Peer-run Respites: Effective Alternatives to Hospitals

Georgia was one of 3 States featured in the SAMHSA sponsored webinar, “Peer-Run Respites: Effective Alternatives to Hospitals”. Jayme Lynch, CPS, Director of the first PSWRC (2008), and Roslind Hayes, CPS, Statewide Coordinator of the PSWRCs presented to over 700 webinar participants about Georgia’s five Peer Support Wellness and Respite Centers (PSWRCs), which are operated by the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network through a contract with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities. Georgia’s PSWRCs offer 24/7 peer support over the phone; Wellness Activities 7 days a week; and up to 7 consecutive nights of respite, an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization, that uses a strengths-based approach to focus on realizing opportunities for recovery.

The PSWRCs are managed and staffed by Certified Peer Specialists who participate in on-going extensive training to insure that the center environments are welcoming, comfortable, trauma-informed, safe, inclusive, nurturing, respectful, and supportive of intentionally mutual relationships between staff and guests that allow individuals to learn new ways of seeing and relating to themselves, others and the world. Participation in center activities is free and strictly voluntary; no professional referrals are accepted. Proactive Conversation establishes peer relationships before a respite stay is needed.

To learn more about Georgia’s PSWRCs go to The archived webinar can be downloaded at

Tony Sanchez’s RESPECT Institute Experience

In December, 2016, Tony Sanchez, Director of Recovery Transformation Services at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities participated in a RESPECT Institute of Georgia training that was hosted at the Sparrow’s Nest in Athens. Below, Tony shares his thoughts about his experience.

For several years, I have heard from many Peers that the RI training was a trans-formative experience. In December, 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in a RI and I can affirm that it is trans-formative – and healing.

I confess that I felt vulnerable when I started sharing my story with the other participants. I wasn’t planning on it, but I found myself sharing
experiences and feelings that I had never shared with anyone before. I actually think everyone felt vulnerable, but there was so much encouragement and compassion, that everyone took a chance. Everyone took a chance to be open and authentic and though it felt raw emotionally, it was also very liberating and healing.

Having been a veteran of the 12-step program, I assumed that the RI training would come easy to me. But I realized that the expectations of the RI require a different approach. For example, the exercise of having to write out my story and condense 40 years of my life into a 10-minute presentation demanded that I prioritize my lived experiences and at the same time deliver an educational and poignant message. This was not an easy task, but as I continued to edit my presentation, I realized how far I had come in my recovery. I realized that my resilience and recovery eclipse all of the pains and struggles of my life.

What I will treasure the most from my RI experience is the feedback sessions. After a participant shares their story, everyone is so encouraging and empathetic and compassionate that these sessions felt sacred. And when you consider that these stories have been held inside for so long due to shame and stigma, these sessions truly are sacred.

In my position at [DBHDD], I have had many opportunities to hear RI Graduates begin an important meeting by sharing their stories. Now that I have participated in a RI, I want to impress upon everyone that behind every 10-minute inspirational presentation, there is an enormous amount of effort. The RI is designed with great precision, but to get the optimal benefits, a participant goes through three days of intense, emotional and sometimes exhausting processes as they make peace with their past and learn to tell their story. And telling their stories is precisely what the RESPECT Institute Graduates do – every day. To date, RESPECT Institute Graduates have presented their recovery stories to over 100,000 Georgia stakeholders.

From The RESPECT Institute of Georgia Team
We encourage all Graduates to go into their community and tell their story!
Jen Banathy
RESPECT Institute of Georgia Organizational Development Coordinator
Denise Hardy
RESPECT Institute of Georgia Training Coordinator
Shelia Corn
RESPECT Institute of Georgia
Outreach Coordinator
Lindsey Sizemore
RESPECT Institute of Georgia
Outreach Coordinator

Tony Sanchez’s RESPECT Institute Experience

Working on the road to recovery


In the past, people living with mental health challenges were often encouraged not to work. But on the road to recovery, finding purpose through meaningful activities, such as employment, can be helpful.

At East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta, the work therapy program aims to empower people with skills learned on the job. The program is guided by several principles and practices, including supported employment that helps people with severe mental illness work at regular jobs of their choosing.

“Through the work therapy program, consumers can become contributors, and people who are isolated can become engaged,” said Work Therapy Coordinator Tiffany Snow.


The scope of work ranges from individual experiences to group experiences that includes hobbies and career exploration to campus job sites. At both the Augusta and Gracewood campuses, individuals have the opportunity to work at the treatment mall, in the central kitchen, with the yard crew, in the library, and in the apparel shop, among other job sites. More than 50 individuals have paid employment, more than 20 individuals are in training and groups, and three individuals are in transitional employment.

Recovery-oriented cognitive therapy (CT-R) also is an important component of the work therapy program. DBHDD staff were trained by the Beck Initiative in 2014 through a series of workshops and weekly consultations.  The work therapy program now utilizes CT-R to help people who may continue to experience symptoms or challenges.


The program continues to expand by strengthening connections with vocational rehabilitation and supported employment providers, and by developing off-campus work and volunteer opportunities.

Forensic Peer Mentor Program Expands to Help More Georgia Returning Citizens

Cohort 3 convened at GDC’s State Offices South at Tift College in Forsyth, GA for the 40 hour Forensic Peer Mentor Training, facilitated by Jill Mays (DBHDD; 1st row, 3rd from the left), Jonathan “DJ” Rees (The Main Link, Pennsylvania; 1st row, 2nd from right), and Sharon Williams (GMHCN; 2nd row, far right).

In 2014, Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), Department of Corrections (GDC), and the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN) embarked on a partnership to offer innovative peer support to Georgia’s returning citizens through the Forensic Peer Mentor Program. In 2015, the partnership expanded to include the newly formed Department of Community Supervision (DCS). Plans are underway for the program to expand into additional facilities in January 2017.

On November 28, 2016, the third cohort of 15 certified peer specialists (CPS) and certified addiction recovery empowerment specialists (CARES) began the weeklong training designed to help them use their own experience in the criminal justice system and their recovery from a behavioral health disorder to help the people that they will support.  As forensic peer mentors, they will help individuals leaving correctional facilities with transition/release planning; obtaining stable housing; employment; disability benefits; transportation coordination; linkage to community behavioral  health services and recovery supports; and learning new skills.

The training was facilitated by Jonathan “DJ” Rees, a subject matter expert on the forensic peer movement, as well as the Sequential Intercept Model, an emerging best practice that assists communities in identifying points of interception along the criminal justice system continuum where stakeholders can intervene to prevent individuals with mental illness from going to jail/prison due to offenses that may be related to their symptoms.

According to Rees, “when returning citizens are released from jail, they face challenges like discrimination in being hired for a job and finding housing in the community.  Despite these challenges, peer support can reduce the recidivism rate of people returning to jail.”

Upcoming program expansion will include placement of forensic peer mentors at four GDC state prison sites, two DCS day reporting centers, one mental health court, and one DBHDD regional hospital. This expansion brings the total number of the forensically trained CPS and CARES workforce across the state to 37, and increases the number of worksites from 11 to 17.

“Since enrolling our first returning citizen in April of 2015 into the Forensic Peer Mentor program, the program has really taken off,” said Jill Mays, assistant director of DBHDD’s Office of Adult Mental Health and coordinator of the Forensic Peer Mentor Program.  “Data shows that we have been able to greatly increase successful re-entry and reduce the recidivism rate for individuals with mental illness and/or co-occurring substance use disorders who are being released from prison or on probation/parole.  Our belief is that with support from the forensic peer mentors and other appropriate community resources, all returning citizens have the capacity to live and thrive in the community.”

Faith community asked to help combat the stigma of addiction

12512449_1114324658610909_734155431369925453_nMore than 100 leaders in the faith community, social workers, government officials, and families of individuals with substance use disorders gathered in Gwinnett last week to discuss the rising heroin crisis. Navigate Recovery Gwinnett, a nonprofit organization connecting individuals to addiction treatment services, hosted the event at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth.

Heroin is one of the most addictive substances in the world. The rise in its use correlates with an increase of pain reliever prescriptions. In 2013, 681,000 Americans used heroin, more than double from the previous decade. In Georgia, 1,206 deaths in 2014 were caused by heroin overdoses, an increase of 10.2 percent from 2013.

“DBHDD is trying to avert the problem that’s increasing from heroin and opioid use with access to services, a smoother transition into the community with recovery support services, and growing partnerships with our stakeholders,” said Wrayanne Glaze Parker, women’s program Coordinator in DBHDD’s Office of Addictive Diseases.

At the event last week, many of those on the front lines, including Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathy Schrader who oversees the local drug court, implored faith leaders to help combat the stigma of addiction.

Profiles in success: Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia

With a history of mental health challenges and substance use disorders, as well as felonies on record, “Gloria” sought help from Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia (BHS). She was referred to an outpatient treatment program for women. After several months in recovery, she entered BHS’ Shelter Care Plus program, which provides permanent housing and support services to those who are homeless and have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

When Gloria was ready to find a job, BHS connected her with G&B Works, Inc., a supported employment service in Valdosta. They helped her build a successful résumé, researched companies that had openings, and provided transportation to the businesses so that she could apply in person and fill out applications.

“The supported employment program is so vital to people with a background and history such as mine,” said Gloria. “Not only from the beginning with the job hunting process, but with the continued moral support and most definitely with the transportation assistance. Without [that], I would have no other way to get back and forth to work every day.”

Gloria’s work experience and qualifications landed her an interview with Pleats & Creases Dry Cleaners, but it was her honesty about her past and her commitment to a better future that secured her a job.

“She is a productive and valued employee, working to live with the tragic life event of addiction,” said her boss Evan. “If she met the initial employment scrutiny and performed as desired, then it wasn’t my place in this world to judge the past.”

Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia is one of twenty-six community service boards in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ statewide public safety network. Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia serves individuals with mental health and addiction disorders and developmental disabilities in Ben Hill, Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, Tift, and Turner counties.

A career in recovery celebrated


Mark Baker, DBHDD’s director of recovery transformation, began with the department in 2010.  In five short years, he leaves a lasting imprint on the agency and many in the community who have benefited from his dedication to the people we serve. 

Tell us about your career before DBHDD.
I started my career in Boston as an opera singer after attending the New England Conservatory of Music.  Then I went to seminary at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1979.  From seminary, I went to work at an urban, city church called Grace Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  It was a poor, depressed mill town, and it was at the height of deinstitutionalization in Massachusetts (1980). 

That’s when I started really doing the kind of work that I wanted to do, which was working with people who are out on the street, people who were poor, people who were being deinstitutionalized and marginalized.  From there, I got involved with working with homeless people in Boston, and those with mental health challenges.

What brought you to Georgia?
In 1995, I came to Atlanta, where I worked at Church of the Holy Comforter in Ormewood Park.  The parishioners were primarily very poor, and many – about 70-80% – had mental health issues and lived in the group homes in the area.

It was right around the run-up to the Olympics in ‘96 that I met Larry Fricks.  He was trying to set up some oases for people who, during the Olympics, might get shifted around from downtown.  So he was going around and trying to set up these Friendship Centers, so we signed up to do that, and once they Olympics were over, we just kept doing the friendship center at Holy Comforter, and that turned into a huge recovery program.  We played music; we played Uno; we did art, and we just kind of started building community.  That evolved into recovery through the arts, the first program of its kind in Atlanta.  Then we also got a nurses’ program and a GED program going – all of this at no cost to the state; this is just what the church did.

How long were you at Holy Comforter?
Eight years.  In 2003, I went to New York, then I came back to Georgia two years later and worked in AmericanWork’s peer support program in Toccoa.  I came to DBHDD as director of advocacy in 2010.

What has been most important to you in your work with DBHDD?
When I came here, there were two things I wanted to do.  I wanted to push as hard as I could at advancing recovery and developing recovery as a way to approach behavioral health for people everywhere.  And I wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity for people with lived experience to tell their story to the system.  And we’ve been able to do both of those things.  That was it—that was all I wanted to do.

What does recovery mean to you?
What recovery means to me is that there’s only one person who can take responsibility for my wellbeing, and that’s me.  Recovery is that there is no greater authority on how to live my life, and how to live it in a healthy wholesome way, than me.  Recovery is also the realization, the awareness, and the experience that it happens not in isolation, but in relationship to other people. 

Recovery is also about realizing that wellness is not just about the absence of disease or illness – that there is something about mental health and health itself which has everything to do with hope, with strength, with goodness, with what’s working for me, as opposed to what hurts, what’s wrong, what’s broken, what needs to be fixed.

I always think that recovery comes down to three questions:

  • What’s working for you?
  • What gives you hope?
  • And what do you need to be successful?

And those are all positively stated affirmations, even though they’re questions.  That is where recovery starts.

What are your thoughts in closing as you look back on your career – what we’ve accomplished at the state, and where we are headed in the future?
This is an amazing group of people here.  These are people who really have vision; they have incredible hearts; they have incredible minds; and they have incredible skills.  I cannot say enough about my colleagues here at 2 Peachtree and in the field and the hospitals.

I hear more and more that the most important thing in recovery is the person – the end user is really of tantamount importance to everybody.  That to me is the amazing shift.  I have yet to be in a meeting that is not focused on the end user.  I hear that continuously expressed, “how’s this going to work out there?”  That, to me, is the accomplishment.

When I came to DBHDD as the director of advocacy, the point was to make sure that advocacy had a seat at the leadership table, and it did.  And I think that that will continue to be a challenge for whoever is in this position – how to maintain the balance between being a full-fledged member of DBHDD, which I am proud of being, and also having another foot out there on the street.  To maintain the awareness – the intentionality – of being an advocate, and how to continue to bring advocacy to the table here at DBHDD because that’s the path of wisdom – to be able to hear what advocacy is calling for and figure out how to make it work.

Last question: What do you plan to do with all your new free time?
I’m going to fish.  I’m going to work in my woodshop, hoe my garden, and play the banjo – I’m in a string band.


Creative Recovery Art Exhibit

(L-R) DBHDD Commissioner Frank Berry, Adult Mental Health Director Terri Timberlake, and NAMI Georgia Executive Director Kim Jones
(L-R) DBHDD Commissioner Frank Berry, DBHDD Adult Mental Health Director Terri Timberlake, and NAMI Georgia Executive Director Kim Jones

On September 9, 2015, DBHDD hosted the first annual Creative Recovery Art Exhibit showcasing the talents of people who live with mental health challenges, and the role that creative outlets like art can play in the recovery process.  Held at the Venetian Room at Hurt Plaza in downtown Atlanta, the event drew a crowd of about 75 people.  It was sponsored by DBHDD’s Office of Adult Mental Health and NAMI Georgia, and featured artwork submitted by people who receive or have received services from DBHDD’s adult community mental health providers.

Research has shown that many individuals in recovery from mental health challenges report the importance of art as an integral component of their recovery journey.  Writing, painting, drawing, jewelry-making, and other arts are enjoyable activities which can also be a portal for expression of emotions and experiences that individuals may not have been able to express in any other way.  Art is used in many community mental health programs in Georgia as a powerful healing tool to help individuals explore deep emotions—the sadness, the hopelessness, the fear, and eventually the relief, the joys, and the hope of a new day.

“Art has been a huge part of my recovery,” said Candy C., one of the exhibit’s featured artists.  “When I had been at my lowest point, picking up my pencils has helped me tremendously.  I oftentimes find myself in another world, a quite beautiful world where creativity takes place inside of me.  When life appears dark, pencil in hand, provides an outlet which is indescribable.  I am so grateful to have this talent from God.  I often find myself drawing when life seems unbearable.  This allows me to find peace and harmony.”

Stephanie T., another featured artist who is now earns a living with her art, shared her enthusiasm about the art and recovery connection: “Give art inspiration—art will give your recovery so much more.  Art is a process, the same as the recovery process.  Art has contributed to my recovery by giving me proper solitude. . . . Because art and recovery are deeply personal, art and recovery is a very unique way of changing people’s attitudes, values, feelings, and goals.  Earning a living as an artist is satisfying and contributes to life through meaning and purpose. . . .  Art is a life-long passion that gives me the perfect balance of a meaningful life despite my mental illness.”

The also exhibit featured several other artists.  Provider agencies represented included: Pineland CSB, View Point Health, Georgia Rehabilitation Outreach, Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, Lookout Mountain, and McIntosh Trail.

DBHDD partners with Beck Center to provide cognitive therapy training

Graduates of the Beck Initiative from the Region 1 Field Office.

DBHDD providers in north Georgia recently welcomed 20 more graduates of the Beck Initiative, a clinical and educational program that focuses on cognitive therapy training and consultation for community mental health networks.

The training was conducted by faculty from the Aaron T. Beck Psychopathology Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania whose founder and namesake is widely recognized as the father of cognitive therapy and one of the world’s leading researchers in psychopathology. Participants engaged in workshops and hands-on training by working with people in recovery, including individuals with severe mental illness and substance use disorders, and people who experience chronic homelessness.

“The Beck Initiative has been transformative for our state,” said Monica Parker, director of DBHDD’s Division of Behavioral Health. “This evidence-based treatment model provides clinicians, case managers, and many others with tools they can use to not only effectively engage individuals in services, but also produce outcomes that lead to recovery.”

The department’s partnership with the Aaron Beck Center began three years ago with a pilot program in southwest Georgia. DBHDD provided funding to disseminate the Cognitive Training Recovery model across the state to community providers, as well as DBHDD hospital staff. Georgia State University’s Center of Excellence for Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health, a DBHDD partner whose goal is to develop and implement a sustainable System of Care that is individualized and driven by child and family needs, will continue training efforts.

“The training implementation has been successful and we are pleased that hundreds of people have participated and demonstrate a commitment to continuing to use the skills gained through the trainings,” said Parker.

The Aaron T. Beck Psychopathology Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania develops and evaluates treatments for psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and suicide behavior.

Correction: The original story referred to the Aaron Beck Center incorrectly as the Aaron Beck Institute.

Family-oriented home opens for women with substance use disorders

Photo courtesy of the Statesboro Herald

Pineland Behavioral Health, DBHDD’s community service board in southeastern Georgia, opened the Women’s Transition and Recovery Home in Statesboro last week for those in need of a safe, family-oriented home. This residential facility serves women who have substance use disorders who seek an alternative method of recovery and rehabilitation.

In-home services include group and individual counseling, parenting and job skills classes, and therapeutic sessions for children whose family members live with addiction.

“It is a real home, a refuge for women with children in need of help getting back to healthy lives,” said Pineland executive director June DiPolito.

DBHDD Commissioner Frank Berry spoke at the July 29 ribbon cutting and open house, which was attended by several women and children who will be residents at the new home. Community donations from Bulloch County have helped refurbish and furnish the house. Volunteers have landscaped the yard and decorated the interior.

To volunteer or donate to the home, email