So the Club has moved on. Yes, a conference is like a club, attended by the devout, come to witness the main attraction, star names who know one another so well since they are members of yet another, more exclusive club: Men of Science who circulate the globe almost endlessly as their reputations attract ever more and more invites to speak.
When you sit back and reflect [as we are always told] the ages and reputations of many of those speaking at international conferences are broadly similar. In other words, these are individuals of considerable expertise, who have made significant contributions to their respective domains [PPPM: psychiatry, psychotherapy, psychology and medicine] over the decades and, as such, know one another extremely well. They dine out, drink out, probably share the same hotel.
In other words, and words of another century, these are ‘clubbable men’. Perhaps that’s why a Conference is little other than a Con. I know saying this will not attract my immediate invitation to any such gathering any time soon [if indeed I had any expertise to offer], and it is not exactly ground-breaking either. Yet it is necessary to underscore. After all Science is not and never has been, in my view, Objective [save maybe for the Pure regions of Math]. The Cult of the Personality intrudes particularly in the grey sciences of PPP, even M. It can be no other since humans are competitive, and no more competitive are men who want to climb, and are afforded every opportunity, to climb to the pinnacle of their chosen field of endeavour. How to get to whatever pinnacle is the same: the strongest will survive, the most assertive will win over, the one who speaks eloquently will bring the audience to an ovation. [TED talks beware.]
Yet there is another group of delegates at the Con-ference. On Friday I sat in with carers of children. These women and men are those who seven days a week and 24 hours each day have the responsibility of being parents to children who have been placed in protective care. These carers came to learn about how they might be better equiped to look after children and young people in their care. As I sat in the audience, I began to sense that what they most needed was not intellectual clap-trap, not some further guidance on attachment or the latest spin on the very popular [at the present time] Polyvagal Theory or even PACE [spelt out in capitals to make it seem even more impressive]. What they actually wanted were tips on how they might control a child who was running around the house in circles, or who wouldn’t eat cereal with milk. In other words, they wanted answers. Simple answers to everyday problems.
I had to leave before the end of the presentation to get my flight home so I will never know if in the last hour some of those questions were answered. I hope so. But during the final tea break I spoke with a man about my age who introduced himself as a carer. He said he had been looking after a young man, now 21, who had come back to stay with him as he wasn’t coping with the world. I noted that it was good the young man had returned. The carer shrugged. Not so good? I asked. He nodded.
Forget the Clubbable Men of Science. Pay attention to the Carers. They have no club to join. They do not comment on peer-reviewed journal articles that might [might] add to the evidence-base yet have no bearing on the reality-base.
I am not advocating for no science, for no evidence. What I am seeking though is a check in with reality. We may well be making wonderful inroads to understanding the workings of the brain [though I think we kid ourselves as to what and how much we really know] but we cannot place all our understanding on neuroscience.
We have to draw back and engage with the world and those who are actually living day-to-day with traumatised children and youth. Hear what they say. Hear what they want. Toss out the jargon and get real.