Hearing dad say he loves his children; working with a volatile family; seeing the calming effects of art therapy – is all in a day’s work for a Systemic Practitioner


Hearing dad say he loves his children; working with a volatile family; seeing the calming effects of art therapy – is all in a day’s work for a Systemic Practitioner

30.05.2019 - 11:46

Home Link Family Support’s Systemic Practitioner Lyn Williams, talks about a day visiting families in Midlothian

The Context

This particular day was pretty ‘full on’ encompassing a variety of the models and locations which we use in our work with families. We cover the whole of Midlothian, working primarily with families in their own homes or local community building, wherever the family feel comfortable. Sometimes we work alone; sometimes with another systemic practitioner; sometimes with colleagues from other therapeutic disciplines, primarily Art Therapy. Our first aim is to help families identify patterns of behaviour, relationships and ways of communicating within the family which they would like to change.

Once this is done we agree who’s going to be involved, where and when, for how long and how often we will meet.  This tends to be for about an hour to an hour and a half, weekly or fortnightly, and can be during the day or in the early evening. Our colleagues in early years settings/ primary schools are really supportive and do their very best to enable young people to attend sessions.

The Model

When we are working in pairs we use a ‘reflecting model’ of family work. This involves a conversation between the two therapists about the session. This takes place in front of the family who then get their turn to watch and listen to us and respond to what’s been said.  This sounds a bit odd and daunting to begin with but most families soon get used to it and really enjoy the transparency.  Almost all the feedback about this from families is very enthusiastic.

The Day

From 9.15 until 10.30 a.m. I worked with a family which comprises a birth mother and father of teenagers and two pre-schoolers. Mum, dad and the teenagers attended this session. During this very first session the father was able to speak of his love for the two teenagers and his desire to have a closer relationship with them. We agreed that, before the next session, dad would spend some one-to-one time with each.

From 11.00.a.m until 12.00 noon an art therapist and I worked with a mother and son in an early years setting on the other side of Midlothian. The mum had asked for intensive work on her relationship with her son.  He had been ‘acting out’ some of the scenes of domestic violence, which he had witnessed in the past, by hitting his mum and saying he hated her. Both enjoyed a peaceful hour of artwork together talking about good times they had in the past. The boy ended the session by giving his mum a model which he had made as a present.

The art therapist and I then travelled to another school in Midlothian where we completed another session (12.30-1.30 p.m.) with a mother and son who had been arguing lot. The boy was able to tell  his mum that he misses the attention he used to get from her before the birth of his little sister.

 I left the school and drove to the house of another family who have just begun the initial 6-week assessment period - a single mum, a teenager, a pre-schooler and a primary-age child who has just received a diagnosis of ADHD.

Throughout the session the younger child climbed over furniture, ran in and out of the room and refused to comply with any of mum’s instructions. We had a discussion about the amount of practical support which she needs at this point in time.  We looked at the possibility of art therapy support for her child and a family support worker (both through Home Link Family Support) rather than family therapy.

My final session of the day took place in a room in a Social Work office.  My co-therapist and I had wanted to do some work with the parents of five children without the children being there. The Social Worker looked after the children in one room whilst we worked with the parents in another. To give them space to talk freely.

We completed some work on a family tree/genogram. Both parents learned something about the other’s upbringing which they hadn’t previously known. This helped them to see some of the reasons for each of them parenting in the ways which they now parent their own children. Both were trying to copy or replicate what they saw as good parenting by their own parents and change or correct actions which they never wanted to repeat with their own children.

By 7.30 p.m. when I finished work I was really tired but, more importantly, found myself reflecting on how very privileged we are to be allowed into people’s lives and to be trusted with their very  personal stories and emotions. This job is so very, very much more than ‘just a job’!