My visitors today

Wednesday 15 April 2009

In the driving seat

Far from home, 1987, a page from my diary

Alone or in isolation?

I have had several "conversations" over the Easter break all about, or coming about because of, working in isolation as a conductor.

Where can I turn to for advice? Who can I ask to take over when I struggle? Has anybody got an idea what I could try next?

These are all questions to which someone out there will have the answer, and networking is beginning to work very well.

Alone but not in isolation

I am working alone as a conductor this week but not in isolation. I am working with my client in his home as I have done three times a year over the past eleven years. We know each other well, we probably know each other inside out, although we still surprise each other.

As we were out on our evening walk, reduced to only 60 minutes today because of a spectacular and first April shower, my young client asked me what I was going to write about tonight. Would I write about him and if so what?

I had already in my head started to compose a posting about my work with him, which had suddenly taken an upward turn. Now, though, I could not decide, as I had had even more “chats” about working alone and I got to thinking about all the different types of “working alone” that there can be for a conductor:
  • working alone in a centre
  • alone within a family
  • alone in a group
  • alone because of doing individual sessions.

So I will start by writing about working alone I am sure that this will lead quite naturally to my client and our work today!

Alone in a centre

Working in total isolation as the only conductor in a centre is becoming more and more common all over the world. I should think it is probably the most difficult of the four alternatives I mentioned above as there is never a colleague to turn round to and ask:

  • ”Would you have done it like that too?”
Fortunately this is not a situation that I find myself in.

This situation would be made even more difficult if the conductor is working as the only conductor in a "team", maybe including volunteers or parents, maybe a physiotherapist or teachers.
This list could be endless. The resulting work could be fun and dynamic, or it could be a real struggle.

There are many conductors, though, working in centres completely alone. It is very important that the managers who run such centres realise the importance of a support network and that attempts could be made to provide this in some way. It could be done by providing supervision from a more senior conductor from another centre, if funds are available, or by organising weekend seminars for all conductors from a certain region, maybe offering presentations by the conductors to interested people to promote Conductive Education. Technology allows for other options too including internet conferences and Skype.

There is actually no need nowadays for conductors who work alone to feel totally alone or isolated. There are people out there all over the world, who could provide just what is being looked for, or what is needed, at a particular moment. First, however, the need for such "support" has to be recognised by the people able to allocate the time and the money.
Until this happens we have to find ways and means to support each other.

Alone in a group

Working alone in a group, within a centre where other conductors also work, is different as it can be a very positive experience. I do this often, when the groups are too small to need two conductors or, occasionally, when there are no other conductors available at the time. You will find conductors running groups alone at the Petö Institute's adults' department and probably in many other larger centres too. This is how CE works: sometimes one conductor is enough and sometimes several are needed for the same-sized group (it can even be that three conductors are needed for just two people).

This kind of working alone in a group can also be very tiring, depending on how many groups one “works” alone in one day. It is tiring because of

  • pushing around the furniture
  • doing the leading all day
  • the need to speak for hours on end
  • the need to make all the decisions,
  • the need to answer all the questions
  • the need to solve all the problems

All of this for all of the day. I wonder whether "managers" who are not conductors really appreciate this. I doubt it.

In this situation I find it is important to be able to delegate some of the leading to other members of the group, to both adult clients and children. I described such a situation quite recently in my postings about my stroke and multiple sclerosis groups.

Alone within a family

This is the one situation when it is absolutely necessary and acceptable to be working alone.

Working as a lone conductor in a family, one is never alone! Even so it is good to have colleagues at the end of the telephone or back home at a centre for reassurance and to exchange ideas with. I have had this type of support most of the time that I have been a conductor. Luckily.

Alone one-to-one

In individual sessions usually just one conductor is needed but again "support" outside the sessions is also needed from colleagues.

If in an individual session a second conductor is required there is rarely one available. Either there isn’t another conductor in the centre, which is why individual sessions are offered, or those at the centre are also fully engaged in their own sessions.

I do not advocate short, individual sessions of an hour or two, except when the aim is to ready a client for work in an existing group, or when there are no other potential group members available at the time. Sometimes, however, individual sessions cannot be avoided, these are all that can be offered at the time.

Me alone

I have done a lot of work alone in most of the situations I have mentioned. I have also done a lot of work in groups with teams of conductors. I have worked for years at a centre that at one time had two supervising senior conductors visiting regularly from Hungary. I have had the best of all worlds.

My work changes constantly from one situation to the other. This week I am working in a family with an eighteen-year-old young man, next week I will be with my Hungarian colleague working with a group of five 5-7 year-olds in the mornings, and with small groups of adults with cerebralpalsy in the afternoons and evenings. There will be some home visits to my stroke clients fitted in between. Later I will have groups of adults and then the conductive after-school group, which means that the children have to do their homework, eat lunch and rest, all conductively! Sometimes I will be alone, sometimes not, but always I shall have colleagues around me to rely upon if I need them, not always in the group but always some time afterwards.

I am lucky that these days I never work in isolation. I used to, though, in my first few years working as a conductor, just after I qualified. I know the feeling of relief when suddenly there was a support system behind me. The centre in Nürnberg realised early on in its development the importance of providing a support network when employing young conductors to run a centre. In centres where this isn’t recognised then conductors must take control and demand the support that they need.

“Taking control” had been the planned subject of this posting, and this was also what I discussed with my client this afternoon when he asked me what I would be writing about this evening.

My day had started differently...

I woke up feeling less tired than I had done for weeks and my client seemed brighter and breezier too as we ate breakfast together. Perhaps this was due to the two-hour, six-kilometre walk that we completed yesterday. Not that this made us instantly bright-eyed and bushytailed, but both me and my client had been thrilled with this achievement. He had not walked so far since the summer of 2005 when we tramped in the sweltering heat all over the village and its surrounding hills. It appears that he has built up his stamina again during the Easter holiday, and so had I.

I am sure that his joy at being in control again, having the energy to do what he wanted, had brought about a change in him overnight. He loves these walks and it had disappointed him being unable to walk the distances that he had a few years ago. Since developing epilepsy he has experienced extreme shortage of breath when he exerts himself.

But when when my client decides to take control, to be bright and breezy, then he takes control of everything about his life at that moment, and today was no exception.

Down in our workroom mats were organised for work. Two of them were put out on the floor and with an “ Are you ready then?" he indicated that it was I who should use the second mat that he had prepared. Usually I only join in later, with the sit ups and cycling and the more strenuous stuff. Today he spontaneously took control, I was to take part in all of it, working with him.

I was quite happy to do this as I rarely get this opportunity to try out my clients' tasks. My stroke group a few weeks ago had had me up on the plinth, asking me questions about specific movements, but this is not the same as doing it with them as we used to do regularly in the Petö Institute. When I participate with my clients I can watch them out of the corner of my eye or I can visualise how they are executing a movement from my years of observation. I can then analyse both how they are doing it and how I am doing it, and I can work out how to explain what they need to feel, and what they need to change or to learn as a trick to achieve success.

(I will write more about "tricks" in a later posting, as this same client has been trying to compile a list of tricks that he knows, that he has learnt with me or alone, which he does or does not use. Yet another example of him taking control, his idea not mine!)

All together now

Sometimes I plan “taking control” within the daily programme, just as I do in my stroke group. While I work in the walking bars with the ladies, two men work on their individual walking tasks without me, synchronising their speech and walking rhythms to each other and taking turns in taking the lead.

Today's "control", however, was not planned, although all of our work over the past few days was directed towards my client taking control in more and more areas of his life. Today, my young client decided quite spontaneously to take the lead for himself. I asked him later what had prompted this. He couldn’t say, only that he just felt the urge to do it.

So there I was doing as I was told on the mat beside him joining in all the tasks that he decided we should try out today (remember, he has an eleven-year old collection of items to chose from!). Actually, he just picked the most difficult ones, executing them better than ever before and surprising himself by remaining really calm, with very few unwanted over-movements or jerks in his arms.

Assessing the situation

This is what we then discussed on our walk.

He wanted to know why it had gone so well today? Why he had been able, in this forty minutes of rigorous floor programme, to take control not only of the situation but also of his body?

He told me that he had been concerned that he would forget what he wanted us to do, and that he had been amazed at the end of it all how his usually flying-right arm had done everything that he wanted it too do. He said that he had been able to implement many of his tricks.

In response, I tried to explain my theory using as an example my experience of lying beside him. After listening to his “commands” I then had to translate them into my movements. I told him how I think he does better when he decides for himself when he is going to move, when he is "commanding".

I gave him some examples of what I meant. When I ask him to open the door for me, or his Mum asks him to take his cup from the table to the sink, he reacts immediately with movements all over his body before he calms himself and can move himself as required step by step. When he decides for himself that he wants to do something, he begins the step-by-step actions himself, straight away. He doesn’t get jerked into life by someone else’s wishes or “commands”, his limbs totally out of his control. He can therefore use all the tricks that he has in his book to keep his body calm.

Decisions, decisions

I continued to explain all this with more concrete examples from his daily life. How it is important that he decides it is time to wipe his mouth at the dinner table, and not wait to be asked to. How this avoids spilt drinks and flying knives and fork, all hit with a jerking right arm, or a clumsy left one. He should decide and turn on the electric toothbrush so he can anticipate and thereby prevent over-movements that can hurt his mouth and gums.

My young client remained in control all day, even down to deciding that he didn’t want to phone for a lift when the heavens opened while we were still miles from home. He wanted to savour the fresh smell of rain, feel the water trickling down his neck and face, enjoy the look on faces as he walked in the door bedraggled and laughing. I didn’t mind, I had a jacket, he didn’t, although I did lend him my hood and the removable sleeves! What a sight we both looked.

And there was yet another step forward towards independence. My client said to me as we neared the shelter of home:

“That’s the last time I ask my mum if she think I should take a coat, next time I will decide for myself!”


Anonymous said...


Susie Mallett said...

You are very welcome.

It is a pleasure to write postings for my blog when I know there are people out there reading it.


Laszlo said...

I would have to say so much. To discuss and share. I am struggling with time and English very much. I answered or discussed your raised issues in my mind. Anyway, No No Yes Yes like in TOTO.
As I drove through Nurnberg on Friday night (big rain)my thoughts visited you and we have had a great conversation...

Susie Mallett said...

Laci, why didn't you stop for a beer and a chat and some Bavarian food?

Sorry to have missed you.

Next time you are all passing through please let me know.


Laszlo said...

Because it was really really very late about 1 am and a sleeping family behind me in the car... :)