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122 APRIL 2009
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Effective Life Space work, the next step (3)

(Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

Jack Phelan

After the developing Child and Youth Care professional has worked in the natural life space for about a year, she will begin to comfortably be open to what is happening for the other person, because she will now be able to let go of a focus on her own needs (see Jan./Feb. columns). It is at this point that effective life space treatment begins.

Chess players understand the “aha” of learning to think several moves ahead of the present interaction, and this describes the new awareness level after the first year of practice. Responsive rather than reactive interactions now come more easily, and the developing Child and Youth Care professional now focuses her energy and thinking more strategically. The life space now becomes an arena for creating teaching and learning about social logic, competence and connection and the worker starts to become an experience arranger (Phelan, 1999) rather than a behavioral analyst.

The skillful Child and Youth Care practitioner now uses words more strategically, using developmentally powerful language that takes into account the specific needs of each youth. For example, the worker will speak to a youth who is struggling with personal safety and boundaries with words that emphasize safety and comfort, avoiding language that appeals to levels of development beyond the youth’s reach, such as guilt or competence.

Youth who need to feel strong and powerful will hear language that supports that issue, rather than words that urge compliance and social orderliness. Youth who do not understand empathy will not be given messages about how his/her behavior has disappointed or pleased the worker until the earlier lessons have been learned.

Activity, particularly recreation, will have a purpose and direction for each youth. A large, intimidating boy will be helped to feel strong in ways that do not include being aggressive (a clever card player, or creative musician), so that he can let go of being tough and ready to fight when he needs to be powerful.

Youth who seem unable to make and keep a friend will engage in cooperative activity and interactive games. Child and Youth Care practitioners will follow through with language that anchors the new experience and helps create new ideas and choices.

The life space becomes an energy field full of ways to engage, interact, and share curiosity, rather than a tedious list of tasks and routines to be endured. Skillful engagement at this level is where the Child and Youth Care practitioner becomes professionally unique. When we describe Child and Youth Care practice as a profession, this is the initial level of treatment. Next month we will continue to examine this professional growth.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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