When I was about fifteen, I learned about the phenomenon of “doorknobbing.” What can I say, I’m very advanced. It’s a rather unpleasant thing. I learned about it from my younger cousins. I’m still a little unclear on the details, but it has something to do with being the last to claim a fart, meaning your friends can all punch you until you touch a doorknob.
Kids are weird.
Narnia social work school, I learned about a different phenomenon with a similar title. Doorknobbing, doorknob therapy, the doorknob effect. Whatever you call it, getting punched by a bunch of eleven year olds in a room that smells like farts is probably easier to deal with.
It happens often in sessions. You sit there for a
fake hour, trying to draw anything out of a person. You hear that things are fine, things are improving, nothing’s new. You probe, you ask, you scale, you break out the miracle question. But it’s same old, same old.
The door has a magical effect on some people. Their hand reaches it, and you get a casual glance over the shoulder, “Did I mention that my fourteen year old is pregnant? OK, thanks!”
This happens. Seriously. I once had forty five minutes of chatting away, about school, doing chores, improving communication with mom. A really delightful session. Good job by that social worker. Until this girl was on her way out the door, and mentioned that she was a little nervous going home, as she’d just recently been sexually assaulted in her building. Don’t tell her mom. Cool? See you next week!
HOW DID YOU NOT THINK OF THIS EARLIER?!
Of course, they did think of it. There is a multitude of reasons why people might engage in this type of behavior. They’ve spent the entire session getting comfortable, or working up the courage to blurt this out. They’re avoiding the conversation. They’re seeing how you react. They’re not planning to return.
The doorknob effect doesn’t only happen at the end of a session. It can be even worse when it happens at, what is supposed to be, the end of your time together.
I’ve been working with one family in particular for just about a year. Now, as social workers, we’re supposed to pay attention to the life of the case, see when the family’s needs have been met, there are no outstanding safety issues, and proceed with termination as appropriate.
However, we get public funding, so there are other forces at work. The time for which we are encouraged to have a case open gets shorter and shorter. I’m expecting that a drive through window will be installed in the coming months. (I mentioned this at a staff meeting once. It got a few laughs.) Our limit, our strongly, strongly encouraged limit, is a year. Of course, if there are outstanding needs or concerns, anything that rises to the level of a safety concern, you can’t close. The agency will just be penalized.
Everyone confused? OK, moving on.
So, this family has been with me for a year. They’ve made a lot of progress. They didn’t do things exactly the way I hoped, but they made changes that seemed to be working for them. I felt like they were getting along better, the kids were safe, and we could move ahead with closing.
I brought this up with mom. She got a little nervous.
I explained my feelings, and why I thought they were nearly ready to be on their own. Mom explained to me that she didn’t quite agree. You see, she had been feeling really moody. She gets angry, for no reason. Feels a little like she’s going crazy.
OK, we can deal with this. It’s something that’s come up a bit before, but she said was getting better. We had talked about mental health services. This woman’s daughters had encouraged her to do it, but she wasn’t ready. She told me she finally was. She wanted a referral for an evaluation, and to start mental health treatment.
Well, that’s no problem! Done and done. On to the next. I was saying, about closing…
Oh wait. Apparently the sixteen year old has been staying out much later than curfew. And mom is concerned she’s having unsafe sex. I was shown a Facebook message exchange, that the mother got off of the girl’s page.
Not a whole lot of things make me blush. I’m going to leave it at that.
This case isn’t closing anytime soon. And really, it’s fine. As much as I want to help the agency live up to city standards, my priority is serving my families. I mean, it would be a lot easier if they wouldn’t wait until the last minute to let me know what the hell is going on. No time to object to that, though. I’m meeting them where they are.
But still. It’s ok to be mystified. Or annoyed. Seriously. Admitting it might even make you feel better.