Posted: Wednesday 25th November 2020
The other day at MyST, whilst talking together about our work with a particular child and family, the worker most closely involved spoke about how the child’s engagement with him seemed a bit patchy. Then another colleague began to notice a pattern in the interaction. ‘This child’s pattern is always to be in and out, in and out.’ she commented. This got me thinking about patterns. Not a lot makes me happier than finding some item or other made with vintage fabric, and geometric patterns of repeated shapes are a particular favourite of mine. The designers of the 1970’s seemed to nail this particular genre best, and so you’ll often find me rooting about in jumble sales hunting for treasure.
What is it that I so love about pattern? I enjoy the repeated simplicity, how a simple shape when expanded at scale creates something complex and beautiful. There are three parts involved; the individual shapes, the spaces between the shapes, and the combination of the spaces and shapes which become something more than the sum of their parts. They become pattern. And a funny thing about these repeated geometric patterns is that they can shift our perspective. You can look at them one way, and then let your eyes rest on them for a while and something strange can happen, it’s as if the pattern itself gets you to look at it a different way; shapes and spaces dance before your eyes.
Listening to my colleagues’ conversation the other day, I started to wonder. Could it be that it takes a pattern to break a pattern? To break up a pattern we must surely introduce something different. Otherwise, we would simply be following the original pattern again. My colleague for instance, might easily get into a copy of the child’s pattern; engaging with the child when the child engages in therapy, and disengaging from the child when the child disengages from therapy. Yet replicating the child’s pattern in this copying way would only strengthen it surely? And perhaps this is how we helpers can sometimes inadvertently become part of the problem.
I wondered some more… What might be the pattern that breaks this child’s pattern of inconsistent engagement in therapy? How about a pattern of being consistent with this inconsistency? Not a simple replication. Instead, following the logic of the original pattern, but in reverse. Noting the ‘opt out’ and instead of opting out as well, just ‘opting in’. In this way we can accept the offer of the pattern but take the interaction in a different direction.
At this point, I joined my colleagues’ conversation. ‘As well as engaging with this child when he will work with you, might you also engage with his non-engagement in therapy? Could you stay closely with this child, no matter what he gives you? You might say ‘I can engage with your non-engagement.’ or ‘I understand what you say about me not being able to understand you.’ or ‘I can see that you don’t want me to see you today.’.
Or to put it another way: 1. Notice the pattern. 2. Notice the invitation to respond in a way that copies and thereby reinforces the pattern. 3. Re-work the pattern to respond in a way that fits yet introduces something different. Ta daaa! It’s the magic of pattern. Patterned inconsistency is disrupted by patterned consistency to inconsistency.
So perhaps one way to understand human beings and systems is as living versions of a 1970’s geometric patterned print, and perhaps one way to work is to become a tailor, cutting that fabric in new transformative ways.
Jen & Jael