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I joined the Deakin Social Work program in July 2011 as a senior lecturer and am currently course leader for the Bachelor of Social Work program.
Prior to this appointment I taught for many years at La Trobe University after a 20 year period immersed in therapeutic and mental health practice.
This latter period involved considerable experience with multi-disciplinary consultation and education as well as extensive direct work with complex presentations, particularly major mental illness, child protection, substance abuse and acquired brain injury.
In addition to more than 50 academic publications across diverse fields, including mental health, family therapy, family studies and research methods, I have published in left-oriented publications such as Arena, Dissent and Overland.
My primary practice interest is in assisting practitioners from all disciplines become more effective in developing their clients’ relational base. At a more abstract level, my focus is on what might be termed the ‘locally social’ – the personal relationships people have with their intimates, those with whom there is regular contact, as well as those with whom there is incidental, but often symbolically rich, exchange such as that which sometimes occurs between strangers. This interest has been especially informed by a study of the process of individualization – a development that has impacted on the operations of interpersonal connection at every level – and the emerging research on the social determinants of health.
I have two key priorities. The first involves a commitment to developing modes of professional practice which act to embed clients within a ‘good-enough’ set of personal relationships. This commitment has long animated my teaching and scholarly actions.
A forthcoming text – Strengthening the Clients Relational Base (Policy Press; Bristol) – documents the innovative and practical work this commitment has produced. Multi-disciplinary in scope this book focuses on assisting practitioners to recognize, and then work to deepen, the interdependence, accountability and sense of belonging that clients need to secure if they are to achieve sustainable health and wellbeing. In this publication, as in my teaching and other publications, rather than seeing each individual as a private, sovereign self my work takes a different path to the traditional interest in maximizing the autonomy, empowerment and agency of clients: in my view it is part of the problem to understand and treat people as if they were separate, rather than social, beings.
The second interest has its base in my theoretical and empirical research. Complementing a critical reading program which recently reviewed each of the major traditions of psychotherapy and mental health, findings from empirical work with private psychotherapists and mental health case managers has strengthened the hypothesis that many practitioners inadvertently de-empathise, ignore or even disrupt their client’s interpersonal networks (Furlong, 2007; 2008; 2010).
This hypothesis was examined as a particular moment within a larger project: to examine the conduct, experience and understanding of personal relationships within the current period.
This project has two recursively related concerns. First, to identify and study the changing specifications of subjectivity and identity which are observable in the current period; second, to identify and study the evolving norms and expectations which govern social relationships in the current period. Whether transacted in face-to-face or mediated environments, whether they concern interactions between those who have intimate and ongoing affinities or involve interactions with strangers, work associates or casual acquaintances my contention is that the nature of social relations is changing. At least to some degree there is a new dance being played out.
It is this evolving dynamic, this dance, which I am seeking to identify, document and critique. As well as more traditional papers, this investigation has led to a round of less academic publications including The autistic savant as cultural inspiration, Crying to be heard, i-Talk, Re-constructing the social and Love and shame: Checking, trumping and snookering each other (see ‘Publications’). A regular column in Arena magazine provides another venue for presenting the findings of this examination.