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