For anyone new to this blog, I am writing about how I learned to work with people in trouble, and how this learning was not just an academic / cognitive process but one that was integral to my development and maturation as a person. The hope is that readers will find in this a stimulus to explore your own learning stories so that the objective knowledge about how to work with people is integrated with the individual emotional realities that make you who you are,
Much of my learning about work with marital problems was developed over a 20+ year involvement with Family Court work and I will discuss this further in future blogs. At this point however I had to discover how my job in working with couples was hardly ever to find ‘a solution’ to their conflict, but to help them argue constructively either face to face or through the ‘shuttle diplomacy’ to which I have referred. As ever, it was my job to be helpful more than ‘right’. Even when couple could reach no accommodation with each other, and I had to advise the Court so that a judicial decision could be imposed on parents, about custody of or contact with their children, my judgment and that of the Court were not the ‘outcome’ of a dispute, but just one more step in the couple’s ongoing struggle.
(Occasionally of course, an issue of child safety or domestic violence would take over from all other matters, and a ‘judicial’ framework of safety would have to be imposed.)
Whilst there is some truth to the idea that the way we worked with warring couples was in part driven by anxiety about the violence and primitive conflicts generated within intimate relationships, I was less troubled by this fear than by direct exposure to the children who were struggling in these conflicts. Although the family work that we did in the 1970s was supposedly generated by the need to ensure that children were looked after, our practice hardly seemed to put children at the centre. Children were often not seen at all , on the basis that they should be protected from having to take responsibility for decisions that should be made by their parents. When they were seen , the approaches were tentative and often superficial.
This I found a harder ‘nut to crack’ and whilst I came to some insights about it later, when working on policy and practice management , I never became skilled or confident in direct practice with children. This also showed itself when I came to family work.