History of WRAP

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP®) was developed by people who had been living with a variety of mental health challenges and who were working hard to feel better and get on with their lives. In 1997, several dozen individuals who had experienced serious mental health challenges came together in northern Vermont for an eight-day gathering designed to initiate dialogues on how to improve their emotional and mental health. Many of the attendees had been residents of state psychiatric hospitals at various periods in their lives. They came together to discuss practical strategies for regaining and sustaining their own wellness. They did not know it at the time but this cadre of intrepid explorers was blazing the trail towards a new international self-help movement for wellness and recovery.

A key leader among those brave pioneers at the Vermont gathering was Mary Ellen Copeland, a woman who had been struggling with anxiety, depression, and extreme mood swings that had caused her to experience social isolation, economic hardship, and repeated hospitalizations. Seeking to restore her health and reclaim her life, Mary Ellen had become disillusioned with the psychiatric establishment of that time and its reliance on medication-focused treatment that prioritized managing her illness rather than facilitating her return to health. She began her own journey to find strategies for recovery by conducting a survey of her peers on the subject. From the 125 survey responses she received, Mary Ellen identified five key concepts to recovery - Hope, Personal Responsibility, Education, Self-Advocacy and Support - along with “tricks” for feeling better, which would later be called wellness tools. She began to facilitate peer support groups with other people looking for ways to get better. By 1997, Mary Ellen’s research and facilitation were generating widespread attention, resulting in an invitation to lead an eight-day peer support retreat in Vermont that was destined to make history.

Mary Ellen partnered with fellow Vermonter Jane Winterling to support fellow sojourners in increasing their wellness through peer-co-facilitated recovery education workshops at Vermont retreats.  They drew on their own organic experiences to identify what kinds of strategies worked for them to prevent emotional and mental breakdowns and to maintain positive mental health. However, one of the participants – a woman named Jess Parker – stood up and said, “This is all well and good, but I have no idea how to organize these tools and strategies in my life.” Mary Ellen and Jane Winterling, a colleague who was also attending the gathering, felt challenged to respond to Jess’s common-sense observation. Jane and Mary Ellen worked together to develop a simple system for organizing a personal strategy with a core group of peers.  Allan McNabb, who was one of the initial peers facilitating with Mary Ellen thought this strategy should be called a "wellness recovery action plan, WRAP."   They presented it to the group and everyone felt excited about the concept of “WRAP."  They left the gathering with a renewed spirit of hope and optimism.

Mary Ellen and Jane Winterling went home from the Vermont retreat and began to use a WRAP® to support her own wellness regimen. She was amazed by the power of WRAP to help her anticipate and cope with life’s inevitable stress and difficulty, remain centered, and focus on positive attitudes and activities. Being a natural teacher and communicator, Mary Ellen was inspired to share her gift with the world. In 1997, she wrote her first book on recovery findings called WRAP. She developed her own publishing company and began selling her books which rapidly gained popularity across the United States and around the world. Mary Ellen began to share WRAP with people struggling with a wide range of emotional, physical, and mental health challenges. She also started mentoring peers in facilitating workshops based on her WRAP books. Next, she developed an evaluation of what constituted a successful WRAP workshop and established a list of non-negotiable values and practices for WRAP Facilitators. These values and practices formed the basis of today’s evidence-based practice of WRAP.
Next Mary Ellen along with other peer leaders in recovery founded the peer-run non-profit organzation, The Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery in order to spread and meet the growing demand for WRAP® Facilitation workshops.  Since 2003, Mary Ellen Copeland and the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery staff have reached millions of people through her books and lectures, empowering people from diverse communities and all walks of life to use WRAP® for their own personal recovery journeys. Now, WRAP® is being utilized in formal and informal recovery programs in all 50 states and in countries around the world. WRAP® is being implemented by behavioral health departments, mental health agencies, addiction treatment programs, as well as an array of other recovery groups in the United States and across the globe.

In 2016 Mary Ellen Copeland transferred ownership of her works and the registered trademarks of WRAP® and Wellness Recovery Action Plan® to Advocates for Human Potential (AHP). All uses of WRAP® and Wellness Recovery Action Plan® must be authorized by AHP.