By Nick Child
This is my closing plenary at the Edinburgh International AFT conference at Easter1998. Newly delighted with life and dancing, I only agreed to do it if I was allowed to address the subject of happiness. I took a personal and entertaining approach, interlacing my family story - City 'Father', Councillor Maureen Child, having delighted the delegates earlier in the week with her hosting of the civic reception - along with music, cartoons, film excerpts, audience participation, party poppers, and all my dancing friends invading at the end to capture me back to party in the foyer and later. Here I've to scale it down to the more printable bits! This was published in CONTEXT, AFT's news magazine of family therapy.
Crossing boundaries is the theme - particularly, at the end of a conference, crossing the boundary of work and play, 'winding up' like a clock to take on energy for the future. At the conference, I used a fullish personal story to integrate my argument and the conference themes - Celtic connections, technological age, and professional development at the millenium. Integrating within our selves is the postmodern truth of how anyone integrates the worlds they live in. I'm still pre-post-modern enough to seek a more coherent system of thought. But it is now rational to embrace the irrational.
The best boundaries are clear in both senses. The best use for a good boundary is the enjoyment of crossing it, at least crossing it with information. Crossing boundaries with information is 'conversation'. 'Conversation' is a familiar enough word for us, both as ordinary humans, and systemic helping professionals. It seems to have replaced that older mechanistic keyword in family therapy: 'communication'. My favourite quote about conversation is Theodore Zeldin's: 'Only when people learn to converse will they begin to be equal. The enemies of conversation are rhetoric, disputation, jargon and private language, or despair at not being listened to and not being understood.' (from An Intimate History of Humanity)
There are downsides to crossing boundaries. For example, culturally, my Englishness has been bruised as well as delighted by my adoption of Scotland. And the internet, a new screen in some priveleged homes, miraculously opens up boundaries to the world. The AFT List (a constant audience at your finger-tips that is larger than the average conference) has been an interesting stimulus as I prepared this paper. If you're doing serious business, e-mails can run you into trouble being neither phone call nor letter.
Next, the media, another wonderful arena of buzzing boundary crossing and confusion, is sometimes intrusively transgressive of boundaries not to mention 'truth'. Stuart Hall (Observer 8/2/98) said that nowadays "Everything is in sight. You can't do the instrumental without the spectacular. You have to be concerned with presentation, identity, image ... The spin doctors are one aspect of coping with the new era." The media delivers our global village into our front rooms via the tabloids and the telly. The event that most demonstrated our new cyber age world village community, is the royal, family, life and death of Diana Princess of Wales. Susie Orbach (see Child 1997), once therapist to that most famous and iconic client, Diana, wrote of how we now use the global and media village to position and work ourselves out. Don't we do the same with our famous FT and other colleagues and their supposed strengths and failings? In 1997, there was a good-going gossipy conversation on the AFT Internet List about gurufication. The downside of the media is that, for many Soap Oprah (sic) shows and the like, boundaries like those of confidentiality seem to have been forgotten beyond all bounds!
Then, ritual: For two centuries enlightenment modernism has held a boundary that psychotherapies also claim against the supernatural irrationality of religion, shamanism, and other ritual. With the millenium, we seem to be turning full circle. Elsewhere (Child 1996b), I've sketched a rationale for a moderate restitution of psychotherapy's origins in religion and rituals. I have certainly been much calmer myself since I realised that my direct ancestor as a medic and therapist is the tribal witch doctor or priest, and that my immediate descendant is the spin doctor. I think we need courses in both. We need some wizardry nowadays, be it high or low wizardry. We need to understand this because, like Dorothy and her pals meeting the Wizard of Oz, the public is ambivalent about our mystique and wizardry:
And last, management: Politics and the management of our professions are now more wizardry than logic. I've written elsewhere, for example, about the media assisted ill-logic of ADD (Child 1996a). But there's little rationality, respect or 'conversation' going on with our managers in socialised health and local authority services either. What you can do is slip your normal sensible activities in and out of the rapidly changing and intrusive management terminologies - audit, protocol, standards and so on. But, as I've argued elsewhere, child psychiatry has its own diseased framework to blame for a lot of these difficulties (Child 1991b & Child 1998)
Those are some downsides. Their upsides show the exciting boundary crossing climate going on around us now that is unstoppable. They take us well outside our own field and, appropriately for a closing plenary, give the future its place as we shape it and it shapes us. All of us do this - look to the future and live in a broader world than our professional one. To help me organise an overload of illustrative material, I invented a wheel for auditing some of this boundary crossing.
The wheel shows four broad areas to cross in and out of, each linking to the others - Personal, Professional, Academic, Non-Academic. Some examples to clarify: From my personal life I bring to my profession my hang-ups and the search for their understanding and vicarious solving, my maverickly conventional personality, my lifelong campaign against mystification. From my profession to my personal and family life, I have taken status, a comfortable income, a confident identity, a wide range of ideas, relationships and experiences that help me personally (for example, a personal analysis). From other academic fields into both personal and professional areas, I've found philosophy important (Child 1992), and new ideas from the field of education. From non-academic fields to personal and professional, there have been novels, poetry and the media. From my personal life to the non-academic, I have contributed my own occasional amateur artistic efforts in music, writing and (recently) dancing.
The nice thing about an organising framework like that is that you can leave it in the background while you continue regardless. My own story helps explain some of my life themes - families and systems, humanity, words, honesty and mystification, deconstructing psychiatry and family therapy (eg Child 1989a & b). So, while I was trying to wring something human out of my psychiatry training, I discovered elswhere, and then adapted, the philosophy of John Macmurray (1932, 1935, 1957, 1961). Intellectual this foothold may have been on my mountain, but at last it was something substantial about human beings. I took Macmurray back to a psychiatry trainees' philosophy interest group. Noone seemed interested, so I set about making a simpler version. This became a simple 'systems' conceptual framework about people, problems, conflicts and solutions. I have used this 'map' regularly in teaching psychiatric trainees to think critically (Child 1998).
In the mid-80s my friends and families at home and work helped further liberation from institutions to become more confident in roaming around the peripheries of many fields and organisations. Less driven than before, I remained a serious rational person working more than playing and working more than I should. I'm kinder on myself now, but alongside my personal searching and professional critique of parent bodies and trainings, I have always felt somewhat inadequate in my job. In a welfare state setting with multiple referrals, multiple factors, multiple agencies, disciplines and pressures, I kept thinking I would be better equipped if only I was better trained at this and that and the other method. On the other hand, routinely seeing my colleagues who have mostly not had special trainings in specific family or other therapies, I felt equally self-critical as I compared myself with them. The rich friendship of working with people who do their job and 'go home for their tea', added to the cross-currents I've felt caught in. I wanted to emulate them at the same time as emulating the big name therapists' theories and schools.
What's to be done on this double-crossed boundary then? First, the routine use of live teamwork is an open swap shop for new learning. Secondly, only after my long training, did I begin to really learn about ordinary things applied to work, from my colleagues, including secretaries. I do, now, allow myself to feel good enough at my job. I hope I'm wise rather than clever. Thirdly, I've gained more confidence in my public argument that ordinary aspects and skills are missing in our published field. Echoing feminism, I call this 'professional housework', real, valuable and essential to our work, but simultaneously taken for granted, ignored and demeaned.
Here's some of the ordinariness and 'housework' I've tried to make visible. I aim not to demolish our specialist skills, but to redress the overwhelming balance of the literature and thinking that misses out the 'housework'. However, I do think that we will come to find that a vast amount of what works is ordinary 'housework' skills, not the vast range of mystiques themselves.
Some of my stuff is published (see references). Much is not - I specialise in titles like: 'Dr Lucy van Pelt - was she worth the nickel?'; 'School Refusal or How to Catch a Gerbil'; and 'The Trick-Cyclist: an Honest Con'! One of my efforts was originally called the Voltron model of family therapy, published in a different form (Child 1989b). The Voltron is a TV cartoon space force. When the galactic threat is overwhelming, the separate vehicles of the force join up into a huge all-conquering humanoid robot. If stereotypical family therapy is a Voltron, I counted 95 separable component parts, few if any special to family therapy. The parts are things like: basic mature personal functioning in the worker, setting up meetings, having a reliably protected place and time to do the work, writing letters, keeping notes, using phones, taking a break during the session, etc. There's also a raft of ordinary professional values - another invisible area I've written about (Child 1994). These things are only recently being made more explicit. They can be missing even from the master therapist's repertoire. The Wizard of Oz does stand on ceremony.
Another way to get at basic skills is through the notion of 'conversation', that human skill we have developed into our trade. Do we get anything about conversation, basic relationships and so on, in our training? Well I didn't. As I said, in medicine I learnt a lot about normal bodily functioning to go alongside pathological bodily conditions. But for doctors, being human is assumed to qualify doctors to know all about normal everyday personal functioning and about professional and systems functioning. Other trainings and supervisions must be better than that, aren't they?!
Once, I attempted to join in the mystique rather than dismantle it. I named the new sciences-to-be: 'Languaged Interpersonal Significance Transfer in Empathic Neutrality Informing New Guestimatation', and: 'Transverbal Accessing of Liminal Knowledge and Interactional Negotiation of Goals'. I was hoping such juicy terminology would produce some nice mystifying acronyms. Unfortunately not: LISTENING and TALKING. No wizardry there at all!
But at last I found a brilliant basic textbook on conversation. A little book called Talkworks from British Telecom - Freephone 0800-800-808 to order. BT, of course, wants people to talk to each other more! The book comes with freephone lines for examples of what they're describing, so it's free distance learning. It isn't a complete description of skilled therapeutic 'conversation', but you'll see where that joins in too.
You'll have got my anti-establishment drift. But the antiestablishmentarian is nothing without a good establishment to work off. I genuinely value the established centres and all those who drain their energies into them. And the centres do eventually change and take on outside developments. In family therapy, the new post-modern, reflective, social constructionist, narrative and solution-based approaches are challenging our establishment. That's fine, though some of it is old wine in new bottles. I keep being reminded of the old social work phrase 'respect for persons'. These new ideas will be taken in like older ones were, as if there was never any argument. This boundary, between the establishment and the new idea, goes from impermeable to absent over the years.
So new ideas get recycled from the old, and they come from outside the field. But you can find nearly all our field's ideas in other ordinary and non-academic fields, and often much more clearly and usefully. There are libraries full of biographical or fictionalised accounts of lives telling us about life and its problems, including mental health problems (Gask 1997). The observations of poets, playwrights, comedians and novelists can be instantly recognisable as accurate common experience that everyone's noticed but noone's made explicit before.
You don't need serious non-academic material to find our stuff. Apart from hundreds of common or collected sayings and aphorisms, like 'every mickle maks a muckle', and 'don't ask the barber if you need a haircut' or 'new shoes always hurt' - from Taxi Driver Wisdom (Mickenberg 1996), what about that well-known professor, Dr Seuss, on totalitarianism or ivory towers, with his story of Yertle the Tertle (see Child 1991a), the 'marvellous me who is ruler of all he can see'. Cartoons make superb condensed texts, like the one here [CARTOON NEARBY] on the impossibility of objectivity even in science. The main problem with this freely available non-academic material is that there is no organised accessibility to it. Now there's a job for someone using the internet's Web!
OK, I've covered some invisible but important ordinariness inside and outside our field. What does it say about us as therapists, about me? This is to bring in the well-worked boundary crossing issue between therapist and client - what do I want for my clients? The answer is the common one. Underneath appropriate professional behaviour, I have wanted to give clients what I still hadn't really got for myself. Amongst other things, I sought demystification and ordinariness. So I find it and give it to clients too. To some extent, they get it whether they want it or not. Thus, clients have been assisting a kind of prospecting project of mine. For much of the time my trusty prospector's spade has been logical thinking. On the whole, a couple of years ago I had satisfied myself of my workings and my own answer - humanity and ordinariness, that is - to the question 'what do we want (for our clients)?'
Recently - and how come it took so long? - I've improved my answer to that question. In very problematic contrast with modern managers who want our answer to be for us to clap eyes on as many clients as possible short of generating complaints, it isn't just ordinariness that I have wanted for clients all along. Again under more appropriate professional behaviour - I now see I have been trying to help them to a full sense of being joyfully in charge of their lives. It follows, of course, that the joy I wanted for them is also what I wanted and hadn't fully achieved. Freud's aim was to convert neurosis into ordinary misery - ordinary misery presumably being an easier step to happiness. 'Follow your bliss' was what Victor Frankl said. Another version is: 'What are you on this planet for?' So, what do you want (for your clients)? My answer now is ordinary humanity and joy, but you could be after: ordinary misery, cure, health, comfort, contentment, symptom absence or solution, bearable relationships, good relationships, control of one's life,self-actualisation, to change the world, or whatever.
In my own recent story, there have been superb hard-worked-for developments in my present and original families, all helping to liberate new levels of freedom and joy for me and satisfaction with what I'd worked through to the resolution to play more and work less. The joy I had been missing had been waiting all along behind the curtain of my once depressive world, previously and vicariously carried in my clients' progress!
What about our clients? We work with people who are unhappy and want to be happier, if not joyful. So, first, alongside all the important other things we need to know, I think we should know about the happiness they seek from us. This is not the same as knowing about the good relationships etc that makes them happier. Secondly, people can be helped by anything including a useless helper. But if 'problems of living' is our job, then we should take ourselves as far as we can in our own lives to be best prepared to help client's go as far as they want to in theirs. This includes getting joy in our lives, separately, that is, from the joy we get from our work and clients. Third, as we would all agree, whether our thing is psychoanalysis or one-session therapy, welfare state or private practice, we have to try - in supervision, personal analysis, whatever it takes - to get ourselves together in a very mature way in order to know how to not impose that joy, or whatever else it is we want, onto our clients inappropriately.
All this can only be an ideal aim. How can we reliably achieve more than a small part of this kind of joy, balance and maturity during a few years life and formal training? But we can try. An allegory here is in the scene in the film, The Full Monty, where the strippers-to-be standing in the dole queue move in shared selfishness to their 'Hot Stuff' tune. We therapists should also aim to carry around some of our own contentment and happiness inside us while we work, to sustain us, and occasionally to be called on with our clients. So joy is another field, like ordinariness, that is implied everywhere but gets left out of our training, our literature, our work, maybe, out of our lives, and presumably out of our clients' lives too.
Going round the audit wheel again, what is there on joy? In our own field, we have Lewis's No Single Thread (Lewis et al1976), and Antonovsky's work on salutogenesis, what 'causes' health ( ), both about positive human functioning. There's Rutter on resilience in individuals (Garmezy & Masten, 1994) and protective factors in organisations (Rutter et al, 1979). Ritual and solution-based approaches head in this direction, but only the likes of Bill O'Hanlon or Michael White get something more of the breadth and depth that I find convincing. (Note that in my ideology I still leave out what I know in practice, that clients may have very different aims to my own. This differentiation of worker and client's aims and needs may well be done better nowadays with a post-modern training.)
From the non-academic sector of the audit wheel, there is of course overwhelming advice about how to get joy. The whole of our western culture drowns us in images and advocations of what you should do and possess to be happy. Adverts tell you endlessly where you can get joy from - being rich and fit, having this and that material comfort and appliance, looking attractive, having lots of sex, and so on. Most of this is not going to work or bring you much joy. It's not what you have or do, it's the way that you do it.
Of course, there are many different views about what real happiness is and how you find it. Kahlil Gibran's Prophet tells us that joy and sorrow go together - 'joy is your sorrow unmasked'. Ordinary writers - again more beautifully than the academics - describe what the sages have long said, but because we read it in our Sunday supplements we don't notice it and we throw them out. In the Observer (8/2/98) Phil Hogan saw happiness as "the end of wanting something better, the end of ambition; happiness is to be captive of your own realised hopes". Nicci Gerard (ibid) listed the ordinary moments of happiness and that "sometimes out of the blue and quite uncontingent, happiness will come like a pang that almost feels like grief, that almost makes me weep. I never deserved this. Why do we need such lessons to teach us what we should already know: that life is made precious by little things, the small daily miracles? I shouldn't wish my children a happy life," she says, "but a full and feeling one." (A young child's joy is perhaps the benchmark we should use.) And, of course there's a little textbook full of famous sayings that says it all, again without having to go to academic or professional texts - The Secrets of Joy (Running Press 1995).
Despite all this stuff on joy, it seemed to need a lot more thinking through. I was relieved of having to do it myself by the book, Flow: The Psychology of Happiness, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1992). In a straightforward, comprehensive and logical way, he describes his work of two decades. He doesn't cover everything about joy. And not all 'flow' experience is 'good'. But I do recommend it as a basic text that we should all know. It settles a framework for all kinds of things that otherwise remain elusive or mystical. Whatever your route to joy, he shows the pattern you'll find in a flow experience, the kind where you both lose and find yourself in it. This includes: 1. it being a task you have a chance of completing, 2 being able to concentrate on what you're doing, 3. & 4. a task with clear goals and immediate feedback (to enable you to concentrate on it), 5. both losing and finding yourself in it, shutting out other worries and frustrations, and finding the experience so rewarding that you expend a great deal of energy just to feel it again (without any material gain), and, 6. the repeated enjoyment goes with a steady complexification of the skill and knowledge in the activity. Csikszentmihalyi goes on to make a whole lot of new sense of life, mind, work, relationships of all kinds, and solitariness too. You can ultimately make your whole life a flow experience. Like the Argentinian tango, and the Alexander technique which require inner awareness, so the flow experience provides an inner guide towards what works. It's not a prescription. It is incidentally a challenge to all of us who are politically and socially minded types including systems therapists, because it emphasises the individual's potential and responsibility for solutions to life problems. Even in the direst circumstances - quadriplegics and on the street - people find high flow experiences. I take this picture as filling in, not discounting, the political and the social.
My last year's resolution to play more and work less included changing to commuting by public transport, with commuting friends who help keep me from working! The resolution also included following the lead of several of my work colleagues who had been going French jiving - with lunchtime workshops of our own too! But I was not to realise how great my own enjoyment was to be with the dancing and my dancing friends. The dancing is a celebration not a midlife crisis, though it's certainly a catching up for missed adolescence and infancy!! Organising a series of parties each a practice for the next, and leading up to one in January - called 'Prospecting for Joy' of course - and the one after the Edinburgh conference, I realised it was jazz, parties and dancing that gave me what was of course missing in running committees and the like - a higher level of immediate improvising, creative response and delight.
While the reader imagines the influx
of music, dancers and subsequent partying in Edinburgh, I'll summarise
*Take a good Celtic disdain for mystifying airs and graces, a valuing of connectedness, of equality, of commonality, of incisive thinking. *The global village is a powerful new community, the media and cyberspace can be powerful tools for world peace and good, as long as ordinary citizens are enabled by it to liaise and question our new global neighbours, leaders, traders, and 'cyber-village idiots'.
*While retaining the establishment of high professional standards of theory and practice, we need to embrace a lot more outside our establishments with intelligence and care, especially irrationality, old and new - ritual and ceremony and placebo which are our inheritance, and media spin doctoring and some wizardry, a part of our future.
*Personally and as a profession, we need to take into account the 'housework' of our jobs.
*We need to value and cultivate our human ordinariness and joy, to 'have it in us' at work, restrained or available to clients; the book 'Flow' should be a standard text.
*In general, to actively encourage, audit and feed the keeping and crossing of boundaries.
Antonovsky (1987) Unravelling the Mystery of Health: How People Manage Stress and Stay Well. Jossey Bass
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Child, N (1989b) Family therapy: the rest of the picture. Journal of Family Therapy, 11, 281-296
Child N (1991a) The turtle, the hare and the tortoise. CONTEXT, 9, P11
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Macmurray, J (1932) Freedom in the Modern World. Faber
Macmurray, J (1935) Reason and Emotion Faber
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Rutter M, Maughn B, Mortimore P & Ouston J (1979) Fifteen Thousand Hours. Open Books: London