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Working with "different" thinkers?


Working in child and youth care, and specifically with a relational approach, have you ever felt surrounded by other professionals working with a "behavioral" approach?

How did you cope, I mean, collaborate? Can one be both behavioral and relational? 


Hi Roger,

This is a question that seems to have plagued Child and Youth Care for a long time. My own view is that 'behavioral' and 'relational' approaches should not be considered to be mutually exclusive. In child & youth care we are always working with behavior and the principles of learning theory will always apply. I believe that the problems arise when these principles are used to bring about behavior changes through external control or manipulation. Through this process, kids will develop a sense of self based upon their ability to obtain external rewards and avoid potential punishments. In other words, they will come to attribute their successes and failures to external circumstances rather than their own choices. This condition of 'external locus of control' is the antithesis of self-development and self-responsibility.

This doesn't only come about through the conditional application and withholding of tangible rewards, it can also be incorporated into 'relational' approaches in which kids are manipulated to seek the approval of significant adults. This form of 'social reinforcement' is particularly insidious and can stifle the development of self-actualization for a lifetime.

The 'relational' challenge is to support the young person's emerging sense of self by encouraging him or her to examine options and make behavioral choices – even if they may not be considered by the professionals to be the most appropriate or desirable outcomes. This requires honest and authentic feedback rather than remedial intervention and only take place within the context of an open and trusted relationship – the basic condition for effective relational child and youth care practice. The task is to take whatever directions are being dished out by other professionals and transform them into practices that respond to the subjective experience of the young person to promote self-awareness, self-volition and self-responsibility – 'internal locus of control'.

Good luck Roger.

Gerry Fewster


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