This week we’re speaking with Helen MOORES-POOLE, an Advanced Speech & Language Therapist working with The IDEAS Team: Interventions for Dementia, Assessment, Education & Support in NHS Dumfries & Galloway.

Helen attended Secrets of Simple Graphics back in September 2017. Here she discusses how she has applied her learning, the feedback she is receiving and the overall impact of using graphics in her work. 

What was your reason for signing up to the training? 
I am a Speech & Language Therapist working in a specialist team that provides support and education to staff working with people with dementia who may be experiencing stress or distress. We offer educational courses at different levels of complexity for hospital and care home staff so I was looking for something more exciting than PowerPoint, something more in line with current adult education principles, something that wasn’t as ‘wordy’ or ‘preachy’. We work with all sorts of people, including some who are highly technically or practically skilled but who dislike reading, writing, filling out forms, find it difficult or have English as their 2nd language.

How did the training meet your needs?
I think first and foremost, the training is about problem solving, and thinking in a different way… how can I take what I want to say but present it in a more accessible way? The graphics I create now aren’t add-ons to my work, they actually make my work better – more immediately understandable and memorable. I had seen some books or material online but being with Emer and other learners in a really encouraging environment really gave me the confidence to give it a go. I was a hopeless drawer at school… I can remember my maths books being full of holes where I’d rubbed out the technical drawings but it really isn’t about artistic ability – it’s creative definitely but not artistic if that makes sense. Using graphics now helps me get my message across in a completely different way but also helps clarify and consolidate my thinking if I’ve got something quite complex or a lot of information I’m really trying to get my head around.

Summary of a 3 day Scottish Improvement Skills course 

How are you using what you’ve learned?
I use my new found skills in lots of different ways. I’ve written blogs and presented at National Conferences about my work and used graphics to reiterate a point or to encourage people to think about what I’m saying in a different way, to capture a moment or a summary. I’ve also gotten into the habit of taking information from courses that I attend for my own development and using graphics to capture and make sense of all the information I receive on those, to help me remember key action points. They’re a great talking point, people are always really interested to see them and ask about how they came about. I’m now also looking at how I can use it with my patients who can’t read or write following an acquired brain injury or a stroke or who have dementia, if they can recognise a drawing and use that to access information instead.

What kind of results are you getting?
If I’m interviewing someone about a course I’ve run and how they might apply it in a clinical setting or debriefing them after an incident or experience, I now give them a flipchart marker and ask them to put something onto the paper I’ve drawn a graphic on – I find they open up much more and give me a far higher quality of information and often they say that it’s more enjoyable this way and feels less like work, less threatening or intimidating. I find I ‘teach’ less and am moving more to guided exploration and discovery around a topic which is great, it’s much more memorable and much more likely to result in transformational change back in the workplace.

What kind of feedback are you getting?
Nothing but positive! I’ve also done a few poems on flip charts and pinned them on the office corridor wall just as a motivational or appreciation to hospital staff and at Christmas I had a ball creating a giant Christmas card rather than sending lots of little ones – much more eco! The feedback I’ve had from our staff at the training sessions has also been great – they really like them. The graphics inject an element of fun and release and when you’re working with staff who are working in sometimes really difficult situations in the psychiatric hospital for example that’s a really helpful and positive thing.

What would you say has been the overall impact of using graphics in your work?
It’s given me a real boost, the course was a definite springboard.. I use graphics to personally de-stress, but also to capture, to convey, to summarise, to remind. I was already on that journey – dissatisfied with conventional NHS teaching methods and looking for something better for our hard working staff but this has definitely helped me to achieve that and to really think about how we say something not just why or what. If I compare the material I was presenting to staff before, even with the addition of video clips, and what I present now – before was black and white and now our world is technicolour!

What would you say to someone who is considering going on the training?
Go for it… I was really nervous and timid and arrived on my own. My heart sank when I walked in and saw paper and pens on the desk – I hadn’t thought I would be drawing right from the go… but you can do it honestly.. if I can you can! Learning a new skill is great for the brain, and using parts of the brain you don’t use in your everyday work is also great for creating flexibility and resilience, boosting mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s also been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of dementia so there’s lots of really positive reasons to try something new. There’s no downside.. just keep practicing.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m definitely an advocate for the graphic life.. I find it really relaxing and now get completely geeky and protective about my pens.. it’s completely different from what I do as a day job but also intrinsically a part of it. It’s definitely made my life more colourful! I’m part of a larger community on Twitter and Facebook of people who use their graphics in all sorts of ways and it’s a great source of inspiration and support.

For more information on The IDEAS Team follow them on Facebook @IDEAS Team NHS or Helen on Twitter @poole_moores.