Victims of Success: an Update from Mad in America Continuing Education

Robert Nikkel, MSW
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In mid 2016, we asked Dr. Chris Gordon to consider teaching one of the Mad in America Continuing Education online courses. Dr. Gordon is the inspiring psychiatrist in Framingham, Massachusetts who, eight years ago, responded to a request from a person who had been a client in his program to look into Open Dialogue, an approach to working with early psychosis in Finland. At that time, and unfortunately even now, very few if any mental health professionals in the United States had ever heard of this innovative and highly successful program.

Like Dr. Gordon, many of us began to get interested in Open Dialogue after reading Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic in 2010, but Dr. Gordon took it several steps further. He arranged funding from the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health and his own center’s administration to train 35 members of his staff with Mary Olson in Open Dialogue.

Several months ago, we realized our continuing education project was in need of a bit of an overhaul in presentation style, from lectures to live online webinars which would then be posted along with our dozen other courses, all of which were receiving rave reviews from participants for the unique content available nowhere else. For technical improvements, we replaced our learning platform with a new one, Teachable, and chose AdobeConnect to make the webinar mode of presentation a state-of-the art learning experience. We set our goal for participants at 100.

At the same time, we decided to reach out to our own Mad in America, Mad in America Continuing Education, and Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care email lists to alert well over 1,000 of you to this new course offering on Open Dialogue. We also made contact with national organizations and several key leaders in the mental health advocacy world.

So what happened? Within days of announcing the webinar and providing the link to register, we were deluged with enrollments. Everyone wanted to take advantage of the 50% discount we offered on early birds. I think the real motivation, however, was that there is tremendous interest in learning about Open Dialogue and especially its application to an American community. It turns out that a great many professionals, advocates and clinical managers have been hearing about it and hadn’t been able to access real-world knowledge like that offered by Dr. Gordon and his program partner, Keegan Arcure.

We put our heads together and decided to invest in the next level of AdobeConnect to make it possible to add another 100 registrations. We expected that we would see another couple of weeks where the interest could translate into more participants. But again, in a couple of days, we filled up to the maximum of 200. And still people contacted us and we had to update all of our announcements—and then we still had people asking us if we would make the webinar available online after the March 8 live event.

We will do that. That will make up to some degree for the fact that we became victims of our own success.

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