Four steps to using evidence-based work anywhere

If I asked you, what is wrong with this plant?

What would your first answers be?

I opened a Keynote talk to school counsellors today with that question. And the answers were, ‘It needs water. It needs light. It needs nutrients.’ No one said, ‘Well, perhaps it has a genetic defect or a disordered cell structure.’ We see the plant needs something.

With DNA-V, we can see what a human needs holistically too.

But, if a person is wilted, like that plant, we often see a different problem. We see it as a problem within them. ‘Does the person have low mood, emotion dysregulation, or thought problems?’ And then, the medical disease model that has permeated our society unfolds as we look for labels (depression, anxiety) and solutions to fixing them (medication, therapy). The medical model is essential and has a place, but it is just one part of the bigger picture.

Why do we downplay the context of our lives? Why do we downplay things like loneliness, financial stress, or loss?

A decontextualised approach has not led to better mental health or treatments. Amongst young people, 47% of females and 31% of males met the 12-month criteria for a ‘mental disorder’. One in five people met across the lifespan. World Health Organisation data shows the same pattern globally.  

It is time to adopt a contextualised approach to helping. This is the path to support youth and adults to thrive.

This change can happen with a framework called DNA-V:

  • It encourages helpers to consider all levels of a person’s life
  • It shows you how to bring in evidence-based strategies
  • It enables small moments to become moments of change – in schools, workplaces and communities.

This is a quick rundown on DNA-v as a guiding framework:

1. A multilevel view that includes:

  • the physical environment (schools, communities),
  • relational contexts (with the social world and with ourselves),
  • psychological and learning factors
  • biological factors (just one component of the big picture)

2. Robust theories that nest contextually: 

  • Evolution –how we adapt to our environment,
  • Biological – how our bodies change,
  • Relational and social – how our attachment and connection influences us,
  • Psychological – how our thinking, feeling, and acting works for us

People often remark that DNA-V is easy to use. I often joke that it looks as if we thought it up on a Saturday over a few beers. Not so. It is built on all of the above science, wrapped into an easy-to-use framework.

3. Evidence-based processes with DNA-v can rock your world (well, it rocks mine). When you learn DNA-V, you can quickly hold the four processes in your mind and consider them in context:

  • Discovery is the ability to build agency through trial-and-error.
  • Noticing is the ability to take in information through our senses and bodies.
  • Advising is the ability to use words and thoughts to navigate our past, present and future (rules, beliefs, judgments, evaluations, problem-solving).
  • Value and vitality are our motivators. We all seek purpose, fun, and connection.
  • Social strength is looking at our DNA-V in the context of social connection.
  • Self-strength is looking at how we use our DNA-V to build our self-image (e.g. I am anxious – vs – I am a woman, and anxiety is one part of me)

4. Small kernels can help a person in times of need. A kernel means using small evidence-based interventions delivered at appropriate moments. This decouples interventions from therapy sessions (we will never have enough professionals or time) and places the action in your hands, anywhere you work to help people.  For example,

  • Spotting when a person uses their DNA-v abilities rigidly, unhelpfully or in life-draining ways – e.g., you see a young person push away their feelings.
  • Shaping flexibility by practising small kernels together (in that moment) – e.g., you encourage the young person to bring the feeling to the moment and practice making peace with it.

The kernel, Make Peace with All Feelings, shows that we can learn how to experience all our feelings, good and sad. The instructions are below, and my recording of it is linked. Try it on yourself and see how it rolls for you.

With DNA-V as your framework, you can use small kernels wherever you work in just a few minutes.

You can create nurturing contexts for the human garden of life.

We can build caring spaces that support all individuals by seeing them holistically and guiding them to grow.