The Alternatives Conference Helps Our Movement Grow


With less than three weeks to go before the start of Alternatives 2014 – the 28th annual national conference organized by and for individuals with psychiatric histories – I feel inspired to write about why the Alternatives conference is important to the c/s/x movement for social justice, and why we at the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse feel honored to organize this year’s conference.

The Alternatives conferences have been a life-changing experience for many. When federal funding for the conference was in question in 2013, a letter-writing campaign resulted in an overwhelming response. The letters that were sent to then Secretary Sebelius attested to how much this conference means to people!

To quote from one letter:

“I felt as if I was at home. People like me. Diagnosed like me. Hispanic like me. And even Gay like me. It was a breath of fresh non-judgmental air. And it changed my life . . . It was at that point that I decided that I wanted my life to mean something more – to provide assistance, as others have assisted me in my journey of recovery . . . Believe me when I tell you, for those who attend and participate, it’s truly life changing. And we need more of that.”

To quote from another letter:

“The Alternatives Conferences changed my life. All other conferences are focused on illness and maintenance or pushing a manufacturer’s pharmacy products or treatment modalities.”

To quote from a third:

“The exchange of new ideas and the updating of important information for people on the path of Recovery have been happening at this one venue! It has informed systems advocacy in all fifty states. It has challenged people to keep reaching and keep growing. The mentoring of many of us by some of the early leaders in the consumer movement cannot be underestimated even if we only meet at the time of these conferences. The influence on newer advocates by such leaders as well as their peer support has prompted people like me to stretch, to take risks, and to speak to the important people in my state who can influence policy. These products of Alternatives are important capital, in such a time of change in our country’s health care – because we want health, not chronic illness, to define our experiences! This will not happen without the level of mutual support and idea exchange that happens at Alternatives.”

The presentations offered at the conference every year cover a wide array of topics and points of view. For example, this year, the presentations include two on the Hearing Voices Network and two about peer-run crisis respite services, as well as a number of presentations on healing trauma and too many presentations to count about recovery. (The word “trauma” appears in the conference program booklet 53 times; the word recovery appears 213 times.)

The theme of this year’s conference – “Creating the Future: Change, Challenge, Opportunity” – reflects the fact that we who have psychiatric histories are creating a future where the discrimination and prejudice associated with mental health conditions are things of the past, and where recovery is expected. We are effecting change, meeting challenges, and seizing opportunities to make a difference in our own lives, in the lives of others with psychiatric diagnoses, and in society.

Each Alternatives conference offers in-depth technical assistance on peer-delivered services and self-help/recovery methods. Beyond the exchange of knowledge and networking, Alternatives offers a rich supportive, educational, and healing environment. When asked “one thing I learned that I will incorporate into my life and/or my work,” one earlier Alternatives attendee responded, “We can influence the direction of the future.”

The Alternatives conference is a celebration of hope. Those of us who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions are often told that the situation is hopeless. As we know, that is absolutely not true, and many of the more than 90 workshops and 30 caucuses will address recovery, and many of the speakers will be speaking about their own journeys toward recovery.

This year, we have abandoned the concept of a keynote speaker and instead have invited 10 plenary session speakers. The 10 main speakers will each speak for about 18 minutes (during four plenary sessions), and we look forward to their lively and inspirational presentations! They include some of the established leaders of our movement – such as (alphabetically) Khatera Aslami-Tamplen, Gina Calhoun, Leah Harris, Erme Maula, Harvey Rosenthal and Sharon Wise – well as upcoming youth leaders, such as Lacy Kendrick Burk, Sean Campbell and Letty Elenes. In addition, Patrick Kennedy, formerly a U.S. Representative and founder of the Kennedy Forum on Mental Health, will address a plenary session and afterwards will engage with conference attendees in a 40-minute Q&A session. For more information about these speakers and others, click here.

Other news about the conference:

  • Alternatives 2014 is now an approved provider of Continuing Education Credit (CEU) by the Florida Certification Board!
  • There will be a special pre-conference arts event on Wednesday, Oct. 22, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. – Creative Dialogue: Creating, Teaching and Celebrating – for all early bird attendees who are artistically inclined.
  • And conference attendees can be part of the conversation by sharing their Alternatives 2014 conference experience on Twitter and Facebook! People can Tweet quotes and highlights during sessions, and post photos and short videos! Post to Twitter with our hashtag #AltCon14. (If participants are new to social media, they can learn to use Twitter by attending a pre-conference workshop taught by Leah Harris and Tanya Naranjo!)

For more information about the conference, visit our website: I hope to see you there!

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Open Paradigm Project’s video of Alternatives 2013:


  1. I’m saving my money to go to the anti-psychiatry conference when its announced.
    Yeppie ki yeaaa I never was a willin consumer but I was a prisoner of the psych pharma electrified spent rocket fuel pushin electrified chemical lobotomy causin government backed behavior control eugenic child abusing on going crimes against humanity expanding meandering unrepentant gulag “health through terror”pseudo scientific dehumanizing therapeutic state and ongoing horror continuing its 400 year propaganda backed up with torture campaign.

    What exactly are you giving up to be funded by them ? And shouldn’t some of those funds be deliverd as cash therapy to our brothers and sisters still confined in “state institutions”?

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      • I was lucky my children weren’t taken away, since the person who abused my child was not a family member. But, you’re right, the psychiatrists and doctors will massively tranquilize and poison a mommy 15 distinctly different ways, to try to cover up the sexual abuse of her small child. And miss-medicate the father, too – all while defrauding them out of over $100,000 in health care premiums for supposedly “proper medical care.”

        I think it’s time, as a society, we consider ridding humanity of the child abuse covering up, and child abusing, industry – psychiatry.

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        • Susan,

          I do hope the alternatives conference goes well, though. And I hope this country actually starts funding and providing real alternatives to psychiatry, especially since there are none that I can find in my current area. And they’re still actually advocating belief in the “chemical imbalance theory of mental illnesses” in this part of the country. Although, I’ve known for decades this part of the country tends to run behind the coasts and cities – but really, the “chemical imbalance theory” was debunked decades ago.

          Best of luck to you, and all, at the alternatives conference.

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  2. Thanks for writing this Susan. What makes the Alternatives Conference great is the people who come to it, so I hope that folks with all kinds of diverse perspectives can find there way to Orlando next month. Look forward to seeing many of my comrades!


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    • The people are the most interesting and fun part of being at Alternatives. You meet hundreds of folks who are creating the Alternatives in their communities. It is one thing to sit and complain about how things are but it is great to see folls putting their belief in a better way in action.

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      • jar08034

        Some of us who don’t attend the Alternatives conference or who have issues with the Alternatives conference are doing more than just complaining. We are seeking opportunities to build coalitions and organize. Look at the work of Ms. Cindy Fisher and Marcia Myers. Sometimes direct action and stopping traffic is required for social justice movements to go forward.

        I don’t think that the Alternatives Conference is doing what it needs to do: unite consumers and survivors to create a Revolution in mental health care, like the abolitionists and the suffragettes did for people of color and women.

        I wish consumers/survivors would not focus solely on begging for paltry crumbs of federal funding for peer services. Peer services are great but the underfunding of peer services is rooted in a deeper problem: sanism.

        Real change comes about by teaching people about non violent resistance, voting, organizing, sit-ins, teach-ins, civil disobedience, etc.

        Reform is inadequate considering the level of corruption and harm that is taking place in the mental health/criminal justice system today. We need a full scale non violent revolution and creative maladjustment as called for by Mr. David Oaks
        and shut down the system to save lives.

        The mutual support that people get at conferences is important but where is the leadership development to prepare people to use their numbers and voices in a democratic system?

        When our nation was shooting intercontinental nuclear missiles into the Marshall Islands for ‘testing’ during the late Cold War era and the indigenous peoples were developing radiation sickness, a national organizing committee was established calling for protesters throughout the nation and people responded. Thousands of us formed local affinity groups and planned actions. My group traveled from Eugene, Oregon to Vandenberg Air Force Base; we scaled the walls of a high security Base and arm and arm we chanted and resisted non violently as we were taken to an arraignment and went to jail to serve out our sentences.

        Did we eliminate nuclear weapons that day? No, but our issue got national media attention and the nuclear testing program in the Pacific was eventually abolished.

        My worst nightmare is the peer advisory groups and organizations will become known for nothing more than hosting pizza parties and movie nights. Recreation and mutual support is great, but we can organize and have fun too and win a much bigger prize: reclaim our humanity, voices, and our dignity.

        When I collect honey from my hives, I’m unsettling the bees. They swarm around me and make menacing noises. But I have a goal and I stay focused and gently brush them off my sleeves, killing as few of the little critters as possible. Stirring the pot and taking the hives apart is necessary to access the golden prize. Our movement is not stirring the pot enough.

        I don’t see the Alternatives Conference as stirring the pot with the intention of winning human rights. I see it as accepting whatever crumbs of Federal funding fall our way.

        Every year we waste on networking and passive education without political change means more lives are being lost. People are dying because of harmful treatment and we are still a reactionary movement, chasing down bad legislation rather than learning how to unite and be a proactive one, setting an aggressive national agenda with a full scale national coalition

        Just my two cents worth. Thanks for reading my rant.

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  3. Why you so afraid to allow a renegade natural healer like me to give a major presentation at Alternatives that ‘ll turn the pharma psychiatric government juggernaut upside down. Surely save a lot a lives to while drastically reducing their cash flow? Is it cause you can’t handle the Truth ?

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      • Alex , so would you. We are trying our best .I’m thankful I could read so many enlightening comments of yours over time and so many by others at MIA . Reading madmoms comments here make me feel that all is not lost and that a positive way forward will find traction .Here’s to all of us finding the best solutions , the best ways to present them ,and activate them so that peoples oppressed by Psychiatry can actually gain freedom to live free of all kinds of oppression with free choices including health freedom ,with liberty and justice for all on a planet of for and by the people as we know some of the founders of America, Abraham Lincoln and Rev, Dr. Martin Luthur King envisioned . Thank You , Fred

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  4. Susan, Thanks for writing about the Alternatives Conference. I think it is pretty amazing that our federal tax dollars fund a large annual conference where diverse voices are heard. And Alternatives has had particularly big successes – a giant step forward for humanity I may add- to have had controversial speakers recently. I am thinking of keynotes by Robert Whitaker and Will Hall. I don’t think anyone can accuse them of conforming to the establishment.

    I agree with Oryx – it is the people who make the conference great. I learn just as much if not more by networking. While I understand some of the objections of colluding with the US Government to throw a big party – opps, I mean conference – I think more progress can be made with the conference than without it BUT we must continuously advocate for visionary speakers who can move our thinking outside the box. It is a slippery slope to navigate inside- outside advocacy but as a peacemaker I do believe in collaboration and many paths that allow the individual to find his or her truth. I envision that if we spent more time respecting every voice and coming to a better understanding of perspectives different from our own that we would more effectively create inclusive and healthier communities. The Alternatives Conference is one of many ways we walk towards a more hopeful and informed future.

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    • Lauren,

      I mean no offense, but it shouldn’t be “amazing that our government funds a large annual conference where diverse voices are heard.” It should be expected in a democratic republic where “all are created equal,” and many are not being treated as such, by the psychiatric industry.

      “I envision that if we spent more time respecting every voice and coming to a better understanding of perspectives different from our own that we would more effectively create inclusive and healthier communities.” Perhaps, the psychiatric community should stop defaming, discrediting, and torturing other human beings with unproven “mental illnesses” and toxic drugs, for profit? Just a theory….

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  5. Susan:

    I appreciate your putting this positive spin on this event but I agree with an earlier blogger named Ted who claimed that this event is a symptom of our movement being co-opted. Thank you for sharing those touching comments by consumers who claimed that this event changed their life. But couldn’t some of this glow simply be attributable to the fact, that for many attendees who are living below the poverty level, an opportunity to stay in a nice hotel, fly on an airplane, and eat from a nice buffet is a life changing event?

    I think we need to ring the warning bell and the freedom bell loudly and demand jobs and economic justice for ALL consumers and survivors so that no one with a psychiatric label has to choose between housing and Haldol! No one who has been labeled, insitutionalized, and branded for life should be robbed of a fulfilling and productive life and relegated to a life of poverty!! Vacations to exotic islands with no strings attached, paid in full by the state should be awarded to every person that has had to suffer the indignity of being institutionalized and labeled against their will.

    Can you understand where I am coming from that my daughter was coerced into receiving harmful mental health ‘treatment’ partly because the state dangles the carrot of free housing, food, and a social security disability payment once a month to everyone who is compliant? She deserves much more than a hand out! She deserves inclusion in democracy, equality, the right to organize, the right to choose her own treatment modalities! She never had a choice! She was forcibly restrained and injected and has never been the same since.

    The Alternatives Conference is diverse, yes. But does it adequately portray the horrors that psychiatric profession meats out to consumers by force? I doubt it. They nearly blacklisted Robert Whitaker for God’s sake.

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  6. Susan. Susan Rogers, thank you. You rock the fucking boat. Largely, your technical writing skills are fabulous but as a TA with the National Self Help Clearinghouse you have been an Angel to me and for my communities which I belong to past and now. ALTERNATIVES will be a good conference. It is my 3rd. My 1st I attended via SAMHSA’s wellness initiative when my app, Cardio Escape 2013 (c) was released and I was a guest along with my app’s speaker. The 2nd was last year in ATX. My hometown. Where I got my Recovery established, etc… Where my adult story as a shared person with life experience begins to tell of 2 years of electroconvulsive treatment which was deemed as “clinically, medically necessary invasive therapy.” No comment, but I am still alive and so it worked in its own way that it works. Last year I was very busy copresenting with my Region 1 Mobile Crisis Intervention MH/SA Zone West and East Director, Cindy Driggers. We rolled out (post iNAOPS 13) the US Peer Rural Satellite Network with an advanced partnership of collaboration. It seemed to me as if last year’s ALTERNATIVES had people coming up to me so very frequently, my friends, my colleagues, in my FACE saying hello, giving me love. I had a blast. Thanks to the Hogg Foundation’s Tammy Heinz and Dennis Bach from via HOPE for all of their work on a good venue last year for the Texan Constituency which is the largest nationally. This year, I am co-presenting on the innovative and emergent peer services roles of the Certified Peer Specialist, Recovery Coach and the Community Health Worker in integrated PH and BH health care environments using my triage peer-based model. Iden Campbell McCollum, Scott Spicer, Heidi Levy and I will be copresenting on Medicaid, Medicare, MCOs, FQs and Look alikes, showing how to do this very simple task of having a Peer do what we do Best. I am also presenting this same presentation at next month’s APHA Conference in New Orleans. It was also presented at this past year’s NARMH Conference in DC. Iden and I are on the queer caucus. Thank you to Susan and Joseph for keeping the faith and for working so quickly and responsively for whenever we needed you to help insure ALTERNATIVES would even take place this year. The price is high. The stakes are enormous. Yes, thanks go to guys like Harvey Rosenthal and Pat Hendry for their work with ACMHA’s College for Behavioral Health Leadership Peer Leadership Interest Group and thank you to Dr. Ron Manderscheid. Lots of peeps there. See you soon. Take no prisoners.

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