Skip to content

Social Work Failing?

I read a recent blog post, filled with comments about social work failing.

I must have my head in the sand.

I graduated in 1985 and haven’t stopped working. I continue to sit on committees; I help organize conferences; I am active in the media; I collaborate with other social workers on a multitude of projects…

I also recognize that the human condition is such that a new crop of problems comes up with each generation, while many of the old problems will be chronic and likely forever lasting. That said, I do what I can individually, in groups and in my community to alleviate suffering and social injustice. I also continue to attend continuing education to expand my skill set, to be as best equipped as I can be to manage in a changing world.

From my perspective, social work is not failing. Social workers are like societal glue. We are integral to a functioning society. We work well in areas of uncertainty and know how to manage with limited resources.

Failure? No.

Tough job at times? That I can accept.

If you are feeling disheartened just consider the last client you helped and remember, helping is a lot like fishing. While we do help some, many more do get away.

However, for those we help, we make a difference.

I love my work and social work isn’t failing.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

http://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

http://www.facebook.com/GaryDirenfeldSocialWorker
http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=60758978&trk=tab_pro
https://twitter.com/socialtworker

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Where is the Neutrality in Mediation?

People attend mediation to resolve conflict and herein I am addressing mediation to resolve parenting disputes specifically – the care of children between separated parents..

I differentiate between issues and outcomes with regard to neutrality.

On the matter of issues, it may be difficult to remain neutral and may not be appropriate to remain neutral. Domestic violence, conflict, drug/alcohol abuse are known to be harmful and often puts one person at risk of harm over the other and at times, even at the hand of the other. Neutrality in the face of these and other issues may equal complicity or tacit acceptance. This really isn’t neutral or safe.

From an evaluative standpoint, it is reasonable to point out the inherent contribution to distress these issues impose in order to promote wellness (social, emotional, physical and even spiritual) and offer guidance to address those issues that otherwise drive conflict. Further and in consideration of “do no harm”, it behooves the mediator to address these issues as mentioned above for to not address them is tantamount to complicity and/or tacit acceptance, maintaining people at risk of harm. This is far from neutral as it inadvertently reinforces dysfunctional to unlawful to dangerous behavior.

However, we still respect self-determination and remain neutral with regard to the outcome. People can still decide for themselves – good or bad. In the end, it is their life – assuming the behavior in question is not a required reportable offense.

Mediation is more than compromise and I see it as having loftier general goals.

We seek the parties subject to mediation to  learn to resolve disputes respectfully as well as address those conditions within themselves that may contribute to ongoing harm and/or conflict. This creates more durable, lasting agreements.

In the area of family mediation where children’s lives hang in the outcome, remaining neutral with regard to outcome can be a daunting task. As family mediators, the well-being of children is top-of-mind particularly when conflict can fog the parental view of children’s needs. Outcome though, still remains a parental prerogative.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

http://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

http://www.facebook.com/GaryDirenfeldSocialWorker
http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=60758978&trk=tab_pro
https://twitter.com/socialtworker

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Why do we work with High Conflict Separated Parents?

In addition to seeing separated parents who actually can put the needs of their children ahead of themselves, I also see a good many separated parents stuck in unremitting conflict.

Despite all the good information, education, coaching and even cajoling, they are bent on projecting blame and deflecting responsibility while continuously confusing their own needs and wants with the needs of their children. Indeed, while cloaking themselves as their child’s bastion of support and advocate of their best interests, their children are visibly straining under the weight of their parents’ hostility and animosity.

Whereas we want all children to grow up well, be responsible and prosper, the goals for children of high conflict parents are far more modest. They include mere survival – not committing suicide; minimizing the degree to which they will be affected by mental health problems associated with parental conflict (depression, anxiety, personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder), avoiding pregnancy and finishing high school.

The goals for the parents include, reducing the number of times they go to court; preserving assets that would otherwise go to more expensive forms of conflict resolution (litigation); limiting conflict with the law the result of drug or alcohol abuse or violent behavior; limiting the risk associating with domestic violence. To affect these parental goals, we seek to have them disengage – tall fences make good neighbors. We want them out of each other’s hair. To the degree we can meet these goals, the child related goals may fall in line.

Statistically, many of the parents seen as” high conflict”, have underlying personality disorders – a very stable, but idiosyncratic view of themselves and others, not supported by objective evidence. Their idiosyncratic view of themselves and the world creates conflict between themselves and others even when they ascribe all manner of blame to the other.

Common to the pattern of personality disorder seen is a fellow with a narcissistic personality disorder and a woman with either a borderline, histrionic or dependent personality disorder. In the event of working with a couple where one parent has a personality disorder, statistically the odds are better than 50/50 that the other parent will have a personality disorder too.

I have a reputation for being willing to take on referrals of these very challenging parents. As challenging as the parents may be, somehow or other, many of them find support systems and even lawyers whose issues mirror their own. This can escalate conflict for all involved and increases the risk of the service provider being scapegoated and becoming a new target of blame in the family drama.

Good guidance seems to fall flat in these situations. Next you need good workers who have strong boundaries themselves, so as to avoid being inducted into the family drama and remain focused on the needs of the children even when positioned as the new target of blame.

The risks of working with these families is actually quite great for the service provider and includes public vilification, spurious claims of impropriety, internet complaints, complaints to licensing bodies and even lawsuits.

Why would anyone do this work?

Kind of like fishing… Many may get away, but occasionally our work really helps a child, even if only modestly.

That makes it all worthwhile.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

http://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

http://www.facebook.com/GaryDirenfeldSocialWorker
http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=60758978&trk=tab_pro
https://twitter.com/socialtworker

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Iatrogenic Effect: A negative consequence brought forth by the healer.

While the concept of the iatrogenic effect is well known to medicine, it doesn’t receive much attention in the context of counseling. However and if we accept the counselor as a form of healer, emotional, psychological or psychiatric, then it does us well to ponder this concept as applied to counseling.

Counseling tends to be treated at best, something to help overcome emotional, personal or interpersonal problems. At worst, counseling appears to be viewed as innocuous; if not helpful, at least not harmful.

Rarely discussed though are those unintentional consequences, the negative outcomes of well-intended acts. Like any intervention, counseling too has its potential iatrogenic effects even while at some level being helpful.

As much as we rail against the stigma of mental illness and mental health services, it remains such that a stigma exists. As much as a person may be appropriately served and aided by mental health services such as counseling, there can remain a part of that person affected by the stigma merely from receipt of services. This can form a potential emotional/psychological weight, the antidote of which often deployed by the client, is secrecy. Secrecy, a withholding of personal information can provide a barrier to ones connection to others in intimate relationships. It can cause a person to feel less about him or herself, just for the mere attendance at counseling. Thus the intended goal of empowerment, getting along with others, or ameliorating emotional upset, can be offset by the unintended consequences produced from the weight of stigma.

Beyond the stigma often associated with mental health services, the process itself can produce unwanted consequences.

It is not uncommon for persons with relationship difficulties to seek counseling to address those difficulties. At times, the person seeks to address those difficulties unilaterally in individual counseling. While there may be a good rationale for doing so, an opposing concern would be the counselor inadvertently aligning with the client, particularly in the presence of a one-sided account of the relationship difficulties. Individual counseling for relationship issues also presumes the client to be an accurate historian of the issues presented. In the absence of meeting, knowing and assessing the context over and above of the person singularly, the counselor is at risk of providing counsel or at least inadvertently reinforcing issues or notions that are not actually reasonable to the circumstance. At once a person may feel better from an individual perspective yet have their relationship issues worsened. In some cases then, individual counseling for a relationship issue may worsen the relationship issue.

Notwithstanding the above and again in the context of relationship issues, seeing persons jointly can not only erode the well being of a person on an individual basis, but more-so may place a person at risk of physical harm. Such is the case in matters of domestic violence or intimate partner violence. When these matters are not surfaced prior to joint sessions, the target of the violent and/or otherwise controlling behavior may be at a disadvantage for disclosure of interpersonal issues for fear of reprisal or retribution. The iatrogenic effect of uncovering issues related to one side may put the other side at risk of harm. Herein is the case for an appraisal of individual issues or the context of relationship issues ahead of service.

In the context of helping separated parents untangle the intimate relationship from the ongoing parental relationship, both parents and children can be at risk of harm from well-intentioned but misguided counseling efforts. Children brought for counseling may feel a need to align with one or other parent for factors beyond the recognition of the counselor. This can skew the information derived from the counseling process, and then be subject to misuse in the context of settling parenting disputes. Just signing a child up for counseling in the absence of joint parental permission can itself escalate the parental conflict to which the child is exposed, yet requires respite from. To the uninitiated counselor, providing counseling services in the context of separated parents in dispute carries the risk of a multitude of iatrogenic effects, not just befalling the client, but the service provider too can be pulled into the vortex as a co-contributor to the parental conflict. The service provider can find him or herself at risk of reprisal from a disgruntled parent.

Counseling is anything but innocuous. It is a potent healing strategy aimed at repairing anything from the distraught to fractured psyche to tenuous and even dangerous relationships between individuals, intimate partners, parents and parents and children. Addressed in the counseling process are issues ranging from misplaced words creating emotional distress to despicable, horrific or traumatic acts that impact one’s ability to effectively meet the demands of life.

Just as the surgeon must examine the patient before surgery and may deploy far less intrusive measures, such as ex-rays, CT scans or MRIs, to make sure the cut is even necessary let alone well placed, the counselor is best advised to investigate the context and possible intervening variables that may need to be controlled for, prior to going straight form initial phone call to counseling appointment.

Referred to as “intake” many counselors rely solely upon an intake form or superficial questions posed by an “intake worker” to determine the appropriateness of the referral. However, many counselors themselves view counseling at worse as innocuous or may even put their need for a revenue stream or agency “numbers” ahead of determining the reasonableness of the referral, or ahead of determining the match between what is sought or needed and the skills or expertise of the counselor, or ahead of assessing safety or sobriety issues.

Counselors are well advised to review their intake processes to determine if their approach to intake mitigates or enables the potential for iatrogenic effects.

Counseling is not innocuous and not all counselors are suited to all issues. It behooves counselors to practice continuous professional development and to have structures in place to appropriately triage for service ahead of jumping into service. Intake procedures must provide for concern of and protection from iatrogenic effects. Intake is far more than obtaining contact information and scheduling an appointment.

Persons seeking counseling are well advised to assess their potential service provider, asking questions about qualifications, expertise and experience. Clients must be assured that the counselor has the requisite knowledge training and expertise to address the matter at hand. Whenever one places their well being into the hands of another for personal professional service, be mindful, counselors are not always helpful and even when helpful, counselors can inadvertently create iatrogenic effects. At times, both client and counselor must weigh the benefit of service against the potential for unintended negative consequences.

Counselor and client can choose more wisely and better attune the counseling process when the potential for iatrogenic effects is respected.

Here is a 10 minute radio interview on this issue where the interviewers are taken aback:

 

 

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

http://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

http://www.facebook.com/GaryDirenfeldSocialWorker
http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=60758978&trk=tab_pro
https://twitter.com/socialtworker

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Parenting Goggles and Misbehavior

Parenting goggles: Those glasses some parents wear that prevents them from seeing their children realistically, particularly when they are inappropriate.

Parenting goggles is most recognizable when paired with such phases such as, “Not my kid; Yours started it; Your kid asked for it; We don’t like you anyways, so s/he doesn’t need to apologize; It wasn’t as bad as all that; Get over it.”

Parenting goggles are often associated with children who are bullies. Parenting goggles typically precludes the parent from holding their child accountable. Further, parenting goggles are also associated with parents who have an inflated view of themselves, likely masking the parent’s own insecurities or inadequacies.

If you come across a parent wearing parenting goggles, there may be little you can do. Parenting goggles are frequently strapped tightly on and do not respond well to outside attempts at removal.

Caution is advised for those who might feel compelled to help a parent with tightly strapped parenting goggles, remove them. Attempts of removal without permission can result in an opposite and greater affect on the person attempting the unauthorized removal. In this circumstance, the person initiating the unauthorized removal can be caused to appear the aggressor.

Best strategy is to keep one’s distance from a parent wearing tightly strapped on parenting goggles and to keep your children safe from their children.

Over time though the parent wearing the parenting goggles will eventually be seen for not managing their child appropriately. Their parenting goggles will become apparent to others and under the shear weight of the realistic gaze of many others, may eventually fall off.

Time, patience and distance may be the best friends of the realistic parent coping with the parent wearing parenting goggles.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

http://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

http://www.facebook.com/GaryDirenfeldSocialWorker
http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=60758978&trk=tab_pro
https://twitter.com/socialtworker

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Fighting Over Choice of Service Provider in Child Custody/Access Disputes

You know the file is going to be high conflict when you receive a call from one parent extolling your virtues, wanting you as service provider be it child custody/access assessor/evaluator, mediator, arbitrator or parenting coordinator and then hearing the other side is opposed to your appointment in this capacity. You also know the caller is seeking to stroke your ego in an effort to gain favor in the process.

What the caller needs to know is that such behavior on their part may cause them to look manipulative by being so ingratiating. This caller is undermining their own effort, inadvertently creating a negative impression of him/herself with this misguided strategy. This is a poor way to get the ball rolling.

If you are seeking a service provider to address your dispute regarding your children, it is typically better if your lawyer makes the referral on your behalf. When the parent calls first, then the other parent will likely be more concerned for issues of bias on the part of the service provider, contemplating what one-sided information has already been provided by the caller.

Lawyers are usually aware of these issues and hence seek to provide minimal factual information so as not to sully the referral within the initial contact. Very often the lawyers will also agree upon the information to be provided to the service provider to facilitate the referral. This is almost always the case if you choose collaboratively trained lawyers. This increases the likelihood of the parents agreeing upon the choice of service provider.

However, when parents do not agree and assuming both choices are within the range of reasonable, then I often tell the caller to choose the other person. The degree to which this choice becomes the battleground, this too can reflect poorly upon one or both parents. Better to move forward by availing oneself of the services to resolve your dispute than getting mired in new disputes along the way.

In my jurisdiction we are blessed with several competent, well regarded service providers, all of whom provide a range of services for separated parents in conflict over the care of their children.

At the end of the day, your children need to be freed from the parental conflict. Think of your children and look to resolve matters, not get hung up creating new ones. Given that parental conflict alone is the most potent predictor for your children’s psycho-social outcome, avoiding this battle is already in their favor. That matters most.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

http://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

http://www.facebook.com/GaryDirenfeldSocialWorker
http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=60758978&trk=tab_pro
https://twitter.com/socialtworker

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

First comes love, then comes marriage…

Many couples come to counseling in crisis with their relationship or marriage at risk. They have little or no understanding of the issues or concerns of the other and even less appreciation of each others point of view. The infatuation, mistaken as “true love”, has expired in the demands of daily living.

Quite often and upon exploration, it becomes clear that couples have missed a step or two in the mating process. They forgot to become friends and/or they forgot to court.

Dating at any age is the involvement with another for personal fun, pleasure or gratification. With any luck, the involvement provides for mutuality of experience but this is not necessarily an objective. Given the sexual mores of the day, the intent of dating often includes sexual enticement or gratification. Luck features prominently in dating because until together, the couple knows little of each other and hence the outcome is uncertain. This is the nature of dating. During the dating process, the parties tend to present themselves in their best light, hiding any blemishes, physically or personally, that might otherwise undermine the pursuit of fun, pleasure or gratification. The trouble is that some persons mistake the dating behavior as indicative of the party’s true self and rush to engagement or marriage without taking other crucial steps in the coupling process.

Friendship goes beyond dating and is indicative of knowing, liking and trusting a person. In getting to know a person and developing a friendship, a truer and deeper appreciation of personality and traits are gained. We rely on our friendships for mutual support, encouragement, and entertainment. While dating is directed at personal fun, pleasure or gratification, friendship provides for mutual benefit at neither party’s expense. It takes experience with a person to learn whether or not there is a shared sense of mutual responsibility to the friendship – reciprocity of mutual support and caring. Given that this is discovered to be the case, persons can explore the next stage in the coupling process.

Courtship takes friendship to a new level. In courtship, the parties signal an exclusivity of the relationship with the intent of exploring the potential for lifelong bonding or cohabitation. Courtship is therefore much more serious than friendship and requires that the participants take the time to learn fully, all the blemishes, physical and otherwise that their potential life partner possesses. This is where couples must truly get to know each other in all aspects of life; psychological, behavioral, familial, social, vocational, etc. When we take on a partner, we take on all their significant relationships too. In getting to know each other in all aspects of life, the purpose of courting then becomes to answer the question, “Can I live with this person…and family… forever?”

Relationships are best taken on as they are and not as an investment. Whereas we generally try to limit our risk when investing money, similarly we should limit our risk when taking on relationships. This is not to say we do not partner with someone who has issues or problems, but rather, they must be in plain view, they must be discussed and there must be an agreed upon plan in place for management. You must decide what you can and cannot live with. Courting is the time to figure this out.

With friendship then courtship undertaken and resolved, persons are ready for the next stage; engagement. Engagement is the promise to marry. This is not meant as experimentation or learning, but to provide time for the preparation of a commitment process to lifelong bonding and exclusive cohabitation.

Play your cards right and follow these steps and you will reduce the likelihood of winding up in the therapist’s office. And wouldn’t that be just lovely!

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

http://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

 

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

http://www.facebook.com/GaryDirenfeldSocialWorker
http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=60758978&trk=tab_pro
https://twitter.com/socialtworker

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,084 other followers