After 40 years of working in the mental health field, I reflect on the beginning of my career in a National Institute of Mental Health–funded research project called “Soteria House.” I moved on to work in the public sector from crisis worker, to supervisor, to program manager, to Chief of Adult Outpatient services for the public mental health system in Santa Cruz County, California. I have come full circle, back to the lessons learned at Soteria House in the mid-1970s.
It is from this work experience that I learned about “extreme states”, aka persons labeled with psychosis and schizophrenia. As a 23-year-old undergraduate student working on my own major, art therapy, at University of California Santa Cruz, I was offered a field placement assignment at Soteria House.
My background was primarily art, but I was being encouraged to explore a new field called “art therapy.” This brought me to Soteria in San Jose, California. I arrived at Soteria, my first day on the job to find a Victorian-style large home in the heart of San Jose.Read More
I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Seetha Subbiah, a psychologist visiting the Bay Area from Singapore. Much to my delight, I found her to be a truly sweet, caring and humble young woman. She shared with me the background of her country, Singapore, how she grew up in a multi ethnic/religious and spiritual community.
For Seetha growing up, people young and old who were voice hearers were typically viewed as the “gifted ones” or mediums, people one might seek in a temple for advice and guidance. When she came to study in the US, of course, she discovered a very different culture in how we respond to voice hearers. While working in her internships, she found herself often at odds with her colleagues and supervisors.
She shared a story of a 12 year old girl who was living in foster care in Illinois. The young girl was presented to her as “hopeless, a lifer, and one not to waste your time with”. She was merely to check in with her weekly but not to expect any changes. This 12 year old girl was on 8 different psychiatric medications.Read More
Second Story Peer Respite House, located in Santa Cruz, California, is completing its five-year funding cycle with a Mental Health Transformation Grant awarded by SAMHSA. The intent of the grant was to implement and evaluate the effectiveness of peer respites in promoting wellness and supporting individuals experiencing psychological distress by providing a community-based alternative to psychiatric emergency services.
When Second Story opened its doors in the fall of 2011, we were the first peer respite house in California, and the seventh peer respite in the nation. The experience of “transformation” has been alive and well in Santa Cruz County over the past five years as the community joined together, building new collaborations, flattening traditional hierarchies and embracing the core values of Shery Mead’s model and practice of Intentional Peer Support.Read More
I began my journey in the mental health field as an art student at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), writing my own major in “Art Therapy”. I did a field study/internship at Soteria House, and went on to become a full time staff member there. At that time, Soteria House was a pilot study of the NIMH-Schizophrenia division, led by Loren Mosher, MD.
My experience working at Soteria continues to inform my approach to assisting people who are experiencing extreme states. While such compassionate models of care have historically proven useful across cultures, they are currently viewed as “alternative” rather than mainstream. I believe this speaks to the distance we need to go in changing mental health care, and the kind of dedication to so-called “alternative” approaches that are needed to make real change—a dedication I have felt since my first day working with vulnerable young people at Soteria House and that I have pursued throughout my career through different avenues.Read More