So why would I like you to consider I Matter Training? Because I believe it can help you whether you are a professional, a parent or a young person to get your bearings in very confusing times and around confusing challenging behaviours and experiences.
It is not that you HAVE to have a map, because as when you do a jigsaw puzzle, you still have to work things out yourself, but it often helps you to be a bit faster if you have a picture to look at on the box.
I Matter Training is not a treatment, it is a mental health education. It's intention is to help you become more competent more quickly. I want you to have this training because I know there are young people who for whom the only route to a better future is at least one adult who is not going to give up on them.
You could be that adult.
Or you could be a young person who wants help for yourself.
Don't hesitate! Get in touch!
I have to admit it - one of the reasons that I have kept going with this project is that in the face of lots of reasons to stop, I am one of those people who still wants to believe that we could/can as a community more effectively address what is happening for children in our community if we worked together in our homes and schools to make a difference.
One of the things that I have loved about this project is that I get to meet a lot of remarkable people who also hold onto similar idealism and continue to work for positive change against apparently unstoppable odds.
Sometimes it really can seem that we are bonkers to keep going.... but when you look at how things could look if we dropped hope and a belief in a positive future, the picture is not very appealing. Think about what cynicism, despair and impatience do to your own well-being, let alone to those around you and you will soon discover why the term 'I Matter' refers to the difference that you make to your very immediate circle of family, friends, and colleagues by the attitudes you decide to adopt today.
Are you someone who wants to believe you could make a difference to the future for one or more children that you live or work with? If so, the I Matter Project is for you. Do get in touch, it is nice to meet with other other passionate people who sometimes believe in things that others consider to be impossible!
So in sum... take a look at my next blog..
The sixth reason I decided to develop I Matter Training is that when it comes to living with or caring for children with complex needs, there is rarely a quick fix. Sorry!
When we are faced with really challenging situations - we have all been in the situation of just wanting someone or something to come and sort things out and make things better - More than that we often want something or someone to come and sort the child or other person out - right now! Unfortunately, this can rarely, if ever, happen, but the fantasy that it could perhaps happen can sometimes leave professionals and parents chasing for solutions, and not being willing to stick with approaches that deliver slower but firmer results.
The hard truth is that if we really want to bring about positive changes for children with complex needs, through our relationships, we have to be willing to commit to a path that demands stamina and patience. Real improvements in our relationships can rarely be delivered by drugs, but they can be delivered through improved understanding, improved communication, improved team work, improved personal effectiveness.
This is a challenging path but it is a rewarding path. Like any form of exercise we start to reap the benefits when we are willing to put good advice into practice in a determined way over weeks and months, not just hours and days. It is not enough just to hear good ideas, we have to take action and try things out, we have to be willing to learn from our mistakes and adjust and try again.
Because I Matter Training is based on giving you understanding before giving you strategies, it aims to give you the ability to figure out for yourself what is needed and why in a given challenging situation. It aims to give you language and ideas that you can share with others to think through your decisions together.
When you develop new understanding and skills you can take these with you for a life time.
So, now you have six reasons for the existence of this project, but the seventh reason I developed I Matter Training is that I am frankly a hopeless idealist. I believe in the capacity of human beings to work together for a better world. More on that in my next blog..
So the fifth reason I became interested in creating this training is that I became convinced that to make a difference to the numbers of children who were struggling, the answer was not just more therapists and more therapy. Therapists and therapy tend to work with an approach that is inevitably based on an individualised approach. That is great!
Yet we have so many children who are struggling and the work involved to help put a complex child back on track can often be so time consuming that it is difficult for me to see how an approach will ever be capable of reaching and addressing the scale of need we currently see.
Furthermore, because I was a teacher before I became a clinical psychologist, I am convinced that in the area of mental health and challenging behaviour, understanding can make a very real and significant difference to long-term outcomes for young people and for adults. Time and time again I have seen that when living or working with complex children it is very easy for adults to become very disorientated.
When disorientated, professionals and parents and young people can resort to using strategies that they heard about without really understanding what they are trying to do or why. In desperation, they may jump from one approach to another. They may turn to medication feeling mystified by how the child is behaving or by how they are feeling.
I believe that taking the time to understand what is happening at a deeper level, particularly when this is done in the context of supportive community based relationships can empower people to make better decisions and take more responsibility for their own choices.
Interestingly enough, when a wide number of well-established ideas in the literature are pulled together - the implications are quite obvious and in a curious way quite straightforward, though the changes required of people are sometimes pretty challenging.
I have seen that giving adults and young people time to understand what is happening improves their willingness to take the necessary steps and extends their ability to come up with unique and positive solutions to future challenges. Becoming informed is therefore the second and important step on the Five Steps to Success with Complex Children.
There are still more reasons for this training! The sixth reason I decided to develop I Matter Training was that when it comes to helping complex children, there is rarely a quick fix. Short-term interventions often miss the point of how complex the process of growing up and learning to parent really can be. Look out for Number 6!
The fourth reason I decided to develop this training was that as I studied all the research, it became very very clear that there were so many different approaches or models but to me, many of them were missing a key and fundamental issue, or adding it as an afterthought.
How many can you list yourself? Here are a few: Behavioural approaches, Cognitive-Behavioural approaches, Play therapy, Family Therapies, Psycho-dynamic or Person-centred counselling, Solution-Focussed approches, Webster-Stratton Training, Solihull Approach, Narrative Therapies, Dyadic Developmental and Attachment Focussed Approaches. You may have come across ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis), Theraplay or Relationship Developmental Intervention or the Nurtured Heart Approach. There is some wonderful work going on, but what a confusing picture! I have often seen desperate parents and professionals floundering around trying to find 'something' - 'anything' that could be tried.
Yet something key that is often missing from my point of view is i) the clear understanding of the brain and the way it develops and functions and ii) the very close link between adult well-being and child well-being. Unfortunately this link is often not well reflected in the way our mental health services are organised or delivered, nor in the way professionals and parents are expected to work
In fact, I chose the title The Adult-Child Well-Being 'I Matter' Project because when it comes to working with children with complex social-emotional challenges, not only are adult well-being and child well-being closely linked, but ADULTS have more responsibility than children - a truth that too often seems to be neglected. For children to develop into mature adults, they have to have mature adult role models who can think and imagine and see the world as the child may be experiencing it. It is not possible otherwise for this positive emotional development to proceed. So, though there is no getting away from the fact that all of the research evidence suggests that parenting skills are hugely important for children's long-term outcomes on a wide variety of indicators, children with complex needs, need ideally to have parents and carers and teachers with advanced parenting and caring and teaching skills.
One of the key skills for an adult who cares for complex children. is the ability to care for themselves. Self-care enables adults to remain effective in tuning into children when in challenging times. This is good news really. Parenting and caring and teaching is very hard work, but fortunately, good long-term outcomes clearly depend upon the emotional well-being of child and adult being given a top priority.
The fifth reason I decided to develop I Matter Training was that as I teacher I knew that outcomes in the area of child and adult mental health are improved by understanding. More on that in my next blog.
The third reason I decided to develop I Matter Training was that I had become increasingly interested in the overlaps between the difficulties in the children I was seeing in schools and in clinics and the diagnostic categories that were being used to describe them.
Have you noticed how we are using more and more diagnostic terms to describe children? Look for example at the rise in the use of such terms as ADHD, ASD, ADD, PTSD, OCD, PDD, PDA - The list can go on and on. Elaborations can be found in the diagnostic manuals known as DSM IV and ICD-10. Diagnosis is essentially a search for distinctive conditions that can be distinguished reliably from other distinctive conditions so as to finding a useful drug or therapy as a treatment. This is a medical model approach. Diagnosis is sometimes also used as a doorway to funding or a doorway to support groups.
I am a psychologist though and what makes a child psychologist different from someone with a medical training is that I want to understand how difficulties develop, and why they stick around. And in my clinical work what I find most striking is that more often than not there are huge overlaps between the difficulties described using these different labels. We can often use a multitude of labels to describe a child and find none that quite fits. Most importantly therefore, I want to understand how these difficulties have emerged. To do this I have found it is important to have a strong understanding of how typical development proceeds and how typical relationship patterns operate. I find that when you use a good understanding of development a lot of apparently confusing issues start to seem a lot less confusing and it starts to be much easier to know where to head and why.
I have repeatedly seen that families and professionals can sometimes become very focussed on the search for the right diagnosis whilst missing the opportunity to understand what might really be happening for a child within his/her relationships. What is exciting in my view is that when you draw the evidence all together and introduce some basic understanding of the way in which the brain functions we can for the first time start to be much more confident about what is happening and why at a much deeper level. Diagnosis becomes much less important than the understanding that we can have at this deeper level.
This doesn't mean that there are quick fixes or easy answers. Instead the evidence from a developmental point of view points to several key conclusions. One is that though all children are complex, some are more complex than others, and another is that as children develop in the context of relationships, we must pay attention to the understanding and skill of adults. The evidence clearly suggests that some children are going to need adults with much more advanced caring and parenting skills. Helping adults to acquire these skills therefore should be a key part of any intervention or support package regardless of the specific diagnostic label.
Receiving a diagnosis should therefore not be an end in itself, it should open up opportunities to learn and grow, but for this learning to happen, a map that acknowledges overlaps between diagnostic labels and different approaches to intervention can be really useful.
Again, I am jumping ahead as the fourth reason I decided to develop I Matter Training was that there were so many different approaches to intervention - sometimes at loggerheads with one another! Read my next blog..
The second reason I decided to develop I Matter Training was the sheer numbers of children with mental health difficulties and challenging behaviour in schools, clinics and in my own community, and the growing numbers of young people entering our criminal justice system. Click here to see a recent summary of Mental Health Statistics from Young Minds UK. Notice the important link between mental health issues and children who are ending up in the criminal justice system. I felt in the context of this, that there was a need to get important ideas to people who really need them. This was not just to the young people, it was the adults who cared for them.
I joined my clinical psychology training course having spent several years working in inner city Birmingham as a primary teacher. I therefore knew first hand the numbers of children with complex difficulties and challenging behaviours that were to be found in every school - and that was more than 20 years ago. I knew that every class teacher and every classroom assistant worked every day with children who were struggling to manage in school or access learning as result of social or learning challenges and/or trauma related difficulites. I knew that teachers often approached teaching with very little training indeed in anything to do with mental health nor even around child development.
As a new parent, I also knew that parenting was a steep learning curve but that if there were any more complex challenges, it was very difficult indeed to find people who were knowledgeable who could really help. So even adoptive parents or foster carers who often lived with the most complex children had very little preparation or support in making sense of what was going on.
I therefore started out trying to teach a class to professionals and parents in my area. There was a great deal of interest, but as finances became tighter it was more and more difficult to reach professionals and parents. Schools had to find funding not just for the courses but also for the cover for supply teachers so staff could be released. When trying to reach parents, we faced all the challenges of trying to support people who have to do the school run, be in at night, respond to the needs of a sick child etc etc. Schools and families were struggling, but how to respond? So, when the internet came along, it seemed that maybe this could be a way to reach people with more flexibility - and this led to the decision to create an online version.
But I am moving on ahead too fast - because the third reason I developed I Matter Training (click if you want more information) was because I was interested in the overlaps between the increasing numbers of diagnostic categories that were being so liberally used.
Look out for more of this in my next blog...
So I want to tell you about why I decided to put together I Matter Training and why I think it may be helpful to you. The first and most important reason was that 20 years ago I was trying to understand a very confusing picture myself. I trained at a very interesting time as a clinical psychologist. Ideas were changing and there were fierce disagreements between psychologists about what was the proper task of a psychologist and what was not. How to resolve the confusion was a very personal question.
If you have found yourself not sure about to do to help yourself or a complex child, I want to reassure you that this is not surprising, because there really has not been clarity. Professionals have disagreed fiercely, so no wonder parents have had a challenge to work things out. Today however, something has changed, and with the advent of research on the brain, psychologists of different traditions now are beginning to find some shared points of agreement.
I Matter Training represents my attempt to pull a lot of these ideas together into a very practical back to basics approach. I am a parent myself and I was a primary teacher and I know that parents and front-line professionals find psychology fascinating but they need it to be practical. Professionals can still disagree quite vigorously and one of the things that they disagree about in children's services is whether something called CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) is sufficient to help professionals and parents help children, especially complex children. I don't think it is. I think what is missing is a clear map that ties a wider set of ideas together.
I remember the sense of finally lifting my own head out of the fog when the ideas started to come together. Now I call the I Matter Foundation Course, from Confusion to Clarity as I have seen such a lot of confusion in work with children with complex needs, and I feel that until we can agree as a community about what we are really trying to do when helping a complex child, we probably will not be very effective in helping address the number of children who are struggling.
The second reason I decided to develop I Matter Training was the sheer numbers of children who were struggling. More on that in my Next Blog Why I Matter? Reason #2.
If we haven't spoken already, but you would like to speak to me further, email me on contact@imatterproject and let's set up a call so that I can understand more about your current interests and concerns!
Dr Cathy Betoin
Dr Cathy Betoin
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