One thing I love about social work is that it combines so many different professions. We study psychology, sociology, child development social policy, community organizing (Republicans taught me that’s not a real job!) amongst other things. The goal is to work with the whole person.
In theater of the absurd social work school, therefore, one of the things we have to study is Freud. I don’t pretend to be an expert. I realize he had a lot of revolutionary ideas and had a huge impact, and knew more than I do. But I also realize that his views reflected the prejudices of the Victorian age. Plus, he did a ton of blow and was obsessed with the sex.
Some social workers put a bit more stock in classical psychology than I do. Translation: nothing is ever what it seems. Everything is complicated, and people certainly do not say what they mean.
This got me into a bit of a debate with a casework professor. She was explaining that we need to get to the meaning behind what everyone is saying. I don’t disagree with that. But I was told that, when someone comes to me saying they need concrete services because they are about to be evicted, I shouldn’t just refer them to a program. They don’t just want money. There’s something else behind them seeking me out. I need to engage them in conversation about how they feel about the impending eviction.
I think the response might be something along the lines of, “How the fuck do you think I feel about it? Pay my damn rent, crazy!” I’m just guessing here.
I was really unable to hold my tongue when she told us that little kids who we see for counseling might want to take toys from our offices. Makes sense, that’s what kids do.
No. They want to take the toy as a transitional object, to comfort them as they leave the safe environment of the office.
I’m not saying this is never true. Some kids will do this. But I have some badass toys. Might the kid not just be a little jealous of my sweet collection?
Apparently this was not possible.
“What if I’m seeing a kid, and I have the one Power Ranger action figure he’s missing, so he keeps trying to snag it?”
“That action figure has some meaning for him.”
“Yeah…it completes the set.”
“No, beyond that.”
It’s always beyond that.
I recently had a four year old girl in my office, and we broke out the family play figures. She told me, “I don’t know how to play family.”
Brilliant insight from this child! Her home is broken, and she is expressing this through the natural childhood language of play!
Or her mom has the TV running at all times, and the kid hasn’t developed much of an imagination.
Of course we need to read into what our clients are doing. It’s what we do. And people don’t always say exactly what they mean, or express exactly how they are feeling. Sometimes they don’t know. At the same time, I’d like to avoid pathologizing a kid because he has his eye on the slinky on my desk. (Side not: I guard that thing with my life, so don’t even try it.)
During a play therapy session with a little boy recently, he made a scary monster out of play-doh, and gave the monster a name.
If only I knew what he was trying to say.