Boys in Mind Meets...
An Interview with Rob Black
By: Kit Cooper-Harrison
My name is Rob Black, I am the Mental Health Team Leader at Bath Spa University. I am a registered social worker and an accredited Solution Focused practitioner. Many years ago, I was a struggling musician but decided that I probably wasn’t going to make it in the music industry. I thought about what I could do that might be helpful or useful. I started volunteering at a youth club and went on to roles in children’s homes and supported living. I did a degree in Social Work at the University of the West of England and from there have undertaken many roles in children’s social care. I made the transition to Higher Education about five years ago.
I was working in a children’s unit in Bath when we had a new director who decided we were going to open a [Solution Focused] family intervention service so we could be a bit more proactive in working with families. We were offered training with Eileen Murphy. I’d never heard of Solution Focused. I have to say, for the first three months, I didn’t like it at all! I stuck with it and by the third session I was just stunned. Once the accreditation process was set up, I was part of the pilot process and was one of the first accredited practitioners in the UK. This way of working fits with my life philosophy and my mindset.
I would never call myself a counsellor, I am a Solution Focused practitioner. People have this preconceived idea that if you’re receiving a therapeutic intervention then you have to go into great detail about the problem and for some people that can be really useful but for some of my students they just don’t want to go there. They have told their story perhaps six or seven times to different people. We tend to say, “how much do I need to know about your situation?”. You have to validate, acknowledge and empathize with that person’s position before you think about constructing a way forward. For some people, therapy is about going back and fixing and processing things but for me it is about helping someone construct a better future whatever that might be or however that might look.
The lockdown has been a bit of an eye opener. Pre-lockdown, as a team, we were unsure about online therapy/counselling because we like working with people face-to-face, but we had to adapt. It’s been remarkably successful. We operate from nine to five so before it was hard to offer services to students on placement because they would not be able to make those times. Now we can be more flexible. Lots of our students have been appreciative that we’re here and we can offer that. I’ve got a session with a student on placement abroad today and this student would never have been able to access our service prior to lockdown.
If I could send a message to my younger self, it would probably be to like myself a bit more and to recognize the importance of education. My family was quite dysfunctional when I was younger. My dad took his life when I was nine and I didn’t really understand at the time. I was in denial for a long time, I just shut it away. I got involved in punk rock and that kind of gang mentality saved me to a degree. I was very angry during my teenage years and 20s and I think that stopped me thinking more long term in terms of where life could take me. Unconsciously, perhaps, that pushed me into doing the job that I do now; supporting people who have struggles, perhaps there’s a connection there.