Intermediates between patients and therapists
“Do you know what it’s like to hear voices, to have fear of death out of a sudden or to feel a deep inner emptiness?” – Doctors, therapists or nurses can rarely answer this question because they cannot fall back on the personal experience of being mentally ill. In order to balance out this lack of experience of professionals, Pfalzklinikum for Psychiatry and Neurology in Klingenmünster, Germany, has trained formerly affected people to share their experience and accompany acutely ill people on their way to recovery.
In a joint project, Pfalzklinikum and the “state association of ex-users of mental health services” in the Palatinate (Landesverband Psychiatrie-Erfahrener, LVPE) have adapted the EU-funded program “EX-IN” that has already been successful in other countries like Norway and Sweden.
EX-IN stands for Experienced-Involvement. People who have experienced how it feels to be mentally ill, and who are now stable, work as intermediates between patients and therapists. In special training they have learned to understand their own experiences and competences, to gain and convey expertise and to become confident in their role as “recovery companions”.
The training is based on twelve modules. It covers the whole range of modern psychiatry, psychology, practical knowledge, crisis intervention, consulting and self inquiry and is finished by two internships and an evaluation. With this training completed, the “recovery companions” have an EU-wide acknowledged qualification as employees in mental health services or as lecturers for qualification and further training.
Currently, three EX-INs are working in Pfalzklinikum in different areas, depending on their personal experience with mental illness – amongst others, in the fields of psychosis or dual diagnoses, i.e. psychoses that are interdependent with addiction. Patients and professionals benefit from the EX-INs’ work: they complement therapy sessions, hold group sessions, or seek the personal exchange with the acutely ill patients. Falling back on their own experience they can “translate” the view from patients to professionals and vice versa. This sensitises the way of their mutual communication and understanding. While working with the patients, the recovery companions also share their way of coping with their illness and give practical tips for the everyday life.
Pfalzklinikum plans to qualify further EX-INs and to fully establish the program within the next years. The long-term aim is to shift the perspective of therapists and patients from handling the acute illness to developing a healthy way of life in general.
By Romina Männl, Pfalzklinikum