Owen Sims

Trainee Centered Training: Lessons from Person Centered Psychotherapy

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Owen Sims, Type Rating Examiner, Flybe
Owen Sims obtained his commercial flying license at the Cabair College of Air Training in the UK, graduating top of his class in ground school and flight school. After spending a few months ferrying light aircraft around Greater London, he joined Flybe, Europe’s largest independent regional airline, which currently trains around 300 new pilots every year.

Having suffered an episode of severe depression some years ago, Owen developed an interest in psychology and psychotherapy; in particular, how these impacted on his role as an instructor. At Flybe he is an instructor and examiner as well as a CRM Trainer, and even flies planes occasionally! He spoke at the Asia Pacific Airline Training Symposium in 2016 on how the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy can be applied to flight training, has addressed the Human Factors Roundtable in Memphis, Tennessee, and spoke at EATS last year on the application of mindfulness. He has a bachelors’ degree in philosophy and is working towards another in psychology.

Trainee-Centred Training; Lessons from Person-Centred Psychotherapy
If it was ever true that airlines and training organisations could adopt one training programme – and instructors one method of instruction – and require trainees to adapt accordingly, it is no longer the case. This notwithstanding, training at its most effective takes account of the personal idiosyncrasies of the individual trainee. Each trainee has his or her particular experience, method of learning and emotional disposition; the last of these is often underrated.

Our emotions are an entirely natural (and generally very useful) part of our automatic functioning. However, when humans are placed in the entirely unnatural condition of learning to fly, emotional reactions can serve to inhibit execution of the action required by the situation. This is because the knowledge and behaviour that a student needs to exhibit resides in a different – and less powerful – part of the brain than that occupied by the emotional centre.

How we think determines how we feel. For any given ‘unhelpful’ emotional reaction there will be some thought which gives rise to it and that thought will vary from person to person. Flight instructors don’t just need to be adept at imparting technical knowledge; they need a person-centred method to allow them to help their trainees manage – and, ideally alter – their emotional reactions.

Fortunately, psychotherapists have developed techniques to do precisely that: manage an individual’s emotional reactions to a more personally useful and healthy outcome. Flight training, then, can look to psychotherapy and apply the principles accordingly. If we seek a truly ‘trainee-centred’ approach to our training, then it stands to reason that the techniques used in ‘person-centred’ psychotherapy will be of use.

Thus equipped, instructors are in the best place to tailor their approach to the individual trainee and allow the trainee to use his or her own strengths to their best advantage.