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Families

Empathy and Education Better Prepare Professional Care Givers

As reported in the Naples Daily News, a group of mental health professionals heard voices last week while participating in a workshop presented by the NAMI. They got the chance to experience first hand what it feels like to have schizophrenia.

"I was taken aback by how quickly I felt helpless" said one participant. Other participants said they were overwhelmed, annoyed, and agitated by the voices.

"When mental health care provides better understand what patients go through, they are better equipped to serve them," said Kathryn Leib Hunter, executive director of NAMI’s Collier County chapter.

Full Text Reproduced with permission from Naples Daily News.

By Beth Francis


Imagine hearing these voices in your head:

"Don’t trust."

"They can lock you up."

"They are trying to make it look like you are crazy."

"This person is evil."

"Don’t do what they are asking; you will go to eternal damnation."

A group of mental health professionals heard those voices last week while participating in a workshop presented by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s Collier County Chapter (NAMI). They got the chance to experience firsthand what it feels like to have schizophrenia.

Half of the group sat at a table at the Ruth Cooper Center in Fort Myers trying to listen to directions given by one of the workshop leaders, David Sarchet, a licensed mental health counselor. While Sarchet instructed the half of the group sitting down on how to draw a simple pattern of boxes, the other half of the group stood behind them repeating scary things that people with schizophrenia might hear in their heads.

One participant in the class, Denise Baier, chief executive officer for the Ruth Cooper Center, said hearing the voices while she tried to concentrate on Sarchet’s instructions helped her better understand what patients go through.

"I was taken aback by how quickly I felt helpless." She said.

Other participants said they were overwhelmed, annoyed, and agitated by the voices behind them while they tried to concentrate on the leader’s directions.

The "empathy exercise" is part of NAMI’s Family to Provider education class, which is designed to educated mental health care providers about the needs of families and patients.

"When mental health care providers better understand what patients go through, they are better equipped to serve them," said Kathryn Leib Hunter, executive director of NAMI’s Collier County chapter.

Connie Hamman, supervisor of adult community resources at the Ruth Cooper Center said it was "very eye-opening" to experience what it’s like to hear voices.

"I felt very overwhelmed and upset," Harmman said.

The panel of leaders for the workshop included Sarchet, two mental health patients and two family members of people with mental illness. Each shared their stories with the group.

Christina Rooney, who works in the family preservation program at Ruth Cooper, said it was invaluable to hear insights from patients and families.

"I’m so used to seeing people in crisis, so it was refreshing to see someone in recovery," she said. "Learning what’s helped them helps us do a better job of helping others."

The class is just one of many offered by NAMI. Some are for mental health professionals; others are for patients and family members.

Hunter said such classes are so important because one in four families are affected by mental illness. Other programs offered by NAMI include:

Family to Family, a 12-week program for family members of people with mental illness designed to help family members understand their loved one’s diagnosis, learn better ways to communicate and develop empathy for the person with mental illness.

Compeer, a program designed to recruit and train volunteers from the community to act as a companion/friend to people who have mental illness. Participants are required to spend four hours a month with their peer. Statistics show how this reduces hospitalization and loneliness.

Hand to Hand, a course sponsored by Trinity by the Cove and the Community Foundation, designed to the families of school aged children about their diagnosis and ways to negotiate the various methods of care available to them

Power, which stands for Parents Offering Wisdom Education and Resources. The course is a support/education program for parents of school-aged children with speakers at monthly meetings.

Peer to Peer, designed to help mental health patients learn how to help other mental health patients. The course offers information of on the biological basis of mental illnesses, personal and interpersonal awareness, coping skills, information on addictions, spirituality and self care.

For more information on the programs, visit our Education, Training and Peer Support Center.


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