McLean Hospital 115 Mill Street Belmont, MA 02478
Waverley Place is McLean Hospital’s community-based support program providing a therapeutic community for adults experiencing mental illness.
“We say that Waverley Place is an intentional community,” said Megan Mooney, occupational therapist. “Self-determination and hope are the two biggest things we value here. How people spend their time here is all self-determined. You decide where you are in your own recovery process and what that means to you; how often you come, what groups you go to, who you work with, what you work on, and if you need to take a break.”
Mooney explained that members provide input into what is offered and design their own personal plan of action for rehabilitation. This can include emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, physical, occupational, environmental, and financial goals.
“The groups are meant to offer encouragement and opportunity to move in a direction that you want to move in. It’s where people can connect, feel accepted, and find hope,” she added. “We’re strength-based and member-driven, so you determine what you want to work on. It could mean work, it could mean friendship, it could mean feeling better about yourself, it could mean getting out there and learning a new leisure activity,” she said. “I’ve had members who want to work on their driver’s license, get a job, make friends, learn how to play chess. It’s about pursuing anything that’s meaningful to the individual.”
David Weene, certified peer specialist at Waverley Place, said that members design their days and weeks based on a diverse schedule of offerings, including going to the gym, meditation, computer instruction, gardening, cooking, art, music appreciation, and writing. There are also community meetings and sessions to work on interpersonal skills.
“We say that recovery is possible here,” said Weene, who, as a peer specialist, explained that he brings “lived experience” into the community and understands first-hand how difficult it is to live with social and political stigma. However, he said, learning to empower oneself and develop self-compassion is an enormous factor in one’s rehabilitation.
Weene has found that being part of a community that’s so positive to be extremely rewarding. “Everybody helps everybody,” he said. “You walk through the door and people do everything to let you know that you’re accepted.”
One of Waverley Place’s proudest achievements is it’s PhotoVoice project, a process for empowering those who may be stigmatized in society—an opportunity to express themselves using photos and captions about issues and feelings that matter to them. PhotoVoice helps to educate the public and policymakers about perspectives that are often overlooked by those, he said, “who may not feel composed enough to stand up in front of lawmakers or doctors and say what they’re really feeling in an organized way because they get nervous.”
Used throughout the world—from people in homeless shelters in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to women living in the villages of rural China, PhotoVoice, he said, “is something like a testimony. It’s inarguable... it’s your view and what you want to say. We’ve had it at the State House so politicians can view it; we’ve had it at Boston University’s Hope Gallery, and we’re going to display it at the Belmont Town Hall Annex.”
At Waverley Place, a ten-week group process to participate in PhotoVoice is held twice a year. But the concept, Mooney said, “is something we practice here every day. When I’m working with someone, I rarely know what their diagnoses are, but I know what’s important to them. I care what they’re all about and what they experience.”
Getting to witness positive change is one of the most gratifying aspects of her job. “It’s seeing how connection and compassion actually works for people. Some people think that’s what makes people feel held and safe, but we believe it’s what fosters hope and supports an individual in moving forward in one’s own recovery. I think the piece that really does help people is that sense of community—that we’re together,” she said. “I believe that’s what makes change happen for people.”