RECOVERY BLOWS IN ON THE WINDS OF CHANGE

July 31, 2007
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Recovery reinforcement training promotes a healthier environment for people receiving services and staff

In our column in the February issue, we mentioned a training program used at Recovery Innovations, Inc. (formerly META Services) called Keeping the Recovery Skills Alive (KRSA). Because we had so many responses to that article, we thought you might be interested in learning more about the program and what prompted Chris to develop it. In this article we also share what some other KRSA users are experiencing and how KRSA is helping them maintain a recovery environment.

Since we can appreciate a pleasant climate more by knowing what an unfavorable one feels like, let's start there. Have you ever walked into a behavioral health environment where not even global warming could melt the surface freeze? It's the kind of place with a wind chill, instead of the warm and open hospitality needed for a recovery environment.

A recovery environment is welcoming and built on positive relationships. If we aim to promote recovery in our behavioral health services, then we need to ensure recovery and wellness practices are a part of our workplace climate. Are we treating the people we serve with hospitality, and how are we treating each other? Do people feel welcomed when they walk through our doors?

Recovery Innovations always has placed a high premium on the workplace environment and culture, but we found it took some purposeful, intentional work to keep the workplace positive. It seemed like a simple idea at first. Just train all the new employees on the importance of maintaining a positive environment. But the truth of the matter was that learning how to sustain this type of recovery environment required a systematic approach to continually reinforce recovery values.

The new-hire training, like most good training programs, excited staff about their newly learned recovery skills, but when they were on the job for a while, they began slipping back into old attitudes and behaviors. Ignoring employee behaviors like competitiveness, finger pointing, lack of accountability, negativity, and gossiping allowed them to spread and, before long, erosive attitudes and behaviors could be felt in the workplace environment. Anyone who walked through our doors felt the cold atmosphere.

We discovered that to maintain a recovery environment in the workplace, we needed to continually reinforce recovery training with our staff. This is when Chris started developing a set of simple lesson plans that could be taught at every weekly staff meeting, which was the beginning of KRSA. It was an instant hit at Recovery Innovations, and when other organizations found out about it, they wanted to use it too. We thought we might share with you how some of those organizations are using KRSA. Let's start with a coastal climate check in the East.

Kim Franklin, PhD, clinical director for Meridian Behavioral Health Services in Sylva, North Carolina, has her team leaders facilitate KRSA modules twice a month. Kim says, “The great thing about the KRSA program is that it helps staff maintain a level of mindfulness of recovery principles. The KRSA program also gives our staff permission to hold each other accountable while simultaneously helping them shift their focus to all the ways of being in a recovery environment.” Kim's colleague, Julie Durham-Defee, district director of Meridian, says, “The KRSA program instills teamwork among my staff, and the conversation about recovery principles continues long after the KRSA sessions are over.”

Things are warming up in the Midwest as well, according to Debra Johnson, associate director of program operations for the St. Clair County Community Mental Health Authority in Port Huron, Michigan. She believes that KRSA offers benefits within and beyond the agency's four walls. Debra says: “Everyone is recovering from something in their lives, and the KRSA program is a tool for both recovery and wellness. One of our supervisors reported that the KRSA program has increased his staff's empathy toward each other and the people they serve. Another supervisor found that he has been able to relate the recovery principles to both his work life and personal life.” Sandra Kammer, St. Clair's division director of child, adult, and family services, says, “The KRSA training program makes it an equal playing field for our staff and the people we serve. Even our technical staff finds it relevant and meaningful.”

A warm front also has moved into the Northwest. Douglas Head, regional director for the Children's Home Society in Wenatchee, Washington, says, “The KRSA program helps us emphasize, support, and build a culture that in turn promotes resiliency in the children we serve. Every single person on our staff, from administrative support folks to case managers, has an impact on the service we provide to our children and their families. The KRSA modules such as Customer Service, Hospitality, Teamwork, and others specifically address the attitudes and behaviors that our staff needs to have.”

And KRSA has been keeping the chill away in the Southwest. Jennifer Williamson, a counselor at the Psychiatric Recovery Center of Recovery Innovations, says, “Not so long ago, some of our guests in the Living Room happened to hear our staff participating in a KRSA session. The guests asked if they could participate, so now when we do KRSA sessions in our weekly staff meetings, we welcome our guests to join in right along with the staff members.”

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