At the core of our work and therefore one of our strongest talents is improvisation. Our recent role play sessions with the Mental Health Nursing students from the School of Health and Social Work at the University of Hertfordshire was an excellent opportunity to display that. The clinical scenarios allowed us as cast members to tap into our lived experience and each scenario showed our adaptability in being able to respond to each student's approach to the given scene unfolding before them. Each session saw the students improve in their communication skills, their response to and understanding of the 'service user' before them.
After each scenario the feedback given by us in addition to that of their tutors assisted in further learning and it could be seen that many of the students gained a deeper understanding of the service users experience.
The scenarios given to the students were varied. Some dealing with crisis, psychosis and through to gender and identity and grief. They were set in different locations eg. at home, on a psychiatric ward, at a psychiatrist office. The information provided to the students was brief, with our roles as actors being more detailed and it was the job of the student to glean as much information as they could from the service user in order to understand, respond appropriately and plan a way forward to assist in the recovery, or at least contain a crisis situation. It is fair to say that we didn't give them an easy ride, but by using our own lived experiences we are giving the students a genuine insight into the minds of real people whose care they will be involved with in their chosen occupation. It was heartening to see the change in attitude from some of the students and the way they took on board our comments and recommendations and put them into practice in their next scenario.
There were many opportunities for the students to respond to real situations, trying out various techniques and language to establish the correct approach to what can be a stressful and frightening experience for the service user. After discussion it was heartening to see the change in attitude from the students and the way they took on board our comments and recommendations and put them into practice in their next scenario.
Working through these scenarios is an extremely rewarding and enjoyable experience for the Company. Being able to assist in the learning of future Mental Health Professionals gives us a great feeling of achievement and satisfaction. We know how beneficial these sessions were to the growth of the students, but also to their tutors and to us. Having input into the way that the subject of mental health is approached in teaching is immensely valuable to us, and it adds an extra dimension to the way tutors approach lectures with us as real people in their minds.
Going forward as a Company we would like to expand this opportunity for learning into other universities. We work in a way that is safe for both the students and ourselves and we have always adopted an 'ask us anything' approach. This means that we encourage students to ask us things that they might be reluctant to for fear of offence or ridicule, or that they genuinely have never considered. It can be seen as an invaluable opportunity to make mistakes that in a real world situation could cause harm or distress to the service user. We are always open and honest in our responses to them which can sometimes be challenging for the students, but always ultimately valuable. At the moment other places of education use professional actors for any kind of role play experience but it is our belief, as evidenced by our work with the University of Hertfordshire that using actors with lived experience is the most authentic way of teaching and learning. Their feedback to us was gratefully received:
" May Contain Nuts did a series of improvisation role plays with our student nurses. This was an excellent experience and we saw the students grow each week in their communication skills, approach and confidence. The theatre company were fantastic at adapting their responses to how the students spoke and reacted to the situations presented in the role plays to allow a more "real life" feel. The actors also reflected back with the students afterwards about the role plays to allow the students to think about their communication and also shared some of their personal experiences of living with mental health problems and what they've found has helped from professionals. This experience complimented taught sessions perfectly, and is something the students will value throughout their course and professional careers. Thanks May Contain Nuts, and we look forward to welcoming you back again!"
We are often asked how we keep ourselves safe during and after these sessions. The answer is simply one of strength within ourselves as a Company, as service users and as friends who have a unique insight into each others worlds, a mutual respect and compassion for one another. We have an opportunity to discuss the sessions, both the positive and negative elements and support each other when needed. We are indeed the most unique of Companies in that respect.
We would like to thank the students for their hard work and commitment, their openness to us and for their desire to be better mental health professionals than (some of) those who have gone before them. We look forward to coming back next year for an extended run of 6 sessions with a new cohort of students.
Please feel free to leave comments as we always welcome feedback.