IMAGINING INCLUSION EXPERIENCES
Posted: October 4, 2018
I am a Recreation Therapist who has worked at the Northeast Mental Health Team for 4 years and in community mental health for over 20 years. My manager is on the Advisory Board for the Imagining Inclusion research project and asked our team if we would be interested in participating. The opportunity to work on the project was a significant draw for me since there is limited research on Therapeutic Recreation and Mental Health.
Lisa Hansen When Lisa is not working, she loves to head out and explore her neighbourhood.
The Photovoice project was an opportunity to invite clients to experience a different type of group that involved taking photos and reflecting on their experiences living with a mental illness. The format of the program highlighted the importance of listening to the participants as they thoughtfully answered the research questions. It was a wonderful opportunity for participants to build advocacy skills and increase self-esteem.
The Photovoice Project created an opportunity for participants to reflect on their lived experience with mental illness, while developing the skills and capacity to speak up through photographs, written words and orally with the intention to highlight the challenges they are confronted with daily when living with a mental illness.
Participating with Peer facilitators along with students from the Douglas College Therapeutic Recreation program plus clinical staff from the Northeast Mental Health Team created a belief that everyone’s experience mattered. Co-facilitating with Peer facilitators was impactful since it created a sense of hope by modelling the potential for working while having a mental illness. I saw a depth of understanding and empathy develop between the Peer facilitators and participants through their shared experiences.
After Photovoice, I co-facilitated many sessions of the Telling Your Story and Being Heard program which was a natural continuation for participants. In both programs, I was able to provide some one-to-one support when participants were struggling with the project work. Participants felt their words and photos would contribute to a better understanding of living with a mental illness.
The participants offered a sense of community through shared experiences, understanding, support, encouragement and a sense that this work will help reduce stigma and transform the way services are provided. Through conversations, one participant realized how long she was struggling to manage a significant issue and how it continues to be no better than when she was newly diagnosed. She mentioned feeling that the offered supports did not really help with reducing barriers to engage in mainstream community programs.
Participants experienced taking risks, challenging themselves and sharing their vulnerabilities that led to feelings of pride and increased self-worth as they overcame challenges. The benefit of hearing about the experiences of others living with a mental illness helped put their own illness into perspective. The chance to share what others were doing for their own wellness provided an opportunity to have an exchange of ideas.
Through my involvement, I learned just how precarious their lives are in terms of finances, housing, health, and so on, as well as all the stresses associated with these uncertainties. I have greater insight into their illness that includes how they are affected, their present situation, and concerns for the future, especially as they age.
I was struck by the depth and duration of suffering that our clients endure and the ongoing resilience to “carry on” and try to find meaning in a life that supports them, yet may look different from the norms of society. Now when I do my job, I make sure to check-in and ask more questions about the barriers clients are experiencing and if we can add supports earlier to facilitate success.
I would like to tell my colleagues that there are many benefits to hearing our clients in a new way, to explore their experiences with mental illness and to feel that they can contribute to changing the attitudes of others in the community and health system.