Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reflections on a Milestone: 100 Peer Specialist Graduates, and Counting!

Today's guest post is from Shana Averbach, LMFT, Coordinator of the Peer Specialist Mental Health Certificate program being offered by RAMS and San Francisco State University Dept. of Counseling. Started in Fall 2010, the Certificate Program's goal is "to prepare consumers and/or family members with the basic skills & knowledge for entry-level employment in the behavioral health system of care and with academic/career planning that supports success in institutions of higher learning". 

It is with great enthusiasm that we announce a major milestone for the Peer Specialist Mental Health Certificate Program: With the recent graduation of 13 students from the program’s eighth cohort, our total number of graduates from the course has passed 100! This is no small feat for the program that was constructed from the ground up in 2010 and has continued to grow and flourish over the following four years.

The most recent cohort graduated June 19th at the San Francisco State University Downtown Campus, the same location where it spent the prior 12 weeks learning about the basic tenets of community behavioral health treatment. Equipped with new knowledge to add to their already valuable lived experience with mental health and/or substance use treatment and recovery, many are already exploring job and volunteer opportunities in the peer professional community.

Joining in the celebration were students’ direct supporters – friends, family members, social workers, neighbors, and bosses (to name a few!). Also in attendance were many of the course’s guest lecturers, and representatives from agencies who continually invite students to shadow their work as part of the course’s 8-hour required field observation assignment. And of course, a number of the 100+ alumni from previous cohorts were present – proudly sporting ribbons of gold and purple to indicate their status as members of this pioneering course. Everyone was invited to write one personal “wellness ingredient,” and these flavors of wellness adorned the room for all to share.

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Dr. Rob Williams, Chair of SF State Dept. of Counseling
As is often the case with milestones, having 100+ graduates evokes a time of reflection on what makes this program successful. There are certainly outcomes that the program can point to – such as knowing that the majority of its graduates actively engage in work, volunteer, and educational opportunities as a direct result of taking the course – that are good indicators that the program is successfully meeting its objectives. But it’s the overall integrity of the program that stands out as a success; In other words, on any given day, the program is truly abiding by the principles on which it was founded.

Funded by the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), The Peer Specialist Mental Health Certificate Program is proudly rooted in its guiding principles, which include the following:

Community Collaboration: Every aspect of the course – from outreach to curriculum development and delivery to quality control - is immersed in collaboration between community behavioral health agencies and peer input. The spirit of togetherness is felt in ongoing networking events, professional development, and celebrations such as the graduation described above. The success of the program hinges on the success of the collaboration.

Cultural Competence: Course curriculum includes a cultural competency focus from day one, and program participants – and later direct peer service providers - represent cultures and languages as diverse as the city we serve. Cultural competence isn’t a side note; it’s center stage.

Focus on Wellness: In this course as in the field of peer professionals, the Wellness and Recovery Model leads the way. Whether addressing stigma and inviting hope by sharing lived experience or rejoining and rebuilding life in the community by engaging in the course and/or the workforce, participants in this program live and breathe the empowering message “I did it and so can you.” This message grows exponentially each and every time it’s delivered, and it is delivered often.

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So, in saluting our most recent graduates and our vibrant community of alumni, we acknowledge each and every person who has helped along the way. Here’s to the next 100!

Are you or someone you know interested in being trained as a peer professional? 
Applications for the Fall 2014 term will be released soon in July! 
Go to to stay in the loop!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Summer Learning... Had Me A Blast! (Tell me more, tell me more...)

Summer has officially begun as RAMS kicks off its version of a psychology summer camp!

The RAMS Summer Bridge 2014 program started this week. RAMS is collaborating with the Samoan Community Development Center, California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), and The Wellness Initiative. CIIS hosts the program on their Mission St campus.

L-R: Ernest Brown, Ph.D., Summer Bridge Counselor
Danni Biondini, M.A., Summer Bridge Coordinator
Heather Truschel, M.A., Summer Bridge Counselor
Summer Bridge is an 8-week summer mentorship program for students who are interested in the field of psychology. Along with the educational aspects of the program, they are given the chance to explore many career possibilities in the helping professions. Participants of the program will experience first-hand how psychology applies to human services.

This is the fifth year of the Mental Health Services Act-funded program, which recruits youth ages 16 to 20 currently enrolled in or recently graduated from SFUSD high schools, especially from underrepresented backgrounds in mental healthcare, who want to learn about working in the helping professions. For eight weeks, the youth meet three days a week to explore what therapists/counselors do, the different paths to higher education, and the different roles in community mental health. The participants will meet professionals working in the field, including therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, professors, and researchers. Each week the participants go on a field trip to further explore the themes of Identity, Helping Professions, Mental Health, Education, and Self-Care.

The youth began the week with a visit to the Fort Miley Ropes Course, where they climbed up trees, walked across logs and wires thirty feet in the air, and jumped back down (with a safety harness!) or rode a zip line back to the ground. The group bonded as they encouraged each other to face their fears, and learned what it means to trust and support one another. They will continue exploring how this relates to the work of psychology as the program continues.

Upcoming field trips include: Exploratorium’s The Changing Face of Normal: What is Mental Health exhibition, RAMS Child, Youth & Family Outpatient Clinic, San Francisco State University’s Counseling Department, RAMS Fu Yau Project, SFGH Psychiatric Emergency Services, and RAMS Broderick Street Adult Residential Facility. The program culminates in each participant presenting a final project showcasing their journey and self-discovery over the eight weeks. A graduation ceremony for participants and their families will be held at CIIS at the end of July.

Summer Bridge staff with Peer Mentors
L-R: Kaiqi Guo, Hannah Ramirez, Mike Misa

After the program, the participants are invited to join the Youth Council, the advisory group for RAMS. They may also return to work as Peer Mentors for next year’s Summer Bridge program. The long-term goal is to recruit these youth for the workforce (e.g. healthcare, community mental health, etc.). Eventually, we hope to see these youth return to RAMS as staff!