“This book is an original piece of psychiatric treatment didactics that has very useful characteristics for the benefit of well-motivated patients and conscientious mental health professionals.”
By Katherine Ponte JD, MBA, CPRP
Trigger Publishing, 2023; 211 pages
Reviewed by Renato D. Alarcón, MD, MPH
Books written by former psychiatric patients are a precious source of inspiration and reaffirmation of vital objectives for both authors and readers. The former usually report eloquently on their experiences and teach us readers, through narratives of pain, suffering, and learning, and through reflections about ambivalence, expectations, and hopes.
Beyond that, however, a relatively new genre of this type of literature contains specific, practical advice, thoughts, and actions that are solidly explained and organized, the same existential trajectory framed by doubts and questions, embodied by challenges but reinforced by a consistent renewal of purposes and searches. The results of this approach could, predictably, be quite favorable.
Such is the nature of Your Mental Health Recovery Workbook: A Workbook to Share Hope. Its author, Katherine Ponte JD, MBA, CPRP, a faculty member of the Yale University Department of Psychiatry’s Program for Recovery and Community Health and a mental health Recovery advocate, experienced severe bipolar I disorder for more than 20 years. In her own words, she has been “happily living in recovery since 2018.”
She tells us: “Mental illness can evolve through many stages. Like when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, an old life may seem to end in isolation, but can be transformed almost magically into something more beautiful. This beauty is recovery, and the magic is hope.”
As part of its central message, the journey to recovery entails proactive changes realistically conceived and executed by patients themselves, fostering the lucid participation of relatives and friends and making it clear that the illness has not vanished or been “cured.” The journey to recovery does not pursue “symptom resolution” as a prerequisite or an objective; it rather focuses on building a set of skills, staying on a consistent path but never attempting to substitute medical or psychiatric care.
“Supporters” and health care professionals are also strongly encouraged to use the book “in order to inspire and reinforce hope for recovery,” to generate engaging discussions, and to “enhance treatment outcomes through increased patient activation.”
Ponte found and followed the recovery road after “years of failed efforts, losses, disappointments, demoralization, and stigma,” learning from herself and fellow patients through a consistently utilized peer support involvement, delineating objectives and strategies and accumulating “enough curiosity, exploration, hard work, discipline, commitment, resilience, patience”—that is, a process that reaches levels of authentic self-search and self-realization.
An original step to be taken at the beginning of the process (ie, before implementing the workbook’s strategies) is the recovery oath addressed to patients in order “to cement your goals… [making you]… able to proceed with a much clearer sense of your mission and a deeper sense of commitment.” The 12 phrases of the oath are realistic invitations and sincere exhortations to action, resilience, and a persistent cultivation of hope.
Using a “deliberately concise style,” the workbook includes 8 chapters in its structure: “Self-Assessment,” “Life Plans,” “The Journey,” “Facing Challenges,” “Managing Emotions,” “Treatment,” “Self-Care,” and “Relationships.” Each chapter has a number of pragmatically described themes of recovery that reach a total of 54 sections. Each section also has a goals page and an exercise page.
The goals page offers background information, suggested foci, and practical guidance; the exercise page includes activities of self-reflection, learning and skill development aimed at the reinforcement of the goals.
There is, of course, a general call to flexibility that encourages the use of the reader/user’s own initiatives and his/her choice about the sequences. The book also includes added components of the work equipment from personal styles of implementation to the use of notebooks, reiteration of themes, progress tracking, etc. It also has suggestions for “troubleshooting along the way.”
I blindly chose the third chapter, called “The Journey,” as an example of the book’s practical content. This chapter has 6 sections, the second of which is titled “All About Self.” This section has well-delineated and explained goals (such as levels of responsibility, discipline, self-esteem, self-determination, and self-advocacy) and up to 10 exercises shaped from adaptations of the Rosemberg Self-Esteem Scale statements about the patient elaborating on reflections for his/her own analysis and using these reflections as topics of eventual conversations with the therapist, friends, or relatives.
In conjunction with the other chapters and sections, the book seeks to help readers build a new self—one that reinforces the healthy, deeply rooted inborn attributes of the individual patient and discards or corrects his/her problematic, disrupted, or non-productive traits.
This book is, indeed, an original piece of psychiatric treatment didactics that has very useful characteristics for the benefit of well-motivated patients and conscientious mental health professionals. Accessible, practical language and the weight of instrumentalized personal experiences accentuate the book’s value for teaching both established clinicians and those in training to enhance their knowledge and use it as a collaborative tool in the therapeutic management and tracking of psychosocial recovery.
The volume becomes, as the text reiterates time and time again, a unique source of hope—the ecumenical ingredient of every kind of psychotherapy, the unchangeable compass in the “never-ending journey called recovery,” and an epic hymn of solidarity, trust, and love.
Dr Alarcón is Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota; Honorio Delgado Chair at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Perú; and an Editorial Board Member of Psychiatric Times®.