Soteria Alaska Opens its Doors
Soteria Alaska is a project developed to enable people to work through problems diagnosed as serious mental illness. The project focuses on recovery and while utilizing a pool of shared knowledge and experience, is intent on allowing people to recover largely on their own terms — that’s right, recover. Contrary to prevailing biopsychiatric doctrine, recovery is possible but you have to address issues and behaviors, not pathologize and suppress them.
There are more differences between Soteria and mainstream psychiatric facilities than there are similarities. At Soteria, little to no psychiatric medication is used, a person is treated as a whole and wholly unique person, there is little differentiation between resident and staff, and residents are encouraged to assume their own social roles and activities, epitomizing autonomy in care. All of this is in stark contrast to the hospital setting which strips you of your basic rights at the door. Powerful and harmful psychotropic drugs are commonly the first line of action, diseases are treated instead of people, The difference between staff and patient is stressed which enforces the “superior well” and “inferior sick” roles, and patients are limited in regard to their roles internally and in broader society.
After six years of hard work, planning and development, they are currently open with two residents and pending some more red tape will be running on a slightly larger scale with up to eight beds, still enabling them to keep things focused and based on individual needs and strengths.
This all seems so revolutionary in today’s pseudo-medical culture, so deeply entrenched in the multi billion dollar psychopharmacology industry and all of its resultant labels and stigma but it’s not a new idea. It is modeled after a project of the same name started by dissident psychiatrist Loren Mosher in 1971 at which point in time, it was equally revolutionary. What he was able to accomplish was remarkable but not marketable so it ceased to be when his funding came to an end. His methods were more effective and certainly more humane than the traditional medical model, allowing many residents to move forward from their diagnoses rather than wear them as a weight and a stigma.
I celebrate any approach to a person’s emotional state that treats them as fully human no matter how distressed. Let the results speak for themselves but we should embrace treatment that enables someone to live well. The alternative is the medical model which openly offers no cure and whose “treatment” is detrimental to one’s physical health and creates a third class of people devoid of choices, basic rights, social value and hope. But then, they’re just going by the book. Unfortunately for so many millions of people, that book is the DSM.
And a video