By my own admission, I struggle with patience. And the past few weeks of my field placement have been a true test of mine, to say the least. The obstacles that have arisen in my work with clients have been so frequent that after a while, it has become funny (or, perhaps, it’s the only way I could stop from crying hysterically). You see, it’s gotten down to those final few weeks of the semester, where assignments, readings, and responsibilities are great and energy is little. With the pressure of school, field, work, and life, I simply wanted clients who would comply. Wouldn’t we all like that?
As a home visitor teaching parenting skills, I have lately found myself getting frustrated when I feel that my clients are being “flaky” or avoiding me. For example, one week, every single one of my clients cancelled, rescheduled (for the second or third time), or simply failed to call or show up. At other times, I find it difficult to keep them engaged and consistent in our work together. Some weeks, I feel like I’m chasing my clients down more than I am working with them. While this would be difficult at any given time, at what I would consider the “crux” of the semester, I find myself having to muster more energy to continue to engage and re-engage clients in the midst of my ever-increasing to-do list. Like many, I’ve found myself asking, “Why won’t they just cooperate?”
However, I obviously forgot one important fact. As social workers, we are called to work with some of the most vulnerable populations as they face some of the most difficult issues in their lives. And while we would often like for things to go exactly as our curricula or training manuals dictate – I know it would make our jobs a lot easier – rarely is this how it works. Rarely is this how life works. Like the systems theory informs us, my clients are facing a host of external factors such as poverty, homelessness, mental health issues, and legal issues. To add on top of that a parenting program is often more than some people can take. So while to me, it may come across as being flaky or avoidant (which sometimes it may be), they are simply trying to stay afloat. Also, many of my clients have had interactions with various agencies in the past, some of which have tainted their view of social workers and other helping professionals. When working with clients, especially seemingly difficult ones, I have to remind myself that there are often other factors at play that I may be unaware of.
This realization is changing the way that I view my work as a home visitor. Though I would like to simply teach parenting skills, graduate families from our program, and let them live happily ever after, it is not always so simple. Oftentimes, I find myself having to educate myself about affordable housing, the legal system, and other more immediate needs so that I can help families gain the stability they need to make working on parenting skills easier. Instead of becoming frustrated with clients, I have learned to look at what underlying causes might exist and try to serve as a resource person to help clients address these needs. And though I am still learning, from the lens of empathy, I believe that the next time around, I’ll pass the patience test. 🙂