‘What does inclusion mean in practice? Reflections from the PIE team for National Inclusion Week’…

Dr Helen Miles
9 min readSep 30, 2022

30.09.2022: As I write this week’s PIE blog*, as the lead for Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE), at the national youth homeless charity — Centrepoint, I am reflecting on the theme of ‘inclusion’ because this week has been National Inclusion Week (c.f. https://www.inclusiveemployers.co.uk/niw-2022/). This year’s National Inclusion Week has taken place from the 26th September to the 2nd October 2022, and throughout the week, there have been talks, discussions and events across the organisation encouraging us to reflect upon this year’s theme further, which I hope have been interesting and thought provoking for my Centrepoint colleagues. This year, the theme is a call to action: “Time to Act, The Power of Now: Promoting Allyship and the actions you can take to bring about impactful change”. It is therefore arguably about us moving from acknowledging the value and importance of our diversity and the need for the inclusion of all in society to a place where everyone is actually included in our societal systems and structures. In other words, that we all have a place and a voice, or as shown in the blog picture above, that we are all an important and integral part of society’s wider ‘jigsaw’ because without everyone being included part of the whole picture is missing.

In last year’s PIE blog for National Inclusion Week (c.f. https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/are-we-inclusive-a-psychologically-informed-perspective-on-national-inclusion-week-bfc0a3063519) I posed the challenge for us to reflect on whether we are inclusive and what inclusion involves in a psychologically informed environment or PIE, drawing on perspectives from community psychology approaches. This year, as per the theme, I have been reflecting on what that action actually means in practice and what it also means for us individually within the PIE team in Centrepoint. Within Centrepoint generally, I think we have made some good progress over the past year, with a focus on allyship (c.f. https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/allyship-in-a-psychologically-informed-environment-pie-68d50bb9bd97) including the development and launch of our ‘Allyship Programme’. We have also started to make changes to try to ensure that all parts of the organisation are valued equally, and that all voices are respected and increasingly involved in co-produced decision-making. However, we are not fully there yet. Of course, we can do more, and we need to ensure that we embed behaviours and values that make inclusion an everyday reality. I would suggest that these behaviours are those that are psychologically informed, where we put the focus on our relationships with others, and consider how we interact with and support our colleagues and the homeless young people within our services, for example by ‘reflecting before responding’.

However, first and foremost, creating an inclusive environment starts at the top. We have a responsibility as leaders in an organisation to model inclusivity if we want those in our teams to act in an inclusive manner. This starts with psychologically informed leadership, which I have previously reflected on how this would look in practice in a past PIE blog (c.f. https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/psychologically-informed-leadership-in-a-post-covid-19-world-a7738dc8c0ab). Central to this is the requirement for leaders (as well as all of us!) to be empathic, which at its essence encourages us to have an appreciation of where someone who may be different from us is coming from. Perhaps this also requires us to be curious about others who we may perceive as different from us, so that we can learn about their unique experiences and therefore know how to create the psychologically safe spaces for them to be their ‘authentic selves’ and therefore feel included. Perhaps something to reflect upon whilst reading this blog, is what behaviours as leaders have we done this week that have made others feel included? Have we, perhaps unwittingly, behaved in such a way that has made those in our team feel excluded? Reflecting on this and considering how we can take action to change this moving forward is part of creating an inclusive psychologically informed environment in practice.

Another action that creates an inclusive psychologically informed environment in practice is also how we communicate with others. Creating space for psychologically informed communication (c.f. https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/he-said-she-said-creating-psychologically-informed-communication-to-build-positive-5b80e9c9a3e6) builds positive relationships with those we work with as well as the homeless young people we support. Therefore, how might we be communicating with another person who we perceive as different to us in some way? Are we calling out excluding or discriminatory language when we hear it from others? If not, what is stopping us from being that ‘ally’? How does our language include (or exclude) others, for example utilising technical terms or abbreviations or expecting those for whom English is not their first language to always understand us? Language used is just as important as behaviours and actions in creating that inclusive psychologically informed environment in practice.

Focusing specifically on our organisation’s work with homeless young people in the UK, I have previously written PIE blogs that explore the particular issues that some groups within society may face with regard to their experience of homelessness and accessing ‘inclusive’ support in practice. Many of these groups face exclusion from society and services, that increase their vulnerability to homelessness and indeed, we see them overrepresented in our population at Centrepoint. For example, LGBT young people (c.f. https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/lgbt-history-month-creating-a-psychologically-informed-environments-for-lgbt-homeless-young-1466ac1e4634), young people from UK ethnic minority (or global majority) background (c.f. https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/actionsnotjustwords-a-psychologically-informed-reflection-on-race-equality-week-a762c1540ec0), young refugees or asylum seekers (c.f. https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/fleeing-home-a-psychologically-informed-reflection-on-supporting-young-refugees-and-asylum-b1f33c86166e) and young women (c.f. https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/psychologically-informed-reflections-on-identifying-and-supporting-the-unique-needs-of-homeless-45a7a12809e6). These different groups require slightly different psychologically informed practice approaches to ensure that they are ‘included’ and their specific needs can be met so they can move on from their experience of homelessness. However, one common thread throughout all these blogs is the importance, as per a PIE, of building that secure, trusting and safe ‘relationship’ that makes that individual feel included in any care and support they are offered.

As a PIE team, we have also all been reflecting this week on what inclusion means to us as PIE psychologists / PIE trainer within the context of the work we are undertaking to continue our PIE journey within Centrepoint. For me, inclusion means in the broadest psychological sense the important of working to include everyone, because that benefits all of us in society. As a psychologist, it is this difference and diversity of our human species that is so fascinating to me (if sometimes also frustrating!) I have tried to keep ‘inclusion’ at the forefront of my professional practice to date by ensuring that psychology is not seen as a ‘luxury’ or ‘nice to have’ but an integral part of any work with people. In practice, this means that I have worked in roles that ensure that evidence based psychological therapies are available to those hardest to engage, with the most complex needs or that might not be able to access or pay for them. This has sometimes involved taking psychology ‘out of the therapy room’ when needed, to make psychology feel inclusive and benefit all not just the privileged few. I have applied psychology in such a way that I hope the other person has always been able to gain something helpful and I have never assumed that I know another person, but have always remained curious to their perspectives and experiences.

However, when I really thought about this week on a more personal level about inclusion, I have kept coming back to the idea of inclusion as ‘opportunity’. If someone is included in society then they have access to opportunities. Those opportunities may be different for one person than another, and of course suited to their particular needs, interests, or strengths but everyone has equal access to ‘opportunity’. When I reflect on my own lived experiences to date, I could have easily been ‘excluded’, including from my own profession. Yet through educational and welfare opportunities that were available to me then (even if not perhaps so likely for the current generation), I have found my ‘place’ in society. Many of the homeless young people we support can be ‘excluded’ from wider systems and structures, and consequently experience the negative psychological impact of this, which leads to them struggling to fulfil their potential. The power of including another person through ‘opportunities’ cannot be underestimated. Therefore, one action we can take to increase ‘inclusion’ in practice is to ensure that we work to provide a homeless young person in Centrepoint an opportunity to feel safe, feel at ‘home’, and feel like they have a place in the world. From this, we can give them a foundation to access other opportunities in areas such as education, training and employment or housing that might not otherwise be available to them. These ensures for me that they can start to feel ‘included’ in society and #changetheirstory. More specifically, in my current role in the PIE team, I want to ensure that all our staff in Centrepoint have the opportunity to access psychologically informed training, support and reflective practice and that the young people have the opportunities live within a physical environment that is a ‘home’.

How about the rest of the PIE team? Sophia (PIE Clinical Psychologist — London) summarises ‘inclusion’ for her as “feeling like you belong. This means being accepted, respected and welcomed regardless of your identity”. She goes on to note that within her PIE work at Centrepoint she has considered ‘inclusion’ in the following way: “To facilitate inclusivity at work, I believe that we need to reflect on how our own beliefs, power and lifestyle might impact our own unconscious biases. Through this, we can ensure we have an open mind and we respond to each other in a compassionate way. Within reflective practice sessions, we celebrate difference in opinions and strive for everyone to feel comfortable enough to share their perspectives. Personally, I feel fortunate to have learnt so much from hearing different voices at Centrepoint and look forward to continuing the rich conversations further!

Jess (PIE Clinical Psychologist — North) reports that ‘inclusion for her “means that everyone feels they are valued, appreciated and supported. Inclusion helps individuals to feel able to express their opinions and ideas and the more we ensure everyone is included the more we can learn and achieve”. Within her role in the Centrepoint PIE team, she highlights that “I want all staff to feel included in contributing towards making Centrepoint services psychologically informed and to ensure that all perspectives and ideas are welcomed within our reflective practice discussions. I believe that in helping staff to feel included and valued this will ensure the young people also feel included and valued”.

Interestingly, Marc (PIE Educational Psychologist — National) had a more practical focused take on ‘inclusion’. He states that “inclusion to me means, providing adaptable procedures, practices, and environments, which enable and encompass the whole range of different people and needs. I like the idea that inclusion can be something as big as a dedicated promise to reduce inequality through policies to something as simple as providing left-handed scissors in services. Inclusion does not have to be big actions, but a mindful and conscientious decision to make people feel included”. He goes on to reflect; “I see my role in the PIE team as supporting people to be more mindful of their practicing which might limit opportunities, and help them to embed inclusion through the application of psychology”.

Finally, Adelle (PIE Trainer — National) summarises for her that “inclusion is enabling all people to be involved or included. This means that everyone is treated fairly and with equity and acceptance”. In her particular role as PIE trainer, she reflected that “it means that everybody is welcome to attend and each person’s opinions are heard and valued. I also work to ensure that all learners are aware that each young person who we work with is unique and I endeavour to help learners to identify strategies which aim to remove any barriers to inclusion that young people face”.

As I end the blog this week, I am going to ask some further questions for reflection about ‘inclusion’ in practice. What does inclusion mean for you, perhaps personally as well as professionally in practice? What actions can you take moving forward to support inclusion within your role at Centrepoint (or wherever you are working whilst reading this blog)? They might already be actions you are taking, perhaps they are something new when you reflected on what inclusion might mean for you? What first steps can you make today, tomorrow or next week? Whilst National Inclusion Week is a great starting point for the conversation, in practice we need ongoing actions. Therefore, I hope that we continue every day over the next year to improve ‘inclusion’ across our organisation; for ourselves, our colleagues and the homeless young people we support in Centrepoint as well as wider society…

* With thanks for the contributions from the wider PIE team at Centrepoint.

--

--

Dr Helen Miles

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