Monday, 4 October 2010


i really want to write here more, so i'm going to eke out some ramblings, until it comes more naturally again.

i'm facilitating a course about domestic abuse with a group of women. it's through an organisation who work with 'women offenders'. funny how many of my friends could be described in the same way... anyhow, it's the first piece of work i've done since leaving my casework, and i'm struggling really to find the part of myself that works. for seven years i would get dressed and drink my coffee and travel to work and then find myself at my computer, or in the hospital, with lots of work to do and a professional identity to inhabit. i spent a lot of time feeling like this persona was fraying at the edges, and trying to be both the smooth, capable, educated professional that other professionals required me to be, and the down-to-earth, real-person(?!) support worker that the women using the service needed, was one more exhausting aspect of the job.

now every couple of days i need to pull myself up into some sort of professional mode to make a phonecall to people, and i procrastinate, because that person was never real, just a necessary part of what i was doing, which i don't really do any more.

i'm also finding it difficult to focus on the tasks i need to do. i'm a bit worried about this course. i did a two hour workshop with other women using the service a few months ago. it was great, as i was an outsider coming in so i had licence to just do my workshop as always, in a way that is kind of led by the group rather than me.

but now that i've written this course, in consultation with a worker from the service, and met some of the women who'll be on the course, i'm becoming more uncomfortable with how prescriptive courses are at this service, and how disempowered the women are.

the women who came in for appointments about the course, seemed to have rock-bottom confidence, even though the appointments were in a building they use frequently. it seems to me that, although the service seemed initially to be a really good, flexible, service for marginalised women, it has now been more and more co-opted by probation and social care. it seems like a lot of women are 'required' to be there by their probation officer and/or social worker. i think this could be overcome if i was doing the kind of group i used to run in my job - just open discussion groups where women can talk about whatever is going on and support each other and be validated. but i was asked to write a course. because that's how they do things here. and i'm picking up a general attitude from well-meaning workers, that the women are problematic, because they are lost, and they can't sort out their lives, and they can't look after their children. which totally disturbs me. i've tried to make clear to the workers that my attitude is that these women 'have all the knowledge/resources' to support each other and understand domestic abuse etc etc, but i'm worried that i won't be able to single-handedly make the course an empowering experience if the attitude of the co-facilitator (out of habit more than anything) is that the women need to be taught.

and i tried to suggest that we keep the course as open and 'user-led' as possible, but the worker replied that the organisation has to be able to demonstrate to probation/social care that there is concrete content to their courses otherwise they can be written off as wishy-washy. i really disagree. i used to have to write letters to probation/solititors/social care to explain what 'work i'd done' with a particular woman. i would write a strongly-worded letter saying we'd done rigorous work on safety-planning, patterns within abuse and control, looking for the first signs of control in new relationships, confidence-building and so on and so on - because this is all true! even though i wasn't teaching them, only facilitating their discussion and doing an exercise together maybe every two weeks. and as professionals we have licence to represent our work however is appropriate - because probation/social care thank god can't actually come into the group sessions. so it's such a cop-out, or a tragic reversal of what these women need, to try and tailor courses to the fucked up demands of statutory agencies.

god, user-led groups really are the only way! everything else is just painfully wrong.

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