‘Who gives a voice to the voiceless? — A brief psychological and poetic reflection…’

2.07.2021: For this week’s PIE blog, as the lead for psychologically informed environments (PIE), at the national youth homeless charity; Centrepoint, I have stepped outside the usual format and I hope readers will indulge me this once! When reflecting on the last few days of reflective practice with frontline staff, conversations with colleagues and the privilege of being involved in the interview process for our new Centrepoint Director of Strategy and Performance, I have been thinking about the concept of ‘having our voice heard’ and how this relates to ‘power’ as well as PIE. I have previously written about the concept of power and empowerment in a past blog (see here: https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/power-empowerment-within-a-psychologically-informed-environment-90783b606eb0), so as noted above this week my reflections are more creative rather than the typical review of psychological theory, evidence and its implications for our PIE work. Instead, this week my reflections have taken the form of posing questions within a poetic form. Of course, psychologists do not sadly have all the answers or a ‘magic wand’ but what we can do is use our professional position and privilege to focus attention on questions that may need to be considered. We can also support the creation of spaces where we can collaborate with others to find solutions or plans for the future to address these questions.

When reflecting on the idea of ‘having our voices’ heard, wherever we may be in the organisation (homeless young person, frontline staff, support staff, management, external supporters or other stakeholders), I have been wondering how we decide who to hear? It is sadly often the case that those with lived experience or are more ‘low paid’ but nevertheless highly skilled or knowledgeable in any society or organisation may not have the ‘power’ to have their voices heard. Co-production is a key part of any PIE, so it is positive that an organisation like Centrepoint is making progress in creating opportunities to hear a wider range of voices as we make strategic (e.g. People Strategy) and operational changes (e.g. HOMES) moving forward. We also continue to use our position of power and influence as a national charity to ensure that issues that our homeless young people face are ‘heard’ by the ‘powerful’ through the amazing work of our policy team (see here: https://centrepoint.org.uk/what-we-do/policy-and-research/).

As part of my thinking this week, I came across the quote at the start of this blog, taken from a poem by Ella Wheller Wilcox (b. 05.11.1850 — d. 30.10.1919). She was an American author and poet, whose more famous works; ‘Poems of Passion and Solitude’, contain the well-known line ‘Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone’. The quote at the start of the blog particularly resonated with me about the work that an organisation like Centrepoint undertakes. The homeless young people we support are often some of the most ‘voiceless’ in our society, and our work is about ensuring we can ‘fight their fights’ till ‘the world shall set things right’. This has also inspired me to write a poem about some of my thoughts on this and the role a PIE approach can have in asking the, sometimes challenging, questions needed to bring about change.

Of course, I don’t think I will be changing my career from psychologist to poet anytime soon (!) but hopefully this piece inspires further personal, professional or organisational reflections wherever we work in the homeless sector, not only about PIE but also about the themes of co-production, hearing the voices of others and power. It might even provoke other reflections and I would love to hear them in the comments section below, to begin a wider conversation. Moreover, it might even inspire other writers or poets within our organisation wherever they work (or receive services) and if so, please do get in touch. I would love to share your reflections on our PIE journey at Centrepoint in future PIE blogs, as part of our team’s commitment to encouraging and giving spaces to other voices…

A PIE poem…

Who gives a voice to the voiceless?

And whose are the voices we hear?

When it seems like there are so many voices?

Which ones cut through loud and clear?

How do we ‘do with’; not do too’?

And whose best interests do we serve?

How can we create psychologically safe spaces?

Where even the quietest are heard?

How do we create a ‘home’ for us all?

And who decides what this may be?

To whom do we give opportunities?

How do we move from ‘me’ to ‘we’?

How do we care for one another?

And build relationships that last?

What do we need to feel safe to reach out?

And not be dominated by the past?

When it feels like the system is beating us,

How do we maintain our hope?

How can we raise each other up?

Knowing whatever happens we can cope?

How do we ensure we are always learning?

And always ‘see the wood for the trees’?

That we aren’t fearful of reflecting,

Or using evidence to hear and see?

How can we be the change that we want?

And challenge ourselves to be kind?

When do we know we have done our best?

And feel some peace of mind?

How much do we empower each other?

And to whom do we give real choice?

How do we praise and support one another?

Ensuring all our gains, even small, are rejoiced?

How do we use our power wisely?

Even when we might feel we have none?

When do we speak up or stop to listen?

And how do we turn our words into action?

So how can we give this voice to the voiceless?

And how can we share our power?

Can we build connections, communities and networks?

That like our summer gardens; grow and flower?

Who are the voiceless in this context?

Does it depend on whether spoken or in written word?

And when we hear the voices of others,

How do we communicate to them that they are heard?

So let us be the voice of the voiceless,

Not just ‘for’ them but ‘with’ them as well.

Until one day there are no voiceless,

And to inequality, unequal power and silence we bid farewell …

Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist & Centrepoint Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE) Lead @orange_madbird