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Days in Detroit

After the conference in Kalamazoo our next stop is Detroit; known as The Motor City due to the many car industries that are based there. On researching the travel options we find that the journey by Greyhound coach and the train both take over three hours. We choose the Amtrak train, which was surprisingly spacious and comfortable. The hours flew by.

We are keen to experience what it really feels like to be in Detroit and wish to use Airbnb which would allow us to stay in the homes of local people. However, we are strongly advised by all our contacts that hotels would be a safer option. As a compromise, we book into Roberts Riverwalk Hotel for three nights to allow us to explore the area and then check into Airbnb for five nights in Mexican Town, just ten minutes drive from Downtown Detroit.

The River Walk

We arrive at Roberts Riverwalk Hotel (right) in the early afternoon of Wednesday 10th May. After checking in we explore the area around the hotel. This part of Detroit feels like a city that is rising from the ashes; with magnificent, elegant new buildings standing alongside abandoned or burnt out structures. The old, refurbished hotel seems to bring old and new together.

From our hotel window we can see Canada across the river. The river front is a conservation project which is an example of the changing face of Detroit. We only have time to take a quick look before connecting with our hosts from Wayne State University.

Wayne State University

My first appointment in Detroit is at Wayne State University, where I would observe the delivery of the Dual Title Infant Mental Health (IMH) Programme, by Ann Michele Stacks, Director of the Infant Mental Health Program (left). I had been in communication with Ann via Skype and email since March 2016 to plan my visit. Apart from a brief meeting at the WAIMH conference in Prague and the Mi-AIMH conference in Kalamazoo, this would be the first opportunity to hear about her work. Ann works closely with Carla Barron, Clinical Coordinator of the IMH Program (right). I joined the first class of the term with a brand new cohort of students, just when Ann was making introductions. We were invited to share with the class about our travels and each student shared their journey to the IMH programme.

The Infant Mental Health Dual Title Programme

The ten students, which comprise the class, are also registered onto other masters degrees at the university, mainly in social work, nursing and psychology. This additional IMH component would equip them with the Mi-AIMH competencies to work as IMH specialists with infants and their families. The selection process is highly competitive so those who are finally selected show an exceptional level of commitment and motivation. The IMH modules are spread throughout their main degree programme and are focused and intense. It made sense to me that most of the students come from a social work background as these are the professionals most likely to meet the vulnerable families that most need IMH interventions.

This approach to IMH is very different from our approach in the UK, where our main IMH professionals come from a psychotherapy background. Most of our training schools require trainees to already be qualified therapists and have experienced personal therapy before they can specialise in parent infant psychotherapy. In the UK there is a requirement to do a two year infant observation and some UK training institutions also require other forms of organisational observations. The observational element is not so pronounced in the Michigan programme; not for lack of desire but due to other constraints. There are benefits and limitations to both approaches. The UK training is more spread out whereas the US system is very focused and intense, which fits into the way the university courses are structured. The Michigan model of Infant Mental Health provides an ongoing structure for development and reflective supervision that allows graduates to continue to grow in their practice as a member of the Mi-AIMH family. There is a strong sense of connection among professionals and a family bond that is kept alive due to the bi-annual conference, which is a very important opportunity for this family to come together and feel a sense of belonging.

The teaching style of the IMH programme is very dynamic and I was amazed at the volume of work set for the students to do between classes. I seriously doubted that they would be able to deliver on time. However, the following week I would be proven wrong.

Thursday 11th May

After Wednesday's class we earned a day to explore the local area, take a walk along the river and go out for a meal in a local restaurant called 'They Say'. It lived up to its reputation.

Friday 12th May

The day started with a meeting at the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute at 9.00am with Carla, to plan the rest of our time in Detroit and to connect with all the people we would meet. In the afternoon Carla and Rebecca Wheeler took us on a drive around Detroit, pointing out all the places of interest. Rebecca was particularly knowledgeable about Detroit, and was able to take us to many of the places we would not have felt able to go without a guide. We earmarked the Second Baptist Church for another visit as this was part of the Underground Railroad, the last stop in the journey, where slaves were hidden before they were able to escape across the border to freedom in Canada.

The River Walk

On Friday afternoon we returned to the Detroit riverbank and walked from Downtown all the way to Roberts Riverwalk Hotel. The transformation along this river bank reflects the bigger transformation of Detroit as it rises from the ashes. This is a favourite place for families to visit. Here is an example of the recent developments.

I'll stop here for today. The weekend was very full so I'll update you in my next blog.

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