Dear Young Rocker, a binge worthy break from the Coronavirus

 

Chelsea Ursin, of Boston, saw her younger self as wild but fragile. She’s the creator of the Dear Young Rocker podcast a memoir about her adolescent rage and angst and how she channeled these feelings through music—rock music. Her fave band as a teen Smashing Pumpkins. Ursin, when asked, said three words to describe her podcast would be “fierce,” “deep,” and “loving.” The podcast was first written as a memoir for her graduate creative writing thesis at Emerson College. But when it came time to find a publisher for it, she discovered she needed a platform. So being a musician who played in the her own band Banana, she decided to produce a podcast of her story.

Dear Young Rocker is the story of how Ursin self-healed her traumatic teen years through music. “Boys are given outlets for their anger, “ said Ursin. “Girls who present aggression are seen as abnormal.” Ursin, now 31, grew up in the early part of the 21st century.

Ursin picked up bass at 12-years-old and had few friends in junior high and high school so she gave music her all.

Ursin admits to being ADHD and has social anxiety, which is apparant throughout her memoir podcast.

This is the best podcast loaded with high doses of adolescent angst, anger, questioning how one should act as one’s gender, and self-insight. Ursin’s writing is relatable to not just teens and young adults but those of other generations seeking to understand their own teendoms. Not just a memoir, Ursin also interviews other adult rockers and asks them to write a short letter to their younger selves.
She hopes that along with the podcast, the book version will be published—now that her podcast is her platform.

She’s had a lot of response from fathers who understood their daughters better

To manage her own mental health, by exercising to a morning Youtube video, sees a therapist every other week, practices mindfulness meditation training among other things that keep her anxiety in control.

Hear her podcast on iHeartRadio or Apple podcasts. BTW She wrote the theme music too.

Social Media Entrepreneur and Advocate Hannah Blum Publishes New Book

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UPDATE: I interviewed Hannah Blum for this blog in 2018. I’m delighted to say her new book The Truth about Broken: the Unfixed Version of Self-Love is for sale on Amazon. A combination of memoir and the quotes and poetry that went viral on her Instagram account, Blum’s writing is raw and beautiful. She does not flinch when describing the pain and the beauty of life, of her experience with bipolar disorder 2. Her short essays are insightful and wise portraying a young woman who is light years ahead of her generation yet at the same time so in touch with them. Blum is a social media expert and is always engaging on new platforms to help spread the word about mental health and “slay stigma” as she calls it.

On the dark days she screamed.
On her bright days, she laughed.
There was no in between,
but every day she felt

This line is an example of her writing style. Blum is a Creative Director in Los Angeles, California. You can purchase her new book at http://halfway2hannah.com.

Being There: What Friendship and Connection Can Teach Us about Life

Being present and in the moment when family and friends need you means a lot to people. I learned this from my grandfather who showed up with cards and chocolates on Valentine’s Day during my childhood. He visited me when I was alone and on my own cross-country in Chicago. He was the only one in the room when my mother miscarried twins before I was born. He attended my cousins sports games and ballet recitals. Showing up is that extra thing you do to let people know someone cares.

Maybe, that’s why I married my husband. He embodies this sacred quality of being there for others. In this world, we are too often self-interested in our own pursuits, in screens, in enacting out the ideas in our heads. Conversations become quick as we half-listen and respond usually with an ulterior motive.

My husband owns a landscaping service. He shows up doing odd tasks and lawns for clients he has known for years. He’s built up friendships with them and is always quick to respond when they call. He helps friends out of crises. He’s shown up for me at my best and worst, as I do for him.

He’s never thinking only for himself. He just shows up and lives in the present tense. He’s never studied Buddhist meditation or taken mindfulness classes, yet he embodies this rhythm of life. He’s already here.

Learning to show up for others has helped me learn to show up to the page. Writing is a solitary activity, but it is the world of others which we write about. Only when we show up in our life and do for others can we truly understand the rhythms of life. Only when we show up can we absorb what the stories of others can teach us. We don’t write in a vacuum, if we do it probably isn’t very good. We write to show stories and we find them by being there as life unfolds.

Steve Hartman, a CBS Evening News reporter, does a segment every Friday night called On the Road where he searches for the simple, heart-warming stories that show American life and its struggles and triumphs over odds sometimes so great it brings tears to my eyes. He’s covered 10-year-old activists, veterans, the disabled, people whose voices you might not ordinarily hear. He just shows up with his camera crew and let’s people tell their stories. Some people say this isn’t real news; I beg to differ.

Sometimes in yoga practice, the instructor has us get into a complicated twist and turn of the body. I’ve always had trouble disciplining my mind to stay focused and present. I have to repeat the mantra to myself Stay in the Moment, Stay in Today. I slice backward and forward through the scenes in my mind and it leaves me depleted and off kilter emotionally and physically.

After college, I met a figure skater named Nicole. Nicole had down syndrome and had won gold in the Special Olympics. We went to a silly movie and after it was over I asked her something that was on my mind. “How did you achieve your goals?” I asked. She answered with three words. “Focus, Focus, Focus,” she said. It’s hard to focus when this world tells you exactly the opposite. It broadcasts from television, radio, the internet, the cell phone, the voices in our heads messages of distraction. Whether it be writing or listening deeply or doing yoga, I simply remember that word “Focus.”

It’s a simple word that brings me back to the present that forces me to be there in all I do. I can get lost excavating the craters of my past. But if I stay to long there, I’ll miss out on what is here in front of me, the delicious present.

There’s an old adage professed by writing instructors “Show Don’t Tell.” If when we write we tell the story, what we tell is from the past perspective. To write in the present, we must show the scene. Every writing instructor I’ve had has taught me to think in scene as if I were a movie director, to describe it using the six senses of see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and know. Perhaps, it is this last one, to know, that helps us get inside the moment to what we really feel.

Knowing who we are is not about existing in the moment; it’s about mindfully being in it. It’s learning from the past, whether idyllic or painful, coming to terms with the grief and the happiness embodying our beings.

When I was a child, I used to smile all the time. The other kids called me smiley. While we can’t smile all the time, the lesson here is about showing up in all we do with a smile. It’s one of attitude, staying positive, dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy.”

Sometimes during the day, I sit with feelings of emptiness and anxiety. In the quiet moment, I can feel the being of all things in the universe. It makes me uneasy, and a bit queasy. I have learned to let these feelings move past me like an ocean’s waves. Once the wave of insecurity passes I move myself into the present with three deep breaths.

My husband has the most amazing, indescribable laugh. He works with the earth and he never takes life too seriously. He has a joke for everyone about everything. It’s not about joining the rat race but about helping people in the moments when they need help.

Show up. Listen. Lean in.

Why There Shouldn’t be a Stigma on Going to Therapy

I’m one to believe that everyone should get six months of therapy in their life. Here are six reasons no one should ever feel ashamed of seeing a therapist.

It’s just Talk. There’s nothing wrong with an impartial ear to listen to you work through an issue. Everything you say is kept confidential. It’s not like a friend who might gossip.

There are many types of therapy and therapists. Google types of therapy and a whole list comes up. You can even go to online sites such as betterhelp.com offering therapy online, which is cheaper if you have no insurance. Otherwise, check with your insurance provider for a list of therapists in your network.

Do your Homework. Many therapists will give you homework to do in a journal to bring back to the next session.

The World Needs a lot of Healing. If everyone went to therapy, we’d have less conflict and more understanding among each other.

It’s a place just for you. You don’t have to be diagnosed with something to go. You don’t get diagnosed with something when you do go. It’s not just for people with mental illness. It’s for everyone.

It’s Green Juice for your Mind. You exercise for your body. Drink green juice. Well, therapy is that secret sauce that will heal you and allow you to move past situations.

Caroline Mazel-Carlton, fellow voice hearer and aspiring rabbi, talks about creating sacred spaces for mental health and beyond

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At one time, Caroline Mazel-Carlton found herself in a psychiatric group home with no job, no degrees, a psychiatric and criminal history. Volunteering a her local Jewish Community Center (JCC), she was searching for something to give her life meaning and allow her to bring her large, intense personality to play. She found roller derby.

“It made me feel amazing,” she said. Her roller derby name was given to her by a woman with a roller derby alias ScarietTubman 40 + 1 for 40 acres and a mule.

“I loved her name how it combines different aspects of her identity,” she said. “I told her that I was Jewish and a lot of elderly people at the JCC where I volunteered worried about me getting injured in this sport.” This woman came up with “Mazel Tov Cocktail #18.” This became her name and her new identity, what was to come just a part of something she was becoming.

“I was looking for a place where I could bring big emotions and be intense and have that be valued instead of being called borderline,” she said.

“They would announce me when I came out onto the track She’s faster than a spinning dreidel. She’ll smear you across the track like cream cheese on a bagel. It’s the kosher menace Mazel Tov Cocktail #18,” she said.

“Mothers of daughters would come up to me after games and thank me for being a role model, for showing my daughter Jewish women are strong and proud,” she said.

When Caroline was 5, she began hearing voices. When she was 8, her parents took her to her first psychiatrist. This began her start on psychiatric medications, and thus a lengthly journey in the psychiatric system in and out of psychiatric hospitals and group homes. She was diagnosed with everything from, as she phrased it, “Aspergers to Zyprexa, bipolar to borderline.”

Today, she is 36, and studying to be a rabbi, lives in Western Massachussets with her husband, and works as Director of Training for the Western Massachussets Recovery Learning Community (WMRLC) or as they recently changed their name to the Wildflower Alliance an organization that supports the healing and empowerment of people who have been impacted by psychiatric diagnosis, trauma, extreme states, homelessness, addiction and other life-interrupting challenges. She still experiences ups and downs in life but is able to navigate them with the help of peer support, spiritual community and tools like neuro-feedback, meditation and Voice Dialogue. I first heard Caroline on Madness Radio, a podcast based in Western Massachussets, which is syndicated and available online. We met at the Karuna Conference in Rocky HIll where I had the chance to sit down with her and ask her a few questions as well as attend her workshop on hearing voices and dialoging with them and a panel she was on about healing from trauma in the patriarchy.

“This is my story, a story of seeking a journey to understand my pain and my place in the world,” she said. “Its taken a lot of twists and turns. I look at myself now from a bigger lens than I was given by psychiatry, even a bigger lens than just mental health.”

“My goal now is to create more open and accepting communities, create spaces where we can all have dignity, purpose and be honored,” she said. And, she does this by leading Alternatives to Suicide groups and Hearing Voices Network groups for the WMRLC as well as leading in her synagogue in Western Massachussets.

Mazel-Carlton sees herself from a different lens than she was viewed upon by the psychiatric system.

“Identity is such an evolving thing. Right now, I’m exploring my cultural identity, what it means to be a Jewish woman in open dialogue with her ancesters, to be part of that history, that conversation. I allow things to be fluid.”

“I’m interested in how we create sacred space,” she said. “ For me, I see Alternatives to Suicides groups and Hearing Voices groups as sacred places where we bring our whole selves.”

She said the Hebrew word “Shalom” actually translates to wholeness. “It’s about creating places where we can be authentic and honor the cycles of life.” It’s about how we honor all our experiences, even ones viewed through a pathological lens.

Mazel-Carlton talked about the nature of labels. We start off with a name and a gender. Then we get labeled throughout life in various ways. “Those labels can be very limiting. The process of psychiatric diagnosis is quite subjective. We know this from studies consistently showing that one person who visits three different psychiatrists will likely receive three different diagnoses. Yet my entire life trajectory was predicted based on a diagnosis given at one moment in time. There is still a lot of discrimination experienced by people who are labeled as “mentally ill” in society.”

“Another thing people don’t acknowledge are issues of race and class, and how they play into who gets a psychiatric label, what that label is, and how they are treated as a result. I facilitated Hearing Voices groups at a long-term state psychiatric hospital. Often people I met there heard less extreme voices, not as loud or violent as mine, but they had a more extreme diagnosis. Consistently, the difference was they were of a different race and/or socio-economic class than me.”

The research supports this that if someone is poor or a person of color they are more likely to get a more extreme diagnosis. “We do ourselves a disservice to turn a blind eye as if psychiatry is this super objective, scientific thing.”

Yet, she admits some people find psychiatric diagnosis valuable. “When I talk to them about why, they usually indicate that receiving a diagnosis was the first time anyone acknowledged their pain was valid and real.”
The problem lies when psychiatric diagnosis places the blame for valid pain solely on the person’s internal biology. It becomes not I’m suffering because I was raped but I’m suffering because I have borderline personality disorder. Or not that I’m suffering because I was neglected as a child but I’m suffering because I have this disease called schizophrenia. It’s not that the world is an over-whelming place, but that I am genetically defective for struggling in a society that de-values rest and compassion.

“The process of healing and moving past psychiatric labels is a process of expansion,” said Mazel-Carlton. “It is becoming aware of our context in the world, our place in history, our interdependence on one another, and our need for community.”

Moving beyond psychiatric labels and pain is about building relationships. “For me, these relationships happened outside the medical system,” she said.

On one of the psych wards she was on, it was around Chanukah time and someone asked her to light the menorah. There were no Jewish staff. So the people huddled around an electric menorah while a woman who had been committed for suicidal thoughts led them in the prayers. “So many of us there had tried to kill ourselves. In that moment, we felt this sense of connection to something wider in that ritual. Community was developing even though we were locked on a psych ward together.”

Mazel-Carlton also talked about her work with Alternatives of Suicide groups. “There is a lot wrong with how we talk to people who are suicidal. People who are suicidal are people who are in a very important place in their life. They know their current way of living is not working and they are looking for a solution. They are people in a transitional space and should be given the utmost dignity.”

The biggest mistake the system makes is the risk assessment tools are overly concerened with predicting someone’s sucide and never ask the person why they want to die.

“A lot of people in the groups I lead, spent weeks on a psych ward and no one took the time to ask why they wanted to die,” she said.

“Ultimately, suicide in itself is not the problem. Suicide is the solution and its a solution to a whole host of problems war, rape culture, financial insecurity, abuse, transphobia, colonization,” she said.

“People want to leave this world for a reason. We need to talk about their why and honor it,” she said. “We need to allow people to stay in their communities as much as possible because community is where we heal.”

Mazel-Carlton will bring the sum of her experiences to her work as a rabbi, including roller derby. “It’s important to me to be out about my psychiatric history as a rabbi. I’ve searched and searched and there are no other rabbis open about their lived experience in the psychiatric system.

Inspired by rabbis in the Jewish Renewal movement, she grounds herself in “roots and traditions but also constantly making things new, relevant, and accessbile to people.”

She plans to create Jewish spaces accesible to voice hearers and people who have little Jewish knowledge and focussing on building accepting Jewish communities.

I asked her about the Hebrew month of Elul which falls around September. “I do a lot of work in the month of Elul, looking within me, with my voices, with my inner world. I look for points of healing or things I might want to rebirth or change. One of the things I like about the Jewish calendar is it gives us the opportunity to feel. It offers us all these cycles, times to go within and times to go without, times to be joyful and times to weep. It honors the whole gamut of human experience as sacred.
To contact Caroline email her at caroline@westernmassrlc.org or visit http://westernmassrlc.org. The Hearing Voices – USA link is: www.hearingvoicesusa.org. For people who want to learn more about Alternatives to Suicide this is a good article: https://www.communitypsychology.com/new-approach-to-suicide/. Madness Radio can be found at http://www.madnessradio.net. To find out more about the Karuna Conference click http://www.karunact.org.

Inclusive Cafe Gives Jobs and Hope to People of All Abilities, Makes people see everyone is human

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Harold Johnson, 22, does not let anything stop him. He’s studying online to obtain his travel certification to become a travel agent. He’s CEO of his own company the Thoughtful Travelers. And, he does all this while struggling with quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and anxiety.

Susan Johnson and Steve Tarca are Harold’s parents. They said it all started while Harold was still in high school. He was having some behavioral issues so they took him to a therapist. After working with Harold for awhile, the therapist determined that Harold wanted others to see him as a smart and thoughtful person and he loved to travel. His parents helped him start the Thoughtful Travelers, an inclusive travel agency for people with disabilities. Harold has been to Italy, which is documented on his web site in a video.

Johnson and Tarca thought about how few employment opportunities are out there for people with disabilities. Working with two other mothers of special needs children Noelle Alix and Kim Morrison, they teamed up to create the Be Thoughtful Movement—an organization designed to create jobs for people with intellectual, physical, and developmental disabilities.  Morrison owns the New England Pasta Company which created space in its storefront for Beanz Café, their brainchild.

Beanz Café, a coffeeshop located on Avon’s Route 44, calls itself an inclusive café and employs people of all abilities. Written on the wall, when you first walk in, is a quote from Harold. “You will leave better than when you came in.” It’s not just about the coffee or the sandwiches. It’s about inclusion and teamwork. Eighty percent of people with disabilities are under or unemployed.

All the equipment including the cash register and coffee machine are adaptive technology, and the counters are lower to allow for wheelchairs. They have nine special needs employees and eight non-disabled employees. They pay minimum wage, which in Connecticut is $10.10 an hour.

Training is done on hard and soft skills. “The most important thing is the staff doing the training being aware of the person and what they need,” said Johnson.

“It’s being a part of a team, a family,” said Morrison.

First things first, they teach their employees that the customer is always right and smiling is key. “Smiling is part of the uniform,” said Alix. The shirts the employees wear read everyone belongs and be thoughtful.

The first time I went to Beanz I had their delicious spiced hot chocolate served by a pleasant woman with Down Syndrome.

Sometimes when things get stressful on the job, the managers will teach employees to take a step back.

“I took a girl into my office who was getting flustered and together we screamed quietly, then she went back to work,” said Alix.

Alix said, “the beauty of this community is people see the best in people when they interact with this community.” Customers don’t complain anymore if their food comes out late or an order is done wrong.

As Harold said, You’re a better person than when you came in and that’s the magic.

To start an inclusive café like Beanz, please check out their web site at http://bethoughtfulmovement.org. To read Harold’s travel blog or to find out how you too, can travel like him, check out http://thethoughtfultravelers.com.

 

 

 

Bipolar Me: From Blog to Book A Guest Blog from Author Janet Coburn

 

Written by Janet Coburn

I just had a book, Bipolar Me, published. I never meant to write a book. Wait, let’s back that up a bit. All my life I wanted to write a book, but when I started my Bipolar Me blog, I had no idea it would turn into a book.

I figured that if I started a blog, I would have to write about something. And given that the universal advice given to writers is, “Write what you know,” my topic was clearly going to be bipolar disorder. Eventually, that blog formed the basis for my book. A friend suggested that I think about it. Then I attended a session at a writer’s workshop, “From Blog to Book,” led by the marvelous Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess.

How did I get from blog to book? I looked through my archive of blog posts and tried to group them in logical categories that would make sense to readers. I blog about whatever topics I think of every week (on Sundays) in no particular order. I may write about something that happened to me that week, or something that I remember happening in the past, or something based on headlines and stories I see in the news or appearing in my Facebook timeline.

But for the book, I felt it was necessary to impose some structure. The chapters I came up with were: Brain Games; Symptoms Galore; The Med-Go-Round; Family Matters; Heavy Weather; Swings Go Both Ways; On the Upside; The Social Whirl; Issues: My Take; and Society, Sickness, and Sanity. Within those categories, I discussed matters such as depression and hypomania, drugs and other treatments, self-care and caregiving, and even humor.

One thing I’ve learned as the process went on is not to discuss my own medications or other treatments or to recommend them to anyone else. I had seen too many requests in online support groups that said, “I just started taking drug X. What experiences have you had with it?” or “I have these symptoms. What would be the best medications for me?”

I maintain that this is not useful information to share, so I try not to be specific in the book. We may all have bipolar disorder, but the experience is personal to each of us. I have had very low depressive episodes and my hypomania comes out sideways most of the time as anxiety. You may have different symptoms. The cocktail of medications that my psychiatrist landed on after a long, long process of trying nearly everything in the book works for me but may have different effects on you. The side effects I can tolerate may not be the same ones you get or may seem more tolerable to me than they do to you. Our symptoms, our life courses, even our brains are different from one another. We share a disorder, but medication is individual.

Another pet peeve of mine, which shows up in the book, is scientific reporting. Too often I see headlines in the news that claim a new discovery or treatment may explain bipolar disorder or alleviate symptoms or point the way to a cure. I see a couple of problems with such writing. Too many times the headline writers get carried away with the “May Offer Hope” stance when the article says something closer to “may or may not.” Studies on mice are a long way from saying anything useful to the bipolar-on-the street too. In my opinion, too many of these stories offer false hope.

Of course, hope is a good thing. But I don’t write merely to be hopeful or inspiring. If a reader finds those things in my book, that’s good. But I set out with the intent of sharing stories of my personal struggles and occasional victories. I explore my own experience of bipolar 2. As I noted, your experience is likely to be different from mine in many respects. But if there is something in my writing and my experience that resonates with a reader, helps them in some way, or even just makes them nod, then I have done my job.

My job, it seems to me, also includes introducing bipolar disorder to people who don’t know much about it. Many of the essays in the book can help friends and family understand bipolar disorder better and may help them understand what a loved one with bipolar is going through. I’ve worked in educational publishing through a large part of my life, so I guess that seeps into the book. When I shared the book with my mother-in-law, for example, she said it was “thought-provoking.” That’s as good a review as I can hope to get.

Some people may be surprised that I included a chapter of more humorous pieces in Bipolar Me – “Cookie Theory,” “The Depression Diet,” and essays about bipolar disorder and science fiction, DisneyWorld, cats, and armadillos, for example. When I’m suffering with bipolar, my sense of humor is one of the things I miss the most, so when I’m able to lighten up a bit, I do. Besides, look at my influences – Jenny Lawson is one of my personal heroes and her books are hysterically funny, even when they deal with deadly serious mental health topics.

Finding a publisher for this admittedly niche work was not easy. I had sent it around to a lot of mainstream agents and publishers before I stumbled across Eliezer Tristan Publishing, a company that specializes in books about mental health, recovery, and emotional struggles. We were a perfect fit. My second book, Bipolar Us, is currently in production with them. A companion piece to Bipolar Me, it addresses more societal aspects of mental illness such as stigma, education, gun violence, sex, and support systems – and yes, humor again. It will be published later this year. I hope readers find something in both my books that will inform or touch them, or provoke some other reaction. That’s my job as a bipolar writer.

You can purchase Janet’s book Bipolar Me on Amazon and read her blog at http://bipolarme.blog.

Volunteers in Psychotherapy: New Model in Treating Clients

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Are mental illnesses born of biology or are they based upon our traumatic life experiences? Since the question is still being debated by psychiatrists and mental health professionals, then why would anybody want to use their insurance to go to therapy, risk being labeled and having the therapist report it to the third party insurer? And what if, you don’t have insurance and you can’t afford the $150 an hour cost of weekly therapy?

Dr. Richard Shulman, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of the innovative non-profit Volunteers in Psychotherapy, has the answer.

Volunteers in Psychotherapy, a Connecticut-based non-profit around for 20 years this summer nonprofit that has been serving people for 20 years now, was established by Dr. Richard Shulman as an innovative solution to help people access therapy services. All people have to do in exchange for free therapy is volunteer at a local non-profit or government agency in exchange for free therapy. They even get extra credit for donating blood or hair to organizations such as the American Red Cross and Locks of Love. So far, over 650 individuals and families have been served. These people gave more than 30,000 hours of volunteer work and earned 7,500 therapy sessions.

“If you really listen to the hints people make in therapy, wittingly and unwittingly, people are often hinting at things that are troubling and confusing. All they really need to talk about that is privacy. Increasingly, the field was acting as though there were research to show that these were biological disorders. If you think of it that way, you’re not looking for what people may be hinting at,” said Shulman. “Managed care also undermines privacy where people can broach subjects confusing and frightening to them.”

The volunteer work is part of the therapy. People choose their volunteer work based on their interests. If they are shy, they might help an environmental organization, clean trails. “People who may be isolated rub elbows with coworkers at a nonprofit.”

Grants from community foundations and agencies support VIP’s work. They have had 123 grants from 39 charitable foundations that give generously as well as over 200 individual donors. This is used to help pay therapists $55 per client per session among their other expenses like running their small office.

The model is “a person giving of themselves and symbolically paying by doing good in the community,” said Shulman.

Shulman does not believe that mental illness is caused by chemical imbalances. “People who are upset, confused, overwhelmed are presumed “ill”—not emotionally distressed but medically sick,” he wrote in an op-ed to the Connecticut Mirror in 2014.

For 20 years, Shulman served on an Institutional Review Board at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living where he served as a clinical psychologist. Institutional Review Boards are in place to ensure patients are told the truth about their medical or psychiatric conditions. Giving patients the ability of accurate informed consent allows them to know and weigh the risks and benefits of their options. Researchers, whether or not they are funded by drug companies and government agencies, are required to submit their research to the review board. “These scientists repeatedly admit that the conditions we mislabel “psychiatric illnesses” are simply not documented to be diseases of the body—despite decades of attempts to verify biomarkers, specific lesions or physical/chemical malfunctions that might cause these “conditions”,” Shulman wrote in the same Connecticut Mirror op-ed.

“The key is to know a person as a human being, what has happened in their life, what makes them tick,” he said.

People seeking therapy from VIP complete four hours of volunteer work at the non-profit of their choice. They ask the non-profit for a letter stating their hours, signed and made out to them…or they make a copy of their schedule or time-log. They present this letter documentation as proof to VIP for therapy services.  This way no one at the non-profit knows what the letter is used for—the stigma of therapy is avoided.

Shulman said that [in 2016] one sign of success in recent years was that their clients began reporting that they had gotten jobs either from their volunteer work or in other states. Many moved on from therapy leaving room for new clients.

“We treat people as equals. We don’t want to give something away for free. It’s an exchange,” Shulman said.

Recently after media attention, over 100 psychotherapists from other communities around the United States have contacted VIP about starting programs like it in their communities. On their web site, they have information about their export initiative which helps groups that apply to set up a similar program outside of Connecticut. So far, programs have been started in Gainsville, Florida, Bellingham, Washington, and Waterville Maine among others. “The funding is there to help people set up more non-profits like VIP,” said Shulman. VIP will consult with others looking to spread their work to other areas.

VIP is expanding and is seeking new psychologists to work with them. They are also looking for newer computer equipment and letter-sized paper to run their small office in West Hartford Center. If you would like to donate your time or make a donation, please get in touch with them.

To contact VIP about seeking therapy, setting up a non-profit like it in your area, or making a donation, call (860) 233-5115 or visit www.ctvip.org.