Natalie Diab-Bale is an OT and clinical coordinator for Kent and Medway Partnership Trust Recovery College, she shares the importance of Recovery Colleges and the role they play in a patient’s recovery journey

Most occupational therapists, whether you are a student OT, a practicing OT, or an OT returning to work, will have an awareness of Recovery Colleges; what they do, the way they do it and how they can support communities.

According to ImRoc 2021, there are currently a total of 85 Recovery Colleges in the UK; 77 in England, two in Scotland, five in North Ireland and one in Wales.

Recovery Colleges provide peer supported spaces where people can improve their health and wellbeing opportunities in a shared and safe learning environment. They work around specific guiding principles, some being that they are ‘open to all’ and that they ‘co-produce’ their service and provisions with a valuable collaboration between those with lived expertise and those with clinical or learned expertise.

Recovery Colleges have been able to justify their effectiveness over the past few decades through robust evaluations. The expansion and delivery of such wonderful provisions is continuing to grow, and they are now in a better position to respond to the needs of their local communities, including individuals and stakeholders. Considering the enormous strain on many statutory services and a reduction in funding for some third sector provisions, many Recovery Colleges are able to offer meaningful, sustainable and empowering resources and self-care information to their communities, which can improve health, wellbeing and quality of life.

The colleges’ style, ethos and practices challenge typical medical model ways of working. For example, they have resisted the emphasis on hierarchy and have a more inclusive structure in regards to decision-making. There is less focus on impairment, the environment is all about what people can do rather than what they can’t. Communities and students share knowledge and experiences which often nurtures self-efficacy and wellbeing.

Kent and Medway Recovery and Wellbeing College began as a pilot in 2019 evidencing its worth through student feedback, evaluations and outcome measures. Its success meant that a five-year business plan was put in place to roll out the college over the whole of Kent and Medway, agreed by Kent and Medway Partnership Trust (KMPT, NHS), in line with the integrated care partnership localities.

Admittedly, the timeline for this changed due to the setbacks we all observed during the pandemic. However, the college has gone from strength to strength under enormous challenges, such as limited capacity and high demands, especially during the pandemic. Having such a passionate and recovery-focused leader, who is also an occupational therapist, to inspire and support us, meant we were provided opportunities to develop our confidence, skills and autonomy and to roll out meaningful provisions across the county in a safe, contained and graded way.

The feedback we have gained from students has been really positive, one student commented: “Absolutely loved attending the college. I find that the courses are really well planned out and the facilitators are all very informative and patient. I have learned a lot, not just about other people but about myself as well! Thank you.”

We use an outcome measure called the CHIME which measures connectedness, hope, identity, meaning/purpose, and empowerment. Those that attend our courses are considered to be ‘students of life’, not patients or service users who have impairments or need “fixing”. This language in itself has unique connotations to the typical ways that people view themselves and others. As Einstein once said “…everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live believing it is stupid’. Students attending our courses share their own personal experiences, wisdoms and skills with one another, not everything is focused on what they struggle with. This varies from some of the traditional medical model approaches that encourage this way of ‘being’ and ‘doing’.

Recovery College team members are employed for their lived experiences; both trials and tribulations, which encourages a broad and diverse workforce. They use their experiences and the tools that helped them to “stay above water” to enable other students to make sense of their recovery and wellbeing. Their presence as a paid facilitator often provides hope for those students who cannot hold hope for themselves at this point in time. The team breathe, talk and model recovery, resilience and hope through their narratives and actions, which has positive impacts on their own sense of wellbeing, as well as their team and the students.

I am humbled every day to be part of such a supportive, inspiring and innovative team, one where we are encouraged to have open discussions around one another’s health and wellbeing needs, enhancing an authentic culture of transparency, equality and inclusiveness. The natural consequence of this means our health needs are met with compassion, flexibility and reasonable adjustments that enable us to thrive and enjoy the work we need to do, want to do, and gain great satisfaction from doing.

About the Authors
This article was produced by Natalie Diab-Bale, occupational therapist and clinical coordinator for Kent and Medway Partnership Trust Recovery College, with collaboration and support from Pam Wooding, Julie Fuller, Kylie Cedarblad, Lee Robinson and the wider team of facilitators and administrators at the Recovery College.

Get your copy of The OT Magazine

Read more articles here