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 problem of whether this sense of importance was ‘real’ or merely a form of self absorption was and is a substantial one. There always seem to be some workers that somehow elicit presents from the people they are working with – as if their importance has to be underlined and made public for it to reassure the worker. The issue leads to a great deal of fun at the expense of social work, which in turn can hide an understandable fear of the power that is wielded by social workers and probation officers. One early task in entering the profession was therefore to find some personal accommodation with these issues. It was common in my early years to find that the notion that the worker could be important to the client in any helping sense was dismissed not just by the external world, or the clients themselves, but by one’s professional colleagues. The dismissal was caught up in a rebellion against what was seen as the orthodoxy of this world at the time – the psychodynamic tradition of social work.
My own accommodation with the questions of importance and authority drew heavily from a fascination with the psychodynamic understanding of the helping relationship. I found some of the rebellion to be irritating and misplaced. First of all, whilst the generally agreed account of social work in the previous 10 years or so was that it was dominated by this psychodynamic tradition, as a student and on joining the probation service, it actually seemed to be rather hard to find anyone who practised in accordance with this way of framing the work. Those who did, seemed somewhat odd. It seemed to me that this rebellion needed the predominant social work philosophy to be the psychodynamic approach in order to have something to rebel against.
The ‘modern’ ‘radical’ approach to work in probation and social work at that time seemed to me to be somewhat shallow and adolescent. The idea of a simple focus on rights and entitlements of our client group with a language that would talk of advocacy and empowerment, appeared ludicrous in the face of the immensity and emotional power of the problems my clients seemed to face, let alone given the lack of attention to any rights of victims of their behaviour. The rebellious quality of this emergent culture saw the idea that we could be important to our clients as almost distasteful, as though it were keeping the clients in a childlike dependent role.