It’s amazing what you learn from the people you are trying to serve. You may approach a task with the idea, like most, that you are an expert at the task, and that you might know best. However, the point of serving is to exercise an empathetic eye and ear to those who are receiving your services. This thought has come to my mind as I have been reading “How to Be Like Walt.” I already wrote a small blarticle (blog+article) about this book, but the further I delve into the author’s information and humor about Walt Disney, the more I see the innovation behind Disney’s approaches to business and human beings. First, the author indicated that Disney was never trying to make money. He loved what he did, he believed in it, and it required money to do it; therefore, it was only a means to an end. We all know who Walt Disney was, and we know that he was no slouch when it came to money, as well. Then, why do we seek after money in trying to serve? It doesn’t make sense. I’ve tried it and I was miserable. I tried it the way others said to do it; the way the universities told me I had to do it; and the way that the “experts” said. I wonder if it is the incorrect way, though. Therefore, these are just my thoughts on some observations I’ve been thinking about.
I began my career path as a mental health counselor about 12 years ago. I had spent two years as a volunteer for my church in another country where I served others. My parents paid my way for the experience and I worked hard. During that time, I found that I enjoyed working with people, getting to know them, learning from them, and teaching them. Therefore, when I returned back to the States, I decided to pursue a service-oriented career. I talked at times with my dad and others about opening up a ranch for at-risk youth. The focused activities would include learning how to care for and ride horses, as well as do cattle drives. Other activities would include care for their camp and cabins as an attempt to instill a desire to work hard and to find the joy that work can bring. Alas, it did not happen, but it was the beginning of my pursuits.
Now, I have been working as a clinical director for a residential treatment facility for addictions for the past year. It was a great career move and I have spent the past 12 months learning, a lot. During my time there I began doing exit interviews with residents during their last day of treatment. I would ask them a few questions at first, but then narrowed it to one: “If you returned here a year from now, what would you like to see change and what would you like to see remain the same.” Almost always, and I don’t exaggerate this, they would say that they do not want the atmosphere and environment to change. They said that the front-line staff and the therapist staff members worked well together. They treated each other as equals. Most importantly, they felt the compassion that the staff members have for them and the other residents. They felt welcome and a part of a community. They felt on equal ground with the other residents, the line staff, the therapists, the administrators, etc. The residents said that the therapy was good (whatever that means) and that they learned a lot, but the emphasis was on equality and compassion. It makes me wonder if that is a catalyst for change. Is it possible that having compassion for your fellow man is a huge piece of successful change? My guess is yes. There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate such whether its from Christian texts, Buddhist beliefs, or psychological texts by Carl Rogers.
Therefore, I would make a few suggestions to those who are in the service-oriented field.
1. Get to know your clients on an individual basis (by clients I mean anyone you serve whether you are a therapist, scout leader, parent, parishioner, or music teacher).
2. Do not be afraid to be human with your clients. Many people see us (therapists, etc.) as being an expert, and therefore, there is a power differential, which can lead to defenses and resistance in clients or ourselves. Don’t forget that you eat, sleep, and that your heart pumps red blood just as your clients. Be a vulnerable human. For more information on vulnerability, see http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html
3. Holistic approaches: Not every client is the same. Be open and willing to help the client from their viewpoint, not yours. At times, yours may have to be the voice of the expert, but most people are an expert at their own lives. If you don’t know how to help a person, ask someone who does. You don’t know everything and you’re not supposed to. Be bendable and ethical.
4. Watch for patterns of behaviors that are indicators of your clients’ needs. They will show you what they need if you just pay attention.
5. Be equal with the people you serve.
6. Have fun with your service. If you don’t know how to live after the manner of happiness, it is hard for others to want to follow you. A. Bandura indicated that people need social models to follow at times. Social models are people with similarities of a others that provide a model or likeness that others can follow.
These are just my ideas for now. Until next time.