Lesson of the day: You’re all a bunch of self-serving jerks

15 11 2010

I include myself in that. We’re all looking out for number one. Not all the time, of course. We can all be altruistic at times. Overall, though, we do things to get something out of it.

Incentives make the world go ’round. Just think of the huge bonuses those Wall Street guys collect. I don’t follow the news too carefully, but I’m assuming that the reason we keep hearing about them is that they are incredibly effective and lead to no problems.

I’m at work today to help people. (Also to get paid.) You don’t speed in order to keep your fellow motorists safe. (And to avoid a speeding ticket.) You use the potty to get a cookie. (This blog is huge with the under 3 set.)

It follows that we try this with our clients as well. Everyone does it. How do you fill a room for a new group? I hope we all know the four magic words: Refreshments. Will. Be. Provided.

Teens are coming to group late? “Those of us with perfect attendance/punctuality will get to go on a trip at the end of the year!” Difficulty getting people in for sessions? “Well, we just got a donation of new winter coats. I was hoping to give some to your kids, but…oh, you’ll be here in ten minutes? Great.” “I understand that you want your case closed, now in November. But whatever will I do with all these Christmas presents?”

We all do what we have to do. To get our numbers and contacts, to make sure that people have a reason to come see us,  to get them to give us a chance to win them over and actually get some work done.

But where do we draw the line? I’m cool with giving out school supplies, but I’d like to avoid paying people to come see me.

I recently had to watch a scene from the movie “Precious” again. I say “had to” because, although it’s a good film, I don’t put it in the watch it again and again category. “Clue” or “Dirty Dancing,” sure, but I can’t watch “Precious” without wanting to hunt Mo’nique down…to counsel her.

Back to the point–Mariah Carey, as the uglied up social worker, tells Precious that she’ll have to talk about her home life if she wants her check.

Then she calls Precious “sweetie.” Just to be extra bitch-tacular.

But I’m not like that. Right? I’m sure you aren’t either. Of course. We’re some of the good ones.

Incentives are tricky. At what point are we being patronizing? Participate in counseling, and you’ll surely get something out of it. “Ooh, a better relationship with my father!” Uh, maybe. I was talking about this neat eraser! It’s shaped like a leaf. You know, for autumn.

I had one client who didn’t believe in giving her daughter anything, aside from the very basics. The girl was supposed to earn privileges, but when you aren’t allowed to do anything aside from sit in front of the television, earning can be a little difficult.

The mother and I discussed a system of rewards. But, her mother said, won’t she only be working for things like being allowed to go out with her friends, or minutes on her devil machine Sidekick? She won’t behave because she knows it’s right!

Two points.

1) So what? Take what you get and be happy for a while.

2) Let me go back to my potty reference. Two year olds start using the toilet in an effort to get cookies, stickers, whatever passes for a treat these days. Then they notice other things: their parents are proud of them. They’re treated like a “big kid.” And they’re no longer social outcasts because they’re covered in shit!

Rewards, done right, become internalized. Working for one thing leads to working for something else. If that daughter was allowed to go to the movies when she successfully backed down from a fight with mom, maybe she’d notice some other things: my mom and I can talk to one another. The house is calm. My mother is happy to see me.

Offering something concrete, like help with benefits, child care, food, or clothing, can get people in the door. Then they get to see other things: this social worker isn’t so bad. I like talking to her. My, but she’s good looking.

Done improperly, incentives drive people to act all sorts of way. Reasonable people become greedy. They resent us for holding out on them, we resent them for only wanting to see us for those sweet treats. If the only reason to come to the office is to get something cool, what do we do when we don’t have anything, because budget cuts force us to choose between snacks and printer paper?

Oh delicate balances and fine lines, how I hate you!

But I need to get back to writing my notes. My supervisor promised she’d make me a cupcake if I get it done today.




9 responses

15 11 2010

So true. I made a list of all of my carers and kids birthdays the other day solely for this reason!

Hey, I’m not popular for nothing.

They’ll just get cards though, I’m on a social worker wage after all! 😉

15 11 2010

Ooh, you’re good.

It is possible that, just today, I left a message with an MIA client letting her know that I had a gift for her newborn, but couldn’t track her down.

15 11 2010

I’m not big on the whole “incentive” thing because I’ve seen it used the wrong way too many times where it then becomes an “entitlement” and really turns already difficult clients into frankenmonsters.

15 11 2010

I concur. With kids, and for groups, it’s good. But I’ve seen it go horribly awry as well. Interestingly, the workers who I feel like really abuse the idea of incentives are the ones who are a little greedy themselves. (OK, so I’m thinking of one person in particular!)

15 11 2010
william welch

You can see the tricky balance, but it is tricky because there is very little true structure except to fulfill governance or insurance. No one discusses the best ways to do things because it seems it is too complex. It is not too complex! People have a myriad of needs and especially the difficult ones. Each need can be address systematically if the the system allows for them. The system will not provide for this because their needs are seen as essential only if the client involved “get it” or basic needs met should be enough. And they don’t get it if they don’t get in line with the program. Most programs are lacking especially with dealing with trauma. Trauma treatment is the key for both sides of the argument. The point I am getting at is that SWs by and large have no real experience in living out these problems so understanding them is a daunting task. Also because you are well meaning you feel you should be exempt from mistakes that hamper making real progress instead of changing. If problems arise, you blame those who are burdened so heavily they really need an advocate who understands. In my philosophy, every person should be a social worker. Trained from infancy to adulthood in the care of one another. The paid model seems rather lacking and people with mental health issues are the new “black person”. If the clients had a different experience from the beginning of their lives, most of them would not have to choose to have SWs or the State help them.

15 11 2010

The idea of people’s families, friends, and peers fulfilling the role of social worker is certainly the ideal. That is always my goal when working with clients, to get to the point where my involvement in their lives is unnecessary. How do you propose we achieve that?

Also, when you say I think I should be exempt from mistakes or that I blame others when things go wrong…I assure you that I expect more from myself and beat myself up for my mistakes more than anyone else ever could. Yes I get frustrated, and I write and joke about these things. As I’ve stated many times before, the reason that I do that is that the release provided by creation and humor enables me to do my job.

15 11 2010

This post is about my entire day…every day. I use incentives all day long with my kindergarten autistic students in order to teach them lessons big and small. It has literally been my speech to every one of my paras since I’ve. Started teaching…You come to work to get paid, and Johnny sits in his chai, claps his hands or uses a fork for a Skittle! Thanks for hitting home…

16 11 2010

Ha, any time! I remember this from my days working with autistic kids in a youth center. “You want to hold the Buzz Lightyear doll? Then it’s time to pull up your pants!”

16 11 2010
william welch

The idea of people’s families, friends, and peers fulfilling the role of social worker is certainly the ideal. That is always my goal when working with clients, to get to the point where my involvement in their lives is unnecessary. How do you propose we achieve that?

I believe training is in order, but this is an added expense to the SW system. The priorities for care often only benefit a low percentage of clients. Why this is has not been explored.

Beating yourself up as a SW makes no sense if the real problem is lack of understanding of trauma and its effects on real problem solving and recovery. To ignore the possibility that trauma matters this much does amount to making a serious mistake affecting outcomes for many clients, and reducing the effectiveness of the work SWs do.

Training clients to care for each other properly begins with what is truly interfering with progress toward solving issues and problems, as well as recovering emotionally.

Trauma training is the key to better, more effective Social Work and every SW should be on board with it.

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