Geraldine CasswellGeraldine Casswell

Taking off the uniform

DDP Community Reflections

All opinions expressed in the following piece belong to the author(s).

I’m retiring again. About nine years ago, I retired from full time work within the NHS as a clinical psychologist, and a wise mentor helped me reflect on “taking off the uniform”. It didn’t feel a painful loss at the time, as it was a partial retirement, and I was freer to embrace my work within the DDP community. Now the renewal date for my professional registration has loomed, and I have to let go of my roles within DDP. This has caused me to reflect on the journey.

Way back in the 1990’s I received a referral from a family court for “attachment based therapy”. A set of fortuitous circumstances led me to Dan Hughes’s work and like so many others I devoured, the book “Building the Bonds of Attachment”. I was so keen to access the training! In the UK it was a time of political benevolence when the mental health services for young people were briefly prioritized and invested in. The result (almost unthinkable now) was that in 2002, a colleague and I were funded by the NHS to travel to Maine, USA, to take the Level One course.

The trip was memorable in so many ways. It was great to meet other therapists grappling with helping young people who had experienced early trauma. And so inspiring to watch live sessions with Dan helping a family – not only make sense of the emotional whirlwind they found themselves in – but see those moments of deep connection being developed. I came back to the UK eager to put theory into practice and can only admire my first group of clients who put up with me! Gradually my temporary Americanisms (“wow, great job”!) became replaced with something more familiar to the home market (“well done, that’s great!”).

At that time, in the early 2000’s, there were relatively few of us that spoke this new language and I am indebted to those pioneers. To Julie Hudson with her amazing organizational skills and forward thinking, to Kim Golding who developed the ideas into training programmes for different groups, and her generosity in sharing those resources. To Edwina Grant who flew the flag for Scottish therapists and allowed me to co-train with her; and to Pam Tower who became my peer consultant so we could supervise each other.

Although the new millennium had brought new funding for mental health services the recommended therapeutic models were predominantly based in CBT and social learning models. So often this presumed clients had a focal problem only, whereas the child with early adversity had multiple problems. They did not fit into any box, and at heart struggled to trust anyone. So much of that early DDP work was also aimed at informing commissioners about how these presenting problems needed a relational approach. A highlight for me at this time was to share a speaking platform with Professor Eileen Munro who had been commissioned to do an independent review of child protection in 2010. Her very clear message was that what had been lost at the heart of child protection was an opportunity for social workers, and those in the field of child protection, to develop relationships.

It was a delight to personally introduce Dan to the area I worked in (York) – in a 2 day conference for both professionals and carers. As always his narratives resonated powerfully, and became the launch pad for us to develop DDP informed services locally. I had returned to Maine to take my Level Two training (and in my enthusiasm had taken a stack of video recordings only to discover none of them would play on American equipment!). This was later redeemed when Dan started the process of supervision, enabling me to become a practitioner, then later a consultant and finally trainer. His generous mentoring and supervision have been a hallmark in my work and to this day I can remember some of his challenges (Me: I don’t actually like this person. Dan: It’s your job to find a way to like them!).

I was invited to join the DDPI board and heard the same level of enthusiasm from the Canadian and American therapists. We looked to develop flow charts of certification (the UK bid for the term “accreditation” failed!), rating scales for practicums, and certificates for reaching that glorious end point. Conferences were planned, special interest groups sprouted all over the UK and significantly the website was launched in 2013 by the talented Liz Tower under Julie’s guidance.

It was in 2013 that I first took off my NHS uniform, and was then able to spend more time as a trainer and consultant. I attended one of the international DDPI conferences held in Pennsylvania and witnessed the ingenuity and creativity of therapists from around the world. The call for DDP was growing apace globally and here in the UK the demand was huge. It was helpful when DDP Connects UK was developed as a CIC, to ensure support and oversight to the growing number of practitioners. It was a privilege to become an honorary associate and witness the commitment and time given by a talented group.

As I write now, my professional registration has expired, and I realise I will be removed from all sorts of professional lists! I hope the uniform will be recycled rather than trashed. In these last 20 years I have had the privilege of being taught so much. DDP as a therapeutic model has made my professional life so meaningful. It has also taught me things about myself – because when you use a relational model you can’t fake it! I have been humbled by the clients who put their trust in me, and by the new swathe of therapists who allowed me to travel with them on their practicum journey. I feel hopeful for the future of DDP because of the calibre of people who have been trained and set up amazing new services. I am grateful for Sez Morse taking on some of my recent work.

As I begin to feel the loss of the familiarity and comfort of a uniform, I know DDP has left a deep imprint that pervades most corners of my life and resonates with my personal values and beliefs. And maybe this is what attracted me to the model at the very beginning? Dan would often speak of the values he held dear in this work. Many a time I heard myself echoing, “these are good people doing the best they can”.

In our culture today there appears to be a crisis of identity. This is expressed in issues of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, social class, nationalism and more. The DDP model is needed more than ever. It can be hard for people to discover their identity if the community or political system does not reflect back their inherent worth. At the heart of the DDP model is an authentic experience – people can hear that they are valuable and deserving to be loved. This enables the reparation and healing to develop.

So thank you to all who have travelled with me on this journey and given me experiences affirming my worth – the uniform may be off but the gift continues!

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Publisher: DDP Network (Jun 2021)

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