An account of how I learned to be a helping professional – not an instruction manual, but a prompt for you to explore your own story .
There are other practical reasons for difficulty with the ‘clarity’ solution to learning in this field. This kind of clarity comes from certain kinds of structures that divide life up into definable and describable sections; a chapter on drug dependence here, on mental illness there – on grief and loss here and sexual deviance there. How is the worker who has filled his or her mind with information about all these ‘issues’, to then apply them to an encounter with a real individual who does not experience their life as a series of range of issues but just as ‘their life’?
Later, I was often irritated in management meetings by a persistent call for ‘clarity’. Hours would be spent in search of this mysterious quality. It did seem to me that all too often it was easier for people to remain confused than to take responsibility for their understanding (or muddle). However, it did underline for me how multi layered is ‘clarity’ – it is not just an intellectual or academic quality, important though that is for many disciplines. In matters of humanity however, clarity includes emotional elements as well as intellectual ones.
We are all familiar with this. The doctor who tells a patient the bare truth may be misunderstood – we say someone ‘couldn’t take it in’.
In management however, it seems people can forget that all communication is emotional.
My unease is not that clarity is pointless, and lists not useful, but that they are like standing on one leg, the leg of ‘what you know’. More is needed – it is the ‘leg’ of ‘who you are’. My own training at Exeter University I think understood that. We were frustrated as eager young people by what seemed to be a withholding of clarity. We would say to each other, “Yes, but what is social work?!!” Why did someone not explain? We were however given the space to explore, to discover and experiment. We were helped with ‘growing up’. (Interestingly, they told us that they selected people for the course that they liked – an approach to choosing 20 out of 180 applicants that was even then politically incorrect and would now hardly be something that could be admitted.)
The leg of ‘who you are’ rather than ‘what you know’ is difficult territory. The essential subjectivity is a short step from prejudice. It eludes explanation and analysis, and can be found more easily in story and aesthetic expression. Nonetheless, student probation officers need to combine ‘knowing things’ with ‘being someone’, and that means being provoked to explore who they are and why. These writings therefore seek to combine ideas, knowledge and stories from experience, and aim to inform and provoke.