It’s often said a problem shared is a problem halved and that’s a saying that has served Jules Gibson-Cranch well. Jules has spent over 30 years in the care profession and now works as a Wellbeing Lead for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH).
After qualifying as a psychiatric nurse in 1984, she spent much of her career in child and adolescent mental health services before joining EACH at The Treehouse, in Ipswich.
Jules supports families and works with children and young people with life-threatening conditions, freely admitting there is no magic wand in terms of dealing with the magnitude of their problems.
However, by offering support and overseeing the range of services on offer at the hospice, she is part of a special team offering comfort in people’s darkest hour.
“Someone once told me a very good analogy, which I’ve always remembered and often share with others,” said Jules, whose work was recognised with an award from the Queen’s Nursing Institute in 2014.
“Imagine the person in front of you is holding two bags containing all their worries, troubles, traumas and difficulties. You, as a therapist, counsellor or just the person standing in front of them, might try and reach out and take those bags from them.
“However, you might not be taking the bags – you could well be creating another set, as you begin to worry ‘for’ the person. What you can do instead is help them carry those bags and there’s a big difference.
“When I see people, I always acknowledge that their difficulties are their difficulties. I can’t take them away – that’s not my job and it’s an impossibility. Out of respect, I wouldn’t want to take away their autonomy, either.
“By taking on other people’s problems, you’re just creating more of the same. You’re not resolving anything.
“I believe people always have the potential to develop their capacity and resilience to cope with problems. However, they just don’t know how in that moment. The aim is to work alongside them to help them find out how.”
Jules’ role has various facets. Firstly, she is part of EACH’s Locality Leadership team, working alongside The Treehouse’s Matron, the Service Manager and Care Manager.
She oversees everything under the banner of wellbeing, including the counselling and therapeutic services, supporting and supervising staff, as well as delivering services herself.
She has her own caseload and works with families, children and siblings. Jules admits her job can be emotionally draining but, with experience, has developed strategies and techniques for leaving work behind.
She makes time for her hobbies and interests, including horse riding, walking, yoga and meditation. She is a qualified meditation teacher, running several classes a week.
“At the end of every day, I’m always conscious that I need to return to my own life,” she said. “I make sure I get downtime and schedule that in. I need to be ‘topped up’ and that reminds me of another analogy I’ve used when working with parents.
“You get a large jug of water which represents the parent or carer. Then fill empty cups with water from the jug, moving through each one saying what the cup is representing – things like their children, partner, work colleagues or tasks.
“The jug gets emptier until it runs out, so it’s a visual of how much energy and time they give to others. We talk then about who and how can top up their jug. Of course, it won’t happen magically so, instead, everyone has to learn how to fill their jug.
“We seem to be good at neglecting ourselves until one day we get sick, tired, hungry or grumpy, but people are reluctant to put themselves first. I like to remind people that when we’re sick, it’s not possible to be the best version of ourselves, so it’s in everyone’s interest that we look after ourselves.”
In addition to services delivered at The Treehouse, Jules also looks through a ‘softer lens’ at the wellbeing of staff.
“It can be tough (to leave work behind),” she said.
“As a society, we don’t tend to think about death until it actually happens. It’s not in our family scripts to talk about dying, where we go when someone dies or our spiritual beliefs.
“We’ve moved away from that within our culture and it’s dealt with very differently elsewhere. However, having worked in mental health for so long, sometimes in quite extreme circumstances, I’ve learnt techniques and strategies to ensure I don’t take my work home.
“I feel it’s hugely important and we, as a management team, encourage staff to look after themselves and for each other. I’m so passionate about this type of work and have been involved in managing people for as long as I can remember.
“It’s part of my nature but one of the things I’ve always understood is the importance of looking after yourself. At work, I’m a complete nag when it comes to making sure people taking their annual leave, go for lunch and take breaks from their screens.
“I want them to understand why that’s important and why it makes sense. I’m there to support them.”
Jules describes her job as a perfect amalgamation of her skills and interests.
“The Treehouse is just the most amazing place to work,” said the mum of five, who also has seven grandchildren, aged three months to 14, and one angel baby grandchild.
“I’ve worked in some very diverse settings but this is a place, and organisation, that reaches into the deepest core of my values. We live in a world where we’re pushed to act in a fast-paced world, where people wag fingers and say you must do things a certain way.
“However, EACH provides a gentler space for its families. It’s a place where you can press pause, feel supported and really explore what’s difficult, without being rushed or hurried.
“There’s something very gentle and supportive about the services we provide. Other services might say you’ve got six sessions and then you’re done.
“We always react in a timely way but we’re so fortunate we can do it in a manner that suits every individual. It depends on that person and their specific needs.
“We have processes, but the core values is to be person centred in all our approaches. That flexibility is so important and the quality, knowledge and skills of the staff and wellbeing team are extraordinary.
“I’m working with a team who have the highest level of competency. It’s amazing and I love it. It’s also about raising awareness and I find it incredible to think someone had the foresight – the seed of an idea – to once start a children’s hospice like ours.
“It feels like myself and my colleagues have been given a very special baton, to carry on their extraordinary work.”