As a psychosocial care worker, on a daily basis you aim to provide the most appropriate form of help to persons who find themselves in a difficult time in their lives

This is far from easy:

  • You meet different people each time,
  • with unique lives,
  • who are struggling with a wide range of difficulties and situations,
  • who experience different negative influences on themselves and others.
  • Their experience truly touches you.
  • There can be pressure to proceed quickly (sometimes involving protocols you question).
  • Life often continues beating down on persons in need of help.

This raises questions and insecurities. And no, this does not fade with experience and/or training.

I know the feeling

… seeing I have been trying to hold helping conversations for over 25 years. I have met with people in places labeled ‘psychiatric’, within their own homes and at my own home. I have devoured therapeutic trainings in a strenuous effort to become ‘competent enough.’

Several remarkable encounters

In 1995 I happened to ‘stumble’ upon Steve de Shazer and his solution-focused model for helping conversations. Steve de Shazer:

  • A focus on progress (as defined by the people consulting you).
  • A focus on the moments moving in that direction.
  • A way and a carefulness with words.

Fast-forward 10 years. Antwerp. I am attending a workshop led by Michael White, an Australian ‘social worker’ and pioneer of yet another model: the narrative therapy (closely related to the solution-focused model).
Boom! I can feel it in my bones: my work will never be the same again.
Michael White:

  • His tender way of listening and speaking.
  • His way of expressing respect for the people who consult him.
  • Helping conversations as an art and craft.
  • Room for both fireworks and pain.

I followed him to Australia. A fortunate decision, as he passed away in 2008. Fortunate also, because this brought me the continuing support of my international training group.

How did this change things for me?

There have been plenty of encounters, but what have those all brought about? They have molded my work:

  • The way I work,
  • my perception of it,
  • my awareness of what truly matters.

What matters, above all: how can I contribute to conversations

  • that respect others in a way that touches them (and me),
  • during which we can gather sparkling moments, aspects, ideas, and
  • insights from a person’s life, both past and present,
  • that protect my conversation partner and myself from manners of
  • thinking, speaking, interacting, and working that could be demeaning,
  • during which I can share my ideas without overpowering others,
  • providing a compass to navigate through the uniqueness-es of people and lives,
  • with a sensibility for real and relevant context factors and power inequalities,
  • that open pathways even in the midst of despair,
  • that not only protect me as a care worker from burn-out, but also enrich
  • and bring fulfillment to my work and life

I now feel more equipped for these encounters, and I experience a confidence that good things things are possible.