Last November the first cohort of NCT Parents in Mind volunteers gathered together in Warwickshire for week one of their peer supporter training. They were naturally apprehensive but also excited about the journey ahead of them. Each woman had personal lived experience of some degree of perinatal mental health or emotional difficulties, be this close to twenty years ago or more recently. Apart from this the women knew nothing about each other and were understandably slightly cautious in that first session. However, they left feeling assured that they were among a group of empathetic and caring women and had the support of a fantastic trainer to encourage them through their journey:
‘I really enjoyed it [today] and am so looking forward to attending the rest of the course. The other women seem like a lovely bunch and it already feels like somewhere where we can all share experiences and learn so much’.
The NCT Parents in Mind Peer Supporter training covers three main areas of learning: Birth and Beyond (community peer support), Group Facilitation and Perinatal Mental Health. It is accredited by the Open College Network and although highly practical in nature, the volunteers complete a reflective workbook and a short piece of homework each week. Within thirty hours spread across ten weeks the group have covered topics including the effects pregnancy and parenthood can have on mental health and vice versa with detail on different disorders experienced, feeding, birth trauma and relationships to name a few. Our NCT trainer, Isabelle, has bags of experience training women as peer supporters. This was clear in her approachable, friendly and humour based manner which, coupled with a fantastic depth of knowledge, left the volunteers feeling they were in good hands. Each session involved group discussion, interactive exercises, and active listening practice, all based around the concept of ‘real’ as opposed role play.
Unsurprisingly then it has been a personal journey for everyone. It isn’t always easy to talk about such sensitive topics as perinatal mental health, especially when it hits home and brings difficult memories to the surface. As the local project manager, it has also been emotional but rewarding to see the strength of the volunteers when sharing their stories and offering a supportive shoulder to one other. Having seen them develop these skills and grow personally fills me with confidence in their ability to support local women.
The first cohort has now reached the end of their ten sessions. Any apprehension felt in the room was no longer about the training but instead a mixture of nerves and anticipation as they get ready to start down their next journey providing support to others.
‘As we get near the end of the training, I grow more and more eager to apply our knowledge and experience into practice’.
In the next few weeks the eight volunteers will set up local peer support groups in pairs and 1:2:1 sessions for women who are pregnant or have babies under a year. The volunteers will also continue to meet regularly in monthly group reflection and supervision sessions to ensure they all receive the support they need as peer supporters. I’m quite sure there will be a fair few social gatherings as well as it has become clear that over the course of the training some genuine friendships have been established.
NCT’s Parents in Mind project is funded by the Department of Health. You can find further information and contact the project team here.