By Sharon Spieler
A Conference by Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey's Wellness Institute
On March 26, 2015 I attended a conference sponsored by Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey Wellness Institute or CSPNJ titled “Wellness in 8D.” The Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey empower consumers in recovery to realize a lifestyle centered on wellness. For CSPNJ, wellness consists of eight dimensions. They are: emotional, financial, social, spiritual, occupational, physical, intellectual, and environmental.
The conference began with a welcome from the Wellness Conference Organizer Peggy Swarbrick and Executive Director Jody Silver. Attendees were acknowledged from all over New Jersey and New York. These included providers of mental health services, peer specialists, advocates and consumers.
The first speaker of the day was Chacku Mathai, Director of the STAR Center, a National Technical Assistance Center funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). He spoke on “Making Wellness in 8D Real in Our Communities.” He spoke from personal experience. Not only was he a consumer of mental health services, but had been a substance abuser in his youth. One of the best ways of overcoming his mental illness and substance abuse problems was to become a peer helping others. He offered other suggestions. The first thing to do is to acknowledge that one can recover and that wellness and recovery is for all. We have to believe that we can have an impact on our health and have the confidence and knowledge to do something about it. We then have to act by making decisions to change our actions and make self determined choices. We can do this even under stress. We have to go from doomed thinking to prevention thinking.
The keynote speaker was Patrick Kennedy. He was in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years before giving up his seat. It was during this time that he was diagnosed with bipolar illness and alcoholism. He fully admitted this to the audience and said that his life as a representative was on full display for the press to see and report on. He is known as author and lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. His main belief is that mental illness and addiction are diseases much like any other disease of the body and should be treated as such. This means that mental health services should be covered by insurance companies in the same way as physical health services are covered.
The conference also consisted of various workshops. They included the value of pets and animal-assisted therapy, the role of peers in addiction recovery, how culture can enrich our journey to wellness, yoga, how peers can facilitate groups with consumers, creating places in which to meditate and reduce stress, how to bring the eight dimensions of wellness into our communities, how supported employment can enhance wellness, how music can have positive effects on an individual’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual wellness including stress management and relaxation, and how to achieve financial wellness.
I took part in two of the workshops. The first was how culture can enrich our journey to wellness. We were put up into different cultural groups based on color. My group was green. We were to hug people when greeting them and touch them while speaking. The opposite of the green culture was the orange culture who backed away from people and never touched. The red culture shook hands and touched on the shoulder with their right hands. The yellow culture was to shake hands and touch on the shoulder with their left hands. This was to demonstrate that there were all kinds of people with all kinds of traditions which were not necessarily your own. We have to get to know each other as individuals. Cultural influences are not static. They can change. Don’t create stereotypes. Ask questions. Culture can create barriers but can also create tolerance.
The second workshop I attended was how we can provide leadership in bringing the eight dimensions of wellness into our communities. We broke into groups of two. One person was the leader, the other the follower. Then we reversed roles. This was done by moving your arms in one direction while the other person followed your moves. We lifted our arms over our heads or swayed from side to side. The next exercise was to touch palms and move while touching. We were then told to figure out how we can apply these exercises to everyday situations. We have to look within ourselves. We have to figure out how to work together.