One Positive Thing

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Now, this elderly, depressed woman had a lot of resources. She was rich and intelligent. Could this method work with a poor, chronic schizophrenic woman living in a hospital?

Apparently so.  In the Netherlands, a young woman had been hospitalized for ten years with hallucinations and disordered thoughts.  Then her psychiatrist started doing the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) among the patients.

ESM is a system of finding what people are doing, thinking, and feeling. Participants are given some kind of alarm, which goes off at irregular intervals. Whenever the alarm sounds, they write down where they are, what they’re doing, who they’re with, and what they’re feeling.  It’s a way of seeing connections between activities, people and feelings.

Like many chronic mental patients, this woman was usually miserable. She spoke softly and often unintelligibly.  She rarely smiled.  But she was able to participate in the ESM monitoring.  At the end of a week, she turned in her report. Out of all the times the alarm had beeped, she recorded positive feelings only twice.  Both times, her good mood occurred while manicuring her fingernails, not usually a peak experience.

Noticing this, the medical team did something wonderful. They arranged for her to be trained as a manicurist. (I wonder if an American hospital would have done that, but maybe I’m just being cynical.) She began to offer manicures to other patients and soon became well enough to be discharged to a half-way house. She started manicuring people in the neighborhood. She continued to improve and a year later was leading a self-sufficient life as a manicurist. Apparently, she still is.

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5 Responses to One Positive Thing

  1. It amazing that while sitting outside our building I encounter many people with issues who wish to discuss these issues carefully. For some reason the cosmos wants me to understand these issues as my own, and listen carefully to my responses.

  2. Amy Herskowitz says:

    Thank you for sharing these stories, David! I work in mental health as well, although on the government program/policy side of things and one of the best things to happen to mental health in the province of Ontario has been the use of a new standardized tool to help both clinician and client work toward the CLIENT’S expressed goals. Before, we used to have such a paternalistic way of viewing clients with mental illness and advocating for their “recovery” – only as clinicians and practitioners perceived it. Now, we have a tool that allows the clients themselves to tell us what elements in their life they are interested in improving: relationships, housing, vocational skills, activities of daily living, and the clinician works as a team-member with the client rather than trying to “enforce compliance” from him/her. It’s such a simple thing but a crucial shift in understanding what really matters to people who struggle with mental illness.

    Thanks again for sharing these.

  3. cesar says:

    Thanks, David for your stories and the class you taught in spring. It was inspiring. On top of doing 200 push-ups, I’m now getting my writing published and training for a marathon.

  4. Will Fudeman says:

    Thanks much for these, David! It’s important to share stories of people recovering from mental illness by finding ways to live more satisfying lives. This gives hope and a creative perspective to many who might otherwise buy into the pharmaceutical/medical inadequate band-aid approach to ‘treatment’.

  5. Rose Martine says:

    I want to express my appreciation to the writer just for bailing me out of this type of setting. After looking through the world wide web and getting views that were not beneficial, I assumed my entire life was well over. Existing without the presence of solutions to the difficulties you have solved all through your entire write-up is a crucial case, and ones that might have negatively damaged my entire career if I hadn’t come across your blog

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