A little while ago in a city sort of far away.…
It is a period of transition. Process Recorded, though a little frazzled, has arrived in her new city, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Pursued by concerns of what was left behind, Process Recorded races to gather information and prepare for meeting new clients, hoping to restore passion where soul-sucking aspects of her previous organization had caused it to fade….
Last week, I started a new job. Many of you know this already. I’ve certainly talked about transitions enough this month to last us all until the end of time.
The final ten minutes of my last day at my old job were par for the course. While I was finishing letters written to my clients, one of the department supervisors was providing me with unsolicited advice about my approach to termination.
She shared examples from her own experience, apparently meant to show how pointless it was for me to spend time reaching out to my clients to say goodbye. Obviously, it was a super fun, one-sided conversation. Especially since I wasn’t feeling emotional about leaving already. Not at all.
Her dedication to proving the worthlessness of my endeavor was admirable. If one can be admired for being a jerk, that is. She explained that people with my position in the past had not told clients when they left during the program’s summer break and the clients had “never cared.” Her evidence was that every time she had met with groups of clients to tell them their social worker had been replaced, their responses had been whatever or who cares, miss! and so on.
It’s not that I’m saying that every single client I worked with is currently having a fit over my departure. In fact, I am positive that some of my clients will hardly be affected much at all. But… Code of Ethics anyone? Where exactly does it say “caring about clients feeling abandoned is not important at all”? That’s right: nowhere. The word “inform” pops up a lot, though. And phrases like “taking care to minimize possible adverse effects.” So I chose to rely on that evidence instead of the
crazy lady’s department supervisor’s personal experience and opinions.
There has also been nothing in my education or work experience has shown me that a teenager’s apathy should be taken at face value. While I believe that teenagers have a right to self-determination as much as adults, I also know that teenagers are not adults. They are still learning and developing. And even for adults, trauma and other factors will inform the experience of separation.
To me that means that even if a teen confidently proclaims their indifference, it is my ethical responsibility to consider where that might come from and approach the situation in a way that will prove least likely to harm. Their apathy is real, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come from a defensive, painful or uncomfortable place. And that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated with caring and respect.
In my experience, even the truly apathetic react better when their feelings are considered than when they are neglected.
The concept of defense mechanisms exists for a reason. We use different strategies to protect ourselves from pain, ambivalence and other feelings and emotions that scare or confuse us. But if every defensive choice were a healthy choice, we probably wouldn’t talk about defenses so much. Or there would be a different term to describe them.
I am sure that the comments this department supervisor made ticked me off more than they might have otherwise because they get to the root of a fear I know I share with other social workers. The fear of what happens when we leave. The fear that once we’re gone, everything will fall apart.
My own defenses kicked in. My own apathy mixed with confusion and fear and sadness. The frustration I felt with that organization’s structure and values mixed with the love I felt for my clients. As she mocked my activity, it was as if these two feelings crashed in to one another.
In that moment, it felt impossible that I might finish the task, walk out the door of that office, move to a new city, or find myself in a satisfying job. But beneath that, I felt hopeful that things could be different. And things are different here. As you all will soon read.
So as I bring things back to my cheesy title and introduction, I leave you all with this: in the end, Obi-Wan Kenobi was not Princess Leia’s only hope….