NYAPRS Note: While Mary Ellen Copeland didn’t create the concept and practice of Wellness Recovery Action Plans (WRAP), she organized this invaluable resource into a personal program and set of tools that have promoted wellness and recovery for individuals throughout the nation and world. Mary Ellen will be retiring and is passing on the management of the WRAP and Recovery Book initiatives to Advocates for Human Potential (AHP).
See below for Mary Ellen’s account and for AHP’s Laurie Curtis’ comments.
Millions of owe Mary Ellen a great debt…her groundbreaking work and her personal love and kindness will stay with us across the generations and the ones to come. God bless, Mary Ellen!
My Recovery Journey: Mary Ellen’s Reflections, Part IV
Mary Ellen Copeland
You and I have been on a journey, not just the past four weeks, but for more than three decades. Our journey of recovery has traversed valleys of despair and taken us atop hillsides of hope. There have been unpleasant detours and unexpected surprises. There have been laughter and tears. And now I’ve come to a fork in the road.
I turned 75 this year. I have children and grandchildren who need me, and I am honored to be their port in a storm. My husband and I need some time to relax and smell the roses.
In life, there comes a time to strike out on your own and a time to ask for help. Recognizing that I needed help developing a curriculum for my forthcoming book, WRAP and Peer Support, I turned to Advocates for Human Potential, Inc. (AHP). Their very name speaks volumes about the work they do. AHP staff helped edit a previous curriculum I wrote for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), so I was familiar with the quality of their work. I believed they had the subject matter expertise for this new task. What I didn’t realize was I would find an answer to a prayer I wasn’t aware I had uttered.
I first reached out to AHP in early January to seek help with the new curriculum. But the more we talked, the more I realized that AHP might be able to do much of the other work being done by WRAP and recovery Books, which publishes all the resources you have found here over the years.
Basically, WRAP and Recovery Books was me, Mary Ellen, and my husband and business partner, Ed Anthes. Ed ran the business end of things, and I wrote…and wrote…and wrote. I created new products, reviewed and updated older ones, and helped answer mail from around the world. And we had some help in doing all of this from time to time. Over the years, so many people have been helped by WRAP. There are so many stories that have touched me in profound ways.
To some people, Mary Ellen Copeland and WRAP are synonymous, but I have never seen it that way. WRAP never belonged to me—it belonged to those courageous people who gathered on that cold week in Vermont, and then on several full days over the next month, to hammer out the details of what they called the Wellness Recovery Action Plan. I have merely been its shepherd, guiding and shaping it but never changing its essence. I have been privileged to carry the message of WRAP to the four corners of the globe, never forgetting that this all started because I wanted to know how others got and stayed well. How lucky I am to have had so many generous teachers!
So the germ of an idea began to form in my mind. Perhaps I could sell WRAP and Recovery Books to AHP. To do that, I believed, AHP needed to not only have the expertise to write, edit, and sell books—many people can do that, and I’ve met quite a few of them over the years.
No, to be good stewards of WRAP, they needed to have a vision, a mission, and—most important—a passion for this work. WRAP may not belong to me, just as our children do not belong to us, but as with our children, I wanted to protect it and see it flourish.
Ed and I began meeting with staff at AHP, first with just a few folks—subject matter experts, writers, and instructional designers. Then we met with a larger group, including marketers, the chief operating officer, and the founder and president. They were warm and welcoming, and I certainly saw the capacity to continue this work. But more than that, I saw the caring. I saw the passion in their eyes when they talked about recovery. I felt the compassion in their hearts when they spoke about preserving the legacy of WRAP and the central role it has played in elevating mental health recovery to the national stage.
Ed and I talked excitedly about these meetings on our way home to Vermont from AHP’s office in Albany, New York, and its headquarters in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Of course, you don’t make a decision this important overnight. We continued to meet with AHP. We talked more. We became more and more convinced that WRAP would find a receptive home at AHP. There is significant alignment between the missions of the two organizations and the passion of the people behind both.
For 30 years, AHP has focused on changing health care systems to improve individuals’ lives. They advance the principles of prevention, wellness, and self-care that are central to WRAP. They promote recovery and community integration for people who are experiencing homelessness, who have behavioral health conditions, who have been affected by trauma, and who are involved with the criminal justice system. Both our organizations are committed to advancing evidenced-based practices that restore hope, dignity, and empowerment to individuals while supporting the providers that serve them.
As of July 1, AHP formally acquired WRAP and Recovery Books. I will serve as a senior advisor. The Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery will remain a separate, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting wellness, recovery, and peer support through training, technical assistance, and advocacy. While working with AHP, the Copeland Center will continue to promote WRAP, offering training to WRAP facilitators and advanced-level facilitators. I will work closely with the Copeland Center as I have since it was formed in 2005.
What does this mean for you? It means that the journey continues. It means that WRAP will be able to grow and evolve while remaining true to its core. It means that you can count on AHP to produce and distribute the books, manuals, curricula, and other educational products, along with a website, mobile app, elearning curriculum, and extensive email list that reaches approximately 30,000 of you each week. It means, in the words of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
I thank you with all my heart for everything you have given me over the years and wish you good health, much happiness, and a rich and rewarding recovery.
Old Friends, New Directions
Laurie Curtis, M.A., CPRP Senior Program Manager AHP, Inc.
Advocates for Human Potential, Inc., (AHP) has newly acquired WRAP (see Mary Ellen’s Reflections, Part IV), but we have a long history with Mary Ellen, with WRAP, and with recovery. Over the next several weeks, we will introduce you to some AHP staff for whom WRAP has been instrumental to their personal and professional growth. We begin with reflections from Laurie Curtis, a long-time collaborator and friend of Mary Ellen’s.
Mary Ellen Copeland will be the first person to tell you that she didn’t create WRAP and it doesn’t belong to her. WRAP was first developed by those hardy souls who gathered in 1997 in the middle of a Vermont winter. WRAP belongs to these pioneers, and it belongs to all of you—the hardy souls who use WRAP to help live every day with good health, integrity, and a sense of purpose.
I’ve known Mary Ellen for more than 25 years. We both live in Vermont, where we share a passion for gardening, lived experience with mental health recovery, and a dedication to helping people find ways to move forward with their lives. We first met when she was just beginning her research into what helps people recover. I was working at the Center for Community Change through Housing and Support in Burlington, Vermont, and Mary Ellen came to talk with the staff about her work. Her every word radiated with her passion for this work. I believe I completed one of her initial surveys about recovering from depression and manic depression. I was thrilled to see her first book, The Depression Workbook, released, and I still have my autographed copy.
I remember talking with Mary Ellen about her excitement when the concepts of WRAP were beginning to take shape. At Mary Ellen’s invitation, I attended one of the early WRAP trainings in Providence, Rhode Island, and found it to be both informative and moving.
A few years later, I conducted one of the first evaluations of WRAP recovery education programs for the State of Vermont and was able to report that WRAP had a demonstrable positive impact on those who used it. Recently, in my work at AHP, I had the privilege of collaborating with Mary Ellen to draft a new training curriculum based on her book, WRAP and Peer Support.
Over the years, I’ve seen Mary Ellen’s persistence in proving wrong those who doubted her. The “experts” said she would never be well. She couldn’t conduct research. She would never publish a book.
I’ve witnessed her patience in confronting ongoing skepticism about recovery. She took her story, one meeting and one agency at a time—first across Vermont, then throughout the Northeast, then to other parts of the country, and finally to the world.
Most important, I’ve admired Mary Ellen’s boundless creativity in promoting not a prescription for recovery, but a deep-seated belief that people are in charge of their own lives. This sounds so straightforward, and yet—for those who have been told they were incapable of caring for themselves, much less of having a fulfilling life—it’s nothing short of profound.
At its core, WRAP is a simple yet elegant system for helping individuals figure out what it takes to get well and stay well.
The very name—Wellness Recovery Action Plan—makes you feel both sheltered and empowered. It starts with wellness. The presumption is not that you are sick and need to be fixed—it’s that you are well and are able to deal with the ups and downs of life we all experience.
It underscores that we all are entitled to and capable of recovery, that we can each move forward with our lives.
It makes clear we can take action. We are not passive recipients of care—we are in the driver’s seat.
It says we are responsible for making a plan to recover. We know what it feels like when we are well. We know when we are starting to stumble. We know how to get back on track. We make the plan, and we live it every day. Simple, yet elegant.
So, yes, it’s true that Mary Ellen didn’t invent WRAP. And, no, it doesn’t belong to her. But she gave it an identity. She spearheaded a movement. She marketed it and branded it and fought for its very right to exist. And like any good parent, she has let go of its hand and let it walk on ahead of her.
I’m honored to be among the staff at AHP who are walking alongside WRAP as it continues to make its mark on the world. Mary Ellen’s legacy is driving us forward, secure in the knowledge that this is a program that works, for each and every one of us who use it, and for those who have yet to harness its power. We owe Mary Ellen our deepest gratitude and a well-deserved retirement. Godspeed, Mary Ellen!