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National Empowerment Center

NEC Staff & Consultants

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NEC staff and consultants bring unique experience in organizing and developing consumer-run organizations, and helping individuals and groups develop the knowledge and ability to transform the mental health service system toward a more recovery-oriented and consumer-and family-driven approach. Each has experience running organizations, nurturing the process of recovery in individuals and groups, and strong skills as educators. This team is available to individuals, organizations, service systems, and family members looking for a speaker or for technical assistance, training, and consultation.


Daniel B. Fisher, M.D., Ph.D.Daniel B. Fisher, M.D., Ph.D. Executive Director

Recovery From Mental Illness and Becoming a Commissioner - Dan is a person who has recovered from schizophrenia. He was hospitalized several times prior to becoming a psychiatrist. He is one of the few psychiatrists in the country who publicly discusses his recovery from mental illness. He is a role model for others who are struggling to recover, and his life dispels the myth that people do not recover from mental illness. His recovery and work in the field were recognized by his selection as a member of the White House Commission on Mental Health.

Education and Practice - Dan received his AB from Princeton University, his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin and his M.D. from George Washington University. He is a board-certified psychiatrist who completed his residency at Harvard Medical School. He is presently Executive Director of the National Empowerment Center.

Speaker/Teacher/Researcher - Dan travels to all parts of the country to conduct workshops, give keynote addresses, teach classes, and organize conferences for consumers/survivors, families, and mental health providers to promote recovery of people labeled with mental illness by incorporating the principles of empowerment. He has been featured on many radio and television programs, including CNN Special Report. In addition he is a researcher having carried out research into neurotransmitters at the National Institute of Mental Health and on the ways that people recover. Along with Laurie Ahern, he developed the Empowerment Model of Recovery and the PACE/Recovery program to shift the system to a recovery orientation. He was recognized for this work by being selected for both the Clifford Beers National Mental Health Association Award and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law's Advocacy Award.

Author - Dan has written chapters in many books, as well as a number of articles in professional journals such as Hospital and Community Psychiatry and the Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal. He has produced a video and booklet about important aspects of recovery, "Recovery is for Everyone" as well as a video on "Consumers Working as Providers."

If you would like to request Dan Fisher to give a presentation in your area, click here to complete this form.

Oryx CohenOryx Cohen, M.P.A.
Technical Assistance Center (TAC) Director

Oryx is working with NEC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to continue systems change state by state. The most important part of what informs his work is his lived experience with altered states of consciousness: being diagnosed, hospitalized, and subsequently finding a path to healing.

Work experience he brings to NEC includes co-directing the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community (WM RLC) for the past four years. At the WM RLC he helped develop a system funded peer-run alternative to the mainstream system that has experienced amazing success (www.westernmassrlc.org). He also co-founded the Freedom Center in 2001, the Pioneer Valley’s only independent peer-run support/activist organization. Freedom Center’s purpose is to empower and support people with psychiatric labels while challenging oppressive mental health policies and practices (www.freedom-center.org). He has served on several boards and committees internationally, nationally and regionally, including the International Network Toward Alternatives for Recovery (INTAR) and the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA). He volunteered for several years with MindFreedom International, directing its Oral History Project. This project involved collecting and documenting c/s/x stories of abuse, empowerment, and healing in the mental health system. He is currently adjunct faculty in the Westfield State College Psychology Department.

If you would like to request Oryx Cohen to give a presentation in your area, click here to complete this form.

Judene Shelley, M.P.H.Judene Shelley, M.P.H.
Director of Special Projects

Judene has long believed in the power of people working together to create change. While raising her children, she worked with other parents to reform a public elementary school in New York City, to build a playground for young children in Rowley and to establish a weekend drop-in activity center for teens in Hamilton, Massachusetts. She currently volunteers as a girl scout camping leader and accompanies the public school chorus where her children sing. She has helped raise funds to preserve music, arts, and world languages in her local public school system. Judene’s recovery from a label of mental illness included counseling, publishing articles and speaking about choice in treatment and recovery as well as singing, kayaking, hiking, bicycling, and cross country skiing with family and friends.

Education - Judene has been an advocate for positive health since receiving her Master of Public Health degree from the University of Chapel Hill in North Carolina. She taught at Durham Community College's Early Childhood program, served as Interim Program Director, and helped organize annual conferences for providers. Judene worked for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as a Health Educator in the addictions field before coming to NEC.

Advocate - Judene has been an active member of the consumer-survivor-expatient movement since her involuntary hospitalization in 1993, testifying before Massachusetts legislative committees in the process of passing a Bill of Rights for mental patients and reforming the involuntary commitment law. Judene was one of the people whose story was highlighted in a May 1997 Boston Globe Spotlight Series on Involuntary Commitment. She also worked as the Boston Area Director of the Massachusetts Consumer Satisfaction Team.

Presenter and Writer - Judene presents at conferences on Consumer Choice through Crisis, Experiencing the Full Range of One’s Emotions, and Wellness and Recovery. Her newspaper articles include topics such as Teen Anger, Depression, and Finding the Path to Mental Health. Judene was the former chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, and organized their series of highly successful statewide human rights conferences for several years.

Ann WeaverAnne Weaver, MA, LMHC
Public Policy Specialist

Following an early career in the literary world, where she was an independent bookstore buyer and manager, and later an acquisitions and developmental editor at both trade and academic book publishers, Anne returned to school and received a master's degree in counseling psychology, leading to licensure as a clinical mental health counselor.

Her change of career was inspired by experiencing a serious depression in her mid-thirties, which lasted for several years. Her recovery from this depression included a commitment to change the treatment of people labeled with serious mental health conditions from a purely biologically-based model to one based on the recognition that recovery comes from empowerment, self-determination and meaningful connections with others.

Since graduating in 2003, Anne has worked as a recovery-oriented psychotherapist and as a policy advocate for people with lived experience of mental health issues and is dedicated to creating new paradigms of care and self-advocacy in healthcare reform. She is also a doctoral student studying the inclusion of peer organizations and peer-led services in healthcare reform.


Communications and Development Coordinator - Leah Harris, M.A.Leah Harris, M.A.

Leah Harris is a mother, storyteller, and activist. She is the daughter of two parents who were diagnosed with mental illness, both of whom died young as a result of their disabilities. This depth of personal experience fuels Leah’s commitment to ensuring human rights and recovery for all people who experience emotional distress and crisis. Click here to read an article about Leah's journey of recovery, and here to watch Leah's digital story.

Areas of expertise:

Mental Health Recovery. Leah has shared her lived experience of recovery at the NARPA and Alternatives conferences, as well as at numerous statewide conferences and trainings. Her audiences have included consumer/survivors, peer support specialists, activists, youth, service providers, administrators, and family members.

Suicide. As a suicide attempt survivor, Leah has written and spoken widely to raise awareness and challenge misconceptions about suicide and self-harm. She currently serves on the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention's Suicide Attempt Survivors' Task Force, the Zero Suicide Advisory Council, and consults with the Center for Dignity and Recovery to develop effective messaging guidelines for speakers sharing their personal experiences with suicide.

Trauma-informed approaches. Leah is a trauma survivor and works to promote trauma-informed values, practices, and approaches in all human service settings.

Emotional CPR (eCPR). Leah is a member of the eCPR Advisory Group, and has contributed to the development of this public education program designed to teach laypeople and service providers communication and relational skills to support others through emotional distress and crisis.

Leah has served on numerous committees and boards, including the National Association of Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA) and Disability Rights International (DRI). She also served as Chair of the District of Columbia Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Advisory Council from 2003-2005.

Her poetry and prose have appeared in publications including Word Warriors: 30 Leaders from the Women’s Spoken Word Movement (Seal Press, 2007), Off Our Backs: A Women’s Newsjournal, Adbusters.org, CounterPunch, New York City Voices, and Street Spirit. She blogs for MadinAmerica.com. Her first book of poetry is entitled Poems of Mass Construction, and her debut spoken word album, Take Refuge. She performs regularly as a storyteller in the Washington, DC-area.

If you would like to request Leah Harris to give a presentation in your area, click here to complete this form.

Will HallWill Hall, MA, DiplPW

Will is a therapist, trainer, and community development worker whose recovery from a schizophrenia diagnosis has brought him to the forefront of leading innovations in mental health. A longtime leader with the peer recovery movement, Will's community development work spans more than a decade of peer advocacy and mutual aid, including founder of Portland Hearing Voices, past board member of the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care and the International Network Towards Alternatives for Recovery, and current board member with INTERVOICE, the International Hearing Voices Movement. Will hosts the interview format FM radio program Madness Radio, syndicated through the Pacifica Network and on iTunes, was co-founder with Oryx Cohen of the Freedom Center, and is a longtime organizer with The Icarus Project.

Will's writing has appeared in the Journal of Best Practices in Mental Health Care and in Oxford University Press's Modern Community Mental Health Work: An Interdisciplinary Approach, and he has been widely featured in the media, including the New York Times, Forbes, and Newsweek magazine. His Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs has been translated into 4 languages, and he recently spoke at the American Psychiatric Association's Institute on Psychiatric Services and at Oregon Health and Sciences University Psychiatry Department's Grand Rounds.

Will has brought his mental diversity trainings to more than 9 countries, including peer organizations, community mental health agencies, hospitals, family members, activist groups, law enforcement, public policy makers, medical schools, and universities. He received the Disability Advocacy Award from the Amherst Center for Independent Living for his work, was a featured philanthropic project by Forbes magazine, and has consulted in Argentina, Mexico, and Peru for Disability Rights International. Trained as a therapist and coach at the Process Work Institute of Portland Oregon, will recently completed a certification in Open Dialogue with its originator, Dr. Jaakko Seikkula, at the Institute for Dialogic Practice in Haydenville MA. He has a private therapy and clinical supervision practice and sees clients both in his Portland office and via skype internationally, is adjunct faculty with the in Slovak Institute for Process Oriented Psychology in Bratislava, Slovakia, and is co-founder of the online training organization PracticeRecovery.com.

Will's current areas of training in the US and internationally including Mutual Peer Support; Mental Diversity; Medication Withdrawal Harm Reduction; Living with Suicidal Feelings; Hearing Voices; Process Work with Extreme and Altered States; and Family Recovery. He is a longtime yoga practitioner and meditator, and a student of night and waking dreams. More info at www.willhall.net, www.madnessradio.net, and www.portlandhearingvoices.net.

"When I was growing up, I wanted to be a magician. Then I wanted to be a biologist, then I wanted to be a psychologist, then I wanted to be a community organizer, then I wanted to be a philosopher. Now I’m sort of all of them.” – Interview with Will Hall in the Portland Mercury newspaper, June 2009.

Debbie L. Whittle, DirectorDeborah Trueheart

Deborah Trueheart comes to NEC as a consultant, educator, counselor, artist, writer, motivational speaker, and change agent. She has transformed her own experience of suffering and is passionate about helping to birth a new paradigm in mental health care by moving away from pathology toward wholeness-based perspectives.

Deborah devoted the past 16 years to the study of psychology, holism, metaphysics, process therapy, spirituality, and the healing process. She held positions in business management, volunteer management, training and development, community organizing, and mental health advocacy. She served as direct care staff in several DMH and DMR funded residential facilities, volunteered on a telephone counseling service, and had a private counseling practice. She was the team leader for a federal grant project to create a statewide network of people who use mental health services in Massachusetts, and established the first Massachusetts Leadership Academy to build advocacy and leadership skills. She received cultural competence training at the National Coalition Building Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and is of Native American heritage.

Deborah is an experienced trainer, workshop facilitator and speaker. She has been developing and facilitating workshops since 1989 and has presented at Massachusetts Human Rights Conferences, annual statewide consumer conferences in Maryland, Virginia, and New York, and nationally at NARPA and Alternatives Conferences. She has also conducted one-day workshops and led retreats in Florida, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, and Pennsylvania. As Director of Training and Development, she coordinated a state-work-force training grant awarded to Relief Resources, an organization that provides relief staff to direct care facilities.

Deborah is developing a curriculum: Living Into Wholeness. This combines her experiential wisdom and studies to create principles and practices that help change habitual thought and behavior patterns, bringing one to a greater state of wholeness and wellbeing.

Deborah has written extensively on mental health issues and recovery. She has published essays, poetry, photography, as well as book and theater reviews. All of Deborah’s activities are informed by her own experience of personal transformation from psycho-spiritual suffering and trauma history. Deborah is also a family member.

Education: Leslie College, Cambridge MA: Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Science 1995 Middlesex Community College, Lowell, MA: Associates Degree in Mental Health 1993. Graduated with highest honors; Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society

Deborah is available for trainings, workshops and keynote presentations and consulting on the following topics:

  • Wellness Principles & Practices
  • More than Brain Chemistry: Holistic Approaches to Alleviate Suffering
  • Inside/Outside: Personal and Systemic Transformation
  • We’re in this Together: How do I Help my Family Member?
  • Beyond Pathology: Training for Professionals

Here is more information for two of Deborah Trueheart's trainings:

Living Into Wholeness (PDF, 237KB, 1 page)

Being a Catalyst for Social Evolution by Following Your Compass of Joy (PDF, 217KB, 1 page)

Janice SorensenJanice Sorensen

Janice has been focused on mental health recovery, education, communication and support skills acquisition and training for over 20 years.

Janice’s variety of life experiences informs the work she does and her approach to every day. She survived a childhood laced with trauma and chaos only to enter young adulthood aimed on poor choices and suicide attempts. In her early 20s, she spent a year in a drug rehabilitation center and eight weeks in a psychiatric hospital where she was diagnosed as having “severe schizophrenia.” Overcoming this, and the many lables that would soon and eventually follow has been a life success.

This history of hospitalizations, suicide attempts, lables and depression is what brings her to this work. Her learned understanding that things can and do get better and that people can and do recovery is what she brings with her. Today, Janice lives a healthy life, free of both street and psychotropic drugs. She considers her past to be the gift of an emotional language that has helped her to read and navigate her own life and to better understand others, especially those who suffer. It also allows her to understand the importance of ending the stigma around mental health recovery.

In addition to her work with the National Empowerment Center, Janice has been involved with the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community since its inception and in various roles, including as the Franklin County Coordinator and currently as facilitator for the Alternatives to Suicide Peer Support Groups, trainer and graphic artist. She is the recipient of numerous awards in education, including the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, the House of Representative Education Award, and the State Senate Citation for Accomplishments in Education.

Janice is a graduate of UMASS Amherst, a published writer, artist and community activist.