This week, we continue introducing you to Advocates for Human Potential (AHP) staff who have both a personal and professional history with, and a commitment to, WRAP and its role in recovery. Today, Melody Riefer shares her thoughts about what makes WRAP work.
I am completely, absolutely, and utterly driven by passion: the passion to learn, as Mary Ellen Copeland spent her life doing, how we can take charge of our lives. Yet over the years, I’ve learned to temper my passion with knowledge—of implementation science, of the importance of fidelity, of marrying data with storytelling. That’s why I’m passionate about ensuring WRAP is taught with fidelity to the model developed so many years ago by people just like Mary Ellen and me, people who wanted to know, “What do we need to do to be well?”
Finding the Seeds of Hope
It was that very question that drove me to become the founding director of a peer center in Fulton County, Georgia, in 1998. I was working in a mental health program at a community hospital, and it felt like life was beginning to slip through my fingers. Though I had a longtime relationship with a therapist who believed in me, it can be very lonely to not be part of a community focused on healing. When I was hospitalized, I felt most supported when joining my fellow smokers in the lounge or out on the patio. How ironic that we were filling our lungs with unhealthy smoke while filling our hearts with hope.
At the peer center, I attended a presentation that was billed as a WRAP training but was really a one-day discussion of how to build a wellness toolbox, just one step in building a WRAP. Even then, I found talk of what I could do to help myself personally inspiring, so I began doing my own research. I discovered that WRAP is about wellness and so much more. That’s why, when I became director of consumer affairs in Oklahoma in 2003, I felt I had an obligation to ensure we offered WRAP as it was intended to be taught. I traveled to Brattleboro, Vermont, to attend a WRAP facilitator’s training with Mary Ellen herself, and I was hooked.
I saw how all the pieces work together. I understood the importance of focusing on my daily maintenance plan—every single day, even if it’s just to check in on myself. I know, in my own life, that crises tend to sneak up on me, so I appreciated learning the importance of identifying triggers, watching for early warning signs, and knowing what to do when things are breaking down. I discovered the value of creating a crisis plan, well before I’m in crisis, and of reviewing how my plan worked. WRAP is the whole package. It has a structure and a methodology, and it works.
Marrying Data with Stories
It is absolutely true that each individual will use WRAP in whatever way makes sense for them. But I strongly believe that those of us who promote WRAP must be held accountable for delivering it from start to finish—from developing the wellness toolbox to reviewing our crisis plans. Over the years, Mary Ellen and I talked about her concerns that WRAP was becoming used in ways that diluted its power and obscured its message that recovery is fluid, dynamic, and personal. WRAP’s progress reflects the tension between an intervention that naturally occurs among a community of healing people and that which is seen as an evidence-based, billable service. When delivered with fidelity to the model, I believe WRAP nicely bridges these worlds.
WRAP is evidence-based; numerous studies attest to this fact. But its power lies in its humble beginnings, as a way for those of us trying to help ourselves understand that there is hope. We can’t rewrite our history, but we can turn the page and move forward together. We can marry the data that show WRAP works with our own personal stories of recovery. I know Mary Ellen would say that WRAP isn’t magic, but to me, it doesn’t get much more magical than that.
Melody Riefer, MSW, is a former Senior Program Manager at Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.