Friday, June 11, 2010

Awareness that Client's Behavior is Not a Reflection of Me

I don't share this easily but I expect I'm not the only one who has this gut response in certain situations. Namely, when my client does something positive, from getting involve in the community to getting a job, I feel proud by association ("My client did that"). However, if a client of mine does something like get in trouble or cause a behavioral incident at Empoder (like being verbally abusive to staff) I feel a similar sense of ownership of this behavior through association (A similar "my client did that" in a slightly different tone). The closest way I can describe my feeling in this case is guilt though it's not exactly that.

I'm grateful I'm mindful of this initial reaction so I can put myself in check. Now I don't really take ownership of what my clients do. I'm very aware of free will and that my clients' behavior is influenced by a host of internal and environmental factors that have nothing to do with me.

I wonder if this gut reaction is more likely to happen when as a social worker (or in a supportive role in rehab or juvenile hall) has intensive or long term relationships with clients. I've worked with some clients for over three years and I tend to feel this gut reaction more so with clients I've worked with longer.

I wonder if this feeling has to do with the fact that in my first year particularly at Empoder, I thought that I played a positive -- at times almost heroic -- role in many of my clients' lives (as long as they wanted to have an active working relationship with me). After all it's a motivating factor in social services to believe you are making a difference. Later I started downplay the focus on myself in the working relationship between me and my client -- going back to me not wanting to think I'm a savior who has a magical touch to transform a client's life. I'm walking side by side along the metaphorical path with my clients. That doesn't mean I still can't play a positive role in their lives.


Gord Cummings RSW said...

I think we often get an ego going about the work we do. So many social workers have this need to be a martyr, but I guess this could be the only way many people feel self worth--as long as they're worthy to another then they will be worthy of themselves. Practicing social work is essentially social working the self in the process on so many levels.

I fall into it often and tend to take credit when my clients do "good". When they do "bad" I do get down on myself. When it gets too much I let myself to realize and remember that the world world will keep spinning with or without me. This isn't a dismal outlook at all, I know it sounds like it is but I think it's freeing me to achieve my own worth from inside the self.

Anatolia said...

Thank you for your insightful comments Gord Cummings!

I could see that as a social worker believing you're a positive influence may be one way to find the work rewarding, particularly if you had set out to be a social worker to "do good." Social work is a demanding and at times a thankless job and social workers need to take continuous care of themselves. On the other hand, I absolutely agree this shouldn't involve over emphasizing one's influence on a client's behavior or choices.

What you're saying about keeping things in perspective is very healthy and I try to do it as well so not too get too big headed or hard on myself either.

I'd also like to add because I can't help myself: The world will continue spinning without any one of us but it wouldn't be the same.