In our Risking Connection© training, we explore just what are the characteristics of a relationship that promotes the most healing. We summarize these with the acronym RICH©, which stands for Respect, Information, Connection and Hope. We would all probably feel that these would be good qualities to exemplify in our relationships with our clients, and in fact with each other. Yet, some times it is not that easy. This series will explore the difficulties of each of these aspects, and what we can do about them.

Any one who has taken the Risking Connections© training knows that a key element is that the path to healing is through a RICH© relationship- one that includes Respect, Information, Connection and Hope. This is such a central point that the publisher, Sidran, has copy write protected the concept independently. In our training we ask participants to share ways in which they are currently demonstrating RICH with the clients, and also with each other in their team. Because amazingly it turns out that what the clients need in a relationship is the same as what we need for ourselves.

For the next four weeks or so I am going to right about the dark side of RICH- by which I mean the difficult and complex aspects of creating RICH relationships. These are the areas where we struggle, stumble, and sometimes become less than helpful to our clients and each other. Let’s look at each part of RICH and discover what is hard about it and how we can overcome the challenges.

The first week I will start with Respect.

The dictionary defines respect as: esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability and as: deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment. The RC manual states that it is demonstrated through forms of address, respect for confidentiality, punctuality, language used, assuming the client has a valid point of view, and validation of the client’s experience. The therapist believes and believes in the client.

These definitions do not really capture the essence of respect for me. To me it almost carries some aspect of admire. So, if we truly respect our clients we actually, deeply honor the way that they have survived all the pain life has handed them. We look up to them, are in awe of them, for having come through alive and kicking. We actually let ourselves feel how profound the pain was, how deep the losses, how scary the world. And we respect what these people had to do to survive.

Of course anyone who is caring for someone with problem behaviors (be it one of our kids or your aging mother) knows that it is easier to maintain these lofty attitudes when you are away from the person and their demands. When some kid is yelling at you, or trying to hit you, or refusing to comply with the simplest request, it is hard to see their behavior as an admirable attempt to survive. That is why we all need down time, a time to step back and think about the work, often with the help of a supervisor. We can then let ourselves remember the painful truths of our clients’ histories and respect the creativity of their adaptive behaviors.

teen-in-classHere’s another aspect of the word Respect. Martha, a therapist in our special ed school, tells me that when she asked Tyquan what led up to his throwing several chairs and then leaving the classroom, Tyquan told her that his teacher, Miss Mitchell, was disrespecting him. Miss Mitchell reports that she just asked Tyquan to end his conversation with his friend Marvin and take out his math book. And she probably did so pleasantly. Martha tells me that feeling disrespected is a common complaint of the youth. Now of course our staff may at times speak in a sarcastic or belittling way to the kids. But let’s assume this time Miss Mitchell spoke conversationally. What went wrong here?

Maybe Marvin is the best friend Tyquan has had in years, and having a friend is finally making him feel a little safer. Maybe he is just tired of adults telling him what to do and putting their needs before his. What do you think?

School work is often associated with humiliation for our kids. Tyquan can’t do math. It makes no sense to him. Maybe the fact that when most kids were learning math he was trying to protect his mom, his sister and himself from his step father’s angry rages has something to do with it. It could be that his brain hasn’t developed the ability to think sequentially or use logical problem solving, because no one has ever modeled such a process for him. But anyway, he knows he is in for another period of feeling stupid and hopeless, and that maybe the other kids will see how dumb he is. Marvin’s pretty smart in math- he will probably give up on Tyquan as a friend when he sees how lame Tyquan is.

So, when Miss Mitchell says in her happy voice: “Tyquan, time to end your conversation with Marvin and take out your math book.” Maybe Tyquan hears: “Tyquan, time to stop doing something pleasant that you enjoy and to do something you can’t do, although everyone else can, and to show the world how stupid you are.” This feels deliberate to Tyquan. She is trying to humiliate him. So naturally he feels disrespected.

Does that make sense to you? If anything like that is going on, what does Tyquan need? How can he feel respected in this situation? (I have some ideas, but what are yours?)

One thing we do know is that the more fragile a person’s sense of self is, the more frantically they protect their image from external threat. If you feel fine and happy about yourself, and someone teases you, it’s relatively easy to let it go. If you are already feeling pretty lousy and fairly sure you are doing everything wrong, the teasing arouses such panicky feelings in you that you attack with all the ammunition you can find. And others say you are “over-reacting”.

Which brings me to the final concept of Respect that I would like to explore- and that is its use by staff. Teacher Mr. Hoover says: “I told Luis to stop talking and he went right on talking. He does not respect me!” Crisis worker Melissa says: “If I am not very strict with the kids they will lose all respect for me.” Therapist Ron says: “I just will not tolerate the kids swearing at me. It is a sign of disrespect.” Merva, a foster mother, tells her case worker: “We told Natalie to go to bed and she keeps coming out of her room. We can’t read her stories or any of that nonsense. That’s just catering to her. She just has to respect us and do what we say.” Laura, a Child Care Worker says, “I told him he had to go through the front door. He insisted he had to go through the back door. I know it’s trivial, but I will not back down. They need to respect what I tell them to do.”

The first thing that comes across in all this is that the staff seems to feel it is all about them. What the kids are doing is not primarily about the staff. Of course, how a given kid feels about a certain staff does affect their actions. Nothing like relationships to influence behavior. But a lot of times other factors intervene.

Like the youth is dysregulated and no longer even sees the staff for who he is. Or he is caught up in old feelings of mistrust. Or she is testing the staff- will you stay with me even when I show you how bad I am? Or he is desperate for some control in an entirely out-of-control life.

How can we help our staff feel calm and good about themselves so that they do not need the kids to act a certain way in order that they may feel respected?

Wow, a lot for one word- Respect. And we have three more to go. PLEASE share your ideas by clicking “comment.”

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