I returned to school with an abrupt beginning last week Thursday. Abrupt because I didn't realize until a few days before class, that classes began a full week earlier than I thought they did. Heading back to school before my kids returned to school? It just didn't seem right. And it didn't seem right last Thursday night. Our program was the only one at the U of W to begin a full week earlier than the rest of the University. It was minus one hundred, dark and blustery last Thursday night as I parked and trudged across campus. It was like a deserted ghost town. Part of my reason for trudging rather than skipping was the class I was taking. It's a required course called "Research Methods in Family Therapy" and it illicits fear and trembling from all non-Math type people like myself. Visions of math and statistics and equations danced in my head as I prepared to enter the classroom. This was the one course in the entire program that I was not excited to take.
Thankfully, my fears were put to rest quickly. Math will not be a focus, I heard, and most students in the program find it quite painless... The focus of the course is making us critical consumers of Family Therapy research, and that I can handle. The big project is writing and submitting a research proposal at the end of the term. I already have an idea. It's one that I've actually considered pursuing in the past, so purpose and passion already exist which for me, is half the battle.
Monday night I began my second class this term, and it was one I was greatly looking forward to. I guess you'd have to be a little quirky to think a class called "Working with Families with Serious Mental Illness" sounds like a good time. The instructor, Psychiatrist Dr. Stewart Wakeman, is a gifted lecturer and turns all stereotypes for psychiatrists on their heads. He's warm, engaging, personable, funny, and damn smart. Well, I guess you'd expect a Psychiatrist to be smart. But not necessarily all of the other things.
One of the things Dr. Wakeman spent some time talking about at length is the trend towards collaborative health care that we seem to be on the cusp of here in Winnipeg. Many health authorities are moving away from "fee for service" models of reimbursement for their physicians and are moving towards salaried positions. This enables health authorities to establish and set-up collaborative care clinics and centres which provide consumers with a more well-rounded approach to health care. There are a few of these in existence in Winnipeg already, with more on the horizon.
What would this look like and how would it change things? Imagine you are heading in to see your family physician and you're feeling like you can't cope with the depression and anxiety you've been experiencing. You're not even sure that's what it is. You just know you don't feel right. After chatting with your physician and determining that you do, indeed, have clinical depression, you are offered a prescription for an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drug to curb the feelings. Now imagine that there is a Marriage and Family Therapist's office just down the hallway who is on-call. Your doctor sends you to chat with the therapist immediately, as they are only a few steps away. You can sit down and have a short conversation about your mental health and receive some preliminary psychotherapy without having to make another appointment, drive across the city, or researching who is covered by your private insurance. A follow-up appointment is made and to see the therapist again, and care is handled jointly by your family doctor and the therapist. If the need arises, there is a Psychiatrist on staff who consults with your team to ensure that you are getting the best care possible. This is what collaborative health care could look like.
This model makes me deliriously excited for many reasons. First, if I had been offered this kind of care at different stages in my journey with mental illness, it would have made a significant difference for me. Five minute conversations with a general practitioner are not enough to determine a diagnosis, treatment, or what supports could be of help. Eliminating the need for the consumer to do the work to look around, call around, and drive around reduces stress significantly and makes it easier access help. Having someone provide psychotherapy in a medical clinic reduces stigma and normalizes mental health issues as something that shouldn't be hidden or ashamed of.
I'm also happy because this trend means that there will be lots of jobs for people in my field in the coming years. Dr. Wakeman was confident that there will be therapists recognized and sought after for these types of models of care. I like the sound of this. I also like thinking that some of the amazing men and women I'm fortunate to study and learn with are the ones who will be filling the offices and providing care to people seeking help in a few years. My friends are going to make amazing therapists.
The third class I'm taking this term is full days over three weekends. It's called "Family Reconstruction" and it's a component of renown therapist Virginia Satir's model of therapy. It just so happens that Virginia Satir's protege, Maria Gomori, lives and works in Winnipeg, and she teaches the course. Now the amazing thing is that Maria Gomori is known to be one of the best teachers and lecturers in the program, and guess how old she is. She's in her 90's! I am really looking forward to an intensive opportunity to learn from someone with that much wealth and wisdom.
I was struck on Monday night how interesting the Marriage and Family Therapy program is. When new classes assemble, it's like a mini-reunion of old friends and colleagues from different courses and practicums. There are hugs and laughter and a buzz of conversation before the class even begins. There is warmth and openness and room for expression. I love being in a room with people who think that talking about families and serious mental illness is interesting, captivating, and motivating. I'm in the right place with the right people. That feels good.