Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Non-Diagnostic Listening

I just read a really cool article on the net at


It is so easy to slip into diagnosis when you work with people. I believe we diagnose when we fear-- diagnosis gives us a sense of "stability" in a chaotic situation. We talk with the client (the word "client" is interesting in itself), and we cannot get the response that we hope for. Perhaps we are looking for something like "I guess you are right, I am thinking stupid... I am going to change myself and be happy." When we don't get this response, or if we get a response that is outside of what we perceive as logic, we peer over the brink of sanity; we worry that this person will pull us both over the edge. Humans seem to naturally fear non-connection with other humans. At this point we need a reason, and "bipolar," or "schizophrenia," or "depression" seem to fit so well. Once we have the word, we can plunk all the previous behaviour into the mindframe. It explains everything... This person is mentally ill, so it's not my fault. In the healthcare system, it is so much easier to deal with people in "channels." bipolars over here, FASD over there, etc.

Some who read this will say "This is nothing new, non-judgmental philosophies have always been around." While I agree that the cast-the-first-stone speech is quite old, I would say that social workers need to speak about and process judgment frequently. I think when we begin to see our fear in the situation, we can start to get to questions like "What is the WORST thing that will happen if I just forget the labels and listen to this guy?" Truly see the fear and you will watch it melt away.

I am also aware that I judge out of survival. I have no apologies for being judgmental, though our society has labeled "judgment" as "bad." I see little use in judging MYSELF for being judgmental (!). Boy, this just gets silly at some points!

Anyhow, I would like to see people looking more closely at how they view the people who come to them for help. Do you sit with your co-workers and say "That woman is blah blah..."? Do you think of blah blah when you talk to her? Are you closed down as a result? What would an alternative look like? Is the alternative scary? Hmmm....


1 comment:

Susi said...

I'm not sure if it's the same article cause it came up "not found" when I tried to get it from your site. But if it's the one with the girl named Molly who was supposedly paranoid schizophrenic and headed for a state hospital because she thought she was going to give birth to a savior then it's one of my favorites. I'm the nurse educator at a psych emergency hospital and I have all new staff read it to see the importance of true listening with empathy. Another article you might like is Loren Mosher's "still crazy after all these years" about Sotera House and all the wonderful work that was happening when we gave people time to explore themselves and their situations without throwing medication at them.