BY GIZEM YAGCI
Hello Readers! My name is Gizem Yagci and I am a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) facilitator at NAMI Washtenaw! Since I was trained in the summer of 2017, I have facilitated five P2P classes, and I am super excited to announce that we have a new curriculum for our outstanding program! I had the privilege to get trained for the new curriculum and I used it in the two most recent classes I was involved in. This article will talk about changes in the curriculum, my personal experience with it and my take on it.
I want to start by saying I really like the new curriculum, and I am completely in favor of the changes. The class is less lecture based, and much more interactive whether it involves personal reflection, group activities, discussions, practicing new skills or sharing personal experiences.
The course focuses on individual experiences of recovery related to mental health conditions and touches on many other topics, such as how mental health fits into our overall health, healthy habits, current research on the brain, mental health diagnoses, communication and relationships, social support, stress reduction, personal stories, visions and goals.
The length of the class has changed. The old curriculum lasted 10 weeks with an additional week for a focus group, whereas the new curriculum takes place over 8 weeks with an additional week for the focus group. Training to become a facilitator now requires completing an online training as well as attending the in-person training for 1.5 days instead of three days, as before.
I really appreciate the structure of the new curriculum: Each class starts with a summary of what we covered in the previous class and topics for the current week. Each class ends with a “wrap-up” summarizing the material covered, thanking people for coming, and reminding them of the date for the next class. Some weeks include questions such as “What did you learn today that was new or different? What stood out for you?” These questions allow participants to bring everything together and make sense of it overall.
One fantastic new feature is lecture-related videos! Videos probably allow the class length to be reduced and the class to be more interactive than lecture based.
In class 2 we introduce goal setting, which is a big part of the curriculum. We want to make sure the goal is a behavior that the participant has control over. We utilize the SMART goal structure, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. We start by only focusing on the S-M-T part. Participants are asked to create weekly goals focusing on specific (what), measurable (how much) and timely (when) goals. As the class goes along we incorporate new and different components to set and achieve goals.
Starting at week 3, class begins with participants checking in with each other about how they did with their goal. This is very helpful in bringing participants closer to one another. Having this repeating format engrains the importance of continually working on one’s goals. Especially in the beginning, participants can have a difficult time choosing a goal and “completing” it. This can lead them to believe they are “failing” the process, which involves learning and practicing goal setting and making small adjustments to the goal to make it work.
Later in the course we look at multi-step goals, then focus on the A and R parts of SMART goals. Achievable: Do we have what we need to accomplish this goal? If we don’t we may need to work on a different goal before this one. Realistic: Is it something we want to do? Do we have the time and energy to accomplish this goal?
One of the most important parts of setting SMART goals is anticipating what challenges we may have with our goal. Because we know ourselves that it is often easy to identify what might get in our way. So we spend time in class “preparing for success”: making a plan for counteracting the challenge if and when it comes up.
Where before there was a mindfulness activity at the end of each class, now there are different breathing and relaxation techniques introduced throughout the course. Each activity is repeated many times to allow participants to practice diaphragmatic breathing, progressive relaxation exercise, guided imagery, breathing with words. Not all techniques will work for all participants: Our goal here to expose them to new strategies. We encourage participants to keep an open mind and give each one a try. You never know what works for you until you try it!
In the old curriculum we worked on “relapse prevention grids” over several weeks whereas the new curriculum covers similar material using an Awareness Grid in one week. We focus on a significant event participants are willing to explore and try to connect thoughts, feelings, body sensations and behaviors to understand underlying patterns. We then connect this work to recognizing early warning signs related to stressful events. We brainstorm about future actions collectively as experimentation will lead to the experience and expertise we need to make more effective choices. We come to the conclusion that this is an ongoing process with success and failures. We emphasize that change isn’t easy.
One downside of the new curriculum is the crucial need on the part of facilitators to employ time management skills. Since the class length is reduced and there are many opportunities for discussion, it is more challenging now to cover all the material properly. Here’s a quick tip for facilitators: Look out for class 6 because it is a tough one for time management.
Overall the new curriculum sends quiet insightful messages like these: Recovery is possible, good relationships require nurturing, you are the author of your own story, and you can play an active role in your health care. Also included is that although the biological component (brain biology and genetics) of mental health conditions is not in our control, we can establish physical habits that improve our mental health and overall wellness. Two highlights in the new curriculum are the benefits of learning and utilizing “I statements” to express needs and the importance of creating and maintaining a support network that includes emotional, practical and informational support. Students find it challenging to try to start appreciating themselves in addition to appreciating others.
I am very excited to keep using this new and improved curriculum in my Peer-to-Peer facilitator role. I think this curriculum will resonate with our participants and help us to support them in their own mental health journeys. This program, in its old format, changed my life. It helped me gain invaluable insights into my own mental health: its warning signs, triggers and patterns. Over time it enabled me to take charge.
I now have the incredible privilege of being a facilitator and walking people through this amazing program while witnessing tangible changes in people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors firsthand. I get to watch participants feeling empowered and in control of their lives and their mental health. Moreover I am now part of this amazing P2P community, this family that makes me feel less alone with my mental health struggles. Given the great new curriculum, I strongly encourage people to sign up for a P2P class this year! The next class begins on March 21 in Chelsea. Click this Peer-to-Peer link to register. Thanks for reading, and take care!