Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A guest post from Meredith

Meredith Siemsen, one of our ensemble members, recently came with us to the Elgin Mental Health Center to collect the mental health stories of adults who are part of their inpatient psychiatric rehabilitation unit. Here are her thoughts from the experience.

After Tuesday's trip to the Elgin Mental Health Center to gather personal stories, I have a whole new appreciation for the professional interviewer (if there is such a thing, and I believe there is... Barbara Walters, for example?) It's not easy work to remain mentally, physically and emotionally engaged for several consecutive hours.

I took part in three interviews Tuesday, and only led one, but what I recall thinking during the process was "What would Michael do? What would Michael do?". (Michael Rohd from Sojourn Theatre recently led a workshop for us in interviewing techniques that I attended.)

We all have different styles and energies coming into it, but what made an impression on me about Michael's workshop was watching him interview another fellow ETD ensemble member, Amanda - the level of energy he brought to it was remarkable. Yes, he was listening and allowing Amanda to share, but he also held the reigns and was actively steering his way through the story. The trick? Insatiable curiosity. So, in the middle of leading my own interview at EMHC, especially being aware when the interviewee (we'll call her "Pam") had wandered a bit off topic, my mantra was "curiosity, curiosity, curiosity". It seemed to be effective. I got some interesting responses to my questions which revealed a lot more about Pam's inner world, and a pat on the back from the boss, who had been recording some notes during the interview. (Hi Brighid :)

While taking a break before our third and final interview session, Chris, Jessica, Brighid and I huddled on the hallway floor outside the front offices to check in with each other. Two things occurred to me: 1) Life sure is random... ten years ago I NEVER would have imagined I would be spending the day in a mental health facility interviewing adults with mental illness, and 2) Do the people passing through the reception area (security guards, office personnel, guests) think its odd that there are 4 grown adults crammed in a tiny hallway on the floor, just... chatting? Curiosity, curiosity, curiosity.

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