“Voices of Recovery” veterans group share experiences with Psychiatric Nursing students in performance at USF College of Nursing
For students, the first week of classes usually begins with a course overview, syllabus summary or a class policy outline. But undergraduate Instructor, Brittny D. Chabalowski, RN, MSN, Program Director, Upper Division/2nd Degree Nursing Sequence and Coordinator, Undergraduate Stimulation at the University of South Florida College of Nursing, began her Psychiatric Nursing Clinical class in an interesting way leaving students deeply moved and surprised!
Chalabowski, in collaboration with USF Psychiatric Nursing Instructor, Betsy Keller, invited a group of veterans who attend the outpatient Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC) at James A Haley Hospital to perform a moving play about their individual journeys through mental illness.USF Nursing student watching the PRRC players perform the play.
The drama players are veterans that have served in every U.S. military branch in wars oversees including Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and Cold War. The PRRC program helps these veterans recover from mental health illness and cope with post-war trauma and depression. Their drama group is called “Voices of Recovery,” and all its members have been rotating in the center as part of their psychiatric mental health nursing rotation for over 3 years.
Keller, who is also an employee at James A Haley Hospital, saw the play presented at the VA hospital three years ago, and thought would be an excellent presentation for future nursing students. As a result, undergraduate nursing students have been able to see the play as part of their psychiatric nursing rotation since fall 2012.Veterans answering questions from students during their presentation.
“Understanding mental illness and taking away the stigma that goes with these diseases are some of the goals of the psychiatric mental health nursing rotation,” Keller said. “After seeing the play students walk away with a better understanding of what people have gone through who suffer with mental illness and more comfortable to enter their clinical rotations.”
The PRRC players performed three acts including Hopelessness, Hope, and Recovery, which gave a poignant overview of the veterans’ journey through mental illness. They ended their presentation with a question and answer session between them and the students, which left everyone speechless.The PRRC players performing in front of more than 70 students and faculty in the Psychiatric Nursing class on Jan. 9, 2012.
“One of the powerful parts of this presentation is the question and answer period that occurs between the veterans and students,” Keller said. “Veterans have reported how therapeutic and healing the play and questions and answers sessions are for them. By having students listen to these powerful stories it opens their hearts and minds to the realities of what suffering with mental illness is like. This helps take away the gap of what students ‘fear’ and allows them to humanize what people go through when suffering with a mental illness.”
Students felt the same way. At the end of the presentation, one student said, “I thank you guys for coming here and opening up to us…. It takes courage to come out and tell us your issues. I want to also say that I appreciate your service, and what you’ve done for us. So, Thank you!”
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