Review: Learning From Experience

The paper reviewed here is ‘Learning from Experience’ by Jerry Tew, Colin Gell and Simon Foster and freely available here. This is a 66-page document which outlines material useful for course instructors in higher education mental health courses to enable the involvement of service users and carers in service development. The intended audience is somewhat wider however and this is explained more fully in ‘The Purpose of the Guide’. The authors then discuss how students typically learn about mental health subject matter in courses such as medicine and psychology. Forming a partnership with service users and carers is then contextualised in ‘Setting the scene’ where it is identified as one of the ten essential shared capabilities by the National Institute for Mental Health in England. They go on to write that

Service users and carers have a unique contribution to make to training in core professional skills, such as listening, communication, empathy, advocacy and offering counselling or advice

They further write about the experience of involving service users in the teaching thus

Also it requires a humility that allows teaching staff to give up any vestiges of a superior ‘expert’ status based on ‘knowing best……..Teaching staff may learn new knowledge, skills and ideas from the service users and carers with whom they are working, and benefit from ongoing and constructive challenges to their value base

Potential benefits for service users are also discussed including the contribution that this can make to recovery.  The authors include a useful section ‘Pointers to good practice’. In the third section, the authors present the multiple ways in which service user contribution has been realised. These approaches range from inclusion in training through to e-modules, drama and experience sharing. There is also a discussion of how service users can contribute to course planning with examples as well as for student selection, student assessment and course participation. The authors then discuss some of the practical aspects of implementing these suggestions identifying possible barriers as well as presenting a template. They look at issues such as capacity, infrastructure and employment or contracting. The authors then include a section on evaluation with some useful feedback forms included. The document finished with the conclusions and appendix.

This is a useful document for organisers/trainers of mental health courses. Some of the suggestions here would be suitable for application in service development also.

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