I should make clear that I am using the word ‘active’ to contrast not with ‘passive’ but with ‘responsive’ or ‘reactive’. The ‘active’ agenda could be passivity – this can be a real factor for the conforming service user whose confidence in their ability to engage positively with the world is minimal. This is a different and more productive slant on the service user than the rather unhelpful presumption that the helping or supervising agency’s expectations and assistance are of minimal importance to the client in the context of their lives. It is always as well to be realistic about the limitations of a contact with a service for relatively a minimal time in a person’s life, but such a way of describing the issue takes us nowhere other than presumably to go and do a different job. If however one thinks of the active forces and motivations in a person’s life, and how they relate to you as the helping agency provider, more useful avenues are opened up.
For example, the client may persistently fail to engage productively with anyone in authority – their active agenda may be to render potentially threatening authority figures powerless, or at least unable to cause upset to them. Alternatively, they may wish to engage the helper in a form of assistance that is at odds with the helper’s analysis of the need – this may not be a motivational issue but can appear as one, and if the helper is insufficiently aware of the client’s world, the relationship can break down.
Exploration of this dimension of helping work will continue as I write about learning that followed from these early days in the profession, especially in the section on attachment and on organisational behaviour.