Learning to end ...

Posted: Wednesday 7th April 2021
The other day at MyST, in one of our regular team reflective practice sessions, we got to thinking about the endings of our work with children and families. A number of our pieces of work with children were coming to an end, and it seemed useful to think together about endings as a theme.

The discussion began with some thoughtful consideration of how we identify the right time to end our long term work; perhaps when the problems have reduced, perhaps when stability and resilience have increased despite the problems, perhaps when another service is better suited to meet the needs. Having talked through a range of possibilities about when it is appropriate to end our involvement with a child, the discussion moved on to how the process of ending might be enacted; perhaps a graded withdrawal, perhaps building a bridge to other networks of support, perhaps an exchange of therapeutic letters. Other creative and thoughtful possibilities were shared amongst the team.

Eventually, we got to talking about the emotional experience of ending our involvement with children. The tone shifted, it felt heavier, more uncomfortable amongst the group. After all, what does it mean to end a relationship with a child who has already experienced many traumatic losses? A child for whom it took such courage to trust us in the first place?

The conversation developed further and the team reflected that it seemed hardest to end our work with children who aren’t living back with their biological families, those who have no-one in the world who will necessarily remain with them all of their lives. This led us to wonder; can we bear the terrible pain of knowing that some children are effectively orphaned, with no reliable, continuous relationship with an adult caregiver? Are we tempted to avoid ending our work with these children to avoid the pain of this realisation? Indeed, do we identify with the experience of being abandoned and alone ourselves due to our own difficult life experiences? It seems important to pay attention to these possibilities and their potential impacts upon our practice when it comes to ending our work. It is important that we have spaces and processes at work which help to illuminate such things, because to neglect this may mean that we start to see endings only as negative, something to feel bad about and try to avoid. But to see it this way is to miss a trick.

It is important to recognise that ending is not merely the cessation of work, but a piece of work in itself. ‘Part of the work is learning how to end’ as one of our colleagues reflected. The flip side of attachment is separation and loss, and learning to manage both sides of this coin is key in human development. Contemplating the passing of everything, and the challenge of being able to accept and bear this just as it is, our conversation journeyed on to the ultimate version of ending; everything alive must die, and we ourselves will end. The big taboo that our society works so hard to avoid, deny, control, outwit. Is it perhaps the ultimate act of psychological maturity to face the end of ourselves? And if so, perhaps all of the endings that we have to navigate throughout our lives are our training for this challenge facing us all.

So onwards towards endings in our practice we go, helping children to both attach to others and to separate from them too. By practising allowing things to come and to go, we develop the knack of living this life, all the way to its end.

Jen & Jael

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