Established in early 2013 by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), the Parachute programme’s approach is “open dialogue”, in which a team of therapists and social workers encourage patients and their families to develop their own route to achieving recovery. Practitioners say the approach rejects hierarchy, encouraging equal and open dialogue between everyone in the group. It isn’t about getting “better”, but learning to live with acute distress and developing ways of managing it.
Open dialogue was developed in the 1980s in western Lapland by the Finnish psychologist Jaakko Seikkula. Within a few years, this remote area of northern Europe went from experiencing one of the worst incidence rates of schizophrenia in Europe to having the best documented therapeutic outcomes in the western world. One study showed that after two years of starting therapy more than 80% of participants had no noticeable psychotic symptoms.
The Parachute NYC programme is the first time open dialogue has been implemented in a major urban environment. In addition, it has pioneered peer support as part of the mix. Peer mentors help create a shared experience, says Leslie Nelson, 52, who works as a full-time paid peer in one of Parachute’s mobile open dialogue teams. “It’s just an amazing process for so many of us. Because the person locks on to you. They ask me: ‘You were like this?’ They can’t believe where I am now and they’re inspired by that.”
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