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OSH patients use Recovery International tools to overcome adversity

Mental Health Specialist Lani Wright and OSH patient Thomas Berry discuss the Recovery International tools
Mental Health Specialist Lani Wright (left) and OSH patient Thomas Berry discuss the Recovery International tools that Berry has recently been using. Berry participates in Recovery International meetings regularly and said the tools he has learned have helped him manage his depression and anxiety.

As he sat quietly, eyes to the floor, Thomas Berry, a patient at Oregon State Hospital, listened as his fellow patients offered support and encouragement. Berry had just shared with them a problem he's been dealing with recently — one that could have potentially derailed his progress toward recovery. In the past, he said this type of issue would have sent him spiraling into depression; now, with the help of some simple coping tools, he was able to work through and overcome his problem.


After listening to Berry recount his story, one-by-one, group members pointed out the various tools he used to work through his issue and praised him for successfully using these tools to overcome the situation. Once they finished, Berry lifted his head and looked around the room just nodding, feeling better about himself and his problem.


"Tonight, I was full of anxiety. I didn't even want to come down here," Berry said after the meeting, "but I used one of my tools — we don't wait to get well to do things, we do things to get well — to help me. Using the tools has really helped me focus on my own recovery and not my problems."


The tools that Berry has incorporated into his life are part of the self-help, mental health program known as Recovery International. Founded in 1937 by neuropsychiatrist Abraham Low, M.D., Recovery International is a structured, cognitive-behavioral system designed to help people learn to control their behaviors and change their negative attitudes.


"It's a peer-based approach, and the idea behind the program is to help people stay as centered as possible," explained Mike Hlebechuk, an outreach specialist in charge of the OSH program. "The tools used are designed specifically to help people maintain inner peace even in the most difficult situations, and keeping people centered and focused is a lot more valuable than it probably sounds."


The tools, which are known as 'spots' in the Recovery International program, are a collection of simple expressions that group members learn and use in their daily life to maintain a sense of security and calmness. Examples include:

  • Be self-led, rather than symptom-led.
  • Comfort is a want, not a need.
  • Calm begets calm, temper begets temper.
  • Stop the defeatist babble of the brain.

"When you see the list of tools, many of them seem so self-evident, but for whatever reason, it's stuff some people don't think about in the moment," said Mental Health Specialist Lani Wright. "That's where the training and practice comes in — that's what changes the brain. When you're getting worked up about something, and you can access these tools in that moment, that's when you can make real progress."


Every Wednesday evening, Wright facilitates a Recovery International group open to both patients and staff. Attendance is voluntary, so for patients, this group is not part of their required treatment, but rather something they participate in during their personal time.


The meetings open with a brief discussion about one of Low's writings, and then members volunteer recent examples from their life when they relied on their tools to get through a challenging situation. When discussing their example, members work through a standardized four-part process, which is followed up by feedback from the rest of the group.


Unlike many support groups, Recovery International is not an open forum for members to discuss anything they want. The structured format of the meeting helps create an orderly environment, which keeps members calm and focused.


"People have told me how, in the past, trivial things really upset them and set them off," Wright said. "But with this training, they're now able to recognize what is happening, catch it early on and use specific tools to keep things from getting out of hand."


One of the greatest strengths of Recovery International is that groups can be found in communities throughout the world. Patients who choose to participate in the program while at OSH can continue meeting with a community group once they're discharged from the hospital.


"The skills and the language that people learn here are the exact same ones they'll encounter in community groups as well," Wright said. "Plus when you're trying to reintegrate yourself back to the community, it's an automatic in with people who are dealing with some of the same mental health issue as you are."


Currently, there is only one Recovery International group offered at OSH, but there are plans to train more facilitators and expand the program throughout the hospital.


Berry said he hopes other patients will take advantage of the program once they have the opportunity.


"It's a piece of recovery that's good for everybody," he said. "I'm doing pretty well now, but I still like to come to the meetings. Recovery International still helps me deal with my depression and anxiety when nothing else seems to help."