We are delighted to have a post on the Solution-Focused Collective blog from Boys in Mind, an organisation based in Bath, which provides a wonderful example of how the solution-focused approach can be used in collective and community-oriented ways.

Kate Murphy and Henry Bullock from Boys in Mind talk about the organisation, how and why it came about, how it operates and how it strives to be a model of a caring and compassionate  community, with equality at its heart. They want to nurture the growth of similar communities in schools and other settings. They also show how a solution-focused approach has been a key ingredient in the organisation’s development and work with young people, in particular boys and young men.

Kate Murphy is the Co-ordinator

What is Boys in Mind?

We are a broad alliance of young people, professionals and parents, aiming to reduce stigma around mental health, challenge stereotypes and ultimately reduce suicide, with a particular focus on boys and young men. Our film projects successfully engage boys, young men and others to talk and listen.

Why and how was Boys in Mind established ?

My previous role involved supporting schools in Bath & North East Somerset following the suicide of a young person. In the last eight years I worked there I supported seven schools and six out of the seven suicides were of were young men between the ages of 11-18. 

Looking at suicide and other data such as school exclusions and fewer boys and young men accessing services, we decided to do something more specific to address their needs.

Boys in Mind has evolved into an organisation in which young people, particularly young men, take the lead and decide what we do, how we do it and how to get other young people involved. We also work with parents and have recently involved young people and parents from a socially deprived area of Bath in making a film about the importance of community.

Following the 2019 UKASFP Conference at Bath Spa University, attended by ten of our team, we revamped our Vision, Mission and Values to express what we wanted our organisation to be, rather than what we didn’t want. So, for example, our values are now:-

Work in a compassionate and solution focused way. Promote positive images of boys and young men. Embrace and celebrate diversity.

The Boys in Mind Team

We have 24 team members with a range of ages, qualifications and experiences. 60% are male, eight are Youth Advisors (six young men, one young woman, and one non-binary young person) and many of the team have had challenging “lived experience” which they have coped with (or are coping with) in a variety of ways.

Tara Gretton, an experienced solution-focused (SF) practitioner and trainer, is a member of our team and other members of the team are – or are training to be – accredited SF practitioners.

Our team meetings are lively, inclusive and enjoyable. We usually start with a fun activity of some sort and then the usual format is along these SF lines:-

  • What have been your sparkling moments since the last meeting? (having  unashamedly stolen this idea from the UKASFP Conference opening plenary!)
  • Have there been any challenges and how have you coped with them ?
  • Anything team members want to share or have feedback on?
  • What are your hopes for the next few months for Boys in Mind?

Our SF Approach

All our team members have had solution-focused training, either from Tara Gretton or Guy Shennan, who is a long-term friend of Bath & North East Somerset, having delivered training for teachers and other professionals.

Staff from our 14 lead schools have also had a day’s SF training. We are encouraging schools to train their staff and students in SF approaches. At Beechen Cliff School, around 70 staff have had SF training from Tara  and wear special lanyards identifying that they are there to listen. She has also trained the student wellbeing team, and students across the school are being taught in PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) how to have SF conversations to support their friends and family members. We hope to promote this model across all our lead schools.

Our way of challenging stereotypes is to promote positive images of boys and young men. So, instead of railing against “toxic masculinity“, we prefer to champion  qualities like care and compassion and provide examples of these via positive role models. This is illustrated in our “Men who Care” films and the Q and A section of our website. Our Youth Advisors and the children and young people in our films are all role models, of course.

Our film projects are also run along SF lines. Groups of students explore a theme and are then supported to develop questions. In a recent film project at one school, called “What helps?”, six Year 11 boys asked five friends and two members of staff (chosen because of their empathy) the following questions:-

  • What gets you stressed?
  • What do you do when you get stressed? How do you cope?
  • Who can you talk to?
  • How can you help others?

We try to apply an SF approach in all our interactions with individuals, schools and partner organisations. A phrase that Steve Wilkinson, who used to work at an excellent local organisation, Mentoring Plus, often used was “Catch ‘em being good”, and I think that sums up well what we try to do.

Henry Bullock is a Youth Advisor for the organisation

My name is Henry Bullock, and I have been given an opportunity, redemption, a purpose and hope.

I am lead Youth Advisor for Boys in Mind.  My purpose here is not to explain my role, but to build a picture.

Imagine for a moment that the lights are too bright; sound echoes around you and forms phrases and words that shout and bully. Imagine the temperature being 100 degrees too hot. Now imagine being told to work, to concentrate and be productive. Think of a world where this was normal, where society insists that in order for you to be in any way successful, you must stop feeling these sensations and hearing these words. You must ignore the biggest and most influential parts of your soul and how you make sense of them!

I must stop being me, and start being more them or I will never succeed.

Using a Solution-Focused Approach

Imagine now a language, one full of hope, strength and compassion. One that makes this hyper-sensitive world just a little more tolerable, a language that has been adopted with such enthusiasm that it has changed every part of my life. Allowed me to grow and flourish. 

I am a paranoid schizophrenic, with autism and ADHD, so for mere words to have changed my life – is that nothing short of a miracle? Well yes, it would have been, but, as with much of my life, nothing is that simple. The language I am talking about has rarely been used on me. Instead I use it on others, my friends, my family.

To my surprise, my friends started to open up. People were talking to me! (Aargh!). It was during these impromptu conversations that I noticed something. I noticed that my friends were smiling. They were speaking about their day, their partners, their work, their children. Young men with whom I had grown up were disclosing more about their lives in a 15-minute conversation than they had during 20 years of friendship. It was at this point that I concluded: these young men were being asked questions about complex emotional and social interactions and they felt relieved. For the first time in so long, someone was listening to them, but not only listening, was asking them questions directly related to what they had just said. It’s that’s simple, ask a question and listen. A friend mentioned that after one of our conversations, he felt momentum in his life, he felt like the future was achievable again, and not one question had been asked about how he felt. There was no need to dig and carve away at some fragile disassociated emotion or thought, no advice giving, just simply listening and asking the right questions.

It is this simplicity and momentum that we at Boys in Mind are fuelled with; instead of raising awareness, we are being proactive, engaging with schools, communities  and individuals. 

I am incredibly proud to be a part of this “loose and fluid collective” of individuals and organisations. It is my hope that we all continue to notice the momentum we can bring to people’s lives. Including our own. 

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