Technicality and the Personal

An account of how I learned to be a helping professional – not an instruction manual, but a prompt for you to explore your own story .

In setting the scene, I have been seeking to convey a belief that engaging with people in trouble or distress has to involve a personal journey, rather than just the application of sets of learned techniques; this however remains just an ‘insipid’ idea until seasoned with a lived context. It is striking to me how this notion has recurred in my life from the following two early influences. My social work tutor, Bill Jordan, spoke of a wish to publish a book that would comprise only case examples, without any of the theorising that seemed to be the only passport to publication. At the same time, John Berger in ‘A Fortunate Man’ was writing about the meaning to be derived from the life of a general practitioner in a rural practice, aiming to express his ideas in a life story and through photographs.

This belief is a vulnerable one however, easily becoming sentimental, self indulgent, effete. It can provoke hostility or incomprehension. There is an essential ‘tenderness’ about the approach. It is earnest, and therefore easier for me to hide behind a more cynical or drily humorous veneer. It is an approach that many would set in conflict with ‘hard headed’ ideas such as punishment, cognitive behavioural programmes, measurable outcomes……….. I have been slow to come to a recognition of the value of such dry technicalities as essential if uncomfortable bedfellows to the humanistic, holistic and emotional vision that has driven me. However, real change for the better needs both the warmth of emotional engagement and the food of outcome driven, evidence based ‘technique’.

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