I have recently embarked on a slight change of direction within my social work career; I have taken the steps working towards becoming a systemic and family psychotherapist. I am in the first year of the MSc foundation training.
On first reflections the following were the reasons I wanted to opt to do a clinical training to sit alongside my social work skills, knowledge and experience:
-I wanted to be able to sit with awkward, painful and uncomfortable feelings that families bring and project
-I wanted to be able to resist the urge to fix and do
-I wanted to do less assessment work and more relationship building within the realms of long-term therapeutic work
A key message I have taken from the systemic course is the consideration as families as the experts of their own situations. Whilst this is nothing new or ground-breaking, I am interested by the idea that whilst as social workers we hold this value, how do we ensure that families are able to utilise their own resources to improve their situations. We are real people who have our own life experiences, values and ideas about the world that we live in. Is it ever possible to work with families and not allow the latter to influence or guide our decision making. Do we have our own ideas about families, their situations and communication that makes it hard to see how families we work with could do it by themselves in their own circumstances? I am not making reference to situations that are clearly unsafe or harmful but the cases that feel stuck, the ones which the family identify that there is a problem but feel that they cannot change it.
How much space as social workers are we given to focus on the communication within the family which may be the key to unlocking the difficulties? Perhaps with a shift in these areas could mean that unhelpful or circulatory difficulties cease? I am thinking about families in which school attendance is difficult or where it is hard for parents to implement boundaries. Why have these families got stuck, what needs to be said or what cannot be said. If we think all behaviour as a means of communication, what is it that’s being communicated?
I think my points bring me back to thinking about the support that social workers receive in order to guide and grow their practice. How are you supported to learn, how are you able to weigh up information when making important decisions about people’s lives? How much time do you get to talk through your thinking, formulations and plans? I think as social workers our initial reaction to case work is ‘what has happened’ rather than‘ why has this happened? I am guilty of this, it is a key quality of social workers, being able to think quickly and to problem solve but is the ‘problem’ ever really solved? Do we understand the impact of the interventions that we draw upon; do we have enough time to get to know how individual family’s work and function to truly know what would work best for them?
On reflection maybe these are some of the reasons why for the time being I have opted to not be a part of the child protection system and have instead decided to pursue an extended part of working with children and families. Sometimes time and space is a good thing to help us to think about why we are doing what we are doing, the difficulty is often how to create this space.