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Transcripts of Selected Group Discussions on CYC-Net

Since it's founding in 1997, the CYC-Net discussion group has been asked thousands of questions. These questions often generate many replies from people in all spheres of the Child and Youth Care profession and contain personal experiences, viewpoints, as well as recommended resources.

Below are some of the threads of discussions on varying Child and Youth Care related topics.

Questions and Responses have been reproduced verbatim.

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Using 'self' in interaction with children?

How does a Child and Youth Care practitioner use "self" to inform their interaction with children and be in interaction with children, youth and families?

Trace Mangava

The process of using one's self in practice manifests from our curiosity. It is our commitment to asking the questions of who what, where, how and why in relation to our everyday interactions with children, young people and their families. To use ones self in practice we must be dedicated to a process of self reflection and strive to understand how the context surrounding our interventions impacts them. Using ones self requires making mistakes, recognizing them as so and learning from them, thus contributing both our awareness and professional development.

Tara-Rose Farrell

Great question. My first thought would be to direct you to the writings of Gerry Fewster, and then Thom Garfat. My sense is that in so doing you'll be directed to some other important writers on the subject.
My second thought is that this is and always has been at the heart of good child and youth work. I graduated in 1978, and even way back then we were learning about the importance of being aware of ones self, of paying attention to one's feelings and thoughts in the moments we spent with children and youth. And to let our responses come out of those feelings and thoughts in relating to the other. Another important writer would be Mark Krueger, who long ago spoke of our work in terms of dance; learning when and how to lead and when and how to follow, by paying attention to the other. The issue of boundaries is something you'll hear often in this field; sometimes this, in my opinion, is confusing and misleading, and yet important.

It has to do with not rushing or pushing, and knowing what is my stuff, (thought/feeling), and what is the other's, which we can only really know if they choose to share it, and if we're open to receive it and believe it. There is , in my mind and experience something both mystical and sacred about the use of self, and the being with other. Not sure if this has been helpful, but I hope so, and look forward to reading other responses.

Michael Wattie

I believe "use" in the question is something to look at for starters.

I invite you to consider "Kantian ethic" and good-will. "Use" of empathy or "use" of the self are "means to ends", rather than "ends" on their own in and of themselves.

As "means" or manipulations or tools, there is no true empathy or self in relation to the other. This is not to say that we must ignore the "fact" that empathy and self in relationship are key to connecting with youth and support of their developmental personal resilience and social competence. Relate for the sake of relationship – empathize for the sake of empathy – connect for the sake of connection.

All the best,

Hi Trace,
I think the most important way that you can use "self" is really first and foremost through self awareness. I was recently part of facilitating groups for training counsellors, and one of the critical discussions centred around this issue. People in helping professions tend to be very guarded – and with good reason – and have high defenses. We don't want to be vulnerable emotionally ourselves because we work in field where we can easily get hurt.

Ironically however, this is one of the most important "tools" that we have – our own awareness of our own feelings and thoughts. How do you know what a child is feeling (besides asking the child)? Your own feelings and thoughts inform you about this – in any interaction you have feelings and thoughts that are reactions to the other person's emotional state. This is how we know, and this how we can offer empathy. So the use of "self" for me refers very my to my own self awareness, because if I am not self aware – if I don't know my own feelings – how can I possibly empathise with my client?

How can be genuine and authentic in our interactions with children if we don't feel our own pain, our own challenges, our own hurts – which are sometimes "activated" in our interactions with them – to the extent that we shut down to protect ourselves we will be ineffective in offering real acceptance to children. If it's not OK for us to feel pain – and show it in appropriate ways – why would it be OK for children to feel and show their pain.

So – the use of self for me is very much self-awareness – not only of our vulnerabilities, but our strengths as well – we should know what we are good at and use this.

Kind regards,

Werner van der Westhuizen

This is the first time I have responded to posts on cycnet; however, this dialogue today really caught my attention as I think about my work with children, adults, and families and in my own treatment as a client.
There is a book from the Tavistock clinic by Pat LeRiche and Karen Tanner called Observation and It's application to Social Work: Almost Like Breathing which is one of the first books I read about conceptualizing the experience of "being" with, being the observer, and being observed in a complex system of dynamics regardless of the context. The writings of Thomas Ogden, a psychoanalyst, also speaks to this curiosity, empathy, and sharing of minds in treatment. I, too, often realize the mistakes or empathic breaks in treatment and reflect on what was going on and work to repair it in my mind and then "with"
the client. I have found that this process really helps my clients look similarly at their relationships and attempt to repair such empathic breaks in relationships outside therapy as well.

Sarah B. Boeker

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