Hi, I'm Jessa and I graduated last May. I've been doing some pretty cool stuff that has come, in part, out of my thesis work at Shimer. At Shimer, everyone writes a thesis during their senior year. It is a big project, with a lot of writing to do, and you work on it for the entire school year.
I titled my thesis "The parallel universes of mental health care professionals and patients" (you can read it here) and it is about the gap in perspectives on mental health care between professionals and patients. After I graduated, I bound several copies of my thesis, gave them paper covers, and sent them off with letters to several mental health care professionals I have met in the past. Only one of those professionals responded to me, but it was a very positive response, so I was happy with that. I posted my thesis in a few internet communities of professionals. There I got a lot of negative responses from professionals who were offended that I compared historical mental health care to slavery and current mental health care to racism (you'll have to read my thesis if you want that juicy detail).
I also gave my thesis to a few professionals I still see on a regular basis. One of those professionals was my psychiatrist. When I summarized my thesis for her, she told me that there was a Family Patient Advisory Council getting started at the hospital where I met her. I tracked down the person who was organizing this council and now I am a member. We've only had two meetings so far, but I have already been pleasantly surprised at how well my challenges to the norms in mental health care have been received by the professionals in the council. (When I introduced myself and mentioned my thesis and Shimer, someone had actually heard of Shimer! Turns out he is a professor at IIT, though he still calls us Shimmer.)
At the most recent meeting of the council, one of the nurse administrators invited me to give a presentation in a training/continuing education session for the hospital staff on the topic of building rapid rapport with patients. I was so excited for that opportunity that I completely forgot to be scared. (People who know me will know this is highly unusual. For the rest of you: I was, not so very long ago, so shy that I had to be taught how to make eye contact, at this very hospital. I had to be taught that eye contact does not prohibit blinking and that one should not copy the blinks of one's eye contact partner. I was told that is creepy to copy blinks.) In my presentation I talked about the biggest rapport killer I experienced, being invalidated by the professionals, and that invalidation can be mostly eradicated if professionals communicate with their patient in an assertive, direct, and respectful communication style, the same one they teach their patients to engage in within their own social circles. When I finished speaking, I let the professionals ask questions, discuss things with me, and I offered them a few situations that I have experienced, ones that were handled badly when I was involved, so that they could brainstorm ways of handling these situations better. It was a very positive experience; the professionals allowed me to challenge them and they challenged me back, but in a "help us understand you better" way rather than an invalidating way.
When I wrote my thesis, I knew I wanted to write about some of the objections I have to the way mental health care currently works because I knew this was my only chance to do so in an academic setting (I do intend to go to grad school, but for library conservation) which I thought might lend me a little more credibility and which I knew would help me write a better paper. Perhaps I would have done the rest of these things anyway, but I'm definitely glad to have written my thesis and have something to give people that says, "This is what I think of mental health care." I'm ecstatic at the opportunities I've had so far to share my thoughts on mental health care with professionals and I am looking forward to creating more opportunities to do this.
Also, I've since started my own, very little, blog. It is called Made with Awesome and it is mostly on various topics concerning mental health care with a little bit of arts, crafts, and library conservation thrown in for good measure.