“No negativity” Karen* says for the fifth time this afternoon. She is doling out post it notes onto the two tables at which we are sitting. She disappears to the lounge, where most of the patients still remain, to remind staff that no fun was to be permitted whilst the group was running. “Let’s make them wish they were here” she whispers to us before closing the door on the group therapy truants.
There are only four of us in the group, it is half term and I do not fancy a ‘Solution Based’ workshop. But I was woken at 8am in order to ‘be on track’ for this 2pm group and not having fun in the lounge sounded even less appetising. Every time Karen barks ‘No Negativity’ I push back my personal tidal wave of hopelessness with copious amounts of tea. The tide thrashing makes me cynical.
“I don’t want to hear about problems!” Karen, the psychologist for the entire unit, announces. In my head are many retorts, most around the fact she is in the wrong career if she is going for a negativity boycott. “This is about SOLUTIONS!” She enthuses.
Task one is working in teams to shout out ‘well done’ in as many different ways as we could. ‘Good job old chap’, ‘excellent’, ‘spiffing’: we had them all. On the compulsory group flip chart Karen listed all of our efforts. And then Karen began explaining to us, for a much longer time than necessary, how the best solution to most things is finding something that works and keeping doing it.
*Unloads barrels of scepticism*
I would say the major flaw in this theory, though I’m no psychologist myself, is that if you don’t have anything that works in the first place you’re stuffed. Considering we are all under eighteens being treated for mental illness, I’d say ‘can do’ strategies were not going to be in abundance for Karen’s niche. We find ourselves metaphorically working for DynoRod (famous sewage problem busters) without a toolkit. To find such solutions I imagine that one would presumably have to go soul searching in Thailand or gain some renewed perspective on life whilst working for a charity on minimum wage. Karen left us to ponder this issue for a while before she suggested that if you haven’t found anything that helps you, you could ask someone else what helps them..
So in more metaphors:
Everyone has a set of Alan keys lying about somewhere. Most people have no idea which key fits what, but that something you own, somewhere in the house, requires them. If your new bike needs it’s seat heightening you try all your keys but none fit. You know from your own attempts that the key needed would be somewhere between the sizes you’ve got. What I think the message of the group was is that your Alan keys are your solutions and sometimes the ready-made solutions you have won’t fit into every problem. However, go ask your neighbour if you can borrow their useless bunch of Alan keys and you might find the answer.
I guess the theory is that a solution can be found in any problem if you just ask enough people. Which is true, I suppose. At the end of the session Karen asked for feedback.
“But remember we don’t deal with NEGATIVES or PROBLEMS.” She says as she hands out the sticky notes. What a good criteria to give out when asking for a critique!