From the “Ask Dr. Bennington-Davis” Columns

Ask Dr. Bennington-Davis

 Dr. Maggie Bennington-Davis is the Medical and Clinical Chief Organizer for Cascadia Behavioral Health Care in Oregon. She is involved in leading the organization to develop recovery-orientation and trauma-informed services, as well as assisting an effort for optimally efficient service delivery.

Dr. Bennington-Davis presented at the Vancouver Community Mental Health Services  Recovery Conference on trauma and trauma informed services.  She then graciously offered to answer questions related to this topic via On Our Way: Recovery News.

If you have something you would like answered, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave your questions in comments and we will pass them on.

Here are selected past questions and answers from Dr. Bennington-Davis:


How does recovery across cultures look? What does it look like in culture that values lifelong interdependence with family?


Dr. Ragins talks about 4 components of Recovery: Hope, Empowerment, Self-responsibility, and having a Meaningful Role in Life. I imagine that each of these areas may be manifested in different ways in different cultures, but at their essence, I suspect each is pertinent no matter what one’s cultural influences are.

In western culture, empowerment and self-responsibility (autonomy) have been equated with independence, but that is just one interpretation of empowerment and self-responsibility. Those areas could easily be interpreted in a culturally-consistent way, including… in a family-connectedness context. In cultures that value family interdependence, empowerment could be interpreted as empowerment of the entire family unit (and in fact, this would be the ultimate healthy way to be) wherein the family itself organizes around its strengths and coping, instead of waiting for “cure” or ostracizing the family member for not being able to function in a usual way.

So, I suggest that each person – therapist and consumer – take the four concepts of Recovery (hope, empowerment, self-responsibility, meaningful role) and define what those look like within their culture and value system. And that is what Recovery looks like for them.


People have said to me that I wasn’t very ill with my mental illness because I am doing so well now. Yet, I suffered for seven years with severe mental illness (psychosis, bipolar). What are your thoughts on this?


The pleasure in the question comes from how well it supports the FACT that people with severe mental illness can and do recover. During symptomatic periods, psychosis, mania, depression, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions – I suspect there are not worse things humans must bear. Additionally, perhaps because of the nature of the symptoms – which are psychic, physical, spiritual, and social – people’s lives tend to unravel to some extent in many realms. So, perhaps unlike symptoms of purely bodily nature, psychiatric symptoms are often accompanied with families falling apart, loss of jobs and school placement, loss of homes and housing, loss of friends and partners. The questioner’s report of suffering greatly with symptoms of psychosis and bipolar disorder is not in any way, I am sure, an exaggeration!

Yet, thankfully, even the most severe of psychiatric conditions tend to wax and wane, tend to respond to treatment, tend to improve with social, spiritual, and physical healing. And, in good circumstances, where the person is able to recapture (or not lose) his/her sense of SELF, then that person can (and does) recover – even when some of the symptoms persist.

Although I love the story behind the question, it also reminds me of how much education we’ve yet to do in the general public, which remains ignorant of the pain of severe mental illness and even more ignorant of the promise of recovery.

Be well!

Dr. Maggie

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