By: Vicki Stull
My name is Vicki Stull. I live in Great Falls, Montana. I am a Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) user, facilitator and advanced trainer. Mary Ellen presented a workshop at a conference in Great Falls in 2000. I was just beginning to recover from a devastating major depressive episode that had lasted about 2 ½ years and had been told that I would never fully recover. However, I was determined that I was not going to end up dependent on the mental health system. The group Mary Ellen spoke to was primarily providers who were not very receptive to what she had to say but for me it was like a bolt of lighting. For the first time someone was telling me that there was great hope that I could fully recover and lead a productive life again.
After the workshop, I enrolled in the correspondence course with her and built my WRAP. As I used it and became aware of my triggers and early warning signs, I discovered that I had much more control of my life and I began to grow as a person again. I built a daily maintenance plan that really works. I knew what I have to do to keep myself functioning well but never had it clearly defined until I put my WRAP together.
In 2001 I went to Vermont and was trained as a WRAP facilitator. When I came back I was appointed to the Mental Health Oversight and Advisory Committee for the State of Montana and began working both to educate myself about recovery and the consumer movement and to get WRAP recognized as a program that could help the people of Montana who were experiencing difficulties in their lives.
Facilitating in Montana has been an uphill battle. With the help of the Mental Health Association I was able to do several workshops and each one was received with enthusiasm by the participants. They came out of the workshops with great hope and with new tools but with no real consistent support. They went right back into an environment where there was a total lack of understanding of what WRAP was or what communities of support were and no real way to stay connected to each other.
There has been growing support of consumer driven initiatives and the atmosphere has changed somewhat. In 2005 we did a video broadcast of the basic principles to over 100 people watching from 23 different locations. Out of that group and video viewers of the broadcast we did 3 workshops, one in each of the service areas in Montana. It was in these workshops that things really began to happen. By this time the State and others were more committed to recovery and we were able to help people see that with a WRAP plan and support from the State, and the Mental Health Association there was a commitment to building a community of WRAP users and of consistent WRAP trainings and opportunities for review and advanced training. In May of 2006 we did another broadcast this time we had over 300 participants and we have 6 people from our workshops from last year going to a facilitators training that is being held in California. In April of this year I went back to Vermont for Advanced Training and am now prepared to train the trainers. Although we have sent this first group to California we hope to be doing another facilitators training later in the year.
As a facilitator, there are three areas that I want to comment on. First is the growth of individuals that I have seen, second is the growth of the program in this state, its acceptance and use, and third are the problems that I have seen for both individuals and the program as WRAP and peer support has been pushed into the mental health system by both state and national insistence but without adequate preparation of the professionals or the community.
First: The growth of individuals. It has been exciting to see people come into a training and “get it”. The “it” that they get is that they can make a difference in their own lives. They begin to see that others have overcome great difficulties to lead lives that are fulfilling and satisfying. That even when difficult times still trouble them they can minimize those difficult times and make something good for themselves. I remember one person in one of the workshops last year was quiet. She participated but was reserved and contemplative and even though I couldn’t really tell from her work in the group if she really “got it” or not, her comments were perceptive. At some point I looked at her and told her that I thought that her ability to analyze the situation and her depth of perception would come in handy if she chose to go on to facilitator training and that I thought she would make a good facilitator. I really didn’t know how she would integrate the WRAP plan in her life. She went home and began using and revising her plan. She went to her voc rehab counselor and told them that she wanted to become a wellness educator and they put a program together for her to set up her own business. She went to her counselor and told her how she felt, what she was doing and what she wanted to do and that she felt like she now had the tools to keep herself in recovery. Her counselor laughed at her kind of behind her back but she got the picture that the counselor didn’t believe her. Since that time she has gotten involved with a committee that is putting together a peer support specialist program and I have watched her set limits for herself and follow her WRAP to keep herself in recovery. She is one of the six that are heading to California for facilitator training. Although she liked her counselor and still uses her on occasion she now sees that she is in charge and the counselor is a resource but not the be all end all of what she can or can not do. She is debating how she is going to use the facilitator training because she knows that she could overload herself if she does not follow her plan and she also sees that the group that is trying to incorporated peer support into an existing mental health center framework is having trouble understanding what real peer support is all about. It has been great to be able to be at meetings with her. We have ended up being a support to each other.
One of the other people I particularly remember is a young man who is still struggling but who took away from the training a firm understanding that he had the right to ask his doctors for changes in the way he was being treated and expect that he would be listened too. He barely participated the first day and I thought that he wasn’t getting a thing. About 3 weeks after the workshop, he came running up to me at the State Mental Health Conference in front of the person who handles consumer affairs on the state level and hugged me and thanked me for the class and said “You’re never going to believe what happened. I learned in the WRAP class that I could talk to my doctor about what I wanted so I told him that I thought I was on too much medication and that it was slowing me down and I wanted to get a job and I thought that less medication would make me less sluggish and could I try less medication. And, guess what, he thought it was a good idea. He really listened to me and dropped my med dose and I applied for a job at the truck stop and I am working half-time now.” They were gathering stories at that conference and he went in and told his story. He was so excited about the fact that he had the right to ask for what he wanted and expect that others would respond. He is really just beginning on his journey and he may need another experience in class before he even starts to write his WRAP plan but he has felt great hope and has been empowered to do things he had never thought of doing before.
Second: The growth of the program in this state. I have been teaching and advocating for WRAP sessions since 2001, however we have had no real way to follow up or to keep track of participants or to help them find others to build peer relationships with. There was just no structure. Last year the Montana Mental Health Association made WRAP training an educational priority and they began to handle the logistical stuff. It has made a huge difference and we were making steady progress.
WRAP has been a life saver for me. Because of it I have been able to be active in professional life and as a WRAP facilitator.I have been able to monitor my life and incorporate time for myself with my family and friends. I can stop and take stock of what is going on around me and decide where I want to be in relationship to it instead of letting it overwhelm me. When I find myself being confronted by multiple priorities and spinning into thinking that I have to do it all, I can stop and not let myself go there. I feel so much more powerful in my own life. I no longer have to do something just because I know I can, I can choose where I want my energy to be expended. I have always believed that all people had something to offer me and that I have something to offer them but with WRAP I have been able to see how to expand and nurture mutually supportive and growth enhancing relationships. It has fit so well into the world view that I already had. As a facilitator I have seen those same kinds of things happening in the lives of others.
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.