Lori Ashcraft, Ph.D.
Recovery Opportunity Center
My career in human services began in the mid 60s, when I accepted a job as a social worker in a county welfare department in rural northern California. The work felt like a good fit to me, so I returned to school on a part time basis, earning a master’s degree in social work. I continued working in the welfare, in the areas of adoptions and foster care, while directing a Big Brother’s program.
When an opportunity opened to develop new programs for people returning to communities from State hospitals, I signed up. This was a very interesting time in the history of mental health services, since people were moved to communities before appropriate living arrangements were available. I remember late nights of grant writing, arm-twisting, and deal making in an effort to establish decent programs for people who had been institutionalized for very long periods of time. These experiences provided the foundation for what would become a fierce commitment, and a deep appreciation for those suffering from serious mental illnesses.
After being continually promoted to higher levels of management, I felt I needed further training in maneuvering through bureaucratic entanglements, so I enrolled in an MPA program through U.S.C. This was another “nights and weekends” educational opportunity, but a couple years later, I emerged in one piece, and better equipped to deal with the frustrations of managing large organizations. By this time I had been promoted to the office of Program Chief for Sacramento County Mental Health, and spent the next several years building and developing psychosocial rehabilitation programs and affordable housing opportunities for people who had serious mental illnesses. Simultaneously, I also had a small private practice for a while, taught classes at the local university, built a houseboat and lived on it for 6 years, and learned to crochet.
Believing that there must be better ways to lead organizations and to motivate and inspire people to make their best contribution at work, in 1988 I was accepted into the California School of Psychology, a radical Ph.D. program for organizational and clinical psychology that had a reputation for having a leading edge, “out of the box” curriculum. I did my dissertation on freedom, spending a month in Russia at the time the Soviet Union collapsed. I focused my inquiry in Soviet mental hospitals, where the lack of freedom and choice was pervasive.
In 1991, I was offered a gubernatorial appointment to the California State Department of Mental Health as the Deputy Director of Community Services. In that capacity I was instrumental in bringing the “Rehabilitation Option” to the state and also in establishing equality for consumers and family members on State and county advisory boards.
Since my long term goal had been to meet the requirements for a license in psychology, I requested a transfer to the state hospital in the Napa Valley where I could receive the required supervision. The hospital had just received permission to bill MediCal for day treatment services, so the whole treatment process had to be re-engineered to meet federal regulations. This allowed us the take giant steps in evolving treatment programs into services that had a strong bio-psycho-social focus.
Once the excitement was over, I was ready to move on, and accepted a job In Arizona with ComCare, the Regional Behavioral Health Authority for Maricopa County, as the Director of Adult Services. This was a rewarding opportunity that included some of the most unusual experiences I have had in local government.
Recently I have worked for the University of Arizona, in a program called RISE, teaching psychosocial rehabilitation and managing one of eight SAMHSA funded employment demonstration programs. It was during this time that I became very excited about the recovery movement. I completed training with Mary Ellen Copeland and, with the help from colleagues at Boston University, became very familiar with and committed to recovery principles.
When META Services opened the Recovery Education Center in the fall of 2000, I accepted the position as Executive Director of the Center, giving me the opportunity to promote recovery principles and practices through training both staff and consumers. The results have been extremely rewarding.
My vision for the future is to continue to train people in recovery principles and practices and to assure people that they can recover. I will continue to develop programs that help consumers move beyond recovery to finding their purpose, making their own unique contribution, and using their experiences to help others grow and recover. My own passion for recovery stems from personal experience. I have struggled with severe depression for most of my life. Early on, prayer, meditation, exercise and eventually medication and therapy helped. Consistent love and support from family and friends has been very healing, and recently, creating my own WRAP has helped me gain confidence by knowing that I never have to be a victim of my symptoms.