The History of the FRIENDS Programs
In 1990, Dr Paula Barrett developed a resilience and positive thinking program – The Coping Koala, which later became the most well-known resilience program for primary school children. Because anxiety and depression may develop at a young age and manifest as one grow’s older, the resilience based program was a preventative approach to reduce anxiety and depression from a very young age. Simply speaking, if skills were taught from a young age in a preventative way, we would reduce levels of stress, ultimately reducing anxiety and depression in people of all ages.
The name change to The FRIENDS Programs came about after Dr Barrett asked children, teenagers and parents to come up with a word they felt best fit the resilience programs. The word friends emerged because “the most important thing in our life are our friends and it’d be great to have a program that reflected how important friends and friendships are to us”. The Coping Koala became known as Fun FRIENDS – specifically designed for preschool aged children and children attending year one and year two.
As we progressed, The FRIENDS Programs became more about promoting resilience and positive coping skills so that all children, in the face of anxiety and depression have these important life skills ready to face challenges. All people experience life challenges – whether it may be natural disasters, illness, death or even challenges at school. The FRIENDS Programs equip people of all ages with positive coping life skills to create resilience to maintain one’s strength against whatever challenges – positive or negative, one may face throughout their life.
The FRIENDS Programs have been implemented in many schools across Australia and throughout the world – Fun FRIENDS and FRIENDS for Life for primary school children, and My FRIENDS Youth for adolescents.
In 2011, the Adult Resilience Program was developed in order to provide adults with the opportunity to learn the same skills that children were learning. The adult brain can continue to change and it is never too late to learn new skills. The FRIENDS Programs – Adult Resilience Program is now being used in Queensland Corrective Services and is very popular. It is also run as an adjunct for parents to their child's program.
FRIENDS Adult Resilience Parallel Program: Put the oxygen mask on the adult first, before putting it on the child.
When we started running Fun FRIENDS, FRIENDS for Life and My FRIENDS Youth in our West End centre in 2012 we also ran two separate Parent Sessions in the evenings. Due to popularity, we thought it would be a great idea to “put the adult oxygen mask on the parents first, and then put it on the children” and as such, we began implementing the Adult Resilience program in parallel sessions. So when Fun FRIENDS and FRIENDS for Life were running, we ran the Adult Resilience program and two Parent Sessions for caregivers at the same time.
The FRIENDS Adult Resilience Program enabled parents to really understand what their children are learning and apply these resilience strategies in their life. Think of it as learning to speak a foreign language – once someone from your home learns to speak the language, suddenly everyone can start communicating in that same language. So overall, the effect is greater when everyone in the family learns.
Dr Paula Barrett's vision for the FRIENDS Programs
“My dream would be that all children in Australia receive the Program in the start of the curriculum and that the parents and teachers would receive the Adult Resilience Program. I know that this will have a powerful impact on their level of resilience of not just the children, but the parents and teachers, reducing levels of stress for everyone”
“By taking a community approach in dealing with stress and worries, we can create a positive impact on the level of depression and anxiety by educating people with social and emotional skills to build their resilience.”
“My dream would be that everyone receives these skills – a public health approach of resisting levels of anxiety and depression at a population level. We know that some countries have been using The FRIENDS Programs – Canada has implemented The FRIENDS Programs in their school curriculum for over 10 years, Thailand will be rolling out The FRIENDS Programs within their educational system soon, and the New Zealand Government has praised The FRIENDS Programs and the positive impact the Program has had amongst high school students.”
“Our vision also is that within the next 2-3 years The FRIENDS Programs activity books will be available in an online format which will significantly reduce costs. Now, facilitators from around the world can undertake training online. This means that people all around the world can undertake training in The FRIENDS Programs from the comfort of their own homes – this is a huge reduction in costs – both financial and time costs, for the community.”