Creating A BrainWise Culture That Prepares Previously Homeless Veterans For Success

Posted On: February 22, 2022
The following story about BrainWise instructors sharing information is uplifting and  gives tips and strategies that can be used not only by health professionals, but by those who teach BrainWise in schools, social service agencies, the workplace, and at home.
In 2016, BrainWise trainer Gary Brayton, Ph.D. gave a copy of How To Be BrainWise to a colleague, Melissa Roels, Program Coordinator at Hull Services. This agency is in Calgary, Canada and serves children, youth, and families with complex mental health needs. After Melissa and Assistant Program Director Jocelyn McQuay recognized that BrainWise filled a gap in their services, they started teaching the 10 Wise Ways in their group care and community-based treatment programs.
The program thrived and five years later, they shared their success in a BrainWise newsletter. They discussed how BrainWise helped their clients and emphasized they had fun teaching the skills. They chose three words to describe the program’s impact: “Powerful,” “Inspiring,” and “Life Changing. (See BrainWise at Hull Services Issue 56.)
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Gary Brayton,
PhD, RSW, MSW
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Jocelyn McQuay, MSc.Psych
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Melissa Roels, BA
Around the same time and a thousand miles away in Denver, Marilyn Welsh, Ph.D. a national expert on executive functions and a professor of psychology at the University of Northern Colorado, published the results of her study on BrainWise taught to homeless men living in a residential treatment program (link research paper published on BrainWise and Homeless men.)
Jared Greenberg, M.D., a University of California a Los Angeles (UCLA) faculty member and psychiatrist at the Los Angeles Veterans Administration Medical Center (LAVAMC) read the study and contacted BrainWise.
 He was treating previously homeless Veterans with serious mental illnesses and was interested in teaching them executive functions (EF). He was familiar with research that found among those who experience homelessness, positive EFs have been associated with improved self-care, less turbulent behavior, positive behavior changes, fewer depressive symptoms, improved physical health, and lower rates of unsafe sexual practices. He assembled a research team, and they submitted a proposal to the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a pilot test of BrainWise with Veterans (2018 Newsletter on VA and BrainWise.)
His team were awarded a grant at the start of COVID and are wrapping up Phase 1 of the study. The conducted interviews with health providers who work with homeless veterans, leaders of programs that provide homeless Veterans with a range of services, and a group of homeless-experienced Veterans who meet regularly to provide a patient’s perspective on activities to improve care. The interviews collected information on teaching content, feasibility, barriers and enhancements to program delivery, number and duration of sessions, and suggested resolutions. The Domiciliary, an LAVAMC inpatient care facility, was chosen as the site for the pilot study.
Although age differentiated the youth at Hull Services from the previously homeless Veterans, both groups had serious mental illnesses and were placed in residential treatment facilities. Dr. Brayton, Jocelyn and Melissa were excited to share their success. Dr. Greenberg, Dr. Barry, and master BrainWise instructor Matt Sena had a Zoom meeting with the Hull Services providers.  Jocelyn said, “We love the community we are building and want to share it!” 
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Jared Greenberg, MD
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Matt Sena, M.S.
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Pat Gorman Barry, PhD, RN
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Marilyn Welsh, Ph.D.
What follows are the materials they presented at the meeting. Many of the strategies are universal and can be replicated in a wide range of BrainWise settings.

Key Points for Creating Successful BrainWise Outcomes*

Involve Stakeholders. Involve everyone who has consistent contact with participants –providers, support staff, ancillary staff, volunteers, family. They should be familiar with BrainWise concepts, terms, and teaching aids (cards, posters, markers, worksheets.) Use Brain Bucks, Brain Bumps and the BrainWise hand brain as rewards and visual reminders to stop and think Involvement of stakeholders ensures multiple avenues to REINFORCE the concepts.
Create Environment that Supports Success. Provide participants with multiple support resources who know the 10 Wise Ways. Identify key people of influence who support engagement, manage resistance/negativity and reward positive behaviors. Set up everything for success: rules, routines, visuals, motivation systems with privileges, rewards, recognitions.
Offer opportunities for participants to be involved, demonstrate their skills, build constellations of support, feel respected, and give back. Use hands-on activities, celebrate success, have fun, integrate Wise Ways into games and movies, create a routine, include food. Everything REINFORCES the 10 Wise Ways.
*A thank you to Jocelyn McQuay for her typed answers to discussion questions on advice and tips for implementing BrainWise in a new setting.
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Build Brain Connections
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BrainWise Fist Bumps
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Involve Stakeholders. Involve everyone who has consistent contact with participants –providers, support staff, ancillary staff, volunteers, family. They should be familiar with BrainWise concepts, terms, and teaching aids (cards, posters, markers, worksheets.) Use Brain Bucks, Brain Bumps and the BrainWise hand brain as rewards and visual reminders to stop and think. Involvement of stakeholders ensures multiple avenues to REINFORCE the concepts.
Create Environment that Supports Success. Provide participants with multiple support resources who know the 10 Wise Ways. Identify key people of influence who support engagement, manage resistance/negativity and reward positive behaviors. Set up everything for success: rules, routines, visuals, motivation systems with privileges, rewards, recognitions.
Offer opportunities for participants to be involved, demonstrate their skills, build constellations of support, feel respected, and give back. Use hands-on activities, celebrate success, have fun, integrate Wise Ways into games and movies, create a routine, include food. Everything REINFORCES the 10 Wise Ways.
Use BrainWise Teaching Materials. Everything you need to teach critical thinking skills is in the curriculum, worksheets, the How To Be BrainWise companion book, and teaching aids (10 Wise Ways posters and cards, BrainWise markers, BrainWise CPR Problem Solving Worksheet, Brain Bucks, Brain Bumps, BrainWise Hand Brain.)
The materials can be customized for age, culture, developmental ability, race, sex, and problems. Display the participants’ hand-made brains, Emotions Elevators, 10 Wise Ways posters, hand-made BrainWise card set, copies of the brain, brain worksheet.
The BrainWise curriculum and teaching aids are available at www.brainwise-plc.org. Free monthly newsletters, including copies of past issues are available by sending a request to ms.marty.macdonald@gmail.com. These help you REINFORCE the concepts.
Address Resistance. Participants have many reasons for acting out and resisting learning new material. Master BrainWise instructors offer these techniques:
  • Plan ahead! Anticipate that there will be resistance and decide your response based on the situation.
  • Build on what is already in place –, rules, boundaries, rewards,
  • Use key participants as advocates if appropriate
  • Don’t change routines or stop what you are presenting – keep going!. If needed, resolve the issue after the session.
  • Be creative – initial resistance or “this is boring” always improves!
Engage Participants. Here are suggestions to help engage participants:
Build relationships with group members. For open groups, proactively plan with group members to use their BrainWise skills to welcome a new member. Pair up a new member with a more experienced member. Start each group with participants sharing an example of a Wise Way that they or someone else used.
Make sessions fun by creating games and activities such as awarding Brain Bucks to individuals who recognize Wise Ways used during the group or limit it to behaviors that use one or two higher level Wise Ways such as “I” messages, POV, positive body language, consequences, or goal.
Highlight positive behaviors by asking participant to identify what part of the Brain they were using. Do the same by asking them to identify Wizard Brain behaviors of others, including celebrities or characters in movies and animations.  Complete worksheets together and share results.
Make participant feel comfortable getting involved by giving them question(s) they can successfully answer. Use scripted activities or the same content in new ways or with different examples that will help participants respond successfully.
Provide food!!
Give rewards such as BRAIN BUCKS for involvement. Again, these activities REINFORCE the concepts.

 

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