Case Study Action learning for people who use mental health services

Action learning sets have a long pedigree of being formed for professionals, academics and managers across a range of sectors and in particular to support leadership development programmes and research. There has been less use however of action learning for people who use services in either health, housing or social care and little or no information about it being used specifically with people who use mental health services.

Having worked in the not for profit sector for over 25 years and specialising in homelessness and mental health, working with people who use services, I was keen to test out how well action learning might work in a very different setting.

With the support and interest of a senior manager at Westminster Mind, someone who themselves had experienced being in an action learning set when we had both worked at Rethink, the national mental health charity, we secured a small amount of funding from Mind nationally. We then approached Hammersmith & Fulham Mind and agreed to work jointly to pilot action learning for people who use mental health services. The pilot aimed to give those already looking at returning to work, a safe place to develop skills, confidence and peer support and through the action learning process take action to progress and sustain their plans for work.

How were service users involved?

The project was widely advertised and promoted with both local Mind associations.

  • Eighteen people attended a workshop
  • Nine applications were made to join the action learning set
  • Six people formed a set in June 2008

What has happened?

The set contracted to meet nine times over six months with the facilitator and attendance was very high: five or six people attended all but two of the nine meetings. The frequency of meetings was requested by set members and reflected my sense that we needed quite a lot of momentum to get the set going.

Three of the six have secured formal paid part time work towards the end of the contract; all set members speak positively of their experience of action learning.

What have set members said about their involvement?

Attending the set has given me confidence, encouragement and ideas to continue working towards getting work.”

Being a member of the set has helped me to sustain my work (voluntary). It was really useful in helping me think about team work; this included learning about team work from the way the set worked as a team.”

I’m about to start work. I have used the skills of AL at work and in my day to day life.”

It has helped to talk about getting back into work; where I’m at and my feelings. This has helped me to persevere as things change. This includes helping with motivation by talking about frustrations and barriers.”

“Before I was not confident to speak to others in a group. I’ve learnt how to ask open questions and use this skill outside the set.”

What has the pilot learned about the use of action learning in this setting?

The pilot was not only offering a process to people who use services in the hope that this would support their individual journey to recovery. The pilot was also interested in examining whether the action learning process has a particular connection and “fit” with the model of recovery and whether this set would report that it has particular value and benefit for people who are looking to start or return to work.

All five individuals who completed the set contract found the process and structure of action learning helpful, supportive and motivating. The set adhered to all the common action learning conventions and these enabled and supported the development of trust, disclosure and sharing between set members. The focus on taking action is reported as being very important in building motivation and in supporting set members’ plans and aspirations for work within the context of their recovery.

The pilot, whilst limited in scale, has demonstrated that the action learning process provides a particular and different experience to other existing Mind services such as support groups and employment and volunteering projects. It also supports a recovery focus. As one set member said: “Action Learning has helped me do better at living. It’s a space to think about things, put things into perspective, reflect on why things are the way they are, make life better”.

Jane Garnham

Jane , has over 25 years experience working in the not for profit sector specialising in homelessness and mental health.