A Training Example

In July 2021, I led an online training session for a national union, with a focus on ‘Looking After Your Mental Health’. This was an hour-and-a-half long. I planned the session in close dialogue with the senior union officer who had made the invitation. Drawing on other networks, I also approached a colleague from a different union, to help co-deliver on the day. I found this a great opportunity to knit together elements of my experience in both mental health, and occupational/workplace health.

The session had been requested to support shop floor union representatives and activists in their roles. They had been supporting union members throughout the additional demands of the COVID 19 pandemic. In additon to the impact of the pandemic on their own lives, they had faced additional demands in their workplace rep roles. The session aimed to rebalance reps’ focus, away from responding to others’ needs. Instead we invited them to acknowledge the impact of stress upon their own wellbeing. We designed the content to include practical information on self care, and also pointers to routes into professional support, if this was required.

In planning the event, I drew upon the relational framework of cognitive analytic therapy. In order to ensure that participants could take away practical information and strategies for self care, I combined this with a cognitive behavioural therapy approach. We focussed particularly on what CAT describes as ‘self-to-self’ relating. Through the material presented I invited participants to reflect on how they may take on board messages and expectations from others and the world around them. Often such ‘other-to-self’ influences become reproduced in how people relate to themselves.

For union representatives supporting their colleagues, this could become powerfully played out. Workers were often facing high employer demands, alongside low pay. Variable working conditions during the pandemic meant that working environments could be unsafe. Additionally, during the pandemic, union members often had to contend with high degrees of hostility from members of the public. This caused high levels of anxiety and distress for many, on top of COVID related stresses. Reps could find their own personal and professional boundaries stretched while trying to represent the interests of members. All of these influences could become played out in ways that helped maintain patterns of striving, where reps tried to fulfil demanding expectations of themselves. In these circumstances it could be easy for reps to neglect their own emotional and practical needs.

We were able to set this session in a clear time-and-place context of the COVID pandemic in the UK. This provided an opportunity to illustrate how the social and political environments around us can powerfully influence individual mental health and wellbeing. At the same time, it was possible to touch upon personal difficulties and longer-standing vulnerabilities that people may carry. However I aimed to offer this in a way which was not exposing for individuals.

Over ninety people attended the session, and it was recorded as a resource for others who had not been able to attend. The numbers were too large to support a fully interactive online approach. However we used other methods to actively engage participants and capture themes and questions for further discussion. A multiple choice poll helped to canvas opinions about choices facing a fictional character whose story ran throughout the presentation. The union officer supporting the session also summarised chat themes and questions for discussion later.

Some very positive feedback included the following comments:

“Rhona’s relaxed yet authoritative style of presenting, her sensitive understanding of what our reps needed and her commitment to helping them find positive ways to look after their mental wellbeing were so impressive. The webinar was perfectly paced and reps got loads of practical strategies to take away.”

If you or your organisation would like to explore possibilities for training through Manchester CAT Psychological Services, please contact us.