Boys in Mind

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. 

UKASFP Conference 2020

Reflections from Steve Freeman

June is looming on the horizon and it’s all set fair for the 2020 UK Association for Solution Focused Practice (UKASFP) Conference on 25th and 26th in Stoke-on-Trent.  This year’s theme is Working with disenfranchised, disadvantaged and disconnected people, which looks like it was designed especially for the SF Collective although it wasn’t.  As with previous conferences there will be workshops on a range of topics. However, it does reflect the way that the social justice strand of previous conferences (which gave rise to the SF Collective) has been embraced by practitioners.

The Solution Focused Collective hope to be hosting a workshop to discuss our progress since last year’s conference in Bath. There have been significant developments in membership, presence and discussion. We will be inviting delegates to share their views on the Collective and our next steps.

I’ve noticed for a while that most attempts to discuss social equality and social justice are based in problem-focused, expertise-based, trauma-obsessed and generally well-meaning thinking. The conference will provide alternatives which view people as inherently competent, are resource-informed and evidence-based.

The UKASFP Conference will have contributors and delegates working with established models such as Housing First. We are hoping to have delegates from organisations, groups and individuals involved in and with experience of homelessness and its related social complexities. Meaningfully adopting Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) by taking a solution-focused approach. Accepting and working with all available expertise.

Research in, and an evidence base for, the solution-focused approach are building. This research often involves the usual suspects in terms of commissioners, participants, methodologies and results. One of the exciting developments which will be presented at the conference is research involving people with lived experience who have specified a solution-focused methodology.

While the conference hasn’t been planned with the SF Collective in mind per se, the themes and delegates suggest that it will be a great forum for the direct action that the Collective is keen to pursue. We hope to create an environment in which the Collective has an opportunity to develop and its themes to coalesce during the conference and to promote and influence practice and thinking.

I’m looking forward to seeing in Stoke the next steps of a Collective whose genesis and development are entwined with UKASFP conferences.

And now in Bulgarian…

It’s really exciting to be able to announce yet another translation of the Solution Focused Manifesto – this time in Bulgarian. It does look really impressive in the cyrillic script.

The momentum with which the Manifesto is spreading is very heartening for those of us who believe that Solution Focused approaches can be used in the service of social change and activities to promote social justice. It seems to have inspired the imagination and hope at a time when the world needs it most (though when has it not?).

If you want to provide a translation in your language, please get in touch at solfocollective@gmail.com and we will add it to this growing list.

A mind-expanding exercise that expanded around the world

by Guy Shennan

The first in a series of blog posts that explores the theme:

What might collective solution-focused practices for social change look like?

This post shows how a little idea – an exercise that nine people took part in that lasted only a few minutes at the beginning of a medical teaching day – has the potential for growing and encompassing many social, political and national contexts.

I was on my way to gym on Thursday morning last week, when I received a text from George, asking me if I could come up with an opening mind-expanding exercise for the day’s session. I said I would have a think while on the cross trainer.

George is a GP I work with one day each fortnight, when a group of seven graduate medical students come to his surgery for their Medicine in Society module. We focus on a particular topic each week, and on this day it was to be mental health.

I remembered a talk I had given a couple of months ago, in which I had shared some thoughts about how solution-focused practices might enter a more social arena, and suggested that we could facilitate public conversations, perhaps with a question like,  “Suppose we woke up tomorrow to a world that was socially just, what would we notice?”

This seemed to be an opportunity for a question of this type, and the exercise took shape as I went to work on my physical exercises.

An hour or so later, as the nine of us sat in our customary circle, I asked if everyone knew the game, ‘I went to market’, when the person who starts says “I went to market, and bought …” and adds something they bought, some apples, say, and then the next person says, ‘‘I went to market, and bought some apples and…” and adds what they bought, and so on. Of course everyone had, so I explained we were going to play a version of this, and wrote the amended opening on the white board:

“If I woke up tomorrow to a world whose conditions were just right for good mental health, I would notice…”

And so we went round, with just the smallest of interventions from me to encourage people not to paraphrase previous responses, but to echo them closely – after all if someone went to market wanting to buy some apples, it wouldn’t do to generalise this to buying some fruit, otherwise someone might come back with some oranges.

Michael was the ninth to go, and he must have been listening closely, for he was able to recount what we would all notice. And following the lead of George, whose go it had been just before him, he nicely changed the “I” to “we”:

“If we woke up tomorrow to a world whose conditions were just right for good mental health, we would notice less stigma towards mental health, more freedom to talk about mental health together, better social services and housing, geared towards alleviating bad mental health, more green spaces, less pressure to be a certain way, kindness on the streets, less pressure from social media, and a world where we listened to each other, and maybe a better education in terms of recreational drugs”.

As George said afterwards, as well as beginning our day on mental health by describing part of a context which would support the mental health of us all, it was also an exercise that required us to listen to each other – given that we had to repeat what each person before us had said – and this was one of the conditions for good mental health that was on our list.

So that was Thursday.

The flexibility and applicability of a question like this showed themselves the next day, when Marcos, a solution-focused psychologist from Bolivia, contacted me on Messenger. He told me that later that day he was to participate in a public conversation, with lawyers and psychologists, and that he would be talking about solution-focused mediation, for national reconciliation. The event had been organised by university students interested in political psychology.

This was to follow a month of unrest and terror, with looting and deaths on both sides, during which time Marcos’s personal involvement had included being on a roadblock defending his neighbourhood. The attacks had been at night, and it was only now he could sleep well.

Marcos apologised (unnecessarily) for contacting me only a few hours before the event, but it was only now that things were being organised again since the end of the immediate conflicts. He wondered if I had any suggestions for what he could share with his fellow Bolivians.

As it was fresh in my mind, I shared with Marcos the exercise I had done with the medical students the previous day, and said that even if this wouldn’t fit into what he was doing, I hoped it might trigger some ideas.

I wondered whether Marcos could somehow ask a question, or encourage others to ask a question, like –

“If we woke up tomorrow morning, to a country where there had been national reconciliation, what would we notice?”

– and somehow adding this into the public conversation, people taking it in turns in asking and answering it perhaps.

As Marcos had also written “everything here has just begun to organise since the end of the conflicts”, I also wondered whether he could ask “How have we managed to begin to organise again?”

And, “Since we have begun to organise, what tiny signs of hope have we noticed?”

In his messages to me following the event at his university, which had been attended by about 50 people, students, academics and the general public, Marcos wrote:

I am very happy for the questions you shared with me. I could use them at the end of the conversation, I was very curious to know what would happen. The experience of practising SFBT is something different. I really enjoyed watching the public assemble their  favourite future. These questions allowed in a short time to generate a positive climate of hope. I am more sure of the great potential of SF in my country.

I talked a little about the solution-focused approach and then used the question: What would be the first sign you would see if there was already national reconciliation? and then according to the sequence that you suggested. The students had great ideas and for me it was interesting to ask them to use “we” at the end. I was the only exhibitor who interacted in this way with the public.

The students described the experience as a chain of ideas that is growing. It is incredible how things tend to be polarised and although the intention is not that, we end up polarising ideas. But with this question we were talking about a common good, and it was not necessary to defend an opinion, it was more important to contribute to the chain of ideas.

Interesting things happened. For example, one of the students said she would see more understanding, but that was very difficult to happen. Then I asked her if she ever saw a sign of understanding in the country and she replied, yes –  when we qualified for the World Cup. We didn’t have more time to talk about it but we could definitely have talked for hours on the subject with the other students.

…Now I’m thinking of organising something with my group of enthusiastic SFBT students for national reconciliation, but I still don’t know how…

Not knowing is a creative place to be, especially sharing our “not knowing” together, and I am excited about the possibilities here, and about learning from what Marcos and his students do in Bolivia, and being able to apply this to my work with students and others here in London.

footnote

I love working with George, who I first came across via an article in Context magazine in 1999 – ‘Using solution focused therapy in the GP consultation’. When I met him for the first time in person many years later, about training Tower Hamlets GPs in SF, I was pleased to be able to give him a photocopy of his article, which he had mislaid. I can thoroughly recommend another article, featuring George and other socially conscious doctors, in the New Statesman magazine – Towards Eternal Winter – Can the NHS Survive?