A New Beginning

It is recommended that the reader print the “Flash Drive Forms” and “Terms and Definitions” page prior to reviewing this online educational platform to aid one’s comprehension and understanding.

The Genesis: Recovery Seed Planting

I recalled this day as if it was yesterday. At that time, I was the director of a stabilization unit for homeless men with major psychiatric issues located within a shelter environment, the first of its kind in Canada, oriented towards a recovery framework versus a psychiatric model. We received and accepted a referral from the Center for Victims of Torture. I remembered seeing him for the first time the day after his admission. He was heavily sedated with medication, slurring his speech, and his movements were that of a tortoise. I called on him to sit next to me. My first question to him was this, “how do you get up in the morning to make your way through the day?”. I had to lean in to hear his muffled reply. For a moment, his eyes lit up, and he said, “Every morning when I wake up, I feel my mother’s spirit, and I hear her singing lullabies as she did when I was a child.” With my subsequent inquiry, I wanted to know what his mother’s singing did for him. He replied, with a smile, “She makes me feel alive.” Upon further discussions, reference was made to being comforted by her presence, which allowed him to know he was safe and everything would be fine. He added that without his mother’s presence, he would be already dead. The contradiction before me was about how his dead-like appearance, outwardly, did not inform his internal experience of feeling alive as described. “How can this be, I thought, especially with his traumas and medication stupor? What became clear to me as we got to know each other was how his mother’s spiritual presence, upon awakening each morning, allowed him to carry the weight of his life, including his traumas and heavy sedation. His state of mind had nothing to do with the outward conditions of his life and the unresolved traumas for which he was receiving psychotherapy and medications from The Center of Victims of Torture. I came to see this man to epitomize the true essence of a person in strong recovery mode where the nature of his mental health conditions was not a major influencing factor shaping his moods and strength to face each day. Another key marker of his recovery mode was his eyes set on his future dreams and aspirations to improve his quality of life in a new country. As I discovered, he held a strong sense of “Agency” and “Hopefulness” nurtured through his relationship with his mother in spirit. This gentleman was teaching me more than book knowledge can: that recovery is a state of mind, dependent on and independent of living circumstances and the nature of mental health conditions faced. Further, this person was applying what works, invoking his mother’s spirit to move his life forward, a strength leveraged. He, in effect, was earning his way forward.

As a final note, not once in our discussions did he give personal credit to the medications contributing to his internal state of aliveness. However, he acknowledged their value to him psychiatrically.


In 1998, state funding came through to develop a 10-bed, three-week stay Stabilization Unit, The Primary Support Unit, servicing homeless men with major psychiatric issues within the second-largest shelter in the country, run by the Salvation Army. I was charged with getting this project off the ground and directing the unit, which would hold a recovery orientation focus. (click link, Framework of Orientation). We would service the inner city of Toronto, Canada, and surrounding municipalities. The Unit saw the bulk referrals from hospitals, shelters, and community mental health service agencies.

The stabilization unit was based on newly minted recovery research out of the US and elsewhere, which began in the 1980s and showed medications, though having a role in treatment, were just one-half of the treatment equation. This recovery research was unearthing the second half of the equation involved with making a recovery of a personal nature versus a chemical recovery with medications. What emerged from the data was a discovery that there is a distinct difference between a “treatment recovery,” medication-based, and a “personal recovery,” a strength-based focus, which was the orientation framework of the Primary Support Unit. Both halves of the equation, recovery and treatment, share the same aim to better the person and their life, but for different reasons. In my mind, they were the left and right sides of the same coin. The emerging research showed people can experience a “personal recovery” (see terms and definitions), whether they are on medications or not under the right conditions.

These right conditions researchers noted for making a “personal recovery” were formulated into a set of tenets or principles that can orient the interaction of mental health systems under what can be called the Framework of Recovery Orientation (click here). These researchers demonstrated when the tenets are applied; this facilitates a shift in the person’s internal mindset about their relationship with mental health illness and the approach to living with these illness conditions that is freeing. They became less bound by the mental illness and less identified with their condition (s). This translated into better recovery and treatment outcomes.

Such results, though, flew in the face of psychiatry’s bio-medical model. They viewed medications as the sole formulation required for the whole treatment equation. In their view, only a chemical recovery, with medications, mattered to get people living with major mental illnesses back on their feet. However, the recovery research shows that this psychiatric viewpoint is only one half of the equation, as many people are languishing under medication treatment. However, the data collected so far demonstrates that when these two halves of the coin (equation) are combined, the results for both the patient and the service systems were more robust than medications used alone as the first line of treatment.

Some decades later, I was posted at a major regional hospital psychiatric department by a large community mental health agency. I was involved in group and individual work with clients within in-patient, day hospital, and outpatient services in my capacity as a Peer Navigator. Over my term within the psychiatric department, I took on a project to formulate a novel program to bring the practice of recovery to groups and individuals. I wanted to develop a program that translated the system orientation to recovery into the meeting rooms. I saw the connection between my Narrative Practitioner training (terms and definitions) and my expertise in recovery orientation would be a potent combination. The project aimed to ground “system-oriented recovery” into an actionable program for groups and individuals by taking this framework one step further than it was initially applied. I was motivated to do so by what I was witnessing. Most of the clients I interacted with would tell me they were waiting for the right combination of medications to work before they could begin carrying on living. In other words, “Until I am on the right medications, I can’t pick my life up.” While medications are important, I knew the “pick my life up” did not need to wait for medications to work, well. This was clear from research in recovery-oriented care. The incubation project, spanning five years, involving a practice-based evidence approach with individual and group work yielded patient-approved results and the components for this novel and innovative program.

Since retiring, I decided to put these components together, which you see before you as The Recovery Protocol Breakthrough, a portable, learnable, step-by-step, structured program for one-to-one interactions led by a service provider (e.g., psychotherapist, psychiatrist, primary care physician, peers, etc.). My hope is to see consumers living with major mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression-related conditions, who are languishing because of poor medication effectiveness not have to wait to pick up their lives. This recovery proposition is both possible and achievable.

“We are all in this together.”

-The Recovery Specialist

Terms of Use:  This program is for consumers with medication failure. No fees are required. Permission is granted to print materials from this site without prior consent from the site administrator. The consumer can port this protocol and introduce it to their non-clinical or clinical provider. The objective is to put into play this protocol to kick-start a recovery since medications are offering poor treatment returns, which is impacting a person’s quality of life and functioning from a recovery perspective.

Disclaimer:  The information provided on this site does not constitute medical advice or treatment. The information acts only as a guide to consider the elements for making recovery possible and how to institute such a program of practice within the Meeting Room space of one’s service provider.