The Power of Language and Labels

A while ago I posted a meme which said, “Better to have lost in love than to live with a psycho for the rest of your life.”

I liked it, of course, otherwise, I wouldn’t have posted it. Eleven others did too, some commenting on Facebook, “Amen to that,” and “Definitely!!”

Then this: “Hate it. It’s beat up on people with mental illness time again. Ever had the amazing person you love tell you that they just can’t deal with your mental illness anymore? Our society is totally phobic about people with mental illness having intimate relationships.”

Woah, that came a bit out of the blue. I hadn’t made the link between “person with a mental illness” and “psycho”, otherwise I wouldn’t have posted it. It didn’t say, “Better to have lost in love than to live with a person with a mental illness for the rest of your life.” I had linked “psycho” with the often weird, unspoken assumptions people make when in relationships, which have kept me out of long-term relationships all my life.

It made me think, though. Suppose it had read, “Better to have lost in love than to live with an idiot for the rest of your life.” Would that have been a slight against people experiencing unique learning function?

Probably a more accurate meme would have been, “Better to have lost in love than to live with an arsehole for the rest of your life.” But that’s not what the image said.

For the record, I have had someone I loved tell me he couldn’t cope with my unique physical function anymore. It was hard to hear, but ultimately he was the one who lost out. And I know intuitively many would-be lovers haven’t even gone there — again, their loss and my gain, because why would I want to be with anyone so closed-minded?

The power we let labels have over us can be overwhelming. If I had a dollar for every time a person called someone a “spaz” in my presence, I’d be wealthy. If I got offended because “spaz” is a shortened version of “spastic”, which is one of my diagnoses, and I got another dollar for that, well — I’d be angrily living in the Bahamas.

I think the evolution of language — and the generalization of words like, “gay,” “spaz,” “idiot” and “psycho” — creates the opportunity for them to lose their charge and liberate us from their stigma. By allowing them to continue having power over us, though, we re-traumatize ourselves every time we hear them. Words are symbols and they change meaning over time and in different contexts.

I celebrate that “gay” means “not for me” rather than “fag”; that “spaz” means “over-reacting”, not “crippled”; that “idiot” means “unthinking”, not “retarded”; and that “psycho” means “someone with weird, unspoken assumptions”, not “a crazy person”.

By letting words change meaning for us, we are redefining diversity and creating social change. It’s not a case of, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” It’s recognizing that, unless someone is looking directly at us menacingly, calling us gay, spaz, idiot or psycho, we’re not in their minds — they’ve moved on.

Maybe it’s useful for us to move on with them?

Serving Consciously and The Art of Language

How often do you really pay attention to your choice of words as you express yourself?

Do you believe in the power of language to create an experience?

Constructive Use of Language

I have long believed in the power of language and the energy we create when we choose our words carefully and what happens when we don’t.

In health care and human services, for example, we are bombarded with labels, diagnoses, syndromes, and a plethora of academic and organizational language. Within the system we currently live in where funding for services is of great focus, this kind of terminology works in our favor when we are seeking access to services and supports.

We use this language to prove that the service is needed.

Destructive Use of Language

On the other hand, much of this language serves to perpetuate stigma, prejudice, discrimination, marginalization, and ultimately separation. We tend to become reliant on certain words and jargon in order to get our point across quickly. But is this really what it’s all about?

When I began my academic preparation for human services work, I was accepted into a program that was called Mental Retardation Counselor. Shortly, after the first semester began, the program was renamed and became Developmental Services Worker. We were encouraged right from the start to always think in terms of “person first.” So, instead of saying the “autistic child,” it was preferable to say the “child with autism.”

Feels like a step in the right direction, however, if we look closely, there is still an emphasis on “autism.” And while it is so important to be aware of and honor the unique characteristics and needs of each person we are serving, it is equally crucial that we do not use these terms and diagnoses to create a limited identity for people.

For example, if you are familiar at all with the word, “autism,” there are likely a whole slew of images, ideas, and interpretations you make almost automatically about the person I am describing. And whether you would describe these images as positive or negative, affirming or destructive, the jump to the conclusion is the real problem here. At that moment, intentional or not, we have put this person inside a particular “box.” We also do this when we refer to mental health, substance abuse, survivors of childhood trauma, and on and on.

Conscious Use of Language

The challenge is to continue to open our minds so that we learn from each individual we serve and those we are blessed with in our personal lives what it means to be them. How does this person live their identity? What ELSE makes them who they are?

How can I use language to demonstrate my openness and willingness to learn about the people who come into my life? How can I speak in ways that show my deep respect for humanity and my commitment to acceptance?

This is an ongoing challenge for those of us involved in Vocations of Service. It is a continual process of integration of new knowledge, self-reflective practice, and engagement with others.

It is about being conscious as we choose the words which will best express our clearest and deepest intentions and beliefs. And if we get tongue-tied, we can always come back with something new to say.

What do you wish to see in your Service to others? How can you communicate with others so they know what you are all about?

What do you intend to create and contribute to this world? How would you explain this to a child?

If you could imagine the best possible scenario in your communities, what language would best describe it?

This is just a glimpse of a much larger discussion.

Join Us

I dove more deeply into this material in this episode of Serving Consciously with my guest, Valerie Marks.

Valarie Marks is a retired public school teacher who left her career at the age of 32 to start an educational services organization grounded in the principles of Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs;” an organization providing parents and educational institutions with resources to best nurture, protect, and educate the generations here to Re-create our world.

During her time in the classroom, Valarie also developed an English Language Arts curriculum which uses rhythmic thought patterns to teach academics, not only to build analytical skills within Common Core, but also to open up the student’s psyche for creativity and receptivity.

Valarie is also a mother to three children of her own, ages 10, 8, and 6. Because one of her sons was identified as autistic just months after her leap of faith into retirement, Valarie’s life mission in creating the “Maslow Educational Services Organization” took a sharp turn, pulling her out of the classroom entirely and deep into the world of Autism. With a population each so uniquely divine, this new chapter deepened her understanding of the needs and challenges facing the youth of today.

Valarie is currently stepping back into the classroom through her new company, “Marks Education,” where the mission is to teach children how to look at the whole English language for its individual parts, so they can craft their own words to accurately express their ideas, thoughts, and feelings, as well as to keenly understand the words and intentions of others.

She also speaks her Truth to a more intellectual audience through blogs on her Facebook page ~ Valarie Marks, through writing and short videos on topics about self-acceptance, intimacy, and unconditional love.

Valarie is here to talk about how she is serving consciously through her life mission: teaching adults how to nurture, protect, and educate a generation here to deconstruct our current world not just to restore it, but creatively recreate life as we know it into a beautiful future.

Valarie’s work is so important for those of us who wish to be actively involved in recreating the world.

I invite you to tune in to new shows and listen live by visiting www.ctrnetwork.com and clicking on Listen Live. You can access and listen to all my previous shows by visiting here.

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Does language have energy and power in your books? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Language Is Power: Two Things You Need to Know for Practice with Disabled People

Did you know that over one fifth of the United States population has an impairment that leads to a disability? Given this, social workers are bound to engage in practice with disabled people across many service sectors – a reality which leads to the need for disability competence – and that includes competence around language choices.

Whether you are working in child welfare, employee assistance programs, criminal justice or end-of-life care, you will need some guidance on how to approach your work with disabled people in a respectful manner. Here are two helpful things you need to know to be a better social worker in partnership with disabled people.

First, it is always ideal to look to your professional association for guidance. In the case of practice with the disability community, the National Association of Social Workers not only has a disability policy statement, but they also have made a major change to their Code of Ethics (CoE).

The CoE is the guidepost in our profession, and in setting out standards for practice, it names a series of diversity factors, including, for example, race, ethnicity and national origin. Until the most recent revision of the CoE however, disability was the only diversity factor that was not framed in a positive light.

To rectify this, the current version of the CoE replaces the term “disability” with “ability” in order to present a more strength-based framework that can counteract dominant society norms that belie the capacities of disabled people. Specifically, the CoE states that social workers should “obtain education and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression” with respect to people with varying abilities.

While this may be a turn off to people that embrace identity-first language (i.e. disabled people vs. people with disabilities), as a disabled person, I believe that this simple change is helpful, and does not fall into the camp of widely-rejected, outdated and offensive terms such as “differently abled,” “handicapped,” or “special needs” that are often used by well-intentioned people. Check out, for example, Lydia X. Z. Brown’s glossary of ableist phrases.

Second, it is also always a best practice to learn more about the language preferences from our clients’ cultural communities. Lately, not a day goes by on my Twitter feed when I don’t see commentary from disabled people about their preferences for either person-first language or identity-first language.

Check out the #identityfirst hashtag, for example. For many years, social workers were encouraged to use person-first language as a way of showing respect, as opposed to labeling someone as “a schizophrenic,” or “autistic,” for example, both of which were felt to have negative connotations at the time.

Proponents of identity-first language have reclaimed such terms by embracing their disability identity first. For example, a well-known disability rights leader prefers to be called Autistic, and another advocate prefers to be referred to as mad (signifying mental illness).

For social workers new to practice with disabled people, an ideal approach could involve using approaches interchangeably until it is clear what type of language is preferred by the client in question. Remember, language is a key component to client engagement, and, therefore, language is power.

Regardless of whether you are identifying populations with varying abilities, or honoring your clients’ wishes for person-first or identity-first language, the most important thing is to see people for who they are, not for the stereotypes or assumptions that often precede them.

Cultivating Resilience in Children

Cultivating Resilience in Children

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of childhood resilience. In fact, this inquisitiveness led me to a career in child psychology and the non profit sector working with the world’s most disadvantaged children. I’ve made it my life’s work to understand how trauma affects children and help them to cope with it. The curiosity came out of an eagerness to understand my own profound resiliency after having a childhood of chaos.

Shortly after the death of my mother, when I was a six-month-old infant, I was diagnosed with ‘failure to thrive’. My body simply wouldn’t grow until I felt safe and loved. Understandably, my father couldn’t cope with looking after an infant at that time and I was given away to be raised by relatives in another country.

By the age of three, I was given back to my father. One doesn’t have to be a psychologist to imagine the kind of trauma the first three years of my life entailed. The rest of my childhood and adolescence was filled with more hardship and challenges. And yet even though I faced so much adversity, I managed to overcome it. I ‘made it’. As a young adult, I was always told things like: ‘You must have had a guardian angel looking after you’ or ‘You’re really lucky’.

This led me to want to understand why some children are more resilient than others. Is it luck? Is it genetics? Is it the quality of relationships in the child’s life? And is there something we can do to cultivate resiliency in children so that when faced with life’s challenges they are able to cope and manage these situations?

Of course my childhood is on the extreme side of the spectrum but the reality is that all children will face some challenges in life whether at school or home. As parents, we want to bubble wrap our children keeping them from risk and harm. However, children require learning how to try and fail. They need to understand that not all stress is bad. As Dr. Bruce Perry’s renowned research has proven, ‘resilient children are made, not born.’ Research has identified a common set of factors that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of adversity. I recently spent two days in Vancouver, B.C. at the Heart-Mind 2016 Conference on Cultivating Resilience by the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education.

The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education is focused on children’s social and emotional development. They call it fostering Heart-Mind well-being. Providing children with the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions which has been proven to not only improve their well-being but also improves their academic performance.

During the two day conference, parents, caregivers, and educators were informed of the latest research on how to promote resilience in children. Here’s everything you need to know and some free (and really cool!) resources:

5 Ways to Cultivate Resilience in Children

1. Relationships: The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult such as a teacher. The quantity and quality of relationships in a child’s life is key.

2. Altruism: Children can be empowered by helping others. Engage your child in age-appropriate volunteer work which gives the child a sense of purpose and meaning. For ideas you can check out my previous post.

3. Self Efficacy: Teach your children that they have a sense of control in their life. Enable them to believe in their power to change their own life.

4. Self Regulation: Provide opportunities for your children to strengthen their adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities through tools such as mindfulness. Mindfulness creates structural and functional changes in the brain that support a healthy response to stress.

5. Culture and Language: Mobilise sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions in your children. In order to be resilient the child needs a strong sense of self and identity. The more solid and rooted the child, the more resilient they will be. Children need a sense of family, it can be biological or anyone else that makes the child feel loved the feeling is reciprocated. A sense of community is important for the child to feel that they belong.

https://socialworkhelper.tumblr.com/post/152675287454/free-resources-boost-resilience-and-sel-skills-in

Ageism: The Dance of Marginality and Irrelevance

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“I know I’m going to get older. I can handle that, and I even know that I am going to die. What bothers me the most, though, is the thought of becoming irrelevant.” This statement was made by a 69 year old man who is a member of my consciousness raising group.

Old people are becoming less and less a minority in our country. Quite to the contrary; today, approximately 18 per cent of people living in the United States are 60 years old and older. By 2050, people over 60 will make up over 25 per cent of the population…hardly a small minority.  When we marginalize a group of people, we are pushing them to the edge of humanity and according them lesser importance.  Their needs and desires are then ignored.  When ageism is in action, this is exactly what happens. Ageist language and media portrayals of old people encourage this marginalization.

Ageism can be very subtle, or as one of my colleagues describes it, “slow-drip” oppression.  It creeps up on us, sometimes without our ever knowing we are being oppressed until we find ourselves in the outer margins of society.

Nobody wants to be pushed to the edge of society.  Yet, older adults teeter on this edge…always dancing on the line between inclusion and exclusion.  In today’s society pride in age is hard to find.  It’s no wonder that older people often hide their true age.  Stop for a moment, and ask yourself, “why?”

Many of us tend to think of this practice as vanity, but consider that the true answer may be fear…fear of becoming irrelevant.  So, what do we do?  We drink the “Kool-Aid” dispersed by the media and the anti-aging industry; the message is, If you don’t look young enough, you too will be marginalized.  Not only is the advertising deceptive, it is detrimental to our overall health.

Not wanting to be relegated to the outer margins, we support the anti-ageing industrial complex, spending hard-earned money on anti-aging products, medical and non-medical procedures, and cosmetic or plastic surgery.  When we do this, are we just satisfying our own vanity or are we hoping to buy a few more years of relevancy?

The dance of marginality seems to start younger and younger these days, with people in their forties and some even in their thirties seeking out a magic bullet that will make them seem to appear younger than their true age.  For those of us who are older, however, one day you are a vital contributing member of society and only a few wrinkles later, you are dancing on the margins again, trying to figure out how to get back to the other side before you are turned into a trivial appendage, maybe even a burden, to the current social order.

Ageism in itself can cause a more rapid decline of our physical and mental health as we edge  closer to the end of our lives.  Researchers have proven that older people who are constantly subjected to negative stereotypes of their age cohort often internalize these messages.  As a result of this internalized ageism, their own self esteem is affected; and this leads to both physical and mental health issues.  In addition, recent research has shown that those who accept their age and feel the wonderful combination of beauty and wisdom in their own selves are mentally and physically healthier than those who feel the pressure of having to conceal their true age.  Many of us just keep on dancing.

Who is doing all this dancing?  First and foremost are the “invisibles.”  The “invisibles” are healthy people between the ages of 60 and 80 who are not ready to “retire” in the way that traditional retirement has been socially constructed.  This cohort is the most skillful at the dance of marginality; they get in a lot of rehearsal time.  They know that if they don’t enter the dance contest, they will automatically lose. And, they can lose a lot.  Mostly, they can lose their financial security and, with that, their dignity.

You may have noticed that the age of the traditional concept of old has been pushed back quite a bit, with people living 10, 15, and some even 20 years longer than previous generations. In many ways the invisibles are in the prime of their lives.  Yet, they are constantly maneuvering to remain inclusive members of society. Most catastrophic is the cold shoulder they bear from American workforce.  If they are not still in their career jobs, they find themselves traveling a road that leads them closer and closer to the margins of society.

A lovely 85 year old woman came to visit me in my office one day.  She was carrying a rather large umbrella.  “Is it raining?,” I asked.  “No,” she replied; I just refuse to be seen using a cane.”  Even at 85, she is still dancing.  To appear completely autonomous is her goal.  Afraid to admit that she may need some help, she struggles to keep up the appearance for fear that she will not be perceived as the smart woman she is.

The way our society is constructed, it takes more courage to ask for help than it does to manage on our own regardless of the consequences. It is the American way, to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and rely only on yourself to get where you’re going.  Another octogenarian told me “if I show the slightest sign of  not being able to live independently, my children will whisk me into the nearest assisted living facility.”  She knows this, and so she dare not let her age show.  She, too, keeps on dancing.

Fear seems to be the main reason why so many of us are caught up in this dance of marginality. There are other times and other places where older adults have been embraced by society.  For so many, this is no longer true.  Old people are often segregated, put aside, or discarded completely. They are often treated as if they are diseased. We need to start changing the way we view and interact with the older adults around us. Old age is not contagious.

The ageing process, including the end of life, is part of the course of the lifespan.  Ageing is not a disease to be treated; it is a gift to be accepted.  It is an accomplishment to be proud of.  Older adults should not feel as though they have to “sing for their dinner,” nor should any of us have to “dance for our dignity”.

Social Workers, Watch Your Language

How often do you stop to check the words you’re using with client groups, whether verbally or in writing? Are you sure that you’re using a commonly understood language? Or have you slipped into the comfort zone of everyday “colleague speak” when communicating with your clients? At the root of every social work intervention, micro or macro, is communication. Communication is an interesting mix of words and non-verbal cues.

JARGON PICThis is one of the most basic learning curves in our early social work training. We’re taught all sorts of aspects of effective communication such as how to establish rapport, how to structure a sentence so that the question is “open”, what active listening involves and even how to place seating arrangements to avoid barriers.

We spend months learning how to facilitate groups, identifying roles that participants take on, learning skills to redirect conversations, applying conflict resolution skills and ensuring we maintain a cohesive group where everyone benefits from participation.

We also learn how to gather interested stakeholders to lobby for community justice solutions, empower community groups to represent their views to significant bodies and write reports to further the cause and inspire collective action.

All these processes require effective communication skills. And most social workers pride themselves on their communication skills.

When reflecting on practice, how often do we focus on the actual words we’re using?  The words we string together when interacting with our clients. Somehow, through our social work education and consequent experience in the sector, we start to use words that the sector understands but can fail to convey meaning when it comes to many client groups. Not only do we use terminology that is foreign to our client groups, we actually forget how and when to use “plain speak”.

When someone speaks to us in a language we’re not totally familiar with, there is a shift in focus  on trying to understand the words, as opposed to listening to the message that is being conveyed. At best it’s a distraction, at worst a barrier to understanding.

SOCIAL WORK JARGON

What are some examples of social worker jargon?  For starters, there are so many acronyms in both service language and diagnostic language I’m surprised we understand each other: “Mr and Mrs Brown state they are having issues with parenting, mother has diagnosed BPD but no current treatment, eldest child diagnosed with ADHD. Recommend referral of mother to GP for a MHCP,  both parents advised to contact local C&FS for support and Triple P, and check possibility of vacancy in OOSH for eldest child.”

How many social workers have suggested in conversation to their client that they make an appointment with their GP ? What happened to the word “doctor”? Yes it’s easier and faster to abbreviate titles and labels in reports and in rushed conversations with colleagues. But isn’t it ironic that we express concerns at the social media trend of abbreviations such as LOL, OMG and ROFL yet continue to add more acronyms to our professional vocabulary?

Besides acronyms, what about some of those words that we use every day? Words that are part of daily life for us but confusing for client groups? Examples are   Intervention, advocacy, rapport, consumer, resilience, empower, auspicing  and engagement

Ask Joe Public what he thinks these things mean. Don’t be surprised if he  perceives “intervention” to mean “interfere”;  “to build rapport” is to write a report, “consumer” is someone who does the shopping, advocacy is a lawyer thing, resilience is about the strength of metal, community engagement is lots of couples planning a joint wedding, and auspicing is something to do with orphans. Yes, these are real responses!

THE NECESSITY OF JARGON

Jargon is expected in the formal realms of our profession. Report writing, funding submissions and academic reviews are just some examples.  Using complex language is almost a kind of intellectual segregation.  It says I’m educated, and additionally specifies my expertise in a certain realm. It’s a kind of “tribal speak” . My colleagues know exactly what I’m talking about, and by using this same “language”, I portray that I am worthy of being in this tribe called “social workers”. I prove my belonging by speaking native social work. It’s okay to mix in some native doctor speak if I work in a hospital setting, and some native psychiatrist speak if I work in a mental health setting.  I guess I could choose not to, but then I would not be taken seriously by these allied tribes.

But when I transfer this “social work native” language to those outside the profession, I have to remember that translation may well be required. After all, someone coming to me for support, who is already feeling vulnerable, does not need the added distraction of words they don’t understand.

BACK TO BASICS

In summary then, spend some time reflecting on the words you use when communicating with clients. Use language that most will understand. Keep it simple. By going back to basics, you will ensure that meaning is conveyed without doubt or misunderstanding.

Instead of building rapport, “get to know each other”; instead of talking about resilience let’s discuss “the ability to bounce back”; instead of engaging, we’ll “get together and work on some solutions” and instead of advocating let’s “chat to that person on your behalf”. For the sake of those we seek to support –  please mind your language!

The Language of Effective Social Work

I find it fascinating that we, as social workers, proclaim we want to help people make better choices and choose healthier behaviors on their own, but then we speak to them as though they don’t have any power. In the past, I have noticed some of my colleagues experience trouble connecting with those we serve due to their language. The language portrayed two completely false ideas as if it was the honest truth such as our clients had no options/say-so in their own lives or we are psychic and know exactly what was going to happen to them at any given moment in the future.

We tell them that they have to do something or need to be somewhere. As Morgan Freeman/Joe Clark proclaimed in the movie Lean on Me, “I don’t have to do nothin’ but stay [insert your race here] and die!” Some of us may still talk to our clients in the exact same way. Whatever we choose to call this pattern of speech  ‘aggressive’, ‘controlling’, even ‘male’, I’ve found that I am much more successful and a more effective practitioner (and a healthier wife, sibling, child, friend, and co-worker) when I lean towards making a few simple changes in the way I talk to others.

Try to Avoid Telling People What They Can and Can’t Do

notlisteningDoes anyone have to go to treatment? No.  Do people need counseling? Not at all.

However, these things could be very helpful, may have some benefit, and could help people achieve their goals in life.Can you see the difference between “You have to go to treatment or you’ll never get better” and “You might want to consider entering treatment. I’ve seen it help a lot of people get their lives back on track.”?Let’s listen to ourselves, our clients, and our peers for the following phrases in bold, and see if we can start using (and encouraging others to use) the words and phrases in italics:

You have to   –   You might like to…, You might want to consider…

She should   –   It might have been more helpful to…, Maybe a better choice would have been…

You can’t   –   You might run into some problems if you…, I haven’t seen people be very successful when they…

I know   –   I get the impression that…, It seems as though…, I can understand if…

He always   –   I often see him…, I’ve noticed that he usually…, I can’t remember a time when he didn’t…

Addicts never   –   People suffering from an addiction often don’t…, Alcoholics generally don’t…

I’ve especially noticed a resistance to more aggressive language from people who have issues with authority figures, due to their past experiences with them. However, when we interact with them with an attitude that expresses the fact that they have all the power, and every right, in the world to get up and walk out our door, they seem to feel less of an urge to actually do that. They don’t have an overly controlling figure to “rebel” against. Think about how it takes two to tango, just like it takes two to argue. Let’s try to steer clear of being that opposing force that they use to push themselves away from us and, in many cases, a healthier lifestyle.

Being someone that is there to help, versus someone who is there to control someone else’s life, can be really helpful in building stronger, more effective helping relationships with the people we assist. As a bonus, speaking in a less controlling manner to our spouses, family members, and co-workers can often have a similar effect. The relationship becomes more open, more relaxed, and people feel more comfortable sharing their problems (and successes) with us.

Steer Clear of the Habit of Prophesizing

I’ve found it helpful to avoid telling people what is going to happen to them. Sharing what I have seen or experienced in the past, or even giving them and idea of my fears for them should they make a certain choice is one thing. However, I’ve seen many a practitioner guarantee (they sometimes even literally use that word) that something catastrophic or fantastic is going to happen to someone if they make a certain choice.

“If you don’t go to treatment, you’ll die.”

“If you try to live independently, you’ll fail. Schizophrenics need assisted living–it’s a fact!”

“If you stay in treatment for 30 days, you’ll live a happy, healthy rest of your life.”

“If you don’t go to the therapy group for help, your wife’s gonna leave you–plain and simple.”

“If you quit using heroin, you’re going to have so much more money!”

“You don’t stand a chance without Narcotics Anonymous.”

“If you start a business, you’ll just shoot all the profits up your arm.”

While I understand that most of us have been in the field long enough to have seen multiple examples of people struggling with addiction after leaving treatment or having a hard time living independently with a mental illness, there are (many) exceptions to those situations. So, if we decide to essentially promise someone that something will happen, when we really have no way of knowing, the second that terrible thing doesn’t happen to them, or it doesn’t happen to someone who our client knows, we become somebody who has no credibility. It’s hard to trust somebody without credibility, so we have just severely injured our relationship with that person. Try using phrases like “I’ve never seen,” “It’s not impossible, however,” and “Feel free to try, but I’ve never heard of” in order to express humility. We can still give the person the caring warning and advice that we want to offer without delivering it like Ms. Cleo.

Here are some tweaks to the above example sentences to make them more realistic:

“I’ve seen lots of people avoid going to treatment and it often leads to them living a really hard, chaotic life, or even dying. I’d hate to see that happen to you.”

“Trying to live independently can be hard for people who don’t have any mental health concerns. I’m worried about you wanting to live on your own, but let’s look at some ways we might be able to make that more feasible, such as hiring an aide to check in on you or getting you on some medications.”

“Though there are no guarantees, I’ve seen people do a lot better in their recovery when they have some form of formal treatment.”

“I know your wife threatened to leave if you didn’t get help, and I can’t predict what she’s going to do, but her and I both are encouraging you to attend a bipolar support group. Is not going really worth the possibility that she might actually divorce you?”

“Stopping your heroin use can really increase the amount of money you have left to save or spend as you please.”

“I’ve seen kicking a habit be a real struggle for some people, but they often seem to do a lot better when they have the support of the people at Narcotics Anonymous.”

“It’s not impossible, however, I have witnessed several incidences in which people suffering from addiction who do actually gain a profit from running a business slip back into using because they have large sums of money that they’re handling on a daily basis.”

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