Expanding our view and broadening our horizons

Asset Coach Andrew Durman provides a must read blog for everyone working with people going through tough times.

“People can’t see the wood for the trees” This was a reply I received from a CEO of a previous organisation when discussing a different approach based on strengths, sparks and purpose. My initial response was disappointment, both at their closed mind to something different and also the defeatist attitude that is often passed off as being ‘realistic to responding to the work’, I disagree.

Perhaps this can be the case, however if it is and we approach things in the same way, how will anything change. Maybe if we focus on the wood, a path through the trees will appear.

Recent conversations over the past few months have got me thinking. Often it’s actually the professionals that fail to see the wood for the trees when it comes to working alongside people going through challenging transitions.

One of these conversations occurred when I was working with a young man who was successful in gaining funding to go on a life changing adventure. His life has always been and continues to be challenging, however he was determined not to let these negative experiences be a barrier in his future.

For this person planning, looking at the unknown, facing anxiety and going to a country where he would have to rely on himself, was huge. However, although finding things difficult at times, he went to Amsterdam, visited all the sites, experienced a different culture and met a lot of people from different countries. This differed massively from meeting new people back in the UK, in Amsterdam he wasn’t associated with any labels or stereotypes and was free from any judgment as a result.

Back in the UK this person spends most his time around professionals and other people going through their own tough times. Circumstances brought them together, not choice or through mutual interest and personalities. However while away he was able to create an identity in whichever way he wanted. You could say he was being himself.

Reflecting on this I found that compared to the assets we normally report on, such as problem solving, confidence, self-belief, planning, and negotiating, the experience itself was equally as valuable to this person. It is a story and positive experience he will now be able to tell people he meets in the future. Before this trip was years of difficult and traumatic experiences and when talking to people he had no conversations or identity away from these difficult times. Looking back to when we first met, he used these negative experiences to introduce himself, that’s how he saw his identity.

Now in conversations he has his adventure to Amsterdam to share, something he has achieved and a positive identity on which he can be himself and build on. Ultimately this experience and achievement cannot be taken away from him whatever happens in the future.

Instead of

“Hi my name is Jim, I struggle with depression & my personality disorder. My mum died a year ago after taking her own life”

It is now

“Hi my name is Jim, I went to Amsterdam earlier this year, I joked with a local shop keeper about tourists visiting the city due to the image it has. I also enjoyed seeing how Van Gogh’s paintings developed as he went through his life and the challenges he faced. My highlight was getting the ferry across from the city to where my hotel was every day, it was very peaceful and exciting as when I got to the other side I knew I was going to experience something new and unexpected.”

This experience also helped when he has felt himself slipping into a dark place, he describes himself being able to reflect on his achievement which resulted in “things becoming lighter”. He is less fearful of the mental health challenges he faces and is determined not to let them be a barrier to his future and what he wants to do with his life. The ‘but what if’ fear has turned into ‘if it happens I will get through it’.

Since this trip I have had 3 conversations with other professionals both internal and external. All they have seen is “you’ve enabled this young man to go to Amsterdam for a holiday and smoke weed for a week, I fail to understand how this has helped him. He should be focusing on his mental health and sorting out his debt and arrears – this is what is important to him.” I don’t need to go into details of these deficits and why I do not entertain conversations with these individuals, except to point out what was achieved during this experience – If you are reading this blog and linked with the change the PTS is striving for then it will resonate!

The second conversation that triggered this blog was with a gentleman who requested permission to have a pet, a snake in this case. He had good insight into his own challenges and the barriers that sat between him and his desired future. Having had pets all his life, a snake would have a massive positive impact on him – I won’t go into the reasons for this right now as it could easily form another very long blog!

The barrier in this situation was with his license agreement, it stated no pets allowed. An outdated generic condition that assumes that everyone who has a pet will not look after it, cause a nuisance to neighbours and will abandon it leaving staff to sort out – all the reasons given when initially denying his request. Happily this has been revisited and the right outcome has been achieved for this person and needless to say the snake has had an enormous positive impact in all aspects of his life. People just could not see beyond the snake and that license condition.

This outlook and opinion is something that we constantly face as Asset Coaches and it never gets any less frustrating. Some professionals just can’t see beyond ‘the pet’ or the ‘trip to Amsterdam’ to the bigger picture. They fail to see the knock on affect to a person’s future, the internal motivation it can bring, the evidence of success – I could go on and on. In both of these cases it was not the individuals that could not see the wood for the trees, it was the professionals around them who were there to support them. We must be able to see beyond this, how else can we inspire and make a difference?

This is advantaged thinking. Take the Amsterdam situation, if all you see when you look at this situation is a stoner going to another country to smoke weed then you will never be able to support that individual in a strength based way. We have to see beyond the deficit labels, especially as many individuals identify themselves in this way already.

How can we inspire people to create their own identity away from services if we only see a negative stereotype? In my opinion, if this is all you see my advice would be to go and get a job away from people going through tough transitions.

This short sightedness is exactly the same as the label led system that focuses on deficits and the surface symptoms. Not the bigger picture, what’s possible, the potential, the strengths and longevity away from services as opposed to being institutionalised within them.

What if an adventure or having a pet is the thing that will change a person’s future and bring them happiness? I am certainly not willing to get in the way of that, not in a million years. Even if it doesn’t go to plan, I would rather have tried than stood in the way of something that is important to someone I work with.

My final note:

“If someone can’t see the wood for the trees, they are so involved in the details of something that they do not understand or pay attention to the most important parts of it”.