Advocates for Human Potential, Inc., (AHP) has newly acquired WRAP (see Mary Ellen’s Reflections, Part IV), but we have a long history with Mary Ellen, with WRAP, and with recovery. Over the next several weeks, we will introduce you to some AHP staff for whom WRAP has been instrumental to their personal and professional growth. We begin with reflections from Laurie Curtis, a long-time collaborator and friend of Mary Ellen’s.
Mary Ellen Copeland will be the first person to tell you that she didn’t create WRAP and it doesn’t belong to her. WRAP was first developed by those hardy souls who gathered in 1997 in the middle of a Vermont winter. WRAP belongs to these pioneers, and it belongs to all of you—the hardy souls who use WRAP to help live every day with good health, integrity, and a sense of purpose.
I’ve known Mary Ellen for more than 25 years. We both live in Vermont, where we share a passion for gardening, lived experience with mental health recovery, and a dedication to helping people find ways to move forward with their lives. We first met when she was just beginning her research into what helps people recover. I was working at the Center for Community Change through Housing and Support in Burlington, Vermont, and Mary Ellen came to talk with the staff about her work. Her every word radiated with her passion for this work. I believe I completed one of her initial surveys about recovering from depression and manic depression. I was thrilled to see her first book, The Depression Workbook, released, and I still have my autographed copy.
I remember talking with Mary Ellen about her excitement when the concepts of WRAP were beginning to take shape. At Mary Ellen’s invitation, I attended one of the early WRAP trainings in Providence, Rhode Island, and found it to be both informative and moving.
A few years later, I conducted one of the first evaluations of WRAP recovery education programs for the State of Vermont and was able to report that WRAP had a demonstrable positive impact on those who used it. Recently, in my work at AHP, I had the privilege of collaborating with Mary Ellen to draft a new training curriculum based on her book, WRAP and Peer Support.
Over the years, I’ve seen Mary Ellen’s persistence in proving wrong those who doubted her. The “experts” said she would never be well. She couldn’t conduct research. She would never publish a book.
I’ve witnessed her patience in confronting ongoing skepticism about recovery. She took her story, one meeting and one agency at a time—first across Vermont, then throughout the Northeast, then to other parts of the country, and finally to the world.
Most important, I’ve admired Mary Ellen’s boundless creativity in promoting not a prescription for recovery, but a deep-seated belief that people are in charge of their own lives. This sounds so straightforward, and yet—for those who have been told they were incapable of caring for themselves, much less of having a fulfilling life—it’s nothing short of profound.
At its core, WRAP is a simple yet elegant system for helping individuals figure out what it takes to get well and stay well.
The very name—Wellness Recovery Action Plan—makes you feel both sheltered and empowered. It starts with wellness. The presumption is not that you are sick and need to be fixed—it’s that you are well and are able to deal with the ups and downs of life we all experience.
It underscores that we all are entitled to and capable of recovery, that we can each move forward with our lives.
It makes clear we can take action. We are not passive recipients of care—we are in the driver’s seat.
It says we are responsible for making a plan to recover. We know what it feels like when we are well. We know when we are starting to stumble. We know how to get back on track. We make the plan, and we live it every day. Simple, yet elegant.
So, yes, it’s true that Mary Ellen didn’t invent WRAP. And, no, it doesn’t belong to her. But she gave it an identity. She spearheaded a movement. She marketed it and branded it and fought for its very right to exist. And like any good parent, she has let go of its hand and let it walk on ahead of her.
I’m honored to be among the staff at AHP who are walking alongside WRAP as it continues to make its mark on the world. Mary Ellen’s legacy is driving us forward, secure in the knowledge that this is a program that works, for each and every one of us who use it, and for those who have yet to harness its power. We owe Mary Ellen our deepest gratitude and a well-deserved retirement. Godspeed, Mary Ellen!
Laurie Curtis, M.A., CPRP, is a former Senior Program Manager at Advocates for Human Potential, Inc. She’s been a trainer and consultant in mental health for more than 25 years and has written extensively about peer support, shared decision-making, and recovery support.