Life space work does not mean simply "letting life happen" in the group or the family. Otherwise why bother to learn interventions and bring in a child, youth and family worker? The life spaces in which we work are by definition problematic, with one of more of the "cast of characters" at any time being unhappy, feeling unheard or excluded, remaining unvalued and unfed, experiencing frustration or anger, enduring criticism or abuse, believing themselves to be unfairly treated, dependent, less capable.
The difficult behaviours which we observe in
the group usually spring from these negative feelings of
helplessness and unfulfilment. The bully, the subversive, the complainer,
the verbal attacker ... all are attempting to redress the balance in their
lives, to seek attention, to express their resentment, to gain advantage, to
get their share of whatâ€™s going.
When we wait for the negative behaviours to kick in, the situations we have to deal with become unnecessarily more complex and more demanding.
Andy comes into the group frustrated because couldn't find a book he needs for school. He is feels (and looks) very irritable.
If we deal with this feeling first (Did you find the book? Come let's have another look.) we may be able to cool down a frustration which Andy is not handling well. If we find the book, perhaps Andy will experience entering his day on a better level, perhaps have learned some problem solving.
If we don't deal with this feeling first, he may express his frustration by hitting out at the nearest target in the room. Now he has moved beyond feelings, and there is a more tangible situation, so we move quickly to dampen it.
If we don't move quickly to dampen this new situation, the aggrieved person's own latent negative feelings will be triggered and he may react by hitting back at Andy – and now we have a complex three-level situation to untangle, maybe with others joining in on grounds of "unfairness", their own attitudes to Andy, etc.
The observant words "Did you find the book?" might make the difference between a brief learning event and an outright brawl.
In our life space practice we are acutely aware of people's feelings and we try to interpret these as early as possible, helping kids to acknowledge the feelings, manage them, and do something positive with them. In Andy's case we spot the frustration, name it, acknowledge it, challenge it, and so use the pent-up energy in solving the problem, leaving Andy with a sense of responsibility and mastery.
Brian Gannon's practice hints are part of a collection published by CYC-Net Press, which you are able to purchase at http://press.cyc-net.org