We all have unique, valuable interpretations of the world around us. Charles and Garfat (2007) say, we experience and act differently because of who we are and how we are different from each other (p. 9). He describes our interactions with each other as a cycle that repeats itself where someone acts, the other person interprets and then acts in a way they would see as appropriate in that interaction. They say how we experience and perceive others, and the world around us can be influenced by a number of factors including, our values and beliefs, previous experiences in comparable circumstances, theoretical understanding, cultural practices, age and gender, upbringing, and present needs (Charles & Garfat, 2007).
Understanding the place of meaning making is especially crucial in our field when working with families because we’re not just considering ours and the youth’s perceptions, but also the individual family members, and the family’s encounters, interpretations, and responses as a whole. Fulcher and Garfat (2015) discuss child and youth care practice with families as a process that requires careful attention paid to the family’s way of experiencing interactions and the world around them to help us better understand where they’re coming from.
I’ve been working as counselor in residential treatment for about eight years, so I’ve had many opportunities to make meaning in my therapeutic relationships with clients and their families. One way I begin to understand what has lead my clients and their families to require residential treatment is to read any history provided to my team.
A clinician/social worker will usually have created a formulation as a way of summarizing significant information to be aware of. I think a strength for me is taking the time to get to know the client and their family and hopefully begin to develop a rapport, keeping the information read in mind, while also allowing them to influence my perceptions and possible bias toward this information.
I think an ongoing challenge for me is to remember that working with youth daily can create potential bias toward how they experience their family and the world around them, and I have to ensure I foster open lines of communication for other family members to feel like they can have an influence in sharing their interpretations as well.I just joined a committee at my workplace called Trauma and Attachment Working Group.
We have ongoing discussions around subjects like attuning to the families unique needs, and understanding their social locations. I plan to discuss meaning making as not just about how we make meaning of our clients and families, but how they might make meaning of their experiences with us, and the services we provide.
Dimotof (2000) describes the importance of the CYC’s ability to focus more on the family’s strengths and less on their challenges, accepting the family’s current reality, and view the family from the family’s perspective in order to facilitate the process of change where needed for the betterment of the family. Phelan (2001) identified and created an opportunity to meet Benny’s parents, and utilized the occasion to get to know them. He asked specific questions to provoke thought in Benny’s father without shaming his initial beliefs about the importance of knowing how to read.
This seemingly minor intervention lead to Benny’s father changing his beliefs, which suggests how essential the family system is in the youth reaching their potential. Reading this article made me think about all of the possible opportunities to create and facilitate change for youth and their families, while keeping in mind and respecting their values and belief systems. Knowing how to read might be considered important for most people, but if it’s not a part of a caregivers beliefs system, trying to work against this could end up being unsustainable, fruitless, and possibly harmful to the youth.I’m thinking of a specific example I encountered recently with a youth and coworker.
We were processing an incident with police intervention due to his level of aggression. I reminded him of his previous charges to make comparisons in supporting him to understand the possible consequences of his actions. My strength was making this connection. I noticed he began to tear up hearing this, saying, don’t remind me. I kept processing the incident, and my coworker stopped me to label him being upset about this, and he was able to share why this triggered him emotionally (my challenge).
We were then able to connect that him feeling bad about the previous incident could actually play a part in aiding to break this cycle in the future, which appeared to resonate with him. We wouldn’t have made this connection without my coworker taking the time to label this for him. I plan to continue to take time to process past and future occurrences where there was/is opportunity to facilitate, and create (where there might not be) positive change for my clients and their families, while meeting them where they’re at in the treatment process.Fulcher and Garfat (2015) describe love as being powerful and essential in making real, genuine connections with ourselves and with others (as cited in Thumbadoo, 2011), and that caring and love have the potential to intertwine in these connections, with the possibility to be a powerful agent of healing for youth and families. Shaw (2019) (as cited in Garfat, 1998) says, Caring is not love although it sometimes encompasses it.
Caring for youth and families is not just a momentary thing which passes with termination. Caring and commitment are life position, basic values, the heart of the individual (p. 1). I think working in this field requires a unique spark for supporting individuals and families to reach their full potential and establishing and working with them to reach their personal goals. I’ve heard coworkers say loving youth and families is crossing professional boundary lines. While I agree it’s important to establish boundaries, I also think some of our youth and families have experienced a lack of love and support in their lives.
We sometimes think too much and feel too little in this field. Giving myself permission to be loving/nurturing/caring with youth and families has made for a deeper connection and assisted in positive, lasting change. My strength is being able to approach my clients in a loving, nurturing capacity, regardless of their sometimes-frustrating behavior and actions. I also permit discharged clients to call and check in, so they know I’m not just here for a pay check. My challenge is to continue to reach out to caregivers when they’re disengaged or resistant in the treatment process. I have to remind myself it’s important for them to see that I’m not giving up on them, and that they know that I see them and everything in their world that can make this process challenging.
Part of being on the TAWG committee involves exploring how to support caregiver affect management. I think brain storming and bringing back these ideas to my team will assist us in being able to empathize and support caregivers in establishing or adding to their own self-care routines.
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