The Write Stuff: Personal narratives in mental health social work group practice

Today we have our first blog post of 2017 from our newly qualified social worker, Daniel! In this post Daniel explores using personal identity as a tool in social care practice. Make sure to read, comment and most importantly, enjoy! 

As a social worker and community mental health practitioner, I co-facilitate and co-lead (Benson, 2010:29) a weekly two-hour creative writing group for people recovering from schizophrenia alongside two of our team’s support time recovery workers in a board room facility owned by a registered charity in Plymouth, United Kingdom. Bamberg (2007 cited in Quinn et al, 2011:207) acknowledged that personal narratives are often used in mental health practice within both therapy and research contexts. Quinn et al (2011:207) define a personal narrative as ‘a story told by someone about his or her own life’. Therefore, I decided to apply this approach to plan, form and run a creative writing group which fits alongside the others offered by our service namely cooking, cinema, conservation, women’s, and allotment groups.  The creative writing group is underpinned using personal narratives in mental health practice with the goal of challenging the fluid nature of the four participants’ identities as only users of our service. Maclean (2016:28-29) asks what are my goals and others in this practice. My goals are to provide a group in which participants can explore other aspects of their identities such as loving sons, parents and creative writers by the nature and purpose of the group (Quinn et al, 2011:213).

Participating in the group four male service users are provided with the opportunities of personal growth, imparting hope and opportunity to live a meaningful life with a positive sense of self (Quinn et al, 2011:214; Andresen et al, 2003 cited in Fox, 2013:60). Pioneering this group, the first in our service’s history, it was my aim to provide a time and space within the group for the narrators to develop the multiple and fluid nature of their individual identities. For example, aside from each group member being a service user of our Assertive Outreach Service (AOS), through the process of their own creative writing in the forms of poetry, novel and short story participants explore other aspects of their identities such as loving son, parents, and creative writers. Within the three sessions run to date, we have seen the group grow in number of participants from two to four. Furthermore, the group develops participants’ confidence and skills in creative writing through the written word, ‘re-membering conversations’ (Megele, 2015:128) and discussions within the group facilitated by the support time recovery workers and I in a relaxed but purposeful atmosphere. Such an approach, intervention and style of leadership has resulted in one group member wanting to engage with and in the group in all three sessions run to date. Two participants have engaged in two of four sessions. Therefore, it can be seen how I and we have effectively built the use of narratives into my social work role (Quinn et al, 2011:214).

Lastly, as service users’ confidence in their own writing ability grows I am confident one if not all will feel comfortable enough to consent for an excerpt of writing to be published in this blog in the future.

References

Benson, J. F. (2010) Working More Creatively with Groups. (3rd edn). Oxon: Routledge.

Fox, J. (2013) ‘The Recovery Concept: The Importance of the Recovery Story’, in Walker, S. (ed.) Modern Mental Health: Critical Perspectives on Psychiatric Practice. St Albans: Critical Publishing, pp. 110-133.

Maclean, S. (2016) ‘Whatever the weather’, Professional Social Work (March), pp. 28-29.

Megele, C. (2015) Psychosocial and Relationship-based Practice. Northwich: Critical Publishing.

Quinn, N., Knifton, L. and Donald, J. (2011) ‘The Role of Personal Narratives in Addressing Stigma in Mental Health’, in Taylor, R. Hill, M. and McNeill, F. (eds.) Early Professional Development for Social Workers. Birmingham: Venture Press, pp. 207-218.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at keisha@criticalpublishing.com – as always, we would love to hear from you!

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