Rorie Hutter on Innisfree Village
On the future of mental health
Posted February 10, 2016
The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.
Interview with Rorie Hutter
The mental health system has a powerful top-down feel to it: an “expert” tells you what you have (that is, makes a “diagnosis”) and tells you what you need (that is, “prescribes medication”). It is hard to escape the feeling that you are one-down as soon as you enter the mental health system. Some institutions, however, try to minimize this feeling, both by the language they use and the actions they take. Here is Rorie Hutter on Innisfree Village.
EM: Can you tell us a little bit about Innisfree Village?
RH: Innisfree Village is a life-sharing community where adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (referred to as coworkers) live and work alongside volunteer caregivers. Innisfree was founded in 1971 and is located on a 550- acre farm in Central Virginia. Individuals live in family-style houses and work four days per week in what we refer to as our therapeutic work stations – farm, gardens, kitchen, bakery, weavery, woodshop. They also participate in a variety of expressive therapies, including art, music, and pottery and attend community events in nearby Charlottesville and Crozet. The focus of the community is to provide individuals a maximum amount of independence in a safe, healthful, and nurturing environment.
EM: Would you say that you have an underlying philosophy with regard to what helps people in distress?
RH: People in distress need to feel safe. When someone in our community is upset by something, we try to read their cues and provide support in an individualized manner that helps them. For some people, boundary setting is important, but we also need to have the flexibility to meet their needs in the moment. Often, we will offer a walk, a drink of water, or some other restorative activity. Also, relationships tend to form between people such that a coworker may be particularly close to a specific volunteer or staff member and that person may go to talk to them during times of distress. Over time, we try to help coworkers develop coping mechanisms that are flexible and can be used across a variety of situations.
EM: What are your thoughts about so-called psychiatric medication as it relates to the folks you serve?
RH: Many of our coworkers have comorbid diagnoses of mental illness and take psychotropic medications. We try to collaborate with the medical professionals and the families to ensure that everyone is on the same page about changes in behavior or emotional functioning that we have observed. When they have the ability to do so, the coworkers also contribute to this discussion. If psychotropic medications are to be used, the goal is not to subdue the person, but to help them enjoy everyday life here. For many, the healthful diet, exercise, and activities here also have a therapeutic effect and need for medication over time may decrease. However, we are not a medical facility and so we do not make those decisions unilaterally.
EM: How can people support “communities of care” like yours, either yours specifically or, more broadly, the concept of “communities of care”?
RH: One thing people can do is to realize that one size does not fit all. Communities like ours have sometimes been criticized for not being “inclusive” enough, however, many of our coworkers have more independence and are happier in this environment than in more urban alternatives that might traditionally be thought of as inclusive. We have even recently had one of our coworkers who was living in one of our homes in Charlottesville request to move out to the village. Having a higher density of neighbors does not mean that people have higher quality social lives or that they are happier. Just as you or I are able to choose to live more or less rurally, our individuals may choose to live in community where they are surrounded by natural beauty, can walk to their neighbors' houses and can still have access to the local culture of our neighboring towns. We also appreciate the support of our community in including us in invitations to participate in broader community activities, volunteer opportunities, worship services, and cultural events.
EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?
RH: I would hope that this person would be able to lean on support from a network of family and friends. I would make sure the person felt there was someone they could talk to about their difficulties. From there, I would encourage a holistic approach. Having the person look at health issues, diet, exercise and sources of stress is an important layer, but I would also encourage medical consultation to make sure that we were not minimizing an issue that could become more serious. I would encourage the person to identify one or two people to serve as medical advocates for them so that in times of vulnerability, someone was there to ensure that they were getting what they need. Having personally grown up with a parent with severe mental illness, I have seen first-hand how the impact of mental illness spans all areas of a person’s life and how critical it is that the support and treatment is not limited only to pharmaceutical intervention.
Rorie joined Innisfree in 2015 as the Executive Director. Prior to coming to Innisfree, she worked at the Virginia Institute of Autism in Charlottesville for 15 years in a variety of roles including Director of Education and Director of Training and Consultation. Rorie grew up in Greenbelt, Maryland and earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Virginia. She has a master’s degree in special education from Old Dominion University and is a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA).
Background and history: http://www.innisfreevillage.org/about-us/history/
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit him at http://www.ericmaisel.com, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com
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