NEW - Peer / Self Advocacy Program brochure (pdf) (2 pages, March 2013, Pub #5520.01)
In the mid-1980s, grassroots client organizations advocated for the passage of legislation to protect the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities. As a result of their efforts, the PAIMI Act (Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness) was passed in 1986 to create Protection & Advocacy organizations (P&A) in every state to provide advocacy services for individuals with mental illness.
In collaboration with California’s P&A agency, Protection & Advocacy, Inc., or PAI (currently, Disability Rights California), the California Network of Mental Health Clients (CNMHC) created a client-run advocacy program to teach mental health clients/consumers about their rights and how to exercise them. Under a 2-year contract, they developed and implemented a self-advocacy program based on the self-help philosophy that people who identify as mental health clients could best provide education as role models for their peers. In 1989, the contract ended and the Peer/Self-Advocacy program was established as an integral part of Disability Rights California with funding from the PAIMI grant.
PSA Staff, 2011
In 1989, there was one Peer/Self-Advocacy Coordinator at PAI in Sacramento who facilitated self-advocacy groups in that region.
In 1995, the Peer/Self-Advocacy (PSA) Unit was formed as a separate entity in the organization. We hired additional PSA Coordinators, with one based in each of the PAI offices in Sacramento, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego. The founder of the PSA Unit, Lori Shepherd, was the Unit Coordinator and supervised program staff and services.
In 1997, six part-time PSA Trainers were hired to provide services in remote areas, including Eureka, Santa Rosa and Riverside. Trainers are people connected to local self-help groups who link people in facilities with those in their local communities.
In 1998, the Unit Director was established to supervise the unit’s services.
In 2001, we hired 2 Senior PSA Coordinators, one in the North and one in the South. We also hired a bi-lingual/bi-cultural Coordinator in the Central Valley, and had 12 part-time Trainers throughout the state.
In 2006, through a grant from the California Endowment, we provided self-advocacy services through the Health Advocacy Project (HAP) in various board & care facilities throughout San Diego county.
In 2007, the PSA Unit continued to grow with a total of 17 staff members, including self-advocacy and administrative support staff. With assistance from Sonoma County’s Mental Health Services Act funding, we hired one full-time Coordinator to provide services in this region.
PSA members gathered in Sacramento in August 2007 for their annual goal-setting meeting.
Top row: Gabby Poblete-Morales, David Solis, Senobia Pichardo, Alicia Mendoza, Martha Cook
Middle row: Rob Chittenden, Mark Olberg, Yvonne McGough
Front row: Robyn Gantsweg
Not present: Karyn Farr, Miriam Faris, Garnet Magnus, Michael McPherson, Sheryl Bradford
In 2008, we hired a bilingual/bicultural Senior Coordinator in the Central Valley
From the beginning, our goals have been to:
- Help people understand their human, legal, and service rights;
- Help people learn to exercise their rights to get what they need;
- Help people become advocates for themselves and their peers;
- Provide training and technical assistance to community self-help groups as they develop and implement advocacy projects.
- The value of training peers to teach advocacy skills is that we have an intimate understanding of the needs of people seek mental health services. We have personal experience navigating the bureaucratic maze of the mental health and other public systems and act as role models who teach people from a practical perspective how to understand and exercise their legal rights.
We focus our work on teaching people how to advocate for themselves rather than providing direct advocacy for them.
By training people to advocate for their own rights, the PSA program decreases the stigma associated with mental illness and helps decrease the discrimination and dehumanizing effects often experienced in the mental health system.
To carry out our goals, we provide weekly peer/self-advocacy trainings in Institutions for the Treatment of Mental Disease (IMDs) and State Hospitals. We do this by helping residents start their own self-advocacy group. The residents decide what they want to learn about, and we develop a training plan with materials to teach participants how to develop and implement advocacy projects they have chosen. PSA staff takes into account the residents’ skill levels and preferred ways of learning information. Topics can include patients' rights, conservatorship, communication skills, legal status, penal code extensions, and how to get out and stay out of facilities.
We also provide peer/self-advocacy trainings in the community. This may include helping people create their own self-advocacy groups, providing outreach to traditionally underserved and unserved communities, and presenting workshops on specific topics selected by participants, such as learning about community resources and supports, public benefits, employment rights and opportunities, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Psychiatric Advance Directives, and strategies for living independently in the community. We also provide technical assistance and meet with people to help them with specific advocacy projects that they have identified. Examples of these projects include: planning and organizing a self-help and advocacy conference; coordinating a public forum with law enforcement officers to improve relations with mental health clients; inviting a judge to discuss conservatorship hearings; voter registration drives; and creating and newsletters by and for the client community.
Training seminars on topics such as legal rights in the mental health system, negotiation and self-advocacy skills, how to develop effective relationships with mental health providers, how to obtain public benefits, and voting rights.
Training on self-advocacy skills through group discussions, role-plays, guest speakers, and the development of strategies in problem-solving and negotiation.
On-going technical assistance to people wishing to develop peer/self advocacy programs in their local communities.
Outreach presentations regarding community resources and self-advocacy to people in traditionally underserved and unserved communities.
Collaboration with other staff members at Disability Rights California to help people identify and pursue a legal or legislative issue. For example:
- The self-advocacy groups for forensic residents at both Patton and Napa State Hospitals wanted to meet with an attorney to provide them with specific legal information and assistance. As a result, PSA staff assisted group members in establishing an "Ask-a-Lawyer Day.”
- One of the self-advocacy groups in the community wanted to learn about the legislative process, so the Legislation and Public Information Unit presented a workshop on legislative information.
- If an individual group member has a specific legal issue and seeks more detailed assistance than we can provide in a group setting, we refer him/her to the Legal Unit to make an intake appointment with one of our attorneys.
- Provide 20 ongoing self-advocacy groups
- Present 15 workshops on various topics requested by group members and clients in the community
- Conduct 10 outreaches to inform people in the communities about services provided by Disability Rights California and the PSA program
- Develop 2 new sample action plans with materials for staff to use while providing self-advocacy services
- Participate in the planning process and oversee the implementation of the Mental Health Services Act in counties across the state
- Continue work on the California Memorial Project, including organizing the annual Remembrance Ceremonies, collecting oral histories from former residents of state institutions and placing monuments at Patton State Hospital and the Ukiah Cemetery.