‘The value of developing our skills and knowledge through training within a Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE)…’

Dr Helen Miles
9 min readSep 10, 2021

10.09.2021: As I sit down to write this PIE blog, as the lead for Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE), at the national youth homeless charity; Centrepoint, I am reflecting on my first week back at work after a period of annual leave for the summer holidays. Whilst it is always nice to take some time away from work, it is also good to be back refreshed and ready to continue our PIE journey! As well as catching up with some of the ‘frontline’ support and housing teams that I work with to deliver reflective practice sessions, this week I have also once again been delivering some PIE training to staff. This is one aspect of my role that I particularly enjoy as it enables psychologically informed approaches to be utilised more widely than just from psychologists within the PIE team (or staff within the Health Team) through our staff working within ‘frontline’ supported accommodation services in order to improve outcomes for the homeless young people that they work with. Therefore, I wanted to use this blog to reflect further on the importance of training within any environment that is aiming to be ‘psychologically informed’.

Within the homeless sector specifically, the PIE Good Practice Guide (Keats et al, 2012 — https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/340022/1/Good%2520practice%2520guide%2520-%2520%2520Psychologically%2520informed%2520services%2520for%2520homeless%2520people%2520.pdf) highlights that staff training is a key part of any psychologically informed environment. Specifically they note that ‘staff training and support is therefore central to the transition into psychologically aware services’ (p.21) and that ‘these trainings are reinforced and supported through clinician-led clinical supervision, and through reflective practice groups’ (p.22). Training sessions should be all about building on our existing skills and knowledge, as well as learning new things. It may take different forms, such as seminars, workshops, teaching sessions, online or e-learning packages, conferences or just personal reading but all are key to our own self-development and enhance our professional practice. This continuing professional development or ‘life-long learning’ is something that is embedded in a psychology career, and is not something to ‘fear’ in case it highlights what we can’t do or don’t know currently (after all who is perfect, knows everything or can do everything?) but is something to embrace as an opportunity for self-development.

The role of training and learning is also important because it provides a practitioner the opportunity to hear more about the latest evidence based practice in their field. Being an evidence-based practitioner is a key part of being a psychologist, and the use of evidence to improve outcomes is central to a PIE. For example, Keats et al (2012) note the importance of ‘following the best practice evidence’ (p.36) in the development of PIE services and thus, staff working in those services need to be aware of this psychological evidence base so that they can apply it to their day to day work with individuals who are experiencing homelessness.

In particular, I have also been reflecting on staff ‘training’ in terms of how it fits into our wider Skills and Development offer within Centrepoint as well as its broader value. Sometimes just focusing on a narrow concept of ‘training’ can result in an excessive focus just on the need for staff to ‘attend’ training (e.g. Mandatory or Induction training courses being linked to a Key Performance Indicator or KPI) but can lose the reason why the training is important. When we attend a training session, we are not just having a day or a few hours away from our usual roles (although this of course can be welcome!) or ensuring that we have ‘ticked a box’. Rather, training gives us an opportunity to specifically have some dedicated time to focus on our own professional development and ensure our safety and fitness to do our role, as well as either learning new skills or knowledge or refreshing and deepening our existing skills and knowledge.

There are also a wider psychological value to training. It also gives us the opportunity to connect with our colleagues both who work in the same area as us (i.e. whether frontline or support services, or even within a specific team or within similar external organisations), but also with colleagues from other areas of the wide diversity that makes up the different teams in the charity. I have had lots of anecdotal feedback of how valuable this is from the staff that have been attending our PIE day training. Specifically, either allowing us to understand how other parts of the organisation work and develop our business empathy, or if they are colleagues working in a similar role, but a different geographical region, it can give us the opportunity to share good practice as well as challenges in order to learn from each other. As a training facilitator, I have often found that this non-specific effect of training can be significant and I often learn things from attendees to our training session just as much as I hope that they are learning something useful from me!

In Centrepoint, our Skills and Development Team are central to the provision of training with the organisation, and it has been a pleasure to work collaboratively and closely with them over the past two years since I commenced in this role. With regard to the current PIE training offer, there has been lots of work ‘behind the scenes’ to get to this point. It would have not have been possible for our PIE team to be able to deliver the range of psychologically informed training that is now on offer without the help, assistance and partnership working with both this team as well as senior colleagues in Support and Housing, for which I am very grateful. This also once again highlights to me that working together across the organisation rather than silo working can lead to exciting changes and positive outcomes. I would also like to specifically thank my colleagues in the PIE team, who have worked extremely hard over many months to develop the range of evidence based psychologically informed training that is relevant to the needs of Centrepoint, as well as their enthusiasm in the delivery of this offer since it was launched.

Consequently, our PIE training offer is now linked to our Housing Operational Model: Environments and Services (HOMES) and our wider People Strategy, and we will continue to work with colleagues across these teams to evaluate and reflect on the current training offer as well as develop further training modules (e.g. Management and Leadership) requested by staff. As per a PIE approach, our training offer has been ‘co-produced’ with the end user (i.e. the staff within Centrepoint), following my early scoping exercise when I first started in post and the initial training needs analysis. This has ensured that colleagues appear excited by the training offer, as it is relevant to their needs within their day-to-day role, evidenced by the high uptake of training sessions and reported levels of satisfaction post-training on our evaluation forms.

Of course, over the past year with the COVID-19 pandemic, our training offer has had to evolve and develop. Initially our face-to-face PIE day sessions were suspended during the first UK lockdown, although I am delighted to report that since July, the delivery of these has now reverted to face-to-face sessions in all our regions (London, Manchester, West Yorkshire and Sunderland). Our PIE modules remain a mix of face-to-face delivery directly to ‘frontline’ teams within services as well as online remote sessions, which allow staff to attend from wherever they work within the organisation. As a result, the training offer is more equitable and ‘fair’ for all staff to access and enables us to address the obvious challenges of delivering training within a national organisation. It is likely that this hybrid offer will remain in place for the foreseeable future, particularly as attendees report that being able to access these shorter three hour sessions from work or home without travelling to a specific venue enables them to engage in the offer more easily. Whilst I personally find face-to-face training preferable (because as a psychologist being in the room with another person is how I have been trained), nevertheless working online has been an exciting new technological development, which has enabled me to develop new skills as well as reflect on how to adapt and present information in this format.

The PIE training offer however is just one part of the wider Skills and Development offer that is available within Centrepoint. There is also training sessions from other internal colleagues (e.g. our Safeguarding Lead delivering the Safeguarding training session) as well as input from other external organisations or trainers (e.g. Papyrus’s Suicide Awareness training). This balance ensures that we are sourcing the very best training offers for our staff, as well as managing the training budget and making use of the internal resources such as the highly skilled and knowledgeable staff already within the organisation. Utilising our own resources is also valuable because it supports experienced staff to share their knowledge and deliver training, which can also further develop their own skills. On reflection, the consolidation of my own psychological knowledge and skills has improved as and when I have been asked to share this knowledge with or train/teach others. The Centrepoint training offer of course needs to consider what each role within the organisation might need, in order to enhance and develop their particular skills. Because we are such a diverse organisation, what a member of the fundraising or policy team might need in terms of training is likely to be different from what a member of the support and housing team might need. This means that in order to appropriately value training and continuing professional development, as per a PIE, we need to have a wider and diverse training offer that meets the individual needs of all the staff employed within the charity.

Moreover, as we (hopefully!) start to come out of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, I would also argue that training is even more valuable than ever. When we were in ‘crises’ mode, often training is the first thing that can get ‘put on hold’ as we deal with the perhaps more pressing day to day matters within our roles. However, now I think we have a chance to stop and reflect (again as per a PIE!), to take a ‘breath’ and think ‘what next?’ How do we need to adapt in this ‘new normal’? Organisations that perform best are those that invest in their staff through the development of their skills and knowledge in order to improve role performance and ensure better outcomes. Consequently, training needs to be ‘prioritised’ as something of ‘value’ and not an ‘add on’. Therefore, staff need time to attend training, and then the opportunity to have space to reflect on this training in order to perhaps share it with other colleagues in their team as well as put it in to practice within their daily roles.

Having an excellent training offer for staff not only allows them to have the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge, but can also enable them to feel progression and professional development is available within their role, which is important in terms of staff retention. Training can also be valuable in managing staff burnout and well-being. There is for example, evidence that staff training and team development can manage stress in the workplace, particularly in frontline homeless services as staff presumably feel more equipped to undertake their roles and supported by those that they work with (Mowbray et al, 1996; Waegemakers et al, 2016). Staff well-being and attrition are two outcomes that are a focus in the creation of a PIE, and of course are more relevant than ever post pandemic as we all deal with the changes to our personal and professional lives because of recent events.

Centrepoint has a 50-year history of supporting homeless young people and has had to evolve how it works over this time as a result in changes in needs, priorities, legislation, commissioning processes, social policies and wider society. However, what has not changed is we are a ‘people’ organisation. We do not have a ‘product’ as such like a typical business. Our people, whether that be the homeless young people or the staff that work directly or indirectly to support them, are our core business and therefore need to be at the heart of what we do. Therefore, it is our ‘people’ who need to be supported to innovate, learn and develop so that we can continue our day-to-day delivery to the best of our abilities, as well as progress to achieve our strategic objective of ending youth homelessness by 2037. As a result, training is a key part of our ‘People Strategy’ and I look forward to continue to work with my colleagues in Human Resources as well as the wider organisation to develop this to be ‘psychologically informed’. In conclusion, within a PIE, a focus on skills and development is a critical part of a creating an organisational culture that is psychologically informed as well as an exciting and innovative place to work, that is ultimately best placed to improve the outcomes for homeless young people in the UK…

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Dr Helen Miles

Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist & Head of Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) at Centrepoint @orange_madbird