John Pearson is the Emotional Wellbeing Service Manager at St Germain Church’s Wellbeing Hub in Edgbaston.
I have always been passionate about mental health, having benefitted from talking therapy myself, so in 2017 I decided to pursue it as a career. I built up voluntary experience whilst studying for Psychology and Counselling qualifications and working part-time. By 2020 I was working as an Emotional Wellbeing Practitioner for a drop-in service, before coming to St Germain’s in May 2020 to pilot a wellbeing support service as part of their COVID-19 response.
Initially St Germain’s COVID response had focused on giving out emergency food parcels and hot meals, including delivery for those who were shielding. Demand was huge and the team were encountering more and more people who were struggling with their mental health. We took some seed funding the church already had for an emotional listening service and used it to develop a phone-based pilot, providing a listening ear, self-help skills and support with referrals as needed.
It was clear that many people needed more than one conversation, so we started to offer four sessions of guided self-help support using a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) framework. We were able to link into local social prescribing networks, accepting referrals from across Birmingham. This led to new funding, which enabled us to start working face to face and employ more Emotional Wellbeing Practitioners.
We are a fast-response service that can normally see people within two weeks. Some service users are struggling but aren’t offered secondary services, others aren’t comfortable accessing clinical settings, still others are struggling with emerging life stressors yet face months-long waiting lists. We support these people. We have a relaxed and non-clinical approach, offering a Drop-In Community Café in addition to our structured support.
We use the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale to measure the impact our service is having. More than 85% of service users experience a statistically significant improvement, even in the space of four sessions.
As Emotional Wellbeing Practitioners we support people who are vulnerable to suicide. More than 25% of service users experience thoughts of suicide. That’s why I completed STORM® Skills Training, to improve my skills in risk assessments and safety planning.
Providing emotional support involves trying to put yourself in another’s shoes and see things from their perspective. People can be in a really dark place; we work with asylum-seekers, people who have had a lot of trauma in their life, people disconnected from any kind of meaningful social support. When I talk to people who are feeling suicidal and have lost all hope, I try and help them imagine how things could be different. One of the messages I remember from STORM® training is that through collaboration and holding the person at the center of what we do we can help build hope.
The collaborative and relational approach that STORM® advocate encouraged me that if someone still can’t see hope I can talk to them about how we can work together to find a way forward. For me this reinforced how important it is to build strong therapeutic relationships, as they can provide a collaborative space that can empower people to see hope for themselves. Our support sessions focus on short-term, achievable goals. In many ways this is about workshopping hope – helping people to develop tools and strategies to make one or two small changes that can enable them see a better future for themselves.