Zoy Kazan, USA
My context is that of a Community Mental Health department. We provide ‘wrap-around’ services to children who are at risk of out of home placement, as well as family therapy, individual therapy, day treatment and rehabilitation services. Many of our clients are children who are referred by the school psychologists and come to us labelled as ‘emotionally disturbed’. As a trainer using narrative ideas, I work hard to emphasise ways to stand up to the culture of pathology which permeates the mental health system.
I often think of Michael when I am being invited to see a child as damaged or to relate to an entrenched problem story. It’s helpful to remember his words and to open up space for noticing differences and circulating preferred stories.
One clinician has created a great day treatment program using some narrative ideas. He and the team with whom he works have developed a system to recognise preferred outcomes and stories and they have had some great results where children have been able to return to mainstream schools and have been able to go off medications. There are weekly family meetings in which the family gets to set the agenda and focus on what is working towards their goals and what barriers might be getting in the way. There are ‘Parent Partners’ in this program who have had to deal with their own children being in the mental health ‘system’. They are really good at relating to parents and advocating for them and with them to deal with the legal, educational, mental health, welfare, and probation systems. Although not all of our clinicians embrace narrative ideas, the ones who do participate in reflecting teams on an occasional basis. It is always a privilege to be on these teams and to be able to reflect on the values and struggles of the families with whom we work.
I’m currently involved in making systemic changes as a result of a shrinking budget here in California. It helps me in these hard times to hold on to values that Michael espoused in his teachings and not allow competition and fear to undermine the collaborative partnerships that we have built across agencies over the past ten years. I remember the way that Michael would continue to have conversations when it would have been tempting to give up on a family or a group. This gives me courage to continue inviting my colleagues to continue to dialogue and share resources. If we hold the lives of the children and families we serve as precious and worthy of our concern, it helps us to creatively work together to build a stronger community.