Life as a Patchwork Quilt

Posted: 28/06/2016

A mental health diagnosis is only one part of a person’s narrative, says TAFE teacher and social services professional, Ava Freeland.

A Patchwork Life

Using A Patchwork Life

I’ve been using Innovative Resources’ A Patchwork Life cards at the beginning of my lessons as an icebreaker. I offer the students the cards face down and ask them to pick one at random. I give the students a minute to reflect on their chosen card and think about how it relates to mental health.

I then go around the room and ask each person to describe their card and share their reflection. The exercise can take about half-an-hour to forty minutes, depending on the size and dynamics of the group.

I often paraphrase back to the students what they have said and use this as an opportunity to start to introduce the kind of language we use in mental health.

I find that the cards really set the tone for how my sessions will run. They create open dialogue about mental health and also introduce how to use different tools to engage clients.

I have my own interpretation of the cards and it’s always interesting to hear how others have read them. As the facilitator I have to make sure that I don’t respond by imposing my own thoughts or feelings about the cards and allow the person to express their own ideas.

Interpretations of gender

I had concerns that the cards may be too gendered as they are geared towards women’s groups. However, it was interesting to hear some of my students describe the character that appears throughout the cards as a male, and some did not assign a gender at all.

There’s a big range to the discussions that the cards prompt, from talking about the feelings of isolation and depression to the importance of self-care to pet therapy.

I haven’t used the stickers yet, but I’ve thought about using them to create vision boards with my students.

The value of alone times

I love so many of these cards, the colours are just beautiful. I’m particularly drawn to the ones where the character is depicted alone at home. They’re alone but they seem content with a cup of tea, their book or their knitting. It reminds me how precious these alone times are. We’re often focussed on consuming things or experiences but some of the most satisfying moments are when we stop and take time to nurture ourselves.

The metaphor of a patchwork quilt

To me, the metaphor of a patchwork quilt speaks to how life is made up of so many different elements. Each part fits together to make it whole and tell someone’s story.

I really like using this concept to introduce the topic of mental health. It sets the tone for thinking about diagnosis as only one part of a person’s narrative. I find that they promote thought and discussion surrounding the various different aspects in life and how these can all impact on mental health.

I also use the Strengths Cards to introduce the subject of a ‘strengths-based approach’ to my class. They are another great resource and a fun way to start the discussion on this topic.

ava feeland

Ava Freeland has worked in social services for the past ten years. She started in youth drug and alcohol then worked in adult community mental health as a support worker and later a care coordinator.

Creativity, flexibility and being client-led are some of the core values that underpin her work.

She completed her youth work-studies at Holmesglen TAFE and ten years later came full circle and returned as a teacher. She is a big advocate for the TAFE system as it’s ‘an accessible pathway that allows for practical and creative learning’. She teaches in the Youth Work course and also a subject in Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) and Mental Health.

Thank you Ava for your story!


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