Listening to Young People in School, Youth Work, and Counselling

By Nick Luxmoore | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Walking Slowly
Containing Anxiety in Work with
Young People

In her famous study of nurses, Isabel Menzies Lyth (1988) describes the impact of caring for sick people and of being constantly surrounded by suffering and death. Such work, she argues, arouses strong and mixed feelings in frontline staff feelings of pity, compassion, love, guilt, anxiety, hatred, resentment, envy. Nurses defend themselves against being overwhelmed by such feelings in a variety of ways: they ritualise their work, they make decisions mechanically or not at all, they avoid change, they structure the work so as to avoid becoming attached to particular patients and, in the meantime, idealise themselves and the job they do.

It’s important to think about the effect of the job on those who work all the time with young people. Unlike nurses, they’re not surrounded by suffering and death but are nevertheless immersed each day in powerful feelings of dependence, love, resentment, guilt, hatred, anger, jealousy, powerlessness, chaos. These feelings come at them constantly from the young people they work with, but also from within themselves. How they contain and manage such feelings is crucial to their effectiveness in the job and crucial to the way young people, in turn, learn to contain and manage difficult feelings.

Not long ago, I was in a staffroom as the bell went for the end of the school day. Three teachers came in and sat down,

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