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Leadership Diaries - Clinical Director

02 July 2024

Being part of our leadership team means more than just a title - it's a chance to make a real impact on the lives of our young people and your team members. You have the power to create an environment where everyone can thrive and succeed. We sat down with Billy, our Clinical Director, to discuss her career journey and why working at WG is so special with particular focus on our clinical teams. 

Billy Clinical Director


What did you want to be when you were a child?

Everything! Initially I wanted to be a horse riding instructor, but that quickly changed to wanting to be a famous actress and film star. I pursued this path throughout school undertaking an A Level in Theatre Studies, however I ended up doing a Bachelor of Education Honours Degree in English and Drama to teach secondary school students.


What was your first ever job?

Well, that would have been the paper round and working at the market on a deli stall with smelly cheese on a Saturday morning, the usual kind of jobs you get as a teenager. My first proper job however was as a teacher/therapeutic worker in a therapeutic community for adolescent girls and boys. I started as an English Teacher and then very much got into the therapeutic side of things. The community was based in Devon and provided a home with education for traumatised children, predominantly from London. Everybody lived on site there so we were a very integrated team which was important to support the young people.


How long have you worked at WG and what is your role?

I joined Witherslack Group in 2020, so I have been here four years in June. I am the Clinical Director which means that I have responsibility for the clinical strategy and implementation across the organisation.


What is your favourite thing about working at WG?

It's seeing the ideas, the theory, the things I believe will have an impact on our children and young people being taken up and put into practise. It’s then seeing the difference this makes for all involved, seeing the smiles, hearing the stories, witnessing the changes in both children and colleague’s behaviours that enables them to live and learn with us.  It’s being able to see children laugh, play, grow and develop in an environment in which they are encouraged and feel comfortable to do so.

Can you explain how our therapeutic model works and why it is so special?

It works because it is based on some really key fundamental beliefs and key fundamental facts that are true to all of us. We see how we are in developmental stages and that's how we have created the therapeutic model. So whoever we are, whether we are a clinical director or we are a five year old child coming from a traumatic background, we all need to feel safe and that's the fundamental principle of our model.

In order for us to access living and learning opportunities we need to be able to form relationships and connections which are the next developmental stages. For example, if you come to work and you are feeling frightened that your boss is going to sack you or you are frightened your colleagues are going to bully you, you will not have a sense of safety. You will not be able to have relationships that make you feel okay. You will not be able to focus on your task because you will be too busy worrying about who might hurt you and that is a true principle for us all, and it's the starting point for all our children.

And so that is the first therapeutic task, developing and maintaining physical and psychological safety for all.  It's knowing the fundamental things about ‘being’, creating the context for living and learning opportunities. And I think knowing that and sticking to that is what makes the magic. If we come in at the wrong level, ignore the developmental stages, it doesn't work.  Another key thing is that together, we all believe in the model. We have a shared language and a shared way of thinking about things and talking about things. It’s as though we are all wearing the same pair of glasses with the same lens understanding  and seeing the child. How do we shape that lesson knowing those things? How do we create this school, home, the environment?

What is the most interesting part of your job?

I enjoy the challenge of how all of our systems and our dynamics as people work. So with my clinical training and as a group psychoanalyst I get a buzz from thinking about groups, groups of people, how they interact, how they belong, how they don't belong, how they include, how they exclude. So my training would suggest I run a therapy group which looks at all of those things, but I don't do that in my role, instead I apply all of that thinking to the organisation as a whole and how we come together in our different departments. There can be many barriers to coming together and having our shared language, but it’s always something to keep working at and getting it right.


What are we doing to make us a great place to work?

We are always working to improve how we create that sense of safety for everybody in the organisation and in particular the grown-ups. Because as I said earlier, if the teachers, carers, cleaners, cooks, clinicians, (everybody) don't feel safe and included and a part of the group, they won't be able to really connect with the children and help them with their outcomes. With our organisation it is paramount to have that feeling of safety because it involves lots of emotional content and emotional traumas. We hear things that impact us and can upset us. We live and learn with children who communicate in ways that can be very difficult to be alongside. It can be sad, upsetting and triggering. So we have to be especially good at helping our staff manage that emotional onslaught and impact and that is something that we are working very hard at alongside providing great pay, perks, welfare, supervisions and environments. We understand that none of these things will be accessed and experienced if we haven’t got that felt sense of safety, connections and relationships which takes us back to the same theoretical model.


What sets WG’s clinical team apart from other places of work?

What we need from our clinicians is that they are the best in the sector in terms of their clinical skills and expertise because we’re living and learning with some of the most complex children in the country. This is what sets WG’s clinical team apart. We need people who are confident and competent or are who are wanting to grow, those newer to the profession who can be coached and guided to becoming the best in their sector. We need people who wish to be embedded in a service and see the benefits so they can really get to grips with the whole of the child’s experience and be part of the team around that child. And that means people who can roll up their sleeves, can get their shoes dirty, who can work inside and outside. They can work across the waves of intervention so they can work directly with the children, they can work with adults, as consultants, as mentors. So we want the best clinicians, with the best level of competency. Our clinical training boxes tend to be quite rigid, but our environments are not so we need clinicians who are confident to flex their clinical skills and get creative with them. It’s being able to still complete a clinical intervention, but you can do it in a garden, on a swing or in a field of mud, anywhere. Having a team of incredibly skilled clinicians is what sets us apart.


What is your huge small victory?

One huge small victory is the number of internal promotions and clinicians who have worked their way up through the organisation. It is great to see internal candidates apply for roles and even if they weren’t successful this time, the conversations of feedback are lovely too, encouraging them to see their next steps and how to get to them. An additional huge small victory this year was the amount of apprenticeship applicants who were so keen to join the clinical team, they really demonstrated pride in what we all do together, (which made it really hard to choose who to take on!).


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