We know that communication and conversation play a key role in recovery and serve an important function in mental health. One innovative program at CAMH is helping patients improve their communication skills by using podcasts to facilitate discussion.
“Our clients are sometimes more isolated from the outside world, and they can miss out on some of the developments that technology has to offer,” says Recreation Therapist Megan Duquette. She started this program as a pilot project in the CAMH Forensic Unit, which treats people who have come into contact with the law and are at the hospital for treatment of their mental illness and/or addiction. Inpatients in forensics are subject to increased levels of security, with the goal of recovery, rehabilitation and eventual re-integration into the community.
The initial group of participants consisted mainly of older men, many of whom had limited experience with new media. Megan decided to use podcasts as a medium because it offered a lower barrier of entry, and initially had to explain it to them by relating it to an online talk radio show.
“The aim is for clients to move through the system. Many of them move from a medium secure unit to a general unit and gain access to technology like cellphones and the internet,” says Megan. “And maybe some of the patients don’t even know what a podcast is. They don’t know that it’s something they can use to learn about topics they have an interest in.”
It ended up being an effective platform for discussion and learning that resonated very well with the group.
To help with the project, she sought the assistance of Mobile Arts Programming, a non-profit that works with organizations to facilitate audio recording. Over the years, MAP has engaged with CAMH through various programs for patients.
MAPping it out
“We’re essentially like a recording studio on wheels,” says John Baker, one half of the duo who serves as Facilitators for MAP. “We have recording equipment, iPads and headphones that the clients use. “We’ve been sitting on this (podcast facilitation) idea for years, and the folks at CAMH Gifts of Light knew that we had a curriculum, but it wasn’t until Megan approached us where we found the right opportunity.”
“It was helpful for me because I was originally going to have to write a framework to develop this program, and I was just reaching out to John and Wes to help with the recording,” says Megan.
The program came together through a perfect, synchronistic storm of ideas and experience.
With a willing group of participants, Megan’s clinical expertise and MAP’s technical know-how, the only major obstacle was the ongoing pandemic, which posed some challenges.
“The first three months of this program were all virtual. We went through a whole process with the clients, teaching all about podcasting – teaching them what it is, what it looks like, how to go about creating it from a tech perspective, from a narrative perspective. We covered all those bases,” says Wes Grove, who is the other Facilitator in the program. Both John and Wes have extensive experience in music and recording, but also have a lot of experience running arts-based care and support programs.
“Because I worked in an inpatient unit, I was able to be in the same room with our clients,” says Megan. “John and Wes would then join us on a Webex call and the three of us would then facilitate the sessions. Our clients were very receptive and weren’t too fussed about the virtual aspect because they’ve been doing virtual programs already.” The clients were so engaged that they dove into the work, and she jokes that “once the sessions had started, my main job was to hit record and save. Eventually the clients were just interviewing each other. It happened so out of the blue and so organically that I was blown away at their progress.”
“When we were finally able to meet in person, we took that to the next level. We engaged with the clients, and they were the ones who came up with the topics, the questions, themes and they had the autonomy to share their perspectives on certain topics, but also to bring in some of their lived experience,” says Wes.