Thinking time

Practitioners working in health and social care are feeling undervalued and under siege. Over and over again there are calls made to support staff and that there is an urgent need to provide clinical supervision and opportunities for practitioners to reflect on their experiences. Indeed this is important but my observation is that there is a great deal of resistance to actually making it happen. Busyness is one excuse but I have often heard practitioners talk about not seeing the point of it all and that it is just a management tool for “spying” on them and that it doesn’t make any difference to anything they do. The initial response to the offering of a safe space to explore practice is one of defensive posturing where suspicion and scepticism is the overriding reaction.

This really interests me – why is this the case? After all I have been observing this reaction for nearly 20 years. It doesn’t seem that practitioners seek to embrace these opportunities any more readily now than in the past. I think much of this reaction is to do with fear and shame; fear that they will be judged, that their coping mechanisms may be questioned, that knowledge might be tested and a fear that they might be “not performing” in their roles. I also think that when there is a little insight for some that they are ashamed that they are not the reflective, self actualised practitioner that is held up as a pinnacle of expert practice. Practitioners are worried that they will find themselves wanting when they compare themselves to others and this will mean that they feel more critical of themselves and a downward spiral will occur.. we need to be open and honest about these issues and stop blaming practitioners and that we need to explore how we enable folk to seek ways forward for themselves.

What are we doing here – we need kindness and understanding. I believe we can make this happen with curiosity and good supervision and support. I want to give this a try out in practice and evaluate people’s experience

I believe that outsiders and offline supervision is key to helping practitioners feel safe to examine themselves and their practice. As someone who crossed that line/divide and moved from an offline supporter of practitioners to the manager of the same workforce I would now say that being outside of the organisation is essential for trust and thus honest exploration of issues; particularly if the workforce feel undervalued and exhibit some dysfunction.

I found that practitioners really valued the opportunity to explore issues and I felt I could continue this relationship with staff when I decided to work for the organisation as a senior manager. As someone who espoused authentic and ethical leadership and facilitative management I really believed that it was possible and I had experienced managers who were able to enrich and develop their staff. I utilised a practice development framework for leading change in the organisation and also a coaching approach to my management style. It didn’t work – I met huge resistance (passive aggressive and more explicit) and I ended up exiled and accused of bullying. Unfortunately my expectations  were very wrong and I got some relationships very wrong indeed and the experience has been bruising and life changing. I had a long relationship with the organisation, first as a poet and then latterly as a senior manager – that was over 7 years. Severing that link and ending that relationship is something I am still making sense of but sharing my learning is a crucial component of making sure I am not a victim of circumstances and other people’s stuff.

I would like the chance to use my experience and expertise to support practitioners and enable them to explore their experiences in a creative and constructive way. I really believe that we need to do this as a matter of urgency. Practitioners are at the end of their tether and that untold stories and suppressed worries and concerns is toxic and damaging and that unless we do something person-centred care and flourishing workforces will just be a fantasy not a reality.


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