The Butterfly Effect—Changing Lives One Small Step at a Time

I am a great believer in the Butterfly Effect—the concept that evolved out of the field of meteorology suggesting that a tiny change in initial conditions can significantly impact or alter the outcome of an event or condition. Here at Fedcap, we think of our work through a lens similar to the Butterfly Effect: rather than try to tackle an entire system, we look at precise interventions that can move a habitual trajectory slightly off course to what might be—and most often is—a better outcome—and an outcome that has the potential to change an entire system.

One example of this type of intervention is our work with youth aging out of foster care. For many of these youth, college may not have been imagined as a logical next step after high school. So we asked the questions: What is one, careful intervention we could design to help ready youth in care to go to college? How can we help create a college-going environment in a foster home? The answer was a precise solution: we created our PrepNow! ™ and GetReady!™ programs to help foster parents answer the often daunting questions about how to help youth get ready for college. These programs are changing lives and helping youth who may never have believed college was even possible—by helping them navigate the application process, wrestle with financial aid, and hone their values and skills so they are college-ready. What we have discovered, though not a new concept, is that often, the best answers to huge societal problems lie in fairly simple solutions.

Peer recovery for those who are struggling with addiction is another precise intervention that can mean the difference between recovery and sustained addiction.  It is not new news that the opiod crisis has had an impact on every state in the country. And nowhere is the crisis more keenly felt than in New Hampshire, where the percentage of opiod deaths last year were higher than any other state in the U.S.

Peer-led support is fairly simple, yet it has proven to be the most radical and effective tool in the recovery toolbox. Support for those who have substance use disorder is led by people who have traveled the pathway to recovery and who understand the joy and the challenges of the journey. When a person in recovery “walks” alongside someone who has a shared experience, that support is ever more credible and sustaining than work alongside someone who is not intimately familiar with the unique pitfalls and possibilities of recovery.

Research shows that a peer-led recovery environment decreases morbidity rates, improves self-efficacy, lowers incidences of depression, heightens self-esteem, and overall, improves quality of life. The precise intervention is qualitative: it is about human connection, which is what makes all the difference.

Peer-led recovery lives in four domains, as identified by the SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration):

  • The Emotional Domain—the obvious driver of support—emphasizes empathy, caring, and real connection among peers.
  • The Informational Domain focuses on vocational skills and practical life skills that will help those in recovery develop new habits that will support their recovery
  • The Affiliational Domain where those in recovery interact and become attached to the community thereby deepening their socialization and feeling of connection to a larger world
  • The Instrumental Domain—the most practical domain—where those in recovery work alongside their peers to solve problems that can drastically interfere with getting the support they need—such as transportation, child care, or safe and affordable housing.

This week, we are celebrating the opening of our Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, NH. Safe Harbor falls under the umbrella of our Granite Pathways subsidiary—the agency that is leading our efforts in New Hampshire to serve individuals with barriers.  At Safe Harbor, those in recovery—and their friends and families—will be able to experience peer-to-peer mentoring, family support, community building, vocational support, and ongoing support telephonically or technologically.

Peer recovery, like PrepNow!, is the fruit of asking essential questions such as: What is a precise and simple change we can make that could potentially and significantly alter the outcomes?

What essential questions might you ask to effect a simple, yet essential change to a system you care to improve?

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