Doing Away with Fear and Paranoia

Without Apology does not encourage anonymity, but this is a special case. Due to the nature of this piece, misinterpretations and overreactions are ripe for the happening. As always, there is no vouching for the opinions of others at this publication, but there is vouching for the factual claims being made. The writer does work for a company which caters to the needs of the mentally ill and mentally retarded and his of an incident there is true.

By Anonymous

I work for a company that labors to rehabilitate and mentor people with mental disabilities and illnesses. Our most significant goal for each person is to increase their self-sufficiency and help them become more productive members of society, thus giving them richer and fuller lives. I believe whole heartedly in this mission. It is a noble cause to raise up an individual and give him a greater sense of dignity and self-respect, to show him a world of wider possibilities and expand the future before him.

But guiding a person towards these goals is a difficult task. For many, too little faith has been invested in their potential and sadly they believe in the doubts this implies. As a result their days are spent in idleness, not reaching for what they can become. This boredom often leads to contentious behavior which creates endless cycles of power struggles and petty dramas.

What’s worse is we as staff cannot say so much as boo to them because of the hysterical hypersensitivities that permeate the air – sensitivities rooted in our guilty from past historical abuses. Now we disable them with our pity.

We give them food, shelter, money, activities, privileges and ask for nothing in return from them. This gives them a false impression of how life works and we do them a disservice for it. What incentive is there to achieve anything when reward comes before effort?

Discipline is necessary for any person to succeed and it must be implemented in the lives of these ‘clients’ for them to mature. Yet we as staff are powerless to this end. We are handcuffed by blind regulations and a lack of consideration for the true needs of these people. From what I see, many workers and agencies are too preoccupied with protecting themselves from potential legal and social persecution to serve their clients effectively.

I recall when a client came to me asking for me to mop the bathroom floor after he had spilled water on it. I told him I would get the mop and bucket but that he was capable of cleaning his own mess. A week or two later I was called into the office and questioned about this matter.

I ask, must we excuse these perfectly capable people of all responsibility?

We are there to help them when they need help, but we are not there to coddle them into atrophy. If our goal is truly to help the mentally disabled become more productive, self-sufficient members of society, then we must change our current course. Society must acknowledge the reality of their disabilities while not denying the existence of their capabilities.

Let us do away with our fear and paranoia, and let us focus on what these people really need: discipline, encouragement, genuine concern, and a little faith.


2 Responses

  1. I agree with this 100%. I also work in this field, and I see this every day, its very sad, and frustrating.

    It doesn’t help that the State of Maine has decreased funding for this field, resulting in lack of staff, which is bad, for the safety of both the staff, and especially the people we serve.

  2. “a client came to me asking for me to mop the bathroom floor after he had spilled water on it. I told him I would get the mop and bucket but that he was capable of cleaning his own mess. A week or two later I was called into the office ”

    Anyone familiar with William Glasser’s work with Reality Therapy will recognize the validity in encouraging autonomy and responsibility.

    Before agreeing with the writer’s complaints, however, details of the interaction and the relationship need some clarification.

    Was the individual first asked about the circumstances of the presumably accidental spill? If medications or other circumstance led to dizziness, poor coordination, or disorientation, staff needs to know this before handing him a mop and perhaps critically admonishing him to “clean his own mess.”

    It is also possible that the individual was bored or lonely and was attempting to create an opportunity for some attention. Was he asked whether he would like assistance cleaning up the mess together?

    Working with adults is not the same as raising a child where more authority and direction may be beneficial to learning skills and attitudes. Staff behavior that is perceived as patronizing is counter-productive with adults.

    The fact that the client brought this incident to the attention of others suggests that there may be more to the story than we are told. It is appropriate for supervisors to follow-up with staff when questions arise. This is not only a risk management concern; it is good practice.

    Recovery work with individuals with mental illness is challenging and often stressful. Maintaining the proper attitudes and ethics is not always easy or even obvious. If supervisors listen to staff and respond thoughtfully, everyone benefits.

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