Helping professionals thus need to have in their armoury, the ability to tolerate feelings of failure and pointlessness, and to find the clients’ search for a different life. It is not uncommon for troubled people persistently to test their workers’ capacity to survive the intensity of their depression, fear, greed, sexual rapacity etc. A response from the worker that only sees the despair can lead to the ending of a professional relationship and confirm the client’s secret belief that they are truly beyond hope. A response from the worker only sees the hope in a client’s troubled behaviour can lead the client just to feel that the true depth of the awfulness within them has not been understood, intensifying their need to express and show that awfulness. ‘Professional survival’ in the way I am discussing it here involves the worker showing the client that they are in touch with both the despair and the hope.
Sadly, professional survival is easily undervalued in the way services are structured. Re-allocation to new workers after re-offending without a shared sense between workers and client of the continuities to be carried through into the new working relationship is all too common. When offenders are sent to prison, work between the client and their previous worker easily breaks down, just as work done in prison easily is lost on release. Re-offending, relapse, recurrence of depressive episodes – all these can prompt a response that work plan A has not worked, and so work plan B with a new worker, new service, must be attempted. This is in many ways common sense – a crisis should prompt a review of what has gone wrong and what needs to change. But if it in the process, that which was valuable in plan A is not understood, and that which offers the potential to learn and be different is overlooked, ‘treatment’ / offender supervision can just become one damn thing after another, none of which ‘work’.
I will not here also discuss the failures of workers to ‘survive’ in the sense that they lose all hopefulness in their work and just go cynically through the motions until they are saved by retirement or a change of role. There is a whole literature on burn out of course