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What is supported self-management?


Supported self-management (also called SSM for short) happens when people with long-term health conditions are supported to develop the knowledge, skills, confidence and support they need to manage their conditions effectively and in the context of their everyday life. Ultimately, it is about empowering people to have choice and control over their personal care planning. In this article, we’ll look at three key aspects of supported self-management – peer support, self-management education and health coaching.

1. Peer Support

Peer support is a range of approaches through which people with a similar long-term condition or health experience support each other to better understand their condition or situation and aid recovery or self-management. There are different types of peer support, but they all bring people together with shared experiences to support each other. The aim is to provide a space where you feel accepted and understood and where everyone’s experiences are equally important. We all know how talking to people in similar ‘shoes’ can be really helpful.

The Blurt Foundation, a social enterprise aimed at supporting those with depression, highlight three important personal benefits:

  • Empathy as people are among others who have had similar experiences and understand readily. There isn’t the difficulty of explaining how they feel to someone who has not had that lived experience.
  • Empowerment – peer support is mutual, and everyone helps one another as much as they are being helped. By sharing experiences and knowledge, people can begin to acknowledge their own skills and ability and feel validated by passing these onto others.
  • Hope – people meet those who have been through similar difficulties and have overcome them to be in a better place. This can inspire hope that things can get better.

Peer support can be formal or informal, paid or unpaid. It can be delivered by trained peer support staff and volunteers, or through more informal, ad hoc support among peers with lived experience. It can also be online or face to face.

For example:

  • Health Education England has commissioned a peer support training programme for mental health peer support workers that is underpinned by a number of key competencies. These trained peers can run groups or work on a one-to-one basis.
  • An online forum for young people (18-30) with chronic kidney disease is run via Facebook, supported by Kidney Care UK who fund training and professional supervision for the moderators/peer support workers. The forum is aimed at patients only and provides a safe space and while there are a number of trained supporters, the support can come from anyone in the group.

2. Self-Management Education

Self-management education can be any form of education or training for people with long-term conditions. It’s another way to help you develop more knowledge, skills and confidence to manage your health condition more effectively. Self-management education can be accessed online, on a 1 to 1 basis or through a group community programme.

For example, the British Lung Foundation offers people a self-management programme that helps them understand Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease (COPD) and the physical and emotional impact. Participants receive information on treatments, medication and inhaler techniques. The programme also takes a personalised approach to smoking cessation and refers people to appropriate services (e.g. counselling, smoking cessation, long-term exercise etc).

Joan’s story explains how she accessed self-management education and the difference it made to her

3. Health Coaching

Health coaching is a one to one conversation with a health coach. Health coaches are trained professionals who are there to inspire, guide and motivate you to make positive health choices.

The health coach will listen to you and help you address your health issues by helping you identify, and then work towards, some health goals. It’s important to remember, that these should be your health goals and should reflect any behaviour or lifestyle changes you have decided to make. Goals can include things like:

  • Get adequate rest daily
  • Get regular physical activity
  • Eat more whole-grain breads and cereals
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Be free of dependence on tobacco, illicit drugs or alcohol
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Spend quality time with family and friends daily

People can have up to six health coaching sessions. Each session typically lasts 45-60 minutes and provides a safe space for you to have an open and honest conversation about your health circumstances and your goals. This is an example of the shift in relationship between health professionals and people who use health and care services, which is at the heart of personalised care.

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