To Be, or to Do- That is the Question
A number of years ago, while a Regional Director for the Utah Public VR program, a client came in to see their counselor who was out of the office due to illness. The client wanted a new battery for their car. In the absence of the counselor, I met with the client regarding their request. The provision of a battery was a new request as her vehicle had just broken down, and so it was not included as a service to be provided in their IPE. In reviewing the client record to help me determine what I should do as I met with the client, two things were very clear to me. First, was that the counselor needed to have a long white beard and a red suit because they had been operating as a Santa Claus for the entirety of the time this individual was a client. Whatever the client wanted they seemed to get. The second thing that jumped out at me was the fact that, despite their receiving a host of various services for some time (mostly gas, car repairs, groceries and clothing) there was no indication in the client record, nor by the way the client presented to me, that any progress had been made by them since eligibility toward an employment outcome. After understanding the client record, and talking with the client who could not provide me any reason how the provision of a battery was related to any effort to help her toward eventual employment- I informed her that I had no justification under which I could provide her battery for her. And that was when the fun began . . .
Before I knew it, she had her finger in my face, providing me a diatribe that I can only say would have made a sailor blush. Each time she paused to take a breath I tried to interject something that would allow us to have a dialogue. When I would open my mouth to say something I got an immediate” you shut up!! I don’t want to hear a word from you,” and on she would go berating me. After trying this a few times to the same “you shut up” directive, I could not help but smile. It was at that point she put her hands on her hips and shouted “you think this is funny?” In an effort to respond to her question, she quickly climbed onto my desktop and pushed her finger closer to my face and yelled “shut up- I don’t want to hear anything from you!!” I later learned that the entirety of the Valley West District Office (those remaining as this was at the end of the day) were huddled outside my office door taking in this whole event.
Eventually, the nature of this exchange de-escalated to the point that she no longer shouted at me, but wanted to talk to my supervisor. I was all too happy to oblige them. While this client gave my supervisor the “what for” about me and how this agency was a joke and did nothing for her, her son who was with her and about age 6 or 7 was pointing at me and saying “my mom is going to get your ass fired!” I didn’t dare smile for fear of what might come at me from this little guy. I will say this, he had a great teacher!!
In time (though it took some time), with the third-party intervention of my supervisor we were able to resolve this issue in a compromised understanding. To this day, I am grateful for my supervisory chain and the demonstrated leadership that was the only way this matter was to be solved that day.
That day in the Regional Director chair was one of the hardest of my professional life. It was clear that this was a client who was making no progress toward employment, but who had regularly sought and obtained pretty much anything she needed or wanted from our agency. She saw us as a welfare agency, one whose services she was entitled to at any time and pretty much for any reason. And we fulfilled that orientation by how she was being treated. The staff she was working with had done rehabilitation activity, for sure. They had a completed application, eligibility letter, IPE, financial needs assessment, annual review, etc. in the client records, along with case narratives. The 911 data was completed and accurate. The staff person had “done” rehabilitation, but where he failed, in my estimation, was in “being “a Rehabilitation Counselor. And, to fully assess that day’s events, I must also conclude that the same was true for me, as Regional Director, as well. I “did” the job of looking at what the staffer “did” and what I perceived the client “did” and didn’t do and based on that made a decision that I then “did” to the client. Though on the other end of the spectrum, I was just a guilty of “doing” rehabilitation as opposed to “being” the rehabilitation professional this person needed. I failed to present as a person who was open, intuitive, and involving. I lacked in information gathering, hearing both sides of a story, effectively communicating, assessing, and guiding. There was not affective intervention, alliance, nor demonstrated positive regard.
Throughout a Transformation being engaged in for our Utah VR agency, we have taken steps to realign duties, enhance positions, and improve the professional-client working alliance. We are piloting a rehabilitation-team philosophy and model of serving our clients in a metro Salt Lake City district. A new data management system is in the works. We are developing supervision in the agency that is more rounded and that will add to our professionalism through more emphasis on clinical and professional development of who we are. We are more client-focused and are not as laser-locked on process and procedure as the primary means of meeting our mission. So much is going on that is good, exciting and setting the stage for our ongoing evolution. I for one am stoked about what I am hearing, and find this a great time to be a part of the agency.
However, if at some point we do not make personal changes to how we engage in our profession day to day, all of this other activity going on around us will all be for naught. At least this will be true if we do not sustain the vision of what this is all about. We are about reframing ourselves as professionals; professional support staff, paraprofessionals, counselors and leaders.
Certainly, our efforts will be a boon to us no matter what. We can work better as a result of what we have done so far. We can do better as a result as well. But to really meet our vision as outlined in the Transformational Agenda, we need to be-come better, and that requires an effort and an energy that has to be found from within.
Do you remember the old Army slogan? “Be all that you can be.” Any of us can work better to be an employee. We can do better to serve as an example. But we are at our best when we become a professional. Only then can we say that we are, in the truest sense, agents of change and rehabilitation.
Oh, and so you know the rest of the story. . .
After this irate client climbed down from my desktop following her conversation with my supervisor, she and I visited for a while. I listened to why she needed the car battery. It led to my asking her why it appeared that so little progress had been made in the time she had been a client. She had her reasons, though most were not ones I felt were valid given her history. I counseled her on why it is important for her to show progress in order for us to continue to provide services, and reframed her orientation to our agency and what we were working toward (it seemed like news to her). We completed an IPE amendment to include immediate purchase of a new car battery, with language outlining things she would complete in the next 90 days in order to receive any further services. The amendment included language that she would make an appointment with her counselor, coinciding with the end of those 90 days, to which she would bring documented proof of those items having been completed. She left the meeting not only with her need met, but with a whole new perspective of what Vocational Rehabilitation was, and a commitment to participate. I left feeling like I had been a professional.
Russell J. Thelin, M.S., LVRC, CRC