Companionship can heal

The eloquent Craig Rennebohm responds to the debate in the book The Soloist about involuntary treatment for people with mental illnesses vs a voluntary “recovery” approach:

Thank you for this review of The Soloist in its book and movie forms. Communicating the complexity of mental illness and homelessness is a challenge – none of us get it exactly right and all of us who attempt sharing the story add to the growing awareness of the issues.

The discussion of voluntary vs, involuntary treatment is likewise challenging – in part because each person presents a unique soul and circumstances. I’ve found situations where the person is very grateful for the intervention and others who have been angered and hostile. The latter folks are most often those who have a few days of hospitalization, and then are released with little or no follow-up.

Crucial to healing for most of us are relationships of trust, respect and support. That certainly is what the recovery movement at its best is about, and what we seek to offer in the chaplaincy, the healing communities [Plymouth Healing Communities] and the kind of companionship we all are trying to provide.

The journey can be enormously frustrating. I’ve worked for years with some individuals, seeing movement off the street sometimes only after a five or even a 10 year relationship. There is a fellow who camps not too far from my home, who walks downtown each day, reads in the library and then hikes back to his hillside camp – whom I’ve known now for almost 15 years. He glances up when I greet him by name, and we have had a few conversations. We managed at one point to connect him with a case manager, but when she moved on, he did not make the transfer to a new worker, but retreated again into a deep shell. Still we are neighbors.


Coffee cup“Still we are neighbors.” Please consider choosing just one person who shares our public spaces but is socially isolated by homelessness or mental illness, and meet him or her for coffee just one hour once a week. Go to the “Get Started” tab at the top of this page, or click here.

Chaplain Craig Rennebohm heads the Mental Health Chaplaincy at Harborview Hospital. He is the author of Souls in the Hands of a Tender God: Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets (2008).

My review of The Soloist – book and movie – is at Crosscut.

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