Working Systemically with People with Learning Disabilities

I attended this day conference organised by Derbyshire AFT on 13th May 2014.

The facilitator was Hilary Howell. The advance publicity said:

People with learning disabilities are often embedded in complex networks of professionals and service, both as children and adults’ and strong feelings often surround issues of disability. It seems obvious that working systemically can be a great contribution to the learning disability field; however these ideas are only recently being elaborated.

The day will include a morning workshop presented by Hilary, exploring Family Therapy and Systemic Practice with both children and adults. It will include thinking about the social and political impact of disability on the person themselves, their families and the people that work with them. The afternoon will offer parallel workshops on related themes.

Hilary has worked much of her career with people with learning disabilities and has trained as a Clinical Psychologist and as a Systemic Psychotherapist.

She currently supervises Systemic Masters students and works with children with learning disabilities and their families as part of the CAMHS Learning Disability Team in Birmingham. Hilary is a founder member of the Derby Systemic courses.

Derbyshire AFT run an excellent CPD programme which is also very cheap – only £10 for the day. I was struck by the opening address by Steve Trenchard, Chief Executive of Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust who talked in a very non managerial
way about the value of workers slowing down to think and reflect.

Hilary Howell’s plenary was a summary of the systemic ideas she found useful in her therapeutic work with people with learning
disabilities, using John Burnham’s ideas of Approach, Model and Technique. She was alos able to help us imagine the perspectives
of all the people involved in the family and professional system and to cover the oppressive discourses people with Learning
Disabilities are subject to.

There was also a clip of her working with a family which helped to demonstrate the central importance of hearing the voice of the person with Learning Disabilities.

In the afternoon I went to an excellent workshop on using Narrative Ideas in this context delivered by Martha Laxton-Kane.

Martha is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist who has worked for most of her career with people with learning disabilities.
Currently she is working with young people and their families in North Derbyshire. The LD CAMHS team where she works is part
of a wider CAMHS service and is also based with Paediatrics and Social Care. Martha incorporates family therapy ideas
alongside other approaches.

This workshop succinctly covered the central ideas of Narrative Therapy and the adaptations needed to make these ideas work in the context of Learning Disabilities. She also showed us a clip of her working, demonstrating the importance of a slow pace, patience and simple language.

She also recommended Alice Morgan’s book “What is Narrative Therapy”. Here’s the first two chapters.

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