Using PIEs at Depaul UK | Depaulcharity

Using PIEs at Depaul UK | Depaulcharity

Depaul helps people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Using PIEs at Depaul UK

By Michelle Butterly - 16 May 2019


Mental Health Awareness week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), is the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health. In past years, the week has provided a springboard for important national conversations around wellbeing and mental health.

Here at Depaul UK, we have a countrywide team dedicated to mental health and wellbeing. Our remit is broad, but one area we focus on is supporting the organisation to work within a framework of psychologically informed environments, or PIE.

So what are psychologically informed environments, and why do we think they’re so important?

Many of the young people who use Depaul UK services have had adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Relationships can be hard to navigate for many of us, this can be particularly so for people whose early experiences were abusive and neglectful. Research in the area dramatically highlights the poorer health outcomes across physical and mental health for people who have experienced adverse childhood experiences. Apart from infancy, adolescence is a key period when the brain is rapidly developing. PIE, and working in a trauma informed way, offers an opportunity to capitalise on that window of opportunity in adolescence and redress poor early experiences.

The quote, "I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me" is attributed to Roman playwright Terence and nicely captures the spirit of psychologically informed environments. The approach is about recognising the psychological needs of all people, including both clients and those who support them.

For example, we know that developing knowledge and skills can increase job satisfaction, motivation and personal resilience in the workforce. Through adopting a psychological model of human behaviour we can better understand the connection between behaviours, thoughts and feelings and what people need in order to maximise development. 

Using activities such as facilitated reflective practice, those in client facing roles can be helped to avoid repeating social exclusion and to actively encourage more pro-social behaviour with clients. This is achieved, in part, though recognising the possible origins of challenging behaviours and the link to early relational experiences.

My first job in in mental health was working as a mental health support worker. With no direct experience of working with people with mental health problems, I was allocated a caseload of six men, all of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Although I had a deep commitment to do my best, to listen and learn, I felt overwhelmed by the task of working with people with such profound and enduring difficulties. The core training I attended, though fundamental to the role, simply did not prepare me for its challenges. What should I say to my client who is wrapping his head in foil to protect his mind from the voices ‘out there’?

The things that kept me afloat during challenging times were supportive peers, a reflective working environment and a psychological frame of reference to understand human behaviour. These are the basic ingredients of a psychologically informed environment, and why I believe this strategy is so important in our work here at Depaul UK.

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