery.  Her sister spoke of the great warmness she had felt from everyone and that this had given her hope that Chiara would not be forgotten.  Her memory will stay with all of us.

Monday morning our house meeting continued with all residents returning to discuss Chiara's death, their fears and sadness - but a sense, that by the end of the meeting, people wanted to work their hardest to show Chiara, recovery could happen. All staff and volunteers visibly shaken and showing their emotions, not hidden away, as if pain should be stifled - but grieving and remembering.

Monday night - my leaving party.  Time to put away our sadness for a few hours - dance, eat pizza, say goodbye and welcome Paul Baker - who was taking over from me.  Then the surprise, a dance by the local group - a recovery story told in contemporary dance in twilight, amongst candles and the stars.  The presents - jewellery with thoughtful spirals; a jar of Italian earth; so many hugs; so much love.

Where is my heart and head?  Glad to be home with my family - but in many ways left in Italy for my return at the end of the 3-month project.


Ron Coleman and Karen Taylor have an international reputation as speakers and authors. They are the directors of ‘Working to Recovery Limited’ an innovative international consultancy, training and publishing company with a cutting edge approach to supporting and improving mental health provision.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"What happens in the Recovery House?"

"What happens in the Recovery House?", a question everybody asks - but is actually incredibly difficult to answer. There is definitely a process, a journey going on for each guest - but equally I personally feel as though I am on the journey too.  Each new guest unearths unanswered questions for myself - this is not just a place for others to do self discovery.

I find as a recovery mentor I am discovering hugely about myself.  This enables for true honest discussions to go on.  We are constantly told that disclosure is not healthy and should be rationed out very carefully.  I have found the opposite, in helping others talk about their truths enables me to talk about mine.  This then leads to a real sense of empathy as we work through our similarities and differences.  Making myself vulnerable and open - enables our guests to do the same. I find then that I am doing a lot of self reflection and doing my own recovery journey at the same time.

This last 2 weeks has led me to do an early spring clean of clutter and spend a lot of time walking and re-energising.  I also went to the doctors with a list of small issues that I had repeatedly brushed off as not important or too embarrassing, I now realise that I could have saved myself months of suffering if I had acted earlier, but isn't this also part of the recovery journey, getting over the embarrassment and shame and doing something about it.

Shame how this one emotion can tie a person in knots, weigh them down, take away their personhood, sense of self.  It seems to me to be the cornerstone of mental distress, once knocked out and dealt with, the distress tumbles away.  Then you are able to rebuild a stronger self, reinvent yourself, forgive self and others.

So what do we do in the house?  Be human, be loving, be honest and cheer as we watch the buds of new growth develop.


'A Life Changing Experience at the Recovery Retreat'
To read a personal account of Fi's Experience at the Recovery House

Ron Coleman and Karen Taylor have an international reputation as speakers and authors. They are the directors of ‘Working to Recovery Limited’ an innovative international consultancy, training and publishing company with a cutting edge approach to supporting and improving mental health provision.