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Empowerment

By Gordon, Jan 29 2016 01:38PM

Some thinking on ‘Empowerment’.


Okay, the theme of the week this week seems to have been ‘Empowerment’ so I’m reflecting upon that.


I’ve worked for over 24 years in various roles directly relating to the empowerment of people and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that being empowered was a bad thing; people tend to want to be empowered to drive positive change in their lives. I accept a person’s motivation can often be short-term and principally aimed at an immediate issue but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say ‘No, don’t empower me’.


I also think that the thing that dis-empowers people most tends to be being caught within a ‘system’ that is not operating as it is intended to (both staff and people who receive a service). Now I accept that to some degree we need systems to provide support but it seems at times that the systems we have reflect the needs of those who fund and provide the service rather than the needs of people who receive the service. I’d also add that a person’s frustration of not being able to access support when it is needed and required is something I hear most frequently.


Time scales are also frequently a disconnect with people feeling the need to access a form of support quite quickly and urgently and the ‘system’ operating at a far slower pace (e.g. waiting lists for access to psychological therapies, staff off and their work not covered, etc). The end result is often a loss of that ‘window of opportunity’ where a person was motivated to attempt positive change, and possibly a perpetuation of a negative cycle of powerlessness, a feeling that the system ‘does not care’.


Another trap people get caught in is informational, not knowing the system and how to navigate it especially to get past the numerous ‘gate keepers’. Almost daily we receive calls from people attempting to access help and support and not knowing what is out there or where to begin.


A contentious aspect to this is also the interpersonal element. Now I am not advocating treating anyone with anything less than absolute respect, understanding and compassion but there are times when these qualities seems to be very noticeable by their absence within mental health settings with ‘interventions’ seeming more important than people. Relationships are a two way street yes, but it is also important to remember that one party on this street is often acutely mentally unwell and may feel themselves to be powerless to change this. The other party (the staff member) is often guided and limited by formal roles which limit, dictate and focus their responses. But to take this further, one of the things that people seem to value most from their support is feeling a degree of trust and not being judged, continuity and trust are also highly valued, human qualities. Get the right support and people can be empowered to take positive change forward.


Related also is communication, we live in an information age and yet the quality of the communication seems no better. Furthermore language is frequently loaded with implications; take the term ‘recovery’ and that word will have different meanings and nuances to all the different parties within a therapeutic relationship, often with a sub-text of power. We do a short work-shop where we ask people to develop THEIR definition of recovery and it is frequently a practical day-to-day definition of recovery built up over time that is developed.


So looking back on what I’ve written some very obvious elements of supporting empowerment emerge and I’ll list them:


• A timely response to an enquiry.

• Good information about where to go and how to get help.

• Two-way respect and compassion, an understanding that a person may be in distress or is unwell too.

• Shared and mutual communication.

• The chance to build relationships and the recognition of the value of these too.

• Shared and mutual goals.


Okay all of this might be stating the obvious but I often find it valuable to visit these with a person who has seeking to access help and support. Are there any more? Have I missed anything? Feel free to agree or disagree, good debate is healthy.


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