Patient | Carer Community Projects
Learning Disabled Adult Theatre Workshops

Here are some strong messages which came out of the creative workshops from students, patients and carers

1. Empathy NOT Sympathy

“True communication occurs only between equals.”

Hagbard Celine (From the 'Illuminatus trilogy' by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson)

"The ability to understand and share the feelings of another." (OED)
This attitude encourages and promotes an equal relationship.

"Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune." (OED)
This attitude encourages and promotes an unequal relationship.

Here are some examples of encouraging a balanced relationship between patients and medical professionals, employed in the Bright Sparks Communications Project at Leeds Institute of Medical Education (September/October 2014):

The project involved a group of Learning Disabled Adults from The Fulfilling Lives Centre, Potternewton, Leeds; and students from Leeds Institute of Medical Education. We endeavoured to involve equal numbers of each.

The project took place at the University; an environment familiar to the students but unfamiliar to the Learning Disabled Adults. It was decided that the visitors would arrive one hour prior to the students, for familiarisation with the areas in which we would be working. Tea and biscuits were served 15 minutes prior to the students' arrival; so that upon the arrival of the students, the Learning Disabled Adults would be able to show the students to the refreshment station and help them to get a drink and a biscuit (or two). This, subtly, gave the Learning Disabled Adults ownership of the room and the 'upper hand' in the relationship; as well as encouraging a mutually enjoyable simple task before the actual workshop began. A similar dynamic was also employed in the lunch break.

"As medical professionals, we tend to talk about a patient's problems, not their strengths, as well as considering ourselves experts and the patient not." -

Dr. Angela Towle (Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine with the University of British Columbia)

2. Trust your instincts and don’t fear failure

A close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other's feelings or ideas and communicate well.

There may be times when you may find yourself in a situation in which there is no obvious ‘way-in’. The person with whom you are attempting to build a dialogue may seem unresponsive and disengaged. We often take for granted the myriad of cues, (verbal, physical and otherwise) that we receive from a person, helping us to assess and understand another’s state-of-mind. So, allow yourself to observe these cues open-mindedly and without too much forethought. The correct way to proceed with the interaction, building trust and empathy, will quickly feel like instinct and is highly likely to succeed. If your instinct happens to not achieve the required effect, you have not failed; simply try a different approach.

3. We all have ‘off days’

People’s behaviour, state-of-mind and mood, can change from moment to moment, from day to day. You should not assume that a person’s mode of communication will be consistent; your initial meeting might be quite different from a subsequent encounter. As the person becomes more comfortable and familiar with you, the communication between the two parties may well become easier.

A typical scenario might be, that a person’s condition may appear to severely affect their communication, whereas in fact your initial meeting caught them on an ‘off day’. When their current situation (be it personal issues, health, diet, weather et al) may have had a profound impact on their mood and therefore their ability to communicate. As such your judgement of their ability to communicate has been erroneously linked with their disability/disease when in fact it is due to other factors.