“All You Need Is Love…”

Some years back I was doing regular training with health care agencies on the introduction of the Mental Capacity Act 2005: what it was (huge and complex), what were the implications for practice (awesome) and how to prepare themselves for its implementation (challenging). The norm would be a one-day course with twenty or so participants, from admin workers and front-line nurses through to senior managers and consultant psychiatrists – and an aspiration on my part that they should not lose the will to live by teatime, faced with the enormity of tackling nearly three hundred pages of primary legislation and statutory guidance.

Audience response would be standard for such training – from those simply grateful to have a day off from the day job, to the genuinely interested, to the downright hostile. The last would either be professional – “This will simply add to my already over-burdened workload” – or personal – “Who is this stranger who knows nothing about the astonishing job I do?”

No trainer worth his or her salt doesn’t think long and hard about how to sugarcoat such a sharp and large learning pill. In this case – because it engaged them and because it mattered – I would begin by asking the group to sing out some of the *core values* that underpinned their professional practice. We listed them without comment or evaluation, slung them up on a flipchart, and then I would say “For the rest of the day, as we go through the Act, I want you to ask yourself – will the MCA enhance or undermine your adherence to these values?”

Responses would be wide, interesting and largely well-rehearsed: ‘confidentiality’, ’empathy’, ‘outcomes’, ‘dignity, ‘respect’, ‘professionalism’, ‘caring’ and so forth. A reasonable mix of both the purposes and processes of working within a healing profession.

Then, one day, I turned to this hard-as-nails looking Ward Sister who, from the off, had fixed me with the gimlet eye of the no-nonsense, seen-it-all-before, what-the-feck-am-I-doing-here-when-my-Ward-needs-me professional hard case.

This should be fun – not – I thought as I quietly asked her: “And Geraldine, would you like to share with the group your thoughts about what lies at the heart of mental health nursing?”

Then she slayed me. “Love,” she said. “Love is what matters and makes a difference in the end. If somewhere within you there is not a deep human love for these vulnerable, damaged people who could not live without your care and support, but who would never perhaps know or say it, then you’re in the wrong job.”

You could hear a pin drop. I swear no one in that room breathed for half a minute or more.

And so for the rest of the day the course became ‘The the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (as revised by the Mental Health Act 2007): Content, Process and err…Love’. Memorable and special.


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