Name of Innovative Program:
A Peer-to-Peer Community That is Changing the World
Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
Western Mass RLC
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
The Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community (RLC) was ‘born’ in 2007 from years of advocacy by people who have experienced psychiatric diagnoses, extreme emotional distress, trauma and other life-interrupting challenges. Everyone working within the RLC has personally ‘been there,’ gathered strength and come together to ease the path for others.The RLC is comprised of four ‘arms’: Individual and group peer supports; Alternative healing practices; Learning opportunities; Advocacy. These ‘arms’ offer a variety of doors through which one can walk. A sampling includes a peer respite; A peer support line; Four resource centers; A variety of groups (Hearing Voices, Alternatives to Suicide, etc.); Free Yoga, acupuncture and other alternative healing modalities; Art workshops and shows; Youth councils and creative career exploration opportunities. The RLC also believes that true healing must involve whole communities, not just individuals who appear in the most obvious distress. To this end, there is much focus on large public events with internationally recognized speakers, bringing people from all corners together to discuss relevant issues. All told, the RLC is a deeply values-driven community that is there for people in both good and hard times and is informed by everyone’s collective wisdom and experience as human beings.
Creativity and Innovation:
One of the intents of the RLC is to create space for people to have conversations they thought they couldn’t have, change lives in ways thought not possible, and hold high hopes for everyone’s potential. In fact, several current team members first came to the RLC for support, and now speak publicly about being told in the past that they shouldn’t have much hope for leading the full lives they now lead as a result of their connection to the community. Overall, the RLC’s creative efforts have born much fruit. Just a few other examples: In 2010, the RLC developed the first ‘Alternatives to Suicide’ group, the only peer support group on suicide in the country. In 2013, the RLC entered the field of film production and produced their first film (Beyond the Medical Model), including a mixture of local voices and internationally recognized figures.
In 2012, the RLC offered a national ‘Alternatives to Suicide’ webinar, with subsequent workshops at two national conferences. In the spring, they will receive a Suicide Prevention award and fulfill contracts with two neighboring states training people in the ‘Alternatives to Suicide’ approach. ‘Beyond the Medical Model,’ has sold hundreds of copies and been viewed as far away as New Zealand. At least one college has used the film as a part of its curriculum. In October of 2013, the RLC offered the first ever Maastricht Interview (a tool for supporting voice hearers) training in the country, with participants travelling from as far as California. The RLC is also one of only three groups in the country offering Hearing Voices Facilitator trainings. The RLC has also presented on their respite house at two conferences and consulted to more than 10 states on developing respites and an RLC model.
The RLC has steadily increased capacity and funding stream diversification. Although their primary funder remains the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the RLC has also applied for and received several private foundation grants and a city block grant. Additionally, in 2013, they began a more concerted effort toward soliciting individual donations. The most recent funding stream addition has come from marketing training and consultation services. Although the RLC makes every effort to offer these services in an affordable and accessible way, payments from this arena have begun to significantly increase capacity. Recent national and international exposure via conference presentations and film distribution has also helped to expand the base for both donors and potential training contracts. All told, the RLC has not only sustained existing offerings but grown in each of the past seven years of existence.
The RLC approach offers great potential for replication both as a whole and in its many parts. In general, the RLC pays a great deal of attention to articulating process and design for exactly this purpose. The Western Mass RLC is already one of six RLCs statewide. The design is highly desirable in a culture that is increasingly recognizing the value of peer driven supports, self-determination and connection. In 2012, the RLC also developed a charter that clearly describes the values and components that constitute the RLC approach and offered this information at a national conference and through consultation contracts. Communities and organizations that are not in a position to replicate the full RLC model have nonetheless expressed interest in replicating pieces such as the Alternatives to Suicide groups, respite house and so on. These efforts have resulted in numerous additional Alternatives and Hearing Voices groups in and around Massachusetts.
The RLC's goals include changing lives by increasing connection, understanding and action for change. An outcomes measure tool specific to the RLC model was recently developed with the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is in the final stages of approval. However, the RLC has already independently examined many outcomes. This includes the first year of their respite house, demonstrating substantial impact on the lives of those who stayed there. One community member was also recently featured as a closing keynote at a national conference speaking to the impact of the RLC on her life. From a numbers perspective, our contact list has grown to over 2000. We have trained over 60 new Hearing Voices and 30 Alternatives to Suicide group facilitators, and seen many new groups start as a result. On any given day, over 60 people may seek support at one of our centers alone.