12 AUGUST 1972, Page 14

Social therapy

Sir: One does not have to be a psychotherapist to detect the note of criticism in Jef Smith's reference to the meeting called by social workers to explore the place of psychotherapy within the social work profession. The point that he makes, namely that there was a "range of fairly unrelated contributions," highlights the need for more rigorous thinking on this subject. Indeed, those present at the meeting decided to organise themselves into an ongoing group to study the whole question further.

He makes trenchant observations about trends in the mental health and social 'services, but there is a

curious omission in his apparent consideration only of psychotherapy with individuals. Surely the increasing use of group and family psychotherapy is a factor to be noted? It is said that the constraint imposed by pressure of work in social service departments inhibits development of psychotherapeutic techniques. Here I think we should differentiate between present pressures and future probabilities. Planning precedeS action. The percentage of trained staff will slowly increase; as needs are isolated, as the body of generic knowledge grows and is conceptualised, workers will have more confidence in setting limits to the demands made on them, with the result that a less crisis-orientated service may be possible. Bar. Jef Smith says there is real evidence that people want onlY crisis help. Numerically speaking such persons may be the majoritY but we should not forget the manY who are prepared to accept a period of therapy if they get the chance of such help. Examples are parents attending child guidance clinics, couples with joint marital difficulties or relatives involved In patient's difficulties, people con: scious of their own emotional problems and people who bring their emotional problems und.eri Some practical guise to Soda Service Departments.

I am not going to enter into the, question 'What is psychotheraPY

here, except to say that undoubtedly social workers among others use psychotherapeutic skills and will continue to do so. Changing patterns of administration and care do not do away with the need for this sort of help — for example the patients given quick discharge from the new psychiatric units — but there is a real danger that new employers may not see the provision of such help as their concern, unless informed social workers look at these matters with a view to planning and influencing planners. If social work politicians were absent from the meeting Jef Smith attended they certainly have the opportunity to add weight and skill to the more introspective approach of the therapists.

Joan M. Barton 6 Stirling Mansions, Canfield Gardens, London NW6.