WRAP: Transforming Patterns of Distress into Recovery and Wellness

Ypsilanti, Daniel

Huffington Post recently posted an article, “22 ‘Red Flags’ That Might Mean You’re Slipping Back into Depression.” To support this increase in awareness, the article quotes 22 different individuals who share personal warning signs they have learned to recognize. Indeed, learning to notice early signs of increasing distress can often make a genuine difference–especially if distress has repeatedly overwhelmed our capacity to live meaningfully and productively.

All About WRAP

Wellness Recovery Action Plan®, also known as WRAP, is a self-directed approach to reclaiming our lives from the impacts of overwhelming distress. The process of building a Wellness Recovery Action Plan includes working to recognize patterns of increasing distress and, like the article, inspires participants through learning how other people are doing this. In fact, Mary Ellen Copeland developed WRAP through both formal research and many less formal dialogues with groups of individuals who, like herself, had faced overwhelming mental health challenges. As Copeland learned how people like her had worked to reclaim their lives, she applied those findings to her own recovery, shared widely with others, and created and refined the WRAP program.

Group participation is the optimal format for WRAP, although other ways of learning are possible. WRAP starts wherever we are, right now—living as well as we currently experience, ourselves—by supporting us to recognize what is already strong within us and what is already working in our lives. Building a WRAP includes creating a “daily maintenance plan”—deciding which “wellness tools,” coping strategies, or other essential practices we may also work to add into our own daily lives, or to make more consistent. (These may include conventional mental health resources. Yet the clear emphasis for what is included in any WRAP is each individual’s own choice 1. This choice includes whether we understand our own recurring distress as a return of depression, or some other mental health condition–or, for instance, as a response to trauma, loss, marginalization or other adversity.)

Recognizing Signs and Stages

The WRAP process supports group members to learn to recognize different signs and stages of increasing distress. These include:

  • “Triggers” or activating experiencesexternal events which if they occur, and we do not take any proactive steps, may lead to a downward spiral in how we are acting, thinking, feeling, or otherwise experiencing.
  • Other “early warning signs” which may be recognized—in the absence of any familiar activating events—as changes in our own thoughts, feelings, sensations or other internal/private experiences, or by recognizing changes in the way we are acting.
  • “When things are breaking down”—signs we may be getting closer to a personal crisis point and may want to take more deliberate action.

Building a WRAP also includes making personal plans for getting through the worst crises we have each experienced—and for moving forward afterwards. WRAP’s underlying philosophy is a realistic optimism, supporting group members to face the painful internal and external experiences and events that can overwhelm our human capacity to cope.

Start Changing Patterns

As participants work to recognize these patterns, we also brainstorm which wellness tools or coping strategies we could try to practice at these times. The goal is to begin changing our patterns, gradually, and even, potentially, to transform them into healing patterns. A WRAP group is not expected to completely change anyone’s life in eight or nine weeks. It introduces a philosophy and structure that participants may continue to employ, persistently, to strengthen movement into recovery and wellness and reclaim our lives from adversity and distress.

WRAP and Other Modes of Peer Support

WRAP is one of three modes of peer support offered through the CWC.  (All three modes emerged from national and international movements 2 of individuals who have struggled to reclaim our lives from adversity and intense mental distress—and often from others’ traumatizing responses to our distress.) WRAP group facilitators participate to the greatest extent possible as peers. Rather than recommending which wellness practices other participants should implement, facilitators and participants talk about what has worked in our own lives—which may or may not be helpful to others—and about what we are still working to learn.

The WRAP group process is more structured than Intentional Peer Support (IPS) or Experiential Peer Support, both of which are more dialogue-focused peer support groups offered through the CWC. Yet all share a basic premise. We have observed what happens when human beings can find a space where it is relatively safe to talk about what we are actually struggling with in our lives—internally and externally—and how we are each working to come to terms with that, while respecting each other’s choices and world views. We have observed—as peers have around the world—that when human beings start moving beyond taboo to create spaces where we can actually engage with others in this way, we often move toward living in more creative, satisfying, confident, and productive ways.

WRAP at UF

We are now in our third year of WRAP groups at UF. These groups have generally included at least a few individuals who were wary of participating in any group. WRAP is entirely voluntary–and we welcome participants who prefer mostly to sit quietly and soak in the process. And yet, one of these reluctant WRAP group participants did eventually write:

“If you had told me even six months ago that I would have been capable of sitting in a room, sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings, details of my past, I probably would have started crying with fear at even the idea. WRAP was spiritually healing for me, made me feel in control for the first time in a long time and renewed my faith in others and in myself as a social being.”

To participate in any CWC peer-support or therapy group, active CWC clients must complete a “group screening” session to meet with a facilitator to discuss whether the group is a mutually good fit. Before that, students who are not already active clients of the CWC must complete a brief clinical triage. (If you have questions about the potential consequences of clinical record-keeping or the potential for movement into clinical risk assessment, please do communicate with a group facilitator in advance.) Each semester’s WRAP group closes to new participants once it has begun meeting—or sooner, if the group capacity is reached.

For more information about WRAP or other forms of peer support at UF, please follow the links above, or contact Jim Probert or Sara Nash.


1. This is consistent with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s report on “the Right to Health.”

2. For example, see the national Peer Respite movement, the international Hearing Voices movement, and Judi Chamberlin’s (1990) article, The Ex-Patients’ Movement: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going.