Those of us working in Social Services generally got into the work we do, and continue to remain, because we have a strong desire to help others. This motivation to help is an excellent starting place, and it’s nurtured and developed through the training opportunities we take part in, all designed to help us help others the best we can.
There’s an inherent problem however, and a major one, with being as effective as possible as we go about helping others reach their goals. This problem is in the very design of how we as Caseworkers, Employment Counsellors, Coaches, Counsellors etc. are brought into contact and interact with those we hope to help.
It is well-known that the vast majority of people who receive social assistance present with multiple issues; issues which stand between where they are at the time we meet them and where they’d like to be in the future. These issues fall into four categories:
- Issues they know and share
- Issues they know and guard
- Issues they aren’t aware of but others are
- Issues they have of which no one is aware
These issues – both known and unknown, are as I say, what stands between moving from where we interact with them in the present, and where they’d like to be in the future. A process begins with establishing a goal, identifying existing barriers to meet the goal, planning on how to address barriers, working a plan that removes them, and eventually reaching a target. Do this and success occurs.
Of the 4 kinds of issues noted above however, most people are likely to offer up only category 1; the barriers/issues they know about and will openly share. Of that last sentence, the most important part is the three words, “…will openly share.” And here you have the inherent design flaw with how we typically interact together.
Consider your own issues, and yes, you have them. Think for a moment about how they hold you back from becoming successful, or being more successful than you are at the moment. Pick out one you’d be willing to share with someone. Are you thinking to yourself, “It depends on who the someone is that I’m going to share with?” You’d tell a close friend something more significant than you would a total stranger. If I sat you down with someone you just met, you’d likely keep to surface stuff; things that you’d consider safe to share so that they wouldn’t judge you and cause you to feel embarrassed. After all, you have no history with this person.
Surface issues are real and valid, and definitely need addressing I grant. Working on any barrier or issue is a good thing and ultimately helps move a person closer to what they want to achieve. However, point 2 on the list above, the issues a person knows about but keeps private; here you’ll find the deep stuff, and it’s the deep stuff, the big ones that lie at the heart of moving forward in leaps and bounds. Until the big issues are dealt with, lasting change is not possible.
Now, if you were going to share something of your own, something big and buried deep inside you, you’d first want to identify a trustworthy person you’d feel safe giving that information to. From the people you know, you’d choose based on past interactions you’ve had with them. In other words, before you laid out something deep and dark, you’d see how they took in and handled your surface issues; things you’d feel more comfortable sharing. It would take some time before you’d trust them with your bigger issues.
People on Social Assistance are no different; but the situation they find themselves in is being expected to open up and share their barriers with complete strangers. They get assigned a Caseworker and are expected to immediately talk about their problems and issues. Even the most empathetic Social Services Worker, Employment Counsellor etc. is still someone they know nothing about. If it were you, how likely would you trust them with the big stuff until you’ve had time to develop a relationship?
Developing trust is absolutely critical therefore before one can expect a person to move from 1 to 2; from surface issues to deeper issues they have and traditionally keep private. When solid trust is established, deeper core issues can be shared openly, and it’s here – it’s ONLY here, that you’ll not just find the problems themselves, but you’ll also discover hints that lead to possible solutions.
When someone shares the deep stuff; it’s a privilege and I would urge you to always express gratitude for being invited in. What I believe is not always appreciated and what we have to be aware of, is that not only are you privileged with such information, you have a duty to treat that information with great care and respect, for if you in some way mistreat that information, you not only risk being shut out immediately from learning more, you make it harder for others in the future to be entrusted with entry.
If you’ve ever wondered why someone won’t open up; won’t share what’s really going on, look at the relationship you’ve established. Ask yourself, ‘Would I open up myself to someone like me? Have I done enough to create a trusting climate and demonstrated I will treat what they share with care?”