Interview with Shery Mead

EM: Can you tell us a little bit about Intentional Peer Support, its philosophy and intentions?

SM: IPS is a system for relational co-development. Philosophically it comes out of a social constructionist, systemic paradigm. We believe meaning is made in a context and can only be challenged in trusting connections where both people are allowed to be vulnerable. The intentions of IPS are articulated in Three Principles:

1. Learning versus Helping: Instead of preferencing certain roles or expertise, we see both of us as having something important to contribute. We spend time learning about each other and avoid defaulting to problem-solving. We examine our assumptions and the ways we’ve learned to make meaning. Ideally, we construct a shared meaning together.

2. Relationship versus Individual: Traditional mental health practice focuses on the individual coming for services – their needs and feelings. Little time is spent paying attention to relational dynamics. In IPS we are always paying attention to the relationship – negotiating meaning and the needs of both people. We’re striving for the kind of relationship that both people genuinely value and find meaningful.

3. Hope versus Fear: The heart of this principle is sitting with discomfort. We pay attention to how fear drives reactivity. When we are afraid we tend to want to control the situation. With a hope-based focus, we embrace uncertainty instead of trying to manage or shut things down. Instead of forcing solutions, we hang in there with each other long enough for new possibilities to emerge.

EM: Can you share with us your thoughts on other alternatives to traditional mental health services?

SM: I think there are some good alternatives out there: Hearing Voices, Soteria, Open Dialogue, Alternatives to Suicide. But I also think there are a number of alternatives saying they do something different but are really doing the same old stuff. All too often, alternative services end up getting subsumed by traditional ways of doing things. Intentions might be great, but people really don’t understand how much of a paradigm shift is required to really change things. We see things like peer workers doing medication checks, writing progress notes, becoming mandatory reporters, etc.