The WRAP Story

Origins of WRAP

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) was developed in 1997. Several dozen individuals who had experienced serious mental illnesses and were working hard to feel better and get on with their lives came together in northern Vermont, in the United States, for an eight-day gathering. Many attendees had been residents of state psychiatric hospitals at various periods in their lives. They came together to discuss practical strategies for regaining and sustaining their own wellness.

A key leader among those pioneers at the Vermont gathering was Mary Ellen Copeland, who was facilitating the discussion. Mary Ellen had been struggling with anxiety, depression, and extreme mood swings that caused social isolation, economic hardship, and repeated hospitalizations. Seeking to restore her health and reclaim her life, she’d become disillusioned with the psychiatric establishment of that time and its reliance on medication-focused treatment that prioritized managing her illness rather than focusing on her return to health. She began her journey to find strategies for recovery by conducting a survey of her peers on the subject. From the 125 responses she received, Mary Ellen identified five key concepts to recovery—hope, personal responsibility, education, self-advocacy, and support—along with “tricks” for feeling better, which would later be called wellness tools. She began to facilitate peer support groups, and, by 1997, her research and facilitation were generating widespread attention. She then received the invitation to lead the eight-day peer support retreat in Vermont that made history.

The participants at the Vermont gathering drew on their personal experiences to identify what kinds of strategies worked for them to prevent emotional and mental breakdowns and maintain positive mental health. The group spent three full days working through countless ideas, such as:

  • Ways to get better and stay well
  • Tools that can be used every day to maintain wellness
  • Words to describe wellness
  • Unexpected things that can be “triggers” (what we now call “stressors”)
  • Early warning signs that things are “off”
  • How to know when things have gotten much worse and what to do
  • Action plans for times that are overwhelming
  • What to include in a crisis plan or advance directive

One participant, Jess Parker, noted, “This is all well and good, but I have no idea how to organize these tools and strategies in my life.” Mary Ellen Copeland and Jane Winterling felt called to respond to Jess’s words, so they worked together to develop a simple system for organizing a personal “wellness recovery action plan.” They presented it to the group, and the concept of WRAP was born. In essence, they were coming up with a structure that anyone could use to develop their own personal WRAP. They decided to call it the Wellness Recovery Action Plan because “it has such a good acronym.” They didn’t know it at the time, but this group was blazing the trail toward a new, self-directed movement for wellness and recovery.

A more full picture of how WRAP came to be and has helped people is found in The WRAP Story: First Person Accounts of Personal and System Recovery and Transformation.

Mary Ellen and Jane worked side by side as they developed and rolled out the recovery education curriculum that became WRAP. Mary Ellen wrote her first book on recovery findings, called Wellness Recovery Action Plan (nicknamed “the Red Book” for its distinctive red cover), in 1997. She developed her own publishing company and her books rapidly became popular around the world. She began sharing WRAP with people struggling with a wide range of emotional, physical, and mental health challenges. She also started mentoring peers in facilitating workshops based on her WRAP books. She created an evaluation of what makes a successful WRAP workshop and developed a list of non-negotiable values and practices for certified WRAP Facilitators. These values and practices formed the basis of today’s evidence-based practice of WRAP.

This is all well and good, but I have no idea how to organize these tools and strategies in my life.

Mary Ellen founded the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery in 2002 to spread and meet the growing demand for WRAP Facilitation workshops. The Center was named in honor of Kate Strouse Copeland, whose courageous struggle to face and overcome mental health challenges was a lifelong inspiration to her daughter—Mary Ellen Copeland. In 2016, Mary Ellen retired and transitioned ownership of WRAP to Advocates for Human Potential, Inc. (AHP). AHP carries on the mission, values, and ethics of WRAP and ensures fidelity to the evidence-based practice.

WRAP has reached millions of people through books, lectures, and trainings, empowering people from diverse communities and all walks of life to use WRAP for their own personal recovery journeys. WRAP is now being used in formal and informal recovery programs in all 50 states and in 15+ countries around the world. It is used by behavioral health departments, mental health agencies, addiction treatment programs, and an array of other recovery groups. It’s been extensively adapted for use with all kinds of life issues, expanding well beyond mental health. It has become the cornerstone of health programs all over the world. WRAP is for life―it is for anyone, any time, and for any of life’s challenges.

WRAP Today

In 2016, Mary Ellen transferred ownership of her works to Advocates for Human Potential, Inc. (AHP), to ensure the continued quality production and dissemination of WRAP materials worldwide. Mary Ellen describes the key reasons for transferring publication ownership to AHP as follows: “They were warm and welcoming, and I certainly saw the capacity to continue this work. But more than that, I saw the caring. I saw the passion in their eyes when they talked about recovery. I felt the compassion in their hearts when they spoke about preserving the legacy of WRAP and the central role it has played in elevating mental health recovery to the national stage.”

Since 1986, AHP has focused on changing healthcare systems to improve individuals’ lives. Staff advance the principles of prevention, wellness, and self-care that are central to WRAP. They promote recovery and community integration for people who are experiencing homelessness, who have behavioral health conditions, who have been affected by trauma, and who are involved with the criminal justice system.

Today, AHP continues to collect data on what helps people get well and stay well and what ensures the success of WRAP groups. AHP incorporates these findings into training events and mental health recovery and WRAP resources. AHP is committed to advancing evidence-based practices that restore hope, dignity, and empowerment to individuals while supporting the providers who serve them. Mary Ellen continues to serve as a senior advisor to AHP.

AHP is the sole source for WRAP. It oversees all WRAP Facilitator training and certification, including Advanced Level WRAP Facilitators. Only AHP and the organizations it licenses can certify Advanced Level WRAP Facilitators. AHP is also the only organization in the world authorized to convey the certification of WRAP Center of Distinction.

AHP is ensuring a bright future for WRAP in many ways, including producing a monthly newsletter, maintaining a presence on social media (find us on Facebook and Twitter), writing new publications, updating older versions of popular publications, redesigning the WRAP website, building an evidence base for online facilitation, conducting and supporting ongoing research, and more.

AHP is passionately attuned to the WRAP principles, which is evident in the company’s mission to improve health and human services systems of care and business operations to help organizations and individuals reach their full potential.

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