Friday, July 6, 2012

Toronto's Family Outreach and Response Program

We all can't live in Toronto to have access to this program, but we can all tap into the excellent web resources it offers. More importantly, the message it offers is HOPE. The Executive Director, Karyn Baker, says that she wants families to be the light at the end of the tunnel for their relative. In the program's training course, she writes:

The key messages that families report taking away from the course is that: recovery is possible even without any professional intervention (for many families this is the first time they have ever heard this message) hope is the cornerstone to recovery it is almost impossible to recover without hope and the familys role is to hold that hope; to avoid creating learned helplessness by being overly involved; to support risk taking and giving the relative the dignity and freedom to fail like any other human being; to let go of controlling relatives choices this is their recovery journey; to stop viewing everything from a problem orientation and start building on strengths; to use madness as a human experience; dont use coercion or forced treatment; explore alternatives and use advance directives.

Where I live, I have been isolated from the kind of support systems I might wish to have become involved with, but every time I got down, I learned to look for positive messages on the web for support.

Please check out the program's website for further hope and inspiration.

Families of those recovering from serious mental health issues are probably one of the last groups within the mental health community to embrace the vision of recovery. Their experience of the mental health system is often one of despair, hopelessness, helplessness, alienation, isolation and discrimination. Families are often told to grieve the loss of their loved one as they knew them, to lower all expectations and to make sure their family member takes their medications. This leads to a family environment that does not promote recovery. How can a family embrace recovery when they feel their lives are full of loss, sadness, anger and power struggles?

Traditionally, family support and education programs mostly focused on teaching families about diagnosis, treatments, mental health resources, crisis intervention, communication skills and self-care. There was little, if any, mention of recovery and no critical examination of the mental health system from a trauma-informed and anti-oppression perspective. These programs created like-minded thinking between families and mental health professionals, which further reinforced the idea that recovery is not possible.

In 2001, the Family Outreach and Response Program was introduced to Recovery. While the program had always worked together with consumer/survivor advocacy organizations and fought against coercive legislation – we really didn’t have a framework for working directly with families that felt empowering for both families and their relatives. The philosophy, values, principles and concepts of recovery filled this void and the first Mental Health Recovery Series was written.

Participants have responded extremely positively to the series, so much so, the request for the Series is so great we are barely able to keep up with demand. We have also trained several service providers locally, provincially, nationally and internationally.

The Series has also acted as a catalyst for families to demand change within the mental health system. The participants have now adopted a critical perspective of the system and want more alternative recovery-oriented services available to their family members.

Families are inquiring as to whether our program can provide some of these alternatives such as the Wellness and Recovery Action Plan, Pathways To Recovery, and Hearing Voices groups. Our program is always striving to expand our services to meet this request.

Eventually, our vision is to have a Family Mental Health Recovery Centre, a community that provides all types of groups, educational and advocacy events that promotes recovery, peer support and is inclusive of the diverse families within the Toronto area.


  1. The crushing of HOPE is critical in getting the "patient" to voluntarily take the chemicals.

  2. Wow, I just stumbled upon this website via a link Chris Hansen had posted on facebook regarding the activist intervention at the Heritage Foundation event, and poked around on the site here to find Family Outreach profiled! Thanks for this. I am a staff person there, and we are working right now on an online course for families for our recovery curriculum! Soon it won't matter if families live in Toronto or not, because we will offer service online as well as in person!

    1. Krista, sorry it's taken a while for me to respond. Please let me know when you offer this on-line course and I will publicize it.

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