In September, after a year and 3 months, I got my PVG through for working with vulnerable adults (why this took so long is a whole other blog post…) I’d done Peer Employment Training with a Recovery college attached to my local NHS in 2016, and had moved to Scotland excited to continue and develop in this line of work. The delay to my PVG saw me return to working in coffee shops, and knocked my confidence hugely. After it came through, I still didn’t feel ready to process how it had made me feel or what the implications were. Still, I started following peer support and mental health stuff again on Twitter, slowing dipping my toe back into that world. Shortly after I spotted a free 5-day course in Peer Work being offered by something called the Peer Collaborative. It started at the end of October. I signed up to the Eventbrite, and figured I’d square it with work somehow.
My previous experience of Peer Work training had been mixed. Much as with my experience of the psychiatric system, I saw the folk at the Recovery College doing amazing things in spite of the systems, and institutions, and the course notes bought in from an organisation in America. I felt silenced by ‘Recovery Language’ and felt like the power of peer led support, and service user/survivor activism was being recruited and neutered by the structures that oppress and enact violence against us. More than anything, I left not knowing what to do with the anger I felt. It seemed that to be a peer support worker in the NHS I would have to bury it deep. I couldn’t see how that was going to work.
I didn’t know what to expect then, turning up on the first day of the course. It was held in a bright room at the top of the Edinburgh Methodist Church (which is off Nicholson Street where mosque kitchen is.) There were 8 other people attending and Hayley, from Health in Mind, was facilitating. We started off by sharing a bit about ourselves, and then broke off to chat in smaller groups about our hopes, expectations and worries about the course. I hoped to increase my confidence, and start engaging with the challenges and complications of peer support. I had two concerns: that I would be too nervous to fully participate, and that I would be too angry.
We then broke off into pairs to discuss what ‘Recovery’ meant to us. My neighbour and I looked each other up and down.
‘I’m not super keen on the term ‘Recovery’…’ they started.
‘Oh thank god!’
We talked about how recovery is a challenging term, how it has this powerful meaning (and for me, learning about ‘Recovery’ as a concept when all I’d come across was medical models was a total paradigm shift and a really important personal moment) but is often co-opted, or used with other agendas. How what it means is complicated by its colloquial use ‘to get something back’ – but what are we getting back? What was lost?
We all came back to the group and Hayley invited everyone to feed back. I gritted my teeth.
‘We talked about how recovery can sometimes be a problematic word’
‘Yes, absolutely’ Hayley nodded her head and turned to write this on the flipchart.
I swear my mouth dropped. All my previous experience of peer and recovery work had been so heavily scripted, and tied to a particular model, that allowing this complication floored me. And really that set the tone for the rest of the course. I think Hayley was an exceptional facilitator – able to hold space open for multiple, diverse experiences, asking questions that developed and challenged our thinking, valuing everyone’s contributions and authentically sharing her own thoughts and experiences.
The group met once a week, on a Tuesday from 1-5pm. The five days of the course were structured around these topics:
- Boundaries and Types of Support
- Power and Telling My Story
- Attachment, Endings and New Beginnings
I’m really grateful to have attended the course, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to really explore, develop and expand their understanding of peer support in a variety of contexts. I feel like I learnt so much from my peers on the course and I left at the end of each day feeling enthused about going away and continuing to explore and navigate the ‘peer’ relationship. The experience as a whole has really shored up my belief in the power of peer support at a much needed time.