In Risking Connection® training we focus a great deal on counter-transference, the helpers’ feelings while doing the work. Our basic point is that any feeling is okay, it is what you do with it that matters. In order to illustrate this, we use scenarios. In each scenario, the questions are: what is the staff member feeling? How could they use their feelings to enhance the treatment? How could their feelings get in the way of the treatment?
Here is one of the scenarios:
"Lucinda, a fourteen-year-old resident, told you that her aunt had called her and told her that her mother was very sick. She seemed quite distraught. You arranged with other staff for her to have an extra long phone call outside of phone time. Later you learn that she actually used that opportunity to call her boyfriend and her mother was never sick."
The usual response is that the staff member is feeling angry, betrayed, used, foolish, and ashamed. And maybe we had better think again about allowing Lucinda this relationship with her boyfriend, since it apparently gets in the way of her treatment. Our reaction is to toughen up, make sure we never believe this child again, that no child can ever trick us again. She has betrayed our trust and we will not trust her again for a long time.
We talk about noticing that this is how the kids we work with always feel. That moment when the staff member, feeling humiliated, decides never to open her heart and let any child trick him again is the place where our kids live.
In a recent training, however, a miraculous thing happened. One staff member said: what if we realized that Lucinda doing this was a sign that she was not able to trust us to meet her needs? What if we assumed that her wish to talk to her boyfriend was legitimate? It is developmentally appropriate, and also part of her understandable need to have connections, someone who cares about her, attachments.
What if we worked hard to assure Lucinda that we would like to meet her needs, and we would like to discuss how we can make sure she has regular access to her boyfriend without the necessity for lying to anyone?
What if we thought that more important than the phone rules was a chance to teach a child that adults care and that you can turn to other people to help you get what you want?
I would love to live in a world in which this kind of thinking was even part of the conversation.