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Summer Institute Week 2: Connecting with the participant experience

In the second of our blogs from the Summer Institute, Mehmet Emin, Finance Officer at Frontline, recalls his experiences of visiting and taking part in the teaching. Read Mary’s blog from Week 1 here.

Last week I went up with the rest of my team to the Summer Institute to take part in some of the teaching. The plan was to spend one day with the participants, attending lectures and seminar groups.

After an early start, we arrived in Coventry and joined the practice tutors for their morning briefing. Jason Maldonado-Page, a Family and Systemic Psychotherapist and Clinical Social Worker, was leading the day’s teaching on families and genograms. The schedule was a morning lecture, followed by a day of seminars, in which participants would map out a genogram of their own family in small groups.

Jason Maldonado-Page

Listening to the teaching team discuss how best to go through the material and support their seminar groups, I was struck by how much attention they paid to the use of language and the importance of seeking permission to explore such a personal and sensitive topic. Jason explored how and why the participants might find the subject difficult and encouraged the team to pay attention to the needs of their group, rather than sticking to a rigid plan. He had built flexibility into the schedule, to let each seminar go at its own place.

From there, we headed into Jason’s lecture. Walking into the lecture was quite a sight. I remember a few months into my time at Frontline going to the Summer Institute at Sunningdale Park and seeing a room of participants sat round a few tables; now they fill an entire lecture hall.

Jason brought a lot of his own experience to the lecture, bringing the theory alive with stories and personal anecdotes. He gave us time to reflect on his teaching, even calling himself out at one point when he realised he was starting to run through the material a little too quickly.

After a short break, we returned to the hall and Jason demonstrated the process of creating a genogram with Practice Tutor, Mandy Hope. Given the intensely personal nature of exposing your family history and relationships, we didn’t want to intrude on the participants, so when they broke off into their seminar groups, my team and I went off to work on our own genograms separately.

Working in pairs, we took turns interviewing each other, drawing on Jason’s advice to ask permission and make the genogram a collaborative process. Doing the task, I not only learnt about my colleague’s family, I also found myself thinking about my own family and our relationships. It opened up some things I had never really considered and assumptions I had made.

As a member of the Finance team, somewhat removed from the delivery of our programmes, the day gave me a real insight into the participant experience. I now feel more connected with the participants and the Frontline programme. Spending a full day there and getting not just to sit in a lecture but also to take part in some of the exercises that participants do brought the Summer Institute to life in a sense. I’ve been to each one in my time here, but previously I’ve felt more an observer, whereas this time our visit was much more participatory.

I also feel that I have taken away things that I can apply in my own life. In particular, to be a lot more explicit about giving and seeking permission and also to state when I am making an assumption. Hearing Jason explaining the day’s teaching to the practice tutors made me think a lot about how important it can be to give people permission to do things and making them aware of the options open to them.