Editors note: This is a first-person account written by Peter N. who participated in the Peer to Peer Training Class in Asilomar, California in September 2003.
I went there expecting to learn something. I experienced something instead. I went there expecting to use my head to learn how to teach a course. I used my heart instead, and that is much more powerful. If you want to make a change in my life you can try reasoning with my head, but you are much more likely to succeed by motivating me through the heart. This is indeed how the Peer-to-Peer course is designed. The author of the course, and her husband, were training us and they confirmed that the course is designed to motivate the participants as much as to teach them. You can tell someone what to do, but it is much more powerful to motivate them to do it. Through feedback from people that have taken the course they typically find that participants are motivated to take the next step in their recovery.
The Peer-to-Peer course does provide information about mental illness. It instructs on the basics of the different diagnoses, on addiction and on medication. It offers practical instruction on coping strategies and decision making. It gives suggestions for the care and feeding of one's mental health providers and a few tips on "passing for normal." It also builds a personal tool used for relapse prevention and another for establishing treatment preferences should a relapse occur. However, for me, the power of the course came from breaking down the natural barriers between a dozen strangers. It gave us the confidence to expose something deeply personal regarding our struggle with mental illness and by sharing to dispel some of its hold over us. It was an honor to be among people that have shown so much courage and determination to overcome the seemingly impossible obstacles of mental illness.
The setting contributed to the experience: three days on the coast at Asilomar on the Monterey Peninsula. Compressing a course designed to be spread over nine weeks into three days also added to the intensity. It was a privilege to be taught by the author of the course, to gain some insight into the thinking that underpins the material. But I am certain that those who will soon take the course in the classes now being established will receive much the same experience that we did. By the end of the course they will have tools to deal with their illness, an idea of the next step to take, motivation to take that step, and friends to support them and help them through.
Peter N. maintains his own web pages at Basket Weaving for Beginners: A Self-Help Guide for Bipolar Disorder.
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