What drove you to pursuing a career in psychology, specializing in working with children?
I have always had a curiosity about how the human mind works and how our overt behavior is underpinned by our emotional states. I was always a keen observer of human behavior and interaction and loved to listen to people talk and make connections in what they were saying, even from a young age. When I was 16 years old I read a copy of Sigmund Freud’s Introductory lectures and while I didn’t understand very much of it at all, I knew that I wanted to understand it more. With Children, I generally see all of their behavior as a form of communication and as an attempt at connection. I respect their raw honesty in how they play and in how they communicate.
I’ve always found the idea of play as the language of children to be an intriguing insight into their world.
Where does your passion to understand childhood attachment come from?
I was very privileged to grow up as part of a large family living next door to my Grandmother and my Aunt. I think growing up with this exposure to inter-generational parenting is a large part of what stirred my interest in the parent-child relationship. Also I worked in peri and post natal mental health, infant mental health and child psychology clinics as part of my training while also undertaking an 18 month long infant observation program (where an amazing family agreed to have me come into their home and sit and observe their new baby from birth to 18 months old) and these experiences showed me very early on in my studies that early childhood experiences of nurture and care set the trajectory for everything else that comes our way and I knew that this is the level I wanted to come in at and work with families.
Do you ever feel a pressure to be the perfect parent as you specialize in child psychotherapy?
Honestly no because there is no such thing as the perfect parent nor should we endeavor to be so. A psychoanalyst called Donald Winnicott once wrote of how when it comes to parenting, perfection is not good enough because our children must see us make mistakes, engage in repair and recovery for those mistakes because this is how we learn. I do think my area of work can be both a hindrance and a help in my own parenting though but I try to stay in the moment and see my daughter as my parenting guide rather than anything else.
In 2010, you founded Solamh Parent Child Relationship Clinic? Was this a scary undertaking at the beginning?
Very. We were in the height of a recession and I had been working as CEO of a charity and honestly felt that they could not afford my salary in those financially precarious times. So I wrote a strategy for running the organisation without my role and I left. I knew leaving that I wasn’t interested in taking on another role in the NGO sector (where I had been working since leaving college) and I had always wanted to work for myself and to build a practice that celebrated the parent-child relationship and allowed me to expand on using the parent-child relationship as a route to the repair and recovery of any ruptured attachment as a clinical specialisation. I was aware that I was leaving a job and starting a business at a time when businesses were closing around me and jobs were thin on the ground. But I believed that there was a need for a practice like this and I was fortunate to have wonderful support around me and while it was very hard work, it did and does work
You are a contributor to Toddlebox and contribute to countless charities, how do you find the time?!
I like to be involved in projects that I find exciting and that are a match for my own practice philosophy. I feel honoured to be approached to contribute to various projects, both commercial and charitable, and where I can I like to get involved. I believe in charity and in the concept of giving back and that we are all a part of a system bigger than ourselves and that community is something we should all invest in. Because I worked for so much of my career in the NGO sector it has become an innate part of how I work…unlike other jobs, you never really leave a charity because the cause is much bigger than you or your role and you carry that with you when you go.
What advice would you have given yourself starting out?
Oh gosh, such a good question! Firstly, trust your gut instincts because they will never let you down and there is learning to be found in everything that will happen. Secondly, say yes to opportunities when they are presented to you, embrace challenge and always give it a go. Thirdly, you will always get more from your work and the amazing people it affords you to meet than you could ever give so integrate all the learning on the journey and be grateful that you can do this work, it’s special.
What advice would you give to young women who want to own their sector as you do?
When you are invited to be a part of a project or speak in the media or to contribute your ideas and expertise, just…say…yes!! We women need to be better at assuming our expertise and ensuring our voices are part of the narrative in our chosen fields. We can be immensely creative and resourceful if only we let ourselves. Also, reach out to more established women in your field and seek to learn from them. When I started working for myself, I really worked what I called the “coffee circuit” but was really a form of networking. I contacted amazing women who were self employed, running SME and/or large companies or had established themselves as leaders in their fields and I asked them if they would meet me for a cup of coffee and a chat. Most said yes and I consider that to be one of my most valued learning experiences and now have a superb network of supportive women I know I can call upon.
What was it like to give a Tedx Talk?
I loved the TEDx experience from the application process right through to the big day. It was so well run (by Gordon Gerraghty and Ciara Murnane) and I was a part of an amazing group of speakers, each of whom were so inspiring. Though if I am honest, I am a little fuzzy on the experience of giving the actual presentation as I had just had a baby 6 weeks beforehand, had prepped the talk while caring for a newborn and the associated baby-brain and then on the day itself (any breastfeeding women will empathise with this) she decided to cluster feed so I was feeding her upstairs, ran downstairs and delivered the talk to run back up and sit feeding her for the rest of the day. Perhaps that will be the inspiration for my next TEDx talk, How to deliver a TEDx while cluster feeding a newborn (I joke of course) So it felt like a blur! But it is a good example of how to just say YES when an opportunity presents itself to you because in spit of all of that I did it and loved it.
It had always been a career goal of mine to stand on a stage in front of those infamous red letters and speak about something I feel so passionately about.
What do you think is the key to success in identifying your passion and starting your career?
Each of us already knows what our passion is, if we would just let ourselves feel it.
I think it is good to reflect on what gave you joy as a child and remember what you used to answer when someone would ask you “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and ask yourself how close/far away from that aspiration are you now. I used to say a writer or a therapist (I was that kind of child) and at this stage of my career I have managed to experience both as I have been fortunate to write columns for national papers and am working on a book right now while maintaining my clinical work in the field of psychotherapy and child attachment.
You can follow Joanna on Twitter @solamh, Instagram @joannafortune and over on her practice website www.solamh.com.