Tim Kent – Living and Working Through Adversity

Hello this is Tim Kent from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. I’m the Director of Adult Forensic Services here and I’m a psychotherapist and a social worker by background. It’s interesting this pandemic crisis that we are in the throes of at the moment, it mostly reminds me of parents and grandparents stories of the Blitz, wartime, rationing, pulling together, and the sense that what was at stake was people’s mental coherence as much as the fear of loss of life and loved ones and of course with that fear comes the sense that we’re not always together and a lot of our work at the moment is remote. I’ve just been on a Skype, sorry, Zoom call, with several colleagues, spending a lot of time on the phone and you know managing a huge array of new experiences and feelings sort of bombarding the mind at any one point and trying to metabolise it like a new medicine so it’s quite bizarre and I think we’re all both sort stimulated and in a way very anxious about the outcome and what’s it’s going to mean.

Of course we all know people who are currently very ill and some who we’ve lost and many thankfully who had mild versions and are either recovering or haven’t yet been unwell so there’s a very strong sense of that kind of spirit of the Blitz, for want of a better description, and I think it’s valuable.

There’s something that’s been on my mind for several years about the experience of a country or nation, that hasn’t in any recent past history been through a considerable period of real adversity and I suppose before COVID-19 we thought that 10 years of austerity and cuts to the NHS was real adversity, which of course it very much is and has been and continues to be and now we are reaping the fallout from that experience.

But more immediately and more personally, my wife’s been unwell so I’ve been advised by our doctors to isolate and it feels as busy working from home as it has been the office, although I miss being around friends and colleagues and within the institutional environment. I’m thinking ahead to whether I could and should be redeployed back into social work and with experience in child protection and adults with mental problems and working the community.

I think for lots of people at the moment there is a sense of wanting to help and wanting to be able to go above and beyond the norm is shared by so many, at the same time that that some of our colleagues are just really frightened and very much wanting to retreat, so a really complex and difficult time and am very very grateful to have so many supportive colleagues.

I know it feels like a difficult thing to come to terms with the moment but it does feel great to be part of the NHS and to see the appreciation of our public for what we do. It’s also extremely worrying to see how austerity has left us unprepared in so many ways and that that ultimately is going to impact on mortality rates.

So in psychological services, just as a final note, for some of our patients if not most of our patients, the psychotherapy that we provide at the Tavistock and Portman, alongside our other services, is a lifeline, literally, for many people. As Donna Winnicott and Albert Einstein wrote to the government during the Second World War, the thing about protecting children and adults from adversity at a time of crisis, and at that point wartime, is not just about a threat to the physical body, the psychological threat to people’s emotional development and mental capacity and ability to keep going and in some cases keep living with the huge threat and therefore the huge anxiety that it causes is paramount.

It’s not really to compare the body and the mind, perhaps better to say that they’re part of the same thing and it’s important to keep going psychologically as it is physically. I think the fact is at the moment that a lot of us are experiencing a very serious traumatic impact to our mental functioning and the bombardment of new experience and change can get through some of the time, so you know you can feel all right one minute and then completely discombobulated the next and unable to think and then them you try and re-gather.

Okay I think that’s enough and I will sign off now. Thanks for listening, take care, keep well and love to you all.

Tim Kent is Director of Adult & Forensic Services, Consultant Psychotherapist and Social Worker at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. He delivers a rousing commentary for NHS and social care staff about the experience of living through, and working in, the current time of adversity and how the services we provide are a lifeline, literally, for many people.