The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.– The White Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland

Marie is still extremely busy around the maternity ward where she works. Every day is like this. So much to do and her head often buzzing. At the end of each shift she often feels exhausted. Yet something has started to change recently. She has started to feel a lot better inside, calmer and clearer in thought. Marie has been involved in Restorative Clinical Supervision with her professional midwifery advocate.

Restorative Clinical Supervision is a practice in midwifery and health visiting  that focuses on supporting staff emotionally. It involves the creation of thinking spaces to facilitate a physical and psychological ‘slow down’ through a process of discussion, reflective conversation, supportive challenge and open and honest feed-back. It seeks to enable staff to ‘understand and process thoughts which free them to contemplate different perspectives and inform decision making ( Pettit and Stephen, quoted in A-EQUIP a model of clinical midwifery supervision, 2017, NHS England. p.17).

Marie has found this form of supervision helpful in her midwifery work. She explained that, ‘For me it was that I felt listened to – deeply listened to. I felt better about myself and had more clarity in situations. It was quite cleansing and healing. I felt more positive’.

A few key aspects strike us here in hearing Marie’s story. The first is that these supervision approaches help when done well. They are deeply human ways of listening and supporting. They cannot by themselves replace culture change work  – although they can compliment, support and drive it. There is a need sometimes to address the culture of our workplaces and support staff to flourish and develop. Culture change work and supervision should weave and assist each other. One without the other radically misses something. There is a need to address what Robert Fritz the American organisational specialist calls the structure of our services – the assumptions. dynamics, relationships and behaviours that exist as the foundation and energy of our organisations. Working for external change and internal support should go hand in hand.

The second is that this has worked powerfully because Marie experienced herself in a encounter with another human being. This supervision had become a circle of listening and understanding where Marie experienced being heard. The philosopher Jacob Needleman when asked how we can help others spiritually replied that we can learn what it means to listen to another person. Carl Rogers the great psychologist spoke of the lessons he had learn working with people. One of the fundamental learnings was ‘to permit myself to understand another person’. Marie had received one of the greatest gifts we can ever give to another person  – she had been heard and understood. All the whirling in her head and heart had found a place to be heard, accepted and supported. There can be a tremendous power and potency in this. A healthier NHS would seek and source these spaces for humanity  and learning wherever we were – with patients, families, staff, carers, social workers, third sector colleagues and everyone. These circles offer hope. The walls we build often destroy it.

The last aspect we mention is that these are slow spaces. Slowness as a practice and way has been mentioned in different spheres including recently in Organisational Development ( OD ). Michelle Boulas Walker wrote a key work on Slow Philosophy. Michelle argued for spaces for authentic reflection, internalising and slow learning. This slow philosophy is the immersion in discussion and thought that we need to grow.

The slow space Marie encountered was something clarifying and refreshing.  She described it as cleansing. This resembles the description of water in the Tao Te Ching

Water will go the low places

everyone despises

and be content

A home prefers level ground

A heart prefers depth

Relationships prefer kindness

These supervision forms can help us see and touch deep places. They can offer a supportive place to explore how we are and what we might need to go forward.

We called this piece ‘Wherewithal’. Wherewithal is a not word heard much these days. Its an old word – from the 16th century. It denotes a means to accomplish something. The late English singer songwriter Clifford T Ward wrote a song called ‘Wherewithal’. It wished he had the wherewithal to attract the attention of a person he loved. In our services there is a need to find the wherewithal for so many things.

Our services are sometimes sadly bereft of clarity, compassion, slow safe spaces and attempts to listen to others. Structures, processes and schemes can’t provide these in any meaningful authentic way. Only human beings committed to each other can. This does not negate structural forms and shapes – it rather defines the one quality that will give them deep meaning, effect and coherence. It is in our need to be human and humane that we can see and support others to see too. It is in this humanity that the future of our services and indeed our own wellness lies.

Denise Cohen

John Walsh