At the beginning of November, Judith went up to Northampton to attend the meeting of the Recovery Research Network.
The Network is based at the University of Nottingham. It is for people who are interested or involved in recovery research to share their plans, present their research results, and develop collaborations for future projects.
There were about thirty people there, of whom around half were academic researchers, just over a third mental health practitioners, and a third people with lived experience. If you think my maths does not add up, this is because at least half the people there bring more than one set of experiences and qualifications to their work. There was a nursing training tutor who is doing a PhD; academics who have come into the field of research based on their personal experience; peer support workers and peer trainers who are involved in research; a nursing student who had come along as part of her training.
I was there to find out what is going on in the research world and report back, and also to see if there might be any way in which Recovery Devon might contribute.
The theme was “Social Connectedness” and I thought at the beginning of the day that I pretty much knew what that was all about: social networks, housing, employment and so forth. But by the end of the day I realised that the research is now looking very carefully about how different the meaning of “social connectedness” can be for different people.
For example Vanessa Pinfold talked about the apparently simple idea of loneliness. Can you combat loneliness just by creating opportunities to meet other people? Some people can be lonely in a crowd if they feel they don’t belong there. So when studying feelings of loneliness, some studies concentrate more on what people do and where they go, and how they build relationships which mean something to them personally.
Relationships: therapists, mentors, peers, friends
There was some very interesting work on different types of relationships. Amanda Green talked about how a therapist or practitioner can build a more authentic and helpful relationship with a person by bringing more of their own life experience, more of their own self, to their work. And not just experience of mental health difficulties, but their interests and their circumstances and their pets and what they had for dinner. She compared how a peer support worker will helpfully share some of their own story, and how all mental health practitioners can learn from this.
Not getting muddled
In fact this was one of the most important features of the day for me, the value of the academic approach in not muddling things up, and being quite clear what you are talking about. Professor David Morris talked about his work on the “Connected Communities” approach. He referred to a report from 2010 which you can read here.
and spoke very clearly about the need to recognise many different types of “community”. Bringing it back to mental health practice, he suggested that the practitioner hoping to help someone to establish, or re-establish, their relationships with other people should always ask themselves “what does ‘community’ mean for the person in front of me”? In other words, be aware that people have many different identities and that this will define the communities to which they belong.
The last session of the day started with an opportunity to connect with ourselves through a guided yoga session with Elvira Perez Vallejos. Trust me when I say that it’s not every academic research meeting where you take your shoes off, stretch muscles you didn’t know you had, and find out how difficult it is to put the backs of your hands together.
The next meeting of the RRN is in April.