I’m going to be blogging about my work as a Registered Nurse (Mental Health) and Solution Focused Practitioner.
During my work at the University of Surrey, I’m privileged to witness students getting through in spite of everything life throws at them (relationship difficulties, homesickness, academic pressure, illness, debt, plus maybe addiction, self-harm, psychosis, grief, isolation, trauma, suicidal thoughts, dissociation… then a degree and a job offer!). I’m going to start by talking about my own experiences as a student.
I’ve been a student in higher education three times; at art college, at horticultural college, then as a student mental health nurse. I’m going to focus here on my nurse training.
I still maintain that my training was the most difficult time I went through in my life, and trust me I’ve been through a lot of difficult times before and since! Having spent some time volunteering whilst unemployed, I’d discovered a passion for spending time with people struggling with the emotional turbulence and altered perception that their life experiences had left them with, just doing whatever I could to comfort them and show them a glimpse of a better future. I decided to pursue a career as a mental health nurse.
My hopes at the outset of my training were to obtain a professional qualification and get a job. The difference this would make would be for me to continue to spend my life doing what I loved, whilst helping other people and earning enough money to get by. I knew I could use my sense of humour, tenacity, patience, inner strength and adaptability to achieve this, and in doing so I would be… in my element.
I imagined what it would be like to wake up one morning in my element, knowing I’d achieved my hopes; I’d get out of bed without hesitation, enjoy a healthy breakfast, sing along to the radio on my way to work, greet my colleagues with a smile, discuss how we were going to help our patients overcome their problems step by step, then accept a challenge of a game of pool from a guy who’d been fished out of a lake with a knife in his neck a few days previously and chuckle with him and the other people in his head about the circumstances under which we were all now, together, getting really good at potting the black under all kinds of pressure!
My reality was very different a lot of the time during my training, particularly at the start. I experienced a type of culture shock. I had stepped out of a bohemian environment into a formal, “professional” world and I didn’t know the language and conventions. People were questioning whether I had what it takes, even literally questioning my sanity for trying! There were tears, sleepless nights, paranoia and self-destructive behaviour. It felt like I was being taken apart and put back together different.
However, there were exceptions. Moments when everything fell into place, when I had found myself doing the things that showed I was on track; smiling, playing pool (particularly when potting the black under pressure!), connecting with patients, receiving praise from qualified staff I was working with. I had a tangible sense of moving towards achieving my hopes.
At the worst times I found ways of getting through: I talked, cried and laughed with friends, family, tutors and qualified staff (there was no official wellbeing advisor or counsellor, otherwise I might also have talked with them). I allowed myself to literally walk away from it at times and would walk for miles before deciding I could face it all again, so would then turn back around and walk back into my life with renewed resolve and confidence.
Eventually I achieved my hopes, then developed new hopes and 22 years later here I am writing this blog!
Solution Focused Practice involves the practitioner asking people about their best hopes, about the difference it would make for them to achieve these hopes, to describe what they would be doing when they’ve achieved their best hopes, notice how they are getting through at the worst times and what they will notice that will show they are moving towards achieving their best hopes. Difficulties they face along the way are acknowledged as they move past them, and at the centre of it all is a belief that the client is doing the best they can do right now, is capable of achieving what they hope to, and already possess the resources they need.
The people I talked to during my training who helped me stay on track were essentially doing that, albeit perhaps sometimes in a less consistent and efficient way than they might have if they were trained and skilled in solution focused practice. This and other approaches are widely practiced by professionals today, all helping people in various ways towards the same outcomes with varying degrees of complexity and brevity.
I’m happy to say that more and more students struggling to get through their courses nowadays have access to such professional help to stay on track towards achieving their best hopes. Sometimes that professional help might even be considered to have a slightly bohemian flavour! 😉