Older Mind Matters

No fog on the Tyne for AFT

I recently went to the Association of Family Therapy and Systemic Practice conference in Newcastle upon Tyne, held in a hotel with glorious views overlooking the river.

What am I going to take away from the conference? I’m afraid that I can only offer a few fragments here.

Both days opened with “the story of a girl from County Durham”, a delightful, powerful and thought-provoking reflection on how a therapist learns from previous generations, about class, poverty, risk-taking, duty and many other issues and areas of life. How do we give ourselves permission to reflect on our family-historical context and how that has influenced and continues to influence us?

I went to a workshop on gender and we were given copies of the Cisgender Questionnaire adapted from Julie Tilsen (see it here ) – if you are cisgender and want to be provoked to think, then I suggest you try it out.

I couldn’t miss the workshop on risk run by two facilitators who are seeking a systemic model of risk. They pointed out that risk originally involved the possibility of loss or gain but that its positive connotations have been forgotten.

I really connected with the comment (attributed to Nikolas Rose) that risk management has taken the place of cure in psychiatry – I remember sitting in team meetings as the on-call psychiatrist some time ago and how team members would tell me about risks and risk assessment, but not about the person, their family, illness, and treatment. Now I know this is probably old school and maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I like to know about the bio- as well as the -psycho-social: I sometimes fear that we have lost the concept of trying to get people “better”, in the sense of being able to pick up and continue their lives. I want to understand whether medicine has anything to offer people, and that doesn’t mean that psychological and social possibilities are any less important. Yet we use the term mental health when we really mean mental ill-health/ mental illness: how confusing is that! I’ve found an abstract online – see it here – where Rose says that “clinical judgement is now less about care and treatment; much more about the control of those who might pose a threat to the community.” Talk about risk - this is dangerous stuff.

Being at the conference for two full days I missed the climate change demonstrations (although I know that some people went). I’m from Yorkshire and I wanted to get the most out of the conference, so I didn’t want to miss anything, although you could argue that’s very short-sighted in the broader context. At lunchtime we had the opportunity to join a group that reflected on what we can do as professionals about the climate emergency. Somehow small things feel almost worthless, but if everyone did small things the end result might be big enough to make a difference.

I suspect that what I will take away from the conference as time passes will be John Burnham and friends leading the hall full of delegates in singing Cushie Butterfield (I’ve found a version online here  ).


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