Celebrating recovering from mental illness the psychosocial clubhouse way

by Meg Griffin, LMSW on July 3, 2013 · 6 comments

in mental illness

The other day, one of our clubhouse members told me he was “sick of being sick.”

When I asked him what he meant, he said that he was tired of relying on SSDI, tired of not working full time and tired of living with his parents. This is a man in his 40s, who has been one of our star members at The Gathering Place for about ten years now.

"Recovering from mental illness"Bob went on to say that he had recently found a second part-time job and was now working 45 hours each week. He had health insurance through one of his employers and was going to transition off of his SSDI benefits by the end of the year. He seemed very comfortable with his decision and said his family was supportive.

I couldn’t believe it – I mean, this is the dream of every social worker in psychiatric rehabilitation. In the span of a year, Bob had gone from chronically unemployed to telling me that he was willing to give up his financial safety net because he was confident in his newfound success. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I knew. In fact, if I could have thrown him a party with balloons and confetti right then and there, I would have! Bob deserves all of that and more.

Road to recovery

I was full of pride for Bob as I walked around the clubhouse for the next few days and interacted with the other members. I told them about Bob’s success, and they were very happy for him, too.

Longtime member Wilber remembered when Bob first became a member of The Gathering Place. Bob was so nervous, Wilber recalled. All he wanted to do was smoke cigarettes outside. Wilber remembered teaching Bob how to answer the phones at the reception desk when Bob needed something to do in the clubhouse. Bob was a natural, Wilber recalled, friendly and gregarious.

Over in the Country Store, Jeanette remembered working with Bob and teaching him how to work the register. “It took him forever to learn how to void things out when he made a mistake,” she said. Jeanette remembers being very patient with him, and in time he became a great cashier and was very reliable.

Other members have memories of Bob learning how to bake a cake when we needed help for someone’s birthday, participating in the art festival or the international festival or the talent show.

It takes a clubhouse

What dawned on me the more we talked about Bob was the sense of ownership we all felt in Bob’s accomplishment. It wasn’t just Bob’s accomplishment; it was ours, too. The clubhouse members helped Bob on his road to recovery as much, or perhaps more than, any mental health professional. They believed in him and taught him skills when others may have given up.

In the clubhouse, we believe everyone can get better. We are a thriving community of members helping members. We as staff provide the framework and the opportunities, but it is up to the members to do the real work of recovery.

I called Bob later that afternoon after I talked to the other members. I told him about the sense of ownership we all felt and how proud we were of him. He was quiet for a minute, and I worried that I had somehow offended him. Instead, he replied,

“The Gathering Place has given me so much, and I owe a big debt to all the members who have helped me over the years. I’m not sure how I can repay that.” 

Don’t worry, Bob, I told him. On your next day off – if you ever get another day off – you can come back and teach someone how to work the cash register. He just laughed.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

John Dietrich July 10, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I really enjoyed reading about Bob’s success. It is a wonderful reminder that the recovery model does work and people do get back to their lives in awesome and profound ways. I have great admiration for the work you all do at The Gathering Place. (I recently left the VA’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC).) Bob is living a purposeful life!

Tanvi Patel July 9, 2013 at 8:39 am

Fantastic post, Meg. It is one of those stories that reminds me why I got into this field in the first place and I agree, everyone has a chance to get better. TGP does incredible work, all the best to Bob!

Nancy Trowbridge July 8, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Bob’s legacy will last for years around The Gathering Place. He’ll be welcomed back at any time whether to remind himself of the strides he has made and to keep giving to members like him. What a success story for the entire Gathering Place community.

Justin Gingrich July 5, 2013 at 8:58 pm

What a great post! So encouraging, I love what we do. Way to go Bob!

Bleny Canales July 5, 2013 at 11:31 am

Meg, congratulations, we are proud of Bob and thank you for sharing our experiences at The Gathering Place. We see so many success stories every day, it is our daily motivation. It fills my life with meaning!

Roger Verdon July 4, 2013 at 1:46 am

Meg, What an uplifting post. Thank you. Bob’s example is meaningful and you characterized him perfectly. We do root for one another and I am now rooting for Bob, who is so grateful to The Gathering Place and his neighbors there. You have created an environment in which people can stretch and grow. Great job!

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