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The Rules of Engagement

Engage: From a vulgar Latin noun meaning ‘pledge’. Bind by contract or promise; pledge oneself.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

As we begin to define the principles and values upon which a human services system might operate, we must face several basics. The first is uncertainty. Human behavior is unpredictable. Each individual chooses his or her attitude and action in the given moment and context. There is no action/reaction in the generally accepted sense of the concept. Yet, paradoxically, others influence all human behavior. These two mutually exclusive concepts present us with the environment within which we must function.

This uncertainty suggests that we cannot assume that simply carrying out an intervention will cause the client to become somehow ‘better’. There is much complexity in human behavior and commitment and dedication are not always easy to measure. Further, our philosophy suggests that people ‘choose’ who they are. We cannot coerce them into being the person we would like them to be, we can only make such choices ‘informed choices’ through supplying additional information about how to know yourself – ultimately, the client will choose to accept or deny a new self.

We must also overcome our desire to comfort. Emotional stability and security is based upon a degree of tension. It is the unsettledness that demands that we reach and grow.

People always make behavioral decisions that are instinctively aimed toward becoming who they were meant to become.

It comes down to a fundamental question as to whether a person is determined by or determines, his/her own existence. This core question is the critical variable to the shaping of our efforts. Our belief is that the person is an interactive entity whose properties are the product of that interaction. A belief that “a stimulus does not cause a process on an inert system; but that it can merely modify existing processes in an autonomically active system which is constantly directed toward the realization of certain goals and values” [Overton]. And perhaps, most importantly, a belief that the goals of all individuals are the same: they desire success, happiness, power, dignity and respect.

There are two basic worldviews of human beings; the organismic and the mechanistic. “The basic metaphor for the organismic model is the living organism such as perhaps a plant, and the metaphor for the mechanistic model is a simple machine such as a windup watch…” [Overton].

Out of this organismic perspective we state the basic building block of the counseling relationship.

Change initiative lies with the client; not the helper.

The wish, power, and ability to begin and follow through with a process of change are solely within the purview of the person being served and the helper can usurp neither the responsibility nor the authority.

Of the five basic models of behavior management [biomedical, psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, and humanistic/existential] it is the cognitive with its focus on personal understanding and decision-making, and the humanistic/existential with its focus on the will and responsibility, which are the closest to this fundamental truth. Certain aspects of the other models become more or less usable. The biomedical model and the psychodynamic models however, become mostly untenable, for they are ‘expert’ models that suggest that the helper is the change agent and the client is only the object of change.

Statements or beliefs such as “doing for one’s own good” cannot discount this fundamental truth or driving force or by “they are too disoriented to decide”. These are self-serving statements that do not deal with the basic acceptance of the individual “I” as the force for change. Any decision regarding the acceptability of an intervention must be drawn along this edge.

There are secondary axioms or principles, which support the self-determining nature of the fundamental truth, and the most important of these can be stated simply:

Unconditional positive regard is attributed to the client [Rogers].

This is an attitude, not a feeling, of a constructive nature towards the person being served, which must emanate from the worker. This attitude acknowledges the dignity of the individual as a responsible person capable of making decision about his/her own life.

It should be clear that this attitude of unconditional positive regard supports and reinforces the power of the individual. It is unrelated to the individual helper’s “feelings” about whether or not the client is “capable” of making decisions. It assumes that the client can, will, and is making such decisions.

There must be a pervading climate of positive expectation.

While it is important to determine that the desired performance is reachable, an overall belief that clients can change and achieve if they desire to do so is critical to the change environment.

Behavior is determined by a combination of forces in the environment and in the individual. Different environments tend to produce different behaviors. Individuals have “psychosocial baggage” from past experiences and a developmental history which has given them a unique set of needs, way of looking at the world, and expectations about how people will treat them. Each behavior has associated with it, in an individual’s mind, certain outcomes [rewards or punishments]; and each outcome has a value. The decision to try a new or difficult behavior will be associated with the person’s expectation or probability of success.

Part of this personal decision is based on whether others of significance view the potential of success positively. Belief in oneself is highly contingent upon how one perceives others’ belief in them. People inherently tend to underrate or undervalue what others can achieve. People will make decisions about how they will behave contingent upon the way they believe that the behavior will lead to outcomes that will satisfy their needs. Therefore, they are inherently neither motivated nor unmotivated. Motivation depends upon the situation they are in [May – 1983].

The arrow of time must point to the future.

The person in need must be helped to find meaning in future events and prospects, using the “here and now” as the means to reach some future goal.

Interventions that dwell on the past are of far more benefit to the interest and knowledge of the helper than they are to the changing individual. All too often, the future is framed on the past and the problem instead of the future and the solution. The individual does not receive help by reliving the past, but from finding the courage to live and feel differently in the present and a preferred future.

These are the major principles that underpin the rules of engagement. There are other axioms of importance: the service must deal with interactions, not insights. How an individual functions with others is the outcome issue. This does not preclude concern about how the individual “feels” about the interaction, but emphasizes the participatory nature of the interaction.

A focus on “real life” issues is also important. We want to help people deal with the problems in living, not some abstract idea drawn from some experience from the past. In like manner activity-oriented, not talk-oriented interventions are more likely to be helpful. “Tell me, I might forget; involve me, I will understand” [Chinese proverb]. This does not mean that we do not talk to our clients or even that such conversations cannot deal with abstract issues. What it does mean is that the essence of our help is in the doing.

These axioms lead to two final powerful principles:

Each individual must be helped to establish an altruistic responsibility.

The egocentric orientation of people with problems in living on themselves continues to support a focus on the problems, not on the solutions. Each of us must believe that we are capable of contributing to the enhancement of others.

What we seek is a social intervention which enables people with problems in living to learn to create and present unique and accurate responses to each particular experience as confronted through the provision of the means [behavior repertoire] and opportunity to work out, find alternatives for, contend with, or, in other self-directed ways, deal with conditions [intrapersonal, interpersonal or environmental] which interfere with productive social living. We are governed by the recognition of the individual as a unique and active organism, the social environment as a dynamic force, and the effects of their reciprocal interactions [Buber – 1973].

Finally, the recognition of the person with problems in living as having strengths as well as problems, and the focus on the need for meaning in life leads to a final principle which is concerned with the context of helping:

People learn how to participate in valued settings by participating in valued settings.

Moving people to “programs” in order to work with them is inappropriate. Homogeneous groupings of people with problems in living takes away the socialization opportunities afforded to others. The attributions of such removal are salient in itself; but the overriding concern is that people do not learn to participate in society by not participating. They may need supports, even intensive supports, but they need to experience real life as others do.

The concept of “community based” is too often understood as having the institution located in the community. What it really means is that services are supplied in valued setting where the individual would be if s/he had no problems in living. Just as the fundamental truth implies that people with severe needs are the same as other people in desires and goals, so too, does it demand that they be “normalized” even while services are being offered. Where people with disabilities are being served is closely tied to one of the most sacred symbols of our mission; least restrictive environments. The “least restrictive environment” as a policy derived from the concept of normalization and was focused toward “maximum feasible integration”. Unfortunately, in practice, it quickly developed into a continuum model, i.e., “from the most to least restrictive”. It thus was used as a standard and guide to legitimize restrictive environments. The concept has also allowed us to confuse segregation and integration on the one hand with intensity of services on the other. “When viewed from this perspective, it follows that people with severe disabilities will require the most restrictive and segregated settings.” “The question has become not whether people with severe disabilities should be restricted, but to what extent” [Taylor – 1988].

Even further, it rejects the “readiness” principle which leads to defining the mission in terms of creating “facilities”, first larger ones and then smaller ones, and “programs”, rather than providing services and supports to enable people with problems in living to participate in the same settings used by others. The change environment must have dynamic qualities that enhance the person’s desired preferences for the future.

The Helper

Based upon these values there are certain expectations and requirements regarding the person who gives help.

The helper must establish him/herself as a significant individual in whom the client can trust, as a condition of the relationship, to act in the right or proper way.

This commitment means that the helper, and through him/her, the agency, will do exactly and consistently what they say they will do; although not necessarily what the individual would desire.

This trust is based not upon a personal commitment, but upon the professional commitment of the total organization that it will respond on behalf of the client. In order to accept this, we must also recognize our responsibility to the greater society and articulate to the client exactly when and how we would invoke this potentially contrary commitment and how in doing so, we are responsible to his/her needs. There can be no conflict between our responsibility to society and to the individual. This is an ethical dilemma that demands ethical response.

In the introduction to Buber’s I/Thou, the translator, Walter Kauffman, says something important regarding this concept.

“The basic “I/Thou concept establishes the world of relations. As a thou, I have no right to use the I before me as an object with which I may take liberties.” “It is not for me to play with or manipulate. I am not to use it as a point of departure, or anything else. It is a voice of a person that needs me. I am there to help HIM speak.”

Service delivery designs, which assume the strengths of the client, orient themselves towards a change experience that is a prototype role-learning situation. Thus the helper’s role is, in many ways, a teaching one. Since the client directs the process, the helper must try to influence, not control. Coercive interventions have no effect other than resistance. The authority to provide services must be sanctioned by the client and it is this sanction that is at the root of the success. Individuals, who sanction dominance, must be helped to seek independence.

The predominant issue that precedes all else in the practitioner attempts to engage the involuntary, “resistant”, “unmotivated”, or “hard to reach” clients is that nothing can be achieved until authority has been granted and influence attained [Goldstein – 1973]. This sanction of the authority of the helper to elicit change is the essence of the trusting, significant relationship.

The extent to which the person with problems in living is open to change corresponds to the extent to which the presence of the helper is recognized, experienced and authorized by the person in need. The helper’s “value and effectiveness is contingent on the extent to which the right to be influential is granted” [Goldstein – 1973].

Thus our help can only be offered when both trust and sanction exist. To attempt to offer the service otherwise is coercive and often met with intransigent resistance. There are other keys to effective helpers.

  • They are enablers: they qualify and empower others to act.
  • They do not judge: They are effectively amoral in their perceptions of the acts of those they serve; listening without judgement and accepting without condemnation. People often do “bad” things in reaction to “bad” things that they perceive having been done to them. Judgements and condemnation reinforce the “righteousness” of their acts. Acceptance offers the potential for re-evaluation and remorse. Otto Rank describes the “love experience” as the acceptance of the other persons will[fullness]. This does not necessarily condone the behavior, but allows for the separation of the behavior from the person.
  • They have no points to defend: defense mechanisms are normal and inherent; they are not professional. They justify our self importance over others. In the professional relationship, such defense is inexcusable. It denies the right of others to have perceptions, judgements and views that differ from our own. Since we are in the status positions, defense automatically gives offense.
  • They see their status as responsibility rather than as rank or privilege: it is a duty that demands that they give of themselves to exhaustion without expectation of receipt.
  • They believe in the inherent desire of everyone to reach success, happiness, power and status and recognize the need to offer new opportunities and new learning to accomplish such achievement.
  • Their beliefs and actions are at least compatible, if not congruent. They need not be clever, only consistent.
  • They are the equivalent of fiduciaries: they act only on behalf of others, never for the self interest of themselves. Their professional lives are not for themselves, but for others. Personal satisfactions are acquired in personal areas of their lives.

Those attempting to enhance the lives of people with problems in living must:

  • establish a relationship of significance based of bonds of trust inherent in the dignity of risk and the respect for failure as a precursor to growth;
  • support the individual’s efforts to assess themselves in relationship to their potentialities and opportunities through rigorous analysis of personal beliefs and projections;
  • animate through provision of opportunities and encouragement of effort and attempts to practice new thought, feeling and behavior in those areas where personal assessment has identified need for growth; and
  • reinforce the positive of the experience of success and/or failure as a developmental step in the process of life;
  • have a process worldview that suggests that human existence, human behavior, or human endeavor is a complex of diverse social/emotional, biological and cognitive adaptations and interactions. Personality integration is the overall creative process of the individual’s adapting and responding to myriad internal and external needs, challenges, crises and changes;
  • recognize all human beings as persons-in-process. We are ever in the process of experiencing, learning and growing; involved in a constant evolution of higher cognitions and motivations. We are in the process of becoming;

• value our individual differences. Because of our genetic inheritance, the circumstances of our birth, and our distinct life experiences, the way each of us processes life events is highly individual. How each of us assimilates, accommodates, adapts and responds to life’s experiences reflects our individual differences;

• value the individual differences of others. Just as we appreciate our own unique process patterning, we appreciate the process style of others with whom we live, work and serve. Our individual differences reflect the multidimensional parameters of human possibility. Each of us has an individual path, an individual interpretation of reality, and individual character and an individual processing-in-the-world;

• accept that personality integration is a never-ending process. Living is a dynamic flow of psycho-physical events. Self-knowledge is not achievement that happens at this or that time in our life. Self-knowledge is a continual process of self-discovering and self-realizing;

• understand that a person is an interactive entity whose properties are a product of that interaction. A stimulus does not cause a process in an inert system; it modifies existing processes in an active system that is purposively directed towards the realization of certain goals and values;

• view all experience, no matter how difficult or painful, as grist for further human evolution; and

• experience themselves as life-forms capable of conscious choice and transcending change.