Shocking to hear that not one professional was able or willing to hear Anna’s story. Her art work would have been a great place to start to inquire. We as humans are constantly adapting to events and distress in our lives. It is short sighted to focus on symptoms and diagnosis, without looking at the big picture of peoples lives and their experiences.
Listening is at the foundation of the work that we do as social workers and other professionals in the mental health field. It has become harder to spend the time that it takes to listen to someone’s story. As providers we can get caught up in the insurance companies expectations and feeling as though we need to be giving advice or asking the client to have an action plan.
The paradigm shift to, how do I understand this person, is an important one. People are not problems to be solved. People are unique and have unique experiences. To understand someone we have to listen to them and come along side of them in order to help.
I recently worked with a twelve year old and her parents. Parents were concerned with their daughters lack of communication, isolation, and running away. The twelve year old was home with her older sister after school for several hours until parents got home from work. Her sister was bullying her both verbally and physically. When the twelve year old was ready to talk about her sister bullying her as well as being bullied at school by peers her symptoms were understandable. She was afraid to talk about the bullying because of her sister’s threats and she was concerned what the consequences would be if she told personnel at school.
I facilitate groups daily and encourage the participants to validate one another and to share their experiences. The environment is highly structured and predictable and this helps clients feel safe. Training for paraprofessional’s on strength based approaches is lacking.