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 .

The second concept was being explored by my tutor, Bill Jordan in a few books[1] where he concentrated on the inter action between offender and probation officer. Actually, the term he used was not ‘interaction’ or ‘relationship’, but ‘transaction’. I really liked this word. Transaction turned the client into more than a recipient of a service – he or she had their own agenda that was negotiating with the worker’s agenda. This is often a powerful and unspoken tussle, or sadly a tussle that is interpreted and articulated from the point of view of a worker who has certainty on their side. The client’s argument all too often becomes a ‘motivational problem’, or a defensive strategy designed to thwart or evade the well meaning intervention of the professional.

Bill had a much more respectful view of people in trouble – he saw them as people with their own legitimate and distinctive view of the world which needed respect and attention, even if it was a view that was leading them into destructive situations and behaviours. What the helper must do is to find out ‘what the deal is’, to see how the client is using and interpreting the worker, to work out what the transaction is. This would lead not to the worker observing, interpreting and explaining how the world is, but to the worker being in part taken over by the world that the client inhabits, to experience it, not just observe it. This has rarely been a popular way to look at the interaction with offenders. To some it seems indulgent, soft and collusive with people who need punishment if they are to reform.  Actually, since like it or not, the worker is taken over by the client’s world and turned, for the client, into someone they can understand on their own terms, the worker can only either pretend to remain detached and untouched, or face up to the facts of what is going on.

[1] ‘The Social Worker in Family Situations’ (1972), and ‘Client – worker transactions’ (1970) RKP


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