Bridging the Gap: A Training Module in Personal and Professional Development

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This book opens a very important debate for the family therapy field. At a time of treatment rationing and standard setting, it aptly draws our attention to an issue of increasing importance: training the highest quality family therapists. In addition, it offers trainers and supervisors an invaluable "how to-do-it" guide to the tried-and-tested methods of taking trainees through a programmed of personal and professional development.

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CHAPTER ONE. Aims and rationale

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In the early stages of its development, one way of distinguishing family therapy theory and practice from other psychotherapies was by the lack of focus on the person of the systemic therapist. However, given that family therapy has now become an established therapeutic modality and a profession in its own right, this urge to be so strongly differentiated in this respect may no longer be so pressing. I would suggest that the time has come to reappraise the role of self and its significance in clinical practice.

Over the years I had become increasingly aware of the division drawn between personal and professional dimensions of training, as if they were not mutually influential. In addition, whilst I felt confident about the quality of academic achievement on training courses, I was less sanguine about the overall level of clinical expertise. In my view, therapists needed a more sophisticated degree of self-knowledge not only to differentiate between their clients’ and their own attributions and belief systems, but also in order to become more sensitive to the experience of being in therapy.

 

CHAPTER THREE. The structure of the personal and professional development module

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In this chapter the focus is on four main areas:

1. The institutional contexts in which the personal and professional development module was developed

2. The groupwork model on which the module was based

3. Leadership of the module

4. The life-cycle of groups within the module

THE INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXTS

Early in the 1990s, the personal and professional development (PPD) module was introduced into two major British institutions offering family therapy training at MSc level. Not surprisingly, the introduction of a new module such as the PPD created difficulties for MSc convenors already struggling with so many competing demands on course time. Nonetheless, I was given a free hand to devise the module within the time constraint, and agreement was reached about both compulsory attendance and confidentiality. In addition, it was decided to leave genogram work to be done as part of the supervision component of the MSc, so that supervisors would be able to make immediate links between their trainees’ previous life experience and their clinical practice,

 

CHAPTER FOUR. The use of experiential exercises

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The use of experiential exercises must be seen in the wider context of the PPD module in which a great deal of time is given over to current group preoccupations, general discussion, and experimentation with learning new techniques arising out of issues that the group members raise. So the exercises I describe here and in the next three chapters are suggested as possible choices rather than as a programme to be worked through. Some of them may be familiar to the reader from other workshops or training contexts: I would like to acknowledge that many of the ideas have stemmed from such sources. What is different, perhaps, is the way in which they have been developed and now seem to arise organically in these modules.

The use of exercises is perhaps the most innovative aspect of the PPD module for family therapists and is a powerful means of generating an atmosphere conducive to self-reflexivity. The experiential exercises are pivotal in linking past and present personal experience with current professional dilemmas, and they highlight the helpful and hindering effects that the former might continue to have on current professional practice.

 

CHAPTER FIVE. The early stage of group life

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Over time, we have learnt that it is most productive if the trainees attend the first meeting of the PPD module during their introductory week on the course—preferably on the first day, as previously indicated. The small groups now meet for a total of nine hours each during that first week in order to create an integrated and mutually supportive trainee group as quickly as possible.

In both the large and the small groups, the leader(s) introduce the module, engage the participants, and aim to create an atmosphere of trust, where confidences will be respected; the leader(s) also disclose relevant personal and professional material to encourage this process and to reduce the gap between group member and leader. Because humour is such a tremendous asset in helping people to relax and learn without loss of face, an early aim is to create an atmosphere of playful seriousness.

Throughout the module, the leader deliberately suggests that trainees work in a variety of combinations: sometimes in pairs, for more intimate disclosure; sometimes as a whole group, in order to disseminate a wider variety of ideas; sometimes in their specific sub-groups, such as the supervision groups, in order to confirm their identity. In the pairing exercises, trainees are encouraged to choose a partner whom they know least well, so that the group becomes more cohesive over time. Balking at taking part in exercises is rare, and I usually respond to such reluctance by considering the expectations that we have that clients divulge their all in therapy, and why we think that it is important, and finally link this with the group’s ideas about helping other trainees become more involved.

 

CHAPTER SIX. The middle stage of group life

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The early, intense stage of the module often induces a powerful emotional atmosphere, particularly in small groups. This can be difficult to maintain in the middle stage because of the irregularity and infrequency of the module meetings. Many trainees have expressed disappointment when this loss of momentum occurred. It is essential, therefore, for the group leader to continue to make overt the connections between the personal and professional persona of a therapist, and to emphasize the inevitable reflexive loops between the two.

In contrast to the early stage, the middle stage tends to be more varied in content and therefore in the use of exercises. While the first five exercises in the early stage were used on a fairly regular basis in all the groups, the subsequent choice of exercises was less predictable owing to the different ways in which each group developed. Typically, however, one topic that is always included in the middle stage is working with children.

This is an example of a relatively simple exercise derived from a far more complex source, in this case from the Adult Attachment Interview (Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985). The aim of the exercise is to encourage the group to get in touch with their early memories of childhood and to extend their thinking to include their wider familial and social systems.

 

CHAPTER NINE. Reflections

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In this final chapter I connect the trainees’ feedback with some of my original speculations, before moving on to comment on a number of related training issues for the future. On the whole, the message from those trainees who took part in the survey confirmed many of the earlier reasons for setting up the module. For example, they concluded that taking part in experiential work had helped them to become more sensitized to their clients’ experience of therapy; they appreciated the variety of ways in which they had been encouraged to reflect more carefully on what it felt like to be in their clients’ shoes.This could be described as a development of their capacity to use empathy and compassion in their professional role.

They also commented on the significance of the leaders’ role in helping them to bridge the gaps between their own and their clients’ experience, between their personal and professional persona, and between their theoretical knowledge and their clinical practice. They also demonstrated the proposition that “Optimally, the self and the role of the therapist can exist in an acknowledged, functional, creative and respectful marriage” (Haber, 1994). The trainees confirmed my belief that if the leaders shared some of their own experiences with the group, this could lead to group members being more open; it would also become self-evident that the need for maintaining confidentiality was a mutual one.

 

APPENDIX

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We are two graduates from an advanced family therapy training programme, and we are interested in the effects of the Personal and Professional Development Module on therapists,

In order for us to understand the relationship between the PPD module and clinical practice, we would like to ask you some questions to explore this further and thank you for participating in this project,

Your confidentiality is assured. Names and any identifying material will be changed.

1. Sex of trainee (M/F)

2. Age range:

21-30 years 31-40 41-50 51-60

3. Basic professional training, including any family therapy training prior to this most recent advanced training course.

4. Type and length of course undertaken/being undertaking.

5. What is your idea of the aim of a PPD module?

6. Does/did this module fit with your expectations? Please describe.

7. Please pick out examples of any experiences during the course that were significant to you and explain why.

8. Did they affect you personally? If so, in what way(s)?

9. Did they affect you professionally? If so, in what way(s)?

 

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