Why I booked my staff a weekend with a psychologist

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Risca Solomon organised a staff well-being weekend with a difference – and the results were transformative.

In November 2023, Risca Solomon decided to offer something entirely new to the staff employed by her behavioural analysis and speech and language therapy company Skybound Therapies: a weekend wellbeing retreat at a spa hotel, led by a psychologist.

The weekend would use Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) to help the team find ways to tackle the demands of life and work. As well as being taught coping skills and emotional resilience, they’d get to enjoy yoga sessions and spa treatments.

Some 32 staff took her up on the offer and headed to the Welsh countryside for a very different team bonding experience. The idea for the weekend was conceived by Risca, drawing on her experience running Skybound, which is based in a purpose-built centre on her farm in Pembrokeshire. 

Risca’s teams deal with children and young people with challenging behavioural issues, and the work can be very demanding.  ACT teaches techniques to meet this challenge, so she introduced ACT into her workplace some years ago. 

“Skybound’s senior staff have had advanced training, and we’ve seen how powerful it can be in helping us to manage the stressors that accompany this type of work, so we wanted to ensure that all staff were able to access the training, or the approach,” she says. “When we’re working with individuals with significant behaviours that challenge, we need people that are very aware of their own emotions and feelings and can stay in control, stay calm and not react – or react in the right ways. 

“On top of this, life throws up plenty of challenges, so I’m always aware of the multiple pressures my staff may be dealing with at any given time. Life can be a rollercoaster, and the question is often how to have the emotional resilience to keep going towards something you want, when that path could be tricky.”

ACT – a form of psychotherapy and a branch of clinical behaviour analysis – teaches mindfulness and acceptance techniques, and applies strategies for behaviour change, to help people stay in the present moment, accept challenging thoughts and emotions, and move forward constructively.

“From a business point of view, ACT is about ensuring we develop a workforce that is able to cope with people who are very reactive to others,” says Risca. “Our teams need to be able to follow behaviour support plans very carefully and be aware of when their own emotions might be impacting how they’re working.”

Having decided she wanted her whole team to benefit from ACT, she set about finding a psychologist to deliver an ACT-based weekend retreat to her staff. 

“We had trouble finding someone at first, because what we were proposing was so different. We wanted to run an experiential weekend for staff that would be fun, relaxing but also give them important tools for life and work.”

Eventually she found the perfect person: Dr Nic Hooper, an expert in clinical psychology and a lecturer at Cardiff University.

“When we had advanced training in ACT back in 2020, I bought everybody the diary that Nic co-produces, so I was already familiar with his work, and with work he has co-authored on ACT,” says Risca.

“We had a chat and he agreed that the wellbeing weekend was a great idea – and that he’d be happy to be involved.”

The result was a ground-breaking weekend away, which Risca hopes will inspire other employers to look beyond traditional teambuilding activities.

“I’d never heard of anyone doing a staff weekend like this, but I decided to set the bar high and show other companies what can be done,” she says.

As well as teaching ACT techniques, the activities challenged the team to put these into practice by stepping outside of their comfort zone. 

“Nic had sent us a video prior to the weekend explaining that life is about learning to manage the uncomfortable and to challenge yourself – and he got us to experience that on the Saturday night of the weekend by asking us all to take part in a talent show. 

“At Skybound we’re always telling the families we work with to try things out in front of us so that we can give them feedback – effectively we’re asking them to perform in front of us, so this was a chance for us to experience how that feels.”

Everyone took part and the results were by turns hilarious and moving.

“The songs that people had written about Skybound, they were brilliant – they made me cry with laughter and with real tears because they were so emotional. We also had poems, dance, and even hula hooping – it was crazy, and lovely.”

On the Sunday morning Nic brought the team together to discuss what they had learnt.

“We’d identified our values, and we’d been taught coping skills to help us along the way, so we then explored the next actions we were going to take towards that values-driven life that we want,” says Risca. “It was very much the culmination of everything we’d done over the weekend.”

Skybound Therapies behaviour analyst Megan Grist, says the weekend is one of the most insightful work events she has ever been to.

“When I speak about the wellbeing weekend to potential candidates during interviews, they are always blown away by how amazing it sounds,” she says. “The wellbeing weekend was a great way to bring the whole of Skybound together and for us all to learn that a lot of our thoughts are normal, we all worry that we’re not doing a good enough job – that’s just because we care!

“The weekend gave me a better connection with others at Skybound as well as some great analogies that can be used to explain emotions and feelings to help support others.”

She adds that she would like to see the approach adopted more widely, because ACT has the potential to benefit people in any workplace.

“From the staff perspective, it helps people develop coping skills that can increase a person’s resilience. In school, we’re not taught to understand ourselves, and what drives our behaviour. We’re not taught to understand that sometimes we do things in the moment that are to our detriment. 

“The more we can help our staff become aware of their behaviours, the choices they make in their lives, and what their minds are telling them, then the more they’re going to be able to work in the right directions for themselves, which is of benefit to the whole company. It increases resilience and perseverance and enables people to work towards their values, and the values of the company.” 

Nic Hooper is pleased to have delivered the ACT training during the weekend and is looking forward to delivering another Skybound wellbeing weekend in November.

“It was the most meaningful training experience I’ve had,” he says. “We managed to create a context whereby people were able to be vulnerable in front of each other, share personally meaningful stories, and have shared experiences together. 

“They learned about wellbeing and the ACT model, and my hope is that having experiential exposure to those things impacted upon mental health, but the major outcome, from my perspective, was that the bonds between people, and the sense of team cohesion and connection, were much strengthened as a result of the wellbeing weekend.”

Risca is confident that the next weekend will be a similar success, especially because of the enthusiastic feedback she has had from staff.

“We’ve done many staff weekends over the years, whether team building or business development, but everyone – even our staff who have been with us for 10-plus years – says this was the best yet.

“It’s about being creative and pushing the boundaries in terms of what we can do. And it’s about being proactive. We did this not because we had any particular problems with any team members; we were thinking proactively about how to build resilience within the team using evidence-based approaches – and we’re delighted with the results.”

Discover more about https://skyboundtherapies.co.uk/

The post Why I booked my staff a weekend with a psychologist appeared first on Wellbeing Magazine.

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