Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bias of I Know What it Feels Like, I've Been There

I was discussing with another case manager how some workers in recovery fields* share the same experiences as their clients. An example is a survivor of sexual assault pursuing a career supporting fellow survivors. In terms of a case manager's approach and work with his client, how would it be beneficial and a hindrance if they share a similar experience?

We considered the appeal of this field to these case managers: An interest in reaching out to other people who went through a similar struggle or trauma. Perhaps give back after they got help themselves.

I expect that having gone through a similar experience it may add a layer of sensitivity or a deeper level of understanding of the trauma or healing process. Sure, each person reacts to trauma or addiction differently, but many people who go through similar experiences share similar struggles and emotions. A person who quit drinking after years of struggle may understand and empathize with the difficulties of overcoming an addiction very well.

It may be bonding or inspiring for a client to know a case manager shares his experience but the latter wouldn't necessarily disclose this to his client.

On the other hand, having had a specific experience a worker may be biased and expect to see the same reactions in other people as she herself experienced. This may lead her to fail to acknowledge or entertain a different reaction or client's choice than what she herself made.

Is a case manager less effective in working with a survivor of trauma or addiction if she herself hasn't shared that experience? I don't think so. A professional must learn the theories behind trauma/addiction and treatment (and continue to read up on this as new research comes out) to learn how to effectively work with a client. Experience with clients sharpen a professional's ability to work effectively with them. Patience and an attitude towards working together with the client are more important components of an effective professional relationship than sharing a common background.

What do you think?

* Recovery is how I can best describe people dealing with trauma, grief, sexual/violent assualt, substance/alcohol abuse.

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