Last week in Oakland, CA, I attended the Professional Development of Consumer and Family Member Staff Seminar put on by Working Well Together, which is a collaborative between four organizations, including NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness). Geared toward professionals and consumers of mental health disabilities, the seminar reviewed topics such as the “recovery model” for mental illness (which, by the way, will be a topic for a future article), learning modalities, using coping skills to deal with stressful job situations, and we participated in group discussions, and team exercises. There was a lot of learning going on, and many interesting, thoughtful, and supportive conversations happening.
It’s been awhile since I attended an in-person conference, so it was refreshing, and once it began, I felt right at home. Attending, networking, and sharing resources made me feel like an important part of my community. In addition, I connected with about 40 mental health professionals, consumers, and advocates.
I brought plenty of business cards (a must for any networking event) for promoting ILivewithADisability.com (ILWAD) and my writing and career counseling services, of course. As I introduced myself to the audience, I strategically mentioned my role in ILWAD and our mission, and the response was welcoming. People were very excited and I was pleasantly surprised that most everyone was interested in this fairly new concept for people with disabilities. One person even told me he had heard of us before, so I was thrilled. I’m hoping that everyone I met will go back to work and share the ILWAD resource with their clients, so we can get more readers and members, and support them in their desires to become and stay independent. We welcome, with open arms, all members, whether you have a disability, or are a supporter of someone who does.
Many of the participating organizations of the conference employ people who have mental health diagnoses in hopes they can offer their clients personal experience and provide encouragement. What a concept! I love that, and it makes complete sense; I would want to work with a counselor who made me feel comfortable.
One of the conference topics we discussed included discovering different learning and personality styles, in hopes of better understanding coworkers as well as clients. We all have to get along at work! In talking about employment and writing resumes, we reviewed some common soft skills (such as working well with others, having compassion, taking initiative, and being thorough). We compared those skills to ones you can learn on the job, such as, Microsoft Word or Photoshop, operating a cash register, driving a forklift, filing paperwork, and creating an office schedule. Reviewing what good customer services meant to our organizations and finding improvement within those services was another topic of discussion.
I am so glad that I had the opportunity to attend this conference and to be around so many supportive people. It was wonderful to feel a sense of community, share resources, and support one another in our own careers as well as sharing tips on assisting our clients.
If you live in California and would like to find out about the WWT services in your area, please follow the link below: http://www.workingwelltogether.org/dnn/
Here are some free learning resources for professionals as well as clients: http://workingwelltogether.org/dnn/Training/WWTCurricula.aspx