Professionals must show some emotion

Civitas Vera

Human services, when they fail those who they are meant to serve, do so on a grand scale equivalent to falling off a cliff with no safety net. Vulnerable adults and children are often subject to abuse and/or poor services, and in the worst cases, they die. We feel sorry, we feel sad and think, for a moment, about we can do.

It is very common to have an inquiry or investigation with recommendations. These are only sometimes implemented properly. But this continuous revolving door cycle of incident, investigation and recommendations has not stopped the awful, awful stories that continue. I really don’t understand why innocent people have to be abused or die.

There is no magic technology that is needed. Often all the person requires is a very thorough human assessment and an ordinary lifestyle with extra support as needed. That is all.

It is good that Simon Stevens (Chief Executive, NHS) has announced the closure of larger hospitals. This, however, does not guarantee that good care will take place in smaller institutions that I am sure are already in existence or being planned.

Looking back on all of the years that I worked for and with people with challenges, I realize that what we often did not do was acknowledge the emotional and human side of the work and support that was needed. (The few services that I know really helped were the ones where one or two providers had a healthy emotional investment and motivation to improve the life of the client.)

We don’t always acknowledge that, often, the person with challenges must be incredibly distressed and unhappy such that they behave oddly. We simply often see the behavior as deviant and in need of correction.

We rarely investigate deeply enough to learn more about the person as a human being so that we can see them as a whole. We don’t pay enough attention to what has gone right or badly wrong in the person’s life. We translate adverse behaviours into things that services alone can deal with. We commonly think of how to get the person to stop the behavior rather than help the person understand why they are behaving in that way and how they can learn alternatives to cope more effectively and even, sometimes, address the past. Parents and carers’ feelings and emotions are rarely acknowledged with respect, indeed, often they have to fight to obtain decent services.

Professionals are very good at anesthetizing themselves to be able to work with people who demonstrate challenges. This enables them to do the job without becoming too upset. But, sometimes, this leads to the professional being so distant and uncaring that very little good is done. In extreme cases, the professional becomes abusive and fails to see the person behind the behaviour.

Sometimes, if the professional, e.g. commissioner is removed from the immediate situation, they won’t care enough about the person about whom they are making decisions. The individual with challenges becomes a service to be provided, a problem to be solved.

It can be very perplexing trying to help the person especially in a crisis. This confusion and shock needs to be acknowledged and dealt with, otherwise it will get in the way of properly helping the person.

Human services are, commonly, an intricate web of networks where true responsibility for the life of a person is distributed. There is no place for all the myriad of emotions described above. Being responsible for another requires healthy emotions so you can see the other as a human not an object.

I wonder what would happen if we allowed emotions into human services so that we really truly saw the person, felt responsible for our impact, understood themselves and ourselves better and therefore delivered a better service.

Civitas Vera is a collaborative group of individuals, who contribute their reflections and writings on the themes of citizenship, responsibility, sustainability and leadership.

This blog was first published on the Centre for Welfare Reform website.

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