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a balanced at achment, the child has access to all strategies developmentally available to them and can use the most appropriate for their particular context. It could be very dangerous to behave in a secure way if a child is in danger, as Oliver Twist famously discovered by asking for more. ‘B’ is only best if the context supports it. Children referred for therapy are rarely in a context in which B strategies are sensible. Such strategies are useful when the world is a relatively safe place and the child is relatively confi dent their needs will be met, that they are well regarded and worthy of being loved and looked aſt er.

• Deception is an important and ordinary human skill. Being able to lie convincingly can save your life in some circumstances. It is a skill that develops in complexity as the child develops, from simple lying to pathological deception in adulthood (“You might well say so, my dear, I couldn’t possibly...”).

• At achment strategies develop in relationships – they are context dependent. As such, they are not so much qualities of the person but of the situation. Hence, the dynamic maturational model of at achment dictum, “Don’t change the child, change the context!” One could elaborate this to, “Change the relationship”. It is well recognised children develop diff erent pat erns with diff erent care-givers.

• All possible at achment strategies are useful for some situation. Diffi culties arise when the child becomes trapped with a narrow range of options. Holding these general principles in mind enables teams to

remain curious about the interactions they observe in the room and those which the parent or carer describes.

Embodiment Here, I refer to the way in which we all experience the world in our

bodies and express this experience through our bodies. Embodiment is oſt en referred to in our literature but rarely defi ned. T e way children enact their being when they are in the therapy room (and adults, of course, but with children it is more visible) is usually highly signifi cant and noticeable. In a recent session, an eight-year-old child was referred by an educational psychologist, who saw lit le evidence of ADHD when she observed him in the classroom. From the moment he entered the room with his dispirited mother, apparently detached and distant father, and extremely helpful older sister, he showed poor impulse control and a level of activity which required the active intervention of both parents. How parents and children describe distance and closeness,

physical touch and physical positioning to each other, can also be of crucial signifi cance as it can allow a diff erent kind of knowledge to emerge. An exploration of ordinary physical touch in families can reveal therapeutic possibilities and areas of potential confl ict. However, embodiment is not only in the child or other family members. It includes physical responses in the therapist’s body and, indeed, in the bodily reactions of those behind the screen. Bringing this information into consciousness can be therapeutically meaningful for the family. Paying at ention to this area off ers a diff erent kind of orientation to the child. It brings the potential for a diff erent way of understanding: an epistemology of embodiment.

Neuroscience In the last twenty years, the understanding of the brain/body

connection has had a profound infl uence on the fi eld of psychotherapy. Researchers such as Dan Siegel and Daniel Stern and many others have shown how brains/bodies and minds are inter-related. T ese


researchers have taken Bateson’s (1979) ideas of mind as energy fl owing between people, and shown how this operates in practice. With regard to children, the developmental processes involved in integrating leſt brain narrative with right brain emotions (a gross over-simplifi cation but most people will recognise the reference) are dependent on parents and other caring adults helping the child balance their feelings with their narrative understanding of their experiences. Right brain communication is prominent in the processing of eye

contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, timing and emotional intensity. Much of this communication is implicit. Making implicit communication explicit by eliciting the meanings each family member at aches to these can be a revelation. T e intent may be diff erent from what is understood by the children. For instance, a mother who is showing depression may be experienced by the child as being angry with him or her, something which she may or may not intend to convey.

Ethics A key role of the supervisor is to help the team hold all these

strands. Suffi cient safety generated between team members is necessary to use the team resources to their full. Ultimately, the ethics of power will be an important consideration in supervising work with children. T is includes the power invested in the supervisory role, the power of the team and, importantly, the power of the therapist. It includes how the therapist is able to use him or herself, probably the single most important therapeutic ingredient in the mixture. Power issues also form important dynamics in the family.

In work with children, power and the exercise of power is a dimension that is kept under constant consideration. Within this consideration, the issue of consent to treatment is an ethical dilemma, which is helpfully explored in the team’s overall approach to therapy with families with children.

End piece? Writing this short piece has given me an appreciation of how much

more there is still to be writ en about the supervision of work with children in families in the fi eld of systemic practice. It has stimulated me to pay more at ention and I hope will be a catalyst for others. I am grateful to the two teams I am fortunate to supervise. And, of course, to the children and families who continue to teach us all so much.

References Bateson, G. (1979) Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. London: Wildwood House. Burck, C. & Daniel, G. (2010) Mirrors and Refl ections: Processes of Systemic Super- vision. London: Karnac. Byng-Hall, J. (2008) The crucial role of attachment in family therapy, Journal of Family Therapy, 30, 129-146. Crittenden, P.M. (2007) Raising Parents: Attachment, Parenting and Child Safety. Devon UK: Willan. Dallos, R. & Vetere, A. (2009) Systemic Therapy and Attachment Narratives: Ap- plications in a Range of Clinical Settings. London & New York: Routledge. Davies, A (1990) House of Cards. BBC Productions. Dickens, C. (1838) Oliver Twist or The Parish Boy’s Progress. Chapman and Hall, originally as a serial. Mills, J. & Mills, R. (2000) Childhood Studies: A Reader in Perspectives of Child- hood. Abingdon: Routledge. Renwick, F. (2008) ‘Who works with children?’ Psychotherapy with Children Commit- tee (PwCC) Survey of UKCP registrants, The Psychotherapist (Spring 2008: 31-34). Siegel, D.J. (2010) The Mindful Therapist. New York and London: WW Norton. Spellman, D. & Smith, G. (2010) Three gasps behind the screen. In D. Burck & G. Dan- iel (eds) Mirrors and Refl ections, Processes of Systemic Supervision. London: Karnac. Stern, D. (2004) The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. Lon- don and New York: WW Norton.

Chip Chimera is the director of the Centre for Child Studies at the Institute of Family Therapy in London. She can be contacted at or

Context February 2012

Too hot, too cold or just right? Supervising family work with young children

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