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Former mental health patient teaches hard-won lessons

Article published Dec 1, 2005
Re-posted with permission from

By David Royer/staff <>

STAUNTON - He set records on the football field at James Madison University. As a coach, he started a wrestling program at Albemarle High School.
Then, while coaching three sports and developing a driver's education course in the mid-1980s, something happened to Clyde Hoy.
"I didn't sleep. I was restless. I didn't know what was going on," he said.
A doctor diagnosed him as manic depressive in 1988, beginning a cycle of breakdowns and hospitalizations that would last more than a decade. He estimated he had been hospitalized more than 15 times since his first episode.
But after leaving Western State Hospital in Staunton for the last time in 2002, Hoy got training in a recovery program called W.R.A.P. - Wellness Recovery Action Plan - that has helped him control his illness and get help if it gets out of hand.
In January, he returned to Western State but not as a patient. He is a teacher now - the only former patient teaching W.R.A.P. techniques in any of Virginia's 15 state hospitals.
About 85 people so far have taken Hoy's course, compiling notebooks that help them learn what triggers their illness and what they can do to prevent it.
Hoy credits his experience as a patient with giving him the ability to connect with students in ways that other staff members can't.
"I think that makes a difference," Hoy said. "Somebody says it every time - 'You were in the hospital?'"
The W.R.A.P. course is one of several hundred Western State has offered since 1997 in their five "treatment mall" programs, which teach patients life skills, vocations and physical fitness techniques.
"Our whole purpose is to help those people gain for the first time, or regain, the skills to live in the community," said community services director John Beghtol.
Hospital staff members say, while it might have been risky hiring a former patient to teach the class, Hoy is helping to take the responsibility for treatment out of the hands of doctors and into the hands of patients, where many in the mental health field feel it belongs.
"He is so strong and so effective that he is opening the door for consumers in these treatment malls," Beghtol said, using the word consumers to describe people who use mental health care services.
Clinical nurses Diane Pavlonis and Cheryl Wasserman, who shared a Best Practices award this year from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association in part for helping integrate recovery-model groups into treatment programs, agreed that Hoy's unexpected return to the hospital helped turn their program from theory to reality.
"To have somebody come back into a teaching capacity in a state hospital is revolutionary," said Wasserman, who is now trying to cultivate ex-patients to teach recovery courses at a hospital in northern Virginia. "He's the person who brought it to life for us."
Hoy said he is "no angel" - just a regular guy who is glad to be helping others recover, even as he works through his own recovery.
"I didn't know what would be at the end of the rainbow," said the brawny former athlete and teacher, reflecting on a career that has been punctuated by manic periods. "The end of the rainbow was coming back to this hospital and being able to work with these folks."


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