Q&A: New Peer-to-Peer Course Starts March 9

Peer-to-Peer is an 8-week course for adults living with a mental health condition. The next Peer-to-Peer course will begin on Thursday, March 9 from 6-8 p.m. in person at Genesis in Ann Arbor. The next online course begins on Tuesday, May 9. 

Thinking about joining? We talked with Peer-to-Peer Facilitator, Program Lead and State Trainer Gizem Kestly about what you can expect from this course.

Who can join Peer-to-Peer?

Gizem: Anybody over the age of 18 who lives with a mental health condition. 

What’s the general format of the course?

Gizem: The format alternates between lecture, group discussion and individual sharing. We follow the curriculum while creating space for the incredible group work that happens. 

What kind of resources can people expect to get?

Gizem: Over the course of 8 weeks, we cover 4 relaxation grounding techniques. We also cover a couple of important topics such as someone’s personal vision statement: where they are at right now, what gives them a sense of purpose, where they want to go. We do something called an awareness grid where we connect thoughts, feelings, and body sensations to negative behaviors then we try to brainstorm ways to counteract those negative behaviors so people can make relationships and identify patterns. For me personally, after doing this exercise so many times because I re-do the worksheets every time I facilitate a class, I’ve been able to identify that when I’m nauseous it’s not just because of something I ate, it’s how anxiety is presenting in my body. So when I feel nauseousness, I’m like ‘OK, maybe you’re anxious. What are you anxious about?’ Then I’m able to utilize the grounding techniques that I’ve learned and kind of ground myself. 

Also, a big chunk of the class is about SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. We do goals every week almost and at the beginning of class people pair up and share about what their goal was and how they did, and affirm each other without asking or giving advice. That’s a very core principle of our work in Peer-to-Peer. We never ever give advice because every individual, no matter how similar their diagnoses are, are all unique. Our upbringing to our genetics to our current lifestyles–it’s all different, so what works for one of us doesn’t necessarily work for the rest of us. But the point of Peer-to-Peer is to be exposed to as many tools and resources as possible and by means of trial and error, to find out what works for you individually. 

What can participants take away from Peer-to-Peer?

Gizem: I think the biggest thing is community and relationships. Mental health conditions can be quite isolating: from the symptoms that we experience to the stigma that’s in society, it can make you feel like you’re the only person experiencing this and that no one can understand you. Peer-to-Peer basically crushes that notion and makes you realize that there are people with similar situations, experiences, and symptoms and you start building relationships that last even beyond the class. And so, you form community and feel less alone. 

How can Peer-to-Peer help participants make health-related decisions? 

Gizem: We never give advice, but what we do is we inform participants with a variety of tools and resources to help them so that they can make the best mental health-related decisions possible. We share the curriculum, of course, but we also share our experiences and we use “I” statements to make sure we don’t switch to giving advice because it’s a very fine line of ‘this has been my experience and xyz has helped me personally’ vs. ‘you should do xyz, this is a cure.’ We never want to give anybody false hope because we’re all unique individuals. Although we don’t promise any specific health outcomes, I’ve seen in people that they’ve decided to get sober, or they have decided to use SMART goals as part of their daily routine, or they have created new healthy boundaries in their unhealthy relationships. They’ve left abusive relationships. They’ve felt empowered because of the course content and the relationships they’ve built. They’ve found their voice and can advocate for themselves in their relationships with their providers when it comes to their treatment. They can take a more active role in their treatment instead of being more passive. 

What can participants expect from the first session?

Gizem: To be honest, it can feel a little uncomfortable in the first session and I think it’s important that we acknowledge that. It’s a little weird because yes, mental health conditions bring us all together, but at the end of the day, we are strangers in that first session. But that awkwardness does not last very long. I would say as each week goes by, we start being more and more of a tight knit community/family. That shift usually happens around week 3 when we have time to share our personal stories related to mental health. In the first class, we also talk a lot about recovery and what recovery means to us because it can have a unique definition based on our experiences. I like to think of recovery as not a destination but a journey that ebbs and flows. I would never say, ‘I’m recovered and I’m never going to have another setback.’ But it’s a personal thing when it comes to how people speak about that and what language they use. The first class can feel a little awkward, especially because we don’t know each other yet but over time, it just builds on the previous weeks and we get to know each other more and towards the end it’s like community/family.

What would you say to someone who maybe is interested in Peer-to-Peer but is worried about the initial awkwardness or being part of the group?

Gizem: I would say that I completely get it because I’ve been there, and even though I’ve done 15 of these as a facilitator, every time I go into a new class, I feel that way too. Many, if not all, of our participants feel this way so what I can say is that those initial worries and awkwardness, they go away for the majority of people at least, because you realize you’re not alone in your experience and your symptoms. We also screen every person that signs up for the class online to ensure that it’s a good fit for them and for the class. Everybody gets screened and if they have been admitted to the class that means that we see a true potential for them to benefit from this class.

Why should people join? 

Gizem: People should join because for one, this is free. There is no cost and we have built a tremendous incentive program because we understand that living with a mental health condition might make it difficult to attend classes like these because of our symptoms, our nervousness, our anxiety, our depression, and all other mental health conditions. We’ve built an incentive program to encourage people to keep coming back. At the end of the 8 weeks, many people have shared that while the incentives are great, the real benefit of the class was the community and the relationships they’ve built. 

Even beyond that, I would say that this class personally changed and saved my life. It gave me a sense of purpose. That’s why I do what I do in relation to this class. That’s why I want everybody living with a mental health condition to give this class a try because I know what the potential is. I know it can be life changing and lifesaving. I know it can make you feel like you’re not alone anymore. It creates a sense of camaraderie and creates lifelong relationships that could be crucial parts of your support network. I know what it has done for me and I know from all the classes I’ve facilitated, I’ve seen how people evolve and grow. They just blossom like when spring hits after the winter and all the flowers blossom, it’s like the true potential of those people was always there but with the new resources that they’re equipped with, it’s like they unlock that potential. 

What incentives are offered to participants?

Gizem: If someone attends a minimum of 6 out of the 8 classes, they graduate, they get a certificate of completion that they can have with pride, and they get a notebook and colored pencils. They also get to choose a mental health related book from a list that we provide for free. In-person classes have dinner provided for free and at all classes we also do a gift card drawing for $20 at Meijer. If there’s 8 or more people in a class, we do two gift card drawings in each class. If there’s 7 or less, we just do one. If somebody wins it twice, their name gets taken out until everybody wins twice. Those are some incentives we’ve built into the program because we understand the difficulties that come with living with a mental health condition so we like to do anything we can to reduce the barriers of entry or completion just so everybody can utilize this amazing resource.

You can register for Peer-to-Peer by clicking here.

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