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People :: Alumni :: (Margaret) Jean Smithson (nee McKenzie)

Jean Smithson

Margaret Jean Smithson

Certificate in Psychiatric Social Work 1963

Graduated: 1963

Before I left school, I somehow decided, without knowing a lot about social work, that this was what I wanted to do. I do not think there were any social work degree courses in UK In the mid-1950s, so the advice was to get a degree in what interested me and then to do postgraduate training. So I read Modern Languages at Oxford and during this time decided that psychiatric social work (rather than my original idea of medical social work) was my real interest. I still needed a social work related diploma which I did at Exeter university, and worked in Exeter for a year to get some, very minimal experience. At that time there were only four PSW courses in UK. Edinburgh had been my father’s university, and I was excited to be offered a place there in 1962.

I was one of the youngest in a group of twelve PSW students, most of the others bringing a wealth of varied experience. The medical social work and child care courses ran in parallel with us; we shared some lectures but the sharing within the PSW group was vital to the whole experience and informed by the psychodynamic approach of Megan Browne, our tutor. An important part of the ethos of the course was that it should provide a basis for how to learn, and that has stayed with me over the years.

My first placement was at Craig House, the private section of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. The second was at Rillbank, where I became most interested in the children and families aspect of the work where most of my career has been.

The certificate course ran for 12 months concluding with a summer placement, which I did at the Parent Guidance clinic in Birmingham. I think the course was a unique and in depth experience, for which I am very grateful. It opened up ways of thinking and feeling which I have continued to develop.

I don’t think I can talk about notable personal and professional experiences but I do know that my training has been well used in a wide reaching career spanning over 50 years, as well as in my personal life supporting a husband in his path from curate to bishop and bringing up four children, all now in caring professions. In fact, my daughter became the third generation family member to study at Edinburgh.

After qualifying, I worked for a year in the Department of Psychiatry of Leeds General infirmary, a post previously held by Nancy Newbiggin, and was supervised by Marian Whyte, both pioneers of psychiatric social work. The multidisciplinary team included Harry Guntripp. This was a huge learning experience.

After marrying and in between having my first two children, I worked very part-time in the local child guidance clinics in the West Riding.

We moved to Oxford and I found myself re-establishing the Social Work Department in the Park Hospital for Children, another interesting multidisciplinary team covering neurology as well as psychiatry.

In Reading and Bracknell, I worked in local Child Guidance clinics along with Educational Psychologists and Child psychiatrists and other psw’s.

Bracknell also saw my first spell in Local Authority children and families' social work, certainly a tough assignment and from where Child Guidance was seen as a bit of an ivory tower!

A move to Carlisle led to further children and families team work and then a couple of years in family placement, mainly training and supporting foster carers and working alongside BAAF in trying to emphasize the relevance of family dynamics and children’s life experience in the work. About this time, I became involved with the Scottish Institute of Human Relations (now Human Development Scotland) through their Child Psychotherapy Development Group.

A move into preventive work took me to the family centre at Annan, just over the Scottish border, and from there to Lockerbie as part of the social work team working there after the air disaster. That was a steep learning curve, about reactions to trauma often so unrecognised in children, as well as about support in organisations for workers involved. It led me to look more closely at childhood trauma in its various aspects and to take on some teaching and training looking at this. I continued to develop this interest and concern as part of the multidisciplinary team at Darlington Memorial hospital, and became involved in Cruse Bereavement Care as a children’s specialist.

Retirement followed to Galloway, but was not to last long as there seemed to be a shortage of social workers in this area, and I again became involved in children and families' social work, had to retire at 65, then when the rules changed was happy to go back again to the local children and families' team until eventually we moved to Edinburgh. Full circle!

Now I volunteer with the local Cruse team, mainly working with children and young people but also as a supervisor.

It is 55 years since my training in Edinburgh encouraged in me a lifetime interest and concern for which I am grateful.

Looking ahead, I am impressed by what I hear about social work training these days, and by the enthusiasm and commitment I read of in the social work press. The job does not become any less tough and the support of colleagues is something I have always been grateful for. There is always something to learn, from the people we work with as colleagues and as service users.

Source: Own contribution (27.2.2017)