Saturday, January 29, 2011

You Don't Always Work in Something You Like, Then What?

I was leafing through this health focused newspaper and came across an article that included a long list of tips to help the reader "stay healthy while working". Didn't really relate to some of them...

Side note to share my small but noteworthy annoyance at the overstated 'Remember, the customer is always right'... Customer service is certainly important and appreciated, but no, the customer is not always right. And I don't even have much experience working in customer service -- unless one considers case management to a degree to include this -- just empathy to workers and their challenges in working with the public. Maybe the wording should be changed to something like "suck it up" so meaning is more clear.

One particular tip that annoyed me was Ask yourself if you like your job. If you don't change it. OK, apart from folks who don't have many alternatives due to lack of options in their field, lack of transferable skills (to different work), limited education or experience. Sure, theoretically people have the option of going back to school to advance their education but for several reasons, including having kids or being a certain age this may be very difficult to do for many people. Bottom line is for a good number of people their job is what they have for a good number of years. Then what? The answer to this is more useful if a little grittier.*

And OK, maybe you could say, consider the target audience for this article: people who have more opportunities and luxury of pursuing a more fulfilling job. Yet even with a college degree a lot of people work in full time jobs that aren't their passion nor as particularly stimulating as they'd like.

So how would I answer the question to 'then what'? Depends on the person. There's an option of finding something else outside work to make one more satisfied, and/or make the most of work, learn new skills if possible, broaden a network of support through making and developing connections with coworkers, learn your rights as an employee and talk with others about this. And still, I appreciate it's not as simple as that for some people.

I think I prefer the grittier answers than neat lists. Unless they're funny lists.


* Grittier than the simple and appealing "there's always another job out there and there's always an option for you to do something you love."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's The Follow Up Dance!

And... You take a client's hand, you take a step back, client walks off, you dosey do around your coworker and woooop and you lost sight of client. Where did she go? You got a call back from the her public aid case worker and you have the information she was asking about. Client's phone is disconnected....

It's not that clients don't fall off the radar on occasion. Since clients seek case management services voluntarily at Empoder it's not necessarily expected they'll come back after an intake or even a couple of visits. Two disconnects may occur on a client's initiative. In one it's with a client while you're working together to resolve an issue he's dealing with. In this case it's hard for me not to be able to see the problem through to some resolution. The second type of client distancing herself is when, after a relationship and ongoing regular contact is established with a client, she suddenly distances herself for an extended period of time (over a month). In this second case*, particularly with clients we've worked with for some time, we do try to check in with them (by phone, letter, or home visits) which is something I like about the program.

No doubt, I understand the many situations where a client was dealing with an issue and was able to resolve it herself or with the help of someone else -- I just want to know what happened and how it was resolved. To be sure I've accepted that I may very well not get this sometimes. Or -- I'll get a call in eight months time asking to follow up on that "situation we had talked about..."

* Though this is often done to a degree in the first case scenario too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hoarding As its Own Disorder in Upcoming DSM?

According to DSM-IV published in 2000, compulsive hoarding is included under the umbrella of obsessive compulsive disorder and not as its own condition. Could this change?

For more on hoarding:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Recognizing Person Has Mental Illness by Looking at Him?

Ian, a fellow case manager, told me that he's able to distinguish whether a person he encounters casually on the street has mental illness, specifically schizophrenia. He said he did this by observing another person's "way," including mannerism, behavior, and facial expressions. Not a politically correct statement, no doubt, but one that at its core is not different from what we all do when we meet new people. We make quick assumptions and impressions based on general shortcuts and personal experiences. I also don't think Ian was touting professional or magical abilities but spoke from a place of confidence that through his years of intensively working with a particular population that he was well versed in recognizing this condition in strangers. Yet was there deeper merit to what he was saying?

I considered how I myself (and how early) develop a belief a client may be mentally unstable/have a condition of mental illness.* I do this through verbal interactions with a client and sometimes suspect he's mentally ill from our intake (first) appointment. Typically this is because I'm unable to have a logical conversation with him or he shares delusional beliefs with me. His mannerisms and affect are involved too but what he chooses to share and how he shares it are important factors I rely on.

What about other conditions though? It's possible to detect some on a short encounter, like whether a person is drunk or developmentally disabled. This is especially the case if one is familiar with people who have similar conditions. On the other hand, it's not difficult to make mistakes when assessing a person's behavior and facial expressions in a few or even several seconds. I haven't seen studies that explore length of time in regards to correctly assessing mental illness but it doesn't seem like it'd be possible to accurately assess a person's sobriety or whether she's developmentally disabled without observing her for a longer period of time (1-2 minutes) or having a short conversation with her.

In Ian's case, I'd also predict that the fact he works almost exclusively with people with schizophrenia means that he's primed to find this illness, whether in a person who has mental illness or not. I may understand why he'd be more sensitive in recognizing this condition but not sure if he'd be able to do it with higher accuracy than a non provider. I'd expect though that he'd have a deeper understanding of what the condition means.

Because I couldn't help myself: Of course this could start a whole conversation of DSM IV and how mental illnesses are assessed (clinically) in the first place but that's for a whole other discussion...

* A reminder that I don't have a clinical background and so don't have credentials to assess mental illness.

Monday, January 3, 2011

It Doesn't Mean You Have to Like it

While watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a kid one line struck me. It bugged me because I didn't get it. Young Indiana's trying to get a valuable artifact ("it belongs in a museum!!!") from , if memory serves correctly, a band of men who plan to sell it to the highest bidder. After giving it a good fight, the item ends up on the other side and the men's leader smiles at Indiana and says, either with some degree of respect or humoring him, "You lost today kid. It doesn't mean you have to like it." My initial thought was: Course he's not going to like losing, who likes losing? Certainly not me.

There's depth to the simplicity of this statement, I eventually appreciated. Losses or painful situations tend to happen with some regularity in virtually each person's life. Not talking about the feeling I get when all the good seats are taken at a theater by the time I show up (as paining as it is), but something seriously affecting one's or a dear one's health, life situation, and so on. 

And it's OK that we don't like them. It's OK that we're upset or annoyed and have negative feelings and it's something that maybe as a young person it may feel confusing to go through. I'd need to brush up on my developmental psychology as to when the following happens exactly, but at some point people develop a sense that the world is a just place and that good things happen to people who do good whereas the opposite is true (let's put aside for a moment the occasional subjectivity in what constitutes good and evil). Realizing that good is not necessarily rewarded accordingly is infuriating.*

Months ago a coworker was sharing a rough situation with me in how she was helping to care for an aging aunt. We talked for a few minutes and she shrugged, saying coldly, "But what can I say, that's the way it  is [her aunt's situation]." I said, "Yeah, but it doesn't mean you have to like it," and she smiled. Perhaps somewhat oddly, a comforting statement.

Like anything sure, it can go to the extreme. I don't mean it's helpful to continue and wallow and not be able to work through a slump that's preventing you from taking part in things that make you happy, from working through a crisis or moving on and all that. It may be something that kicks you in the direction of doing something to change things. Or it may just be something that needs to be worked through -- and something that tests our idea that the world is balanced. 

It's interesting -- though I studied psychology in college and in the back of my mind I recognize absurdity behind a lot of things that happen I want to believe I live in a balanced, or just (however seemingly slanted) world.



* I'm not sure if this is similar to the just world effect, by which people believe the world's inherently just and if something bad happens to someone it's because it's his own fault, thus blaming the victim. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Social Work Blog Carnival's Rolling in

I wanted to help spread the word about Gord Cummings' (from Functional Assessment) cool initiative to start a Social Work Blog Carnival amongst social workers and workers in helping professions. Hop over to his site to read more details.


Happy New Year wishes all around. Let's get on with it.