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Children, young people and families, Palliative care

One on one... with Julie Stokes

OBE, Chartered Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Director of Winston’s Wish

18 August 2011

One event that changed the course of your career

In 1991 I was working in palliative care and a pharmacist left a leaflet on my desk. I had been talking to her over coffee about how we urgently needed to find ways of supporting children when their parents were seriously ill.

‘With Opportunity Comes Responsibility’. The headline of the leaflet led to an application for a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. A year later we embarked on setting up an organisation which we called Winston’s Wish. The vision has remained the same for 20 years… that every child whose mother, father, brother or sister dies receives the support they need.

One inspiration

Professor Slukin – an animal behaviourist at Leicester University and Head of the Psychology Department. We spoke only once. I had less than impressive A-level grades which left me doing a combined science degree. I longed to get fully immersed in the world of applied psychology.

I went to see the Professor asking him for the chance to transfer to a BSc in Psychology. He looked over his glasses and smiled with a gentle wisdom. ‘Nidetch said “It’s choice – not chance – that determines your destiny”…will you make the choice to get a first class degree to show yourself that your passion for psychology has a secure platform?’

Somewhat tentatively I agreed. A powerful lesson from a humble, generous man who taught me to take risks, value intuitive choices, and respect the potential of every person you meet.

One thing you are proud of

That a vision shared by a small passionate group of people resulted in a significant social enterprise between the NHS and voluntary sector. The Big Society will need to be big enough for bereaved children as the consequences of death in childhood have profound impacts for society.

I am particularly proud of the way we have developed a highly effective, fun, energetic and creative group process for children, adolescents and parents.

One myth about working in the voluntary sector

Charities can be robust organisations with real bite when it comes to influencing policy change. They would also benefit from stronger relationships with business mentors.

One hope for the future

That psychologists will get more involved in helping to shape documentaries to influence attitude changes towards open communication with children. The making of The Mummy Diaries showed me that even really tough subjects can be shared with great respect and integrity.

One book you think all psychologists should read

Ray Owen has published a wonderful book, Facing the Storm. The book shows how the skills of psychologists working in palliative care are transferable to other challenging life situations.

One way to promote resilience

I might be dealing with a troubled teenager whose Mum was murdered by her boyfriend; or on a different day with a highly intuitive CEO of a large multinational. I often ask, ‘What will you do to allow the light in to find solutions to the stuff that really matters to you?’ That’s inspired by a Leonard Cohen song, for those who long for a perfect world:

‘Forget your perfect offering

Everything is cracked…

That’s how the light gets in!’