Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Review: The Practical Well-being Programme: Activities and Exercises by Penny Moon

Mike Wright reviews this important book for CPEA Ltd – social care, children’s services and management associates

For Penny Moon, ‘The Practical Well-being Programme’ is a book that ‘introduces readers to the underlying principles and approaches associated with a holistic approach to well-being in educational and other social contexts’. To do so, Moon draws on the principles of ‘A Quiet Place’ – a ‘within schools’ programme of therapeutic support for pupils experiencing social, behavioural and/or emotional difficulties,’ applying them with the wider scope of tackling the issue of stress management, plus making them serve as a roadmap of approaches that encourage a greater sense of self-awareness and well-being.

The ‘A Quiet Place’ ethos was originally put into practice through the provision of an actual physical room where the environment was not only aesthetically designed to engender feelings of calm and well-being, but was also a place in which the environment was one of creative self-exploration for the individual as a means of accessing the ‘personal resources necessary for increased self-awareness and self-healing’.

The aim of this book, then, is to distil the essence of ‘A Quiet Place’ so that it may be applied broadly for those seeking to understand how to manage stress more effectively – whether as a means of support for ourselves or for others. In this sense, Moon’s work remains true to its aim through the use of clear language –and an insistence on experiential learning through the use of a variety of tools and resources (e.g. diagrams, activities, guided visualisations, YouTube links, etc.) made accessible to all ages, rather than resorting to a complex and esoteric theoretical approach to stress management that, could threaten to isolate her work’s applicability to a more limited field. Her move also ensures that the book remains versatile both in terms of how it may be used and also in terms of who may wish to use it, ranging from teachers, parents, employers, social workers, but also to individuals dealing with their own specific circumstances and issues regarding the management of stress.

The holistic approach adopted by the book also means that there is no direct a priori position taken on what constitutes the self: instead Moon deploys a model which encourages an exploration of how we interact with our environment in terms of emotion, mind, body and spirit. This approach allows for a free and unconditioned interpretation of the information in the book, and plus it provides for the creative space necessary for the development of self-awareness and self-healing. However despite each chapter being divided into two parts – that of information and background, followed by activities and exercises – it could be said that the book is lacking, or at least is vague, in structure. That’s a point acknowledged and intended by the writer, however; although this could at first be considered a weakness, when the aim and ethos of the work is brought back into perspective, it becomes apparent that this is actually the book’s main strength. That’s because a vague, ambiguous structure puts the emphasis on making the reader the source of their own development and understanding – and in providing them the freedom to creatively explore the material, rather than have it explained in a manner that may not reflect their experience. ‘The whole world says that my way is vast and resembles nothing. It is because it is vast that it resembles nothing. If it resembled anything, it would long before now, have become small.’ – Lao Tzu.

The book recognises that stress is something which is experienced as a result of the individual’s perception of their environment and situation, rather than being effected by a specific external cause. If the opposite were the case, stress management would be a far less complex issue, of course, as we would be able to locate the common cause and merely remove it from our environment. Therefore the book’s approach, which appears to be shapeless on its surface, reveals itself to be both a practical and considered approach in addressing a complex issue affecting so many in terms of their ability to function in society, and more fundamentally in terms of the effect on their general health and well-being.

This is an especially refreshing approach when considered in relation to today’s modern, fast-paced society, which seems to breed an attitude of intolerance towards delay and dysfunction. The approach adopted by Moon thus addresses the issue of stress without stigmatising those that experience it through imposing labels, or making stress a medical matter. The book also avoids placing any undue emphasis on stress being a social problem, rather than an issue deserving attention due to the mere fact of it impacting on the individual’s well-being. This attitude towards stress management, in terms of a reluctance to attach any judgement or stigma to the issue, therefore facilitates a climate of empathy and acceptance that promotes and supports the understanding necessary for both individual and social awareness and change.

In summary, ‘The Practical Well-being Programme: Activities and Exercises’ serves not only to ‘introduce readers to the underlying principles and approaches associated with a holistic approach to well-being in educational and other social contexts,’ but also provides an accessible and pragmatic source of therapeutic support for personal development towards an increased level of self-awareness and self-healing. The book’s experiential and holistic approach, contained within a ‘light and breathing’ structure, also ensures that it is widely applicable to all ages and circumstances – making it an extremely versatile and useful tool for teachers, parents, social workers and individuals wishing to better understand and manage stress in order to achieve a greater sense of wellbeing.

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