February 13 2016
Dr Lewis’ presentation explored themes around the emotional experience of displacement. The material drew heavily on her extensive clinical experience working within a now disbanded Looked after Children’s Team funded jointly by the NHS and Local Authority. Dr Lewis has since left the NHS but continues to work privately in the North East.
Drawing on Winnicott’s concept of the Holding Environment, the presentation drew parallels between the experience of children in the care system and the experience of Dorothy in the film the wizard of Oz. In the short clips shown to the audience we encountered Dorothy and her desperation to get back a more familiar environment after finding herself in the bewildering land of Oz and her subsequent relief when she concludes that there really is ‘no place like home’. Dr Lewis considered the complicated and conflicted internal experience of her patients who often found themselves in an Oz-like world they didn’t choose. Thought was given to how a child might understand or defend against truly ‘knowing about’ the failure, sometimes the horror, of the home environment, and how they might experience a pull back to home, no matter how deprived or abusive that home might be.
From my own point of view perhaps one of the most poignant thoughts raised over the course of the day was Dr Lewis’ referencing of Salman Akhtar (Psychoanalyst) who pointed out that alongside relationships with family members the idea of ‘home’ is as much to do with the smell as you walk through the door, the feel of the fabric on the chairs, even the spoon you eat your cereal with. When entering the care system every moment of a child’s day might serve as a reminder that they are no longer where they feel familiar, ‘this cereal tastes different here’…
Perhaps inevitably, the children’s experience of being ‘displaced’ and being without a Holding Environment resonated not only with Dr Lewis’ experience within the NHS but large numbers of the delegates too. It was difficult at times to remain focused on the emotional experience of the children we were thinking about and our minds tuned to our own feelings of displacement within organisations which are forever shrinking and at the same time having to be seen to be doing more. As well as recognising our own tendency to idealise previous experiences at work and within teams (which can so often feel like families) it was possible to consider that practitioners (whether they be foster carers, psychotherapists or teachers) may need to undergo their own process of mourning in order to establish a new kind of home now that the previous holding environment seems to be lost.
Throughout the day I was often reminded of Freud’s detailed description the mourning process and how each and every libidinal tie to the lost loved object must be severed through the painful recognition of reality. What was loved is now gone.
For the children in the presentation this experience of mourning and loss was made all the more painful, difficult and bewildering by virtue of the fact that what was loved was often not dead but missing and out of reach. What a struggle it is for them to establish new roots and relationships when they continue to feel that ‘There’s’ no place like home’.
MATTHEW EVANS, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist, Newcastle