Posted by: counselorcarmella | August 11, 2011

NAMI Provider Education Training Course

I participated in the  NAMI Provider Education  Course in   the spring of 2011 and would like to  share a little about this unique experience.  I hope this will encourage other  mental health providers and  other professionals  to   decide on participating.


When I  received an announcement via email that the class  would be taking place, I was immediately interested. Over the past ten years, I’ve  been  involved with  NAMI as a HelpLine volunteer, had taken the Family to Family course, participated in NAMI Walks, and often recommended NAMI’s support groups and  courses to clients and their family members. Now,  I had the chance to participate in another  NAMI-related program.   This course would be for mental health professionals, to help us better understand and be more sensitive to   clients experiencing mental illness  and their family members.  Earning CEUs needed for licensure was an additional bonus.


A colleague and I decided to take part in the course. Our director enthusiastically   agreed to let me take Friday afternoon client time and   devote it to  this class. We showed up for the first day  wondering what the  training would be like and hoping it would at least be interesting.  After all, we would be spending three hours  there every Friday afternoon for the next five weeks.  I immediately felt reassured when  one of the panel members came up to me shortly after I entered the training room and offered me  my choice of various types of miniature candy bars.  Water, sodas, and  crunchy/salty snacks were also  available.


The course was  lead by a five-member teaching team. Our  professional leader was Linda Suleski, a marriage and family therapist in theLexingtonarea. Linda (who brought valuable perspective that was both personal and professional  ) served as  more of a facilitator than a  leader or teacher. She presented materials and encouraged discussion about topics covered  along with the other panel members.  Two consumers experiencing mental illness and two family members of those with mental illness took turns  going over materials and   facilitating discussions. I feel it is important to mention that  NAMI speakers and  facilitators go through   specific NAMI-sponsored training to learn how to  present materials and tell their stories effectively.  They  put a lot of time and energy into  these classes.  That was clearly true of the  group leading our class.


Our primary focus  was the stages of  grief/trauma associated with a mental illness diagnosis and how to help  consumers and family members  during  these stages. The course was a mix of  research-based information, personal experiences, interactive activities, and relevant dialogue. We were given notebooks full of course materials and resources.  Some were for use during class while others were sources of supplemental  or additional  information.


The facilitators  drew our attention to the “extra” materials we didn’t have time to  review during class. They  encouraged us to  review them more fully on our own time to get the most  out of the  course. Information on the   causes and treatments of the various mental illnesses was presented in the form of supplemental handouts rather than as part of class presentations. That was also the case for   materials about medications.


My “classmates” made up a mix of other counselors, social workers,  case managers, and  nurses. Some were  employed by SCDMH while others were in private practice,  research or medical settings, or other    related fields. Several people drove all the way from Charleston to participate in the  class. It was fun  getting to know the various personalities of the  course facilitators and    the other professional participants. Name tags and  cards made it easier for  everyone to  give more personal  responses.


We engaged in several  exercises to help us  understand  the  feelings and experiences of a person with mental illness or  their family members on a deeper level.  These activities encouraged us to  respond from a place of empathy and  understanding when it might be tempting to become frustrated or have some other sort of negative reaction.  


This format provided  lots of opportunities for  good discussions. Classmates shared  their own stories of personal and professional struggles trying to help those with  mental illness. It was clear that we  all had a sincere interest in helping and in achieving greater understanding and sensitivity. Many serious concerns and situations were discussed, but  there were  plenty of moments of laughter that  served as a good balance, too.


Difficult issues such as balancing family involvement with confidentiality and recognizing the  extraordinary life impact of a mental illness diagnosis were  discussed.  One  concept that stood out to me was to understand that,  though the family’s reactions to  this crisis may make them seem very unhealthy,they may have  a lot more strength and  health than we realize.  They are reacting to a life-changing  new reality and the ways people react can differ a lot. We talked about the unfortunate reality that many consumers and families have had negative experiences with mental health providers  already. Because of this, they   may (for understandable reasons) be guarded and  suspicious of  us as  service providers.


Listening to  the experiences of  those living with mental illnesses and  the family members of people  with mental illness as they told their stories was  extremely   meaningful.  In this setting, I was able to listen and  react, not as a counselor but as a person.  Usually, when I hear these things, I’m in the role of  helper and know I need to respond in certain therapeutic ways.  In the training setting, all I had to do was listen and take in  each person’s unique set of experiences. Additional speakers who  came in to tell their stories provided even more  first-person perspective, particularly  from the viewpoint of being a family member or friend of someone with a mental illness.  I found myself thinking  about the stories that were shared outside of class and I know  that is what will stay with me most when I think about this course. 


I’m thrilled that   NAMI developed this course for  the providers of services to those with mental illnesses.  Family  education and support has been one of the  most unique aspects of  NAMI’s approach for years. As we talked about repeatedly during the class,  clients, family members, and  providers have to work together  for the best possible outcomes. It makes sense that  training is provided to meet the unique needs of each group. I would encourage  anyone who  works in a helping capacity with individuals and families  experiencing mental illness to participate in  this course. NAMI’s educational courses have helped hundreds of thousands of people all across the country and I’m proud to be  one of those people. I  hope that  NAMI keeps up  all the good work  until  the day  there is no longer a need for it.              




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