Problem solving in Camberwell Library

SLaM early intervention specialist, Christina Clark blogs about problem solving booths.

Local people were asked to ‘turn up and talk’ today in Camberwell Library as part of an initiative that involves setting up ‘problem solving booths’ for people to share advice and help tackle each other’s problems.

This simple approach is being tested as a way to provide help, advice and signposting for local people. The project has been developed as part of Thrive London: a citywide movement for mental health, supported by the Mayor of London and the London Health Board that aims to make mental health a priority in London.

Christina writes:

It’s not every day that I get to spend a working morning in Camberwell Library trying to engage the public in actively solving each other’s problems. It’s not everyday either that I am joined by Norman Lamb and the SLaM CEO giving the concept a go. Usually I am sat with my clinical ‘hat’ on, carefully following every word of the person in front of me, thinking of how to write this up in a care plan, risk assessing and following it up with an ePJS report.

Today was different. Today was about inviting the public to help solve my problems and then quickly invite them to swap the ‘hats’ (or chairs in this case). The idea was then to slowly take a step out of the chair and begin to watch as the chairs get filled up with fellow members of the public starting to listen to one another and gradually solve each other’s problems. No professionals required!

It was pouring with rain outside but the library was filling up with people going about their business on a Wednesday morning. But not too busy to stop and gather round as they watched members of the public sat in chairs in front of sellotaped pizza boxes with the felt tipped words ‘problem solving booth’ etched into them, one marked’ helped’ and the other marked ‘helper’.

One of the people that stopped was a gentleman called Fernando who had recently moved over here from Venezuela. He not only saw it as a great opportunity to practice his English but also commented on how much he liked the concept. I invited him in by asking him to come and help me with a problem I have and within minutes, he was coming up with useful techniques to help me improve my sleep. I then invited him to sit in my chair, ‘the helped’. He was not aware that I was a health care professional and I think he thought I was a member of the library staff!

Fernando told me that quite often we have small problems or issues that we feel don’t meet the threshold for seeking professional help, but very rarely ‘anywhere to go’ to talk about these things without having to wait in a GP surgery or wait for an appointment letter in the post. The idea that people can walk into their local community centre, park or library and take a seat under the pizza signs and invite others to talk is a concept that aims to just get people solving problems without a professional present.

I work across SLaM’s Early Intervention Psychosis Service, an area where we are continuously trying to find new and innovative ways of engaging people. As clinicians we quite often see people when they have entered mental health services in a crisis situation and it would be a nice feeling to know that that they have had opportunities to access other local support before getting there. I think there is room for these booths in every community and I would support an initiative to encourage more of these booths within our SLaM patches.


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