This is an assignment written by Rita Baptista a Therapeutic Care Practitioner for the Mulberry Bush/UWE Foundation Degree in ‘therapeutic work with children and young people’. All names have been anonymised.
This essay proposes to critically analyze my experience using the seminar technique, where I would discuss an area of my work relating to a child which I was struggling to understand, with other students. I aim to show how I consider these discussions as an aid to my understanding of the issues, reflecting on the process of the discussion as well as the content. I will refer to some examples of my reflective journal to illustrate how effective they have been in terms of awareness of my feelings. For reasons of confidentiality, I have altered the child´s name and any possible identifying elements.
I work as a Therapeutic Childcare Practitioner at the Mulberry Bush School (MBS), a residential school that offers therapeutic care to emotionally troubled and traumatized children between the ages of 5-12. At the Mulberry Bush School ‘we provide emotional holding as a “24h curriculum” for children with severe attachment disorders’ (Diamond, 2013, p.133).
For the Seminar Technique discussion, I`ve chosen to talk about Rui, who is 11 years old and has been at the school for 19 months. Rui’s number of incidents significantly increased (tripled) over a recent 3 month period. “Everything seems to be difficult for Rui at the moment, especially when boundaries are reinforced. He struggles in the morning, at lunch time, in transitions and at bedtime on most days. He finds it extremely difficult to tolerate the other children and struggles in groups, requiring one or two adults with him a lot of the time”. I explained in the seminar discussion that due to my timetable, I was spending most of my time supporting Rui. I finally shared that Rui was my key child and I voiced my concerns about how the school and I would be able to support Rui for 12 more months.
During those five minutes I really felt comfortable being able to talk without being interrupted, knowing that it was the “rule of the game”, so I wasn´t going to feel guilty at the end for perhaps consuming the time that someone else could use to talk. I really felt that I was being listened to and there was a group of people who were truly understanding my concerns and frustrations .
A twenty-minute discussion followed, while I silently listened. As Danbury and Wallbridge (1989, p. 55) advocate `the presenter’s task is now to allow the group freedom to work on his material and to observe and assess the nature and quality of their work`. Once again, I truly appreciated the fact that that was one of the rules. Therefore, I was able to fully concentrate on the group discussion, without the possibility of being judged afterwards for not talking . Straight away someone said “it sounds awful” and everybody nodded in apparently agreement . The group wondered what was going on in Rui´s life and what had changed to cause the increase in incidents. I then witnessed a lively debate about different ways of intervening and making sure I would receive the right support. A few students mentioned that it was obvious that I was completely overwhelmed by the child .
When I joined the group, I had ten minutes to make an assessment of the nature and quality of the work the group had done on the material. I also responded to the specific questions that had arisen during the group discussion. I acknowledged that the group had highlighted exactly how I was feeling and how strong my feelings could become due to Rui being my key child, even though I didn´t say it directly .
The last five minutes of the session were reserved for the group as a whole to reflect on the work that had taken place. I was able to mention that I felt a sense of empathy from the group which would give me strength to be able to keep on reflecting on the issues presented.
Later on, after all the discussion and during my free time, I opened up my reflective journal and instantly read:
10th November 2017: …What a week…I’ve never felt this drained, I don´t like being at this school anymore, what am I doing here? Today it felt like three days in one, and lately every single day is like that, so every week feels like a month. Plus, I feel totally useless, it seems like no one is ever happy enough with my work …
The pressures and feelings I experienced had found a voice in my journal and in that moment, I fully understood why I had chosen that piece of work for my presentation. Suddenly it became clear in my mind that those feelings written there, of anger and attacks on self-worth didn´t belong to me but to Rui, who was often voicing that he didn´t like being at that school and that no one is happy with him . As Turberville (2006, p. 22) states, `the basis of psychodynamic theory underpinning the work of the MBS is very important in helping staff to cope with and understand these powerful feelings evoked in them`. I realized that the seminar technique discussion had helped me to make sense of these feelings by recognizing them as projections between a specific child and me. In this context projection consists in `the term given to the unconscious pushing out of a part of the personality onto other people or things` (Greenhalgh, 1994, p. 53).
A few days later, while cycling home, I was reflecting about the day. I felt a profusion of thoughts that made me stop and write on a piece of paper:
06th December 2017: …No, sometimes I don´t talk in Groups Supervisions, Reflective Spaces or staff meetings…and sometimes I do. I am very aware that I am not scared of talking, I just don´t feel I need to talk all the time. I don´t feel I need to talk only because someone will tell me at the end “well done, you talked”.
Reading what I wrote made me understand that during the seminar technique discussion I appreciated the fact that at some point it wasn´t expected of me to talk, which I previously mentioned in this essay. I consider that as part of an unconscious process, which `is, by definition, not conscious. It is therefore unknowable` (Jacobs, 2004, p.12). Thus, what it was unconscious at the time of the discussion, through reflection, it became conscious .
Therefore, it also became conscious that I could not avoid feeling some guilt for the fact that I would ceasing in my role as Rui’s key worker, as I was going to move to a different team. I strongly agree with Fahlberg (1991, p.133), when he reiterates ´the importance of adults involved with children in the care system recognizing that separation involves fear, which needs to be mastered, and that loss involves grief, which needs to be expressed´. I consider that due to all the reflection and discussion with my team, I was able to provide Rui with the right level of containment to allow him to be able to manage me going to work in a different part of the school. Containment in this sense provides emotional holding for the child, as ‘.their growth is not via the intellect primarily, but through actual emotional experience – only after which occurs fusion between thought and feeling’ (Rollinson, 1992, p.10). Connected to this idea, Ward (1998, p.15) enhances that `it is through the process of containment that the infant’s most unmanageable feelings and deepest anxieties are ‘projected’ into the parent so that, initially at least, the parent can feel them for him or her, before handing them back in a more manageable form´. Indeed, after a few days of Rui being told that I would no longer be his key worker, I wrote in my reflective journal:
30th January 2018: … I feel I can breathe better since last evening. Rui has been rejecting me since last Wednesday when she was told that I was going to work in a different house of the school. He hasn’t talked to me since then and hasn’t allowed me to get close to him…At tea time when Rui ran from the table to his bedroom, I went to check on him and to try to have a conversation. Rui was crying and swearing at me. I judged that he needed physical space from me at that moment. I closed his door and a few minutes later, I left a note under his door. Rui replied straight away and for twenty minutes we were talking through notes under the door. Five minutes after the last note, Rui was in the kitchen having dinner with me. We had a conversation that started with Rui saying “I still hate you” and finished with me reassuring “Well done for letting adults support you and for being brave to have this conversation ”.
After the seminar technique discussion, I comprehended that I needed to share my overwhelmed feelings with my team, using staff meetings, group and individual supervisions and reflective spaces. Ward (2007) recommends that the worker owns a responsibility of taking suitable action to make management aware of the level of the pressures under which they are working, and to suggest appropriate adjustments for change. Although I agree with such statement, I also believe that in a therapeutic community, adults should be preoccupied with each other in order to sense the pressures that other staff members might be working with and to offer support .
Considering the specific context of the case discussed in this essay, I found the support offered by my work colleagues and managers extremely helpful. Their support made it much easier for me to be aware that I needed to hold a professional distance from my key child in order to permit an emotional distance that was beneficial for Rui. However , Turberville (2006, p. 38) advocates that `this “emotional distance” does not and should not take away from staff engaging in the pain of the work – feeling the child’s pain`. Diamond (2009, p.224) adds that `this distance regulation does not mean the worker withdrawing from the child; rather, it means creating and appropriate thinking space`. Due to the seminar technique discussion, I had the opportunity to hear from other students that it was transparent in my presentation, due to the vocabulary I used, that I was feeling my key child´s pain.
Lastly, I would like to remark that I found my experience of the seminar technique therapeutic. The reflection I engaged with afterwards helped me to move forward in terms of belief in my professional abilities, specifically in relation to this case. I also felt as though the emotions I was having due to the struggles with this case were much more manageable .
To finalize this piece of work, I want to reflect on a point made by Thomas (1996, p. 288) that ` we are defended creatures who distort reality because we cannot bear the psychological pain of the truth `. However, as a Therapeutic Professional I support the opinion that through sharing and reflecting on the emotional impact of our work, we can gain a closer understanding of not only our own emotions, but those of the children we work with. By using processes like that of seminar discussions, we put ourselves in a better position to support these children in achieving their full potential .
Danbury, H. and Wallbridge, D. (1989) Directive teaching and gut learning: The seminar technique and its use in video-based role-play learning. Journal of Social Work Practice. 3 (4), pp. 53-67.
Diamond, J. (2009) The Mulberry Bush as a Therapeutic Community: Context and Culture 1948 – 2008. Therapeutic Communities. 30 (2), pp. 217 – 228.
Diamond, J. (2013) The Mulberry Bush School and UK therapeutic community practice for children and young people. Therapeutic communities. 34(4), pp. 5-21.
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Thomas, K. (1996) The defensive self. In: Stevens, R., eds. (1996) Understanding the self. London: Sage Publications Ltd, pp. 281-337.
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Good, nice clear intro
This is really important and often something new for people. That sense of really being listened to, I wonder how often the children really feel listened to
This idea of being judged is really helpful and I think arises frequently in the work, for staff and children.
How did this feel to you, to listen to the group
Did you agree with this? Was this transference from you or something else?
What was your experience/feeling of returning to the group?
This is really helpful to give live examples from your journal
This is really helpful and good insight
Again, nice insights
Good links between theory and practice, helpful illustration of the work you are undertaking.
A valid point but how is this achieved, surely there must be a sense of trust that people will not only be in touch but that people will share their feelings/stresses
Good evidence of professional development
This is an important point to highlight, close enough for a relationship but with enough space to think and not become too overwhelmed.
Perhaps this model is something you will use elsewhere in your work
Staff and children!! Nice quote
Really nice piece of work
Excellent range of sources, well laid out and appropriately selected.