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Consumers Armed With Confidence to Work for Change

The third of three leadership academy sessions, designed to focus on consumer empowerment wrapped up this past week at Radford University. In all, more than 78 consumers of mental health services explored new ways to make their voices heard, and become leaders and advocates for others (IN THIS PAST YEAR). The Consumer Empowerment & Leadership Training Program (CELT) is designed to help coach and prepare them for an all-important step. They’re learning to take their experiences using mental health services and share them with others.

Virginia law requires Community Services Boards, local Human Rights Committees, and other boards and panels to include mental health consumers. It’s an important part of getting customer feedback into the process. The CELT program wants to enlarge that pool of consumers, and arm them with the tools and skills they need to speak confidently about their own encounters with the mental health system.

CELT is a program of the Mental Health Association of Virginia, and operates on a grant from the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services. In its’ sixth year of operation, the leadership academies were held this year at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center in Front Royal, the Jamestown 4-H Center in Williamsburg, and at Radford University in Radford. All programs consisted of three days of intensive training. An advanced academy, designed to train the next generation of ADVANCED ADVOCATES AND MENTORS will be held during the last week of September.

Debbie Pugh is the CELT Program Director. For the past two years, she’s coordinated the classes, the speakers and the faculty. She recruits year round for consumers to attend, and works to constantly update the curriculum.

“Everybody there has a mental illness,” says Pugh. “But the moment they walk in the door, there’s an excitement that starts to build. It’s because they’re not in a stigmatized environment. Their confidence shoots through the roof!”

Classroom topics include rules of parliamentary procedure, how to conduct an effective meeting, a background in the mental health system in Virginia, and how it all fits together. More specific training involves issues surrounding networking, and the consumer movement.

DMHMRSAS Director of Mental Health Services, Jim Martinez calls it an outstanding program, one that is widely recognized for its’ adherence to best practices in consumer driven mental health services.

Pugh says it’s amazing to see the graduates walk away with the tools they need and the confidence that comes from knowing that people believe in them.
“My greatest hope is they will use their skills and work to make a change in the system for the good. And to let other consumers know that recovery is possible.”

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