Dear Marcia and Paul:**
I want to thank you both for presenting the NAMI Family-to-Family course to us in Salisbury. Having taught some classes myself, I had an inkling of how much physical and emotional energy it takes to teach a course like that. I can only say that your efforts are well worth it. The course was wonderful. As the daughter of a parent with mental illness, and as a psychiatrist, the Family-to-Family course is much more valuable than I could have ever imagined.
Your course turned out to be a treasure that I fervently wish had been presented to me during my training, instead of ten years into my practice. But perhaps it has taken ten years of practice to realize how important this course is. You see, during my psychiatric training, I learned about diagnoses, medicines, side effects, blood tests, how to interpret research, and what other forms of therapy to prescribe to help the patient.
In the ten years that I have worked with people with severe and persistent mental illness, it became clear that I could be a walking psychiatry textbook, up to date on the latest in every type of psychiatric treatment, respected by my fellow psychiatrists. The patients and their families do expect me to be well trained in the science of psychiatry. However, they are much more interested in how well I understand, empathize, and communicate with them, their particular problems, how the illness and the medications are affecting them. Very, very little about that was taught during my training.
The Family-to-Family Education Program was the first course that spelled out for me what it was like to be a patient with a severe mental illness, and what it was like to be a family member. It was the first course that literally demonstrated for me what it was like to try to listen to someone while having auditory hallucinations. It was the first course that taught me concise, empathetic communication with a patient. It was very useful in helping me deal with my mother who has mental illness.. In fact, when I used some of the empathetic listening skills taught in the class with my mother, her joy and relief that someone actually understood how she felt was so overwhelming that it almost reduced me to tears.
Finally, I gained incredible respect for the family members of people struggling with severe mental illness. I listened to their problems, their fears, and concerns. I learned how I could be more helpful to them and their family member who has a mental illness in my role as a psychiatrist. I don’t know how the patients and their family members do it. The media, which regularly holds up sports heroes and other celebrities as courageous, needs to spend some time in a Family-to-Family course to get a real picture of courage.
I can’t thank you both enough.
Margaret (Peg) Miller, M.D.
** Marcia and Paul Garrett are trained NAMI Family-to-Family teachers in North Carolina. They have taught 12 Family-to-Family classes.
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