This is my closing plenary at the Edinburgh
International AFT conference at Easter1998. Newly delighted with
life and dancing, I only agreed to do it if I was allowed to address
the subject of happiness. I took a personal and entertaining approach,
interlacing my family story - City 'Father', Councillor Maureen
Child, having delighted the delegates earlier in the week with
her hosting of the civic reception - along with music, cartoons,
film excerpts, audience participation, party poppers, and all
my dancing friends invading at the end to capture me back to party
in the foyer and later. Here I've to scale it down to the more
printable bits! This was the version that was further edited and published in Context 38 (August 1998) - Context is AFT's news magazine
of family therapy. AFT is the Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice in the UK.
INTRODUCTION Crossing boundaries is the theme
- particularly, at the end of a conference, crossing the boundary
of work and play, 'winding up' like a clock to take on energy
for the future. At the conference, I used a fullish personal story
to integrate my argument and the conference themes - Celtic connections,
technological age, and professional development at the millenium.
Integrating within our selves is the postmodern truth of how anyone
integrates the worlds they live in. I'm still pre-post-modern
enough to seek a more coherent system of thought. But it is now
rational to embrace the irrational.
The best boundaries are clear in
both senses. The best use for a good boundary is the enjoyment
of crossing it, at least crossing it with information. Crossing
boundaries with information is 'conversation'. 'Conversation'
is a familiar enough word for us, both as ordinary humans, and
systemic helping professionals. It seems to have replaced that
older mechanistic keyword in family therapy: 'communication'.
My favourite quote about conversation is Theodore Zeldin's: 'Only
when people learn to converse will they begin to be equal. The
enemies of conversation are rhetoric, disputation, jargon and
private language, or despair at not being listened to and not
being understood.' (from An Intimate History of Humanity)
There are downsides to crossing boundaries.
For example, culturally, my Englishness has been bruised as well
as delighted by my adoption of Scotland. And the internet, a new
screen in some priveleged homes, miraculously opens up boundaries
to the world. The AFT List (a constant audience at your finger-tips
that is larger than the average conference) has been an interesting
stimulus as I prepared this paper. If you're doing serious business,
e-mails can run you into trouble being neither phone call nor
Next, the media, another wonderful
arena of buzzing boundary crossing and confusion, is sometimes
intrusively transgressive of boundaries not to mention 'truth'.
Stuart Hall (Observer 8/2/98) said that nowadays "Everything
is in sight. You can't do the instrumental without the spectacular.
You have to be concerned with presentation, identity, image ...
The spin doctors are one aspect of coping with the new era."
The media delivers our global village into our front rooms via
the tabloids and the telly. The event that most demonstrated our
new cyber age world village community, is the royal, family, life
and death of Diana Princess of Wales. Susie Orbach (see Child
1997), once therapist to that most famous and iconic client, Diana,
wrote of how we now use the global and media village to position
and work ourselves out. Don't we do the same with our famous FT
and other colleagues and their supposed strengths and failings?
In 1997, there was a good-going gossipy conversation on the AFT
Internet List about gurufication. The downside of the media is
that, for many Soap Oprah (sic) shows and the like, boundaries
like those of confidentiality seem to have been forgotten beyond
Then, ritual: For two centuries enlightenment
modernism has held a boundary that psychotherapies also claim
against the supernatural irrationality of religion, shamanism,
and other ritual. With the millenium, we seem to be turning full
circle. Elsewhere (Child 1996b), I've sketched a rationale for
a moderate restitution of psychotherapy's origins in religion
and rituals. I have certainly been much calmer myself since I
realised that my direct ancestor as a medic and therapist is the
tribal witch doctor or priest, and that my immediate descendant
is the spin doctor. I think we need courses in both. We need some
wizardry nowadays, be it high or low wizardry. We need to understand
this because, like Dorothy and her pals meeting the Wizard of
Oz, the public is ambivalent about our mystique and wizardry:
And last, management: Politics and
the management of our professions are now more wizardry than logic.
I've written elsewhere, for example, about the media assisted
ill-logic of ADD (Child 1996a). But there's little rationality,
respect or 'conversation' going on with our managers in socialised
health and local authority services either. What you can do is
slip your normal sensible activities in and out of the rapidly
changing and intrusive management terminologies - audit, protocol,
standards and so on. But, as I've argued elsewhere, child psychiatry
has its own diseased framework to blame for a lot of these difficulties
(Child 1991b & Child 1998)
A BOUNDARY CROSSING WHEEL
Those are some downsides. Their upsides
show the exciting boundary crossing climate going on around us
now that is unstoppable. They take us well outside our own field
and, appropriately for a closing plenary, give the future its
place as we shape it and it shapes us. All of us do this - look
to the future and live in a broader world than our professional
one. To help me organise an overload of illustrative material,
I invented a wheel for auditing some of this boundary crossing.
The wheel shows four broad areas
to cross in and out of, each linking to the others - Personal,
Professional, Academic, Non-Academic. Some examples to clarify:
From my personal life I bring to my profession my hang-ups and
the search for their understanding and vicarious solving, my maverickly
conventional personality, my lifelong campaign against mystification.
From my profession to my personal and family life, I have taken
status, a comfortable income, a confident identity, a wide range
of ideas, relationships and experiences that help me personally
(for example, a personal analysis). From other academic fields
into both personal and professional areas, I've found philosophy
important (Child 1992), and new ideas from the field of education.
From non-academic fields to personal and professional, there have
been novels, poetry and the media. From my personal life to the
non-academic, I have contributed my own occasional amateur artistic
efforts in music, writing and (recently) dancing.
The nice thing about an organising
framework like that is that you can leave it in the background
while you continue regardless. My own story helps explain some
of my life themes - families and systems, humanity, words, honesty
and mystification, deconstructing psychiatry and family therapy
(eg Child 1989a & b). So, while I was trying to wring something
human out of my psychiatry training, I discovered elswhere, and
then adapted, the philosophy of John Macmurray (1932, 1935, 1957,
1961). Intellectual this foothold may have been on my mountain,
but at last it was something substantial about human beings. I
took Macmurray back to a psychiatry trainees' philosophy interest
group. Noone seemed interested, so I set about making a simpler
version. This became a simple 'systems' conceptual framework about
people, problems, conflicts and solutions. I have used this 'map'
regularly in teaching psychiatric trainees to think critically
In the mid-80s my friends and families
at home and work helped further liberation from institutions to
become more confident in roaming around the peripheries of many
fields and organisations. Less driven than before, I remained
a serious rational person working more than playing and working
more than I should. I'm kinder on myself now, but alongside my
personal searching and professional critique of parent bodies
and trainings, I have always felt somewhat inadequate in my job.
In a welfare state setting with multiple referrals, multiple factors,
multiple agencies, disciplines and pressures, I kept thinking
I would be better equipped if only I was better trained at this
and that and the other method. On the other hand, routinely seeing
my colleagues who have mostly not had special trainings in specific
family or other therapies, I felt equally self-critical as I compared
myself with them. The rich friendship of working with people who
do their job and 'go home for their tea', added to the cross-currents
I've felt caught in. I wanted to emulate them at the same time
as emulating the big name therapists' theories and schools.
What's to be done on this double-crossed
boundary then? First, the routine use of live teamwork is an open
swap shop for new learning. Secondly, only after my long training,
did I begin to really learn about ordinary things applied to work,
from my colleagues, including secretaries. I do, now, allow myself
to feel good enough at my job. I hope I'm wise rather than clever.
Thirdly, I've gained more confidence in my public argument that
ordinary aspects and skills are missing in our published field.
Echoing feminism, I call this 'professional housework', real,
valuable and essential to our work, but simultaneously taken for
granted, ignored and demeaned.
ORDINARINESS Here's some of the ordinariness and
'housework' I've tried to make visible. I aim not to demolish
our specialist skills, but to redress the overwhelming balance
of the literature and thinking that misses out the 'housework'.
However, I do think that we will come to find that a vast amount
of what works is ordinary 'housework' skills, not the vast range
of mystiques themselves.
Some of my stuff is published (see
references). Much is not - I specialise in titles like: 'Dr Lucy
van Pelt - was she worth the nickel?'; 'School Refusal or How
to Catch a Gerbil'; and 'The Trick-Cyclist: an Honest Con'! One
of my efforts was originally called the Voltron model of family
therapy, published in a different form (Child 1989b). The Voltron
is a TV cartoon space force. When the galactic threat is overwhelming,
the separate vehicles of the force join up into a huge all-conquering
humanoid robot. If stereotypical family therapy is a Voltron,
I counted 95 separable component parts, few if any special to
family therapy. The parts are things like: basic mature personal
functioning in the worker, setting up meetings, having a reliably
protected place and time to do the work, writing letters, keeping
notes, using phones, taking a break during the session, etc. There's
also a raft of ordinary professional values - another invisible
area I've written about (Child 1994). These things are only recently
being made more explicit. They can be missing even from the master
therapist's repertoire. The Wizard of Oz does stand on ceremony.
Another way to get at basic skills
is through the notion of 'conversation', that human skill we have
developed into our trade. Do we get anything about conversation,
basic relationships and so on, in our training? Well I didn't.
As I said, in medicine I learnt a lot about normal bodily functioning
to go alongside pathological bodily conditions. But for doctors,
being human is assumed to qualify doctors to know all about normal
everyday personal functioning and about professional and systems
functioning. Other trainings and supervisions must be better than
that, aren't they?!
Once, I attempted to join in the
mystique rather than dismantle it. I named the new sciences-to-be:
'Languaged Interpersonal Significance Transfer in Empathic Neutrality
Informing New Guestimatation', and: 'Transverbal Accessing of
Liminal Knowledge and Interactional Negotiation of Goals'. I was
hoping such juicy terminology would produce some nice mystifying
acronyms. Unfortunately not: LISTENING and TALKING. No wizardry
there at all!
But at last I found a brilliant basic
textbook on conversation. A little book called Talkworks from
British Telecom - Freephone 0800-800-808 to order. BT, of course,
wants people to talk to each other more! The book comes with freephone
lines for examples of what they're describing, so it's free distance
learning. It isn't a complete description of skilled therapeutic
'conversation', but you'll see where that joins in too.
You'll have got my anti-establishment
drift. But the antiestablishmentarian is nothing without a good
establishment to work off. I genuinely value the established centres
and all those who drain their energies into them. And the centres
do eventually change and take on outside developments. In family
therapy, the new post-modern, reflective, social constructionist,
narrative and solution-based approaches are challenging our establishment.
That's fine, though some of it is old wine in new bottles. I keep
being reminded of the old social work phrase 'respect for persons'.
These new ideas will be taken in like older ones were, as if there
was never any argument. This boundary, between the establishment
and the new idea, goes from impermeable to absent over the years.
So new ideas get recycled from the
old, and they come from outside the field. But you can find nearly
all our field's ideas in other ordinary and non-academic fields,
and often much more clearly and usefully. There are libraries
full of biographical or fictionalised accounts of lives telling
us about life and its problems, including mental health problems
(Gask 1997). The observations of poets, playwrights, comedians
and novelists can be instantly recognisable as accurate common
experience that everyone's noticed but noone's made explicit before.
You don't need serious non-academic
material to find our stuff. Apart from hundreds of common or collected
sayings and aphorisms, like 'every mickle maks a muckle', and
'don't ask the barber if you need a haircut' or 'new shoes always
hurt' - from Taxi Driver Wisdom (Mickenberg 1996), what about
that well-known professor, Dr Seuss, on totalitarianism or ivory
towers, with his story of Yertle the Tertle (see Child 1991a),
the 'marvellous me who is ruler of all he can see'. Cartoons make
superb condensed texts, like the one here [Mouse 1 to Mouse 2 in cage: I've got this researcher really well trained; every time I press this bar he gives me food!] on
the impossibility of objectivity even in science. The main problem
with this freely available non-academic material is that there
is no organised accessibility to it. Now there's a job for someone
using the internet's Web!
OK, I've covered some invisible but
important ordinariness inside and outside our field. What does
it say about us as therapists, about me? This is to bring in the
well-worked boundary crossing issue between therapist and client
- what do I want for my clients? The answer is the common one.
Underneath appropriate professional behaviour, I have wanted to
give clients what I still hadn't really got for myself. Amongst
other things, I sought demystification and ordinariness. So I
find it and give it to clients too. To some extent, they get it
whether they want it or not. Thus, clients have been assisting
a kind of prospecting project of mine. For much of the time my
trusty prospector's spade has been logical thinking. On the whole,
a couple of years ago I had satisfied myself of my workings and
my own answer - humanity and ordinariness, that is - to the question
'what do we want (for our clients)?'
JOY Recently - and how come it took so
long? - I've improved my answer to that question. In very problematic
contrast with modern managers who want our answer to be for us
to clap eyes on as many clients as possible short of generating
complaints, it isn't just ordinariness that I have wanted for
clients all along. Again under more appropriate professional behaviour
- I now see I have been trying to help them to a full sense of
being joyfully in charge of their lives. It follows, of course,
that the joy I wanted for them is also what I wanted and hadn't
fully achieved. Freud's aim was to convert neurosis into ordinary
misery - ordinary misery presumably being an easier step to happiness.
'Follow your bliss' was what Victor Frankl said. Another version
is: 'What are you on this planet for?' So, what do you want (for
your clients)? My answer now is ordinary humanity and joy, but
you could be after: ordinary misery, cure, health, comfort, contentment,
symptom absence or solution, bearable relationships, good relationships,
control of one's life,self-actualisation, to change the world,
In my own recent story, there have
been superb hard-worked-for developments in my present and original
families, all helping to liberate new levels of freedom and joy
for me and satisfaction with what I'd worked through to the resolution
to play more and work less. The joy I had been missing had been
waiting all along behind the curtain of my once depressive world,
previously and vicariously carried in my clients' progress!
What about our clients? We work with
people who are unhappy and want to be happier, if not joyful.
So, first, alongside all the important other things we need to
know, I think we should know about the happiness they seek from
us. This is not the same as knowing about the good relationships
etc that makes them happier. Secondly, people can be helped by
anything including a useless helper. But if 'problems of living'
is our job, then we should take ourselves as far as we can in
our own lives to be best prepared to help client's go as far as
they want to in theirs. This includes getting joy in our lives,
separately, that is, from the joy we get from our work and clients.
Third, as we would all agree, whether our thing is psychoanalysis
or one-session therapy, welfare state or private practice, we
have to try - in supervision, personal analysis, whatever it takes
- to get ourselves together in a very mature way in order to know
how to not impose that joy, or whatever else it is we want, onto
our clients inappropriately.
All this can only be an ideal aim.
How can we reliably achieve more than a small part of this kind
of joy, balance and maturity during a few years life and formal
training? But we can try. An allegory here is in the scene in
the film, The Full Monty, where the strippers-to-be standing in
the dole queue move in shared selfishness to their 'Hot Stuff'
tune. We therapists should also aim to carry around some of our
own contentment and happiness inside us while we work, to sustain
us, and occasionally to be called on with our clients. So joy
is another field, like ordinariness, that is implied everywhere
but gets left out of our training, our literature, our work, maybe,
out of our lives, and presumably out of our clients' lives too.
Going round the audit wheel again,
what is there on joy? In our own field, we have Lewis's No Single
Thread (Lewis et al1976), and Antonovsky's work on salutogenesis,
what 'causes' health (1987), both about positive human functioning.
There's Rutter on resilience in individuals (Garmezy & Masten,
1994) and protective factors in organisations (Rutter et al, 1979).
Ritual and solution-based approaches head in this direction, but
only the likes of Bill O'Hanlon or Michael White get something
more of the breadth and depth that I find convincing. (Note that
in my ideology I still leave out what I know in practice, that
clients may have very different aims to my own. This differentiation
of worker and client's aims and needs may well be done better
nowadays with a post-modern training.)
From the non-academic sector of the
audit wheel, there is of course overwhelming advice about how
to get joy. The whole of our western culture drowns us in images
and advocations of what you should do and possess to be happy.
Adverts tell you endlessly where you can get joy from - being
rich and fit, having this and that material comfort and appliance,
looking attractive, having lots of sex, and so on. Most of this
is not going to work or bring you much joy. It's not what you
have or do, it's the way that you do it.
Of course, there are many different
views about what real happiness is and how you find it. Kahlil
Gibran's Prophet tells us that joy and sorrow go together - 'joy
is your sorrow unmasked'. Ordinary writers - again more beautifully
than the academics - describe what the sages have long said, but
because we read it in our Sunday supplements we don't notice it
and we throw them out. In the Observer (8/2/98) Phil Hogan saw
happiness as "the end of wanting something better, the end
of ambition; happiness is to be captive of your own realised hopes".
Nicci Gerard (ibid) listed the ordinary moments of happiness and
that "sometimes out of the blue and quite uncontingent, happiness
will come like a pang that almost feels like grief, that almost
makes me weep. I never deserved this. Why do we need such lessons
to teach us what we should already know: that life is made precious
by little things, the small daily miracles? I shouldn't wish my
children a happy life," she says, "but a full and feeling
one." (A young child's joy is perhaps the benchmark we should
use.) And, of course there's a little textbook full of famous
sayings that says it all, again without having to go to academic
or professional texts - The Secrets of Joy (Running Press 1995).
Despite all this stuff on joy, it
seemed to need a lot more thinking through. I was relieved of
having to do it myself by the book, Flow: The Psychology of Happiness,
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1992). In a straightforward, comprehensive
and logical way, he describes his work of two decades. He doesn't
cover everything about joy. And not all 'flow' experience is 'good'.
But I do recommend it as a basic text that we should all know.
It settles a framework for all kinds of things that otherwise
remain elusive or mystical. Whatever your route to joy, he shows
the pattern you'll find in a flow experience, the kind where you
both lose and find yourself in it. This includes: 1. it being
a task you have a chance of completing, 2 being able to concentrate
on what you're doing, 3. & 4. a task with clear goals and
immediate feedback (to enable you to concentrate on it), 5. both
losing and finding yourself in it, shutting out other worries
and frustrations, and finding the experience so rewarding that
you expend a great deal of energy just to feel it again (without
any material gain), and, 6. the repeated enjoyment goes with a
steady complexification of the skill and knowledge in the activity.
Csikszentmihalyi goes on to make a whole lot of new sense of life,
mind, work, relationships of all kinds, and solitariness too.
You can ultimately make your whole life a flow experience. Like
the Argentinian tango, and the Alexander technique which require
inner awareness, so the flow experience provides an inner guide
towards what works. It's not a prescription. It is incidentally
a challenge to all of us who are politically and socially minded
types including systems therapists, because it emphasises the
individual's potential and responsibility for solutions to life
problems. Even in the direst circumstances - quadriplegics and
on the street - people find high flow experiences. I take this
picture as filling in, not discounting, the political and the
My last year's resolution to play
more and work less included changing to commuting by public transport,
with commuting friends who help keep me from working! The resolution
also included following the lead of several of my work colleagues
who had been going French jiving - with lunchtime workshops of
our own too! But I was not to realise how great my own enjoyment
was to be with the dancing and my dancing friends. The dancing
is a celebration not a midlife crisis, though it's certainly a
catching up for missed adolescence and infancy!! Organising a
series of parties each a practice for the next, and leading up
to one in January - called 'Prospecting for Joy' of course - and
the one after the Edinburgh conference, I realised it was jazz,
parties and dancing that gave me what was of course missing in
running committees and the like - a higher level of immediate
improvising, creative response and delight.
While the reader imagines the influx
of music, dancers and subsequent partying in Edinburgh, I'll summarise
Take a good Celtic disdain for mystifying airs and graces, a
valuing of connectedness, of equality, of commonality, of incisive
The global village is a powerful new community, the
media and cyberspace can be powerful tools for world peace and
good, as long as ordinary citizens are enabled by it to liaise
and question our new global neighbours, leaders, traders, and
While retaining the establishment of high professional standards
of theory and practice, we need to embrace a lot more outside
our establishments with intelligence and care, especially irrationality,
old and new - ritual and ceremony and placebo which are our inheritance,
and media spin doctoring and some wizardry, a part of our future.
Personally and as a profession, we need to take into account
the 'housework' of our jobs.
We need to value and cultivate our human ordinariness and joy,
to 'have it in us' at work, restrained or available to clients;
the book 'Flow' should be a standard text.
In general, to actively encourage, audit and feed the keeping
and crossing of boundaries.
Antonovsky (1987) Unravelling the
Mystery of Health: How People Manage Stress and Stay Well. Jossey
Child, N (1989a) The myth of hysteria
as illness. Letter in British Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 865-866.
Child, N (1989b) Family therapy:
the rest of the picture. Journal of Family Therapy, 11, 281-296
Child N (1991a) The turtle, the hare
and the tortoise. CONTEXT, 9, P11
Child, N (1991b) Quality thinking
and a formula they [managers] can't refuse. Psychiatric Bulletin
of Royal College of Psychiatrists, 15, 476-477.
Child N (1992) Finding a philosophy
that fits. Letter in Journal of Family Therapy, 14, 225-7
Child N (1994) Family therapy and
professionalism CONTEXT (Summer), 19, 4-6
Child N (1994) In the media: A Door
to Open or Shut? CONTEXT (Summer), 19, 29-30
Child N (1996a) How true story telling
lost its place. CONTEXT (Autumn), 28, 34-37
Child N (1996b) Possessing the key:
enchanting work. CONTEXT (December), 29, 14-19
Child N (1997) Celebrating audience.
CONTEXT (December), 34, 14-15
Child N (1998) Ill-Logical Thinking
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Garmezy, N & Masten A S (1994)
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and Adolescent Psychiatry: Modern Approaches (eds) Rutter M, Taylor
E & Hersov L. Blackwell:London
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T & Phillips V A (1976) No Single Thread: Psychological Health
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Macmurray, J (1932) Freedom in the
Modern World. Faber
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Macmurray, J (1961) Persons in Relation
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