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INTRODUCTION: ‘DIALOGUES AND DEVELOPMENTS IN SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE: APPLYING SYSTEMIC AND PSYCHOANALYTIC IDEAS IN REAL WORLD CONTEXTS’

Charlotte Burck, Andrew H. Cooper
Published 2007 · Psychology

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The papers that follow were presented as part of a day conference in November 2005 at which social work practitioners, managers and educators who had undertaken postqualifying training at the Tavistock Clinic sought to establish a dialogue between psychoanalytic and systemic ways of thinking and practising. Over the years there have been various efforts at creative exchange between these perspectives by social work theorists, of which Preston-Shoot and Agass (1990) is one of the best. But live dialogic encounters are less common, and the day provoked considerable interest and an atmosphere of thoughtful intensity. One of the paradoxes which emerged was the realisation that perhaps the internal organisational conversation between systematic and psychoanalytic perspectives within the Tavistock Clinic was less advanced than among those who attended the conference from multi-disciplinary ‘front line settings’. In other words, the guests turned out to have much to teach the hosts about how to throw a good party. In the current climate, when the principles of the welfare state are under threat and we face ever-increasing demands to measure our work in simplified ways, it is more crucial than ever to ensure that we can defend and sustain complexity. An important way to do so is through bringing a number of different perspectives to bear on our work. However, enabling creative dialogue between different perspectives is challenging in any circumstances. In times of uncertainty, many of us are prone to revert to familiar beliefs and practices as touchstones, or even as claims of identity. In such conditions we are less than receptive to others’ view and are most at risk of polarising our differences and taking up oppositional positions. Some years ago a research study was carried out in North America of groups working in research laboratories with the aim of exploring what factors contributed to the productivity and creativity of a team (Dunbar, 1995). The study found that teams which included members with different disciplines and perspectives were the most inventive and effective. It concluded that such diversity enabled a team to maintain curiosity about those occurrences which did not ‘fit’ with the dominant hypotheses and ideas and thus led to the development (discovery) of important new thinking. This idea of the usefulness of multiple perspectives is central to a systemic theoretical
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