what are Psychologically informed environments?

“PIE is not about a whole new way of working but provides a framework, language and approaches to communicate…and enhance good practice”

(Creating a Psychologically Informed Environment, No one Left Out: Solutions Ltd for Westminster City Council, 2015)

The idea of PIE originated in homelessness services. PIE is an approach to supporting people which pays attention not just to their current presentation, but to all the things which have made them who they are today. A PIE approach acknowledges that people are like icebergs: what you see is only a small section of a much larger whole. By taking account of this whole, a PIE approach supports staff to work more flexibly and effectively with challenging behaviours.

A PIE approach also places an emphasis on the psychological needs of staff, seeking to ensure that they are treated with the same ‘whole person’ ethos as the people they support.

What makes up a PIE?

What are the key ingredients that create a PIE?

There is no 'one' approach to creating a PIE. Each organisation needs to consider its own culture, mission and service user group carefully. Psychologists Robin Johnson and Rex Haigh suggested 5 key areas which characterise a PIE. In a functioning framework, all these elements will intersect and work in support of one another. Your PIE may end up looking different to this, for example our PIE has 7 elements - read more about this here.

Staff Training and Support

Staff training and support will look different from one place to another. A PIE will support staff with appropriate opportunities for reflection and learning. Staff will be empowered to work flexibly and creatively and will share an understanding of trauma and its impact. Staff will be supported to consider their own wellbeing at work.

Relationship Building

Human beings are relational creatures. Within a PIE, relationships are recognised as the primary tool for change. Time and attention are given to building safe, healthy and trusting relationships. This applies to relationships between staff and young people, between professionals and between organisations. All of these relationships impact on the experiences of people using services.

A Psychological Framework

The purpose of a psychological framework is to create a common understanding and language around the emotional needs of the young people using the service. Staff use insights and principles from psychological approaches. This enables them to describe the needs of their young people in psychological terms, and understand the connection between thoughts, emotions and behaviour.

Places and Spaces

PIE recognises that the places and spaces in which we interact have an impact on the work we deliver. A PIE seeks to offer young people appropriate choice and control over how, when or where they engage. Consideration will be given to physical environments – are they safe, welcoming and fit for purpose?

Evidence Generating Practice

If we want to improve the way things are, we need to understand what works. Gathering the evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of our approaches is a key part of PIE. The way this is done will vary depending on the service, but is likely to include elements of measuring, collating and analysing data, seeking and recording feedback and sharing good practice.  

Why Pie?

Still need convincing? Here are some reasons why you might consider adopting a PIE approach in your organisation.

  • Better understand your young people. People are complex and can be hard to understand. The tools of PIE help staff to build an understanding of why young people behave in the ways they do. This understanding can help staff to feel more engaged, hopeful and motivated, even when faced with tough situations.
  • Support young people to understand themselves. By engaging with young people around their thoughts, emotions and behaviours, we can support them to better understand themselves. This can be an important first step to behaviour change.
  • Assess the effectiveness of our systems and processes. Adopting a reflective approach can change the way we structure our services, making them more effective for young people.
  • Support a process of continuous learning. When we are able to step back and assess our practice from a psychological point of view, we can escape cycles of action and reaction which can be destructive and damaging to both young people and staff.

To learn more or find out about various PIE related training we provide, please contact enquiries@1625ip.co.uk.


Ready to embrace PIE? Check out the links below for more ideas and guidance.