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Professional News
Foundation Uses Education, Research To Pave Road to Recovery
Psychiatric News
Volume 40 Number 23 page 13-13

Psychiatrist Michael Schwartz, M.D., created the Irwin Foundation in 2000 to promote education, research, and training designed to help people recover from mental illness.

Schwartz, medical director of the Irwin Foundation, formed the organization to honor the memory of his older and much-admired cousin Irwin, whose symptoms of severe mental illness caused him to revolve in and out of hospitals from the 1960s to the 1980s.

After being diagnosed and treated with antipsychotic medications in middle-age, Irwin "was maintained in the usual state of the chronically mentally ill person—he lived the life of a marginalized person in rooming houses and public clinics," and never regained a sense of self-worth, Schwartz told Psychiatric News. "Although his symptoms were treated, he never recovered."

So that others with serious mental illness will be able to lead meaningful lives that are devoid of stigma, the Irwin Foundation offers half-day and full-day workshops for staff of mental health agencies to teach them about recovery-oriented principles. In addition, the foundation offers individualized training and consultation to assist consumer groups and mental health agencies translate recovery-oriented principles into practice.

For instance, clinicians are taught to "empower consumers," Schwartz said, so they can make informed choices in the treatment process and take responsibility for their recovery.

In addition, workshops teach clinicians that helping consumers to recover doesn't depend entirely on correctly diagnosing them, Schwartz said, but engaging them in a way that fosters trust. "You can always change the diagnosis, but you only have one chance to engage clients—to get them hooked into that healing relationship."

Schwartz described Celebration Recovery as the "community-building arm" of the Irwin Foundation's recovery project. The event features music, poetry, comedy, and personal stories about recovery (see story above).

Of the event, Schwartz said that psychiatrists and consumers can mingle socially without having to worry about violating traditional boundaries." I can't tell the doctors from the patients," he said.

In addition, to its recovery-oriented activities, the Irwin Foundation also generates dialogue about a variety of topics in psychiatry, ranging from evidence-based medicine to neuroscience, through essay contests and other endeavors. The topics chosen are those for which "people with good hearts and strong minds" may passionately disagree, he noted.

The foundation takes a more critical look at the goals of medicine in general, and psychiatry in particular, and focuses on questions such as," What mistakes are we making [in treatment], and how can we better serve our patients?" Schwartz said.

"We believe that through exploration and dialogue, you get progress."

More information on the Irwin Foundation is posted at<www.irwinfoundation.org>.

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