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August 11, 2016 by William M. Tucker, MD

Recovery from Serious Mental Illness

My Own Experience Learning about Recovery
From early in 1990 until 2002 I served as Deputy Chief Medical Officer (=Deputy Medical Director) of the New York State Office of Mental Health (NYS-OMH).  From 2002 until the end of 2004 I served as Chief Medical Officer (Acting) for NYS-OMH.

During those 15 years I was invited to consult on hospitalized patients throughout our system.  That was a learning experience for me, because it taught me about the limits of what hospital treatment could accomplish.  Gradually, I came to see that those limits included the remediation or at least suppression of symptoms but not recovery itself.

As the patients told me, recovery could only flourish where they had the autonomy to pursue their own goals, that is, when living independently in their home communities.  I began to encourage my psychiatric colleagues to consider discharge earlier, even if some symptoms remained, so that recovery could begin.  When they countered that some symptoms persisted, I had little further to offer, because I did not know, myself, whether greater autonomy would lead to recovery, never having participated in settings where that process could unfold.

So, to find out, within a few months of retiring from NYS-OMH I took a position as team psychiatrist for a not-for-profit organization that provided standard apartment housing and ACT (assertive community treatment=outreach + engagement) services. 

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