Course gave a glimpse of a different world

Patsy Atkinson tells us about her brief encounter with frontline community and healthcare practitioners as part of an Ag Eisteacht training programme
Course gave a glimpse of a different world
People attending an Ag Eisteacht training programme.

BY the third and final day, I was beginning to question my career choice.

Having spent three days in the company of community and healthcare practitioners as part of Ag Eisteacht’s ABLE brief intervention training course, I caught a glimpse of a different world.

I have worked in corporate communications all of my life. The majority of the other participants spend their working days in the community supporting families in need, asylum seekers, refugees, teenage mothers and others who turn to them for help.

I opted to do this training for frontline practitioners because if I am going to write about Ag Eisteacht’s work, I have to understand it.

Representatives from Nasc Ireland (The Irish Immigrant Support Centre), the Lantern Community Project, LINC, (Ireland’s only Lesbian & Bisexual Women’s Community Organisation) and many other community organisations gathered at Northridge House in Mahon, Cork, home of Ag Eisteacht and another charity, Northridge House Education Centre.

What struck me was the participants’ shared love of their work and their willingness to help others. Caring and giving seems to come naturally to them, yet they wanted to learn more about how to make the most of those ‘turned to’ moments or brief interventions or encounters that punctuate their working day.

As the training progressed, I watched light bulb moments illuminate the room as Ag Eisteacht’s two trainers, Una McHale and Trish Hurley, shared the simple framework and building blocks of ABLE (Adopt, Build, Listen & Empower).

ABLE helps practitioners to build relationships and to manage their time and boundaries. It shares insight into the value of building strong relationships with clients, and how their clients’/service users’ own relationships impact on their mental and physical health and wellbeing.

It’s about making the most of every interaction by building rapport and listening reflectively and compassionately while empathising with clients.

The trainers shared evidence-informed insight into the different stages of relationships to give participants on the course perspective into the challenges their clients may be experiencing in their lives.

It also looked at the detrimental effect that toxic stress, particularly, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have on someone and how this can be reversed or minimised if they have a supportive relationship in their lives.

Practitioners were asked to bear in mind not what’s wrong with an individual who turns to them for help, but to consider what’s happened to them so that they can listen empathically to empower them.

As Trish Hurley, Ag Eisteacht trainer and community nurse, said: “Using the ABLE model, we can create time and space for people to speak their truth.”

The ABLE model, created by a former GP and Ag Eisteacht’s founder, Dr Maeve Hurley, gently guides practitioners through how to make the most of every brief intervention or conversation so that people feel empowered to make decisions for themselves and are buoyed by a narrative of hope.

Listening is one of the key skills covered by the training. I’ve always considered myself a good listener, but I discovered that true listening is about listening to understand and listening reflectively. It is not about chipping in and bringing the conversation back to ‘me, me, me’ – something we are all guilty of at times.

Practical exercises brought the theory to life.

To be honest, it wasn’t easy turning to the stranger on my left to share a key transition or period of change in my life for three minutes while he listened intently and reflected my emotions back to me empathically.

We then reversed the roles. Three minutes is quite a long time to talk, but three minutes listening, without interrupting, is truly intense and draining — but also, up-lifting.

I felt privileged to hear his story, and I was suddenly overwhelmed and emotional at the thought of what it must be like to do this; to be in a position to listen with respect every single working day so that someone feels valued, as each of the people around that training room do in their daily routine work.

Listening to enhance or to change someone’s life or to inspire or empower them takes this under-rated skill to a whole new level.

What struck me was the inner resilience practitioners need to cope with hearing people’s stories, distress and problems every day, and how few resources there are when it comes to supporting those who provide this care.

With services like the homeless and disability sectors, mental health and other community care organisations under increasing pressure due to limited resources, how can frontline practitioners continue to give their time, their energy and passion?

A valuable aspect of the ABLE training model is that it gives frontline workers a framework to manage their time and boundaries.

Opening a conversation can be difficult at times, but learning how to create a safe space and contain it, while still keeping the door open for future interventions, is a skill that needs to be learned and practised.

And practise we did, via skills modelling and by watching and learning from Ag Eisteacht’s trainers’ own first-hand experiences as practitioners. The participants on the course seemed particularly pleased with this aspect of the training as it goes some way towards protecting their own health and wellbeing.

All agreed that the three days spent in training, away from their routine work, had given them rare time and space for self-reflection, which, according to Ag Eisteacht, is vital if they are to understand and support others.

There were highs and lows throughout the ABLE training course that brought tears and laughter to the room.

We role-played. We shared personal things, like aspects of our personalities, our relationships and our life experiences. We listened. We talked. We cried and we laughed.

Sharing three days with such selfless individuals and gaining a little insight into their work and challenges was a privilege.

It highlighted to me the contribution that frontline practitioners make to society and how they quietly enrich so many vulnerable people’s lives. These unsung heroes who continue to give are now just a little more able to face the challenges of a new day.

Cork charity Ag Eisteacht is running an ABLE brief intervention training course in Cork and Dublin for practitioners working in health, social care and community settings. The ABLE (Adopt a relational approach, Build, Listen and Empower) model develops practitioners’ ability to build relationships and to manage boundaries. The training is approved for CPD purposes by Social Care Ireland, Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists ( IASLT), Irish Academy of Audiologists ( IAOA), the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, the Irish Association of Social Workers, the Irish College of General Practitioners, the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Department of Education. The three-day course takes place in Cork on November 18 and December 4 and 5 at Northridge House Education Centre, Castle Road, Blackrock, Cork. The Dublin training will take place on October 22 and November 5 and 6 at The Wisdom Centre, 25 Cork St, Dublin 8. Tickets €250-€300, via Eventbrite. You can also contact Ag Eisteacht on 021 4536556 or email Susan on

Patsy Atkinson is a Cork-based independent communications professional who is working with Ag Eisteacht to support the charity’s vision and work.

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