CYC-Online 92 SEPTEMBER 2006
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Working methodically – II: Clarifying situations and determining goals

Lies Gualthrie van Weezel and Kees Waaldijk

See part I of this article: Being, reflecting, acting

Working methodically can be understood as a process. Not as a linear process with a start, a goal, and more or less well planned steps in between, but as a never-ending spiral with moments of reflection, with surprises, which are important “not only as part of the process but as events with a value in themselves. To appreciate such moments is part of the art of life.

To distinguish the stages of a process in a clear and recognisable way is not easy. It has to do with facts and feelings; personal aims and experiences and those of other persons and of groups of people. We can also distinguish between moments of time, the moments before and after the action. In two parts, first this month and then next month, we describe the moments we consider as important, both in doing justice to the broad variety of persons and situations we have to deal with, and as a help in our reflecting.

Recurrent moments of clarification
To achieve greater insight into what we are doing, what our intentions are, and the choices we have to make, we distinguish between the following moments in the process before and after action. All five have their own value and specific possibilities and problems. We call them “moments of clarification":

Most often we do not start with the clarification or the situation but somewhere in between. When we realize that we are working on a goal not connected with the situation, this makes us re-think what we are aiming at and about the situation. Or we start looking back and wondering about our own involvement. Doing this seriously, we get to know more about the situation we are dealing with. The consequence is a new starting situation. This gives us the opportunity to determine a new goal and to choose our means, in other words the way to work towards it. Often we will realize that in determining goals or choosing means we have to explore the situation more closely. Thus new questions may arise and we should not hesitate to return to the another “moment”.

The more we become conscious of the different moments we are dealing with we will ask ourselves more questions and become more aware of the contradictions we meet so often in the situation.

The distinct moments of clarification we mentioned above, can be of use in quite different situations. They can function in a formal staff meeting but equally in thinking while cycling toward my afternoon shift, wondering how Joan will react after our struggle yesterday:

In what mood will she be? Yesterday she was restless, coming and going. She expected a telephone call from her father, hoping to go home the next weekend. Did her father call? Better ask my colleague when I arrive. It is Wednesday so most of the residents or visitors will go and play soccer (clarifications of the starting situation). “Let me try to give some extra attention to Joan. May be that’s a way of getting to underrstand her better and to become less irritated by her behaviour (goal). Maybe by asking her to show her collection of shells (means)? What irritates me is the way she is asking questions (own involvement). She pays no attention to others ... “

An other example, a talk between two colleagues.

During the coffee-break Natasja told Olga that she was very angry at Michael, their colleague. Again and again she had to clean the kitchen by herself. Michael did not give any help. It was not fair. Olga agreed but she had an other difficulty with Michael. He was always first to tell which weekend he preferred to be on duty and which days he wanted to be free. And didn’t the team-leader listen more closely to Michael? Her own remarks seemed less important. After discussing the situation they concluded that something should be done to get back the good cooperation they had been used to. That was the goal they were aiming at. As a means they chose, after making up their minds, a discussion in the staff-meeting next week. At first Olga suggested that Natasja would tell Michael of her irritation privately and Natasja had thought of telling the team-leader. She was well aware of the fact that she didn’t feel at ease with Michael. She once said something about the mess in the kitchen. He had denied it and turned his back. This talk with Olga had clarified the situation and she realized that it was not only the difficulty with Michael that bothered her. They had used this coffee-break to analyse more clearly the present condition of their team. Their conclusion was that they were all involved. It had to do with the way they divided the work, and the team-leader was part of this. Their first step, first aim, would be to find out whether this conclusion was shared. As a way to find out they chose a discussion in the staff-meeting when all involved would be there. Olga would prepare the introduction of the agenda item.

These two examples illustrate how moments of clarification can become part of our attitude. In the staff meeting where the progress of the residents or visitors is discussed we also can discern these steps:

What is the future of John? Are they preparing for him to live with his mother or with his father who has started a new family and is urgently demanding John? Yesterday the father said that he refused to think about any other solution and that he would fight against John going back to his first wife. He would succeed. It was clear that is was the influence of her relatives which brought John into contact with the police. John's mother was arguing the same way – but the other way around. She would not accept John going to his father. She could prove his bad influence on John. Those friends he met at the house of that man! They made John a criminal. Before making the choice and starting to work on it, there was a lot to be clarified about the situation John lived in. Juvenile court, the teacher of his former school, the social worker, all had their points of view and were needed to clarify before choices could be made in the staff-meeting.

But the first step was to open the discussion with John about the fight between his parents. He did not speak about it. The decision was made that Carl, his mentor, would try to speak with him about what was going on at home. Carl planned to pick him up at his school and to do some shopping. Away from the group may provide better conditions to have a talk about his feelings about his parents.

Clarifying the starting situation from different perspectives.
Again and again we have to make up our minds about the situation we are in. It may be clear that the diagnosis of the individual client is only part of the clarification of the situation. The influence of the surroundings, the possibilities of the network he is part of, and his history “but also the possibilities of the organisation, our relationships and my own possibilities all have to be taken into account before we decide on next steps. We ourselves are part of it. This not only makes it complicated but can also be a source of confusion or even conflict. Our own involvement is not the same as the team involvement, and can become very per’sonal and emotional. We need some points of orientation to get a clear view of such a complex situation.

The following five points of view all have their own value and all should be taken in account to avoid blind spots. Many theories can be of help in exploring one of the given points of view. It is good to realise which view they represent. To realise their value might also help us to look for other directions. Looking from all five perspectives is part of doing justice to the situation we are dealing with:

These five ways of looking, or points of view, listed here very briefly can be visualized in a scheme. More perspectives can surely be discovered. This scheme is just a tool to avoid one sided approaches.

We give a short explanation by giving some examples. All the directions mentioned can be illustrated with regard to Joan. Was it Joan's slight epileptic deviance in her brain regulation which influenced that reaction (view 1) ? or was it the letter she received from her mother two days ago? (view 4, the field she is part of) Is she nervous because she is going to another school next month? (view 5)

When I realised that I myself was extra sensitive to her reaction because I didn’t really accept her sympathy for the new colleague, I look at my own involvement (view 3) Or was she disappointed about my intensive involvement with a new child? (view 2)

What are we aiming at?
In order to act in the situation according to the goals we want to reach, we have to translate them into action, into concrete steps. Remember that, if we so decide, just waiting, taking no initiative, or saying a few words might be as much part of concrete action as making a telephone call , arranging a trip to the sea or teaching somebody to carve a bowl out of a piece of wood.

We are inclined quite often to formulate goals in too abstract a way and to project too far into the future what we are aiming at. The goal – to become a better man – might be very desirable, but is very abstract. As long as we are not more concrete about what we mean by a better man, we don’t have any idea about what to do to reach this goal, and this makes it impossible to choose our means. By formulating aims abstractly and too remotely in the future, we mask the contradictions we might face. This prevents us from making choices. This isn’t helpful because we overlook, for instance, the discrepancies between my need to have a shift without problems, the child's effort to become popular in the group, and the father’s expectations of good marks in school. The three of us will work on our own aims, with our own means, not feeling supported, but indeed opposed.

An example. Two brothers Zuhar and Aziz are trying to reach different things. Zuhar wants a solution for his problems at home with his father and uncle, while Aziz wants nobody to know about the problems within the family. Only when we are attentive to this contradiction, we can look for a way of acting without excluding or hindering one or the other.

The more we succeed in formulating our goals in a concrete way, the more we will be aware of such differences and realize how they are connected. Only concrete goals can be translated into methods in such a way that we are not merely acting at random. “We’ll see what happens” is seldom a real part of this dialogue, perhaps just a way of buying time. Another advantage of concrete, realistic goals is the satisfaction of reaching what we intended to reach. A condition, of course, is that we try to be as realistic as possible. The more idealistic, the more abstract and the more futuristic goals are, the more we get to feel helpless and incapable because we never will reach anything. Our actions and reactions are then not understandable by others. As we said before, we never can tell for sure what is going to happen. The outcome is unpredictable.

But a realistic aim for such actions as a talk with Joan's mother, a focussed staff meeting on the subject, or the confrontation with Monica, may give us the satisfaction that we did do what we wanted to do. For example: giving Joan's mother the feeling that she is welcome is the first step to improving the contact between Joan and her mother. Or, as one colleague reported when looking back on the afternoon: “This time I succeeded in telling Monica that I felt offended by her way of reacting toward me. Up till now she didn’t even take notice of my remarks when I told her.” A tiny, even trivial event? No: a start for new opportunities.

These examples make clear that goals are not only future-oriented. To keep the atmosphere without tension, to give more attention to Paul, to get some contact, or not to force Miriam to participate in the group discussion, to give her time to enjoy the visit of her aunt, are all examples of the importance of the present, the quality of the “now”. A danger of being goal-oriented is to overlook the value of the moment, the event which pleases us and gives satisfaction. These “small” and “big” events can make life worthwhile and should never be totally overshadowed by all the good intentions of our goal-orientated working.

Looking more closely at the aims in residential and day care, we can distinguish goals in connection with:

Just as the five points of view served in the section on clarification of the situation, these “goal-areas” can be used as a check-list for being attentive to the whole range of activities we have to deal with. Sometimes we will give priority to the atmosphere in the group and at other moments we consider the way of reacting towards Jadwigha as more important. Realizing the different goal-areas allows us to switch from one to the other.

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