Learning to Live Again was an action research project. Conceived in 2007 there were two phases to the study. The aim of the project was to investigate the feasibility and then the implementation of a service user led aftercare treatment programme. Phase 1 of the study was about building a team of mentors (service users stable enough to take on the aftercare of other people) and trying out ideas for the content of the aftercare package. Phase 2 was about implementing the best of the ideas from Phase 1.
The same qualitative methodology was used in both Phases. For Phase 2, semi-structured interviews were carried out with a purposive sample of clinical staff including the project co-ordinator (n=3), mentors (n=5) and service users accessing the aftercare programme (n=8). The interviews were transcribed and analysed using a grounded theory based approach. This involved several stages of coding, memo writing and a process of constant comparison to formulate an overall theoretical structure. The top level themes for mentors were: being a mentor, the project itself, and the group dynamics. For the service users: the help received, the experience, and worries about the future of the project. Conclusions for translating the research into practice are:
1. Appointing the right service user/project co-ordinator is essential to success.
2. There needs to be a clear and distinctive purpose (in this case doing fun things together) which can be undertaken by the service users themselves.
3. The professionals leading the project need a view on how to deal with the group dynamics and in particular how to deal with relapse.
4. The aftercare programme needs to be seen as an integral part of treatment and embedded in the culture of the host agency.
The general principles at work here are well established – the purpose of the research was to understand better how to make those principles work in a real world service.