I work for two days a week as an intentional peer support worker (PSW, 07:00 – 15:00, Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust) in a recovery unit offering: facilitated training group work, along with spending time with people on a one to one basis (1:1s), practical and emotional support. People with longer term stays can develop their interests in, and benefit from the hearing voices group, bite size psychology group, peer group using the PeerZone free materials (from Mary O’Hagan in New Zealand), and the early warning signs course (written by Prof Jo Smith and Dr Tom Barker). There’s also the gardening project which I initiated – growing vegetables and flowers in dedicated beds. Other types of groups are run by the second intentional PSW who works on the other three days.
The day starts with the nursing handover, moves on to preparation for the days’ groups and 1:1s and then really gets going with 1:1s recovery orientated conversations with people, practical and emotional support. The groups of up to nine people run at 11:00 and 14:00 for up to 45 minutes and I write case notes and make diary entries after the groups and 1:1 conversations. It’s a hectic two days a week and reflection, refinement and lesson planning are taken home but not dwelt overly on. There is a group meeting/ supervision with the other seven peer support workers across the county for two hours once a month and line management supervision from the ward manager too.
I really enjoy relating little chunks of my relevant experiences of poor mental health and how I coped with being in hospital in an empathetic way to people when I hear their stories. I know that holding hope for them to recover will see them improve and be discharged to live a self-determined life away from the hospital ward with the tools they need to prevent re-admission or at least reduce its longevity.
Within Worcestershire PSWs have typically worked exclusively with people with mental distress, but I have also met families and friends during the evening so that they can understand the ethos of recovery from its beginnings. By doing so I am able to help and support them in applying recovery principles when visiting and living with their loved ones.
The peer support I offer is unique because it flows from my personal experience of 38 years in secondary mental health services (now discharged), all its ups and down across four acute inpatient wards including three of the old asylums around England with multiple admissions as a ‘revolving door patient’. These chunks of relevant personal experience come from more than half a lifetime of mental distress. I am seen as a role model, someone that’s been there and got the t-shirt. Not many other mental health practitioners have that sort of experience “from the other side” – to know what it feels like to recover a life, trying to cope alone with lots of systems.
Although I have worked in many fields (notably as an agricultural research scientist for 16 years) in a number of roles and organisations, none has matched what I feel I am giving back to others with mental health difficulties as a PSW. I feel it gives me a sense of achievement when these people have ‘light bulb’ moments around the recovery principles and what it means to them. It especially gives me great joy when they are discharged.
Along with my recent academic successes both within the Trust and the University of Worcester in the Institute of Health and Society as an associate lecturer and research stemming from the IMPACT group of service users and carers (SUAC), I feel I am making a contribution to the knowledge base around peer support and SUAC, student and staff perceptions of SUAC involvement in higher education through peer reviewed publications. I am also a student again, taking a part-time Diploma in Education and Training to benefit my practice around teaching recovery in group sessions and teaching research, recovery and mental health, advocacy and long term conditions within the University of Worcester.
Being an intentional peer support worker is really important to my own wellbeing.
Dr Joy M Rooney is a project leader and peer support worker with Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust and an associate lecturer and researcher at the University of Worcester. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Recent Publications/ conferences:
Rooney, J. M., Osborne, N. and Unwin, P. F. (2015). “The impact of IMPACT – reflections on the first seven years of a service user and carer (SUAC) group at the University of Worcester, UK”. Conference paper: Where’s The Patient’s Voice in Health Professional Education – 10 years on, 13/11/2015, Vancouver, Canada.
Rooney, J. M., Miles, N., and Barker, T. (2016a). “Patients’ Views: Peer Support Worker on Inpatient Wards.” Mental Health and Social Inclusion 20(3) 160-166. doi 10.1108/MHSI-02-2016-0007.
Rooney, J. M. and Unwin, P. (2016b). “Transformative or Tokenistic – Can involving service users and carers in the training of health and social care professionals promote social justice?” Social Justice Conference 26/06/2016 University of Worcester.
Rooney, J. M., Unwin, P. F. and Osborne, N. D. (2016c). “Gaining by Giving? Peer Research into Service User and Carer perceptions of Inclusivity in Higher Education.” Social Work Education. 35(8) 945-959. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02615479.2016.1227314
Rooney, J. M. (2017). “HQUIP Case Study. Patients value peer support worker in their recovery. ” http://www.hqip.org.uk/resources/case-study-patients-value-peer-support-worker-in-their-recovery/
Unwin, P., Rooney, J. M. and Cole, C. (2017, in press). “An evaluation of the impact of service user and carer involvement on students’ classroom learning in higher education.” Journal of Further and Higher Education. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2017.1281886.
Unwin, P., Rooney, J. M., Osborne, N., and Cole, C. (201x, accepted). “Are perceptions of disability changed by the involvement of service users and carers in the qualifying training of health and social work professionals?” Disability and Society.