The National Empowerment Center and the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery sponsored:

Creating Connections through Dialogue

A Weekend to Learn Together, Deepen Connections, and
Expand Our Vision of a Healthy World

Endicott College (on the ocean) Beverly, MA (1/2 hour north of Boston)
Friday, June 10 through Sunday, June 12, 2011

We live in an increasingly interdependent and interconnected world. The Creating Connections conference was an opportunity to explore various aspects of connectedness and the implications for recovery. Health and mental health providers, people with the lived experience of mental health challenges and recovery, family members and others are invited to participated in workshops and joined in facilitated dialogue sessions to connect and learn from one another to become more effective in our lives and in our work.

Co-sponsored by: National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, The Transformation Center, and the Western, Central, Metro Boston, Metro Suburban, Southeast and Northeast Recovery Learning Communities of Massachusetts

Conference Highlights

Check out this video compilation of highlights from the conference!

Presenter’s Information (in alphabetical order)

* Additional videos of presentations will be posted on this page soon

Suzanne Beachy – How Can the Recovery Movement Better Connect with Parents?

As a parent, the most maddening aspect of dealing with madness is trying to sift truth and hope from fallacy and hopelessness. As a movement, how can we better convey targeted and effective communication to family members about the real possibility of mental health recovery? Some ideas from a parent’s journey.

Drumming with Bob Bloom

BOB BLOOM leads interactive drumming presentations in settings including education, social work, disabilities, eldercare, healthcare, recreation, and concerts. In 1997, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts awarded certification to Bob as a “Master Teaching Artist”. He served from 2007 to 2010 as chair of the Interactive Drumming Committee of the Percussive Arts Society, the largest percussion organization in the world.

*Paula J. Caplan, PhD and Laura Delano – Losing Labels to Find Ourselves: Leaving Behind DSM Language to Discover Who We Really Are

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., is a clinical and research psychologist; Fellow, Women and Public Policy Program, Kennedy School, and Associate, DuBois Institute, both at Harvard University; author of 12 books, including When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans and They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal; and a playwright, actor, and director. She writes a blog for Psychology Today. Her websites are,, and
Paula’s blog can be found by searching for Paula J. Caplan at:

Laura Delano graduated in 2006 from Harvard University, where she studied Social, Medical, and Psychiatric Anthropology. She studied how individuals diagnosed with mental illness and taking medications construct a sense of self. Diagnosed with major depression and bipolar disorder, Laura tapered off her last ‘psychotropic’ medication in 2010 and no longer lives with a psychiatric diagnosis.
Laura’s blog:

Watch Paula discuss “Losing Labels to Find Ourselves: Leaving Behind DSM Labels to Discover Who We Really Are”

Click here to watch Paula on “How to Help Returning Veterans Heal”

Cave Cathy – Engaging the Community in Wellness

We have an opportunity to broaden our views about who, where, and what is helpful. In community, many have found meaningful and surprising collaborative relationships that promote equity and mutuality. This workshop will focus on a culturally expansive and trauma informed framework for considering communities as partners in wellness.

Cathy has over 25 years experience as an administrator, provider and consultant in the arenas of mental health, disaster response, homelessness, child welfare, and juvenile justice. She mentors organizations in supervision, leadership development, strength-based approaches, peer support, trauma informed practice, understanding oppression, community collaboration, and cultural competence. Her work is informed by lived experience, systems’ navigation, and program administration.

Beckie Child – Using Our Gifts, Strengths, Talents and Capacities to Connect to Our Community

Participants in this interactive workshop discussed how we use our strengths, gifts and capacities to connect, strengthen and support our community. Interactive tools were provided to identify what works and what doesn’t work.
Beckie Child wants people who’ve been labeled and diagnosed with mental illness to have meaningful lives of their own choosing. To that end, Beckie has used her experiences in the mental health system to fuel her passion for mental health system transformation.

*Oryx Cohen and Sera Davidow – Growing the Hearing Voices Movement in the United States

Hearing Voices USA Network website coming soon: Support groups for voice hearers and also trainings for leaders of support groups.

This presentation detailed the history of the hearing voices movement. The Hearing Voices Network (HVN) can include both people with lived experience and providers. The process of training facilitators and running new Hearing Voices groups helps foster positive connection and dialogue between people with lived experience, providers, and other stakeholders.

Sera Davidow is the Director of the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community, trainer for the Massachusetts Certified Peer Specialist team and someone who has lived experience with trauma and extreme states. She has over a decade of experience in training development and facilitation, specializing in language, perspectives and community development.

Oryx Cohen, M.P.A., is a leader in the international consumer/survivor/ex-patient movement. Currently he is the Director of the National Empowerment Center’s Technical Assistance Center. Oryx is featured in Agnes’s Jacket, a book by Gail Hornstein, where Oryx and fellow Freedom Center co-founder Will Hall are compared to the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Beth Filson, Cathy Cave, and Leah Harris – Using Trauma-informed Approaches within Peer Support to Create Safe Environments: Reducing and Eliminating Seclusion and Restraint. A Facilitated Dialogue

Powerpoint presentation (PDF, 1.65MB, 15 pages)

Peers can play a central role in the national effort to promote trauma-informed practice within service settings, organizations, and communities. A facilitated dialogue on how to build capacity within our communities to create healing and transformation from traumatic experiences, to promote alternatives to hospitalization, and to reduce harmful practices such as seclusion and restraint. Review a new guidebook in process, Engaging Women Trauma Survivors in Peer Support.

Beth Filson is co-author of Engaging Women Survivors in Peer Support – A Guidebook – (Draft) a joint project of SAMHSA/CMHS and NASHMPD. Beth works with Shery Mead and Chris Hansen in Intentional Peer Support; she is a consultant for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health piloting guidelines for engaging individuals who use SIV in healing relationships.

Dan Fisher: Building Community through Finding Our Passion and Engaging in Respectful Dialogue

Dialogue handout in English (PDF, 66KB, 2 pages) and Spanish (PDF, 54KB, 2 pages)

Recovery is best achieved when a person with mental health issues can participate in a community. Daniel Fisher will describe a plan for building “wellness villages” of recovery through peer-led community dialogues. He has found that this approach helps many people to gain a passionate voice, engage in respectful dialogue, and lead a movement to rebuild our fragmented communities.

*Dr. Mark Foster – Towards Mental Wellness

Mark Foster considers how modern psychiatry’s practice of labeling symptoms as diseases and then treating those symptoms with brain-altering medications leads to a fragmented sense of self and worsening mental health outcomes. He suggests a more holistic approach that appreciates the body and mind’s capacity for self-healing.

Dr. Mark Foster, DO, is a family physician, writer, and advocate for mental health reform. He writes a blog, “Letters from the Front Lines,” at, where he describes the potential perils of chronic psychiatric medications usage.

Carol Gapski – Conversations that Matter: Creating Space for Connection in Community

“Conversations That Matter” is an interactive introduction to the principle actions of dialogue. In this workshop, participants will gain a deeper understanding of how these actions are connected and unfold in a conversation and how we have a choice in coming to a conversation either as a “polite competitors” or “willing collaborators.”

Carol loves assisting individuals in the process of becoming real with each other. After partnering with Dan Fisher at Riverside Community Care to get “Recovery Dialogues” off the ground, she has continued to invite individuals to be part of dialogues as Community Development Coordinator at the Metro Suburban Recovery Learning Community through the “Conversations That Matter” workshop.

*Will Hall – Talking About Psychiatric Medications, Mental Diversity, and Coming Off Meds

Link to free download of guide:

Will Hall’s lifelong struggles with voices and altered states of consciousness led him to be diagnosed with schizophrenia; he recovered through holistic health, peer support, and spiritual practice. Today he is a therapist and international advocate who teaches living with mental diversity, alternatives to medications, and human rights to mental health consumers and professionals. He is a founder of Portland Hearing Voices. Find out more at

Leah Harris – Worlds, Real Impact: Using Social Media and Digital Storytelling to Promote Connectedness and Social Justice

Leah Harris is a mother, artist, activist, and survivor. She is passionate about using technology to foster connection, share creativity and art, and to advance our common activist agenda. Leah is NEC’s communications and development coordinator. She released a spoken word poetry CD entitled “Take Refuge,” available at

Elizabeth Kenny – Live performance of Sick

Newly written and performed by Seattle monologuist Elizabeth Kenny, and collaboratively created with New City Theater Artistic Director John Kazanjian, Sick explores a patient’s two-year odyssey inside the most advanced healthcare system in the world — an odyssey that almost killed her.
“Funny, sad, scary, wacky and REAL!!”
“I was blown away. It’s an amazing talent that can make such a harrowing personal experience entertaining as well… I’m going to be thinking about it for a long time to come.”

I Am – Tom Shadyac’s documentary

*Bruce Levine: author of Get Up, Stand Up:

How to Recover Self-respect and Collective Confidence including Strategies that Oppressed Peoples have Successfully used to Gain Power; and Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy and Community in a World Gone Crazy

Get Up, Stand Up, a blend of psychology and political analysis, theorizes that many Americans have lost confidence in genuine democracy. Drawing on learned helplessness, the abuse syndrome, and other psychological techniques for pacifying a population, Levine explains how US institutions have created apathy, and encourages us to collectively return to an authentic democracy.

Bruce E. Levine on Democracy Movements and Mental Health Recovery

Bruce E. Levine, author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011) discusses the characteristics of democracy movements for change and the connection with the “psychiatric survivor” movement for rights, holistic alternatives, and transformation of mental health systems.

Bruce E. Levine: My Story

Author and speaker Bruce E. Levine tells the story of how he became a dissident psychologist, opposing the dominant paradigm in mental health and promoting holistic, person-centered alternatives.

Part IClick to view at YouTube

Part IIClick to view at YouTube

Part IIIClick to view at YouTube

Amy Long – Keeping our Integrity and our Voice as Providers and People with Lived Experience

Amy speaks to how we can hold on to our truth, our integrity and our voice as persons served and who work within service systems during these challenging times. She invited the participants to help strategize on how to keep hope alive and to be effective advocates in a system that struggles with budgetary crisis.

Amy K. Long never sought the title of “mental patient” or “consumer” or “survivor”, but having survived all of those and more, she speaks with humor and passion on how healing happened anyway! Amy educates on the real “transformation” that needs to happen for many to retrieve their voices, embrace change, and regain real “quality to their lives”.

*Shery Mead and Chris Hansen – Intentional Peer Support as Social Change

Shery Mead speaks and trains on alternative approaches to crisis, trauma informed peer services, systems change, and the development and implementation of peer operated services. Shery’s Intentional Peer Support has now been adopted by several states as “best practice.” This trauma-informed approach sees connections and relationship as the core of healing and growth.

Chris Hansen was a member of the New Zealand delegation to the United Nations for the development of the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and served on the board of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry. She helped conceive and develop a peer-run crisis alternative. She has been co-teaching Intentional Peer Support for the past five years.

Mike Skinner – singing songs about life, love, loss & hope

Amy Smith, Dr. Mark Foster, and Dr. Joe Gallagher – Paradigm Shift: What Should a Psychiatric Medication Withdrawal Facility Look Like?

Dr. Mark Foster, Amy Smith, and Dr. Joe Gallagher shared their plans for opening unique facilities.

Dr. Joe Gallagher is a Family Physician who lives and works in Watsonville, CA. He is the Director of the Pajaro Valley Sunrise Center where people can taper off psychiatric medication and learn to use a specific form of peer counseling called Co-Counseling to resolve their emotional issues.

Lauren Spiro, Will Hall and Dan Fisher – Emotional CPR: Assisting People through an Emotional Crisis

Emotional CPR (eCPR) is a peer-developed public health education program to train people to assist others through an emotional crisis. eCPR is based on the principles of trauma-informed care, disaster counseling, peer support, emotional intelligence, suicide prevention, and cultural attunement.

Deb Whittle Trueheart – Living into Wholeness: Connecting with the Authentic Self

Living into Wholeness is a process of learning to align with and trust the larger, creative life force flowing through us, sourcing our lives with everything we need in every moment. You are invited to enter the mystery of the wisdom in your own being. Learn to release the old patterns that block our authentic state of joy, openness, trust, freedom and vitality.

Deb Whittle Trueheart, is a consultant, coach, writer, artist, motivational speaker, change agent, and spiritual midwife. Debbie has devoted the past 20 years to the study of psychology, holism, metaphysics, process therapy, applications of quantum science, spirituality, the healing process, and evolution of consciousness.

Brenda Vezina and Elizabeth Amaral – Self Determination and the Massachusetts Recovery Learning Communities

A workshop that discussed self-determination as it relates to being a part of a Recovery Learning Community (RLC). This workshop described what a RLC is and shared the guidelines developed by the Western Massachusetts RLC.

Brenda Vezina, LSW, CPS is the Executive Coordinator of the Central Mass Recovery Learning Community and assists the Metro Suburban Recovery Learning Community in their development. Brenda is a firm believer in creating the life of ones choosing and uses her lived experience to assist others on the road to recovery.

Elizabeth Amaral, CPS, is an advanced level WRAP Facilitator and a person with lived experience in mental health recovery. Elizabeth is the program director for the Southeastern Mass Recovery Learning Community. She believes in advocating for rights and for systemic change in mental health, peer support, self advocacy, WRAP and building community as a way of moving toward wellness.

*Robert Whitaker – Curbing an Epidemic: What Helps and What Hinders in Creating Robust Recovery

Author of Anatomy of an Epidemic and Mad in America
Summary of findings in Anatomy of an Epidemic (PDF, 16KB, 2 pages)

Over the past 30 years, the number of adults and children on disability due to mental illness has skyrocketed. Clearly, we need to rethink our current paradigm of care, and as we do that, we can look to programs—such as the open dialogue program in northern Finland—for insight into how best to do that.

Robert Whitaker is an award-winning science journalist and the author, most recently, of Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America (2010). Investigative Reporters and Editors recently named Anatomy of an Epidemic as the winner of its 2010 best “investigative journalism” award.

*Re-envisioning the Role of Medication in Recovery

Lessons from a Summit in Oregon – Robert Whitaker, Dan Fisher, Mark Foster, Joe Gallagher, Beckie Child, Will Hall, Lauren Spiro, and Oryx Cohen: Drawing on the lessons learned from the medication optimization conference in Oregon, 2011, and personal experience, the panelists will discuss ideas for medication reduction and at times coming off medication all together.