The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

The Corona virus is shutting down our social institutions. Our streets are full of displaced people living in shelters or tent encampments. The Federal Government is steering services away from the poor and the elderly in ways that seem to be working. Sure, it’s affecting me, man! But I am still here, scheduled to lead three trainings on the subject of redefining psychosis.

These trainings are based on twelve years of experience running professional groups that explore psychosis. They have not yet been cancelled!

Yes, that’s right on 3/20, 5/6. And 5/20 I am scheduled to lead trainings that aim to impact the way our social workers, peers and educators meet and greet psychosis in the clinics and in the public. I argue that the working definition we have of psychosis is non-descriptive and that a new definition can highlight solutions and justify exploration and intervention.

And as I am preparing to open a private practice, I am willing to train local agencies and treatment teams for free. This is a limited time offer. If you have a heart condition, be forewarned!

Historically, clinicians are trained to avoid engaging with people when they are in an emergency state for fear of escalating symptoms. This workshop is intended to provide a road-map to the rabbit-hole. In other words, it redefines what is happening during a person’s journey through madness in a structured way that justifies intervention and highlights solutions.

I feel my training can help a supporter feel confident that listening and intervening has value and can be necessary to form an alliance that can help. Interventions and solution strategies that get suggested can be used at any stage of a person’s recovery to explore what is happening or what has been experienced.

Often the public struggles to know what is and isn’t helpful. These presentations will give attendees not only a better sense of what is helpful, but also hosts of strategies to consider using.

On 3/20, the Peer Support Services Networking Meeting of Solano County will be hosting the first section of my training. This has yet to be cancelled!

On 5/6, I will be presenting a workshop at the annual CASRA Conference that also will describe the introduction of my work. This has yet to be cancelled as well!

And finally, on 5/20 I will be presenting for six hours of continuing credit, the full Monty. This includes an eight-part definition that better describes what psychosis is like from the inside out and eight solution concepts that can help guide effective interventions. And, of course, this is a social engagement that has not yet been cancelled!

Have you too heard it said that insanity is doing the same thing time and time again and expecting different results?

We’ll have to wait and see.

Click Shop to schedule a training at your agency.

Also, check out this Interview that Deb Brasher from CASRA did with me to help promote that event.

Tim Dreby, LMFT Interview Redacted

Tim, could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be involved in the Special Messages Project?

I was working in Seattle at a section eight housing authority and I was astounded at how covered up people’s lives were.  I started to try to investigate and find out what was going on a little bit.  At the same time, I went off my medication, which I had been on for about seven years.  I started to feel this profound sense of connection and that things were related and that things weren’t coincidental.  I went through a bit of an emergency and was hospitalized for three months.  Then coming out, I had a little bit of money, but I was basically on the streets, trying to recoup and come back from that kind of situation.   That’s the part of my background that taught me about special messages.  A lot of my work has been opening up people’s stories and getting people to tell their story, how the stories work in concert with each other, and how to work through the experiences as a result.  Then learning from that and documenting some of the processes that I’ve seen going on and can relate to from my own story.

Could you define what the Special Messages Project is?

Absolutely.  Special messages are experiences that people have that lead to alternative ways of thinking.  The experiences can be things like voices.  Or extra sensory perceptions that are very bad.  It can also be things like an inner person.  It can be codes in letters and numbers.  They can be intuitions.  They can be premonitions.  It can be an assortment of things that give people information that other people may or may not get.

Could you talk about how your approach is so different from our current general psychological approach to these experiences?

Certainly.  I think the way things work in the mainstream treatment is that people are taught to suppress these experiences because they feel they’re punished when they have them.  So they judge them and then when the experience happens again, they are in conflict with them, or they learn that they can’t talk about them anywhere and it’s not safe.  When this suppression happens, it makes it harder to heal from these experiences because they’re real.  They cause real feelings and they cause real experiences.

How has it changed for you to come out about your lived experience at work, and out in the world, Did it take you a long time to decide to do that?

Yes.  I think, to be honest, I started doing these groups about 11 years ago and I didn’t come out to my fellow staff till more recently.  I learned in supervision – every supervisor I had, had bad things to say about schizophrenics, and that was my diagnosis.  So, I learned that it was very much not safe.  I came out through the help of taking WRAP courses.  That really helped me.  I started doing them and what happened was it was so popular on the unit where I worked that there was no taking it back.  However, there were efforts to get me in trouble for talking about my experiences.  And eventually I learned that I needed to tell people that I was out and I needed to learn how to do that.  It’s a very hard thing to manage.

I had a supervisor who knew and he supported me.  That was really helpful.  I had other people who weren’t so sure.  I wrote up manuals for what I was doing.  They made it requirement that people write things up after I started writing things up (for other groups).  So, it was kind of like a gift.   You know it’s it’s a privilege to be able to do it.

And so this is the birth of the Special Messages Project.  What’s been the response of the people that are in the group, like how have you seen it work? 

People in the group get to tell their stories.  They get to go places that they’re afraid to go elsewhere.  It’s been something that has transitioned here at work.  But I’ve also done it in the community and there’s been very powerful responses.  They do this work at the Hearing Voices Network in Berkeley.  I help out there, and that’s another good place to do this kind of work.  It really, really makes a difference when there’s someplace you can talk about these experiences and and make them less shameful, less traumatizing.

What changes have you noticed in people once they’re able to find a safe place to talk?  And put words to their experiences?

Many people feel more open with psychiatrists, they feel less punished in general.  And they have more motivation to get to know other people who are also dealing with, what they’re going through, “quote unquote psychosis”, or other types of experiences.  A lot of times, when I was in the system, I didn’t want anything to do with the person that was talking to themselves.  I just didn’t want to be like that person.  But it takes a transition period to say, oh, what he’s going through is actually similar to what I’m going through.  If we’re not allowed to talk and realize that, we’re not able to form community and community is very important to healing.  Many people say, when they come to my groups, I never realized just happened to anybody else until I heard you tell your story.  It is powerful.

So, you are a busy man.  You are doing a lot of trainings, like what you’re going to do at the conference.  You’ve got a blog.  You’re the author of the book: Fighting for Freedom in America, and you’re still working in the field.  So, first: how do you do it all?

Well, I think that I do it because I don’t have kids.  This project is like my baby.  And I have support from my wife.  My wife, without her I would probably not be able to do what I do, so I’m grateful for those things.  It took me awhile to get those things and I’m extremely grateful.  I had to work a lot, and I developed a style of working through my hardships.  And so, if anything, when I stop working, which I do on a regular basis, when I hike, I have to process a lot of things and a lot of emotions.  So I’m kind of in a regular pattern of working and processing in writing, which is part of how I process.

So, so what can we, as practitioners, do better?  Even if we’re not running special messages groups?  And don’t come at it from our own lived experience, what’s your advice for us.

I think it’s really important to be curious about the experiences that are happening behind the scenes. Instead of punishing, get people to talk about what they’re going through and what they’re experiencing.  Find out what’s behind the ideas and the beliefs they have.  If they don’t make sense or they don’t fit for you – what is normal or not normal?  Just even having the awareness.

Many practitioners are taught NOT to delve into this kind of topic – “delusional” material.  You were taught to “reality check”.  So what you’re doing when talking to staff is educating them about another way to be present for the person.

Exactly.  I’m making it into something that can be understood.  When the staff person understands what’s going on instead of saying “they’re more symptomatic today” or “they’re showing more delusions”, they can see it as this person is giving me an opportunity to trust them.  I can plan for and I can know what to do when they trust me with this material to open them up.  That is, in a nutshell, what I hope people do.  When I give these trainings in the field, a key part is the idea that you become a trustworthy person.  And that’s huge.  People have different minds.  It’s much more of a neurodiversity issue than it is a disease issue.  The idea of inclusion of different ways of processing the world and experiences is important.  When we think of diversity, we don’t think of people who are different as “you’re wrong and we’re going to punish you”.  You form relationships

So, people that come to your workshop, what can they expect?

We will look at redefining what psychosis is, and how it can lead to alternate ways of helping.  We’ll look at what special messages are and look at what other components of psychosis are.  We’ll look at solutions that arise when we know what those parts of psychosis are.  There are different interventions when you’re paying attention to the special messages, in the way you’re talking about them.  It’s the main meat of how to do things differently.