Sue Bergeson Health Guide
  • I attended the recent U.S. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (USPRA) conference here in Chicago ... it was great! If you have never heard of USPRA, you might want to check out their website and see what they do:


    During one of the sessions I attended, the presenter (a provider) used an interesting word to describe some of us living with mental illnesses: "semiretired." I'd never heard that before and, with your permission, would like to think through what it means with you.


    So this presenter was talking about a "semiretired consumer" as one who has moved forward on their recovery journey and then just kind of quit. While there's more work to be done, for whatever reason the consumer is now just treading water. They do enough to avoid being asked to leave a program but not enough to make any progress toward their goals.

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    Have you ever found yourself in this spot? I think back over my own journey and I do find times I paused ... usually because my goals had changed or my next steps weren't clear. Or, sometimes, it was because I needed to live with the changes I'd already made before moving ahead. Sometimes, you just have to build strength for the next step. But there might be another reason I look "semiretired" at times. It might have something to do with the way we conceptualize the recovery journey.


    When I have the opportunity to teach during our certified peer specialist training program, one of my favorite sessions is the first one, where we address the fact that recovery is not linear ... that is, we move in and out of stages for a variety of reasons. This is always an exciting session as we can see people rethinking a lot of their assumptions. We believe that, as consumers, we don't move directly from Stage 1 to Stage 2 to Stage 3. Instead, we believe that our journey is much more organic. We believe as consumers that we revisit stages, skip stages and move fluidly rather than rigidly.


    Larry Fricks, the creator of the Georgia peer specialist model and DBSA's Vice President of Peer Services, conceptualizes the stages of recovery like this:



    This diagram would make more sense with a detailed explanation, but that's not why I included it. I've included it because what you can tell from the diagram is that recovery is not a linear progression from one stage to another. There are reasons we stop or move from stage to stage. I "get" that, to people without the lived experience, it might look like we have "retired." But I wonder if they just have the expectation that our recovery "should be" linear. If that's the case, when we don't move to the "next" linear stage, they would perceive we aren't making progress. Could this in turn create the idea that we are somehow "retiring," instead of making a perfectly normal move from one stage "back" to another? 


    I wonder if one of the reasons we get stuck, or act "semi retired," is that we're not properly identifying where we are in our recovery journey ... not asking the right questions for that stage. One of the things we do in our peer specialist work at DBSA is use clues to figure out what stage someone is in and help the individual figure out what questions they need to address to move forward. 


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    For example, there are plenty of times that I cycle around to being overwhelmed with my illness. I get just damn tired of having to deal with it. But from the outside, of course, I look like I have moved beyond that stage long ago. My provider might not even think to help me deal with that stage if he or she considers recovery a linear process. But I have to deal with it before I can move ahead toward any of my treatment plan goals. I may, indeed, look "semiretired."


    Another thing we teach in our peer specialist training is that getting "stuck," being dissatisfied, is a very good sign. It means that something is happening. It means we've touched on something that is real. And if we can move through whatever this is, we've taken another important step on our journey. As peer specialists, we use dissatisfaction to create readiness for change. I wonder if labeling someone as "semiretired" might be throwing away an opportunity for real change and real growth ... ?


    I think labels are a problem. I am not "treatment resistant." I am not "noncompliant." I didn't "fail treatment."  And I am not, repeat, not "semiretired." How about you?


Published On: July 03, 2008