Annual Conference

TheMHS 2014 S037: Keynote Day 2 – Melody Riefer and the CommonGround approach

By August 28, 2014 No Comments

Melody Riefer shared her own stories as well as introducing us to the CommonGround approach to storytelling. 

See Melody’s abstract here

Melody argued that “no one story can tell people who we really are”. Yet advocates are often asked to share their story as if it’s a single and simple entity. Melody argues that a linear story doesn’t capture the experience of any one of us. In sharing her experiences as a consumer, worker and advocate, she will tell a different version of her story in each context according to her level of comfort, the audience, etc. Rather than our stories being linear, Melody demonstrates that our lives are often circuitous. 

Melody suggested that we need to resist the temptation to tell only our “easy” stories and to have the courage to tell the “difficult” stories. For example, sometimes we need to speak up and name abusive experiences and “out” the abusers. Melody described how through this process of speaking up about injustice, she was able to make visible a broader picture of her experience and identity, including that of a survivor and person in recovery.

Melody described Pat Deegan’s CommonGround approach

CommonGround is a storytelling process used in mental health services that helps the consumer to be in charge of the development and communication of their story. It is a story-telling “technology” to support:

Organization – Organizing a description of the consumer’s experience in such a way that it is accessible to both the consumer and the treatment team.

Language Sharing – Helps overcome the difficulty of consumers and service providers misunderstanding one another because of the use of different languages such as technical, psychological or medical jargon. 

Record keeping – A method for monitoring experience over time that overcomes biases in the way we remember things. For example, after a bad morning we might say that our life is terrible, while after a good morning we would remember the good things and report that things are going well. This ongoing record keeping process allows consumers to provide a longer-term view of their progress.

Self-assessment – Ensures that the consumer remains in charge of the story being communicated about their recovery – “nothing about me without me”.

Evidence – CommonGround self-assessment involves a co-constructed story about the consumer’s experience. it provides a way of structuring the  experience that presents evidence to help their stories be heard in the mental health system.

Longitudinal review – Providing a long term snapshot of the consumer’s recovery to the consumer and treatment team, in such a way that both can see the longer term patterns.

CommonGround fundamentals:

Personal Medicine: How I help myself. What I do to be well and stay well, such as exercise, prayer, and mindfulness. 

Power Statement: How I advocate for myself so that treatment supports my recovery. I speak up for my needs and ensure that the goals and objectives in my treatment plan are focused on my interests and values. E.g. I want x from medicine and I don’t want x.

Decision Support: Providing assistance with the process of making truly informed decisions. Not offering false choices as well as being willing to help someone take calculated risks.

Shared Decision Making: Making the best choices for my recovery. Sometimes this feels uncomfortable, but it is important to focus on building consensus.

CommonGround is:

  • A bidirectional exchange of information
  • Elevates and recognizes all participants as experts
  • It is person-centred – recovery orietneted, wellness focussed and hope-filled
  • It’s practical and it’s being done right now in hundreds of organisations in the US

Find out more about the CommonGround approach here.