From the very first moment that I received the call-invitation from Mrs Thanopoulou, began a personal time travelling. I was invited as an old graduate of the Unit, so inevitably I realized that I have almost gone through 18 years, since I first met Ellanikou Street. I hold my breath and I trusted my memory, watching the stations of mind. Along with the book “Memories and Reflections”, I am sharing my own memories, my own footprints of time-consuming educational moments.
My own history as for the Unit, began from the field of autism, which was and still is, my big professional love. I went back to 2000, when I had completed my post graduate education in autism and I was happy to start working. However, the educational interventions for people with autism were, and still are, strongly connected with behavioral strategies and strictly structured approaches.
The effectiveness of my intervention had to be measurable, closely linked to lists and strict protocols, and my collaboration with parents was related to my mind, by the ability of parents to follow the instructions I gave them.
So, equipped enough to support children with autism, but weak to connect what I do with the everyday life of the child, I realized a gap. Visual programs, lists and recordings were not in themselves sufficient for supporting the child's family in the autistic spectrum, to work together. I tried very hard all the time, I was getting angry and disappointed. I needed to understand what it means for a family or better for each family separately, to have a child with developmental difficulties so as to give meaning to my work and to what I was asking them to do. That concern was the reason and the beginning of my meeting with the Unit.
One of the first recollections of the training program that has changed and definedme since then, is the importance of Joining, as this was reflected in our first encounters with Mr Kotsida, who was then a trainer in the 3-year training. Through his narrations, space was given first and foremost for connection, making each time a unique path of contact with each family: sometimes focusing on the stone of the people who originated in Epirus, sometimes through the nostalgia of seafarers, and sometimes through the inexhaustible sources of Greek mythology. That's how I began to allow myself time for contact, understanding, and connection, before giving directions. That way of thinking, softened the way I used to relate to the children and the families I was working with: it made the process a little less predictable but in a way it made it safer. As a child therapist in the spectrum, I had the same need with the child in the spectrum and his/her family: first, understand, feel safe, build a common language, and then move on to action.
The next stop of my memories is at a meeting moment, like the one described by Ms. Kati in the relevant chapter of the book. We were in the 2nd or 3rd year and watched a video from a family therapy session. The subject they were talking about, retracted from my own crypt, memories I did not know I had. It took me back to scenes and dialogues of my own childhood that hurt. They were hidden and suddenly sprang. When the video stopped, I was freezed. I did not say or did anything. I stayed still. Just before our regular break, Mrs. Charalabaki's gaze stood on me. She "saw me". This gaze that spotted the unspoken, was a little miracle for me. I did not say anything. I did not even have the words to do it. But I was visible. I do not remember exactly what she told me when we took a little time before going back to education. This sense of being visible, even in an educational group with so many people, taught me the meaning of the things that are not said, but they are present, able enough to change the emotional landscape of a healing, family, and educational encounter. The richness of this experience, which then looked "miraculous", was transformed through the years, until I learned to trust and make use of the information my body and my feeling gives me.
The memories of the educational path to the Unit cannot fail to include the Genogram experience. The emotional reception of my own personal history was made by Kia Thanopoulou. The way that my Genogram heard and included was to seal her presence on my professional career and the shaping of my professional identity.
Perhaps my relationship with the Unit and its people, was mainly founded at that time, after the end of education, and especially whenever I felt the need to return to their nourishment and their perspective. The thread that started with education, continued with supervision and keeps me constantly connected, depicting how I work with families of people in the autism spectrum, but also my colleagues. Autism is a way of understanding the different mind, without being a barrier to the constant effort to communicate.The presence of the Unit and my supervision, helped me to experiment with new practices. During the training in the Unit, I began to get tentative in the Counseling Parenthood. Initially, I relied on psycho-education and the provision of knowledge and information. But slowly, I started to trust my strengths and allow the experience to take place. I was trying to "see", understand and then decide with the parents where to go. I realized that information can be useful, only if there is fertile emotional ground to grow.
While I was reading the book, I felt connected with the changes that take place as the years go by. Structure and knowledge remain important parameters of our work, but they are getting more space with more flexibility and in collaboration with each family. Systemic perspective and supervision remain an integral part of my practice. Wherever possible, I try to see parents with their children, giving voice to all family members. Systemic Therapy and Neurodiversity form a new culture in family meetings, where the purpose is a common language that will make sense in particular to the family members who will use it. I try to call open meetings with parents, therapists, teachers, child psychiatrists, targeting the open communication of all involved systems.
Closing this reflective path and nearly 20 years after my encounter with the Unit, I think of the different levels of the prints of this training. In my own turn, this power flow is summed up in the path of a group of 5 parenting couples, with which I started working with in 2013 with psycho-educational content. This group, like me, did its first steps in a "different way", than I previously knew as a group of parents focusing on the autism spectrum. Together with these 10 people, we started to work on the parental role, using the experience and the personal history of everyone in the team process. Five years later, this group proposed and implemented a meeting to support young couples who had just got a diagnosis of autism for their child. They had the need to give the strength and the knowledge they had, through their own experience. That meeting sums up my internal journey and my relationship with the Unit and is the most important imprint of it, until now.