Briefing April 2022
Let’s Grow Together are delighted to announce that Dr. Nicola O’ Sullivan has been appointed by the organisation to provide professional reflective practice opportunities for the Interdisciplinary team to support their direct work with families.
The work of Let’s Grow Together is informed by Infant Mental Health and the practice is relational. –A key element of this work is reflective practice. Work with children and families presents the challenge of holding onto an understanding of human capacity and intimate experience, while simultaneously taking cognisance of the effects of real life structures on the behaviour and experience of families and workers (Gould et al., 2001). To this end, Dr Nicola O’ Sullivan has been appointed for 2022, to develop and implement a reflective practice model for the Interdisciplinary Team of Let’s Grow Together who work directly with families.
Dr Nicola O’ Sullivan says ‘I appreciate the need for this space having worked with children and families in communities and residential settings for over 20 years. My work continues to involve working with children and families as well as staff teams, and students at the Tavistock. So I understand how emotions become a part of the work and how important it is to reflect upon ourselves and what we bring and to be able to disentangle ourselves from the work in order to be more effective as practitioners. I am delighted to work with this team of skilled and dynamic individuals’.
She goes on to point out that ‘one of the most valuable qualities that we can bring to our work with infants, children and families is our own capacity to remain vulnerable while accepting our professional discipline and role. The work that is ongoing in Lets Grow Together is highly sensitive and demanding, requiring a high degree of self-awareness and ongoing attention to one’s practice. The capacity of practitioners to engage with their own emotional experience as well as that of the families they work with is recognised as central to relational work. Further, the capacity for warmth, empathy, reliability, knowledge and authenticity are the foundations of practice but they are not omnipresent and require nurturing. Providing a structured and supportive reflective practice space underpinned by a clearly articulated framework goes some way towards supporting clarity in work with children and families and responds to the needs of practitioners. It is a real pleasure for me to be involved in working closely with this team of highly thoughtful, sensitive, educated and committed practitioners’.
The reflective space offered to this group of practitioners is closely aligned to the Work Discussion Group. The work discussion group developed at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust has formed a major part of their teaching provision over the last number of decades (Rustin and Bradley, 2008). Work Discussion groups are founded on the work of Martha Harris and Wilfred Bion who developed Esther Bick’s approach to infant observation to facilitate observations of dynamics in work situations. The model has been used and evaluated in social work settings (Lees and Cooper, 2021), school settings (Jackson, 2014), and amongst early years workers (Elfer and Wilson, 2021). The team are invited to pay attention to their experiences at work, and to become conscious, partly through their own responses, of the emotional experiences of infants, children and families.
On a practical level, For Let’s Grow Together the reflective practice space is provided through two groups made up of the IDT team as well as the IDT team lead on a 1:1 basis. The spaces are offered monthly and underpinned by a learning agreement. From Let’s Grow Together’s perspective what is hoping to be achieved is that the team are sharing learning with one another about complex work and further developing practice; facilitating a deeper understanding of safeguarding issues; consider the impact of trauma on families, workers and teams, and to enhance capacity to think and reflect on this; expand the thinking about themselves in their role, and the impacts on self, clients, team and the organisation.
In addition, the reflective space invites team members to consider group and team dynamics related to the working environment. An anticipated outcome of this project is to develop members of the team in Let’s Grow Together that could act as leaders in the service and provide Reflective Practice Groups within the service going forward using the same model.
This reflective practice work is being evaluated for both process and outcomes and will contribute to a wider understanding of Reflective practice models applicable to working with young children and families within an Infant Mental Health Framework. The evaluation is being undertaken by Mary Tobin, as part of her Clinical Psychology training with University of Limerick. Ms Tobin has previously been involved in other research activities funded by the Irish Research Council.
Katherine Harford representing Let’s Grow Together is really supportive of finding out what works, how the model of reflective practice looks, and becomes embedded within the team. She says “by investing in the team in this way, we are processing the sometimes very complex work we are involved in, the impact that has on the community, the organisation and on families and children. And the impact it has on ourselves. We are trying to ensure that our work serves families well and safely and that our team feel supported and their skills for reflective practice within an infant mental health framework are deepened.
Through the development of a reflective practice model at team level, we can model good practice in this area and share with, and promote for other teams. Through capacity building of team members, and through evaluation processes, I hope a strong culture of Reflective Practice is embedded within organisations”
And finally of the process so far, members of the team have fed back some positive experiences of the process.
“I really appreciate the safe, consistent, dedicated space to share and process our work together. There is a real sense of containment and being held for me in my work through the group. The space is free of judgment, and you do not need to be perfect so can honestly share what the work is evoking for you. Reflections from peers and Nicola help me to wonder about the work from a different perspective and try to make sense of my experience and the experience of others involved.”
“The process has caused me to think more subjectively about the work and to name and process the feelings as they arise.
“The facilitation is of the highest quality; Nicola allows for time and space to prepare, process and discuss. She keeps us on track when needed. Challenges us through well placed questions. Sends us appropriate articles that are not too taxing given our work schedules. Holds us in mind. Makes the space feel safe, supported and well structured. “
“I have found reflective practice to be a safe space to discuss and share working experiences without judgment. It has allowed me to reflect on how my own feelings come into the work and in turn how to acknowledge these feelings and work through the. I look forward to the group discussions about common themes and receiving relevant papers from Nicola. I also have found presenting my cases to the group in the RPG format has helped me gain confidence in presenting and public speaking.”
“I enjoy reflective practice because it offers opportunity to share my working experiences and learn from the experiences of others in a safe and supportive space. I look forward to open discussion around common themes and the linking of research papers to offer ideas and support our work”.
“Being part of a Reflective Practice Group (RPG) with my colleagues is a first for me and I really enjoy it!…Almost on Par with this is the sharing of our feelings and emotions which come in varying degrees but that sharing piece not only creates a type of Symbiosis amongst us, but it can also allow the individual to feel they are being supported with having those thoughts and feelings or questions… and that it is ok!
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