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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Helping Consumers to Set Their Own Course: A Study on Recovery
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Many people in the homelessness field support the notion of recovery. Yet, recovery can mean different things for different people. In this research study, consumer involvement was a top priority. Participants made their own choices and learned life skills to support them in housing and recovery. HRC’s Gloria Dickerson chats with Dr. Christine Helfrich, Principal Investigator and Assistant Professor at Boston University Department of Occupational Therapy.
photo of Chris Helfrich

Christine Helfrich, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, is an assistant professor at Boston University Department of Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation Counseling. She is also the Principal Investigator for the “Homeless Mentally Ill: Strategies for Maintaining Residential Stability” project.

Q: How did you empower consumers in your study?
A. We involved consumers as soon as we started writing the grant. We simply asked, “What do you need?” As the project continued, we asked for feedback at every turning point in our research. Consumers as well as agency staff gave feedback during piloting, writing, implementation and evaluation.

Q: How did you make sure your interventions were responsive to consumers’ needs?
A: We did a thorough needs assessment at the beginning of the project to find out what consumers saw as the most pressing. During the intervention, we taught skills in very practical ways. For example, we taught about the food pyramid and offered strategies for sticking to it. Rather than trying to include all the food groups in one day, we looked at it over the course of a week. If consumers tended to have high carbohydrate diets, we suggested tips for including vegetables and proteins throughout the week, if not every day.

Q: What were the recovery outcomes of your study?
A: The primary outcome was that consumers improved their life skills, which helped them to maintain housing. People were also reconnecting to the community. For example, our staff developed a relationship with a local bank and the bank manager taught one of our sessions. The consumers were invited in, given refreshments and taught how to use a bank account. This was major! Everyone felt welcomed as valued customers.

We provided choices and the amazing thing is that almost all the participants told us the same thing: their lives were improving.  These really were recovery outcomes.

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Rockville, MD