Starting out my social work career as a young woman working in a residential school in the West of Scotland in 1990, I quickly learned that the levels of distress in young people being acted out in behaviour, and my interventions attempting to help were not equally matched. I also found myself incredulous at the change in presentation in young people within the school and within the strengths-based approach of an outdoor education part of the curriculum. Thinking that qualifying as a social worker might better equip me to meet the more general challenges faced in this work, I was soon disappointed. Faced with even greater responsibilities for safeguarding the welfare of children at risk of harm and for contributing to decisions about out-of-home care, gaps in my knowledge and experience were at times quite terrifying. After two years as a qualified social worker and several in-house training courses still left me anxious and floundering, I needed to make a decision: find a way of expanding my knowledge or seek an alternate career path.
In many ways I chose both. I signed up for a postgraduate course in Child Development, moved to a part-time social work post and simultaneously began a part-time postgraduate diploma in Outdoor Education, a passion that I had wanted to pursue since my more positive experiences in the residential school. The dual focus gave me a Career Plan B while keeping in touch with my chosen social work profession. One day, I hoped, the two professions might somehow come together, although I wasn’t sure how.
After completing my courses and gaining new skills and confidence in group work, outdoor activities, mountaineering and crucially, in child development, I moved into a full-time group work post within social services. Outdoor education integrated into group work programmes within a community worked well but I knew that I still lacked skills in therapeutically engaging children and young people.
An opportunity to move to CAMHS offered training in Systemic Family Therapy but came with the loss of the group work that had fuelled my passion since the residential school. The transition was a difficult one but I soon enjoyed the stimulus of learning again. Individual (psychoanalytic) psychotherapy had been an essential aspect of my growth and development in my personal life as well as in my professional journey.
A further opportunity as a part-time university lecturer in Social Work took me to part-time clinical hours. Lecturing pushed me to draw on knowledge, experience and academic skills with students but also forced me to take an introspective look at my beliefs about the social work profession and about the skill development typical within the training course at that point. Finding Systemic Family Therapy practice transferable to Social Work practice, with similar values, prompted me to write the first edition of Counselling Skills for Social Work. I hoped to challenge the dominance of Person-Centred approaches within social work training to encompass a wider range of therapeutic intervention accessible to practitioners. In researching then writing the book, I was struck over and over again that while the fundamental aspects of different therapeutic models often overlapped, although took different positions in direct intervention. The first edition of Integrated Family Therapy had been particularly influential in this. Dr Clare Roberts with her confidence to be open to multiple models of practice was also a strong influence at this point in time.
Despite my interest in lecturing in Social Work, I desperately wanted to complete my Systemic Psychotherapy training. So returning full-time again to CAMHS, I put aside teaching and outdoor education for a while. I was strongly influenced by Duncan Tennant, a trainer on the MSc course with the Scottish Institute of Human Relations: his passion for Narrative therapy whilst embodying his earlier psychoanalytic training made me curious as to how these two apparently opposite interventions could metaphorically sit together. I am hugely appreciative of my years of joint clinical practice with Caroline McGaffin, Child Psychotherapist: we used an integrated systemic and psychodynamic model of intervention which offered a unique practice experience to families.
My MSc dissertation in Systemic Family Therapy gave me an opportunity for a theoretical exploration of Critical Realism, brought into contemporary systemic circles by David Pocock. The juxtaposition that seemed to work synergistically in practice between systemic, psychodynamic and social constructionist ideas became closer to a theoretical possibility when considered through a Critical Realist lens. The fermentation of these ideas in the years after gave me the impetus to join Rob in this second edition of Integrated Family Therapy: A Paramodern Position.
Reconnecting with outdoor education in 2008, from the influence of my good friend and then youth worker, Janet Houstoun, helped to prompt a return to Social Work services. My role then, thanks to the innovation of Jane Steele, Team Manager, combined therapeutic groups for young people using the DofE programme and Systemic Family Therapy within out-of-home care. This was one of the most rewarding posts I have experienced but also one of the most emotionally challenging. The children and young people and the incredible ways they coped with the extremes of traumatic and neglectful experiences have inspired me so much. Their carers, who often struggle from day to day to provide the best nurturing experiences possible, have equally inspired me to want to help ‘better’.
Clinical supervision exploring creative engagement of traumatised young people in systemic psychotherapy with Sheila Duncan took me closer again to integrating psychodynamic theory into systemic practice. Sheila invited me to explore the CUSTTAD method (Sheila K. Cameron) using Sandplay within systemic interventions with children and their carers. This inspired me towards research (PhD) with University of Strathclyde (not yet completed), exploring how Sandplay and systemic interventions work together. Training in EMDR, again inspired by Duncan Tennant years before, has provided another tool and another (intra-psychic) lens to bring to this work. EMDR has also taken my thoughts back to Critical Realism and how different positions interact.
From 2010, as a part-time trainer for firstly the Scottish Institute of Human Relations (SIHR) and now for the Family Therapy Training Network (FTTN), including my year as Lead for FTTN, helped clarify and better inform the practical and theoretical implications of an Integrated Model and the gains of Bebe Speed’s Both/And in enriching a broad repertoire for clinical practice. Fiona Crombie, Family and Systemic Psychotherapist and Social Worker has been particularly influential in this, in direct practice and exploring the application of theory.
I continue to offer therapeutic work on a sessional basis to North Ayrshire Social Work services in out-of-home care. I still hold aspirations for blending therapeutic intervention and outdoor education in some way. In many respects I am continuing what I started as a newly qualified social worker, attempting to master the knowledge and skills required for the enormity of the task of intervention whilst nurturing a second discipline that, I believe, has so much potential for helping the change process. In keeping with this edition of the Integrated Model, I hope to be able to bridge the gap between family and systemic practice and outdoor education one day. This would allow other strands, the physical and that of a ‘wilderness’ context, to be added to the range of possibilities for intervention.
There have been so many individuals along this professional journey that deserve naming and thank you to all who have given me so much of your time and experience. Space does not afford me the privilege of naming you all. So thank you to all the young people, carers, families and colleagues for collaboration, inspiration and for teaching in so many poignant ways. And there is always so much more to learn …