Recovery and Patient Centered Care - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Recovery and Patient Centered Care

What is Recovery in Mental Health?

“Recovery is a journey of healing and transformation enabling a person with mental health problem to live a meaningful life, in a community of his or her choice, while striving to achieve his or her full potential.”  (SAMSHA)

There are many pathways to recovery and each individual determines their own way. Recovery is about your health, home, purpose and community.  We are talking about recovery from illness, stigma, and possibly the mental health system. Recovery is a personal and unique journey for each person.

“Recovery is a process. It is not an endpoint or finish line. Recovery is the way you think. It is a way to approach the day and the challenges you face.”  Patricia E. Deegan, Ph.D. (1997). 

What is patient centered care?
Recovery focuses on strengths and potential, which allows you to achieve your goals. You are the expert on your own life. That is why you are most successful at reaching goals when you are an active partner in your mental health care. You have many treatment options. Speaking with your health care team about your concerns and your desires will increase your satisfaction and can improve your quality of life.

In strengths-based treatment, the focus is not only on problems. The focus is on satisfaction and success. You are not just a diagnosis. You can define your life by your relationships, your desires and your possibilities for growth. People who actively work with their health care providers are more likely to achieve their goals. 

What is severe mental illness?
There are many diagnoses which would fall under this banner. Some of them include bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, schizotypal, or post-traumatic stress disorder. When these diagnoses, combined with your ability to live, learn, work or socialize, it could be determined to be a severe mental illness.

What is the first step of the Recovery oriented care?
Mental Health recovery is a journey: like all journeys, it begins with a single step. The important part is that no matter the number of setbacks, moving forward is possible. Becoming informed about recovery in mental illness can help you on your recovery journey. Veterans can be at any stage of readiness for change and VA staffs are here to help when the individual wants relief or desires a better way of life.

How do you help someone recover and get to be the person they really are?
Having support, assistance, tools and resources are an important part of an individual’s recovery journey and  personal growth. Veterans work side-by-side with professional staff to identify personally meaningful goals, select strategies, and make progress towards objectives.

Is this something specific to VA care, or part of traditional mental health treatment?
What is specific to VA is working with people who have experienced combat.  Otherwise, mental illness is not unique to the military. The recovery oriented approach is not traditional as it is not the medical model.  VA has been transforming services since the early 2000s to this consumer-centered approach to care, sharing the direction and responsibility with those we serve. We have come to realize that individuals are true experts about themselves and their input is very valuable in combination with providers’ learned knowledge and experience.

Just because a person has a specific diagnosis does not mean all people with that diagnosis have the same challenges.  Each person is an individual, so we do not use a one-size-fits-all approach. The programs develop an individualized plan of care specific to each Veteran.

How does this type of care compare to mental health treatment someone would receive outside VA?
Community based mental health care may provide a person centered, recovery oriented approach, but this is not guaranteed. VA is America’s largest integrated healthcare system with more than 1,700 sites of care sharing a single medical record system, which eliminates redundancy and aids in continuity of quality care.  Staff and programs are required to meet quality measures to make certain recovery oriented care and Veterans’ preferences are happening.

How does this type of treatment best help the patient?
This type of care helps because no longer is the focus on just staying out of the hospital and being stable on medication. We are committed to not letting individuals remain segregated to the margins of an unwelcoming society. No longer is it acceptable for individuals to be defined as impaired, dysfunctional, disabled and/or disadvantaged.  Our purpose is to help Veterans strengthen the quality of their lives and find satisfaction in meaningful roles in the community just like everyone else.

Does this lead to more long-term success for the patient?
Absolutely! The research -- and more importantly -- personal experiences tell us this is true. There are seven famous studies from all over the world that looked at about 2,000 people over a 20-year period. These studies reflected that choosing meaningful goals in life, and providing social and therapeutic supports helps the individual move toward independence and satisfaction.

Does the Milwaukee VA work with friends and family members in this process? How so?
The VA is committed to encouraging involvement with the family and friends the Veteran identifies as an important part of their recovery. Family and friends are encouraged to be involved from the initial meetings and throughout the services offered. These individuals can attend groups with the Veteran and are asked to be participants and not just observers. There are also groups specifically for families, such as Behavioral Family Therapy and Support and Family Education (SAFE).

What if the patient doesn’t know best, or isn’t best able to participate in this kind of treatment?
We meet Veterans where they are, at whatever stage of readiness they are experiencing.  It might take a while to engage some people, but we’ll be there supporting and doing outreach. Our goal is not to fix people, but to help determine their goals and aspirations. For many, the idea of setting goals is foreign as others have directed their lives for many years.  Psychiatric rehabilitation is about recovering the treasures of life and finding meaning and purpose. Each person has the opportunity to meet with staff, learn about services, and choose from those available while being supported and nurtured through process.

How can I find out more about living with mental illness and recovery-oriented care?
Click here for some help on your journey.