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Learning from the Experts: Those Living with Mental Illness, Addictions and Trauma



By: Candice Waddell, Tanya Denys and Jacquelyn Pentney

Through the Recovery Narrative Assignment, Psychiatric Nursing students have an opportunity to interview a Recovery Expert - a person with lived experience of mental illness, addictions, and/or trauma. The stories of the Recovery Experts provide the students a better understanding of the trials, tribulations, and successes of these individuals.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada recognizes Recovery Narrative as a promising model that reduces stigma and enhances the understanding of mental illness among health care professionals. A study on Recovery Narrative determined that the student’s felt the assignment: 1) Broadened their perspectives; 2) Increased opportunities for engagement with clients; 3) Allowed the client relationship to be seen as true partnerships; and 4) Impacted their current and future psychiatric nursing practice (Knaak, Karpa, Robinson & Bradley, 2016).

The former students we spoke with agreed with the authors of that research. For instance, Emily McRae, a BScPN Class of 2018 graduate reflected: "… My client completely changed not only my life, but my nursing practice. Her experience taught me so much about what it can be like to be "the patient" in an adult acute setting. Her experience was raw, honest, and I am honoured to have had the pleasure of telling her story. I became a much more compassionate nurse after having a glimpse of her experience."

Mandy Newman, another 2018 graduate stated:  "This experience is more than just the client sharing their story but rather an opportunity to create an open, honest and therapeutic relationship with the student."

Additionally, a Recovery Expert shared:  "It was hard to retell my story, but the student was really receptive. … At the end of the project to be able to read what she wrote about me and my story, it made me feel like someone was actually listening to me and hearing my story." (Sherry, 2018)

Lastly, a preceptor within the program indicated:  "I have been involved with this assignment for 4 years. In this time, I have noticed and become more aware of how important listening is in our interactions with the people we serve. The student who is listening to the story is learning how to hear the unique voice of the story teller. This respect and care is vital to ongoing therapeutic relationships and is almost impossible to teach". (Marcia Hamm Wiebe, 2018)

The faculty members of Brandon University Department of Psychiatric Nursing would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the Recovery Experts and the preceptors that continue to assist us with this important learning. If you would like to become involved in the Recovery Narrative Assignment as a Preceptor or a Recovery Expert, please contact Jacquelyn Pentney at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

References: Knaak, S., Karpa, J., Robinson, R., & Bradley, L. (2016). "They are Us – We are Them": Tranformative learning through nursing education leadership. Health Care Management Forum, 29(3), 116-120.

BIO: Candice Waddell, Tanya Denys and Jacquelyn Pentney are all Registered Psychiatric Nurses and faculty members in the Department of Psychiatric Nursing at Brandon University.