Dr. Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD
25 years of WRAP. Astounding.
Other programs and innovations have come and gone. WRAP persists. Incredible!
So, so many people have been key to making that happen. I could not begin to list them here. Many thanks to all who’ve played a role in developing WRAP, moving WRAP forward, and spreading it from person to person, group to group, agency to agency, state to state, country to country, around the world. So many people have benefited. So many lives have been saved.
We all need to give ourselves a super-sized pat on the back.
There are still far too many people who have never heard of WRAP. There are still many, many people who are spending days, months, and years mired in mental health issues—some of them confined to facilities that are not helpful and too often harmful.
Too many give up and end their own lives without ever hearing of WRAP. Archaic practices persist. Things are much better than they used to be, but not nearly good enough.
Looking into the future, I want WRAP to continue to spread further and further to every nook and cranny of this vast globe, to any place where there’s someone who might benefit, as I have, from developing and implementing my own Wellness Recovery Action Plan.
To make that happen, in addition to using the strategies we are currently using, we need to bring WRAP to physical and mental health care providers of all kinds, peer support workers, schools (starting with preschool and reaching up through the doctoral and post-doctoral level), religious groups, organizations for people with disabilities, the workplace, recovery and treatment programs, jails and prisons, and the military.
I want to share the story of one person who worked with us to develop WRAP at that series of workshops in northern Vermont 25 years ago. Let’s call him Benjamin.
Benjamin’s life was totally compromised by the intensive mental health issues he was experiencing constantly. He was so anxious he couldn’t speak and needed to leave the room often with a supporter to relieve his anxiety and get back the courage that allowed him to stay in the room.
He wore dark-colored clothes and had a beard that hid his face. He was there, as much as he could be, through all the descriptions of things that people could do to get well, stay well, and move on with their lives—strategies I learned from my early studies back in the late 1980s, before “recovery” and “wellness” were words that could be used when talking about mental health issues.
At the end of the 8-week series, one participant said, “This is all well and good, but I have no idea how to organize these tools and strategies in my life.” We all heard her loud and clear.
As I recall there were about 30 of us—all people who had, and were continuing to have, mental health issues that were keeping us from living the lives we wanted to live and being the people we wanted to be. Right away, we decided to come up with a tool or a plan we thought would support us in recovering and in our ongoing wellness.
Everyone worked together, including Benjamin, for three more full days, coming up with ideas, writing them on newsprint pads, discarding some, and keeping others until we came up with a plan that everyone agreed would work. I went home and developed my own first WRAP. I found it to be so effective that I made it a key part of the workshops and seminars I was leading in Vermont, around the country, and around the world.
From time to time, I’d get a call from someone who was supporting Benjamin, saying he wanted to attend another WRAP workshop and did I know where one was being held. Each time I found another peer-led WRAP workshop for him.
Several years later, I was asked to speak at a WRAP class graduation. I accepted the invitation. When I arrived, a smiling man dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts met me at the door. He looked somewhat familiar, but I was puzzled. He said, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” I said I did not.
Then I looked more closely. It was Benjamin. He had attended WRAP class after WRAP class, using what he had learned to develop, use, and revise his WRAP, which led to the present: a happy, healthy man with a good and rich life. It was a thrilling day for me, one that I will hold in my heart forever.
There are many more stories like this, and all because an intrepid group of people worked together to develop a plan that they knew would work: WRAP.
Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, developed Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) with a group of people with lived experience who were attending a mental health recovery workshop in 1997. She is the original author of the WRAP Red Book, as well as dozens of other WRAP books and materials. She has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to learning from people who have mental health issues; discovering the simple, safe, non-invasive ways they get well, stay well, and move forward in their lives; and then sharing what she has learned with others through keynote addresses, trainings, and the development of books, curriculums, and other resources. Now that she is retired, and that, as she intended, others are continuing to share what she has learned, she continues to learn from those who have mental health issues and those who support them. She is a frequent contributor to this site.