Psychological awareness in action

Please note; we are in the midst of a thorough re-construction of these pages. For the moment, there may be some duplication of material from elsewhere; and probably some broken links. Bear with us. Its a lot to cover......

Psychological awareness comes fitted as standard in all human beings. In the absence of severe disruption of human development - whether in utero or in traumatic events early in life - humans grow up with a range of intuitive abilities and 'emotional intelligence' that is quite remarkable.

These abilities are central to social and emotional life and relationships; and those in whom these abilities are impaired - or simply temporarily unavailable, as for example under conditions of immediate stress or threat - will struggle to cope with social and emotional life.  We often call such individuals 'vulnerable' or 'at risk'. But such vulnerabilities can come to us all, at times.

It is possible, however, to attempt to ignore such emotional messages, and some organisations or ways of working have attempted to act as if that was no part of their work, even to deliberately discourage any element of person-to-person relationships in their work. There are many studies to confirm that this can actually be very stressful for the staff, who have then no outlet for natural human responses.

But this institutionalised denial of the importance of psychological awareness and of creating constructive relationships appears to be particularly damaging in relation to those socially marginalised stigmatised and excluded. This may be especially significant to those that had suffered severe emotional trauma an/or disruption in their early life, as reconnection and trust are especially central to recovery here.


Techniques and models

This broader 'psychological awareness' is the bedrock on which a PIE is built; and for many services, it will sufficient to create the level of responsiveness that creates a PIE.  For some, even so, if can be very helpful to have a more specific training in some of the techniques of engagement, such as motivational interviewing, pre-treatment, NLP, or counselling. (See: What psychology? HERE)

Generally speaking, an understanding of the significance or trauma, and of the wider dynamics of exclusion, will be useful. Recovery, and the strengths model, are particularly well suited to the excluded groups. In some cases, particularly where there may be a more clinical role or treatment-minded services philosophy, it may be helpful to adopt a more specific psychological model, such as CBT, or psycho-dynamic thinking. Most services, however, will be to a greater or lesses extent 'eclectic', drawing helpful insights from a wider range of approaches.

There has nevertheless been some debate over the use of the term 'psychological', in the term 'a psychologically informed environment' or PIE. (See: Is 'Psychology' even the right word? HERE)

In practice, whatever the chosen formal 'approach' - even if there is one - most services and most staff are, in the language of psychological models, 'eclectic' - that is, they draw on a wide range of insights and techniques, both for the 'culture' of the service as a whole, and for the response to any one individual or incident.

NB: It is for this reason that the PIEs self assessment module, the Pizazz (HERE), uses 'psychological awareness' as the 'high level' theme for this aspect of the PIE approach; where appropriate, this will allow a service to rate itself quite highly, even without any use of specific techniques or models.


Further background reading/listening/viewing

PIElink pages on the Big Five themes

The 'Big Five' : HERE

Psychological awareness in action : HERE

What training? and what support? : HERE

Learning through enquiry : HERE

Making space : HERE

The Three Rs : HERE


PIElink pages on PIEs overall

PIEs in principle : HERE

PIEs 2 : HERE 

PIEs 1, 2 - and 3? : HERE

PIE  assessment : HERE


The other key features of the revised version are:

  • Staff Training and Support HERE
  • Learning and Enquiry HERE
  • Spaces of Opportunity HERE
  • The Three Rs HERE

Where is 'relationships' in the PIEs 2.0 framework? HERE


PIEs 2.0 - the development process : HERE

Pizazz: A new and more customisable working framework for PIEs : HERE


Further reading

Psychologically informed services by Helen Keats, Peter Cockersell, Robin Johnson and Nick Maguire

Social Psychiatry and Social Policy for the 21st Century (Part One): The Psychologically Informed Environment by Robin Johnson & Rex Haigh


Psychologically Informed Environments and Trauma Informed Care (HomelessLink webinar), Claire Ritchie & Jo Prestidge 

Introduction to Psychologically Informed Environments (Fulfilling Lives training programme,) Ray Middleton & Robin Johnson

A 'Handy' guide to being a PIE (2013) by Robin Johnson (video)

Does it take a psychologist to be a PIE? by Robin Johnson