Saturday, December 21, 2013

Vision for the Future of Humane Rehabilitation

Updated March, 2018. 

Just a little over five years since I conceived this, nearly fifty-one months since I originally wrote this. 

In that time I could see the need for this vision growing. It is nearly impossible to articulate how much I wanted to see this come to fruition but I realized over and over again that my own means were limited and that all I could do was keep plugging away at my blog exploring the underlying causes that would lead to mental health issues so catastrophic that sufferers would end up existing on the streets without homes, being incarcerated, being addicted to drugs (legal and/or "illicit") and caught in notoriously difficult to break cycles. 

The cost of this to individuals, families and to society is virtually incalculable.

Inexplicably, "modern" society stubbornly stays locked into  "dealing" with these issues using "systems" that have have not essentially changed in hundreds of years. The underlying attitudes that create "modern day" incarceration have in fact not advanced since Biblical times (no, I'm not exaggerating, I will make this clear in future posts). 

For our brief space here it would be too exhaustive (for both myself and readers) for me to recount just how in depth I looked into everything to do with many mental health disorders where so many difficult cases or individuals without the good fortune to have long ongoing support from family and/or friends or who fall through the cracks of the mental health care system end up on the street or in the criminal justice system or both. Or tragically addicted resulting in bouncing between the criminal justice system and the streets. Or dead. 

Through personal interviews I conducted or from countless case studies that I researched one thing struck me again and again:

This outcome was not necessary

This was preventable

Nobody chooses to end up like that. Nobody

For five years now I have been inordinately driven to learn as much as possible about the neurology, socio-economic conditions and life defining circumstances of the souls who end up in such cycles. 

My work through the blog and the access to people it's given me, along with dozens of other sources told me the same story in virtually every case:

- Various traumatic events in their lives and socio-economic conditions that created the neurological conditions which in turn led to the behaviours and life choices that led to their situations.

Some of this I outlined very briefly in Genetic and Environmental Conditions in Individual Brain Development.

There are many genetic and environmental conditions (by that I mean all conditions an individual grows up in from conception through early adulthood) that will add up to creating what I refer to as their "neuro-history".

Since then I have made numerous valuable contacts among academics in related fields who not only agree with this, but can provide enormous amounts of research data and case studies. 

For five years I have envisioned long term live in treatment and rehabilitation facilities where people's neurology - this "neuro-history" - would be treated and rehabilitated. As part of that process many other aspects of life and skill building would be taught along with job and work skills. It would all take place in facilities of a compassionate and understanding atmosphere, one where individuals can explore their true potential and not simply be "punished" and beat back down or "housed" temporarily until they're shoved back out to start the cycle again. 

No form of incarceration, temporary housing or "rehab" does currently does that. 

Everything I envision for treatment is based on the best compassion based neurological understanding of human behaviour and minds available. It is based on cutting edge understanding of neuroplasticity. 

There are, however, some past or present successful models to prove what different approaches can accomplish. They are as follows:

Soteria House:

Founded by Dr. Loren Mosher in the early 70s, Soteria House was a long term treatment facility for those diagnosed with schizophrenia. No medications, no doctors. NONE. And this was one of the most successful schizophrenia treatment programs in history. Patients lived there and interacted with each other and grad students (I believe ... not professionals at any rate) who received a bit of training. The patients could live in a low stress and embracing environment where they were free to talk out the workings of their inner minds in a non-judgmental environment. And patients by and large got better (which is defined by being able to return to work, raise a family and other basic societal norms). This is not the case with most people diagnosed with schizophrenia today. 

Hearing Voices Network:

I have personal experience working with a local chapter of the Hearing Voices Network. HVN provides a network of chapters that provide peer to peer counselling for those who, as their subheading reads, "hear voices, see visions or have other unusual perceptions" in a non-medical, non-judgmental setting. There is nothing, I can tell you, like peer to peer discussions about the mental phenomenon we experience for working through these issues and not be made to feel "wrong" or "broken" or "diseased" or otherwise judged. Unlike in talking with various "doctors" from the mental health care industry (psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors, and others), you talk with people who actually know what it feels like and who take a non-diseased approach to unusual mind phenomenon. My facility would provide a similar atmosphere and approach.  

Delancey Street Foundation:

Founded by Mimi Silbert in the 70s, Delancey Street Foundation has been doing the impossible for thousands of people for four decades. It takes the worst dregs of society - people labeled by "the establishment" as psychopaths, sociopaths and hopeless career criminals - and makes functioning human beings out of them that return to society. We're talking career prostitute drug addicts, pimps, gang members and all manner of "human garbage" that society seeks to lock away for ever then completely rehabilitating them and re-integrating them into society. Her success rate is vastly, vastly superior to the prison system. And get this - she does it alone. No staff, no doctors, no guards, no warden, no bars, no cells - nothing. She stands maybe 5' 1" and she handles about 1,500 of these career "scumbags" at a time by herself. No, I am not making this up. Mz Silbert and the Delancey Street Foundation is easily one of the most inspiring examples of what's possible for human recovery you could possibly find. 

Dr Dean Ornish's program:

Dr. Ornish also does the impossible - he turns around heart disease among those for whom triple or quadruple bypass surgery is the only option for living. Other than himself, there are no doctors, no hospital, no drugs, no surgery - nothing. It's all diet, meditation, yoga and a few other simple lifestyle changes. 

There are a few things that all of these have in common. One is that they are amazing examples of and inspiration for what is possible in human change and recovery. Two is that they are all long term residential facilities or programs. People stay in them for long periods under guided care. Ornish's is the shortest - about six weeks if memory serves - but it has long term follow up. Silbert's is the longest; a minimum of two years. The common theme is that the patients are in a structured environment tailored to their needs. I'll return to this in a moment. First I have to introduce:


The brain is not set. It can and will change itself. It will rewire around horrifically damaged areas (like in stroke victims) or in the cases of blindness, it'll "remap" and restructure areas to boost other brain functions to compensate. It'll do this naturally on its own but that does not always lead to the desired results. It works best in structured environments (do you see where I'm going with this?). Neuroplasticity is a sexy popular term that gets thrown around a lot now. But the rub is that it needs structure and repetition - neurons that fire together wire together is how it essentially works. And it needs that "fire together" to happen repeatedly and in close time proximity, two things for which a structured environment and program work best. Hence the above three facilities. Silbert doesn't know this, but her program produces massive plastic change in the brains of her wards - that's how they change from sociopathic criminals into empathetic mainstream citizens. 

Edward Taub of the Edward Taub Clinic pioneered a unique therapy for stroke victims based on the principles of neuroplasticity and this too, I believe, serves as a good model. Again, the patients stay in the facility for extended periods receiving much personal help and encouragement. 

Now, my own thoughts. 

For people who end up trapped in these cycles, the only course of hope is to move forward. At the heart of every living soul is the desire to move forward. But here's the rock and hard place catch-22: A) they cannot do it alone, B) their very brain conditions rob them of the mental faculties to move forward, C) "traditional" methods of "dealing" with these people have proven over time not to work, D) the oppressive forces of societal stigma. In order to move forward, they need to be able to work and take care of themselves. Living normally like this is what true recovery is but they can't take care of themselves or work due to their mental conditions and society's view of them (which is not dissimilar to how society views the career criminals that Silbert turns around and enters into society) so they're stuck. 

The only way these people can truly be helped is in a long term facility that A) heals their minds, brains and souls and B) teaches them job and life skills that will help them return to functioning within society. I am not aware of any facility like this. Psychiatric wards certainly don't do this (ask anyone with one of the illnesses I listed who has spent time in one). Public mental health programs try to help with job skills but don't provide long term living and treatment facilities. It's a real crack in the system. When you hear of people "falling through the cracks of the system", this is the massive chasm into which they fall. 

The facility the Taming the Polar Bears Foundation envisions would be the net at the bottom of that chasm. 

In the facility we envision people would get a highly specialized program designed to heal their minds through neuroplasticity, would have a safe, peer supported environment in which to recover from the rigors of life in a society that has rejected them and heal their ravaged souls, and they'd learn job skills that would help them build dignity and esteem and get truly back on their feet again. The program would involve specialized forms of yoga and meditation specifically designed to "build up" the brain regions that are misfunctioning or underfunctioning or, in the case of the ever overactive amygdala in the majority of people with difficult cases of mental illness, calm down brain regions. Jeffery M. Schwartz deals with OCD and other disorders very much in this way, using no medications. There would be much peer to peer group work and individualized therapy. 

The Delancey Street Foundation provides the financial model; aside from doing all this remarkable work by herself, Silbert's program is - get this - completely self funding. She gets no government grants, no private grants or funding - nothing. The program entirely pays for itself (which is why it works). 

The present dominant paradigm of mental health care as run by the alliance between the psychiatric and pharmaceutical industries are not making mental health problems better. Statistics bear out that things are instead getting far worse (and all predictions are for that trend to continue). It is time for widespread alternatives to psychiatric hospitals and forced drug therapy. My vision is an attempt to give an idea of what one alternative might look like. 

Additional notes added June, 2014

A great deal of the daily activities of the program I envision to help heal these people minds and to help their ravaged cells in their brains and bodies recover would revolve around the following:

  • Music therapy. There's just an enormous amount of evidence pouring in from the fields of neuroscience that show the kinds of benefits for the brain that come from regular and carefully directed music therapy
  • Dance therapy. Same benefits as music but with an additional physical component
  • Art therapy. Like music and dance, it opens up and stimulates vast areas of the brain that can help facilitate emotional, spiritual and physical recovery 
  • Yoga, meditation and qi-gong. All of these have been demonstrated for thousands of years (and now through more scientific research involving advanced brain scan techniques) to greatly ease and reverse the damage from chronic stress (which will be a major part of what all mental health patients will be battling) along with building healthy new attitudes and outlooks as well as establishing essential daily physical exercise routines
  • Lifestyle management skills. This would involve specific meal preparation skills in which patients would learn nutritional therapy from shopping to meal preparation
  • Cooking therapy would be part of the above. Learning the joys of preparing oneself nutritional, tasty and inexpensive meals. Proper diet is a huge issue and shortfall in many suffering long term mental health issues
  • Peer to peer counseling and support based on understanding and compassion, rather than the stigmatizing judgment most people are subjected to
All of these daily activities and routines would be built on the foundation of rebuilding the esteem and souls that have been decimated by years of living with one's mind torn apart by inner turmoil, being rejected by society and kicked to the curb of life. 

It is simply not necessary for these lives to be wasted in this way. A great deal of recovery can be achieved and a return to productive society attained.

As of this writing in March 2018, many things have changed to  begin to start bringing this vision to fruition. 

I have partnered with someone who not only sees the need for such facilities the same as I do, but who has the business skills to create the model to make it happen. Not only that, but he is a long experienced and greatly skilled web builder. 

Taming the Polar Bears has been registered as a non-profit foundation able to take in donations for and do fund raising for establishing this much, much needed facility. Additionally, the Taming the Polar Bears blog will be given a new web home, one that we envision, and my partner has the ability to build, will in time become the best resource on the web for those in all kinds of mental health needs. There is much exciting news to come on this

The new web home is scheduled to go live April 1st, 2018.  

Bradley Esau


  1. Brad: check out I know it's in the US but it seems to be what you're talking about.....

  2. I have a nutrition background and taught High School Foods for several years. I would help. The problem is finding a facility where people won't have a fit where it is located. I think a ranch would be the best place. There are treatment centres for drugs and alcohol like that, funded by the government. A place for the hard to treat mentally ill is needed. I like your ideas Brad.

  3. Thanks, Trudy. Yup, that's what I'm thinking, a rural ranch or farm which would be ideal because growing food for the facility on site would be a big part of it.

    The facility of my vision would be self funded, not dependent on government funding (there are important reasons for this).

  4. This is written very well you are a very good writer and you know what we want. I am agree with you. Hope you will Carry own writing in the same way. Thumbs Up!

    Taking Care of Your Vision

  5. Sounds like a great and could be very successful! Looking forward to future posts!

  6. Sounds like a great and could be very successful! Looking forward to future posts!