Fly Casual


Here’s an example of how I apply the Solution Focused Approach to my everyday life:

One of my favourite pastimes is playing a tabletop miniatures game called ‘X-Wing’, based on the space combat dog fighting scenes in the Star Wars movies.

Next weekend, I’m taking part in ‘UKTC’ – the X-Wing UK team championship.

My best hopes from writing this blog post are to be as prepared as I can be come next weekend, so that I get the most from the experience that I can, and also so that my teammates and opponents on the day are also getting as much as they can out of it, where I have any influence over that. In other words, I’d like to be at my best.

As tabletop games go, X-Wing is an extremely well-designed game; fun, easy to pick up, hard to master. But the main factor players often talk about as to why they enjoy it so much is the community that exists around it. There is a mutual recognition amongst players that everyone is doing this for fun, so there’s a catchphrase that we all use to remind ourselves and each other of this; “fly casual”.

‘Fly casual’ is basically a way of saying “be sporting”, with a nod to the Star Wars saga (bonus points to anyone who can tell me the character who says it, plus the movie and the scene they say it in!). Actually, it may be more than that. It also encapsulates “remember why we’re all doing this” *, alongside the commitment to show respect, play fair according to the rules, be gracious in defeat and considerate in celebrating victory.

‘At my best’ therefore, also translates as ‘fly casual’

So when might I notice that I’m flying casual?

I can picture myself in a moment, at the start of a match, shaking hands with my opponent, with a smile on my face, saying “good luck”. I’ll feel proud at my conduct in that moment, and for anyone watching who knows me fairly well, they’ll recognise the little signs that I’m enjoying myself, being at my most relaxed and friendly (flying casual), such as the way my shoulders are down, my eyes are shining and I’m continuing to smile calmly.

My opponent might then notice the way I genuinely congratulate them, sharing in their sense of accomplishment, when they pull off an awesome move to destroy one of my ships. The difference this might make to them would be that they would most likely continue to enjoy playing this game. I’ll know that this is happening from signs such as the way they also smile calmly, and chat in a friendly way as we play. The difference this might make for me is to feel increasingly ‘in the moment’. Feeling like right here, right now, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. This might then help me stay focused and undistracted on my next move. I’ll be confident of finding a way to ‘stay on target’ (bonus points for that one too!) towards the possibility of winning the game.

My main objective here is to have a great day out with my friends, doing something I love, meeting other people with shared interests. I’m aware this is also a competition, however, and I don’t want to let my team down. Instead, I’d like us all to come away feeling satisfied that we all did the best we could, as well as being proud of our conduct.

So what’s the first small step I might take towards this happening?

I’ll find some time to put some practice in this week. I have other responsibilities and a busy schedule, so I’ll take the opportunity to practice flying casual even when I’m doing something completely unconnected with playing X-Wing.

Let me see now…

I’m dropping my wife off at the train station this afternoon. I’ll wish her a safe journey with genuine hope for her trip to go as well as possible. This’ll be similar to the way I’ll be in the moments I’ll wish my opponents and teammates good luck next weekend. Again, I’ll be smiling calmly with shining eyes, and probably slouching!

Also, I can reflect.

I’d ideally like to win at least one game next weekend. When I think back to the games I’ve won, I can I ask myself how I did that. The more detail I can recall about how I did that the better. I’ll take some time to do that over the next week too.

None of us can predict the future. I can ask myself the question, that even if for some reason (say, illness or unexpected circumstances) I don’t end up going, how might I still remain at my best, flying casual, through the adjustment to changing circumstances?

Whatever happens, I know I can continue to fly casual throughout the future, whatever it holds. I know what flying casual looks and feels like. I know how I’ve done it before. I know what the noticeable signs will be that I’m continuing to do it.

I’ve got this!

Fly Casual 😊


*One of my teammates recently wrote an excellent blog post about exactly this, which you can read here:



This weekend, hundreds of thousands of new students across the UK will arrive at the university where they will live, study and grow over the next few years.

If you are one of those students, here are some questions I hope might be useful:

(By the way, these questions might also be useful for family and friends to be aware of)

What are your best hopes from attending university?

Please note I ask from, not for.

For would be straightforward: Whatever you’re hoping for, it’s probably safe to assume that there will be ups and downs, new friendships being formed and old one’s adapting to new circumstances. Support and solitude. Competition and collaboration. Parties, debt, fun, boredom, new discoveries, opportunities to draw on experience and wisdom. Laughter and tears, success and failure, challenges and rewards.

From might require more thought. The answer is more likely to be profound and particular to you, especially if you think of the detail. The more detail you come up with, in fact, the more you’ll be answering as you. The you of your best hopes. You at your best.

To put it another way, if this all turns out to be a worthwhile few years, how might you know?

Sure, you might get a decent job. Interestingly, this never used to be so much of a priority for students. It’s grown over the past 20 years or so. Historically, the main reason for attending university has tended to be to dive deeper into learning, with a view to ultimately making new discoveries, breaking new ground and contributing to the advancement of the human race. For many it was seen as a liberation from the distraction of paid work, freeing up the privileged few who were granted the good fortune to attend university so that they could indulge their higher functions. Things have changed now. More people go to university, and although I’ve no doubt that learning for the sake of learning is still part of what attracts students to higher education, the perceived consensus that a degree is a pre-requisite of a rewarding career opportunity is clearly a huge driving force, whether it’s accurate or not.

So, that being the case, suppose it does help you get a decent job. Or perhaps it deepens your fascination for a particular subject to such an extent that you decide to stay on into postgraduate study and research. Or even if neither of these are direct consequences, but you’ve had a wonderful time, made some close friends who’ll always have your back and learnt some valuable life lessons. Whatever the outcome, what difference do you hope it might make in your life from that point forwards?

For example, your answers might be along the lines of experiencing happiness, pride, a sense of achievement, confidence, optimism (these are just examples. Some, none or all might apply for you, and there might be others not listed here that are important for you).

What signs might you, and the other people in your life, notice that this difference is present and real?

How might this show up in the details of your everyday life? The way you answer the phone? The way you walk out of the house in the morning? The way you think about the past, present and future? The way you feel when you see your name on your mail? Any other typical moment in your life?

Even if things don’t go according to plan. Even if you fail, how would you most hope to respond? How might a moment of, for example, happiness, optimism, confidence, peace of mind (whatever you hope for) look to you and others even under those circumstances? How might you keep going and head back in direction of your hopes when obstacles have been placed in your way? What would be typical of you at your best?

As you go through the next few years at university, what small steps might you be pleased to notice yourself taking towards these hopes becoming your reality, more and more of the time? Starting from today, what can you see yourself doing in the moment which might provide even just a fleeting glimpse of you being the person you most want to be? Right here, right now, in that moment. At your best.

What steps have you already taken to make the progress you have so far? How did you do that? What did it take? What does this say about you and what you might be capable of achieving in future?

Chances are it hasn’t always been easy. How did you manage to get through the difficult times to arrive in the better ones? Out of the things you did to get through, what are you most proud of? What would you most like to notice yourself continuing to do?

Chances are, perhaps, that if you got to university, you’ve got what it takes to get through and get whatever you want from it. What might you find yourself doing that could remind you of that? What might your doing that look like?

What are you pleased to notice about yourself as you think about these questions? How are you doing that? What part are you playing in creating your preferred future?

There’s no need to share any of your answers to these questions with other people if you don’t want to. If you do want to, go ahead, some of their responses may be useful too.

If you don’t know, that’s fine. You could choose to put the question aside for now or take some time to think about it. Whatever works for you. You might find an answer in an unexpected moment. Legend has it that Newton came up with his law of gravity when he was hit on the head by an apple, and Archimedes proclaimed “Eureka!” after stepping into a bath!

Often the best answers to life’s hardest questions begin with a first draft of “I don’t know”!

Whatever happens, I’m quite certain of three things as I witness your arrival at university:

  • You’re doing the best you can right now
  • You’re capable of achieving your best hopes
  • You have everything you need

Enjoy your journey 🙂

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Solutions?


I recently read an article on the University of Surrey website about driverless cars. Oh boy!

It was predicting a point in the future at which it will be considered the right thing to do, morally, to hand over control of cars to machines.

This is because of our continuing efforts as a species to develop artificial intelligence technology.

They’ll eventually, inevitably become sufficiently advanced to make quicker, more intelligent decisions than humans.

That means it’ll consistently be safer for them to drive (we’re apparently a long way from that point at the moment, by the way, but steadily making progress in that direction).

I couldn’t help but wonder about the implications of this endeavour for the wider aspects of human existence, including the practice of using conversation to facilitate change in people’s lives.

Solution focused practice can be viewed as applying a relatively simple algorithm with persistence and attention to detail.

This, like driving a car safely, is actually a very difficult thing for humans to do consistently well for all sorts of reasons.

These reasons include the incredibly versatile nature of the human brain, which could be likened to a swiss army knife/multi tool, compared to the more refined fitness for purpose of a machine designed to concentrate purely on a single task.

Even those people who devote as much of their time and energy to mastering solution focused practice as possible, also have to occasionally concentrate on other important activities in order to live a full and rich life as a member of the human race.

I wonder how long it will be before we consider it to be the right thing to do, morally, to hand over the roles of solution focused practitioners to machines, in recognition of their single minded efficiency.

I wonder what difference that will make for us all.

Consider, if you like, the way that drawing upon the experience we gain from all of our different, human activities contributes to the effectiveness of our communication.

Perhaps we’re simply recognising that part of the task in hand, for future machines, will be to also replicate, and further perfect, all of that experience too.

Perhaps machines will become just as or more versatile than us, whilst retaining absolute adaptability, to focus purely and efficiently on a single task in hand when called upon to do so.

Even if we point to the most human aspects of what we do that account for our effectiveness, such as the love we have in our hearts for each other, what if we eventually produce machines that do that too?!

The same article mentioned the advances that have already been made in machines producing works of art, and applying the medical model to accurately and efficiently diagnose and prescribe.

The challenge applies to any activity of people working in helping professions.

I’m thinking about it in relation to solution focused practice because that’s my particular interest. Exactly the same goes for anything you like; CBT, counselling, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, psycho analysis, cooking, gardening, even writing a blog!

The catch is that human conversation is deceptively complicated, even at it’s most simple.

This was beautifully and hilariously demonstrated by Jim Al-Khalili, a colleague of mine at the University of Surrey, in his BBC Four documentary ‘The Joy of AI’, which aired last week (still available on BBC iPlayer at time of writing and which I highly recommend).

So it’s very possible, likely even, that future manifestations of artificial intelligence will be facilitating the process of people becoming their best selves through effective communication.

This might be to the unprecedented benefit of the human race.

However, this really isn’t something that looks likely to happen overnight, or any time soon.

In the meantime, I predict that our humanity will both hinder and help in our efforts to do the best we can, and we’ll all no doubt continue to do something very human:

We’ll continue to dream.

The Human Condition


Something that a lot of mental health nursing students still seem to do, which I and most of my peers also did 25 years ago, is freak out at some point because they’ve noticed things they have in common with patients.

Elements of this freak out might include speculating about whether they might also have the exact same condition as their patients, and worrying about what their fate might be if they have.

Some comfort is then usually found in learning more about things like diagnostic criteria and coping strategies, so that reassuring differences can be found.

I believe that one of the key things I did that led to me getting much better at what I do was that I let go of this way to find comfort and instead decided to accept that actually there is no difference at all between me and anyone I meet.

It’s simply the difference in the terrain we might pass through on our journey, the different choices we make about how to best negotiate that terrain, which we all do to the best of our ability, using whatever means we have at our disposal at the time, that leads to an encounter in which one of us finds ourselves in the position of being a patient and the other in the position of being a nurse at the point in time when our paths cross.

Human experience includes a vast spectrum of emotion, perception, interpretation and expression.

Our culture determines the conventional parameters within that spectrum, and anything communicated within those parameters is therefore common ground amongst people with similar cultural influences.

Less conventional communication of experience is therefore less familiar, perhaps harder to relate to, and this can lead to the discomfort of feeling a disconnect with another who seems to be different in an unfathomable way.

Naturally, because humans have evolved to generally seek connection with each other as a survival instinct (we’re essentially pack animals), this is often seen as a problem that needs to be fixed if possible, or mitigated if not, and ultimately in a medical/psychological paradigm, as a diagnosis or disorder.

Meanwhile, whilst we notice, categorise and attempt to resolve this deviation from the conventional, we all remain fundamentally human, so we seek to connect, we form hopes, we draw on our resources, we look for reassuring signs of progress and we continue on our journey.

We do indeed all have things in common with each other, and we do indeed all have the exact same condition.

It’s the human condition.

It’s being human that defines our journey, leads us into every encounter with every other human we meet, accounts for any position we find ourselves in, explains every conventional and unconventional experience we have, and equips us with everything we need to negotiate any terrain.

And I find that comforting.

I have seen the top of the mountain

IMG-20180815-WA0001Yesterday I climbed a mountain with my family.

Actually, to be honest, it’s more accurately described as a ‘fell’, and most seasoned fell walkers or mountaineers would regard it as a relatively straight forward ‘un-technical’ challenge, posing very little danger. But for us it’s a big deal, okay!

Anyway, it’s a mountain we’ve intended to climb for years, but which always seemed particularly intimidating for one reason or another, so we always found an excuse!

This year we decided to do it. No more excuses.

At various points during our ascent, we took it in turns to voice our doubts, fears and ambivalence (although to be fair, I don’t recall my eldest daughter doing this once – she practically skipped all the way to the summit seemingly without a care in the world, only stopping occasionally to sit on a rock and wait patiently for the rest of us to catch her up!).

Every time this happened, one of us eventually became irritated, amused or concerned enough to counter with some statement along the lines of all being in this together and keeping going, “to that next bit there, then we’ll see”.

I confess the interaction between my youngest daughter and I became somewhat bad tempered on several occasions, and at one point I snapped at her “look, this is difficult enough. I don’t need to hear you sowing seeds of doubt, I need to hear that we can do this!”. She reacted defensively. I begrudgingly accepted I should be patient with her.

My wife, throughout, maintained the voice of reason, and often reminded us all of the value and practical application of mutual encouragement. Above all, she encouraged us to be kind to each other.

As we eventually approached the summit, we encountered a final scramble. One last treacherous obstacle in our way.

Halfway through this scramble, with one knee up by my ear, one foot trembling on a knife edge of rock, and a view beyond my outstretched arm of a sheer drop, I froze and called out “I don’t think I can do this!”, then after what seemed like an eternity of contemplation and the astonishment that I might actually be about to give up, I heard the voices of my family saying almost in unison “You’re doing so well! You can do it!”.

I dug deep and hauled myself up and on to the clear path to the top of the mountain.

As I stood gazing at the last, relatively straight forward stretch, my youngest strode past me, confidently saying “we can do this!”.

After a short walk, we found my eldest daughter smiling at us calmly from the peak she’d arrived at minutes before.

My wife cheerfully exclaimed “well done everyone, we did it!”, we rewarded each other with a lovely group hug and, as my youngest unpacked her kite and flew it from the top of one of England’s highest points, we all agreed that this achievement changes things in a very good way.

Or, as my eldest put it, “that was cool!”

Past, Present and Future


There’s something we health professionals do sometimes that I now notice myself doing less often.

It’s talking about our clients characteristics, beliefs and habits with apparent certainty that these things exist right now, in the current moment, even though we can’t possibly know whether that is the case because they aren’t in the room, and we maybe haven’t even seen them for days!

“They’re avoiding”, “they’re overwhelmed”, “they talk really quickly and quietly”, “they’re fairly high risk because they’re impulsive and they dissociate”, “they’re probably going to need something longer term, more specialist, more intensive”.

All of these statements use present tense to describe past observations, present formulations, and future expectations. This implies consistency, continuity and predictability.

I’m tending to provide a clearer distinction between tenses now: “They were really struggling”, “they’ve had some really difficult stuff to deal with”, “they talked about their strength”, “they’ve got what it takes”, “they can definitely do this”, “they really inspired me”, “they described in detail how they’ve got through in spite of everything, and how they can stay safe going forwards”.

This implies movement through past, present and future, and therefore acknowledgement of dynamism, capacity for change and multiple possibilities.

I’m generalising in both cases, of course. There are always exceptions in the way we all talk. Even so, this is what I’m noticing more and more.

I think the difference in the way I’m talking reflects the way I’m thinking, which is that change is not only possible but certain, inevitable and constant, and also the way I’m feeling; an absolute unshakeable, consistent belief and confidence in every client’s capacity to steer this change in the direction they hope to.

When talking about specific clients, I’m simply giving a factual account of what I heard them say, as that is all I know.

My use of present tense is tending to be reserved more to describe my own perspective, rather than to attempt a description of theirs.

I tend not to talk about them in the future tense at all, except perhaps to recount the future tense phrases I heard them construct whilst describing what they would be pleased to notice themselves doing.

This is for the simple reason that I don’t believe any of us have a reliable way to predict the future, whilst I do believe that we are all continuously building the future together.

I think all of this reflects a move away from theorising, interpreting and predicting, towards investigating, evidencing and co-constructing.

I spent years talking about clients in a way that now feels unnatural, so I now talk about them in another way.

I’ve changed.

What’s more, I’ve changed to become even more the way I’ve always hoped to be as a professional, and that is simply to be myself.

The only catch here (there’s always a catch, right?!) is that being so different in the way I’m talking might sometimes lead to seeming ‘out of step’ or even isolated. It’s fine though, because I’m also noticing that, as time passes, more and more professionals seem to be talking the same way as me.

During a particularly touching moment with some colleagues recently, I commented that “I think I’m just on a different planet”. One replied “well we like your planet!”. Another added “yeah I think I’d like to visit it!”

I responded with an invitation, “you’re all very welcome any time!”, which I’d now like to extend to anyone reading this.

You’re very welcome to visit this other world, filled with hope, love, peace, optimism, pragmatism, inspiration and belief any time you like.

Stay as long as you want.

Come and go as you please.

The population is growing all the time and there’s unlimited space for everyone.

It may take a little time to leave the past behind and adapt to the way everyone’s talking, so the bridge is always open for everyone to travel backwards and forwards as necessary.

If you do pop back, feel free to mention some of the inspiring things you heard people say about how they know they have everything they need and can achieve whatever they hope to.

And might I also suggest trying, as far as possible, not to guess what the future might hold for this planet, but instead simply hold on to hope and believe it’s population can definitely do this, whatever this is.

After all, it’s changing, adapting and getting so much better all the time!

Love Rekindled

Imagine a world in which everyone talks more about love than hate.

No need.

It’s already here.

All you need to do is look for it. Noticing it will help it grow.

I recently attended Elliott Connie’s ‘Rekindling Love’ free online workshop.

It was primarily aimed towards people providing counselling for couples, and even though that isn’t something I do, I found it hugely inspirational.

It included so much invaluable insight into how to be truly respectful and obliging towards people asking for help in turning their lives back around towards a future that is just right for them and everyone they love.

He recounted his experience of meeting a couple who told him they had just got divorced. He asked them what it was they wanted and they said it was for their children to be ok, because they both had so much love for them. He met with them once or twice more, using the solution focused approach, then a year or so later they contacted him again to tell him they were getting re-married!

His part in this happening included holding on, with ‘dogged determination’, to his belief that they were capable of achieving their best hopes, .

fire outdoors camping barbecueHe described what it takes for a practitioner to do this: Letting go of the need to interpret, theorize, educate. Freeing yourself from distractions such as pessimistic doubts, ‘noise’, and the urge to ‘fix it’. Instead, relinquishing control, ‘letting go’, simply believing in the change happening in front of you, drawing on your qualities as a person destined to do this work because of your open, accepting, facilitative nature. Allowing yourself to go in search of the struggle that brings success. Giving yourself permission to become oblivious to tension, and purely and simply focus.

Now I’m not citing this just to show what a brilliant psychotherapist and couples counsellor Elliott is (although I am absolutely certain that he is – one of the very best in the world right now in fact), but to show that even after a catastrophic crisis in people’s lives, anything is possible for them in future, and they can achieve something that seems impossible simply by following their hearts and staying focused on their hopes.

I’m not saying that getting divorced might be a mistake for a couple. Clearly, sometimes that’s the best way forwards for them and can lead to anything they desire. It’s simply their choice.

I’m just saying that whatever choices anyone makes, there’s always hope and endless possibilities for the future, and that Solution Focused Practice is a highly effective and respectful way for practitioners to provide a catalyst for positive change in fewer sessions than would generally be achieved in more ‘traditional’ approaches.

Registration for Elliott’s ‘Rekindling Love Masterclass’, the exhaustive interactive training for professionals who wish to truly master couples counselling (for which this workshop served as a taster) begins on August 13th, and registration is still open for a couple more days at time of writing this. Anyone interested in making the investment to become the best they can at what they do can sign up here:


A Matter of Life or Death

Imagine you are somehow called upon to save someone’s life and you only have one second to respond. What might you do with that second?

There is an aspect of my work, as a mental health nurse, which involves responding to crises in which there are concerns around people’s safety.

The way I approach a conversation with a client under these circumstances is largely unchanged from how I would at any other time, but the context of it being ‘a crisis’ makes a difference.

I would like to make it clear that what follows is not a description of pure Solution Focused Practice, but my application of Solution Focused Practice being used as appropriately as possible, within the current framework of an eclectic services culture and protocol.

So what constitutes a ‘crisis’?

It could be that I’ve received some prior information that the client has been directed to me because something they’ve said or done has worried someone.

It could be that the client has contacted the service in distress asking to speak with someone as soon as possible.

Or it might be that during a pre-arranged meeting something coming up in conversation has triggered me to start worrying, which might typically be something like an apparent absolute lack of a sense of future, or any significant connections to anyone else, no matter how much I persist in asking about these things.

The difference this makes is that I notice another type of listening becoming more prominent in my awareness, alongside my usual habitual scanning for language which can be used to form questions aligned with the client’s preferred future.

It is a type of listening which is to do primarily with establishing their safety, and recognising a formal, standard ‘risk assessment’ protocol.

The usual questions I would ask at the start of a conversation with a client are along the lines of “what are your best hopes from our talking?” or “what’s been better?” (when the client is returning having been seen before).

Occasionally such questions may seem less congruent in this context, in which case I might instead ask “what’s happened?” or make a statement such as “I understand you’ve asked to talk with someone urgently”, or “I’ve been told you might appreciate some time to talk”.

Having done so, I generally find I receive an account of facing adversity and a confirmation of feeling unable to cope, in which case a statement of acknowledgement; something like “how awful”, “that’s difficult”, or even just “wow” or “phew” or just a long exhalation of breath, followed by a pause, then “so now that you’re here, what are your best hopes from our talking?/ what would you consider to be a good direction to be going in?/ what would you like to happen after our talking?” naturally flows in the conversation, and acts like a kind of ‘reboot’. Another option is to go for something like “so how have you managed to get through?/ find sufficient hope that you can turn this around to ask for help to do so?”

This process can be summarised as:

1.       Acknowledge the crisis

2.       Pause

3.       Acknowledge the hope

4.       Establish the client’s choice of direction out of the crisis.

With a more interpretive type of listening central in my awareness, I might ask myself “what did they mean by that?” or “what are they implying they might do after leaving my office?”.

I generally find that just calmly acknowledging these thoughts whilst continuing with the conversation in the usual solution focused way (rather than asking such questions of the client directly) leads to a resolution in which I hear answers which reassure me that they are heading towards safety.

By doing this the conversation can, from the clients perspective, continue to consist of questions and answers which are directly relevant to their hopes, as described in their own words, free from interference from any agenda of mine or the services as far as possible.

Occasionally reassurance is less forthcoming, in which case I might say something like “I’d like to take a slight detour in our conversation here to ask some different questions which are more for the purpose of assessment, because I’m wondering about your safety, then we can return to what we’ve been talking about”.

A core concept in Mental Health Nursing which relates to responding in a crisis is that of ‘de-escalation’, a core component of which is often described in terms of talking with someone in a concise, direct, accepting and respectful manner so as to circumvent conflict and find a mutually acceptable way forwards. A solution focused attitude, tools and skills are very conducive to the application of this concept, so I continue to use them as much as I can while I gather the necessary assessment information.

Having returned from the detour, the natural flow of the conversation leads back into a detailed description of the clients preferred future, which is where their future safety, as a natural aspect of that preferred future, is co-constructed, beginning with the next small step they can take. I believe this is probably the most powerful ‘risk management’ strategy at my disposal, largely because the client’s innate agency (their capacity to act) is recognised and respected.

Incidentally, it stands to reason that this would also apply even when nobody is aware of a ‘crisis’, such as in the case of a client choosing not to disclose the full extent of their plight or ‘open up’ to anyone they are in contact with.

Solution Focused Practice, by its very nature can be seen to build safety.

Given that it’s fair to assume that the client can find a way to do whatever they desire after leaving my office, then having effectively rehearsed a possible future in which they have found a way to be safe and secure again, I believe increases the likelihood of such a future becoming their reality, and sooner than it might have done otherwise.

In very rare cases (approximately 1 in 1000 or so in my experience), effectively I can only be sufficiently reassured that someone is heading towards increasing safety by abandoning the conversation and taking steps for them to be admitted to hospital.

Even under those circumstances, I find opportunities to maintain my solution focused attitude, including an active respect towards the client and belief in their capacity to turn themselves around, which can make a useful difference for them.

This applies even when their liberty is drastically restricted to counter the possibility of them acting on a self-destructive impulse.

Whatever happens, there’s a chance ahead that they’ll recall the choice of action they had previously rehearsed during our conversation and the difference it made in that moment.

Typically, the difference might have been increased hope for a better future, which may encourage them to take them a step closer towards safety, ensuring their immediate survival and providing the opportunity to eventually arrive in that better future.

To recap, when I have concerns about safety, perhaps because of the context, or my instinctive response to what I’m hearing, I notice the emphasis in my listening changes in line with a ‘safety first’ priority in a way which includes more consideration of meaning, and questions evolve from an unusually protective more than empowering stance.

This shift in emphasis is a necessary exception, which reverts as soon as future safety is described reassuringly by the client.

The key to managing this effectively as a professional is second to second adaptability.

Having experienced countless conversations in which safety is a consideration, my conclusion is that we all seem to possess an extraordinarily powerful survival instinct that steers us towards safety even whilst confidence in this happening wavers.

Tragically, it isn’t always powerful enough in itself to save someone’s life, which is where we all come in for each other.

In theory, all suicide is preventable. It can certainly appear that way when individual cases are viewed with the benefit of hindsight.

In practice, in reality, no human endeavour ever has a 100% success rate, and whilst free will exists in our society, people will always find a way to do whatever they most want to do.

Our best bet of reducing instances of people ending their own lives through hopelessness is to therefore collectively do everything we possibly can to amplify the hopes of everyone for a future that is good for every human being in existence, especially those feeling most alone and unable to see a future, so that what everyone most wants to do, in the first instance, is continue to live and to love.

I hope that with greater awareness of the difference it can make to acknowledge, ask about hopes, use the other person’s exact words in conversation, and maintain respect and unshakeable belief in them, more lives might be saved.

This might be through professionals using their honed knowledge, skills, experience and adaptability whenever someone in crisis is fortuitous enough to meet with them, or it might be through anyone, professional or lay person, coming into contact with someone in crisis (knowingly or otherwise), relying on their love and instincts to acknowledge and amplify hope through conversation, then direct people they are still worried about towards professionals.

There are no guarantees. Everyone could be doing everything they possibly can and it still might not be enough to avert tragedy in some cases.

But it might.


I would like to thank Evan George of BRIEF for his answers to my questions on this subject, which supplied a lot of the words I found particularly useful in writing this post.

There are many books and articles covering this subject. One book which I have found particularly inspirational is Heather Fiske’s Hope in Action: Solution-Focused Conversations About Suicide.


This is our beginning coming to an end

adult background ball shaped blur

A and B enter room and sit down.

A “I feel so much better already!”
B “how did you manage to do that?”
A “what?”
B “to feel so much better already?”
A “no I just mean that coming here and talking to you really helps. Makes me feel better”
B “and your part in that?”
A “oh, err… talking to you. I get things off my chest. Talking to anyone actually, well not anyone, you know, talking to the right people”
B “how do you know they’re the right people?”
A “they listen”
B “you talk, they listen, you feel better, it helps”
A “exactly!”
B “what else have you been doing over the last couple of weeks that really helps you feel better?”
A “huh, well… It hasn’t been all better, it’s still been difficult… but what I’ve been doing… Well what we talked about, I’ve started the day like that most days. Oh and I got some work done”
B “cool! What else?”
A “well I’ve been walking in the park. I love being in nature, you know? That really helps sometimes”
B “nice. What else do you do that really helps?”
A “well, spending time with my friends… I’ve been thinking differently. When I get a group chat message about going out somewhere, I’m not just going like it’s to everyone they don’t really want me there”
B “and instead?”
A “I’m thinking they might, why not! I can always leave early, why don’t I give it a go, you know? Just thinking like that… That’s helping me feel better too”
B “and what is doing all of these things, helping you feel better, leading to?”
A “leading to? Oh yeah ok, it’s just like a weight is lifted off my chest, you know?”
B “what do you replace the weight with?”
A “I don’t… Oh ok, maybe I do… Hmm… It’s a lightness, acceptance”
B “and the difference this lightness, acceptance makes?”
A “… I believe I can do this. I have self-belief”
B “what else?”
A “I’m not hating myself anymore. I think I’m ok. More than ok! I’m cool!… I can’t believe how far I’ve come actually! I’ve still got a long way to go, but I can do it, I know I can”
B “can you do it without coming here and talking with me?”
A “…yeah… You know what? I think I can yeah… Thank you”
B “thank you too. It’s been a pleasure”
A “ok, well I have things to do now. Thanks again”
B “I better get out of your way then! You take care. See you around, or not!”
A “hopefully not to be honest! In a good way I mean! You know!”
B “absolutely! I hope not too! You know where we are, you’re always welcome, either way it’s cool. You’re cool in fact! You have a great day”
A “you too! Bye!”

A Resilient Generation


People around my age often ask me why I think it is that more young people than ever seem to have ‘mental health problems’, self harm, talk about not being able to cope, seek help.

This is often accompanied by one of, or both, the following questions:

“Is it because there’s so much pressure on them?”

“How can we help them to be more resilient?”

The first question is probably impossible to answer. It assumes that what seems to be is a fact, then picks out one possible causative variable which would be extremely difficult to quantify.

The second is easy. We can ask them how they are being so resilient.

When I listen to young people telling me about the ways in which they’ve been untitledjudged, examined, dictated to, criticised, compared to others, scoffed at, ignored and rejected, I’m struck by how resilient they must be to survive it and cling on to even the tiniest sliver of hope that things can get better, in order to seek help from anyone who might be able to come up with anything at all that might be of use to them in their struggle.

It seems to me that this is a generation who are literally being tested to breaking point, and are somehow managing to keep going, even to find some joy, some connection with others and to celebrate life at times.

The natural question to ask them, then, is “how are you doing this?”

I think young people can tell us a lot about resilience. They can describe it in great detail. Especially those who we consider to have ‘mental health problems’, who self harm, who talk about not being able to cope sometimes. And asking them the question, so that they can hear their own answer, is the best way I know to help that resilience grow.