Bryan Creech, peer recovery coach at Recovery Innovations and blogger extraordinaire, wrote the following post about our recovery conference on March 28. He generously allowed us to re-publish his words; the original version can be found at his blog,  Stories from the Road: The Many Faces of Peer Support in NC.

The First Annual Mental Health Conference was sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Greensboro, and we were welcomed by Susan Ball, executive director, and Mary Seymour, director of recovery initiatives. The event took place at the Elliott University Center on the UNCG campus.

A full house
A full house

This was a day-long conference that brought together counselors, social workers, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, peer support specialists, educators, and students from across NC. The topics they covered included:

  • defining mental health recovery
  • using a strength-based perspective in assessment
  • ethics of self-disclosure
  • holistic approach to recovery-oriented mental health care

The  first presenter was Cherene Allen-Caraco, executive director and founder of Promise Resource Network. She offered an engaging presentation on:

  • the history of mental health treatment
  • the history of the recovery movement
  • defining mental health recovery
  • practical ways to bring recovery-oriented care into your own practice
Cherene Allen-Caraco captivates the crowd
Cherene Allen-Caraco captivates the crowd

From a peer perspective, Cherene challenged me to raise my level of  conciousness about my mindset, language, and overall approach to supporting others.  Some other important insights she reminded me were: the dignity of riskemployment as a path to recovery; combating societal and self-stigma, and the all-important lesson of (learning as a peer) how to give up power and control.

The second speaker was Dr. Jan Laughinghouse, social work program coordinator and assistant professor at Bennett College. She shared some important insights on a strengths-based perspective:

  • strengths-based assessment
  • ways to empower clients
  • how to create and maintain a supportive, therapeutic, and hopeful environmen
Jan Laughinghouse talks about emphasizing client strengths, not deficits
Jan Laughinghouse talks about emphasizing client strengths, not deficits

She offered some helpful distinctions between pity (feeling for someone), sympathy (feeling with someone); and empathy (feeling as someone). She touched on the important work of Albert Bandura and the assessment work of Epstein and Graybeard. She brought an informative, passionate, and affirming approach to ways to gain insight into the motivations, aspirations, and strengths of those we support.

There was a panel discussion with Dr. Joseph Jordan, clinical director, NC Physicians Health ProgramDr. A. Keith Mobley, clinical associate professor and clinic director, UNCG;  Shannon Englehorn, counselor at Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital; Myla Erwin, peer support specialist and director of programs for the Mental Health Association of Greensboro; and Amber Pope, therapist at Tree of Life Counseling.

Some of the helpful insights I gained from this panel discussion were to be aware of:

  • how to share your lived experiences
  • when and why you should share
  • when you should not share and the importance of intuition
Panelist Myla Erwin answers a question while Joe Jordan and Shannon Englehorn look on
Panelist Myla Erwin answers a question while Joe Jordan and Shannon Englehorn look on

Dr. Sharon Young, psychologist and director of CooperRiis Institute, CooperRiis Healing Community, was the final speaker. She was joined by Becky Singer, residential activities director at their Asheville campus, who shared her own insights and life experiences as a participant and now as a staff person at CooperRiis. Dr. Young presented  A Holistic 7 Domains Approach, which grew out of her doctoral research. From her extensive research and interviews from many people sharing their recovery stories, she was able to glean and establish the seven domains. She, along with others, has been able to develop a holistic approach of care at CooperRiis on these domains.

Sharon Young begins her presentation
Sharon Young begins her presentation

The 7 Domains are as follows:

  1. Social/Community/Connectedness—our ability to connect to others in a healthy way
  2. Spirituality—our sense of inner peace and harmony; our hopefulness and passion for life
  3. Purpose/Productivity/Fulfillment—accomplishment, fulfillment, achievement, and meaning
  4. Empowerment/Independence—increased sense of control of over one’s life and recovery
  5. Emotional and Psychological Health—one’s well-being and emotional stability
  6. Physical Wellness—one’s ability to take care of  basic physical needs
  7. Intellectual/Learning/Creativity—a desire to learn and to challenge yourself mentally/creatively
Becky Singer of CooperRiis talks about her recovery
Becky Singer of CooperRiis talks about her recovery journey

This was a wonderful conference and an important one for peers to get a chance to see the exciting things that are happening  across the state of North Carolina as we  seek to move our state towards recovery-oriented systems of care.