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Making the most of ordinary moments

Presenters: John Burnham and Barry Mason New ideas: another way to work? Well, these presenters cer-

tainly brought some fresh approaches for us to play with, giving us a taste for new adventures in our therapy. T e aim was to explore ordinary moments, taken for granted

in people’s lives, and transforming the pleasures and lessons from these events into sustainable day-to-day family events. John and Barry each presented an idea embracing this theme. Making reference to the ‘not knowing position’ and some issues

around that idea, John introduced us to what he called, ‘the actually not knowing position’. He showed us how to place content aside at times and talk about the process – so, literally not knowing. It felt a strange idea to grasp at fi rst but participants readily got into the exercise that John asked us to do. He asked us: “In pairs – take turns to interview one another about the moment

– event – episode in life that pleased you. T ink of your role in life, professional/personal; something that happened that pleased you.” “T e moment itself (How long ago? Out of the blue or planned?

Alone; or with others? Was it brief or did it last? Who did you fi rst want to tell about it? How did you contact them?) What it means/would mean to the person themselves and if any

other participants were involved? What eff ects might it have in future – with f iends, family? What eff ects it has had, and might yet have, in their signifi cant

relationship? Potential cultural consequences of the witnessed moment.” Feedback from participation in the exercise, from the client’s point

of view, was that participants felt important and in control and could choose what they wanted to say. As it was about a good experience, it was easier to respond, and also gave them confi dence. Another comment was, “It was quite liberating to refl ect with the other person, my own and their view of situation”. T is process, allowing client choice, as Cecchin stated, can allow “ families to keep their secrets”. However, other comments were, “It felt it was not me. I actually

wanted to tell them my experience”; “It was diffi cult to externalise”; “It was interesting to explain, but a job to get underneath meaning”.

From the therapist’s viewpoint, it helps us deal with our own

values and to be non-judgemental, because we are concentrating on the process not the narrative. It takes practice to listen this way before it becomes, in time, an acquired skill. However, it is important to take things slowly; test the water one foot at a time, don’t jump in with both feet! How do we work with this? As Barry commented in his

defi nition of change, “Change involves asking clients to make a commitment to experimenting with (a small idea) and put ing it into action. T e emphasis is on ‘experimenting’ and ‘small’”. He added that, for something to be considered as change, it also requires repetition over time. Barry called his idea, ‘T e fi rst memory question’. It is based

on the notion that our fi rst memory has within it themes that are oſt en with us in the present and show themselves in relationships. We were asked to get back into the same pairs as the fi rst exercise and ask each other about our fi rst memory. For example: “What aspects/themes of that fi rst memory do you think are

with you in the present?” “In what way do they aid/constrain your personal /

professional life?” “Do these stories have any connection with aspects of your

relationships?” In the feedback aſt er the exercise, one person commented,

“Amazing, liſt ing my fi rst memory of being leſt alone”. He connected this to ambivalent relationships as a lifelong script. One participant felt a word of warning needed to be raised:

“T e issue of the power of the therapist who may appear more interested in the process than in ‘me’”; that using this idea could be very powerful and that clients needed to be engaged. Barry said that he didn’t use it in the fi rst session. By the conclusion of the workshop, we had been given some

new systemic approaches that might enliven our work and perhaps open doors when our clients, or we, might have felt stuck.

Karen Loveridge

John Burnham 40

Barry Mason Context February 2012

AFT National Conference workshop reports

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