A Search for Compassion-Seeking Communities of Practice in Systemic Family Therapy Service Provision

As a UKCP accredited Family, Couple and Systemic Psychotherapist and Supervisor, I am approved to work in NHS, Local Authority, Charities, and private practice. (AFT, 2017 3 rd edition; AFT 2015, 4th edition). My four-year systemic training equips me to be culturally responsive to individual and whole family social systems, patterns, and alliances.

Systemic Family Therapy is seeing an escalating demand to work therapeutically around intergenerational racialized distress, oppression and trauma experienced by individuals, family, and communities. The global socio-economic and political context impacts our role and therapeutic outcome. Family migration stories, the cost-of-living crisis, and global uncertainty, means the family therapy budget (versus weekly food shop, after- school provision, or a much-needed holiday), is a privilege, not a right. Decision-making for Individuals, families, and couples, is organized by forfeiting fortnightly emotional wellbeing needs, over other keys aspects of family life. As collaborators, shapers, and re-shapers, for individual and collective storytelling (Bond, 2023; Pearce, 2006; Afuape, 2011). Thus, therapeutic intentionality; why, what, and how we work; and difference we make, is key (Stratton, 2011).

As a ‘Global Majority’ (Campbell-Stephens, 2021) female systemic family therapist, I bring rich family migration stories, from East, West Africa, Caribbean, and Europe. My therapy mixes ‘aesthetics, explanation and production’ domains (Lang et al, 1990). I find myself challenged, yet privileged, by clinical and academic learning contexts. Sustained by family, friends, and loved ones; acting as cheerleaders who contain, support, and ground me; through unexpected life events. Inspired by the works of Mahatma Gandhi’s Non- 2 Violent Resistance principles (Omer, 2011, 2014); to calibrate me. These ideas can act to keep my glass half full. Or nudge me as it starts to empty. Reminding me to check in on my own baskets of resilience. Moreover, the systemic family therapist elicits, and co-develops narratives of hope. For people experiencing life-changing events; acute or chronic illness, as children, adults, siblings, couples, and partners. Sometimes, creating space and possibilities for difficult conversations; where stories have not, or cannot be told (Pearce, 2006). Often, we function as co-pilot, or navigator of relationships, after rupture repair. Hence, tasked to deconstruct relational stuckness with overwhelmed, and struggling family systems can be a complex and unforgiving process. Allyship building within untellable stories of resilience can be tricky, but also celebrated. Hence, together we seek to develop meaningful connections to guide the therapeutic relationship to a different stage of coherence and completeness.

 Hence, thinking more about accessibility within therapeutic spaces. For instance, is it possible to expand our practice from a diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective? So, at the next Black History, Disability Awareness, Neurodiversity or LGBT months; can we actively co-production; a space to develop therapy practice between systemic family therapists, psychodynamic, psychoanalytical, and integrative therapists, and counsellors, for flagship therapeutic communities of compassion? A platform for community engagement, creative dialogue, and practice initiatives. Perhaps, reviewing potential groupwork options based on need. These may include multi-family groups on race, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, faith, and religious identities; or awareness-raising about eating disorders, neurodivergence, intercultural couples and families, care leavers, Global Majority young mothers, fathers etc.

In summary, if we are serious about developing good allyship, we must first acknowledge our power structures and learning needs as therapists, and service providers. Starting from the place of self, we need to review our tone, pace, language, and nuanced communication style; in phones, emails, point of referral, initial consultation meetings, and interactions, before contemplating effective relationship-building and therapeutic alliances. Hence, Dr Ron Rodzro, Psychologist’s recent keynote speech at the Black Men and Community Mental Health Trauma Conference, spoke to fluidity and socially constructed identities; challenging misconceptions about the psychological wellbeing of victims and perpetrators around gang-on-gang violence. Significantly, Rodzro found 70 % young people who identified as gang members, are coming from a trauma-informed social, educational, or psychological lens (Rodzro, 2023). A combined ‘advocacy, activism, and empowerment’ approach, to tackling youth crime is an invitation to reframe of ideas, stereotypes, and pathological discourses about certain clinically vulnerable and marginalized groups, around unmet education, attachment, and social needs.

Furthermore, we need to have difficult conversations with ourselves, about what steps we could, or should take, to address gaps in therapeutic service provision. Are we confidently taking measures to engage racialized Global Majority males, LGBT, and disability service users, for example (Campbell-Stephens, 2012; Rodzro, 2023)?

Significantly, to tackle cultural dissonance, imbalance, and relational disharmony; is routinely discussed amongst Family Therapy colleagues. Here, the self identified ‘peace pilgrimage’ Satish Kumar; helps me reflect on my learning edges; as a systemic psychotherapist/ supervisor, clinical leader and academic (Kumar, 2023).

This year is about integrating clinical compassion, empathy, and allyship; whilst tending to intersectionality, curiosity, and my own relationship to power within therapy and education spaces (Crenshaw, 1989). The integration of cross-cultural ideas and thinking that is multi-layered, validating and refreshing. Challenging us to be able to ‘walk the walk.’

Additionally, I embrace the feedback once assigned to me, about my identity as a passionate leader and system disruptor; within a dynamic and compassionate ‘community of practice’ model.

Finally, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, draws to a close. It leaves me to reflect on a wisdom from Simon Rowe, South-London Djembefola (or Djembe drumming teacher). In our weekly drumming circles, traditional Cote D’Ivorian drum technique, or rhythms, are co-constructed. Rowe’s impresses the need to find that finishing spice to balance and flavour the pea soup that is unfolding in the kitchen (Rowe, 2022). As learners of any new skillset or hobby; our aim is to become more proficient, so we can identify ‘the difference that makes the difference’ (Bateson, 2019).

Hence, to become a more useful family therapist requires us all to look in our own mirrors. Perhaps, aimed at developing a different type of therapy room, drawing on innovation from the Global South; as well as improving access and outcomes for service users. Thus, giving the green light for important and compassionate discussions; that can also be playful, creative, and generative.

Kate Campbell Systemic Psychotherapist, Supervisor & Director Zahara Therapy Ltd

 Kate is available at the Sunflower Centre on Saturdays, other days may be possible by arrangement. 

 Please e-mail Kate@zaharaacademy.co.uk or phone /text 078 4082 5510

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