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Volunteer Jen Padron reports: Milt Greek visits CooperRiis, hosts an inspiring training and workshop.

“After becoming a computer programmer in 1989 following developing schizophrenia during college, Milt Greek volunteered extensively with individuals in psychosis and post-psychosis. He led a schizophrenic early recovery group and has conducted subject-participation studies and surveys on psychosis. He began presenting on schizophrenia and recovery in the late 1990s and has delivered talks to mental health professionals and at conferences and has been published on the web by the Ohio Criminal Justice Coordinating Center of Excellence. While he remains employed as a computer programmer, he devotes extensive time to sharing insights and concrete techniques for working with those in psychosis and post-psychosis” *

* Excerpt from https://www.createspace.com/3811064

Milt Greek speaks to a rapt audience at CooperRiis Healing Community in North Carolina.

Milt Greek speaks to a rapt audience at CooperRiis Healing Community in North Carolina.

Guest Blogger: Jen Padron, M.ED, CPS, a leader in  Peer Support initiatives, writes on resiliency, hope, and peer support programs in Texas and the country. She also writes on cultural and political issues in mental health, and whole-health and wellness solutions.  Jen is currently working as a volunteer at CooperRiis Asheville, giving a year of her time to serving in our community.

Jen shares her reflections on Milt Greek below:

Milt Greek is very often referred to as a visionary, thoughtful leader, respectful and articulate peer.  He sat at the front of the Art Barn at CooperRiis’ Farm on Monday, March 25, 2013 to a packed room of staff, residents and volunteers.  His presentation was astute and experienced wisdom on schizophrenia resounded unanimously.  His brilliance and very sensitivity to translating the experience of psychosis into vision questing and spirituality made sense to me and it was riveting.  I sat in silence and while I wanted to take random notes, I was frozen and sat watching this man speak eloquently from the heart for more than three hours to us quietly, making points with his hands.  He took questions here and there, but nonetheless, Greek spoke so eloquently and kept the room rapt in attention, mesmerized to the experience and subject of psychosis, vision-quest, hallucinations, spiritual quests, themes symbolizing needs for personal change and combined therapy tools for aiding the individual in psychosis during his/her spiritual journey(s).

Greek spoke to common elements and sources of content to psychosis from his very personal experience in living with Schizophrenia.  He explained that individuals living and experiencing psychosis are vision-quest prone recanting examples of physical exhaustion and hallucinations experienced by Army Ranges in Officer training (e.g., Case One of a Bipolar veteran male hallucinating in a machine gun nest; Case Two of a non-mentally ill male veteran experiencing hallucinations during a grueling five mile run in Georgia heat while surrounded by enemy troops).  Interestingly, individuals who may be vision-quest prone may tend to experience hallucinations “with less physical, emotional or mental stress than others” (Theresa, Survey Respondent G-4).

According to Greek, stand-outs between vision-quests and psychosis are clearly that one is typically voluntary (e.g., spiritual journeying such as shamanism, native medicine) and sought after while the other typically may not be to the individual experiencing a psychosis (e.g., moments of experiential mental duress).  He refers to “Emotional Sponge”as a term during the experience of psychosis that is used to reflect intuitive and instinctive parts of the mind which will attempt to resume analytic components of self-analysis.  For example, a person may “… absorb emotions from others, amplify them, filter them through delusional framework(s) and vent them” (Greek, M., 2013).  The eventual personal “unbearable dilemma” comes from the external contradictions resulting in very real trauma and the “double-bind” internalization of character flaws and perceived problems in a person’s life that s/he may be experiencing. This building of internalized pressure must be resolved often leading to magical solutions and spiritual quests of enormous personal meanings with intensive growth opportunity.  Synchronicity, the Shadow and Personal Unconscious identified by Jung (Greek, M., 2013) creates a “coincidence of thought and event” (e.g., beware the Ides of March) hearkened very often by true examples reflected in “real” life events surrounding the person experiencing psychosis/visioning/accurate intuitions/symbolic beliefs for the inner self and environmental sources of content.

Families, individual disharmony and community bring to mind the question of complex dynamics, inner struggle and championing of trauma.  Personal transformation opportunities offer growth via magical, iconic and mythic stories, scripts and perhaps wandering or what Greek refers to as personal micro/macro crisis serving as “web of life” changes (e.g., Example Survey G-5).  His hypothesis of psychosis as a very real spiritual journey towards it being a tangible healing resolution where it heals internal/external contradictions in “sensitive” persons (e.g., individuals experiencing mental health issues such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder) is such that strong emotions… dreaminess, abstractness, the “proto-artist” create measurable contradictions of discord within a delusional framework in a very personal world built upon interpretive symbolism that may be literal and universal meanings.  The eventual development and understanding gleans personal growth and is a case where psychosis allows the person to have spiritual faith, growth, exemplifying a refined therapeutic approach towards greater life meaning (Greek, M., 2013, Open Dialogue Case Study).

Tools used to support Greek’s work include Dr. Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) ®, Dr. Xavier Amador’s LEAP (modified), Dr. Jaakko Seikkula’s Open Dialogue which Dr. Daniel Fisher at the National Empowerment Center often espouses via E-CPR, Ronald Coeman’s “Working with Voices II Workbook; Hearing voices Group and Greek’s own, “Schizophrenia: A Blueprint for Recovery Handbook”.

Schizophrenia: A Blueprint for Recovery (Greek, Milt, 2012)

Finding Purpose After Living With Delusion, NY Times article about Milt Greek, written by Benedict Carey, November 2011


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CooperRiis Healing Community: pioneer in mental health recovery, holistic approach to healing, relationship-based compassionate care for individuals with mental health and substance abuse challenges.

We often get calls and visits from individuals curious about how exactly CooperRiis operates, why we do what we do, and how.  Much of the CooperRiis approach, philosophy, and practices can be understood by reading  The CooperRiis Enhanced Recovery Program: Summary of Philosophy, Program, and Practices, as written by Sharon Young, PhD, one of the founding staff members of CooperRiis.  It has built the foundation for our approach to mental health recovery.

As we look ahead to our next decade of operating, we do so with a firm grasp of our beginnings.  Founded with the intention to provide cutting-edge, holistic  comprehensive care  for individuals with mental health challenges, thought and care go into every aspect of what we offer.

CooperRiis staff in 2003 - all of who still live at our Farm or work with CooperRiis.  As we look back at our beginnings, we look forward to our future.

CooperRiis staff in 2003 – all of who still live at our Farm or work with CooperRiis. As we look back at our beginnings, we look forward to our future.

Instead of a residential treatment center we call ourselves a therapeutic healing community; instead of mental illness we say mental health challenges; instead of diagnoses we focus on dreams; instead of patient or client we say resident; instead of case manager we say Recovery Coordinator; instead of predefined goals and measurements we ask our residents what they want, where they wish to go… and we walk with them as they take themselves there.

As one distinguished visitor, Patricia Deegan, PhD, commented after her stay with us, “CooperRiis is a beacon of light that helps us believe that our ideals of peace-filled healing care are real and possible and should be the standard of care”.

The success of CooperRiis is thanks to the individuals who have been here since the beginning as well as every individual who has walked through our doors since.  We invite you to read, comment on, and share our Enhanced Recovery Program Summary.   For questions about CooperRiis, please email:  info@cooperriis.org.

We welcome you to our table!  The dining room at CooperRiis Asheville - where staff and residents eat together 3 times a day.

We welcome you to our table! The dining room at CooperRiis Asheville – where staff and residents eat together 3 times a day.


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How to Create Healing Community: the Five Key Principles of Healing Community; a workshop led by Virgil Stucker, Executive Director of CooperRiis

Virgil Stucker, Executive Director, and Don Cooper, Founder and Board Chairman and Treasurer, led a workshop a few years ago at the Oregon State Hospital for a large group, half staff and half patients, on the topic of “How to Create Healing Community”.

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Virgil Stucker, Executive Director of CooperRiis, leading a workshop.

The workshop began with each participant ranking the strength of the Five Key Principles of a Healing Community (see below) within their current environment (in this case, the state hospital).  It was a simple process that opened the door to a dialogue between staff and patients — united around the common principles of a Healing Community.  It started new and exciting conversations about community, compassion, belonging, empowerment, kindness, and respect.  It also created common ground and broke down walls between people labeled “staff” and people labeled “patient”.

Virgil was happy most recently to accept an invitation from the Menninger Clinic in Houston, Texas to lead a similar workshop for the staff there in summer of 2013.

If you are interested in Virgil coming to your hospital, facility, or program to lead such a workshop, please be in touch by emailing us at info@cooperriis.org.

Five Key Principles of a Healing Community

Created and written by Virgil Stucker, MBA

1) Prepare each community member with the ability to find and/or keep fulfilling work.  Daily contribution helps community members to feel a sense of belonging and purpose.

2) Provide a culture of physical and emotional safety.

3) Foster an environment of kindness, respect, openness and authentic communication.

4) Participation for all community members in the social, recreational and therapeutic life of the community.

5) Empower and encourage every community member to assert him/herself.   Each community member has a right to ‘vote’ on certain matters and assist in community decision-making.


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In a letter to President Barack Obama: “I believe it is time to stomp out the old thoughts of mental health care. It is time we stop drugging mere symptoms and focus on the actual condition. Many Americans can live happy, productive lives with a mental health condition if they receive quality treatment”… read on!

With joy and pride, we share with you a letter, dated January 17th, 2013, to President Barack Obama, penned by one of our talented and eloquent residents – someone who is a champion for advocating for quality treatment for those with mental health challenges:

January 17, 2013

Dear President Obama,

First, I’d like to say congratulations on your recent re-election. I look forward to another four years of great opportunities and positive changes for all American people.

 I am writing to express my thoughts regarding mental health care.  I am asking that you do everything in your power to educate American people about mental illness in order to reduce its stigma and damaging impact on our society.  This can begin with acknowledging mental illness as a “real medical condition” and opening up dialogue between health care providers and patients as part of yearly check-ups. This could be the first step in normalizing mental illness and opening a healthy mental healthcare dialogue between the health care provider and the patient.

I know first hand the complexity of mental illness. I suffer from major depression and an anxiety disorder. For many years I experienced the psychiatric appointments, therapy sessions, and the on-going sampling of the latest medications.  My world was dark, lonely, sad, and full of despair. I began thinking unhealthy thoughts, and even took desperate measures to gain control.  Fortunately, my sister rescued me.  The two of us decided to seek more than typical psychiatric appointments and drug samplings. As we researched my options, we decided on CooperRiis, a healing farm located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. For the first time, my mental illness was treated as a primary issue.

As a resident of a healing farm, I quickly became a member of a community. I benefited from individual and group therapies and learned new life skills.  I ate whole, rich and pure food that we grew ourselves.  I benefited from a personal exercise plan, expressive arts, and mindfulness meditation.  In a short time, I started climbing out of my deep darkness.  I learned that being aware of my mental triggers and the first sign of an unhealthy direction is actually an opportunity for growth and redirection.  In a community where all were striving to heal, I began to feel excited and important, and I was recognized for my contributions. The residents here are regular people with amazing courage. They’re brave to look beyond the stigma and take a major step toward wellness. I found freedom in knowing that I am needed in this world, this country, this state, and this community. I must continue to hone my skills to sustain my wellness and recovery.

A month ago, Americans were shaken to our cores when we heard about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Those parents took their young children to Sandy HookElementary school that day thinking they were safe. We will never know the specific life and mind of Adam Lanza. But we wonder if he could have been treated for a mental illness before he committed this atrocious act. Instead, he was labeled by our media as “crazy and lazy.”  In his younger years, he was laughed at, bullied, and considered a drug abuser. Most recently it was televised to our nation that he was “evil.”

Although his actions were far beyond my ability to understand, it cannot be overlooked that education on mental illness is overdue. Perhaps, Adam Lanza and I had something in common. Did he show early signs similar to mine?  If I had been left untreated, would I have made the same desperate choices he did? The stigma and the labels that we place on the behaviors of others may need to be re-directed. Mental illness needs to be taken seriously by healthcare providers, insurance providers, and society as a whole.

Typically, insurance companies allow a minimal amount of coverage for mental health per year. This ends up becoming a bandage that offers temporary relief to some symptoms but never addresses the mental illness itself. Most of these short-term, drug-driven treatments only offer temporary relief. In my experience, they do little to restore wellness, confidence, and a place in this world.

I believe it is time to stomp out the old thoughts of mental health care.  It is time we stop drugging mere symptoms and focus on the actual condition. Many Americans can live happy, productive lives with a mental health condition if they receive quality treatment. I highly encourage you to learn about the progressive recovery model. CooperRiis has almost ten years worth of data that indicates that it is a solid and successful approach.

As part of the CooperRiis family, I personally invite you to visit our 95 acre farm in Mill Spring, North Carolina. The residents are moving toward independence as happy productive individuals. We need your help in de-stigmatizing mental health and helping our society to perceive it like any other threatening health condition.  It will save lives.

 I look forward to your thoughts,

 Katie*

*Name has been changed to protect the confidentiality of the writer.


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CooperRiis bi-annual Family Education Weekend Dates: May 2nd through May 5th!

To all of our current families:  mark your calendars to attend the bi-annual Family Education Weekend.  Families may arrive on Thursday, May 2nd and take part in activities, workshops, and events through Sunday, May 5th.  Email FEW@CooperRiis.org for details, questions, or feedback!  Hope to see many there!

85Z Managing Director, Debbie O’Neil, RN, leading a workshop for families in the community room at 85Z.

Dr. Sharon Young, PhD leading a workshop for families at the Farm campus in Mill Spring.

This beautiful painting was donated by CooperRiis Hall Advisor Michael Clem and was auctioned off at our last Family Education Weekend in the Fall of 2012.

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