Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How Wanting to Help Can Be Harmful

I worry when I hear people in the “helping professions” say that they want to help. Why? Because that attitude can be harmful.
I work with children and youth who have been marginalized and discriminated against. They have often been abused in their homes, treated badly in their foster homes and labeled by teachers, foster families, therapists and social workers as problem children. When one of us in the helping profession gets involved to “help” these children we may do further damage. How?

There can be something wrong in the wanting to help when there is something in it for the helper. Why do we want to help? So we feel that we are doing something worthwhile with our lives, that we are “making a difference”. What does this have to do with the needs of the child? Sometimes nothing. Sometimes this “helping” attitude gets in the way of seeing and being with the child. It is an agenda. The child needs to change in the way the helper wants in order to make the helper feel successful and useful.

So how do we do this work and keep ourselves and our agenda out of our work? I think the first and most important step we can take is to be as present and as awake as possible when we are with clients so we can be authentic and genuine. Russell Delman talks about returning to grounded presence. This means that I am not getting lost in feelings or thoughts. It means that I stay aware of the “I” that is with the children that I work with.
A clients artwork to help remind herself to dream big about the future.
I might think that I know what needs to happen in a session, but I need to be aware that the part of me that thinks I know, needs to be mindful and aware that it is a small part of the rest of me that is resting in being awake, aware and available to what arises fresh in the moment. What arises freshly is what I need to be ready to hold, be with and facilitate, not what my imagined “agenda” thought was needed.
When I start wanting something to happen in a therapy session, I know that “I” am leaning in way too far. The session is becoming what I want and that means there is less room for the client’s needs.

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