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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 7/8/2014

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


It Takes a Community: Learning Together about Tools and Strategies to Support People through Emotional Distress

Thursday, May 29, 2014
3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time

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  • Leah Harris, M.A., Director, National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery and an Emotional CPR facilitator
  • Lisbeth Riis Cooper, Founder , Vice Chair, and visionary behind CooperRiis Healing Community and Founding Partner of "Families Healing Together"
  • Tom Murray, Ph.D., LMFT, LPC-S, Director of Counseling and Testing Services at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and a certified trainer and facilitator of the Partners in Change Outcome Management System and Emotional CPR

Teleconference Overview

There are many ways that community members can be equipped to provide an informed and compassionate approach to assist individuals facing mental health issues and to prevent potential crises. While most people want to be helpful, they often don't know how to offer effective assistance to others. We all struggle at times, whether due to depression, anxiety, other mental health challenges, or simply the stresses and challenges of daily life. In these situations, the support of others can make a significant and meaningful difference. Having a supportive community and people to turn to can prevent unnecessary tragedies.

The White House has recognized this important priority and launched a series of community dialogues about mental health, currently underway in cities across the Nation. Participation in these dialogues has demonstrated the high level of community interest in learning more about mental health and addictions and how to foster a supportive and inclusive community. There are many successful programs and initiatives that help people feel that they belong and that they have a safe place in the community so when they need support or resources they get them. Common sense tells us that when people have support and appropriate outlets for their distress or rage they are less likely to act out in desperation—harming themselves or others.

Understandably, tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, the Washington Navy Yard shootings, and others have left many members of the community feeling vulnerable, fearful, and perhaps even a bit powerless to effect change as a community. This training teleconference is an effort to address these situations and share tools and resources that anyone can use at any time to support someone through an emotional crisis or to prevent an escalation to an emotional crisis. Individuals no longer need to struggle in isolation. This training offers help that helps.

Recognizing the importance of equipping all community members to assist and support someone who is experiencing emotional distress, people who have experienced mental health challenges have collaborated with leaders in behavioral health to develop innovative approaches to prepare friends, family members, teachers, administrators, and others to reach out to people they believe may be facing distress. The goal of this webinar is to provide participants with information about these tools and available supports, both for themselves and to help others.

During this webinar, the first of a two-part series focused on mental health promotion and early intervention, you will hear three speakers describe how each of us can work to better our community's health and wellness through supportive actions. You'll learn about Emotional CPR, a simple yet powerful community-building tool that teaches people how to support someone through emotional distress or crisis. You'll learn about "Families Healing Together," an organization that believes in "the healing power of community and [is] dedicated to helping families recover from mental health challenges" and works to support families through recovery-focused online educational tools and support programs. And finally, you'll learn how one university is adopting new practices that encourage and equip both teachers and students to support members of their community experiencing mental health challenges.

We invite you to join us in learning how all of us can make a difference.

Learning Objectives:

  • To provide participants with information about tools and supports available, both for themselves and to support others before they reach crisis mode. Use of these tools and supports is the most cost-effective approach, in both financial and human terms, for preventing crises.
  • To learn about recovery education and support for families and how these can help individuals and families to cope with distress and promote mutual support and family healing.
  • To learn how innovative practices on one university campus are promoting a more supportive campus community and how these practices can be adapted for use in other university settings.

Target Audiences:

  • Community members
  • Individuals in recovery, their family members, and their friends
  • People experiencing mental health, substance use, and trauma-related challenges
  • Leaders of community- and faith-based organizations
  • Mental health and substance use treatment service providers
  • Healthcare providers
  • Parent-teacher associations and school officials for grades K-12
  • Higher education administrators, faculty, members of student organizations, and service providers
  • Employers, employee assistance program staff, and human resource professionals
  • Federal, State, and local staff, policymakers, and community leaders

Speaker Biographies:

Leah Harris, M.A., is a mother, activist, writer, and a person with a psychiatric history. She is also the daughter of two parents who were diagnosed with severe mental illness, both of whom died very young as a result of their disabilities. This depth of personal experience fuels Leah's unstoppable commitment to ensuring human rights and a meaningful life in the community for people experiencing emotional distress and extreme states. Leah has been a nationally recognized leader in the consumer/survivor movement for over a decade. She has written and spoken widely about her own experiences of trauma and healing, and as a family member of people diagnosed with mental health issues. She is currently the Director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery. Additionally, she consults on trauma-informed practice for the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care, and on new innovations in suicide prevention with the Center for Dignity, Recovery and Empowerment, a project of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. She is an Emotional CPR facilitator, and she promotes alternative approaches to supporting individuals through distress and crisis and into recovery.

Lisbeth Riis Cooper is the founder, Vice Chair, and visionary behind CooperRiis Healing Community in Western North Carolina, a residential community where individuals with mental illness and emotional distress learn how to recover and thrive through a comprehensive program that addresses mind, body, spirit, and heart. Ms. Riis Cooper saw a need to establish a new kind of mental health organization, a therapeutic community where individuals could become whole and regain self-esteem, following 10 years of navigating a fragmented mental healthcare system trying to help a close family member who struggled with mental illness. She had become frustrated and angered by the system. She chose to turn her anger into action, creating from the ground up, with her husband, Don Cooper, a healing community where people could truly recover and go on to lead meaningful lives. The CooperRiis Healing Community takes a holistic recovery approach. Residents focus on realizing their dreams and goals rather than on the limitations of diagnoses. “Three things we all need more than anything in this world are hope, purpose, and community,” Ms. Riis Cooper says. “In our community, we help residents restore hope and purpose.”

Ms. Riis Cooper and her husband are also strong advocates for a new kind of learning for families that goes beyond educating about just symptoms and medication and instead really gets to the heart of the matter. With this resolve, Lisbeth is a Founding Partner who helped launch "Families Healing Together," an online family recovery education community, which offers two classes that focus on possibilities, strengths, role clarification, letting go, communication, boundaries, and hope. 

Tom Murray, Ph.D., LMFT, LPC-S, is the Director of Counseling and Testing Services at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Dr. Murray is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor. He received his graduate training from the University of Florida’s Department of Counselor Education in 2001 and 2005. Currently, Dr. Murray remains professionally engaged by serving on faculty within Walden University's School of Counseling and within Wake Forest University's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine as a voluntary clinical assistant professor. In addition, he serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, published by the American Mental Health Counselors Association. In addition, Dr. Murray is a certified trainer and facilitator of the Partners in Change Outcome Management System and Emotional CPR, respectively; both approaches aim at elevating and privileging the voices of those in distress.

As a self-proclaimed professional gadfly, Dr. Murray addresses systemic factors within the mental health industry that diminish the quality of care. Specifically, his professional writing, lectures, and other speaking engagements have examined the role and ethical implications of psychopharmacology on the profession and those whom mental health care providers serve. Dr. Murray's current interests also include the adoption of client-directed, outcome-informed mental health delivery within college and university counseling centers, as well as bringing to light the negative impact that the belief in the disease model has on the psychology of clients.

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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.