Be a VISIONARY!

When I was a little girl, I was the middle child: the only girl between two boys.  Thus my life of competition began.  Early  career visions for myself included cowboy and super hero, not princess or damsel in distress.  Much to the chagrin of my older brother, Greg, I was pretty tough “for a girl.”.  Once, when we were in elementary school, a bully picked on him at the bus stop.  I watched as my brother tried to ignore the other boy and thought Greg must be scared.  So I stepped in and laid into the bully knocking him down.  I turned to face my big brother expecting heaps of praise, but instead got his anger!  I couldn’t believe he didn’t appreciate me for saving him.  What I didn’t know then was that he didn’t want his little sister coming to his rescue.  By inserting my vision of being a super hero into his situation, I ultimately made it worse for him.

When you made the career choice to become a Social worker you wanted to help others and You do every day.  You see your clients struggling with circumstances and issues that are out of balance. And the issues are pretty obvious most of the time.  Drug abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, neglect and sexual abuse are some that you face on a regular basis.   It would be so easy for you to enter the helping  relationship by handing each family your own prescription for “healing the problem.”  After all, haven’t you seen these stories played out multiple times in your career?  If the family would just listen to you, things would get better.  Right?  Here’s a not so secret fact:  10% of the families you work with will be able to rise out of their circumstance no matter what you do.  10% will not rise out of their circumstance no matter what you do.  That leaves 80% of your families that need a collaborative partnership with you to take the steps necessary for ameliorating their current circumstance.  If you take a moment and let that sink in,  it is staggering to think of the number of people’s lives that can be influenced by forming and maintaining a partnership based on the family’s vision.

Not your vision, but theirs.  

The surface issues that brought this family to your attention might be the tip of the iceberg with the “real issues”  floating just beneath the surface.  Your desire to fix the blaring issues will probably succeed in the short term.  But the underlying issues will continue to manifest until they are brought to light and addressed.  In the example of my brother, I assumed he was scared because he did not react the way that I would have if a bully tried to pick on me.  However, the truth was slightly different.  Greg was more introverted than I was, and as it turned out, a deep thinker.  He did not lack courage, but he did choose to avoid conflict.  He had chosen to ignore the bully until he could find “his” solution to address the situation.  By intervening, I had taken away his ability to avoid the conflict.

Look at a case example.  Mary had a baby boy, born with a serious life threatening kidney disease.  Although his prognosis was extremely poor in the beginning, he was making slow improvements.  Our agency got a call from the hospital concerned that Mary never came to the hospital to visit her son or to learn the skills necessary to care for him upon his release.  The doctor did not feel the child would be safe being released to his mother, as she had demonstrated no attachment to him and He thought the newborn should go into foster care.  To address the doctor’s concerns, the social worker spent time with the mother, to assess the situation.  Mary initially stated that she could not come to the hospital because she had two other small children who needed her and she could not afford to put them into day care for the time necessary to attend the classes.  However, as the worker took time with Mary , actively listened to her and dove deeper, the mother opened up.  Her own mother had the same disease as her newborn and had died as a result.  Mary was very close to her mother and when the disease became terminal, Mary spiralled into a period of debilitating and overwhelming sadness that took her over a year to return to what she described as normal functioning.  Mary recounted that time as the worst in her life.  When she was told her son had the same disease, she was sure he would also die and was afraid to go through that experience again.  Mary had no vision for her son because she had no hope.  By bringing Mary and the doctor together so she could learn about her son’s more hopeful prognosis, the worker was able to offer Mary the hope she needed to create a vision for her family that included her son.  Mary took the classes and soon afterward, with supportive services,  was able to bring her baby home.  

This case example might seem simplistic compared to some of the more complex issues some of your clients face.  But a child did not enter foster care and was able to be with his mother because a Social Worker took the time to dive beneath the surface.  

So, how do you find out a family’s vision?  Three steps:  listen, listen, listen…and don’t be afraid to ask.  Some people, like Mary, have struggled so long with the issues that they feel hopeless.  They think they have no future.  Ask them to close their eyes and picture their life if the issue, habit or circumstance was gone or waning.  Help them to envision a future for them and their family.  It takes time and engagement, but once the client can see hope in the future; they can develop a “vision” for themselves and their family.   ONLY THEN, can you work together to carve the services, interventions or steps needed to get them there. 

When I say BE A VISIONARY!  I don’t mean assert your visions on others.  While it might create a short term solution, like knocking down A bully, the problem can always come back. 

 A true VISIONARY can help another to find their vision and guide them towards a lasting change.

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