Peer Respite Centers and Medication Free Madness Sanctuaries: Why We Need Them Both Very Much


Yana Jacobs and I both served at medication free madness sanctuaries. She at Soteria House and I at I-Ward. In this television interview, Yana shares about the wonderful SAMSHA pilot project, peer respite center she got started in Santa Cruz, and then I tell about what it is like to serve at a medication free madness sanctuary, and how three of them came to be open at the same time in the San Francisco Bay Area!

We both estimate that if such medication free madness sanctuaries were available today, that at least 50% of people would not be stuck in the revolving door of the mental health system indefinitely.

The Santa Cruz peer respite center carries the spirit of that alternative vision, that Yana was part of creating at Loren Moshers’ Soteria House.

In the interview I joked that one would need to look long and hard to find 2 therapists sitting at the same table who had actually spent years working in medication free madness sanctuaries with people in full blown, acute madness processes.

The fact that there are hardly any mental health caregivers with that experience, is of course a tragic sign of the dominance of the medical model of bio- psychiatry.

But as you will see, Yana and I believe the tide is turning!



Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


  1. I do hope the tide is turning, Michael. I spent six months doing homemade Soteria for my son, determined to keep him out of the hospital and off drugs. I was exhausted! He ended up in the hospital and on drugs because there was nowhere else to go. All he really needed, and all his family needed, was some needed time out.

  2. Hello, and thanks again, for an inspiring post.

    I wish very much there was a place like this near North Carolina. My family and I, which is a very small family including two dogs, truly need a place for respite and healing. Providing 24/7 care, which is what I’m doing right now, is very difficult without help from people who could actually understand what it is that is needed.

    If I had to say one thing that is the most troubling to the mind of the person I try to care for, it would be loneliness. I believe it can drive a person mad.

    I’m tired of hearing people say, “He needs services,” or, “Don’t you think he needs an ACT team?” and blah blah blah.

    An ACT team made enough money over the course of several years from ‘serving’ our family for me to build a residential treatment community and have enough left in savings for a decade. If I included the hospital bill from not so long ago, well, my goodness, we’d have everything we needed for life!

    So, yes, we are in a crisis, but people don’t get it that eight long years in the mental healthcare system pretty much did us in. I don’t know who is more traumatized, my relative or me. I can finally honestly say, I truly feel that psychiatry brought harm to my family. If I could only go back in time…

    Again, I wish so much that we had services around here other than the pill pushing teams of psychiatry and social workers. ACT is taking over and folks think they are the cream of the crop. If I try to say what happened to my family, people look at me in a way that suggests they don’t believe it. If they did believe me, then they wouldn’t later say, “Maybe it’s time to consider ACT again.”


  3. Hi, I just need to say that I have had experience working with peer centers and peer organizations and that I have found that it is vitally important to your mission exactly where your FUNDING comes from. Funding sources like State mental health departments, community mental health centers and Medicaid have very specific requirements about what your group is and is not allowed to do. The local “experimental” peer-run psychiatric survivor group here got a grant from the Department of MH and has had to adhere to the state’s agenda and has to provide assistance to homeless transients and to keep detailed records about diagnoses and treatments.

    And peers are just fallible human beings. Living thru unusual mental states doesn’t automatically make you a moral paragon. The original director at the peer center did something very improper, but because he owned the building the center was in no-one was able to force him to leave. The NEW director has been assiduous in getting funds from the state to improve the condition of the original director’s building. A real estate coup. But, unfortunately, the people in original support group are literally dying from the toxic treatments offered by psychiatry – and the corporate entity that is the state-funded program cannot fight back against the hand that is feeding it in order to protest the psychiatric holocaust. I am stepping over dead bodies while the peer center gets remodeled. Objects and property (and job security) became ascendent over the value of providing human support to traumatized people.

    Money ruined a perfectly good social change movement.

    • You are absolutely correct. And just because you’ve been in the system doesn’t make you a peer worker. Unfortunately, the system is trying to coopt us in every way possible to keep us from working with people in the way we’ve been trained. I would say that it’s almost impossible to work as a peer in a place like a state hospital; I’m trying but not getting anywhere fast at this point. The minute you say anything that contradicts the psychiatrists’ one treatment of choice, obviously the drugs, you find youself in deep trouble. They do not want you to discuss alternative treatments in any way, shape or form, even if you’ve not said a word against the toxic drug regimen. I keep pointing out that every resident must be a part of their treatment team and that goes over like a ton of bricks. A lot of staff don’t trust me because I do not take any psychiatric drugs and I constantly use the dreaded “R” word (recovery) with the residents I do have some contact with. I can attest firshand to the truths you stated here about how the peer worker movement is being used improperly in so many ways. In some cases, this is the first job that a peer worker has ever held and they will bow down and go along with things that they should not be doing in order to be accepted and have money that they’ve earned. But they’ve earned it by doing things that peer workers should never do. Charting is an absolute no no but the other peer worker where I am charts all of the time. We even had a discussion about it in a meeting this past week but saying things doesn’t really do much because no one in this place knows what peer workers are and how we are supposed to go about our work. I ask him if the resdients he charts on have an opportunity to chart on him and when he said no I pointed out that he is exercising power and privilege over them in the same way that the psychistrist has power over them. That didn’t set too well at all because of course he is just “trying to help” the patients and when I pointed out that using words like help points to an agenda that he wants to carry out at the expense of the people he’s supposedly “helping.” It wasn’t pretty at all when that meeting came to an end. The moderator of the meeting stated that we obviously need to sit down and come to some understanding as to what peer workers are actually supposed to be doing and if this happens it will mean that we will move forward a little bit.

  4. Yeah, the funding strings are terrible. I think we can’t do alternatives without working on taking away the power of the present system. We have to discredit what is done now. Just accepting a few crumbs will eventually get us nowhere.

    I can’t see how we can get real alternatives without fighting the present system at the same time. WE have to do both.

  5. I think the words peer and respite center are appropriate. These aren’t places to protect society from dangerous people. These are places where otherwise what it is to be human would be lost. You might think about using the word refuge…

    Even with a “criminal,” there isn’t really any “reformation” going on accept that they learn how not to let society’s madness got to them and make them violent. They simply step away from what’s not supposed to effect them, but what effects all of society; and move on to a place that’s not part of it anymore.

    No one “recovers” from mental illness as little as that a piece of wood stops burning when you put it in the fire.

    Here’s an interesting article from a publication that free and local in my community.

    It would be interesting if the psychiatrists along with the drug companies would stop their psychotic research into “medications,” and listen to those who actually have “recovered” from psychosis to see that there’s another way. It would save a lot of money!

  6. “No one “recovers” from mental illness as little as that a piece of wood stops burning when you put it in the fire.”

    And being medicated so that you’re not aware you’re burning, this doesn’t stop the burning either.

    There is a place where real research into understanding human behavior is going on; and what life and evolution is honored and the divinity of it even allowed. But this seems to happen mostly on the streets (where no one’s time clock is ticking) and in places where people are seen as exactly the opposite of the vulnerability that it takes to shed the fear of being human. And when you make yourself vulnerable, nothing opposes you. The human condition was made with love; not in a trauma based brain washing camp erroneously called “society.”

  7. Great work for everybody that made that center possible. I am glad to see such solutions supported by SAMSHA. I think it proves the biomedical/genetic/lifelong-illness model is already past its peak (even if still dominant in clinical practice).

    John McManamy is an excellent independent journalist reporting on the trends of psychiatry, in May 2009 he was already reporting on the “Sea Change” that was occurring at the APA meeting, with psychiatry moving away from biological psychiatry:

    From his 2009 report: “At a brief pause in the proceedings, I ask the psychiatrist next to me what is going on, and he confirms my impressions. In essence, the bloom has gone off biological psychiatry, which translates into sending patients out the door with just a prescription. We’re seeing the pendulum swing back toward an earlier era when psychiatrists used to spend time working with their patients to find solutions to their personal problems.”

    The recovery movement might have to also adjust, to ensure that the retreating tide from biological psychiatry:
    – happens faster (the trend is good, but very slow),
    – does not lead to equally hurtful new psychiatry trends.

    • I don’t know where you live but where I live biopsychiatry is alive and very well and the only treamtnet of choice is the toxic drugs. You will take them whether you want to or not because it’s obviously for your own good and the quacks always knows what’s best for everyone since they’re the experts on everyting. I don’t see any trend away from biopsychiatry in my area of the country. Of course, the Sough is always behind the rest of the country.

  8. Thank you very much for this! I was touched and amazed to find other parents (well two) out there in the wilderness who feel as I do. My 17 year old son has already been traumatized by the psychiatric medical model, including horrifying hospitalizations, forced medications… and never again will I allow that to happen. After nine different medications, all with terrifying side effects, I’d rather die than willingly poison him again. He is now medication free, and will stay that way. I am a single parent, basically doing home care for an adolescent going through psychosis. He has been through exactly what Dr.Cornwald describes here, a spiritual, ecstatic experience that veers from ecstacy to almost demonic possession and terror. He has been tormented by abusive voices every waking moment, along with tactile experiences, feeling that he’s being touched and poked at, smelling vile odors… It is the most painful, heartbreaking experience to be with a loved one so tormented,and not to be able to stop his torment. The best I can do is stand by him, try and support him the best I can, and try and have faith in his process. While feeling like my heart is breaking. This video validates my instinct to protect him from the medical model, and to just try and support him through his experience. However, it also points out that it is impossible for one person to do this alone, and it made me recognize that what I have taken on is HUGE and no wonder I feel drained and exhausted from it all. I live in the Bay Area, supposedly the land of free spirits and free thinking, but in terms of mental health, psychiatric terrorism and oppression is alive and well. May love, light, humanity and truth prevail!

    • Have you considered the Hearing Voices program? I have seen extraordinary changes in people after they’ve had contact with this organisation. And has he had thorough neurological examinations, and a full physiological check up with a holistic medical practitioner who is NOT a psychiatrist?

  9. Michael, I have a personal and professional “block” to anything you write perhaps because of your outright clinical privilege and when I see this blog about PEER respite, I wonder why you did not have a PEER present the information. It is self-congratulatory, yet again.

    I will however, say that I am happy to see a PEER respite in Santa Cruz.

    White privilege, clinical privilege, ableism makes me turn the other way and run no matter. Please be sensitive to this prior to your next blog.


    Jen Padron