8th November 2019

Blog: Making the difficult easier

Word is spreading in the clergy wellbeing community about a psychotherapy-based course that originated in the Diocese of Lichfield, ‘Working with Difficult People’. St Luke’s finds out more from course leaders Revd Prebendary Dr Jane Tillier and Sally-Anne Bubbers

What are your roles in clergy wellbeing?

Sally (SB): I’m an experienced psychotherapist with specialist training in fields including sensorimotor psychotherapy, which acknowledges that the body holds its own memories and these can cause us to react  in ways we do not always understand. I work with the Diocese of Lichfield’s counselling service. I am also a pastoral supervisor and workplace chaplain.

Jane (JT): I’m the Bishop’s Adviser for Pastoral Care and Wellbeing and oversee the diocesan counselling service. I’ve previously served as a parish priest, hospice chaplain and Diocesan Adviser for Women in Ministry.

Why did you launch the Working with Difficult People course? 

Sally (SB): Because of the type of issues clergy were bringing to counselling.  The information we included in this course didn’t seem to be in any courses for clergy, so far as we were aware.

Jane (JT): In my role to the bishop, one of the gaps I discovered, in talking to clergy, was their experience of a really quite debilitating, if low-level, niggle about the awkward people they have to deal with.

What’s the course’s content?

We want the course to spark curiosity about ourselves and others, without too much judgment. It’s about what we can do with the difficult bits of ourselves as well as others. And it’s interwoven with times of prayer and meditation.

SB: It doesn’t give rules for communication but allows people to learn to notice what is going on, which can help resource and build resilience.

JT: We look at the difference between intention and impact, and reacting and responding, in all sorts of contexts. We equip people to go away and explore this.

What format does it take?

SB: It’s usually a two-day course with a break of three to four weeks in between. People really appreciate coming back to share what they have learned, noticed and embodied, before adding in new information. The cost is around £700 per day for a group of 12-15 people.

What is the usual make-up of the group?

SB: Often about half clergy, with a mix of chaplains, non-stipendiary, youth workers, readers, church administrators and diocesan staff.

Jane, as a former parish priest, can you give an example of how this course would have helped you?

Yes, I would take the dynamics of a PCC meeting and the different needs people have around the table. Now I would have a much broader understanding of what I could do as chair to enable everyone to find a voice, rather than people feeling the need to dominate the meeting. It’s understanding how people, including oneself, are being ‘triggered’ and enabling people to feel safe enough to say what they really think and feel.

What toll does working with difficult people take if you’re not resourced to do it?

SB: Church communities can have complex relational dynamics at many levels. When things go wrong in a relationship in the parish, clergy and lay people can feel confused and distressed, and end up blaming themselves or the other person too much. People are often inclined to habitually jump towards one or the other. This blame process can lead to a decrease in wellbeing.

JT: In lay terms, it’s often understanding that it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

What do delegates say about the course?

SB: We do get some great feedback. Recent comments have been ‘best course I’ve been on’ and ‘thought-provoking and positive’. Plus ‘the first course I haven’t clock-watched’!

Are you aware of any similar resource being offered in other dioceses or Christian Third Sector?

Not exactly – we now have people coming from other dioceses to do the course because they have heard about it on the Sheldon Hub. We’ve heard that the material used by Bridge Builders is very helpful and supportive and we’d love to hear from anyone who offers a similar kind of psychotherapeutic interpersonal training.

For more information or to book a course, please email Sally Anne and Jane through St Luke’s at events@stlukesforclergy.org.uk