New York/Westchester/Rockland

 Advocacy Coalition - NYWRAC
 Advocating Since

NYWRAC Graduation


28nd Advocacy Training

 April 5, 2011

At the Administrative Office 20 East First Street, Mount Vernon, NY


Rockland Psychiatric Center, Orangeburg, NY
Mount Vernon Hospital, Mount Vernon, NY
Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, NY
St. Joseph's Medical Center, Yonkers, NY
St. Vincent's Medical Center, Harrison, NY
Summit Park Hospital, Pomona, NY
Community Locations
Dimensions - New Rochelle, NY
Strawberry Fields - Orangeburg, NY
Rockland Psychiatric Center Campus, NY
Elmwood Club - Garnerville, NY
L'dor House - New City, NY
 Project Description

The NYWRAC advocates have redefined the mental health profession by acknowledging that each person knows themselves better than anyone, as opposed to others knowing what’s best for them.  Our primary job is to make contact with our peers in the hospital and community, listen to their expressed needs and feelings, and validate those needs and feelings through advocacy and support.  The Peer Advocacy we do leads to increased autonomy, self reliance and improved self worth.

NYWRAC fights for patients’ rights, provides one-to-one advocacy and systems advocacy.  NYWRAC Advocates also facilitate over 20  mutual-support groups each week.

Now more than ever, people have been helped to overcome the obstacles associated with poor mental health services through programs such as NYWRAC. No longer is it necessary for people to endure unjustified or illegal confinement or other abuses of their civil rights simply because they have sought help or drawn attention to themselves.

Each year NYWRAC serves thousands of attendees at mutual-support groups and provides one-to-one personal support with hundreds of individuals.  Advocates have used their personal testimony to open the minds and hearts of provider agencies, hospitals, community schools, police forces and newspapers all for the benefit of our peers.

Since 1994, NYWRAC has trained over 300 people as peer advocates.  NYWRAC serves people from New York City, Westchester County and Rockland County at Rockland Psychiatric Center.  In the past five years, Advocates have been placed at The Westchester Medical Center, Mt. Vernon Hospital and New York United Medical Center.  Our newest hospital additions are St. Vincent’s Medical Center, St. Joseph’s Medical Center and  Summit Park Hospital.

In addition to being in the hospitals, advocates are available to people living in the Westchester and Rockland communities.  Contact an advocate at 1 877 HELP 800.


Defining Peer Advocacy:

Advocates have said that at the beginning of their training they felt an inability to live their chosen life because of their mental illness.  Their mental illness was the thing that defined who they were and what they could not be.  Many of them had been taught that because of this brain disease they would always be dependent on others and never overcome it. 

They described their past as an extremely different and difficult place.  Their difficulties were compounded by not being listened to or understood.  In the process of seeking help, the advocates described losing their autonomy and being over controlled.  They told one another that they had been discounted, labelized, stigmatized, dehumanized and hospitalized.

Advocates stated that the information, education and encouragement offered during the training helped them to change their belief to a new sense of who they were and what they wanted.  They expressed that the training created a fresh feeling of hope, independence and purposefulness.  They saw themselves as people who could inspire and effectuate change in themselves and others.

As the training progressed, they felt counted, delivered and liberated from their label of mental illness.  They became aware that what was once called symptoms of an illness were real responses to real situations. Their eyes were opened to view their own experiences as valued expertise rather than necessary evils.

As pioneers in a new system, they see themselves as change agents to educate, witness, inform and prevent abuse.  Through love and humility, they are a consoling light that empathizes, comforts, and brings hope to others.  They open a new life to their peers while being good listeners, communicators and teachers.  Though others have called them role models and revolutionaries, advocates view themselves simply as part of a supportive network working for the expressed interest of their peers.   

Peer Advocacy Training:

NYWRAC presents a peer advocacy training twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. The training follows the Office of Mental Health guidelines for Peer Advocacy.
The training includes 72 hours in class training and a 48-hour internship at Rockland Psychiatric Center. Presenters come from around the State and speak on their expertise. Not only do the students learn from their instructors, but they learn from one another as well.
Some of the topics included are: Ethics and Confidentiality, Mental Hygiene Law, The History of the Mental Patient Liberation Movement, Facilitating Mutual Support Groups, Negotiating Skills, The Philosophy and Values of Peer Advocacy, Criminal Justice and Cultural Competence.

In the last nine years our agency has trained over 200 people. Graduates have found work with in our agency as well as employment with many other agencies across the state.
When the training draws to a close, graduates are asked to write an essay. These essays come from the heart, describing what was learned and experienced as a trainee. Parts of these essays are compiled into a word mosaic that is presented at the graduation ceremony in honor of each trainee.

Peer Advocacy Training Mosaic:

At the beginning of the peer advocacy training, I was relatively scared and timid. As time progressed I became more confident and listened to what people had to contribute and I was able to open up more.

I found there was a lot I didn’t know, and still more I need to learn. I learned humility, patience and acceptance of others. I watched the other participants in the training become a close knit group who accepted and supported each other.

What I learned is that I know more than I thought I knew and during this training I learned more. We need something to believe in and to believe in ourselves.
Everyone needs to be loved and listened to with an open mind and heart. I learned that you give it all you can, learn from it and try not to give up.

I learned better negotiating methods and received tips on how to advocate more successfully. But this course affected me even more. My self esteem rose. I discovered that many of the speakers had been hospitalized at least once just like myself. It gave me a sense of pride that these instructors became somebody. I can now say to a peer that you are somebody and the odds are much better than you think.

I have changed for the better. There were so many people from different backgrounds that came to the program and shared with us. We learned tools that we can use in life.
As I close this essay I want to thank all of you, students and teachers alike, for giving me yet another sense of hope to keep going in my struggles to become real. To paraphrase a few lines from the Velveteen Rabbit by Margarie Williams, that I continually turn to.

"What is real” said the Velveteen Rabbit to the Skin Horse, who had been made real long ago. “Real is not something you are. Its something you become when a child loves you, not just to play with, but really loves you. Then you become real and it last for always.” “Does it hurt,” asked the Velveteen Rabbit, “Yes,” said the Skin Horse, “But when you are real you don’t mind.”  

Collective Reality: NYWRAC’s trainees Spring 2003  

Training Curriculum - 72 hours Classroom
48 hours Internship
  1. NYWRAC History

  2. History of the Mental Patients Liberation Movement

  3. History of the Family Movement

  4. Alternative Health Curriculum

  5. Expressed Interest vs. Best Interest

  6. Cultural Competency

  7. Benefits and Entitlements

  8. Crisis Management

  9. Confidentiality and Ethics

  10. Mental Hygiene Law, Civil Commitment

  11. Patients Rights

  12. Self Help and Mutual Support Training

  13. Hope and Recovery

  14. Negotiating Skills

  15. Generic Mental Health Services in the Community

  16. Peer Advocacy

  17. Systems Advocacy

  18. Criminal Justice System

  19. Talking to a Psychiatrist

  20. A Gift From Within

  21. Understanding Our Expertise is Our Experience

  22. Bridging

  23. Street Drug Use and Mental Health

  24. Spirituality

  25. Values Exchange

  26. One to One Contacts

  27. Self Help and Mutual Support Groups

  28. Circle of Support



Applying for Peer Advocacy Training is easy; simply contact us at our Peer Support Line at 1-877-HELP-800 or contact NYWRAC directly at 845-398-7098, and we sign you up to the next scheduled advocacy training.