Certificate in Psychiatric Social Work 1961
My journey to Edinburgh began during my first undergraduate year (reading Social Policy) at Manchester University when by chance I heard a presentation by May Irvine (then Head of the Manchester PSW course) and decided to work towards becoming a psychiatric social worker. The journey continued via vacation work as a nursing assistant in a psychiatric hospital, where I was able to observe small group therapy and tune into the work of a therapeutic community directed by Maxwell Jones. After graduation I joined a team of four social workers as a PSW trainee in a rural psychiatric hospital. Towards the end of a year that was both thought provoking and encouraging, my Association of PSW accredited supervisor, Marion Opie, suggested I consider applying for the Edinburgh PSW course. Years later I realised that she must have undertaken her own training at LSE in 1936-37 in the company of Marjorie Brown, who was Head of Department when I arrived in Edinburgh in 1960.
There were 10 of us PSW students (7 women and three men), and from early on there was a strong group feeling among us although there was 20 years difference between the youngest and oldest. Human Growth and Development was key for me, with Megan Browne really engaging me through her deep interest and commitment to the subject. Another aspect of the course that was rather special was the way in which we were offered some insight into PSW practice across Scotland, with visits to services as far away as Aberdeen and Dumfries, as well as those closer by. This really helped to demonstrate the value of sharing and comparing across various settings and communities and was further emphasised for me after qualification through the commitment of PSWs throughout Scotland to meet regularly to share experience and explore issues together.
After completing the Course I joined the psychiatric unit at Polmont Young Offenders Institution (then called a Borstal), working with both offenders and their families. The work was relatively disconnected from the rest of the social work world and Megan offered to be available for consultation, so for three years she gave encouragement and support, including with the group and organisational issues so central to working within the complex prison system. The Kilbrandon Committee was a real focus of attention at the time, and I joined the other members of the psychiatric unit in submitting written evidence to the Committee. I was also able to work with Jordanhill College in Glasgow in the supervision of practice placements for student Probation Officers. After three years I was back in Edinburgh as the first PSW in the newly-established Nuffield Trust funded Alcohol Treatment Unit, under the directorship of Professor Henry Walton. This provided another opportunity to develop knowledge and skills in work in groups, with the Unit moving towards being a mini therapeutic community. It was an exciting time in psychiatry in Edinburgh. I was also invited to supervise PSW student placements within the larger Royal Edinburgh Hospital. This meant joining the regular meetings between supervisors and University staff – another good learning opportunity amid a group with much more experience than mine.
Three years on I moved back to Manchester, and after working in the local authority – developing group work with mothers of children at risk and providing individual practice supervision for new social workers - in 1968 I joined the staff of Manchester University as Lecturer, with my main focus being teaching students studying for the post graduate Diploma and M.Econ. in social work. While there I pioneered the inclusion of experiential learning about groups for students, alongside opportunities to learn about the theory of groups. Some connections with Edinburgh continued. Megan Browne was our External Examiner for three years and a meeting with Jock Sutherland, who was then working towards establishing the Scottish Institute of Human Relations(SIHR) in Edinburgh, helped me with the development of the group work programmes. When the new local authority social work departments were established in Scotland SIHR offered learning programmes on group and organisational issues and I was invited to contribute, giving me an opportunity to tune into the major changes taking place in social work in Scotland.
For me the relationship between social policy and social work in practice had always been a major interest, so when there was an opportunity to return to Edinburgh in 1978 to work in the then Scottish Office I was delighted. During my time there, I worked on issues such as the development of practice placements for student social workers, increasing training and research opportunities in social care and social work, and developing policy and services to meet new challenges such as HIV/AIDs.
Because I believe that to remain effective academics and those involved in developing policy and legislation need to stay in touch with practice I have tried to find ways of having a ‘live’ connection with what social work services offer. My activities over the years have included volunteer counselling for people with alcohol problems, the setting up and running of a respite care facility for children and young people with profound learning difficulties, membership of the management of voluntary sector organisations and contributing to group and organisational learning programmes for practitioners and managers in India.
Source: own contribution (31.10.2017)