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Voluntary activity gives strength at culture houses

The culture house offers an option for 18−35-year-old mental health rehabilitants alongside with traditional open rehabilitation therapies. The activity does not contain treatment or therapy, but is in itself rehabilitating and therapeutic.

The guided functional peer support model (GFP) applied in the culture workshops practically means the training of the mental health rehabilitants to lead cultural activities for each other according to the principles of voluntary activity.

You can act as a voluntary peer counsellor even if you’ve turned 35. The culture house supplies the young mental health rehabilitants with a space where they can be young and concentrate on their own skills despite their mental health challenges.

Instead of focusing on the illnesses or problems of the guests, peer support concentrates on the fact that every visitor is an individual, and together they are all connected with common interests instead of diagnoses. The activities are fully client-based, and the personnel provide behind-the-scenes assistance.

“Here the employees are in a position where they make the activities possible instead of deciding or ordering what to do. The employees are here to support and enable.” A peer to peer, Tampere culture house Virta

The culture house does not only offer support for rehabilitation, it also provides an opportunity for active civic activity. The young adults who have gone through the peer support training plan and lead volunteer-based activities for other clients. The peer support training takes 24 hours (6 x 4 h), and after graduating you can start leading your own group.

The groups operate for five weeks at a time, and every peer counsellor commits to directing a group for one period at a time. Every peer counsellor gets their own professional worker who supports in planning the group activities, as well as with the group meeting if needed. After every group meeting the peer counsellor and the worker go through a feedback conversation. The sixth week is a break week from the activities, when the groups are on hiatus, and special focus is put on the wellbeing of the peer counsellors.

In addition to peer counselling, you can take part in the culture house activities by attending as a part of the group or for example by having coffee or playing board games with the others in the common facilities. You can also come to the culture house to work on your own paintings or craftwork. Everyone defines their own weekly rhythm and only commits to what they have signed up for. Nothing is compulsory.

“The fact that there is no obligation is just much better, you can listen to your own feelings and maybe be capable of more than you’d think.”  A peer counsellor, Tampere culture house Virta

The activities direct the attention to positive resources and skills instead of problems.

Through voluntary activities and belonging to the voluntary community the culture house gives a chance to be active and have a meaningful life. The aim is to support every visitor according to their individual situation.

“It’s nice to do things that interest you. We are first and foremost connected by our common interest in culture, not by the fact that we are rehabilitants.” A peer counsellor, Tampere culture house Virta

The attitude towards the rehabilitant and the way they are encountered are important in the culture house model.  The visitor gets to have their voice heard on the first visit and the personnel are interested in their opinions. Success in peer counselling and social situations has encouraged many visitors to return back to working life or studying.

“When you’ve been here, it has become easier to notice your own gifts and talents. Until now I haven’t been able to experiment, here it has been possible. When you direct groups, you notice that you can, that it’s nice. The feeling of inferiority disappears.  “ A peer counsellor, Tampere culture house Virta

The culture house activity was started in 2009 by the Niemikoti Foundation’s ELVIS project. The GFP model and the culture house ELVIS were discovered to be such effective mental health support tools that more culture houses were wanted in different cities. It was then that the Sosped Foundation wanted to take responsibility for the further development of the culture house activity, and it received funding from Finland’s Slot Machine Association for the years 2012−2016. During the project, culture houses have been established in Lohja, Kainuu and Tampere.

There is regular collaboration between the different culture houses in a nationwide culture house network that consists of the personnel of all the culture houses. The culture house is a place for young adult mental rehabilitants, but it is possible to apply the model to other special groups, for example the mentally disabled or immigrants.

The writer is a project planner for the Sosped Foundation in Tampere culture house Virta.

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