In Spring 2018 Voices Unlocked project provided a one day “psychosis” awareness and support training for staff and volunteers at The Manuel Bravo Project.
The Manuel Bravo Project is a charitable organisation based in Leeds that aims to help asylum seekers who are unable to find adequate legal representation elsewhere. Senior Immigration Caseworker, Holli, reached out to Voices Unlocked for training because her team felt the need for a better understanding of mental health issues.
Many of the people that the Manuel Bravo Project works with have experienced trauma in their home countries or on their way to the UK. None of them know if they will be allowed to remain in the UK. And all are under considerable financial pressure – one of Manuel Bravo Projects’ criteria for helping people is that “they must be unable to pay for a representative – this usually means they will be destitute or receiving asylum support”.
Holli and her colleagues noticed that after going through lengthy legal interviews, many of their clients were struggling with voices and visions and seemed to have no access to support. They wanted to create a more ‘holistic service’, which, as Holli described, “would not only provide legal advice but also use client connections volunteers to provide friendly support and assist male clients to attend appointments, see the doctor/expert when they find it too difficult, and help people to relax after what can be a difficult consultation with their caseworker.”
They launched a pilot project to support clients by pairing them with volunteers (many of whom had been through the asylum application system themselves).
“The idea for the project was to have a volunteer who was mental health trained who could meet with the client after they had been in a meeting with me. Often they have to go through the traumatic event they suffered through and this had a huge impact on their mental health. The volunteer would be ready with tea and biscuits to chat about anything the client wanted to for up to an hour. I hoped that by having this conversation it would help to ground the client a little, so they wouldn’t be thinking so much about the traumatic experiences they had had to speak with me about.”
The pilot project made a great start, however, volunteers were uncertain about how to support people who were experiencing voices, visions, and other experiences commonly associated with “psychosis”. The training that VU provided explored these experiences and gave some guidance about how to support someone who is distressed by their experiences.
One of the key messages from the training was that supporting someone experiencing voices or unusual beliefs (etc.) is in many ways the same as supporting someone who is not experiencing these things. The most important elements of support are still being present, listening non-judgementally, and believing in the person you are supporting. These are all things the Manuel Bravo Project staff and volunteers were already doing well.
The training also covered coping strategies and techniques that people with lived experience have identified as helpful, with the caveat that what is helpful for one person might not be helpful for someone else.
The last part of the training was a ‘reflective practice’ during which staff and volunteers shared their experiences of working for the Manuel Bravo Project. This was a chance to support one another and recognise challenges of the work.
In feedback, MBP staff and volunteers said that they felt more prepared to support clients who might be distressed by experiences of hearing voices, ‘unusual beliefs’ (etc). We hope that this will help them to continue the excellent work that they are doing to support a marginalised and neglected group of people.
For more information about the Manuel Bravo Project, their website is: http://www.manuelbravo.org.uk/