Re-finding the Hook!
By Courtenay M. Harding, PhD
RECOVERe Works Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies March 2012
Everybody has a hook. By a hook, I mean something that is a dream, a passionate interest, a fascination….something which makes everyday life worth living. Young adults search and search for that hook and often try out several avenues before they hit upon something that gives them satisfaction across time. However, when a person is sidetracked by psychiatric problems, those dreams and interests fade away and are often forgotten in the confusing world of systems of care especially when their caregivers and Social Security Administration repeatedly tell them that they are permanently disabled and must put their original dreams aside. The real question is how to get those hooks back? How to hook someone back into a real life for themselves?
As an example, Evelyn had repeatedly tried to kill herself and an ever vigilant staff kept her alive. She was bound and determined not to see her 20s. Her eyes were dead even though she was still with us at the mental health center. In looking at her history, we found that she had been in an orphanage….such a bad one, in fact, that it had been investigated by the Human Rights Commission. Their report provided ample evidence of the trauma she had suffered through. But at such a young age (0-7years), she had no appropriate labels for her fury and had turned it all against herself. We provided her with the Executive Summary of the Report and told her she had very good reasons to be furious. Once she was able to label things, we then asked her “Now, what are you going to do with this information?” She shrugged her shoulders. We suggested that since she was such an intelligent person and that, although she only had a 10th grade education, perhaps she might become a human rights lawyer, herself, so she could help other kids escape her fate. Suddenly, we saw for the first time, a gleam of hope in her eyes. If she decided to become a veterinarian, we wouldn’t care. We just wanted her to grab life again and get on with it.
Joe was languishing for years around our mental health center. He had minimal interest in trying anything. However, one day, we found a snippet of an old dream of his, buried in the early records. He had seen a piano on a field trip and had sat down and played many complicated pieces of music, much to everyone’s surprise. We asked him about this and his eyes lit up like a Christmas Tree. We asked if he would like to have access to a piano again at the local Y and he was enthusiastic. From then on, Joe participated in the rehab program and then left the system to earn money playing the piano in the city.
Re-finding the hook is not rocket science. But it requires curiosity and persistence. It needs listening to little hints from the person daydreaming or finding something in a psychosocial or occupational assessment that will provide a window into the soul. It sometimes requires a lot of work because once rediscovered, there may be disbelief or resistance to the idea. I have said that it feels like wrestling with alligators sometimes to overcome deeply embedded down-to- the-socks pessimism about different possibilities. Sometimes, it takes two or three years to convince someone that following the dream might be possible. It is holding up a new mirror for the person to look at over and over again for him or her to see the self differently and to reclaim life.