Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good Advice from a Smart Person

One of my mentors just retired. During his career, he had worked his way up from a line worker to a senior manager who supervised thousands of people over the years. Here is some advice he's given me over the years:

Hire People who are Smart, Work Hard and Get Along with Others

He always said it was really hard to find all three qualities in one person. You might get someone who worked hard, got along with others, but maybe was of average intelligence. Or, maybe you got someone who got along well with her co-workers, was smart, but kind of lazy.

People get into BIG Trouble for Lying, Not for What they Lied About

This is a good one and some people call this "falling on the sword." In other words, if you do something wrong it is better to simply admit you did made a bad decision. What gets most people in serious trouble is not the bad decision, but the "cover-up" and lying about it. Think Bill Clinton.

You Don't Know a Person Until You See Them Under Stress

Anyone can be nice at a party. You don't really know a person's character until you see them under stress, her back against the wall. Is she they type of person who'll throw everyone under the bus? Or, will she get out in front and take control? Will he become angry and nervous, or will he become focused and ready to deal with the problem?

Try Not to Say Bad Things about People

If you think something bad about another person, keep it to yourself, unless you have no other choice. You never know how this might come back to haunt you. For instance, if you think someone is less than honest, be careful around that person. If you have a say on where she works, try and put in her in a position in which she won't impact too many people. Truth will eventually out and people like this will eventually do themselves in.
Get All the Facts Before you Make a Decision
This sounds like a no-brainer. But it isn't. It is easy to go with emotion and make a decision before 1) gathering all the information and 2) weighing all the decisions. Gathering all the information means talking to all the parties who might be involved. The trick is not to let how you feel about someone get in the way. If you need to review documents, do that. The big thing is not to be too reactive. Take the time to gather all the puzzle pieces before trying to put it together. Weighing all the decisions means really thinking about the outcomes. The more political the decision, the more it needs to be considered. Some things really can't be undone.
Don't Let Your Ego Get in the Way
This is a really tough one for most of us (me included). It is easy to respond to a situation from a personal perspective - that really made me mad. But, the best thing is always to take a breath and look at the situation from a variety of angles, and to put yourself in someone else's shoes - to really try and understand how others see it.
I love my mentors and am extremely grateful for all their patience and guidance. I have had several of them in my life and I hope that I can provide mentorship to others as I gain more experience.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Faith in Action

A Christian is great in so far as his service.

- Fr. Ben Smaistrla 10/17/09

Please forgive me if you are offended by this poster, but think about what it means. I was goofing around on the internet and found it. My first response was to laugh. But, then I thought about the deeper meaning and decided this is funny because it is so TRUE. Don't get me wrong, I think prayer is important. But, I also think that many situations call for service, which is faith in action.

At mass this week, our priest, Fr. Ben Smaistrla, told the story of a rich man who saw a bedraggled woman and child begging for food. He didn't give them any. He went home, sat down to his own sumptuous meal, and prayed to God to "help those poor people." He even had the temerity to ask God why he let people suffer so.
I once went to a "day of prayer" for at risk children. It was at a beautiful wealthy church in an exclusive part of town. We heard statistics on at risk children and said a prayer for them. I almost expected to hear the iconic song "In the Ghetto" playing in the background. One Latino lawmaker got up and told us that in fact, parents of "at risk" kids want the best for them, just like parents of kids in the wealthy neighborhoods. He didn't say it outright, but I am extrapolating that what they needed more than prayer, were jobs at fair wages and access to affordable housing and healthcare.

The point is we've got to deliver. It isn't enough to look good, or think about being good, or even pray about being good - we actually to do something to be good. We can't ask "why" without asking "how can I help?" Certainly, we cannot help every person or every situation. But, we all can help someone and we can take a make a difference somewhere.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Out of Bounds

I always thought I could make it big if I thought of my own therapy. I could even put a little ™ by the title. I'm going to call it Family Realignment Therapy.
Here's out it will work. I'll meet with a family and assess where they are in terms of relationships. Then, I'll use various techniques to properly realign family relationships. In my work, I often meet with children who have had to take on adult responsibilities. Or, the parents are so busy dealing with their own problems, they don't give much direction or establish boundaries with their kids.
I'm not talking about "bad" people who do this. I'm talking about people like you and me. (After all, how can you or I be bad?)
Here's an example. I once worked with a woman for several years to get out and stay out of an abusive relationship. Like many battered women, she became isolated from friends and family. As a result, her confidant became her 9 year old son. She told me she didn't know what she'd do without him. He always knew the right thing to say and do to help her. I'm sure he did. I met him. He was a precocious little boy. He was sweet and aware of way too many adult issues. Mom really didn't see how she was burdening her son.
Like many people living in crisis and trauma she couldn't see past "the moment." Planning for the future or looking at the big picture isn't part of the program. I encouraged her to get into counseling and put her son in counseling to realign that family relationship. I have kids and, yes, they are a comfort. But, it can't be their job to meet my emotional needs. I'm supposed to meet their needs. I'm supposed to take care of them, to set boundaries, to be the parent. I know it is a cliche, but if we are our kids' friend, we're probably not their parent - at least until they are grown.
P.S. I had to learn how to set boundaries/rules my own kids and mean it. I gave in too easily and I have learned it is better in the long run to say, mean it, and stick with it. It is harder too, but gets easier with practice.
Two things my own kids hear a lot:
1) Don't confuse me for one of your friends. (often said when they want to give me some attitude) and
2) How many mothers do you have? Answer: 1 (that's right).

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Regular Sex

After working as a social worker with families for nearly 15 years, one thing I know FOR SURE is there is no such thing as "regular sex."

I'm not hoping to start a discussion her about sex per se - what people like or don't. My point is that whatever you can imagine, someone is probably doing it out there. I've had to redefine what I thought "most people did."

Lots of people have sex with more than one person, at the same time. And with the easy access of digital video and photos, WAY too many people are taking pictures. Personally, I really don't want to see myself, but apparently lots of people do.

Here's the downside - when they break up - here's a major shame inducing / help preventing aspect. When I'm talking with a client and I sense something "there" but she (sometimes he) doesn't want to tell me - it is generally somehow related to sex. Second is related to drug use.

I talked with a woman for quite a while and I never could get at what was scaring her so. We did the whole lethality risk assessment. He'd shoved her around and had been harassing her, but the level of previous violence didn't match up with the level of fear she was displaying. FINALLY, she told me. She'd let him take all these naked pictures of her. He was threatening to send them to her family and friends if she didn't get back with him. What a class A jerk. And, what a great control technique on his part. It worked. For a while. But, she finally told someone (me). Her shame and fear were palatable. It turns out he did send out those pictures. And, she lived. And, we got a protective order for her. Life went on. Turns out, we are all naked under our clothes.
I was in protective order court with another client of mine. We were getting ready for her contested hearing (that means her abusive ex-husband wanted to have the judge decide if the PO should be granted her not - he, or course, has the right to have the case heard). She told me she needed to tell me something. OK, generally people do. She told me that she and her husband had been in a swingers group. I suppose she felt she was telling me something that I hadn't heard before. Or, something that would impact the protective order hearing. Neither was true.
But, to her, it was a great shame. I will never, ever forget that moment. The look on her face. How her whole body went rigid, tears in her eyes, as she confessed to me her secret. She said she wasn't forced, but she didn't feel good about herself and this is what her husband wanted, so she did it. She even enjoyed it. But, she never felt right about it. I told her lots of people do lots of different things. In my job, I hear all about it. And, that's not why we were here. We were here to see about getting her protection.
I've learned to ask direct questions. Obviously, I don't need to know about clients' sex lives in general. But, when it impacts their ability to live safely or in peace, I've learned to specific questions like:
1) What happened when he wanted to have sex and you didn't?
This is a great way to get at accessing power and control in a relationship. Often I get answers like:
I didn't say no, he'd be mad...I had sex when he wanted to keep him calm...Sex was the only thing good about our relationship...He hit me if I didn't have sex
2) Is there something else you are afraid of. Sometimes people have things they are embarrassed by, like something to do with sex or taking drugs. If this is something that is going on with you, you can tell me. I've heard everything before and I won't judge you.
Confession really is good for the soul. Often what people are ashamed of, has nothing to do with our case (like getting a protective order). But, they think it will impact the case, so they don't say, but they are afraid. After I ask people like this, they'll tell me they did drugs, or did something sexual they've never done before. I think it often makes them feel better to say it out loud so we can discuss it.

So, my point, on a personal note, I had no idea. On a professional note, the best thing is to just talk about it. As Brene Brown says, the anectode to shame is empathy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Storing Up Trauma

I spent most of the day yesterday researching a domestic violence homicide case. The defendant was/is pretty much a one-man crime spree. He hurt all the people who he supposedly loved - girlfriends, children, step-children, etc. There was so many offense and criminal cases on this guy, I had to separate them out by year. I'm thinking of making a graphic to show all the relationships he had and all the people he hurt - otherwise, it might be too confusing.

My boss asked me to listen to a 911 call on another murder case. The victim is on the phone calling for the police and the last thing she says is that "he has a gun." Chilling.

Then, another prosecutor came by with some crime scene and autopsy photos from another murder case. We looked at the photos and discussed them. It doesn't bother me to see these types of photos per se - I don't get "grossed out" by them, but it makes me sad to think of how that person must have suffered and how much their families and loved ones must suffer.

I handled the usual number of crisis and mundane situations - asked a prosecutor to see about refiling a case that was charged too low (he did - awesome), spoke with a mentally challenged former victim/client who was assaulted again - she told me she let him move back in, he said he'd change, he didn't, etc, requested an emergency protective order from the prosecutor on that one, made an appointment for another client who got back together with her ex (AFTER he'd spent six months in jail for beating her) she was embarrassed, but I told her about 99% of my clients do the same thing - she's coming in next week - also got her hooked up with a police officer. I helped load some donations in the back of a shelter worker's truck. I edited some items for domestic violence awareness month, and I checked on my co-workers to see how they are doing.

This is a typical day - in a job I love. But, man, what a lot of violence/trauma exposure. I tend to think I'm used to it after nearly 15 years. But, it came back on me like heartburn from too much pizza and beer.

I went to yoga after work. During a series of sun salutations, all the trauma hit me. I suddenly felt really sad and thought about all the pain I witnessed that day. Yoga does that sometimes - it gets at all that mid-brain, repressed emotion. And - it really is a good thing. Because it is THERE. Better to acknowledge it and let it go. The most destructive thing in a job like this is to say or feel it "doesn't bother" us.

I know a lot of people in that category. You can usually see them in the bar after work - every day. Or, they are having an affair. Or, engaging in other risky activities. Anything to feel something other than the sometimes overwhelming sadness and hopelessness of our work.