Child psychologists love metaphors. It helps us to really capture children’s imaginations and integrate their ideas into the narrative of our work. There is no way that James could think of a single step that might help get him back to school. He would hang his head in shame whenever he was asked. But when Zorb the lonely alien was finding his way in a scary new world? Well, the ideas flowed.
What if we could capture the imagination of stuck organisations in the same way; and create some real energy for strategic change?
I’ve been thinking a lot about Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services lately, and how they are positioned; and choose to position themselves in society. The metaphor that springs to mind is that of a country house. if everything we could possibly do to help children with their mental health were a house, how does it look right now, and how could it look in the future?
Currently, as I see it, we are putting all of our resources and energy into the parlour (Specialist CAMHS). The lights are on, the fire is lit, the wall paper and carpets have had a refresh (in Wales at least) and everybody who knows anything about interior design, decorating and home making are busy in that room keeping it up and together.
When people come to visit the house it appears as though it is the only room worth going to – every other room feels dull and uninviting by comparison. They simply don’t have the ‘magic touch’. People line up for miles waiting to get in, and some of the interior designers have to use their specialist time just keeping order. Many visitors are turned away at the door because they are not dressed right for such a formal room. Others are let in but quickly a decision is made that they don’t belong there; or they decide themselves it’s not a good fit. Some stay in the room mainly because they have come such a long way and waited so long. Others come in and the fit is really good so they settle, which means it is too full for anyone else who might like it in there too. Many in the queue give up before they even get to the house; and others don’t bother trying because they have heard there is no point.
This parlour is all that is talked about in the visitors guides and brochures, and everyone is desperate to know exactly what is so special about it. The demand on the parlour is so high that more interior designers are sent in to help. This makes it seem even more special. Rules have to be made about who can visit so people know not to come unless they are dressed in exactly the right clothes. When that doesn’t manage the demand, an even stricter dress code is devised.
All this time there are many many other rooms in the house that have something to offer. It wouldn’t take much for some of the interior designers and decorators from the parlour to help freshen them up; and share some of the ‘magic’. Putting the lights on, and lighting the fire would be a start, and a spring clean and a lick of paint would make all the difference. Just by having someone in that room who knew about interior design and could direct the work of others would make it more welcoming and inviting very quickly. It would help them realise it’s not magic after all. They might discover that they have great d.i.y. skills, but had lost their confidence because they were too busy lining up to get into the house.
In fact, many of the people visiting the house would prefer the other rooms to the parlour. They are less formal; they don’t need you to be dressed a certain way, and people can move between rooms to find the one that is right for them. The more visitors the other rooms have the more they could be adapted to appeal to those who choose to spend time in them. The visitors could really help the interior designers to get each room just right. They might even notice there was a whole garden to explore by looking through the windows.
More importantly, the people visiting would begin to realise that the country house isn’t that different to their own home. They would see that they could borrow some of the ideas and apply them themselves. Much more so than when it was just the parlour as that was so formal, and so few got to see in. The word on the street about the country house would change. It would becomes less about the parlour, and the special room that hardly any one gets to visit, and more about a great house with lots of different rooms in lots of different styles – and where you can learn interior design tips for your own house.
Even more importantly, as demand on the interior designers eased, they would be freer to leave the house. They could visit other country houses closer to people’s homes and help them to have some of the appeal that the main house had. People wouldn’t have to travel so far to see these houses. They could run d.i.y. courses, and even occasionally visit people in their own homes – especially the people who needed to visit the parlour most but never stood a chance of getting through all the hurdles.
Who knows, we may even get to the point where the parlour is reserved for very special occasions – because that was only ever what it was intended for after all.
What would your metaphor be?