BY LOIS MAHARG
We didn’t start out as family, but family we became. By the end of a 3-day training in Livonia we knew each others’ stories and were united in our intention to put our training to use as teachers of a NAMI signature course, Family-to-Family.
“I learned to focus on the delivery of the content from a facilitator perspective,” said Lauren Edwards (NAMI Midland County), in response to a question about the most useful thing she learned over the weekend. “The course provided insight to help ensure the message is ‘absorb-able’ for families in need.”
The most enjoyable activity for Edwards was “how we got to know each other during the course. It is always so nice to connect with others who understand this experience from the inside.”
Like Edwards, most of us participating in the 3-day state training had taken Family-to-Family before, a 12-week education course that helps families understand and support loved ones with mental health diagnoses while also caring for themselves. The teacher training course involved revisiting the 12 chapters in the student notebook and becoming familiar with teacher instructions and materials for use in leading each class.
In their introductory remarks, state trainers Patricia Doyle and Bob Nassauer (NAMI Washtenaw County) talked about the challenges class instructors will face. Families of people who enroll the course are often in crisis, Doyle said. Each class participant comes with a unique set of problems they’re hoping to solve. It can take a few class meetings before they begin to see value in understanding mental illness from a broader perspective, how it typically affects families and people with diagnoses, and the many possible approaches to recovery.
Rick Thompson (NAMI of Kalamazoo) said he felt this might be the biggest challenge in teaching the course. “Most often,” he wrote in an email, “the course participants will be focused on how do I handle/solve MY PROBLEMS.”
“The Family-to-Family program teaches empathy and provides the opportunity for understanding, sharing and bonding,” Thompson continued. “To teach this program in a manner which brings people outside of themselves and allows them to realize the gifts available to them through Family-to-Family education will be a challenge. Hopefully, through kindness, grace and gentle reminders each participant will receive at least one Family-to-Family gift.”
Another challenge course instructors typically have to face, Doyle said, is “hot potatoes” — issues and situations people often are uncomfortable talking about and dealing with, such as suicide, violence, involuntary commitment and loss.
“Do not avoid them,” Doyle advised. “Get people’s feelings out in the open.” Course instructions outline a group process instructors should use in handling hot potato issues.
“I think the most challenging thing for me might be managing the ‘hot potatoes,’” said Dan Corbat (NAMI Midland County). “As we discussed I will point the issue back to the group where we can mirror . . . our own similar experiences in an empathetic, non-threatening fashion,” hoping to communicate to class participants that they are not alone in their journey.
In all, there was lots of content to absorb during the intensive 3-day training, but we all left the Huron Room prepared to facilitate the Family-to-Family course.
“It was a great refresher to me of all of the information,” Edwards wrote in an email. “But being able to advocate and help others has given me a bit of this life where I know I can take action and make a positive difference. The Family-to-Family sessions provided me with a community and coping strategies, something I definitely want to pay forward to others.”