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How it all began

Well, here I am in Sweden at the start of my fellowship travels, but how did it all start?

How it all began

It all began in June last year with an email from Robin Balbernie, a WCMT fellow, encouraging me to apply for a travel fellowship. I thought that would be a dream come true but I would never qualify. Well...I was wrong. The first stage was shortlisting and that was done online. I told WCMT about myself and my desire to see how parent infant psychotherapy is delivered overseas. My application was submitted in August and I was shortlisted in November. Next, I submitted two references and started to consult colleagues about the best places to go. The USA and Scandinavia came top of the list.

I was invited to an interview at WCMT headquarters at the beginning of December. I simply shared with the panel what I was passionate about and that was enough. By February 2016 my acceptance was confirmed and it was time to meet the Fellows of 2016, which were 100 individuals selected from among about 1000 applicants.

Meeting the world in Prague

One of my contacts in the USA had a great idea: As part of my planning, why not attend the 2016 World Association of Infant Mental Health (WAIMH) congress in Prague, where I would be able to meet professionals from all around the world.

An opportunity to network at the WAIMH 2016 Congress in Prague

The Winston Churchill Trust agreed to sponsor this trip as part of my fellowship, which enabled me to hear and meet potential hosts before making a final decision whether to visit their projects. The conference was rich and very inspiring; but also inspiring was the beautiful Old Town of Prague. I had only a few hours to explore but I vowed to return one day to see more.

A view from the bridge in Prague Old Town

Day 1 - Saturday 5th November 2016

I arrived in Sweden on Saturday 5th November and have enjoyed exploring Kista (where I'm staying) and the centre of Stockholm. My Airbnb hosts are really friendly and interested to learn about my project so I will reserve some time for them also. Airbnb is the way forward for me... Highly recommended.

The first thing was to find out how to get around and secure a weekly pass. That was easy. Then it was time to hit the shops for some food. That was a bit of a shock - everything is so expensive. The shopping mall in Kista is quite an experience; heaving with a cosmopolitan population and boasting foods and products from all over the world. Blew all my preconceptions about the Swedes.

Day 2 - Sunday 6th November 2016

I woke up to a blanket of snow, that looked something like this through my window...

This is the view from my bedroom window

I must admit that I was not very excited about leaving my cozy room to go out there. Thankfully I came well prepared (after much prompting from friends and family) and was relieved that I had packed my thick coat, snow boots, ear muffs, leather gloves, scarf and plenty of layers.

More orientation today, exploring the centre, popping into the local church (didn't understand a word of Swedish though) and shopping centres before going home to catch up on admin and to plan for the week.

Day 3 - Monday 7th November 2016

Today, the snow is thicker and I'm told that it will get worse. Must get on with my programme for the day despite the thick snow. I notice through the window that the local people do not seem at all perturbed - it's business as usual. Even the babies in their buggies do not seem to notice how cold it is as they tolerate the snow flakes falling on their faces. I tell myself that I'll have to toughen up and get on with it.

I planned a gentle start to my week of explorations in Sweden. My host for the morning is Associate Professor Pia Risholm Mothander, whom I discovered at the 2016 World Association of Infant Mental Health Congress (WAIMH), where she received a prestigious award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to WAIMH or affiliated organizations.

It was said of Pia: "Your involvement with WAIMH has been extraordinary through the years, as well as your support in the formation and activity of the Nordic Association for Infant Mental Health. The scope of your work is wide, earning you respect Internationally and nationally in the Nordic countries. "

She is well connected and has put me in touch with key people to see while I am here.

What a delightful therapist and what a pleasant start to my week. We met in the Cafe Petit France, which is situated on John Ericssons gata, a small street leading down to the lake Riddarfjärden, near the centre of Stockholm (serves great bread and pastries). This meeting gave me a good background to how things developed in Sweden over the past 30 or 40 years. I will write about this in my final report, but to whet your appetite, here are a few quotes from Pia that have remained with me:

With Pia Risholm Mothander at the Cafe Petit France

'Everyone is saying ‘what shall we do?’ The answer is to start at the beginning and support parents and it will pay back.'

‘My vision and hopes for the future is that we would be more partnership oriented in Sweden.'

Pia likens her dream for the infant mental health system in Sweden to an onion with different layers (representing social welfare, paediatric care, infant mental health care, primary care, well-baby clinics and pre-school; all in the same location). You can peel the different layers of the onion but at the middle of the onion are the children – 'because the children are the future. All the leaves around are supporting what’s inside because that’s where it’s growing.'

"You have to follow the changes of society because the context is so important. You can have your ideas about what kind of a paradise you would like to create for infant families but you can’t take that out from the context you are living."

To end our visit Pia took us on a stroll in the snow along the shore of the lake, and gave us a potted history of Stockholm, pointing out the key spots such as the City Hall, which is just a few blocks away.

Our walk alongside lake Riddarfjärden, near the centre of Stockholm

Well that's enough for today... thanks for reading and see you next time.

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