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Last Day in Detroit

It's Wednesday 17th May and my last day in Detroit. I have packed so many appointments into the day that there's no space for a lunch or dinner break. Fortunately, we start the day with an Infant Mental Health (IMH) supervisors breakfast, again hosted by Ann Stacks, Carla Barron and Carolyn Dayton. I fortify myself with a plate of goodies and coffee I'm all set for the day.

This breakfast is an opportunity for the team to say thank you to

the organisations that provide placements for students on the IMH course. The willingness of these busy professionals to mentor the students and offer reflective supervision is highly commendable; especially as they are also responsible for running their organisations. It takes a tremendous amount of time to nurture a student and these women do this with pride and passion.

After breakfast Kofi joins the Mental Health Awareness Week Walk, across the university campus, which aims at reducing the stigma that people with mental health disorders face every day.

Back home in London, Kofi is a Mental Health Champion in our community, working with local churches, community organisations and our local psychiatric hospital to reach out to those that suffer from mental health issues. As a pastor he also works tirelessly to raise awareness of mental health issues among leaders of the different faith groups, who are very influential within the community. When such leaders are equipped to recognise and respond to the suffering of their members this provides an immeasurable resource. Considering that mental health issues are experienced by every family in the land, we need all the help we can get to address it.

I have learned a lot from Kofi about how to maintain a mental and spiritual balance in life and it is such a privilege to have him with me on my travels.

The one mile Mental Health Awareness Walk across the university campus is led by Provost Whitfield and includes various speakers along the way. One such speaker is American athlete, Emily Klueh, a former Wayne State University student. Emily came to Michigan from Kentucky on an athletic scholarship for swimming. She mentions in her talk that one in five of the population struggles with mental health and in the midst of her own struggle she was able to enjoy a successful swimming career because she reached out for help. Kofi was able to spend some time talking with Emily, and was so moved by her story that she later sent him a copy of her speech.

Meanwhile, back at the Uni I join Ann, Carla and Carolyn at their regular weekly meeting at 12.00 pm, where they talk about development of the course. I'm afraid I hijack their meeting with an array of questions, which they patiently answer. I want to be clear that I understood the work of the institute.

Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute - Wayne State University

I understood from our conversation that Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute has a three pronged approach; namely research, community engagement, & education. The aim is to translate all research back into the community. Students are placed in community agencies and their placement supervisors communicates with the university about their progress.

Valuable research become effective interventions in the community. For instance, Ann Stacks' research on Reflective Functioning with Teachers, is in its second year and is already evolving into an effective intervention, working with the teachers as if they are parents. This five year study recognises that children remember their teachers, and that teachers bring their own histories to work. Because they are usually from the communities where they teach they can say ‘I did it’ so why can’t you? Of course, such an approach could either dis-empower or inspire.

Some teachers volunteer to participate in the research and some are strongly recommended by their organisations. Through the involvement of teachers, parents are also encouraged to participate in the research programme, in order to learn reflective functioning with their child.

Meanwhile Back in London

At 2.30 I link up with my Infant Observation Group in London (it's 7.30 pm there) to facilitate a two-hour seminar via Skype. Of course face to face is always best for such classes but nevertheless we have a good session. I am reminded of the centrality of this observation in our UK IMH training. Many in the USA have expressed their desire to participate in such an opportunity.

Week 2 of the IMH Dual Title course

At 4.30 pm I sign off from my Skype session and have just enough time to get to State Hall, where the second week of the IMH Dual Title programme is due to start at 4.45 pm. Carolyn had packed me some of the delicious flan that she made for breakfast and I now feel really grateful because I'm starving. Have you noticed the strong food theme in this blog? Just goes to show that I'm being well fed by my colleagues out here.

If you remember, last time I was shocked at the amount of work the students were assigned and doubted that they would all deliver. Students had to read several papers, watch a lecture at home and do quizzes at different points during the lecture; this had to be emailed to Ann by midnight on Tuesday. Watching interactive lectures online between classes and taking the quiz frees up time in class and students can watch the fifteen minute lecture many times and feed back their feelings online. They would then inform Ann of any questions that they wished to be addressed in the next class or one to one as appropriate. Class time is devoted to discussion and in order to participate in discussion everyone is expected to have done all the assignments before the class. There is no room for skiving or being lazy because students are accountable to one another and score each other in class, from zero to twenty, depending on level and quality of participation. Failure to attend class earns a score of zero. Scores go towards the final grade. There are no surprises where grading is concerned and the criteria is made very clear; all information is available online. With only seven meetings in this particular module there's a sense that time is precious and must be used to the utmost.

I am amazed at the progress of the students after just a week. Every student has delivered and demonstrates a surprising understanding of theoretical concepts after such a short time; as if they had been on the programme for a year rather than just a week. In the exercises set before the class they had to start to use the theory straightway; to tease out the different strands of IMH and to grasp the six pillars of IMH as described by Mi-AIMH. The teaching goes beyond parent-child psychotherapy; it includes other aspects such as assessment, advocacy, concrete assistance, developmental guidance, emotional support (listening emphatically and non-judgmentally; nothing is off limits), parent-infant psychotherapy (making links from past to present).

I am also mindful of the amount of work that Ann has to put in before this and every class. All the questions and responses to the students' quiz had been analysed and used to plan the class and responses fed back to the class and discussed in detail. If students are required to put in four hours of work for every hour in class, then I'm not sure how many hours the tutor has to put in to analyse their work. During the class Ann moved between the groups to assist the students to practice what they learned as they would be required to apply the learning individually to the case studies that would be set for the coming week. Every student is focused and engaged. I would be delighted to teach such a class. According to Ann, they get even better as the course develops, ‘When they start clinical work they really go’.

Well... that class really sealed it for me. I will have to look more into how this course was structured because it is so dynamic and effective. When students are so hungry to learn it's a real pleasure to teach. They remind me of the Parent infant Partnership (PIP) team in London, whose passion to serve and to learn makes it a pleasure to go in to work each day.

Well, this is my last time with Anne and Carla (snapped by one of the students).

I really hope to meet them again.

After class I meet up with Kofi and head home to pack for East Lansing, where we will be meeting with scholars from Michigan State University (MSU).

In my next blog I will tell you about the amazing journey there with a passionate elderly man who gave us insight into what it was like to grow up as a black man in Detroit. See you next time...

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