Meet Dr Leonie White
Updated: Jul 15
Are you curious about the teaching team here at QIFT? Do you want to explore if we will be a good fit for your learning style? Then welcome to Part One of four articles to introduce Leonie, Kate, Laura and Mark.
It is important to us that we embrace the relational principles that we teach. So get to know Leonie as she tells her story of her journey into systemic thinking and practice, and her passion for teaching and mentoring. The introductions MUST start with Leonie as she was the driving force for the original idea of starting the Institute. Her enthusiasm, belief, and passion for the Certificate in Systemic Family Therapy Program was the catalyst for where we are today.
"What sparked your interest in systemic practice?"
Around 2005 when I was working in a CYMHS service there was a Family Therapy team. I didn’t know too much about Family Therapy at the time but I’d done a lit review to see what the evidence based intervention might be for a client with Anorexia and Family Therapy popped up. I ended up referring my client to the Family Therapy team and saw some amazing progress. This introduction sparked my curiosity and I became really interested in Family Therapy as a way of working and started down this pathway….actually it was more like reconnecting with my roots in Organisational Psychology. When I was doing my PhD I felt really torn between Clinical Psychology and Organisational Psychology because I loved understanding people, and also I was naturally drawn to understanding people in the different ‘systems’ of their life, understanding group processes, and the possibility of helping more people by helping systems to do well. In systemic practice I love the idea that I can consider the individual and also think and work in a wholistic way.
"What frameworks are you drawn too and why?"
I would have to say that my overarching framework is ‘systemic thinking’ – I love to think in systems to try to understand the big, and little, picture of a person, what’s important to them, what’s going well for them, their relationships and life context, and what they’d like help with. I’d say that in this systemic thinking big picture my framework for practice could be described best as a combination of Social Constructionist approaches (Narrative and Solution Focused Therapy) combined with Psychodynamic and Attachment based approaches (Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy and Mentalisation), and heavily influenced by neuroscience….probably because a lot of my work has been supporting children, teenagers and adults with the effects of trauma. I’d have to say though, one thing I’ve learned is to be flexible, to listen to my clients, and to incorporate other interventions as needed – there’s real value in helping families develop a healthy structure and also in helping individuals with body based interventions!
"How has systemic thinking changed your practice?"
Working systemically has had some major benefits for me – and ultimately the people I work with, which is what it’s all about. The biggest benefit I think is the manoeuvrability that comes from seeing the big picture…or as we say in Family Therapy “widening the lens”. What this means for me when I’m working with someone is that if I can think about relationships, all the layers of context of a person’s life and how they make meaning, I’ve got more to work with or more options to decide where might be most helpful to “sharpen the focus”. This is soooo helpful when I’m feeling stuck because I’ve got options for what else I might consider or do in my work to be helpful. And then this has a benefit for me too – I’m convinced that one of the things that’s helped me feel sustained in my practice is having a sense that there are options – It gives me a real sense of hope and confidence in what I am doing.
"Why have you chosen to go into a teaching and mentoring role in this field?"
For me this goes back to my early days choosing my PhD. I’ve always wanted to help and create a positive difference in the world on a big scale. I even dreamed of running off to work for the UN when I was doing my PhD! What drew me to Organisational Psychology initially was thinking I could work with groups and make a bigger difference by reaching more people. In teaching, supervision and mentoring, I love that I get the opportunity to not just help and support other helping professionals on their journeys – because we all deserve help and support - but in doing so I get the chance to have a broader impact in the world. By sharing ideas about systemic practice and supporting other professionals, in a sense I am reaching more people through others than I could on my own. I also really enjoy supporting other professionals as they grow in their own way on their own individual journey – it’s a privilege really.
"If you could give one piece of advice to our starting students what would it be?"
Never forget who you are, where you come from and what you already know, and take time to think about what type of helping professional you want to become – what your values are and how you want to work. Hold on to this as you move through the Program and start to incorporate more and more Systemic Practice into your work – do this in a way that fits with your unique journey.
"What is one food you cannot stand?"
Peas - Snow Peas excluded - I have not eaten a pea in my adult life 😊