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T e opening plenary: “One big tip and ten top systemic tips”

Presented by Kathryn Blackshaw, deputy chief

executive of the Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Ged Smith, family therapist for Five Boroughs Trust in St Helens and systemic consultant.

The DAFT organising-committee had two main aims in

inviting Kathryn and Ged to open the conference. With Kathryn, we hoped to promote further the partnership between DAFT, AFT and the Healthcare Trust. We hoped she would also invite conference participants to think about the conference theme in relation to “ordinary circumstances”, given the current political and economic climate within which family therapy and systemic therapy seeks to survive or even flourish. In essence, feedback from conference participants demonstrated Kathryn did a fantastic job in “Telling it how it is and giving it to us straight”. We were invited and encouraged to fight for our survival, promoting family therapy and systemic thinking within the NHS and public services. We were urged to promote evidence- based practice and to develop business plans that enabled the financing of projects to meet the health agenda of our time. A couple of people at the conference found this difficult to hear and left before the end, however, the majority of conference participants welcomed and valued the economic, political and strategic messages Kathryn urged us to take on board. She also acknowledged the importance of systemic thinking and practice within health and social care and welcomed the growing evidence base. A challenge was set to all of us to be clear about what we do, why it works and to produce the evidence to prove it does. She also highlighted the strategic importance of events like the conference and highlighted the quality, rigour and creativity presented within the programme. This opening was followed by Ged Smith, who took up

the organising committee’s invitation to combine both rigour and irreverence at the outset of the conference. He did a fantastic job of making the complex seem ordinary and offered his top ten and more tips in promoting both “ordinary and extraordinary systemic practice”. For many of the conference delegates, Ged’s presentation was the highlight of the conference. There was a tremendous amount of energy, laughter and a real buzz throughout the conference hall during and after his presentation. Ged opened by talking about beauty and mystery

and demonstrated a fantastic synergy linked to Kathryn’s presentation with an opening quote from Albert Einstein that said, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted”. At this point, sitting next to Kathryn at the plenary table, I should point out that she laughed and applauded loudly throughout the presentation! In the best hour I have spent for a long time, Ged went on to give tips on “How to annoy your parents”, there were more


than ten tips in this section alone! He then went on to explore feminism, masculinity (giving us a forewarning of his hopefully soon-to-be-published thesis on the subject – congratulations Dr Smith) and went on to explore the importance of meaning and language in all we do. Ged shared a number of quotes from his favourite artists like John Lennon and Bob Dylan alongside thinkers like Gustave Flaubert, including “Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat our tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity”. He went on to explore postmodernism, power, language, culture and more. He did all this with a style and swagger that I am sure would see him challenging the likes of Peter Kay or Michael McIntyre, should he decide to take his show on the road and take a career swerve towards stand-up comedy. With special thanks to Dave Gristock who recorded sections of the conference. Anyone who would like to revisit Ged’s presentation can join those who are making it a surprise YouTube hit by typing in “Ged Smith” in YouTube’s search box. In summary, I would urge anyone planning a conference

on the importance of economic and strategic thinking about the development of family therapy to invite Kathryn to offer a presentation. Anyone wishing to delight a large and knowledgeable audience whilst introducing and exploring complex concepts in the most accessible way possible should invite Ged, with whom I am hoping to negotiate a contract as his agent!

Gary Robinson is principal family therapist at Derbyshire Healthcare Foundation Trust

Context February 2012

The opening plenary: “One big tip and ten top systemic tips”

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