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American News Service

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August 12, 1999

Prisoners Drawn to Classes Teaching That Thinking Equals Reality

Karen Pirozzi

(ANS) -- Dave Webb was in jail in Santa Clara County, Calif., when he heard about a special eight-week boot camp program that would get him out early. He jumped at it. After all, he said, the sooner he got out of jail, the sooner he could resume his 20-year drug habit.

But before the eight weeks were done, Webb found a guiding principle he credits with changing his life. It didn't come from the program's self-esteem, art therapy or problem-solving classes. Webb had attended his share of those. And it didn't come from hearing the graphic details of what drugs were doing to his body. Years of experience had taught him all about that.

The agent of change was a class teaching a principle called "health realization" that altered his way of thinking, or rather taught him that his own thinking creates his reality, he said.

Psychologist Roger Mills said that is the basis of health realization -- the idea that human consciousness has the power to create its own moment-to-moment reality and that people can use that power to make changes in their lives, families and communities.

Mills, a pioneer in the field, founded the Health Realization Institute Inc. in Saratoga, Calif., to spread the word about health realization, sometimes called Psychology of the Mind. The institute's services include training and consultation in health realization, and it provided the training in Santa Clara County that ultimately changed Webb's life.

"I didn't care about anyone, even myself. I thought I would spend the rest of my life in and out of jail," Webb said. "When I heard about the Regimented Correction Program, I just did it because I wanted to get out and get loaded again."

But during the health realization class, when the trainer started talking about thoughts and where they come from, "It really, really made sense to me and I thought, 'Maybe there's a chance.'"

He realized, he said, that he didn't have to see himself as a loser or define himself by his past. Instead he could use the power of his thoughts and perceptions to create a future.

More than two years later, Webb, 42, remains drug free. He works as a construction project manager, spends weekends as a self-employed landscaper and runs the state-licensed Heaven's Gate Recovery Home, where he teaches health realization every Tuesday night.

Webb's is not the only success story spurred by the principles of health realization. According to Mills, the model has crept beyond mental health circles and is used by businesses, law enforcement, schools and local governments to achieve change in individuals and even communities.

Health realization's basis may sound deceptively simple, Mills said. Throughout our lives, he explained, our minds create a cocoon of thoughts and beliefs in which we live. What feels like reality is really the product of our learned thoughts.

But while some traditional psychotherapies stress analysis of the past or identification and change of irrational thoughts in the present, health realization focuses on what it means to think and teaches that each person holds an "innate mental health."

People learning health realization make changes in their lives as they come to understand their true potential and how their past thinking patterns have obscured that potential. For example, its use in housing projects in Florida and California has coincided with drops in homicides, drug use, school dropout rates and teen pregnancy, according to the Institute. Fresno County residents who took part in health realization training showed an increase in positive feelings and decreases in anxiety, loneliness and depression, Mills said.

These apparent successes brought health realization to the attention of Robert Garner, director of alcohol and drug services for Santa Clara County, who has since made health realization training available to personnel in all county agencies.

"It struck me as a logical theory with real implications for health and human services," he said. Despite a lack of independent research to support health realizations effectiveness, Garner said he advocates its use based on "outcomes far superior to anything in our field."

After seeing positive results of health realization training among his own staff members, he decided to make it more broadly available. Now county employees from the child welfare office can learn about health realization alongside district attorneys and county auditors. And several county employees have been trained and certified to teach health realization classes to clients in drug programs, schools and jails.

Garner said he's optimistic about health realization results and cites jail inmates as examples of its usefulness. "They get tons of courses. But they say health realization is the only thing that makes sense to them. Health realization is based on individuals' own insights, so it gets generalized across their whole lives. It's self-sustaining."

Cathy Casey, a Santa Clara County employee who teaches health realization in jails, agrees. In fact, inmates have told her how much her classes mean to them. And that translates to a more peaceful atmosphere within the jail.

"I got a letter from a corrections officer who said he knows when the health realization classes have been going on. He said he notices a difference in the barracks, a calmer feeling," she said.

And when inmates leave prison, they often want to continue attending classes. Most are mandated by the court to attend certain 12-step programs as conditions of parole, Casey said. But even though health realization is not court mandated, her Thursday night classes still draw as many as 40 people. Though health realization concepts are simple ones, she said, they promote great change.

"Inmates are getting other classes, but mine wakes them up. Others give good information, but it isn't sinking in. The impact of health realization is that it allows them to sit back and understand where their stress is coming from. They don't have to remember techniques or what they learned. They just get into their innate good health."

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Karen Pirozzi is a free-lance writer based in Albany, N.Y.

Contacts:

Cathy Casey, lead trainer, Santa Clara County Department of Alcohol and Drug Services, San Jose, Calif., 408-298-5537; fax: 408-993-8052.

Bob Garner, director, Santa Clara County Department of Alcohol and Drug Services, San Jose, Calif., 408-299-6699; fax: 408-993-8052; e-mail: <garnebob@wpgate.hhs.co.santa_clara.ca.us>.

Roger Mills, founder, Health Realization Institute, Long Beach, Calif., 323-259-6570; fax: 408-868-9876; e-mail: <roger@healthrealization.com>; web site: <http://www.healthrealization.com>.

Dave Webb, former inmate, 408-947-2069 or 408-226-4596.