The Optimistic Child – Part 4

The Optimistic Child – Part 4

Last week (Dennis Campbell, Health Policy Editor Oct 25 2022) the Guardian reported on a research study into “social prescribing” as an approach to improved mental wellbeing. The trial, run by University College London and funded by the Prudence Trust, a charity which supports young people’s mental health services, will seek engage 600 young people aged 11 to 18 in surfing, rollerskating, gardening, dance, music, sport, exercise, and youth club attendance. In ten NHS mental health trusts participants will choose their activity aided by a link worker. 

Dr Daisy Fancourt, the UCL mental health expert running the trial, says; “Young people’s mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing the NHS ….. Currently many young people referred to child and adolescent mental health services face long waits, during which time more than three-quarters experience a deterioration in their mental health.” Social prescribing has “the potential to support young people while they wait, by providing access to a range of creative and social activities that could enhance their confidence, self-esteem and social support networks.” 

Olly Parker, head of external affairs at the charity YoungMinds characterises social prescribing as “a really exciting way of improving mental wellbeing. It looks at people holistically and tries to find non-medicalised ways of helping them find a way through the challenges they may be experiencing. …. However, it cannot be a substitute for other types of support such as talking therapies.” The key words are “holistically” and “non-medicalised”.  

This research study is part of an effort to find out what can be done to provide mental wellbeing support, filling a gap when mental health service intervention is unavailable. It’s not merely about putting people in a holding pattern until such time as a specialist referral can be taken up. It is about moving beyond the problem-focus to find effective solutions which can enable children and young people to build their resources to move forward in their lives. 

In the UK the most commonly offered talking theory is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, CBT, a problem-focused diagnostic approach delivered by mental health specialists. 

So what else is available?

Since 2001 I’ve been working with children, young people and associated adults using Solutions Focused Coaching (SFC), a form of Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), an internationally recognised, evidence-informed talking therapy. In SFC the coach and client work together to investigates the client’s strengths and successes, what’s already working and their best hopes for their future. With no need to look into past trauma, SFC does not require the Coach to hold detailed knowledge of mental disorders and does not raise the risk of re-traumatising the child or young person by digging into past trauma. Being fully aligned with school Safeguarding, it guarantees that where outside referral is necessary because an issue of safety is raised, it happens systematically. SFC builds the child or young person’s sense of realistic optimism as the key to their making small, practical and useful changes under their own steam. 

It’s become clear that this structured, educational approach is ideally suited for use by school pastoral staff to provide Early Help. Going back to Olly Parker’s words, SFC fills the bill as a holistic, non-medicalised talking therapy. 

In the UK there are more than one million school staff forming part of Tier 1 Universal Services, the foundations of Tiers 2,3 and 4 specialist mental health services. Solutions Focused Coaching in active use in schools across this massive workforce which includes school pastoral staff has the potential to make a substantial difference to the wellbeing of the next generation. It’s already working – my best hope is to see more of it in more schools in the near future. 

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