by Richard Baldwin.
Sharevision, a structured small group communication model, was initially developed by the Family Service Outreach Team at People’s Bridge Action, Inc., a social service agency that was based in Athol, Massachusetts.
Background: The Team was started in 1976 to provide outreach counseling to families in the North Quabbin area of Massachusetts. It was initially funded by the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) and was contracted to help prevent child abuse and neglect. The original staffing pattern was five outreach counselors, two of whom were Team Coordinators, and a clinical supervisor. Most work was done by two co-therapists meeting with families in their homes. Supervision was conducted each Friday morning; the primary form used was videotaped family sessions analyzed by a full time Clinical Director and staff weekly.
By the mid-eighties both the Agency and the Team had undergone major changes. The funding source for outreach family work had changed from DPW to the Department of Social Services (DSS); the contract shifted the focus of services from child neglect to child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, any and all situations that resulted in DSS case workers being assigned to families. All families were now referred by DSS caseworkers, almost all were substantiated cases of neglect or abuse, and many were already court involved. Periodically conjoint meetings were held including a DSS caseworker, PBA staff member and family members. It was common for Team staff to attend court hearings regarding family members and the welfare of their children. Occasionally children were removed from their families permanently.
With the new DSS contract, the luxury of co-therapy had ended; all cases were now assigned one Team member. This major shift in funding source and contract mandate as well as the demise of co-therapy resulted in most Team members leaving the Agency. The reorganization shifted from the Team having co-leaders to one Team Leader, an increase in caseloads, and more paperwork. New staff members were hired and a Team member was appointed Leader. During the next few years staff members came and went with some regularity. The structure of the Team remained the same, a staff Clinical Supervisor, Team Leader and outreach staff.
This arrangement continued for a few years until the Director and the Clinical Supervisor and the Team Leader left the agency. When a new director was selected, Richard Baldwin was appointed Team Leader, and the issue of determining how Team members would manage their clinical supervision needs was left to him and his staff.
The results of these changes in funding, in program implementation and in staffing meant that the Outreach Team needed to deal with the multiple needs for staff education and training in the areas of child sexual abuse treatment, on-going clinical supervision and emotional support. Baldwin, who had worked within a hierarchical supervisory structure earlier at the Agency, wanted to move towards a more collaborative way of working. Since the staff had lost the capability of doing co-therapy but still were doing all outreach work, the team began to use the weekly team meetings as a format for mutual support as well as a format for discussing cases. Videotaping as a tool for supervision had ended with the switch to DSS contracts. DSS would not allow taping of their clients and it was also no longer feasible without co-therapists involved since equipment had to be brought to homes for use.
To address the staff education, training and clinical supervision needs the Team, with the support of our new Agency Director, decided that instead of hiring an in-house clinical supervisor, it would be more efficient to hire a clinician who was primarily practicing family therapy. Our original clinical supervisor had been focused on a combination of structural family therapy and personal psychology. The field had changed considerably since the late seventies, and family therapy had moved away from a focus on the individual and instead on relationships within a larger systems context. We wanted to be able to change supervisors each year so we would benefit from that person’s particular approach to families and keep abreast of changes in the field.
In addition to hiring a therapist for a year to meet with us at our offices in Athol, we had money left in our budget to essentially buy an hour of time from other therapists who specialized in specific issues, e.g., sexual abusing boys, substance abuse, clients who self-mutilated, sexual abuse survivors. The Team, then about five or six staff, would go to that clinician’s office and present several cases that linked up with that clinician’s area of expertise. After these sessions, usually about an hour long, we would regularly have lunch together processing what we had learned.
Staff also held a meeting each week to review case issues, some clinical and some focused on dealing with larger system’s issues such as court appearances, reports to DSS, conference plans for meeting with DSS social workers or lawyers or representatives from other supporting agencies. Of course staff would confer with one another about specific cases as needed. Baldwin, Team leader, was the senior staff member having been at the Agency since the Team’s inception in 1976 served as the key liaison between the Team and our contracting agency, DSS and helped staff deal with the numerous addition agencies often involved with client families.
In 1987 Lisa Thompson, a long standing team member who had taken time from work to obtain her social work degree, returned to the Team. She had been studying with and living in Lynn Hoffman’s home in Amherst, Mass, and was convinced Lynn and Dick would get along well. Since Lisa had arranged for Lynn to serve as her field supervisor for her new social work field placement at PBA, it was easy for her to set up a meeting between Lynn and our Team. The mix was perfect for all of us and fortunately for us Lynn agreed to be our supervisor and consultant from this point on. We met with Lynn monthly. Her genius inspired the development of our Sharevision process as well as introduce staff to the work of many therapists doing similar work. The Team’s relationship with Lynn meant that staff members were part of Lynn’s larger social web of therapists around the world.
In the years following Lynn Hoffman’s connection to our Team, staff continued to experiment with variations of our Sharevision process. Weekly Sharevision meetings served as an experimental lab for Team members to maximize thoughtful innovation in their work with families. In a parallel process, Sharevision provided Team members the chance to practice relational responsibility through equitable communication. The Sharevision Model is an expression of many peoples’ work and theories. A key is that it provides structure for professional development that addresses the needs of participants posing their own questions to one another.
The Team established general guidelines for the Sharevision format for group meetings. An essential component of Sharevision was to be sure to divide meeting airtime equally with timed listening and speaking reflectively as each member presented a case, issue or question. Team members successfully experimented with variations on the recipe. A major development was adding other media to our language-based conversations. We explored video, audiotape, expressive arts projects including visual and movement modalities. We also used the process to work directly with several families, having our entire staff filmed to assist in families struggling with change.
Many new projects emerged integrating multimedia into family, group and community work. Germinated in the Sharevision weekly meetings were Groups for Mothers of Sexual Abused Children (MOSAIC) led by Catherine Taylor, Anger Camp and Phoenix after school program led by Ellen Landis and Catherine Taylor, Art Group for Children exposed to family violence led by Ellen Landis and Lisa D. Thompson. Ellen Landis began introducing Sharevision to people working in other organizations and working groups and integrating Sharevision into teaching graduate school.
In 1993, the merger of PBA and North Central Human Services, a traditional mental health agency, made necessary by a change in how the State began to contract services from agencies, initially enhanced the creative activities of both agencies. Unfortunately, it was not long before the unique services and approach developed by the Team at PBA came to an end. Indeed a few years after the merger the PBA site itself closed down.
Since then, however, three of the original staff, Richard Baldwin, Ellen Landis and Lisa Thompson have continued their association with one another and with Lynn Hoffman. Both Ellen and Lisa returned to graduate school to complete their doctorates and Richard retired to focus on his artwork. They formed a group private practice committed to promoting social justice, equity and ethical practice. As a group they continue to practice and train others in the use of Sharevision.