I was asked to facilitate an action learning set for Directors and Chief Executives of agencies tasked with mental health provision. During a planning meeting with the client we discussed the possibility of patient and carer inclusion within the set. While I was absolutely for this in principle, I wondered what the implications would be in practice. How would issues of trust and political sensitivities be played out with leaders from local government, the third sector, the police, Clinical Commissioning Group and the ambulance service when carers and/or patients are present? What might be enhanced, what might be inhibited?
The action learning set has now been meeting for over a year. It is the courage and tenacity of the carer in the set that has helped everybody open up about their personal and professional experiences of mental health issues and take brave decisions to jointly tackle these across their geographic boundaries. Last time we met, one set member wanted to use his time to look at the issue of suicide and young people (particularly young men). The excellent listening skills and compassionate questions within the set were evident as he slowly explored his responses. The carer was asked about her experiences – her personal account of being a carer in this situation was profoundly moving. It highlighted, in particular, that every “well meaning” action on the part of the professionals initially made matters worse. Having taken “time out” to listen we then returned to our presenter. Having heard this he realised his approach could no longer just be about big strategic change, but additionally the small step-by-step interventions that he could lead others to take in his organisation that had the potential to make all the difference. Set members will send him research findings and link him to nationwide colleagues but it is the “hearing from the inside” that will make the difference to his behaviour.
So as an action learning facilitator where my original concerns justified? Yes it took a little longer to establish trust, we revisited the ground rule of confidentiality a number of times and we had some very funny occasions when “professional language” was roundly criticized. But the benefits have been immense and, as one Director said, “nothing has ever connected me more to the issues than x’s (the carer’s) contributions”.