On December 18, 2013, Master of Social Work students in the Mental Health Training Program (MHTP) took a small road trip from San Diego to Long Beach in order to visit “The Village” of Mental Health America, Los Angeles. The Village offers comprehensive mental health services using an integrated services approach. This was an amazing choice for a MHTP field trip. The Mental Health Training Program provides stipends to students in their last year of the MSW program at San Diego State University in exchange for a work commitment in the field of mental health from students after graduation. Students have course requirements centered on mental health, a bi-weekly seminar, guest lectures from mental health professionals, and special field trips (such as this one to The Village). The Village demonstrated a real-life application of the recovery model. As MHTP students we are all well aware of the recovery model. The model is a core part of our training to enter the mental health field and is outlined in the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Initiative (California Proposition 63), which is the basis of the MHTP program itself.
The recovery model is in stark contrast to the more traditional medical model. Most people are familiar with the medical model because it is commonly experienced when visiting a general physician. The medical model is illness centered; the diagnosis is the foundation and the relationship between patient and doctor exists in order to treat the illness (relations are carefully restricted and professional). On the other hand, the recovery model is much more person centered. The relationship between the client and the professional is the foundation. Following the attainment of goals and an increased quality of life, services end when the client is able to manage their own life and attain roles which they define as meaningful.
At The Village clients are not labeled or defined by their mental illness and additionally they are given the lead on their treatment plan; people are treated as people. By giving clients the responsibility to take the lead of their own recovery, clients are able to feel empowered and to blossom. We were given background information on some of the members we met at the weekly Wednesday morning meeting (which takes place in The Village Deli) and their transformations seem to be remarkable. In the past, one gentleman was said to have displayed erratic behavior which caused some concern among the other members. The staff suggested he be deemed responsible for positivity and peace within The Village. This is a responsibility the gentleman carries proudly and his erratic behavior within the Village quickly ceased. This short example clearly showcases the power of the recovery model and its’ focus on hope, empowerment, self-responsibility and meaningful roles in life.
The range of services offered by the Village is very wide and includes: a homeless assistance program, 5 service coordination teams, an employment department, and various resource staff (i.e. medical administrator, wellness management, medical billing assistant, and housing coordinator). Through participation in their free mini-immersion you can tell the people who go there consider it a second home. The sense of community is apparent and everyone seems so positive and happy to be there (including the staff). The Wednesday morning meeting we were able to attend was a blast! It is a great opportunity for newcomers to be introduced and for connections to be made. There is a large emphasis on building relationships at The Village; not only amongst the members themselves but also amongst the staff and members. I was also impressed by how diverse and dynamic the staff composition was; there are psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, people with lived experience, and family members!
Overall our field trip was a wonderful experience and a great glimpse of the recovery model in action. If you have an interest in the mental health field and are ever in the Long Beach area, I encourage you to inquire about the mini-immersion. As mentioned, it is free, and they provide visitors with four hours of their time. Participants are able to experience the Wednesday morning meeting, a presentation and tour, and are encouraged to stay and enjoy lunch in the Deli. By enjoying lunch at their Deli, visitors are able to provide support. The Deli is staffed by members of The Village who are receiving paid work experience. Plus you can quiet the craving that will be induced from the delicious smells that invade the Wednesday morning meeting!