Buses as a Route to Connection

By Dr Nina Browne

There is a guy I met in Blackpool. He says the only people he has contact with all week are the bus and tram drivers. They changed his bus route last year. He lost contact with everyone. The number 16 and 2 are well known. They take the longer routes. 

I’m a clinical psychologist. I don’t spend much time on Blackpool buses. Maybe I should.

We say that some of our clients are hard to reach. But maybe it’s psychologists and other helpers that are difficult to find. Especially when we spend so much time in meetings, asking each other why our clients don’t show up to appointments.

I was in Blackpool to spend time with Camerados, a social movement tackling social isolation. They create spaces for people to meet, to be with each other. They call them Public Living Rooms. The Blackpool one is in a library near to the sea front. Near to where people facing big challenges in their lives hang out. In the living room they can have a cup of tea, meet and talk with one another. It is a jumping off point for those on the number 16 bus route. 

It’s a scary place to be for a psychologist. People are not coming to me. I am going to them. Can I be of any use to them? They seem to be sorting a lot out for themselves. Maybe Camerados is making me redundant?

Or maybe there is a space for community psychology, the sort where we professionals go out into the community and see what we can add to the routine helping that goes on in day to day life. I've learnt more about loneliness from Blackpool buses than I've read in any book. What if we gave psychologists free bus passes rather than their clients?

I am on my own journey to find out. Let’s see where it takes me next.

Join the movement www.camerados.org

A Teepee in a hospital...now we're talking

Image 1 Teepee.jpg

By Dr Nina Browne

I am in a Teepee. It is placed in the entrance to Blackpool hospital. I am sat next to a breast-cancer surgeon. She is on her lunch break. She just finished a conversation with a young mother whose baby’s heartbeat was lost, and then found. The mother was washed out. After the mother left, the surgeon turned to me. She said “that is a game-changer for me. This news we tell our patients. How you do that is so important. I’m going to talk differently now”.

A 30 minute break had changed her practice. Maybe. During her long career at the hospital this surgeon felt connected to her patients. But now she realised, maybe it wasn’t enough.

The Teepee is the brainchild of Camerados, a movement to end social isolation. They create spaces for people to meet, to be with each other. They call them Public Living Rooms. The Teepee like their other living rooms break down the barriers and divisions that divide us up. The medical profession exudes power. Patients feel vulnerable. Some of them are fighting for their lives. The Teepee allows doctors, nurses, patients and visitors to be people, each as worthy as the other.

I have worked in the NHS, I am a clinical psychologist. I’ve also been a patient. Now I have experienced a space where no-one knows if I am one or the other. A space where it doesn’t matter. As a psychologist though these things matter. My training restricts how much I can disclose about myself, what I can share, when, and how. It is important to maintain boundaries. That professional armour has made me feel safe.

Along the way we lose connection. And maybe we lose much else that is needed to help people help themselves. I left the Teepee that day with a huge question. How can a space lead a doctor to significantly shift her mind set? On her lunch break!

This isn’t day to day psychology. It is community psychology. It is psychology out of the clinic and in the community where people work together to resolve each others difficulties. It is a psychology rooted in real human experiences, like a mother traumatised by her baby’s illness. It is a psychology where the mother has the power, and where the professional is challenged to think again, to think differently.


Join the movement www.camerados.org

Just do it.

By Dr Nina Browne

Melinda Rees, Managing Director at Beacon UK, said to me “There’s that saying, if you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t refuse it…so I took a risk”

I think about Melinda’s words a lot. I had no idea at the time she would also be describing what has been my first year post-qualification. My research, ‘From Practice to Policy’, put me in the privileged position of hearing about her journey. I also spoke to 37 other psychologists. They had all used their training to influence policy; they all had very similar advice.

Influencing policy wasn’t about developing new skills. It was about developing confidence in our existing skills. Use them differently. See opportunities. Take risks. Just do it. 

Therefore, when I was offered an opportunity to board a rocket ship, joining Dr Charlie Howard in setting up Owls, I said yes. 

Full version published in the UCL DClinPsy Newsletter. Autumn 2017.