Winicott one of the father’s of English psychoanalysis first taught us that it is the relationship between the practitioner and the family, which is key to change.
It has been our experience at Participle that this relationship is pivotal, hard to get right and hard to sustain.
I’ve been thinking about this because one thing that puzzled me about the Cowans last week is that they did not talk about the quality of the relationship between the worker and the families.
When we start our family work http://www.alifewewant.com we find breakdown between the families and workers on the front line – there is exhaustion and hopelessness on both sides. “This family will never change” we are told by exasperated police officers, housing workers and social workers who have tried everything. “They just criticise and undermine me”, respond the families who often have a mobile specifically to manage and avoid transactions with key workers.
No change can happen without a relationship and no relationship can be built without a conversation – listening and understanding on both sides. Deep work with families requires empathy and imagination. Life teams are recruited from those already working on the front line and these are the qualities we look for – the place the work must start.
Life teams see families respond and open to change – often families that they have known for a long time – it is a rewarding experience and as the open relationship grows the real work starts.
But the work is also extremely challenging. Families can go backwards as well as forwards on the journey to build their capabilities. The deep engagement that facilitates change takes a personal toll on the team even when expert supervision is in place – in our case provided by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust.
The crisis a team sometimes feels can be seen as a reflection of the family’s own experience of living in a world without safety or security. Under such conditions it is no wonder that the family struggle to hold onto help, support and rational thinking. It is also why our teams experience days when they feel they live a tentative existence on the verge of collapse.
This phenomena whereby a team’s experience can bear an uncanny similarity with that of the family is not talked about very much but its been known for decades. Understanding the dynamics of this relationship better and being more honest about the challenges might help move us towards the developmental services we need.