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The 2008 International Recovery Perspectives Conference – Action On Alternatives – Critical and Creative Exploration of Leading Edge Approaches in Mental Health Recovery was held in Toronto Canada June 5-7 . The powerful event brought together more than 300 survivors, professionals, family members and others involved in helping people through extreme states of emotional distress.

Key Contributors and Sponsors

The International Recovery Perspectives conference was sponsored by the following agencies and organizations. We thank them for their support.


Alternatives East York Mental Health Counselling Services Agency is a community-based program for individuals with serious mental health problems living in East York / East Toronto.


Community Resource Connections of Toronto (CRCT) provides direct service to adults who struggle with day-to-day living as a result of severe and persistent mental health issues as well as health promotion/community development support to consumer/survivors, families and groups in Toronto.


Family Outreach and Response (F.O.R.) is a program that provides support services to families and friends of people who are recovering from a serious mental health problem.


International Network Towards Alternatives and Recovery (INTAR)

We like to thank all organizers, planners and volunteers for their hard work and assistance!



“Why Alternatives? – Conference Editorial


There is a low-level struggle against traditional psychiatry’s strict adherence to the bio-medical model. It is argued that the bio-medical mental health system is too mechanistic, too embedded with Big Pharma, and has too much authority over people;s lives; that this is inadvertently counter-recovery. We look to, and call for alternatives to the bio-medical approach, but what is meant by the term, alternatives?

Alternatives are generally conceived as actual, altruistic programs or services that operate in a spirited and cooperative fashion on the margins of the mainstream system. However, alternatives are not just under-funded, voluntaristic, user-friendly drop-ins, support groups and crisis centres. In the context of the International Recovery Perspectives conference we take a broader view of alternatives, one that includes a shift in thinking away from burdensome thoughts of diagnosis, chronicity and coping, to a more stimulating mental environment that fosters hope, connection and creativity.

Among various possibilities:

We want an alternative, and more hopeful, way of understanding and responding to psychosis and other mental challenges.

We want an alternative to the traditional, paternalistic service model wherein the professional knows best and the client lacks insight.

We want an alternative to “more of the same” as it relates to government funding and policy decisions.

We want more critical thinking and less complacency with respect to the problems attached to the medical model.

We want access to psychological supports, and a re-integration of psychological training within psychiatry.

We want our young people in crisis to feel supported, to have choices, and services like trauma-informed peer programs and drop-ins.

And for alternative supports, we want the best that can be conceived: recovery-oriented services that are peer-driven, diverse, responsive, respectful of human rights and personal dignity, non-medical, non-coercive, with opportunities for growth and education, and the guarantee of safety, shelter and a fair income. We deserve them as an alternative to the fading status quo.

A caveat, however; alternative mental health supports are urged and hailed as empowering, user-friendly and effective, but this is not to say that we should succumb to magical thinking, that wands can be waved and peer support will wondrously uplift and transform. Not so simple we all know. Rather we acknowledge that this is challenging work for everyone involved, whether directly as a survivor, or as a family member, or as someone working in the field.

We understand that people struggle long and hard for personal recovery, that sometimes one can only bear witness to human suffering, that creating and sustaining alternative supports is an uphill battle, that much of the good work is underappreciated and unsupported by mainstream mental health. Yet, we also know alternatives do work, that people’s recovery is the message and the evidence, combined. We do know that this low-level social change movement for human rights and alternative supports is making progress.

Whether as survivor change agents or progressive clinicians, or both, people are doing extraordinary work in the fields of wellness, rights and recovery. This includes most or all of us assembled here for this conference, so as much as possible think of everyone around you as a fellow traveler, a co-equal, and as a believer in our shared resilience and our capacity for recovery, growth and transformation.

Talk to the people around you in these terms, and guaranteed, you will have contributed to a positive and memorable conference learning experience.

Conference Planning Group

Karyn Baker Family Outreach and Response Program and INTAR
Ronald Bassman International Network Toward Alternatives and Recovery
Emily Collette Family Outreach and Response Program
Norma Friedman International Network Toward Alternatives and Recovery
Heinz Klein Consumer/Survivor Activist and ILSD
Krista MacKinnon Family Outreach and Response Program and INTAR
Brian McKinnon Alternatives; East York Mental Health Counseling Services Agency
Leslie Morris Community Resource Connections of Toronto
Peter Stastny International Network Toward Alternatives and Recovery

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