Time to be important?

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 is continued unease about the notion of being important. Research amongst drug treatment services in Birmingham a few years ago found that by the account of drug workers themselves, only about 10 minutes of client contact time each fortnight for each client could be described as structural therapeutic input. In discussing this, it was all too easy for people to imagine that this means the significance of the intervention can be summed up by that tiny amount of time in a client’s life. However, the moment you think differently about this problem, the issue seems a good deal more complex. Take the relationship with a GP for example; it is quite usual for the patient to invest a large amount of significance in a very tiny amount of contact. As a child and later, I can remember quite clearly that a reaction to the few minutes of a home visit from a GP was out of all proportion to the time of such an encounter. One doctor would leave me full of confidence in what he had done and in the prospect of seeing him again. Another would produce quite the opposite effect. Equivalent tiny encounters at a GP surgery would make a significant difference to whether I would or would not be happy to return for future appointments.

This is not particularly conclusive evidence about the importance or otherwise of a probation officer in the life of a chaotic delinquent, but it does contain a caution against some simplistic assumptions. In a way, it is more interesting to contemplate the importance of a headmaster in a large school. Many people will hardly ever meet him or her, and yet their behaviour can be strongly influenced by the headmaster, either mediated through other staff, or because (s)he comes to embody the idea of authority in some way.

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