It may be that my anxiety about letting go of safety reflected a weakness in my practice, but I came to feel that we are who we are because of both strengths and weaknesses. Our weaknesses can give us assets in the work if we are not afraid of them and the professional job is to make the most of who we are, rather than trying to be some kind of ‘ideal worker’.
I did find however, that following this limited and difficult experience of family therapy, I became more confident about working with couples and family groups, and about managing ‘live’ conflicts within client sessions. This was useful, not just because it increased the flexibility of the way I worked, but because it attended to one of the risks of working with highly charged family or couple conflict. There were workers who tried to focus on reaching agreements in couple disputes, to the extent that conflict in sessions was firmly suppressed as a blockage to finding an agreed logical conclusion to the problems at hand. All too often in these cases, the intense conflict, suppressed in the formal meeting, overflowed immediately the worker was out of the way resulting in more entrenched bitterness and mistrust. Equally in individual work, fear of intense and often destructive or ‘mad’ emotions could lead to their exclusion from the helping process, leaving the client as isolated or frightened as before – indeed more frightened if the anxiety of the worker seemed to confirm their worst fears about themselves.
This is a familiar problem in managing suicide work where a worker’s hesitation and fear about open discussion of suicidal feelings can mean risks of suicide are missed or underestimated.
The ‘active’ technique necessary for family therapy, the sense of ‘letting go’ of familiar securities reflects the need to act ‘intuitively’, to trust intuitions. This is difficult territory – how do we distinguish between and intuition and a prejudice?