‘Wobble Rooms’

Corona Virus has brought with it a considerable number of challenges for us all across Health & Social Care and I’m sure that what people choose to call an area designed to offer staff sanctuary is certainly not worth spending too much time upon. Or is it?

I chanced upon a Tweet where a clearly caring & supportive Nursing Manager was sharing pictures of a space in an acute hospital for staff to rest. Now having worked in Mental Health services for over 20 years, I feel more than qualified to comment on tea and coffee making facilities. You will be pleased to know that there was an ample size kettle, a fine selection of biscuits and a not too shabby stock of tea and coffee.

My first thought was ‘well done’, good to see a long over due focus on staff welfare and wellbeing. My second thought was, ‘its a shame it took a global pandemic for such developments to garner traction’. And my final thought as I read the name of the room was ‘really’? (it was actually a bit less printable). The room was called a ‘wobble room’, there was a hashtag and everything.

My fingers were poised to start to allow the stream of consciousness pour from my head to the Twitter feed and begin to praise them for their efforts whilst decry the use of such a nebulous and suggestive title for a room. I stopped myself, I texted Ed. Ed agreed, he too wondered ‘really’? Whilst we both fully agreed with the practical aspect, we just couldn’t get past the name of the room.

On further consultation with some knowledgeable mental health nursing types and a HR contact, it appears such rooms described as ‘wobble rooms’ were indeed popping up, no pun intended. I should be clear at this juncture, the issue isn’t the purpose of the room and the need for such a facility for staff is undeniable, regardless of Corona Virus. The issue here is the tag that’s attached to it – ‘wobble’.

Now whilst others may describe how they are feeling emotionally in a particular way and using words or phrases which they find comfortable to say, for example; ‘That shift was chaos, right in the middle of it I could feel myself having a wee wobble’. Now that is that individual’s own words, describing their response in a particular set of circumstances. Now consider this dialogue between a Staff Nurse and a Senior Charge Nurse.

SCN – “How are you feeling, that was some shift”?

SN – “Yeah, it was pretty full on, it was really chaotic at one point”

SCN – “I could see that, I’d heard you’d had whole load of things happening at once in the middle of it all, do you want to go and take some time in the wobble room?”

We do get hung up on language in our world, but for bloody good reason. If the Recovery movement and actual inclusion of patients in their care and treatment has taught us anything, its that words do matter. Recognising that there are often cultural differences across the family of nursing and that what we may think is acceptable within the world of Mental Health, others may think is superfluous or inane. So we sought wider opinion and launched a mini-poll on Twitter, encouraging our listeners to tell us what they thought and asked them the following question.

Is the use of the word ‘wobble’ to describe a safe space or a wellbeing area for staff acceptable?

We got an incredible response to the question with a host of views and opinions. In total 211 people voted in the mini poll which went up on our Twitter feed for 48hrs. Now we have to say, we appreciate that in terms of rigour, this is not a scientific paper and the poll was merely to understand if there was a variation in opinion out there; a Research Nurse I am not.

The thread of comments made for really interesting reading. I should say that a great many individuals were inclined to feel that the use of the word ‘wobble’ was indeed ok and very eloquently justified their position.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that we all have wobble/ shaky moments, I know I do! Wee have seen lots of images recently likening nurses to superheroes, which is kind. But I don’t feel like a superhero, I’m human & feel fragile & anxious most days as this is scary!

Jennie Lee Sims RMN (@jennieglee)

This was one of the first responses and it reminded me just how vulnerable we all are right now, and that whilst the best intentions of the public and the media are in the main with us, unhelpful analogies such as being superheroes or angels is unhelpful. We are all scared. Another follower of the pod went on to give another honest appraisal of the matter by being ambivalent about the name as long as the space was available.

Can only answer honestly by saying I don’t care. Wobble room, chill out room, safe space if we want to go all ‘woke’. If we have an area then what will make a difference for staff is colleagues around them and strong, empathic leadership form senior nurses.

Derek Pettigrew (@DerekPettigrew)

And it is worth noting that these are just two examples of colleagues who held the view that it was either ok or that the use of the word ‘wobble’ was irrelevant.  I began to doubt myself, perhaps I was in the minority? I’ve been wrong before and doubtless it’ll happen again, but this just felt counter intuitive to me as a Mental Health Nurse. The focus we place upon ‘strengths based’, unambiguous language that helps reduces tense situations or lead to loaded questions when working with people would seem at odds with the idea of referring to someone’s reaction as a ‘wobble’.  They themselves may call it that, as that is what they identify it as; others may use ‘wigging out’ or even a ‘melt-down’.  They could all mean the same thing or very different things. Why, therefore, risk the introduction of ambiguity?

Now, my bias in this matter is in no doubt, nor Ed’s.  We value and encourage the innovation, its the label we were questioning, yet there was clear support for the use of ‘wobble’. Then the introduction of a circa 1980’s children’s toy was dropped in with great effect, drawing sharp focus upon the imagery that could be summoned up by the use of a word.

Makes me think of ‘Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down’.  So is it not ok to fall all the way down? 

Shelley Pearce @spearce33801

Without even answering the question I immediately felt that the connotations of brought about by such a phrase would make me jar at the very thought of spending time in a ‘wobble room’.

I really admire the idea, but to call it a ‘wobble’ room just isn’t right.  Its like the equivalent of the naughty step to me.

Kristy Gibson @KittyGibson90 

Further comments went on to back up the importance of the language in recognising that this was not a room whose function should be diminished by contextualising it with an emotive colloquialism. One comment struck a chord with me personally.

No and I do care about the language and agonise about the use of words in my every day practice  

Preferred not to be Cited

Whilst another colleague offered alternatives which they felt offered less ambiguity and more of a tangible idea.

I’m very in favour of the acceptance of healthcare workers being seen as human and therefore experiencing the ups and downs of life, but I feel ‘wobble’ has a patronising tone to it.  I definitely think ‘recharge or ‘chill’ room would have better connotations.  

Rebecca @BeckiKathryn

Without a shadow of a doubt, every single person who commented felt that the concept was sound and essential to the wellbeing of staff.  Multiple responses referred to wellbeing.  Some individuals spoke of having ‘wellbeing’ rooms already in place long before the emergence of Corona Virus. Several of them suggested that it was the ideal name for such a room given its purpose and function.

I’d prefer to see ‘wellbeing room’ on the door.  ‘Wobble’ seems to suggest that its a deviation from the norm, a lapse or a weakness.  It is not.  Like so many others have said, more eloquently than I can, language matters

Samuel Richards @samueloftensam

I have to say, Samuel is more eloquent and succinct than I had been to this point and articulates the vast majority of views. Whilst some said ‘safe space’ would be good, others wondered if the use of the word ‘wobble’ minimised the importance of the room itself and may generate a stigma of not coping. Will Murcott gave possibly the best suggestion which could have been seen as a compromise, suggesting no name, my only worry then would be would be what word would fill that vacuum? His idea is not without merit given that language often takes us down rabbit holes like this blog.

Lets just have it as a room.  A room that everyone knows they can use and they can call it whatever they want on the way to it to do whatever they want in it (within reason of course) 🙂

Will Murcott @billymurcott

As I watched the chat around the matter progress I was impressed at the professionalism on both sides of the ‘wobble’ debate. Despite people holding different views it was clear that there was respect for one another’s opinions and a recognition that as human clinicians need emotional and psychological support at work.

Ultimately the Poll ended as follows:

The outcome was clear from our perspective, over 50% of those who voted felt that the use of the word ‘wobble’ was not appropriate to describe such a space. There are multiple responses beyond those cited that clearly articulate that language is important when considering the labelling of emotions and human reactions. We could do so much more by analysing it further but the purpose was to spark interest, debate and discussion.

I was going to end the Blog there but this very morning more chatter started about it and when myself and Ed dared to question the language we were advised it was staff choice and that we could go and name our room as we wished.

Lets just let that hang there, we could just go and do what we wanted, is that a pleasant way of telling us to mind our own?

Is it really all staffs choice? Has someone planted the seed, does it seem novel, almost whimsy in these ‘exceptional times’. For the vast majority of us in Mental Health I’d bet we would all take a second to think about how we used language.

Exceptional times or not, as a profession we should consider the impact of the decisions we make, particularly when a significant number are raising their voices. Innovations in practice and endeavours such as the Scottish Patient Safety Programme are designed to bring consistency to practice to ensure quality outcomes for patients, shouldn’t staff have the same? When all of this is over and we are asking for the permanency of wellbeing areas and funding to sustain them, will we want to diminish their importance by calling them ‘wobble rooms’?

We would love to keep the debate alive, leave your views below in the comments section or tweet us as @RMNBBpodcast

Permission was sought for all comments to be used as part of this Blog.

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