Sue Harris

London, UK

I am a white, middle class, heterosexual, Jewish woman. A child of the 1960’s growing up in a traditional English Jewish family in a London suburb, I experienced a safe and comfortable start to life. I learned within this context the importance of connecting with people and beliefs, also a sense of social justice; these values have informed how I live my life and professional choices I have made. I began my career as a social worker spending 30 years working in children’s welfare and mental health services. I was an active trade unionist.

A sense of dissatisfaction with the linear, and increasing contact with a relational therapeutic approach, which foregrounded context encouraged me to retrain as a systemic family therapist. It was within my masters training that I started to appreciate social constructionism as a philosophy and a way to be in the world. Harre and Langenhove’s positioning theory helped me understand how I acted into different social discourses and was positioned as a woman and a Jew by them. Barnett Pearce’s, Making Social Worlds, a call to actively communicate publicly.

Galvanised by debates about antisemitism in the Labour party and within my own professional community, I co-edited an edition of Context magazine about Jewish identity and antisemitism. The hope was to start a dialogue, one in which antisemitic racism could be included in discussions about racism and oppression. Perhaps if we could collaborate then new meanings and actions could evolve. A group of Jewish systemic practitioners emerged, we continue to meet, support each other and exchange ideas. Communication remains limited within the wider professional organisation. I would dearly like to be involved in initiatives and debates to tackle racism and oppression, a forum where different views can be shared.

As a systemic family psychotherapist working in a perinatal service I am part of a growing community of systemic practitioners. Offering consultation and supervision to colleagues, context and connection are brought to the fore. As a member of a perinatal systemic interest group, best practice ideas and ways to complement/challenge a medical model of provision.  I am currently involved in pilot study looking at providing perinatal services to non-birthing partners and families, changing minds and practice is slow but we are getting there. My therapeutic practice with couples and families remains embedded in social constructionism, in particular the exploration of constraining narratives around gender and mental illness. New meanings and behaviours do emerge.