The Self-Tapping Screw: Recollections of a Borstal Officer, Simon Barlow, 22 May 2013 at 6pm, Tunbridge Wells Council Chamber, Town Hall, Royal Tunbridge Wells, TN1 1RS
On the evening Wednesday 22nd May, the Whole Person Recovery Programme will be hosting an event as part of our on-going Public Events Programme. The Public Events Programme is held in various venues across West Kent as a way of engaging and educating the wider community members in our work and the debates surrounding addiction, recovery, community development, etc. On the 22nd we will welcome Simon Barlow to Tunbridge-Wells to discuss his new book. Simon is a colleague from CRI, one of our partner organisations on this project.
Like many of those we work with in West Kent, Simon has had an interesting and varied career. Before moving to Tonbridge and working for CRI Simon gave up his job working at a shoe shop and enrolled on a training programme to become a prison officer. From 1980 to 2005 Simon worked in a variety of adult prisons but started out as an officer for the now much maligned borstals, probably most famously depicted in the Alan Clarke film Scum. Simon argues that, for all their faults, the borstals did help to transform many boys’ lives. Viewed from the inside, Barlow champions the system of education, training and structure for the borstal boys and compares it to what he deems an inadequate replacement.
‘The borstals, though not perfect, had transformed many boys’ lives. Lads would come to us, never knowing any structure in their lives and never having experienced discipline of any sort, and the experience would change them. I remember several examples of boys having to be physically removed from the institution on the day of their release, as they did not want to return to the chaos that was their lives.’
Join us to hear Simon recount his tales of borstal life and have a chance to engage with the issues raised in a discussion after the talk. The event is free and refreshments will be provided but please book in advance here.
A trained psychologist myself, I took great interest in today’s call of the British Psychological Society for a departure of the biomedical model of mental illness. And, to my delight, so did other colleagues – read a great blog post from Social Brain’s Emma Lindley here, where she writes that we might be right now witnessing a bona fide revolution that may change mental health services so radically, ‘they will be unrecognisable to the children of my generation.’ As Emma points out, the debate is as much driven by differing concepts of human nature as it is by politics, and the struggle for professional relevance and power. It is the latter aspect that I want to focus on in this blog post.
The RSA has long taken an interest in professions and their future (including this project in the early 2000s), and is currently managing an independent review of the Police Federation. Further international projects with other professions may follow soon.
Interestingly, even though Psychiatry is the younger term, it is the arguably the older science, and literally means ‘the medical treatment of the soul’, whereas Psychology means ‘study of the soul’. Psychology and, specifically, its subdomain Clinical Psychology, have always had a hard time standing up to their medical cousin. Part of the reason for that one can find in the etymology; isn’t medical treatment is just so much more tangible than mere study? Thus, in more than one hospital of the world (including one I interned in a long, long time ago), Psychologists have not been much more than overeducated sidekicks to doctors. This may change soon.
The main reason for this is that over the last decade, and particularly since 2008, Psychology has arrived in the scientific establishment. It did so by using a strategy applied by underdogs since the advent of mankind: collaboration. (And, of course, the emergence of discipline rockstars like Steven Pinker has helped.)
Not having enough leverage itself, Psychology entered functional marriages with up and coming disciplines like neuroscience and traditional ones like economics, a process that led to the creation of new interdisciplinary fields like behavioural science. A prominent victim of this process was homo economicus – the notion that humans are wholly rational and narrowly self-interested. Homo biomedicus (not an official term, my inadequate creation), the similarly reductionist paradigm underlying present day psychiatry that acknowledges only the physical side of human existence, but leaves aside the social and psychological aspects, may very well be next.
There are two reasons to be concerned about the potential revolution of mental health services given that professional battle lines are drawn:
Firstly, while for Psychology there was the possibility of a non-threatening complementary relationship in the mutual interest with economics or neuroscience, with Psychiatry it is different. Here the question is ‘who runs the show?’, or, if you will, one of professional hegemony. Still, one hopes that the critical voices on both sides steer the process away from the zero-sum-game it is in danger to become, which certainly would leave everyone worse off.
Secondly, the homo biomedicus model is not entirely wrong, just as the homo economicus model is not completely off the mark. The concept has its merit and adequate areas of application, and it will need to be taken into account when designing future services based on a richer, more complex understanding of man as Homo biopsychosocialis that is embedded in a capabilities-based approach. Throwing out the baby with the bath water would be just as wrong.
Josef Lentsch is Director of RSA International – follow him at @joseflentsch
The RSA’s Whole Person Recovery project’s first anniversary is this spring. You may have been following our progress in West Kent through the fellowship newsletter, the Whole Person Recovery Newsletter or the Recovery Blog. Maybe you’ve attended a Public Event Programme lecture or a Recovery Alliance Meeting. If this is the first you’re hearing of the programme it’s a perfect opportunity to get involved. You don’t need to have personal experience of addiction or recovery to contribute to the programme. Recovery is a complex and individual journey with which we can all relate to in respect of its organic or non-linear nature.
Attaining ‘recovery’ and achieving a balanced, healthy and engaged life obtaining the things many of us take for granted such as a job, a car, and a family waiting for us when we get home can seem a difficult place to reach. However, Whole Person Recovery is based on the acknowledgement that both addiction and recovery do not occur within a vacuum and are based significantly on social, personal and community influences.
Statistical evidence strongly suggests that one in five of us will know someone who has experienced problems with drugs and/ or alcohol. For those of us who know these individuals, we recognise that alcohol and drugs are usually just a symptom of deeper problems yet to be acknowledged or resolved. Today’s world throws us all tough challenges; for the most vulnerable in our communities these challenges are more hazardous.
Our aim is help programme participants mainstream their lifestyles and plug back into their communities and tap the abundant social resources available so that their recovery encompasses work, housing, friends, family and purposeful activity, in employment, education or enterprise. So what if someone is stable and on their feet again after accessing available support? What comes next? This is where the RSA’s network of Fellows is an invaluable resource.
People in recovery span all strata of society – from the man who used to live on the streets to the mum who has seen her children grow up and fly the nest, but they generally all have one thing in common – they have had to take ‘time out’ to work on their recovery. This time may have left a sense of insecurity or limited or outdated professional skills. There will be a time when such individuals well on the path of recovery will want to achieve goals beyond the sphere of their health and physical wellbeing.
Fellows in West Kent and the South East can make a huge difference to our work in often, quite simple, ways.
- Offering a space on a training course
- Inviting someone to shadow you at your workplace for a number of days
- Attending or giving a talk at one of our West Kent hubs
- Mentoring someone aspiring to enter your field of expertise
Today marks the beginning of the end of Disability Living Allowance. As of now, new applicants in the North East and North West will be assessed for the coalition government’s replacement for the non-means tested benefit, the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Anyone whose award is up for review will go through the PIP assessment process, and the plan is that by 2018, more than 400,000 people who currently get DLA will not get PIP. This means that around 20% of people who currently receive DLA will lose the benefit all together.
The narratives attached to the need for welfare reform and benefits cuts are powerful, and the government has done a reasonably good job of convincing the nation that it is essential to reduce spending on welfare if our economy is to recover. The particular focus on disabled people, and DLA especially plays into our distaste at the idea of anyone languishing on a ‘lifetime’ benefit with no checks to see if they continue to be disabled ‘enough’ to deserve it.
DLA is also ripe for being framed as unpalatable because of the fact that it isn’t means-tested. It makes no difference if you are a banker, barrister or a barista, your right to claim DLA remains the same. This was designed to reflect the fact that being disabled is expensive, whether you have a visible, physical disability like multiple sclerosis, an invisible, chronic condition like lupus, or an intermittent, unpredictable illness like schizophrenia. In any of these cases, and regardless of a person’s income, DLA can make the difference between being able to work or not, eat properly or not, get around or not.
It makes no difference if you are a banker, barrister or a barista, your right to claim DLA remains the same.
This excellent personal account shows how DLA has made it possible for Mark Harper to continue working and illustrates the many small ways in which it enables him to have a better quality of life in spite of living with a painful neurological condition. As Mark points out, the obsession with employment as the panacea for all our nation’s economic ills is actually undermined by removing the sorts of benefits that make it possible for some people with disabilities to work at all.
DLA certainly wasn’t perfect, and the one-size-fits-all approach to assessing disability has always been ludicrously inflexible. For example, one of the measures of disability the distance a person can walk. Under the old DLA structure, 50 metres was the crucial distance that determined whether or not a person was eligible for the higher rate of mobility allowance. The PIP framework is more than halving this to 20 metres, and there’s plenty to say about the arbitrariness of this heavy handed and unfair change, but to focus on that would overlook the ridiculousness of using the ability to walk a certain distance as a key way of assessing a person’s mobility.
There are many serious physical disabilities which don’t affect one’s ability to walk. There are many disabilities which threaten people’s mobility even though they might be assessed as being physically the same as a non-disabled person. For someone with a learning disability, for example, being able to get around the world safely is not necessarily about moving one leg in front of the other so much as understanding dangers posed by traffic, navigating confusing routes through cities, and social vulnerability. What about a person with agoraphobia or extreme depression?
The transition from DLA to PIP is happening in phases, so those who were once promised ‘lifetime’ DLA support, or who are in the middle of a fixed term award have another couple of year’s grace before the major changes kick in, unless they experience a change in their disability. But the process has begun, there is no stopping it, and hundreds of thousands of disabled people are fearful for their futures because of it.
Mark your calendars – tomorrow is the first International Day of Happiness!
“On this first International Day of Happiness, let us reinforce our commitment to inclusive and sustainable human development and renew our pledge to help others. When we contribute to the common good, we ourselves are enriched. Compassion promotes happiness and will help build the future we want.” – Ban Ki-Moon
In July last year, the General Assembly of the UN agreed to mark March 20th as a day for celebrating and spreading happiness, and educating ourselves and others about it. Three key pillars are recognised as being required for global happiness: economic, social, and environmental wellbeing.
This Huffington Post article by Randy Taran of Project Happiness provides a great overview of the day, with details of the story behind the UN resolution, suggestions for how to participate on the day, and ways to boost your own happiness. I encourage you to read the article and explore the numerous hyperlinks she has provided.
We tend to think about wellbeing often in the Social Brain Centre, because along with the critical external variables of economic stability, democracy and environmental sustainability, we believe that our internal habits, attention, and decisions influence our wellbeing as well.
Just yesterday, Emma wrote about achieving a state of ‘flow’ out on the slopes, and the deep satisfaction that comes with such a focus of attention. Also related to attention, research has shown that those who seek out the positive are more resilient to stress and anxiety, and interestingly, it seems that we can be trained to pay attention in various ways. Gratitude lists may also be a helpful tool in focusing on the positives in our lives.
In a blog post from earlier this year cheekily entitled The Key to Eternal Happiness, I reposition the want/should conflict and suggest that to help maintain or improve wellbeing, we should try to make things that are good for us in the long run also fun to do now. So if it is difficult to motivate yourself to work out at the gym, invite a friend to go with you and focus on the immediate reward of getting the chance to catch up with each other and share a laugh.
Elsewhere in the RSA, the Connected Communities team explores the impact of our social and community networks on our happiness and wellbeing; check out this video about the Social Mirror project to learn more about their important work. And last night the Whole Person Recovery team hosted an event in Tonbridge, where Andy Gibson of the Mindapples organisation spoke about getting our mental 5-a-day.
What will you do to celebrate the International Day of Happiness and help to spread happiness, joy and peace to others? The day’s website urges us all to ACT:
A- Affirm the pledge to bring happiness to others
C- Cheer ‘happy heroes’ and celebrate their good deeds
So start thinking about what you can do to improve the happiness and wellbeing of others around you, and don’t stop after tomorrow!
(Baby faces on shop windows, Greens End, London. Image via lbbonline.com)
In a moment, some fun ideas about music, babies, pom poms and the colour pink, but I want you to take them seriously, so first consider this:
Anti-social behaviour is not crime as such, but it can be highly unpleasant, and is linked to criminality in public perception, so tackling anti-social behaviour has value in itself whether or not it directly reduces crime.
It is not easy to have a convincing effect on crime or anti-social behaviour because both are a function of whether and how people report their experiences, and how those reports are then categorised and measured by police.
Finding ways to be tough on crime and the causes of crime (perhaps Tony Blair’s most famous policy encapsulation) remains a fundamental policy challenge that needs to be taken seriously (e.g. poverty, policing) but there is a place for lighter touch and more creative interventions if those measures help to inform rather than replace more significant efforts to tackle the problems.
In each of the following cases, the researcher or prospective funder is entitled to ask: How do you know it’s working? Sometimes there will be such evidence, but often the answer appears to be: Well we don’t know for sure, but it’s grounded in a credible idea, we believe in it, and most people seem to like it. Sometimes, especially when funds are tight, that may have to suffice?
So with those qualifications in mind, here are a few ideas on how we might be playful (but nonetheless serious) on changing the atmosphere in which anti-social behaviour happens.
1) Playing classical music on the Underground, either through loudspeakers of buskers is not new, but it appears to have a calming effect on commuters in a context that is otherwise stress and conflict inducing. Of course the evidence for the effect is not unequivocal and it depends on the music, the volume, whether it is played by a person or not etc, but the idea is basically sound (pun gleefully intended).
2) Getting graffiti artists to paint baby faces on shop doors is based on the idea that we have evolved to respond compassionately to baby faces (big cheeks, big eyes) so when we see them we automatically shift towards caring tenderly for our beloved fellow humans and away from that raging desire to smash open a generic door to get at the loot.
(Pom Poms in Leicester. Image via www.bbc.co.uk)
3) More recently, Matthew Taylor sent me a link to a BBC article on a particular kind of Guerilla knitting that seems particularly speculative but nonetheless intriguing. The claim seems simply to be that people smile and feel more at ease when they see pom poms dangling from trees, and that this therefore encourages them to take routes and use areas that they otherwise wouldn’t. It appears (although I believe just anecdotally) that it may have helped to reduce fear of crime in an area of Leicester.
I really don’t know what to make of these ideas, but I generally like such interventions for two main reasons. First, they are a human, sensual and entertaining way of dealing with issues that tend to be otherwise gritty and difficult. Secondly, they problematise the idea that you always need hard evidence to make a difference. For a life-saving drug that might also kill you, it helps to know that it has been rigorously tested, but in the social world where the core issues relate to people’s hearts and minds, there is a place for this kind of playful speculation.
Although I would prefer not to be quoted and remembered as somebody who believed that pom poms were the solution to crime, I genuinely think we should respond to such seriously playful interventions as thoughtfully and supportively as possible.
Addendum: A colleague informs me that researchers have also tried painting furniture pink in particularly troubled areas on the grounds that “it’s hard to look tough sitting on a pink bench.” Again, it’s hard to measure the effect without knowing how tough somebody thinks they look on a blue bench, green bench etc!
Yet again we are talking about alcohol pricing as a realistic strategy for curbing Britain’s excessive drinking. I have been following with interest articles regarding the Government’s proposal to set minimum prices for units of alcohol. The minimum pricing strategy suggests that alcohol in the UK will not be sold at any less than 45p per unit.
Certainly, the impact of problematic drinking on our communities and services such as the NHS is high, but I wonder if the answer is really to attempt to price people out of drinking alcohol. I think it would be fair to say that this strategy is regarded as a quick fix, rather than an attempt to address the issue of excessive drinking. What is needed is an integrated strategy that encourages people to address problematic drinking.
But will minimum pricing have much of an impact on alcohol consumption? There is no short term, quick fix for problematic drinking. A report by The Centre of Economics and Business Research suggests that unless problematic drinkers are priced out by significantly high price rises, they will find ways to maintain their drinking. In my experience, for people who have a physical or psychological dependence on alcohol it’s not really about whether they can afford it or not. For people who drink moderately, price rises may mean that they choose to drink less, or abstain completely. But this is clearly not the group of people who are being targeted by the pricing strategy; “this isn’t about stopping responsible drinking”.
The Alcohol strategy claims that minimum pricing will not impact on the pub trade, because alcohol prices in pubs are already high. Government levies on establishments such as pubs and clubs already price many people out of social drinking, and many choose to drink at home instead. A raise in pricing will not serve to entice people back to their local, but it may mean that for this less visible group of drinkers, problems develop where people choose to go without essentials or rack up debts in order to carry on drinking.
For people who feel unable to reduce their drinking, a price increase may encourage offences such as shoplifting. What the Government’s alcohol strategy does consider are tougher consequences for people committing crime as a result of excessive drinking. For people whose alcohol use leads to problematic behaviour such as offending, the Alcohol strategy proposes running trials of enforced sobriety schemes. I cannot see how attempting to force a person into abstinence fits with the Recovery Agenda. What is lacking from this strategy is a focus on long term solutions – putting more of a focus on encouraging people to make changes to their drinking by addressing the underlying reasons for it.
What the new alcohol strategy makes no mention of are the wider spread impact in terms of alcohol and drugs. Adfam proposes that ‘the future of alcohol policy should account for the effects of excessive drinking on families and children’. It is exactly this type of approach that marries with our Whole Person Recovery model – the idea that a person is less likely to recover without a network of support from their friends and family, and yet it is the same people who are most affected by their loved one’s addiction.
Moves to equip the public with the knowledge and skills to identify problems such as declining mental health and addiction and to empower them to work collaboratively towards solutions would surely benefit us all far more than trying to price people out of problematic drinking. Supportive relationships and good opportunities will be key protective factors in reducing and addressing problematic drinking in young people and our adult population.
The person that wakes up in the morning and has to go and buy a litre of strong cider just to stop themselves being violently ill is unlikely to consider whether he can really afford it or not. The person that drinks excessively at the weekend, ‘pre-loading’ before going out with friends, will probably find that extra few quid to carry on with their habit.
It will take a much more integrated strategy to bring about a cultural shift in our drinking habits. Perhaps they will bring in a minimum price charge for chocolate next.
Mind published an interesting blog post on their website today, in which a woman with bipolar disorder describes the importance of her spirituality in staying well. The spirituality she describes is explicitly non-religious.
It’s interesting to contrast her experience with the recent finding that people who are ‘spiritual but not religious’ are more likely to experience mental health difficulties than those who belong to a religion.
Mark Vernon’s piece discussing this is well worth reading. It occurs me to that the writer of Mind’s blog post is absolutely right in saying that giving due attention to spiritual needs is long overdue.
It’s important to make a couple of points about the framing of this issue. Firstly, that ‘spirituality’ can be more than merely ‘new age’ and secondly, that it doesn’t always have to be juxtaposed with religion. Indeed, the Social Brain Centre is in the early stages of exploring how spirituality might be reconceived based on new understandings of human nature, and there will be more about that here soon…
We are almost one year into our ambitious programme to deliver personalised recovery services and support to people experiencing substance misuse problems in West Kent. Our approach is based on extensive research undertaken by our Whole Person Recovery programme.
We’re looking for an ambitious, entrepreneurial, dynamic Lead Recovery Community Organiser to join the team and work from our one of our bases in West Kent, where you will be co-located with staff from our partner organisations (CRI and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust).
The job will focus on managing two Recovery Community Organisers, and on developing and delivering the Whole Person Recovery Programme in your hub area and across West Kent. You will work to build community based support to help service users sustain their recovery and become socially and economically included in their community as valued local citizens. You will be working with a wide range of service users, RSA staff and Fellows, and local business and civic leaders.
As recovery is a broad concept, encompassing many dimensions of social and economic inclusion, we are interested in hearing from candidates who may come from a range of community development, social innovation, employment, public service and other relevant backgrounds as well as those who work in the substance misuse sector.
If you would like an informal discussion about this job opportunity, please feel free to contact Steve Broome, Director of Research at email@example.com or on 020 7451 6930 or Rebecca Daddow, Senior Researcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was emailed a brilliant blog last week. It’s all about how the internal and external comparisons that many of us are prone to making in life (think ‘keeping up with the Jones’), can lead to a negative spiral of thoughts and judgements. This is particularly true throughout the festive period when we’re constantly bombarded with images of what the ‘perfect’ Christmas looks like on the TV, in the shops, at the cinema.
Christmas tree and decorations. Panto. Cupboards bursting with more food and drink than you could possibly consume. Extended families all with matching jumpers and smiles on their faces. Fairy lights in every nook and cranny. Pops asleep in the corner. A roaring fire. Mountains of gifts under the tree. Stockings at the end of the bed.
The reality is that Christmas doesn’t look like this for most people for a wide range of reasons. This is especially true for many of the people we meet and work with through the Whole Person Recovery Programme. The pressure they put on themselves and each other to mirror this picture-perfect Christmas, can often lead down a very slippery road of despair, depression, anger, shame and relapse.
Thankfully through the West Kent Recovery Service, we have the opportunity to support these individuals and catch the first signs of these unrealistic comparisons, negative thoughts and downward spirals. We’re also putting on a Community Christmas Day at our Tonbridge Recovery Centre for anyone who would like an alternative, but no less ‘perfect’, Christmas Day.
Individuals and their families from across the community will be celebrating Christmas together. Many of them have never met before. Each will be bringing a contribution to the Christmas buffet (where they can). Staff at CRI have been generously cooking up a storm to make contributions even where they can’t be there. Other local agencies like Colebrook Road Hostel, have been getting involved too, donating and cooking a turkey and roast potatoes. My dad is making that old festive favourite, Cornish pasties…!!! It’s going to be an interesting feast. And it won’t look a bit like it does in the movies. But that’s ok because we’ll be ticking most of the 5 ways to well-being and having a great time doing it!
If you or anyone you know would like to find out more about our Community Christmas Day in Tonbridge (Kent), contact Rebecca.email@example.com.
From the Whole Person Recovery team, we wish you a very merry Christmas! Keep connected, stay warm, and find your own perfect Christmas.