This fact sheet is based on the work of The Western Mass Recovery Learning Community (RLC). The RLC seeks to create conditions that support healing and growth for individuals and the community as a whole through learning opportunities, advocacy, peer-to-peer support and the development of regional and national networks.
These communities are made up of many individuals including those who:
- Have experienced or are experiencing extreme emotional distress and/or psychiatric diagnoses
- Are survivors of trauma
- Are struggling with addictions and/or substance abuse
- Have experienced discrimination or oppression as a result of psychiatric diagnosis and/or a variety of other reasons
- Have a desire to find healing and growth for any part of their lives or being
- Are allies or who have genuine interest in learning and/or adding to the community
Their approach their mission by:
- Offering trauma sensitive peer-to-peer supports
- Fostering mutuality and connection building
- Offering opportunities for learning and sharing of ideas
- Advocating for change at individual and community levels
- Developing regional and national networks
What is a Recovery Learning Community?
1. What is the RLC?
The Recovery Learning Community (RLC) creates conditions that support healing and growth for individuals and the community as a whole through learning opportunities, advocacy, peer-to-peer support and the development of regional and national networks. One of the founding concepts behind the RLC is that human relationships are healing, particularly when those people have similar experiences. And so, the RLC strives to create forums through which human relationships, community and a regional network of supports can develop. On a day-to-day basis, that effort may take the form of a community meeting, a support group, trainings and learning opportunities, social events, a computer workshop and/or simply offering a safe space where people can communicate with others or simply be. The RLC also acts as a clearing house for information about other resources in the community and as a consultant to other organizations and groups interested in developing peer roles and/or applying recovery principles.
2. More about RLC's
The Recovery Learning Community (RLC) is PEOPLE and is wherever YOU and others from the community are. However, the RLC also offers Resource Centers within that community. These resource centers are physical locations where individuals can come or call in to for support, use computers and the Internet, access the RLC library, find resources and attend various groups, workshops and events.
It is an open community that is intended to create space for a variety of interests, needs and aims. Generally, we assume that anyone that comes to one of our centers, groups, meetings, events or trainings is there because they have a genuine interest in taking part. We don't usually question that interest unless someone shows up with a clipboard and appears to primarily be there to 'study' us. Just a few examples of the people who are a part of in these communities:
- People who are 18, 35, 60, 81 and every age in between and beyond
- People who identify as mental health ‘consumers’ or ‘clients’ and people who do not
- People who identify as having experienced ‘extreme states’ or 'trauma survivors
- People who are served by residential programs and people who live on their own
- People who speak Spanish or American Sign Language as their first language
- People who are eligible for DMH services and people who are not.
- People who are trauma survivors
- People who have been hospitalized as a result of their emotional struggles and people who have never been hospitalized
- People who consider themselves ‘recovered' or 'in recovery,' and people who don't like the word 'recovery' at all
- People who are still struggling a lot, people who have lots of ups and downs, and people who are feeling pretty good about where there life is at
- People who don't really identify as having personal 'lived experience,' but who want to be a part of making change in our community and our world
- People in provider roles who want to learn from people who have 'been there' and/or share some of their own personal experiences
3. What do I need to do to become a member of the RLC community?
Anyone who has a genuine interest is welcome to be a part of the RLC community in a way that works for them. The only exception to this is that they typically do not open our doors to people who are interested simply in studying or observing RLC's for classes or professional development. (That said, there are many public events and opportunities for people to learn in this way, so please watch our newsletter or contact us for these sorts of opportunities.) There is no sign up or intake process.
4. How much does an RLC training, group or workshop cost? There is absolutely no cost to visit an RLC center or to attend the vast majority of RLC events, trainings or workshops
In the rare circumstance where there may be a any sort of cost to you to attend a particular event, it will be clearly stated ahead of time and there will always be opportunity for scholarships or reduced rates. Donations are always welcomed.
5. I want to visit an RLC space or attend an event. How can I get there?
For people interested in coming in to a training or to check it out:
- All of our spaces are accessible by local bus lines
- For individuals unfamiliar with taking the bus, we will do our best to connect you with someone who can ride the bus with you the first few times to help you learn the route and get comfortable!
- On a limited basis, we have individuals available who can meet with you in the community and, if you like, drive you to an RLC event or space.
- As our community expands, we may be able to help you connect with other people in the community who are coming here from your area and are able to give you a ride!
6. What do you mean when you say things like ‘Lived Experience’ and ‘Extreme States’?
At the Western Mass RLC, we try to use open language that is as inclusive as possible. Some people in our community identify with their diagnosis and with the term ‘mental illness,’ while others view their emotional struggles as ‘extreme states’ that have resulted from experiences of trauma or spiritual emergence, etc. Some people prefer to refer to themselves as ‘clients’ or ‘consumers’ while others are uncomfortable with those terms. For that reason, we try to use terms that are open to people's personal interpretations. For example, someone may say "I have lived experience with mental illness," or "I have lived experience with trauma," and so on. There's clearly no one right phrase, but our hope is to create space for people to own their own stories. Many people in our community speak about what it's been like to be told what's 'wrong with them,' and reclaiming their stories has often been a big part of healing and moving forward.
7. How is the RLC different than a Day Centre or Clubhouse?
Clubhouses are available throughout the United States and beyond. They subscribe to a partnered approach where people who identify as having their own personal experiences with psychiatric diagnosis, extreme emotional distress, etc, work side-by-side with people do not identify in that way. The people working at Clubhouses do NOT generally identify as working in a 'peer' role. Depending on state regulations, clubhouses may require or prioritize people who are eligible for Department of Mental Health Services, and require intake paperwork with a documented psychiatric diagnosis, as well as a treatment (or 'action') plan that is tracked and kept up-to-date. Clubhouses also tend to focus more on a 'work-ordered' day.The Western Mass RLC is a part of a much newer model. The vast majority of people in regular employee roles identify as having been hospitalized, psychiatrically diagnosed, experienced extreme states, etc. themselves. When offering direct support, the focus is on doing so from a peer-to-peer perspective. There is no intake process (although there is a required conversation and process to access the respite house), and no requirement to disclose any diagnostic history. There are no treatment plans or notes taken. (The only exception is at the respite house where people staying there are asking to note for themselves a basic goal or reason for staying there and whether and genearlly if the stay was helpful.) Although there are some employment supports, there is no overall focus on work, employment or a 'work ordered' day.
Some people may find that the RLC approach works for them. Others may really appreciate and prefer the structure and approach of a Clubhouse. Some may choose to take part in aspects of both Clubhouses and the RLC.
19. What does the RLC 'do'?
The RLC has many parts and pieces. They are separated into four 'arms' that include advocacy, peer-to-peer support, consultation and learning opportunities, and alternative healing practices. Some examples of what this all can look like include:
- 4 Resource Centers (Holyoke, Springfield, Greenfield, Pittsfield)
- Peer Support Line
- Afiya (repsite house)
- Free acupuncture, reiki, yoga, etc.
- A community bridger team (working with people transitioning from hospitals back to community)
- Hearing Voices groups, Alternatives to Suicide groups, etc.
- Hearing Voices Facilitator trainings
- Public speaker events with national and international figures
- Public film screenings
- Participation in rallies and legislative hearings
- Art shows and workshops
- Consultation to local providers on a number of topics
Again, this is just a sampling of what a community 'is' and can look like. RLC's say "Much of who we are are comes from who our community is, and so our offerings change and grow and our community does."