Updated: Nov 9, 2021
Are you a supporter, support worker, service manager or otherwise in a helping role and sometimes feel isolated, unsure, and burnt out?
At Mind-Life we have heard from many people in a supporting role describing feeling this way. Whether you’re an independent support worker missing the comradery of a team, the worker in an agency whose budget is too tight for team building and supervision or the manager of a service who wants to support best practice but gets bogged down with paperwork and bureaucracy. Supporters in the mental health arena need support too!
Without regular reflective practice and peer support, people in a supporting role can slip into the many pitfalls of providing support. These pitfalls are often hard to spot or disguised as good options. When you’re upholding the Mind-Life mindsets, you know the system often lures us into these pitfalls. Learning how to recognise and avoid them takes practice, help and reflection. When we don’t engage in regular reflective practice, peer support and supervision we can easily fall into the pitfalls of offering support without even realising it. Alternatively, we can feel like we are alone in trying to uphold these important values and mindsets and end up feeling isolated and burnt out.
Why is it so hard for supporters to know if they’re doing a great job and if they are upholding best practice?
When we do tasks like cleaning, we can judge our effectiveness by the results. Is the thing clean at the end? If yes, then we can walk away knowing that we’ve done well. Once we know how to clean a particular item or area, this knowledge will serve us well indefinitely. If we never learn another thing about cleaning, we’ll be just fine. We can repeat the same process over and over in different locations and settings and it will always work. We can also know that it was all our work that got the results. The kitchen bench was not active in the cleaning process (if only it was).
When we support another human being its different. We cannot simply assume that if the person is doing well, it means we are doing a good job. There are too many other variables like the person’s own efforts, other people’s input and even health, political and community inputs. Someone we are supporting may be achieving awesome outcomes or they may be struggling terribly. Either way we cannot determine our effectiveness based on another person’s outcomes. Secondly unlike cleaning, the strategy or method you used to help one person may not work as well for a different person. You can’t just rinse and repeat when it comes to human beings. In addition to all of this, people who uphold a Mind-Life way, understand that even when our one-to-one work is going great, we can easily fall into the pitfalls built into the broader system. Sometimes when we are in a pitfall, we don’t even realise it straight away and when we do, it can be hard to figure out the best way out. So how do we know if we are doing a good job? How can we see the pitfalls before we fall into them and how can we get fresh ideas about how to improve our supporting efforts?
Of course, one of the best and most important ways of judging our supporting efforts is to ask the person we are supporting. We should be doing this regularly and in different ways. The person themselves is the expert on what feels right or wrong, good, or bad for them. Nothing can replace this, and it never should. However, to really ensure that we are delivering “best practice” we need to be in a state of constant learning. We learn a great deal from the people we support, and we also have a responsibility to learn, stretch and grow as a professional outside of our direct support relationships too.
A Mind-Life Community of Practice could be a great way of meeting your learning, growth and support needs and ensuring high quality support for the people you work with.
A community of practice is a coming together of peers who share a common learning need. A community of practice forms a commitment to each other and to a common cause or set of values. The people in a community of practice bond and identify with each other around this common interest. The group create something together, like resources, values, principles, and standards.
A Community of Practice is very different to a networking group. In a networking group, you may come to know many people in a similar role or industry. You share updates and information, but there is no expectation that everyone will be working from the same values, principles, or intent. Other than facilitating relationships, a networking group won’t necessarily create any original material or shared values. You may know someone in a networking group quite well yet have nothing in common. While a networking group can be a great way of knowing what’s happening outside your bubble and keeping “in the loop”, a community of practice could be seen as finding your “tribe” a place of support, growth, and identity.
To create a Mind-Life community of practice you will need:
1. A small group of people who want to deepen and stretch their knowledge around the Mind-Life mindsets.
2. Regular, structured meetings, either in person or online. It may help to create a social media group where you can share ideas and ask questions in between times.
3. While the group will need leadership in terms of facilitating the meetings, correspondence and operational issues, the members of the community should be peers. There shouldn’t be anyone in the group who identifies as “the boss” or “expert”. A manager and their staff could potentially be a community if the manager feels that they are a peer in relation to the shared learning need (the mind-life way). In this case, line management would need to be separate, and the manager would need to balance their natural power role by allowing others to take leadership positions within the community and meetings.
4. The founding members need to create a mission statement about the purpose of the community and some group rules. This will help them make decisions during times of change and communicate their shared identity to potential new members.
As the community meets and learns together, they will naturally start to deepen, add to, and build upon the Mind-Life materials and mindsets. As such, when the Mind-Life project comes to an end, these communities of practice will continue to evolve the thinking about Mind-life, continuing and improving upon the legacy left by the project.
During the meetings members of the community can share stories, ask questions, and reflect upon their experiences. In doing so, they learn with and from each other. By sharing vulnerability in the safe space created by the community, people can feel supported and heard and this can be the antidote to isolation and burnout. The members will be expected to reflect, question, and challenge their own and each other’s practice. The discussions around this will lead to professional development and better support for the people they work with.
These communities will grow and attract new members and with the mission statements as a guide, this growth will be a positive and powerful resource for all the members. Communities of practice are a tried and tested model of learning and development used in many different industries around the world. Perhaps we could apply this sustainable and effective process in the mental health arena for people who want to uphold a Mind-Life way.
Would you be interested? Contact Mind-Life Project Manager Gill Townsend GillianT@bas.org.au or 0455021229 and let’s start a conversation.
You can also join a Mind-Life Critical & Crucial Conversation online: https://www.mind-life.org.au/events
Download Mind-Life Mindsets here: https://www.mind-life.org.au/resourcestemp