It’s now official, backed up by research published in New Scientist, April 15th, 2023; the biggest determinant in therapy outcomes is not the model of therapy used but rather the relationship between the therapist and their client. Did you ever doubt it? If I am in therapy I need to be able to trust the professional sitting opposite me and feel safe in the room with them. I want my therapist to regard me as someone worth helping, someone who can emerge from whatever dark pit I have fallen into – and progress to live a life less tainted and stretched by stress. If the therapist believes that the model they use is the most beneficial for our work together – and I trust their judgment – then that model is, indeed, very likely to work for me.
And it’s the same in my work as a trainer; I need to connect with the people in front of me before I can expect them to take on board the relevance of what I am saying. It’s much more of a challenge to do this on a webinar than it is in a face-to-face session; in the latter, I can reassure by virtue of my body language and also facial expressions are more accessible – so mirror neurons have optimum effect. Telling stories about my work or about my children which I hope will let people see more clearly what it is that I am trying to impart is one way round this digital distancing. Recounting past experiences and past incidents may illustrate, for example, the complex dynamics of developmental trauma and its impact on the adults in a child’s network; if others can relate to my stories, if what I have to say resonates with them, then they will likely grasp something of the theory and ideas I am seeking to convey. I want to offer authenticity, not abstraction – and sharing my stories helps me to do that. And in the process the group begins to trust me and engage at a deeper than superficial level.
So connecting matters and, as I said in our blog during mental health week, it is the quality of our connecting that matters and helps children to recover and develop self-esteem – not whether we are, for example, following a Dan Hughes PACE model or a Thrive approach. Foster parents come in all shapes and sizes; some are very academic, others less so, some live in large, well-appointed homes, others in social housing – but what matters in their parenting of children who have suffered adversity in their birth family is their capacity for warm engagement. They have to care – and be able to show it. We have digital tools that can help foster parents write their daily logs by dictation – but there is no computer-aided facility which can replace the individual’s emotional literacy and their capacity for empathic relating (even as I write this, I shudder as I realise that somewhere in the world there is probably an AI development team working on such a project right now!).
In an age where knowledge and information are valued so highly it can be hard to convince people that this connecting quality is so vital for brain-function – and thus for achieving the goals that we cherish for our children, whether those children are five months old, five years old or fifteen years old. But it is a well-researched truth.
Martha and Rachel