10.30am and this week’s News Group is about to start on the neuro-rehabilitation unit where I work as a speech and language therapist. As I arrange chairs and sort through the newspapers, John arrives without any prompting, having remembered to consult his diary for his programme for the day. John is working on strategies to compensate for memory impairment.
Steve is next to walk in. He has come prepared with a couple of news stories to present to the rest of the group. Steve has had a long hospital stay and is close to getting home now. He wants to fine-tune his speech intelligibility strategies as he hopes to make moves to a gradual return to his job where speaking to small groups is a significant component. The plan is that next week he will co-facilitate the group with me as he has enjoyed re-exploring the nurturing side of his nature; discovering that he can be supportive of others here in hospital just as he has done in his work role in the past.
Jan arrives on time having consulted her diary too. She announces that she has ‘done her homework’. She spent a session with the speech and language therapy assistant yesterday selecting and preparing a news item to present to the group. Jan has used the group to rebuild her communicative confidence. This was low when she first came to us due to difficulties with verbal explanation as a result of generally slowed processing. Like Steve, Jan has now become a supportive member of the group, using sessions both to challenge herself to convey information and her own opinions concisely, as well as to encourage other group members to contribute to the discussion:
‘Other people share topics and I’m learning more. It’s like educating. I’m learning about more and different things. I’m speaking loudly. Preventing other people from butting in because before I just whispered. Now I don’t shut up talking. Definitely more confident. I can tell people ‘shut up, I’m talking!. I won’t cope with rudeness. I liked having the chance to prepare the day before.’
‘I was worried at first about coming but then I actually really enjoyed it.’
As Steve and Jan organise their notes, Hashim comes in, with my occupational therapy colleague and co-facilitator. Hashim finds it difficult to inhibit voicing his every thought, which as well as impacting on conversation, is affecting his ability to engage and benefit fully from his other therapy sessions. We will agree as a group before we start that we will endeavour to let everyone have a turn at getting their point across, and that we will supportively highlight when any group member may be returning to a theme they have already clearly expressed in whatever way they can. This provides a structure for giving direct feedback to Hashim as necessary. He also has the opportunity to interact with positive role models such as Steve and Jan throughout the session’s discussion on world news, sports news, celebrity gossip, local news or perhaps even a bit of light-hearted ‘ward gossip’. More serious ward issues may arise at times. The group is a safe place to express any frustrations and to problem-solve with others possible courses of action. As staff members, we may be able to take an opportunity here to provide information, or to offer to take on an advocacy role for a given issue if needed.
Now Val walks in with a student nurse who wants to learn more about the role of the SLT on the ward, and who will join our group today. Val has marked expressive aphasia. In a group setting, she has been able to show that her functional communication skills far outweigh her abilities in more specific word-finding tasks and in the limited, often practitioner-led, task-focused conversation opportunities which she is most frequently exposed to on the ward.
Vladan too has aphasia. Previously a keen daily newspaper reader, he has said he enjoys the group as it allows him the extra time he needs to absorb information about what is going on in the world. Participating in the group also provides Vladan with unpressured space to try out compensatory strategies, such as drawing or circumlocution, when word finding difficulties arise. 1:1 support from one of the two co-facilitators is available. Any encouragement to verbal output from Vladan is in response to whatever course the group discussion is taking. There are no test questions or situations where Vladan is expected to attempt to convey information already known by others in the group. Some weeks, with his strong auditory comprehension abilities, Vladan may choose to participate primarily by listening and commenting with facial expression (often cynical!), a laugh or a nod.
Josie completes the group for this week’s session. It is not easy for Josie to remain orientated to time and place. The group provides an opportunity for her to receive gentle orientation as we will generally begin by checking the date on the newspapers, again avoiding any direct testing. The daily news then provides ready-made, genuine material for orientation to the times we are living in as the group as a whole attempts to piece together the facts on any given news story before moving on to opportunities for discussion and debate.
‘It’s lively and thorough and makes me feel as though I am part of something.’
Although definitely a place for rehabilitation, our ward does feel very much like a medical ward with people spending large amounts of time at their bed-space on a bay when they are not engaged in therapy sessions or activities. Group members have frequently reported that they enjoy the opportunity to socialise with other people they may otherwise not meet; people from so many different backgrounds and ways of life:
‘Works as a social mechanism – that’s important for people with communication problems. It helped me to work on volume and voice but it was more about confidence.’
Group members consistently express how they enjoy the group sessions and will talk about the news group during their other therapy sessions that day. The group membership can change from week to week according to the admission and discharge patterns on the ward. However, the format of the group is such that as long as we have news to discuss, there will be people on our ward who can benefit from and simultaneously contribute to what the news group has to offer.
Please note all names have been changed to protect identities.