Why “New Reflection?”
By Ken K. Gourdin
Author’s Note – As someone with a complex mental health history, I am a big proponent of psychosocial rehabilitation, particularly of the Clubhouse Model. I have written elsewhere on the blog about these subjects. See http://www.greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/cit-officers-visit-new-reflection/. The Clubhouse Model of psychosocial rehabilitation began in the 1940s when a group of former mental patients who had recently been released from the hospital began to meet together informally for support.
These former mental patients, although they were no longer ill enough to remain hospitalized, found that they were not well enough to function on their own without support. Thus, they asked themselves, “What do people without psychiatric diagnoses do? Well, they work; they go to school; they’re involved in civic, political, and religious activities; they serve their families and communities.” And they began to formulate plans as the foundation for the kind of support they would need in order to function successfully in society in all of these arenas. The result was a program which provided employment, educational, social, emotional, and other kids of support.
While participants in traditional mental health settings are patients or clients, Clubhouse participants are members. While traditional mental health treatment often is compulsory, participation in Clubhouse is voluntary. While traditional mental health settings often are staff-driven, Clubhouse is member-focused and member-driven. Today, the Clubhouse Model encompasses some 340 Clubhouses worldwide, including seven in Utah, of which New Reflection House is one. I have been a member of New Reflection Clubhouse in Tooele, Utah, since April 27, 2006. This piece reflects how the Clubhouse got its name (pardon the pun!)
Do most of us like what we see when we look in the mirror? Sure, maybe there’s a new wrinkle or two, a bit more of gray (or missing) hair, a new blemish, or an expanding waistline. But whatever it is that truly makes you you is still there. Whatever the flaws in the “package,” the contents—and their value—are still the same. No external force or circumstance can devalue them.
But imagine if you had a mental illness—say, for example, a compulsion to do things that just don’t make sense, but which you are powerless to stop; or a constant soundtrack playing in the background of your mind telling you things about people and situations that simply aren’t true; or maybe another soundtrack telling you things about yourself that simply aren’t true, but things which you accept because you feel powerless to avoid filtering out the positive and focusing on the negative.
And what if, because of your mental illness, many people in your life devalued you and your contributions—or at least, your potential contributions. In fact, what if they said that because of your illness, you lack the ability to make a positive contribution at all? What if they said, “You’ll never be able to hold a job”; or, “You’re too stupid to be a good student,” or, “You’ll never graduate”; or, “You’ll never be in a serious relationship; who would want you?” What if they viewed you through the distorted lens of your illness, or worse, what if they concluded that your illness is not simply a condition you have, but rather is a part of who you are—of your very being? What do you suppose you would see if you were to look in the mirror under these circumstances?
When we go to the amusement park and look in the funhouse mirrors, we know that the images peering back at us aren’t real. We know our image has purposely been distorted for the amusing effect it creates, so we laugh it off as we return to reality. But having a mental illness is like seeing an image of ourselves in the mirror that is as distorted as any image in a funhouse mirror, but accepting that distorted image as real. And not only accepting that image, but internalizing it to such an extent that not only does it affect our behavior and our relationships, it fundamentally changes who we are in ways that extend even beyond the effects of the symptoms of our illnesses.
But suppose you found a place where the mirrors aren’t distorted. Suppose you found a place where a different soundtrack plays, one which affirms your innate, unchangeable worth; one which affirms that you are somebody, and that you are not your illness; one where you are told that you do have a positive contribution to make; one where that contribution not only is accepted, but also is expected, respected, and valued; one which focuses, not on any illnesses, disabilities, or liabilities you may have, but rather on your strengths, talents, and abilities; one where you are told that with the right kind of support, you can succeed in school, at work, and in fulfilling relationships; one where you are invited to strive to fulfill your potential, to achieve your goals, and to realize your dreams.
As these realizations begin to dawn, how do you suppose they would change the image one sees in the mirror? Would they cure any distortions? Would they, perhaps for the first time in a person’s life, instill a sense of hope and optimism? We have dozens of members in our Clubhouse who can testify that New Reflection has done, and continues to do, exactly that—it has fundamentally changed the image they see in the mirror, from the inside out.