Remember when doorknobs were just for closing doors?

10 11 2011

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.

In 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!


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.




4 responses

10 11 2011
SocialWrkr247 (@SWrkr247)

When I worked Intact cases (years ago) this happened EVERY SINGLE time I told a family we were about to close their case. Even if they’d spent the last year telling me that they were tired of me coming to their house every week – when it was time for me to go, they had a million reasons they didn’t want me to close. Head/desk.

Also, isn’t that fun when TPTB tell you that your options are “leave families at risk” or “agency penalty”? Great. Thanks guys.

14 11 2011

I just closed a case that dragged on for over two years. The grandmother was openly hostile to services by the end. When I finally got it approved, she wouldn’t let me out of the house at our final visit. She had so much to share. I would have loved it if she had been like that a couple of years ago!

And I get that option all the time. I love how they act like they’re really giving us a choice.

11 11 2011

Though it doesn’t always mitigate so-called door knobbing, and I am not sure how much time you are allotted for your sessions, I learned from experience to give space in my meetings with individuals/families to just talk about whatever comes to mind. I would do this at the beginning and end of my sessions with people. Once the distracting bits were dealt with at the start there was time allowed for more focus on the work we needed to do together, or as in your example, to address crises. Checking in a few minutes before the end also allowed extra time if needed. This can be challenging though, cause as you know, there is a lot of time pressure and there are workplace demands on you to have a specific focus.

14 11 2011

I agree that this is always a good idea. My sessions are pretty laid back and I pretty much always allow for this. But as you said, it doesn’t always mitigate it.

In the case I wrote about, I had even specifically asked the mother what her teenage daughter was getting up to. I think that in some cases, the only way the information is coming is if they blurt it out on the way out the door.

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