As we strive to continue to be responsive to the needs of the people we serve, we are asked to update our language, attitudes and behavior; to adopt new concepts, phrases and terms. There is a dizzying array of choices for describing how we help others: life coach, life mentor, care manager, recovery coach, recovery navigator, health coach – it can be a bit confusing. Will Shakespeare noted “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”; so it is with recovery helpers. Fortunately for us, we can look to the Top 10 Recovery Principles (Davidson, Tondora et al) to guide us in guiding others. What follows is one of my favorites.
To help work against feelings of stigma that often arise in persons with a disability due to having been diagnosed with a mental illness or a substance use disorder, I latch onto Recovery Principle 5 –
“Care Allows for Reciprocity in Relationships”
One’s sense of wholeness is enhanced by cultural norms in the same way it might be stigmatized by patronizing values and attitudes. We remain more balanced as practitioners when we treat everyone we come in contact with as an equal partner in the transaction. It’s especially important as the legitimate expression of our role as helper moves away from a traditional client-patient relationship to include appropriate gestures of reciprocity.
Any recovery process worth its salt will promote a person’s increasing sense of agency over their own life accompanied by having an improved sense of self-worth and belonging in their community. The Catch-22 is that we all subscribe to an unspoken, often unexamined set of values influenced by the family and social culture we were raised in. The nuanced difference this makes is illustrated by the following vignette taken from Disability Studies Quarterly (Volume 21, Number 3, 2001), which describes a hearing mother’s experience raising two deaf children:
“I've been fortunate to have Lakota people as personal friends and professional colleagues. The difference in their culture and mine is like night and day. To illustrate, my sons are greeted when white and Native friends come to my home. My white friends react to them in one of three ways. They forget they aren't deaf and speak in a loud voice. Women develop a "little girl" voice and speak to them as though they were children. They speak of them to me as though they were not in the room. My Native friends without exception always offer them a handshake, a smile, and a sincere inquiry as to how they are doing.”
The ultimate expression of personal agency is to give of oneself to the unconditional benefit of others. Many persons with psychiatric disabilities are so often and so long cast in the role of being disabled and having decisions made for them that it becomes useless to resist; and worse - they actually come to expect it. The most effective tool we have to neutralize this mind-numbing experience is to engage in a reciprocal relationship characterized by power sharing and mutual respect.
“Care allows for reciprocity in relationships”…
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