Recovery self help for your mental health

Weekly Press                 Wednesday November 28, 2012


Recovery: Self-help for your mental health

By David Block

Special to the Weekly Press


If you suffer from panic attacks, bouts of anxiety, or depression, or if you were recently discharged from a psychiatric facility and fear a relapse, you can get help. All you need to do is attend Recovery International meetings. There are a number of meetings throughout the Delaware Valley and in Philadelphia. It’s free of charge, even if you don’t have insurance.

Recovery meetings take place at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (1831 Bainbridge St. Phila.) on Saturday from 2:30 PM to 4:00 PM and Tuesday from 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM. Recovery has no religious affiliation and never references a “higher power.”

Recovery’s Formation

Recovery International (formerly Recovery Inc.) is a mental health self-help organization founded in 1937 by neuropsychiatrist Dr. Abraham Low (1891 – 1954) in Chicago, Illinois.

At that time, psychoanalysis was the standard treatment for mental health patients. Between sessions, patients in mental hospitals sat around and did nothing. Their conditions deteriorated to the point where they lost their ability to socialize.

Dr. Low’s two daughters, Phyllis Low-Berning and Marilyn Low-Schmitt elaborated that psychoanalysis by itself was not helping certain patients. Dr. Low believed that rehashing the past and dwelling on current problems worsened his patients’ mental state and increased their emotional distress. Low wanted his patients to get back to a functioning life, take responsibility, and become more self-sufficient. Too frequently, patients relapsed and were readmitted to psychiatric facilities. Marilyn described it as a “revolving door.”

“My father wanted to keep his patients well enough to stay out of the hospital,” said Marilyn. To prepare them for life outside the hospital, he had them do things like write newsletters about the ward and put on skits.

In 1937, Dr. Low founded Recovery Incorporated. Low focused on helping patients find practical ways to cope with stressful daily life situations. By 1952, he formalized all recovery meetings to follow a four-step procedure.

The four-step procedure includes:

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2. The participant objectively describes the inner emotions that he or she felt that were triggered by the event.

3. The participant identifies (“spots”) the negative thoughts and emotions brought about by the event. The participant also identifies (“spots”) the positive thoughts/emotions and the constructive tools that helped him or her cope with the event.

4. The participant describes how he or she coped with the event before their recovery training, and describes how he or she coped with the event after their recovery training.

Without giving advice or suggestions, other patients offer recovery tools that help the speaker identify additional triggers and point to additional coping methods.

The Recovery tools worked, thus improving his patients’ mental health to the point where they could stay out of the psychiatric facilities. Dr. Low and his patients were happy with this solution, but many of his colleagues in the medical field were upset. According to his daughters, many people in the medical profession viewed Recovery as too simplistic to work.

“Many of my father’s patients were getting well faster than the other doctors’ patients,” said Phyllis. “Some of the doctors were jealous.” When patients recovered quickly, doctors earned less money. Marilyn pointed out that some psychotherapists recommend Recovery to their patients because their patients learn coping skills that keep them from sabotaging themselves.

In 1941, the Psychiatric Institute and the University of Illinois terminated Dr. Low’s employment. The following year, he was ready to disband Recovery. However, his patients refused to allow it. They continued to run their own meetings in private homes and offices.

According to his daughters, when Dr. Low saw that his patients were running the meetings in accordance with his standards, he provided training to lead meetings and to expand Recovery to areas outside of Chicago. By word of mouth, through newspaper and magazine articles, Recovery spread across the U.S, and to Canada, Ireland, Israel, and India.

Why Recovery Works

Marilyn described Recovery training as fitness training for the mind: “It builds up your nervous system to be resilient against what your brain / your emotional state is doing to you,”

Recovery leaders are unpaid volunteers, who got help through the Recovery program.

Rex, one of the Philadelphia Recovery leaders, said: “Recovery helped me cope with heart disease and gallbladder problems. It kept me from falling back into depression and helped me stop thinking about suicide. It took a good six months of recovery training to function, then two years to get back into leading an active life.”

Rex continues to attend Recovery meetings, not just for himself, but to encourage newcomers to stay with it.

Rob, another Philadelphia Recovery leader, said, “Recovery’s practical tools helped me overcome symptoms that caused me to get worse.” He credits Dr. Low’s program for helping him more than any other doctor he visited.

To learn more about Recovery, call 866-221-0302 or visit

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