By Richard Devine, Social Worker for Bath and North East Somerset Council (31.12.2020)
As the year comes to a close, I have decided to write and share an end of year review. For the past few years, I have spent a few hours during the time in-between Christmas and New Years reflecting on what I have learned, achieved and feel proud about as well as the lessons and mistakes. In addition, I organise some ideas, principles and goals for the year ahead. This will be a more comprehensive version of that process. This idea comes from Tiago Forte and David Perrell whose work I have followed this year.
Despite a global pandemic, I have been very fortunate this year. For many people COVID has caused them to be sick, furloughed, lose their jobs, or worst of all, lose loved ones. For the most part, my family and I have been largely unaffected. I have remained employed and easily adapted to working at home. I recognise that this is a privilege that hasn’t been afforded to many. As pointed out by Tiago Forte, ‘Privilege isn’t just about having extra advantages, it’s about having built-in protection against disadvantages’.
One benefit that has come from the lockdown has been spending more time at home, and in particular, more time with my wife and son. My son, like all other school children, was at home and this required us to adapt our working patterns. Consequently, I have spent more time with him than any other year before. For the first few years of his life, I was working excessively long hours as a case holding social worker in a child protection team and during the final year in 2017, before I changed positions, I was also undertaking a Masters in Attachment Studies in London. I have used my work in two ways. Firstly, being busy and caught up in the demands of the role meant I could avoid confronting my inner emotional world. Secondly, I have attempted to compensate for my feelings of inadequacy by working hard. In the past, this has left little time for my family. I have had more time since I changed my position from a case holding social worker to a parenting assessment social worker in 2017, however, it has taken some time to establish inner contentment, which in turn has allowed me to be at home with greater ease.
2020 marked my 5th year working for Bath and North East Somerset Council. I feel fortunate and grateful to work for BANES. I work with conscientious, compassionate, and highly intelligent social workers every day. We have a brilliant and thoughtful Principal Social Worker, Elliot Davis who has a remarkable knowledge base and an infectious passion for Social Work. He has an impressive commitment to providing students and AYSE’s high-quality experiences in BANES. A highlight of my job has been working with my manager, Leigh Zywek. She is the most hard-working, compassionate, and inspirational social worker (and person) I know. A leader in the truest sense. I also receive clinical supervision from Rebecca Carr Hopkins, another extraordinarily inspiring person who has taught me more than she probably ever realises. I am deeply indebted to both Leigh and Becca.
My job position has remained unchanged. I currently undertake a range of assessments with children and families – the most common form of assessment is a parenting assessment. I utilise a range of attachment procedures within my assessments, including an Adult Attachment Interview, Parents Interview, School-Aged Assessment of Attachment, Child and Play Assessment of Attachment, and CARE-Index. These assessment procedures and the assessments that I write are heavily influenced by Patricia Crittenden’s Dynamic Maturational Model. I am incredibly fortunate that I enjoy my work and able to integrate these assessment procedures and ideas into my practice.
Over the past few years, I have thought a lot about my relationship with work. I have deliberated about the type of work that I do and whether I should consider other positions. This usually occurs when I am comparing myself to others. Many of my peers have moved into management. This is not a route I have wanted to pursue as yet. I continue to enjoy working with children and families and I am also still learning about attachment theory and attempting to integrate that into practice. Despite this, occasionally I suffer anxiety about my lack of progression and compare myself unfavourably to my peers.
As a result of this I decided to write down some of the ideas I have collected over the years that have influenced my current approach to work:
1. Work with people I admire (wherever I have worked, I have found people I admired and gravitated towards them as much as possible). If I have the opportunity to work for someone, or alongside someone that I admire, then I will almost always pursue this, even if there is not much (or any) financial benefit. That means, for someone who I really admire and whom I can learn from, I will work for free (I am not working for free of course, because I can gain a tremendous amount in the way of formal and tacit knowledge – some would pay a lot of money for that).
2. Admire traits not people: I have learned as much from students as I have from the most competent brilliant people. No one is perfect and everyone has strengths.
3. Being successful is not an outcome: I am learning to pay attention to what I enjoy, and then I am trying to develop systems that enable me to regularly and consistently implement habits consonant with those aspects. I enjoy writing assessments, working with children and families, reading, learning, writing, sharing learning – much of my aim now is to set up systems that facilitate those aspects of work I enjoy. Success is a process, not an outcome (see next one).
4. Any type of success I frame as an outcome has been short-lived and transient, a qualification, job promotion, pay rise etc; exceptionally appealing but ultimately not that fulfilling – the pursuit of the goal is just as, if not, more important than the goal itself.
5. If I am enjoying what I do AND still learning then I probably shouldn’t change job, even if I could earn more money and gain a higher status.
6. Mastering relationships is pivotal. My job is to bring the best out of everyone. I have the same principles underpinning every relationship, but not the same approach. Some of the most brilliant people I have worked with have not grasped this rule, and consequently lose considerable power and influence – that is not to say they don’t progress in the organisation, but much of the work is overshadowed by their interpersonal approach.
7. Reading, writing, and the ability to speak are universally desired and rewarded attributes – no matter your endeavour, these are superpowers.
8. Building rare and valuable skills – I have spent the last few years learning to analyse attachment interviews and video observations. Part of my motivation for this is because I find attachment theory fascinating and I think it provides the most useful tools to understand the difficulties that parents and children encounter. Another part of my motivation is that ‘assessment’, as far as I can tell, is one of the most important and valuable skills to develop in social work. To this effect, I have sought to develop rare and valuable skills. Anything that is easily imitated or proceduralised is something that isn’t rare or valuable as you can be easily replaced. Rare and valuable are hard and no one wants to do them.
I could not find the time to complete the ‘reliability’ test for the MoTC and endeavour to complete that over 10 weeks starting in January 2021.
The MoTC, like other attachment procedures, requires attendance on a training course to learn how to identify different patterns. Once you have completed the training however you need need to work for ‘reliability’. This means that in your own time you read transcripts, evaluate them and decide the pattern that you think it is. Analysing each transcript takes me approximately 3-4 hours. You send this off and you are then told whether you are correct or not. Roughly speaking, to achieve ‘reliability’ means that if you review 10 transcripts, you assess at least 8 of them correctly. This is hard, arduous and time-consuming work. I think however that it is a rare and valuable skill.
Perhaps the most significant development, professionally, is setting up a blog. I began journalling in January 2020 and began thinking about blogging soon after – I noticed that 10 minutes of journalling resulted in an improved ability to remember learning what I had written about as well as making my thoughts more coherent. I thought it could be an excellent tool for my learning and development.
I deliberated over it for several more weeks, looking at various websites and advice on blog writing. The most common piece of advice was that it needed to be regular and consistent. Therefore, I wrote a few blogs to clarify for myself whether this was indeed a commitment I could make or just a fanciful idea.
After painfully figuring out how to navigate WordPress, I set up my website and began sharing my blog. I found sharing the first few blogs incredibly anxiety-provoking and was obsessed with checking the metrics i.e. the number of views and visitors to the website. I had to remind myself of the purpose of writing. In my journal, dated 16th March 2020 I wrote:
Over the the year, since 10th March 2020, I have produced 28 blogs. I have acquired 193 followers to the blog and had 19,642 views in total.
The three most popular three blogs:
- She prioritises her own needs above her child’s (6436 views)
- The problem with resilience, by Lys Clark (1769 views)
- Drugs, death and my decision to become a social worker (1346 views)
The three least popular blogs:
- Book review of The Ecology of Human Development, by Urie Bronfenbrenner (81 views)
- Forrester versus Featherstone, Part 1. A book review of Perspectives in Child Care Policy by Lorraine Fox Harding (81 views)
- Book review of Presentation of Self by Irving Goffman (125 views).
Interestingly, the most popular blog I wrote is the one that took the least amount of time. Pleasingly, the second most popular blog was a guest blog by Lys Clark – I am privileged that she shared her thoughts and experiences on my blog site. A highlight of my year.
The book reviews take the longest amount of time and are consistently the least popular. However, I learn the most from writing them because they encourage me to read a book diligently, extract out the key themes, and summarise them in my language. A skill in writing is to take ideas, or concepts and make them interesting and accessible. Evidently, this is a skill I am at the very beginning of learning.
Moving into 2021, I would like to continue writing a blog every fortnight. I intend to write 26 blogs by the end of the year. Gathering followers for the blog has been difficult, or at least more difficult than on Twitter, however it is one of the main metrics that I am interested in because it would allow me to develop a community of readers. It is somewhat arbitrary but I would like to acquire 1000 followers by the end of the next year.
I would also like to become more comfortable with writing shorter blogs. Most of the blogs I have produced so far have been labour intensive, quite long and therefore probably unsustainable. I have a tendency to set unreasonably high standards, which is not necessarily bad until it functions to prevent me from writing anything unless I can spend enough time to have it meet a certain standard. This can lead to procrastination. A combination of short, informative blogs AND labour intensive blogs would be ideal. With that in mind, my intention for the first quarter of next year is
- Write some shorter blogs
- Read Robbie Duschinsky’s masterpiece, Cornerstones (which is FREE to access here!) and write a book review. I think this will take approximately 30-40 hours, and will need to be undertaken over many months. I think it’s one of the most important texts on the subject of attachment theory ever produced.
If you haven't already signed up then please consider adding your e-mail address to receive an e-mail every time I post a blog. I will be blogging about children and families social work, child protection, attachment, trauma and other related topics.
I have mixed feelings about Twitter, especially after watching the ‘Social Dilemma’ on Netflix. For a few months this year I took a step back from Twitter because I found I was becoming addicted and this was fragmenting my attention and negatively affecting my mood. I was close to quitting. I didn’t however because I love the diverse set of ideas and people I can connect with. Therefore, in an attempt to maximise the benefits and reduce the negative effects I have developed some rules, such as a 10 minute limit per day. I have also deleted the app and log out on the browser so that the friction to quickly check is harder to overcome. I have had some success with this.
During the latter part of the year, I began a 30-day challenge after I read a book by Austin Kleon, called ‘Show your work’ (See below twitter thread). This has been an interesting and enjoyable experience. It helped facilitate a comfortableness with communicating with others via that platform, and reduced the need to feel like I have something profound to say or share because I am ‘documenting, not creating’.
Reading, Audio books and podcasts:
Last year, in 2019 I set myself the target of reading two books per month. During that year, I read 7 books and 45 chapters from other books that I didn’t finish. This year, I have tried to read for 20 minutes every day, but my success rate is highly variable. 20 minutes a day doesn’t sound a lot, but amounts to 2 hours, 20 minutes per week; 9 hours, 20 minutes per month; and 121 hours over a year. That is at least 3 full time work weeks a year of reading.
This year, I have read 13 books, although 2 of those books were fiction. 4 of those books I have turned into a book review blog. A significant factor in the number of books I have read this year is learning how to speed read. I watched a youtube video that summarised the idea behind it – it has made a big difference. My aim next year is to continue reading 20 minutes per day. Three books I have lined up for next year are:
- Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker,
- The origins and history of consciousness by Erich Neumann,
- Critical Path by R.Buckminster Fuller.
The first was recommended to me, the second one I bought after reading Modern Man in Search of a Soul by Carl Jung and the third was a present by my manager.
In respect of audiobooks, I no longer listen to non-fiction audiobooks because my capacity to remember the learning from them is exceptionally limited. Also, non-fiction books can be hard to follow and less enjoyable meaning I am more likely to avoid them, preferring to listen to music. Therefore, most of the books I read now are fiction or autobiographical.
The BIGGEST time saver I have learned about this year is listening to audiobooks (and podcasts) on x2 speed from Ali Abdaal. You get to listen to twice as many books with zero effect on retention or, in my opinion, listening experience. I have listened to 12 audiobooks. I have tried to write a very brief summary of each book I have listened to in order to help remember the key learning but have only done this for three books so far.
My favourite 3 audiobooks this year have been:
- The beekeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri: A moving account of the experience of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. A heartbreaking and devastating story of two individuals who have experienced unimaginable loss and trauma. Beautifully written.
- Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keys: A fascinating insight into addiction, rehabilitation and recovery.
- Good cop, bad war by Neil Woods: One of the leading police officers who went undercover as a drug user, infiltrate the drug networks, resulting in the capture and arrest of some of the most notorious and prolific drug dealers. Ultimately, however, he concludes that the ‘war on drugs’ does more damage than good.
The main two podcasts I have listened to this year have been:
- Deep questions by Cal Newport: I have listened to Cal Newport’s books, ‘Deep Work’, and ‘How to be so good they can’t ignore you’ on audible – both are excellent and have profoundly influenced my thinking. His podcast covers similar themes, such as productivity, time management, building career capital, etc.
- Not overthinking by Ali and Taimur Abdaal: This podcast is hosted by two brothers, one of whom is a Doctor and Youtuber – I began watching his videos at the beginning of the year and have learned a lot from him about productivity. This podcast covers a wide range of topics and I thoroughly enjoy listening to their conversations and insights
This year has been an important year for my well being. At the beginning of the year I established two daily habits that I have maintained. The first is journalling. I spend 10 minutes per day writing down my intentions for the day, thoughts, feelings and reflections, or something interesting I learned. The benefits have included:
– Thoughts are more organised, and I have much greater clarity in sharing those thoughts.
– Stress relief – not having thoughts, especially negative thoughts, whirl around in my head for the remainder of the day.
– I am more likely to achieve goals when I write them down in my journal.
– Improved memory.
– It provides a really useful insight into how I have experienced the year on a day by day basis, and helps identify patterns of thought/behaviour.
The second habit is meditating. I was introduced to meditating over 10 years ago by a counsellor I was seeing, and although I tried it I found it psychologically intolerable. Over the years I have have toyed with it, but for the first time I established a consistent pattern with it this year with Sam Harris’s Waking Up App. Now, I couldn’t live without it.
I also participated in an intensive 10 week course with the Concord Institute in London. The purpose of the course was to cultivate new awareness in keys areas of my life that sustain ongoing transformation. The course involved cooking, bodywork, group work and dialogue sessions, and 1:1 coaching. It was one of the most challenging, yet life-changing experiences I have had so far. Despite meditating and journaling, I still struggled with my diet, compulsively eating bad food and having little control over this, occasionally drinking too much alcohol, and/or working too much even when I knew it would make me feel dissatisfied, unhappy or unwell.
I have written elsewhere about the self-protective strategies I developed in childhood, and the sense I have made of those in adulthood. I wrote about these mainly from a psychological perspective. Despite having read ‘The Body Keep Score’ by Van Der Kolk and ‘When then Body Says No’ by Gabor Mate I hadn’t accounted for the role my body played in adapting to my experiences. Emotions, which I have learned to detach from as a child, emerge up from the body (I am learning this at 33!). Therefore, I have had an uneasy relationship with my body because this was the place emotions arose, and I was keen to avoid these. Until I acknowledged the embodied nature of the the pattern and adjusted this, it has maintained a fierce grip on my overall functioning.
Through bodywork and changing my relationship with food alongside 1:1 coaching I was able to process some of the unacknowledged and unexpressed sadness that I had firmly bottled up. Sadness about my dad relapsing and not being there for me as a child; sadness for my mum not being available because of her depression and chronic fatigue; sadness that I could not be the dad I wanted to be for my daughter when I was younger because I was in the grips of a self protective strategy that had me detached from all emotion. In addition to processing these feelings of sadness for the first time in my adult life, I also developed an appreciation of how often I would bend myself to be liked, or avoid disapproval; how much I avoided emotional intimacy because my experiences had associated intimacy with pain and rejection; how I would be willing to lie and be dishonest in an attempt to avoid potentially upsetting someone (and thus experience rejection), or to protect the carefully calculated and crafted representation I had sought to create; and how much of my attempt to avoid my sadness only left me disconnected and functioning on the periphery of depression.
Creating space for these unprocessed negative emotions, connecting with my body and changing my relationship with food has profoundly altered how I now experience the world. Self-protective patterns have a ruthless desire and ability for self-preservation and survival therefore I do not doubt that it will attempt to re-insert itself as a way of being. Carl Jung referred to patterns, of self protective strategies, as ‘autonomous complexes’ because ‘complexes are psychic contents which are outside control of the conscious mind…being able at all times to hinder or to reinforce the conscious intentions’ (1933: p.81). In other words, despite the fact they exist within us, they have a life of their own. Therefore, ongoing work on my behalf will be required.
A few years ago I read a book called ‘Half the sky; How to change the world’ by Kristof and Wudunn. I heard Chris Martin from Coldplay recommend this book during an interview in which he talked about the rationale for donating 10% of all their earnings to charity. I was moved in this book by the plight of women across the world. For example, in some countries, there is a shockingly high level of death during childbirth because of poor health care, or many women suffer long lasting birth related injuries. Consequently, I began donating a small monthly sum to ‘The fistula foundation’.
Since then I have listened to Peter Singer make a compelling case for charitable giving and how those of us in privileged parts of the world have an ethical and moral responsibility to help those in poorer parts of the world. If everyone in the wealthier parts of the world made a small contribution, then extreme poverty can be eradicated. These podcasts do a brilliant job of explaining it far better than I could:
- Sam Harris and William MacAskill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYulFcGijKQ
- Ali and Taimur Abdaal: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/should-we-donate-to-charity-because-it-feels-good/id1456538451?i=1000492796618
As a result of this, I have increased my monthly charitable giving to 1.5% of my income this year via ‘The life you can save‘. You can take a pledge here. In 2021 I intend to increase this to 2%. Also, I am going to make a pledge (to myself and now in this blog) to donate 10% of any increase in income I acquire from here onwards. If I am honest, I am not sure whether I will be able to follow through with this – it’s easier said than done and I often fall short of my ideals.
I deliberated over sharing this because it can feel like it undermines the integrity, and reflects an attempt on my behalf to signal my virtue as opposed to a genuine commitment to helping others. However, I have been convinced by the argument others have made that the more people who give and talk about it, the more it raises awareness, and this might encourage others to do the same.
Concluding thoughts and goals for 2021:
The main goal of 2021 will be to integrate lessons from the 10-week foundation course I accessed. This will involve establishing a bodywork routine and continuing to learn how to cook fresh, healthy and nutritious food. After this, my goals include:
– Meditate, journal and engage in some form of body work every day
– Remain in my current post at Bath and North East Somerset Council – establish a healthier work/life balance.
– Write a blog post every 2 weeks.
– Start a podcast; this is something we have been looking at in BANES for the last couple of years, and I would like to see this happen in 2021.
– Achieve reliability in the Meaning of the Child Interview.
– Read 20 minutes per day.
– Increase charitable giving to 2% in January 2021.
– Learn how to touch type (I started this last year, doing 10-20 minutes per day for 11 days, but didn’t continue). This is a good article and this is a good video explaining how and why touch typing is a good skill to develop.
By Richard Devine (31.12.2020)