At one point early in the training programme it became important to look at physcial self-protection training, as the service data showed that some service users, when distressed, would target staff with violence by grabbing, hitting or throwing objects at them.
In the past, the staff had been taught a very old and outdated system of training called ‘Breakaways’. This training dates from the early 1960s and was designed at that time to be learned and applied much like a martial arts class from that era – static line drills, trained to the count, and heavily choreographed. In short, old-style breakaways don’t mirror real violence and don’t help the learner at all.
We set about changing this, by teaching a modern self-protection system which is based on concepts like ‘instinctive protection’ and ‘mental modelling’. Our method is taught against a background of the ‘compound assault’ reflecting the fluid reality of a violent encounter and is rooted in human behaviour.
The result of this different approach is that it develops usable skill and confidence really quickly in staff. One of the big realisations, when we started using this new approach to self-protection with the team, was that team members would now press the ‘attack alarm’ less frequently, because they felt safer to persist with emergent situations by themselves (in small teams of 2 or 3 staff) rather than having to call the whole staff team into a ‘restraint’ of the individual.
With effective breakaway techniques, the number of restraint incidents would be reduced!
One of the key voices in our sector is lawyer and expert witness Eric Baskind, who, at a masterclass in 2020 determined that, based on the outcome of a series of court cases up to that time, the way in which training providers need to evidence that learning outcomes were actually being met, would have to change. He even coined the term which we use very often now – that “the choreographed dance is dead”.
Static training experiences, where learners simply repeat techniques they were shown a moment ago in ‘walk-through’ fashion, would have to go. Instead, more engaging learning environments are needed, which bring the learners closer to the performance levels needed in their actual jobs, under the pressure and uncertainty associated with conflict in the real world.
This is why our SCENA approach for training programme design and delivery – a scenario-driven and task-focussed training approach – generates such engagement and results in such confidence from the teams who experience it. SCENA ensures that learners (the staff) have many many opportunities to put their new skills and tactics to work in the training environment prior to returning to their workplace.
In these many opportunities to practice, staff develop their knowledge, understanding and skill level alongside the decision-making needed to be able to effectively deploy de-escalation or protective interventions needed in their services.
In the various ways in which SCENA-type training is formatted, it produces better, “near-transfer” effects. ‘Near-transfer’ means that the practice activities carried out in the classroom are easily related to situations in the real workplace which staff will face, rsulting in faster recignition of problems and more reliable and desirable problem-solving in the workplace. After all, using this training approach means that staff have usually seen the same issues in the training as they face at work.
It is possible that a lot of generic, off-the self train-the-trainer packages result in far-transfer effects (a disconnection with the context and needs of the actual workplace) because of their main focus on getting the elements of the curriculum ‘correct’. This is slightly myopic in that, what we have found is that clients want to see changes on the floor of their school / care service / hospital rather than simply a compliance ‘check’.
Coming back to our work with the team in Scotland, when we integrated verbal responses to abuse, intimidation and threats (from Vistelar) alongside the robust self-protection methodology we use (the 9 Attitudes/Dynamis method) we saw instant culture change within the team.
They saw immediately how the tactics would be used every day in their interactions with service users, and (figuratively) wrapped their arms around the approach. This underlines one of the key mantras we use:
“Staff who are confident in their own personal safety are more resilient and more persistent during the verbal de-escalation phase, creating better outcomes”
The evidence coming out of this service since we delivered the training suggests exactly this.
Staff are ‘staying with’ situations which are escalating and being more creative in their attempts to de-escalate the situation using words (listening, empathising, redirecting, persuading) and behaviour (reducing stimulation, modelling calmness, meeting urgent needs) instead of allowing the increasing risk and stress of the situation overwhelm them.
When staff know what they will do (using ‘when-then thinking’) then we find that they are more persistent in ‘staying with’ their service user and ultimately finding the ways to unlock distress, aggression and crisis rather than simply calling for backup and descending into a physical restraint situation.
In our next blog in this series, we will look at how the training helped to change the culture of the staff team and ultimately throughout service.
To learn more about our train the trainer development programme, please see here.