May 30, 2013

The recent announcement that the NAMI Family-to-Family program is now listed on the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP) is an accomplishment that everyone connected with NAMI should be proud of. It represents a journey that is not unlike the personal journeys that many of us have lived; the journey from obscurity and feeling lost while trying to find our voice to becoming a confident and effective advocate with a knowledgeable commitment to our common purpose.

NAMI grew from the grassroots need for support and information of family members of individuals living with mental illness. In an effort to meet some of those needs in a consistent, replicable way the Family-to-Family Education program was developed by family member and psychologist Dr. Joyce Burland more than 20 years ago. The program was designed to provide scientific information about the illnesses, research on the latest treatments available and specific skills that would be helpful to families navigating the day-to-day challenges that develop when someone has a mental illness. The truly unique feature of the course is the fact that it is provided entirely by volunteer family members who are trained to channel their invaluable personal lived experience and use it to augment the course curriculum to provide participants in the class not only with information, resources and skills, but with the much needed support, empathy and wisdom that is not available elsewhere.

Just as many of us have consistently stayed the course of our journey to find our way through fragmented treatment systems and the public scrutiny associated to mental illness, the Family-to-Family program has continued its gradual expansion across this country and three others; quietly meeting the needs of family members by letting them know that mental illness is no one’s fault and that they are not alone. These two messages are consistently listed by participants as the most valuable components of the course.

The consistent expansion of the Family-to-Family program has been possible because of the hundreds of committed teachers, trainers and program coordinators who have never given up on taking the phone calls, distributing posters and flyers and raising money for printing program manuals for participants—because NAMI programs are always offered free of charge to participants.

These volunteers have continued to provide the course, year after year, based on the structured curriculum and the co-teacher model in which they each received extensive training. It is this consistency and fidelity to the course model that have allowed the rigorous level of research necessary for the Family-to-Family program to attain the level of credibility that comes with being listed as an “EBP” on the NREPP.

This listing is indeed a milestone in the journey of the NAMI Family-to-Family program. The national recognition of the effectiveness of the course brings a level of credibility that will only enhance the value of a program that we at NAMI have been aware of all along. Whether you were part of one of the three research studies that were conducted on the course; a Family-to-Family teacher/trainer/coordinator; someone who has taken the course; someone whose family has benefitted from the course; or someone who has raised money through a NAMIWalk to help fund the course, you should feel very proud. The pride that comes from being part of a program developed by family members, for their peers to learn from each other in a supportive environment is one that should be shared. The pride that a grassroots mental health advocacy organization now has a program which is listed alongside other well-known mental health programs and interventions, most provided by professionals, is an accomplishment.

The NAMI Family-to-Family program has not only found its voice but that voice now carries an air of credibility that will allow it to be heard with a new level of respect from mental health providers and policy makers for the family members who make it all possible.

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