Training, Consultation, Supervision and Therapy

A Systemic Approach

A systemic approach works with individuals, couples, families and organisations. It considers systems of interaction between each person in relationships, in terms of beliefs, emotions and behaviour. It explores where those beliefs come from, including thinking about family of origin, organisational goals, or the wider culture and societal beliefs which shape our lives.

Understandably, individuals, couples, families and organisations will sometimes encounter difficulties due to differences, often leading to communication breakdown. The aim of therapy is to work on these problems, by encouraging individuals to gain a different understanding of what is happening between them, to be able to empathise with each other and come to an understanding of how difference and conflict may be viewed positively.

It provides an opportunity to understand how patterns of interaction are created. In turn it helps to address how people may appreciate each other’s needs, build on strengths and ultimately make useful changes – changes at the level of meaning.

Continuing Professional Development / Training Courses

I have many years experience of delivering training, and expertise in the following areas:


  • Systemic theory and its relevance to organisations
  • Systemic theory and its relevance to relationships
  • The use of linear, circular, reflexive and strategic questions
  • Building collaborative therapeutic relationships which promote change
  • Working with reluctance and resistance
  • The use of genograms
  • Brief solution-focused therapy
  • Milan systemic therapy
  • Narrative therapy
  • Structural family therapy
  • Appreciative inquiry
  • Mental health and social constructionism.
  • Balancing risk, uncertainty and abuse with a therapeutic approach in statutory services
  • Inter-agency working
  • Mentalisation – and holding the other in mind
  • Mental Health Act Law
  • The use of family life-cycle model and family scripts to understand and make sense of patterns in couples and families
  • The metaphor of life as a journey
  • Trauma and attachment
  • Reflexivity
  • Social constructionism and the effect of dominant discourses on wellbeing
  • Working with couples and families
  • Working with anger, and finding non-violnet ways of communication
  • A compassionate approach

Feedback from recent training to local authority child protection social workers.

  • A really informative course that has given me loads of ideas how to communicate with families by asking questions in a variety of ways. It has also made me think about how to build relationships with families who may not want support from me.
  • A very positive course which was easy to understand with lots of information that is relevant in my role. John Woolner was very friendly and welcoming and made the course very easy to understand and follow.
  • Fantastic training, I loved the examples! Shame we couldn’t stay longer just to listen to you. Ideas you gave are extremely knowledgeable and I look forward to seeing you again.
  • Very informative training that was easy to understand. It has been really helpful to re-visit systemic working and approaches. The exercises were really helpful and got you thinking of how you can implement systemic approaches into daily practice. The info and exercise on circular questioning was helpful and has highlighted to me that we need to ‘practice’ these more to feel comfortable in using them with families. Well-presented training. Thank you!
Child Protection

Social Workers


I have facilitated away days for various organisations, in which teams have had the opportunity, in a reflective and safe space, to consider how they function, patterns of communication, and how they might promote change. Appreciative inquiry can be a very powerful way of exploring what works best in an organisation, promoting positive change at the level of meaning.


I have supervised, provided training for, and facilitated away days for, various organizations – such as Relate, Action against Domestic Violence and Abuse, Force Cancer charity, and Family Matters. This has been both group and individual supervision, and has involved as well some live supervision. I currently supervise individuals in private practice.

Systemic Psychotherapy for Individuals, Couples and Families

About me

I am a qualified social worker, and a UKCP registered couple and family psychotherapist (MSc Institute of Family Therapy 2000). My passion for systemic psychotherapy emerged during the time I was employed as an approved social worker in an adult mental health team in Exeter. I was working alongside a family therapist, and in a family therapy team, for seven years before qualifying.

Since leaving the mental health team in 2003, I have had experience of working as an adult protection officer for Devon County Council, chairing adult protection meetings and counselled men who have experienced sexual abuse for Avon Sexual Abuse Centre in Bristol. I have also worked previously for a GP practice as a family therapist seeing families where children present with behavioural/emotional difficulties in East Devon, as a family therapist on an eating disorders unit in Exeter and as a couple and family therapist within a psychotherapy department for adults presenting with mental health difficulties. The employment in the psychotherapy department included training junior doctors/psychiatrists in the use of a systemic approach.

I am currently employed part time as a specialist lay member on Mental Health Review Tribunals across the South West, as a lecturer and tutor on the BA and MA social work courses at Plymouth University, as a trainer working on behalf of the Institute of Family Therapy and Morning Lane Associates. This training is for social workers and practitioners, working in the context of child protection across the UK. I have particularly valued bringing my skills and knowledge to this training, such as how to achieve a balance between working therapeutically and the need to address risk and safety.

I have supervised, provided training for, and facilitated away days for individuals in private practice, and for various organizations – such as Action against Domestic Violence and Abuse, Force Cancer, Relate and Family Matters.

How can I Help?

There are times during our lives when it can be helpful to talk to someone with experience, who offers a confidential and non-judgemental approach.

As individuals, couples or families, we may at times find ourselves feeling stuck. For example, you may want more closeness and your partner more independence, as a parent, you may find yourself having very different ideas from your partner about how best to manage a child’s behaviour, or you may feel you are carrying all the responsibility for a relationship. This can result in increased frustration for everyone involved. Discussions often lead into arguments, covering the same ground, with no apparent resolution. Or alternatively, conflict is avoided. You may feel misunderstood or not listened to, or that your partner, or a relative, is to blame for the state of the relationship and is the one that needs to make changes. Very often the solutions you or others employ don’t seem to work.

It may be that a recent event or an event from years ago is negatively affecting the relationship. Alternatively, a life change may put stress on the relationship, such as changes in the family life-cycle, having children in adolescence, a crisis, redundancy, the birth of a baby, a death. Relationships may be affected by things such as guilt, an affair, depression, or an addiction.

As a systemic psychotherapist, I am able to offer you the opportunity to explore the presenting problems from different perspectives and in particular to understand where your beliefs, values and expectations come from. These could, for example, be connected to your family or origin, the way in which you were parented, childhood experiences, or the wider cultural expectations in terms of your gender, race, religion, class, sexuality etc. The therapy offers a safe environment in which to explore how these impact on your identity, and on the relationship, and in particular how they create predictable patterns of interaction – patterns based upon your beliefs, emotions and behaviour. Solutions often arise to problems that had seemed irresolvable.

The therapy doesn’t direct, but rather seeks to help you have different sorts of conversations, ones which are non-blaming and which to lead your own preferred solutions. All the work we do together will be confidential.

Feedback from Clients

"I have known John as teacher since 2007 and attended both year long courses and CPD days that he has run. John has impacted on my learning in many ways; not only in his clear explanation of theoretical material but also in his modelling of a systemic approach as an integral part of his delivery style. He draws widely on his own experiences to illustrate theory and practice and brings the work to life! As a teacher, John has actively fuelled my passion for and my competence in working systemically and the difference that it can help clients to make in their lives."

Testimonial (Teacher)

Qualifications and Training

  • UKCP registered psychotherapist
  • MSc in family and couple systemic psychotherapy (Birbeck College and University of London – 2000)
  • Certificate in Counselling Skills (Exeter University – 1994)
  • Diploma in Applied Social Studies and CQSW (Bristol Polytechnic 1988)


Professional Membership


Please feel free to telephone me direct for a brief and confidential conversation.

  • Fees £50.00 a session for individuals.
  • £55.00 for couples and families.

Each session lasts 1 hour.

I will collaborate with you on the number of sessions you have, and how often we meet. Sometimes a few sessions prove helpful. Where there are deeper issues, such as trauma, a deeper exploration may be required.

Telephone: 07875 297 964

Get In Touch

Please feel free to telephone me direct for a brief and confidential conversation or fill in the Contact Form below

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