Help for the Helper?
June 24, 2013 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm fairly new to my career in social work and am looking for book recommendations for when the counsellor needs help moving on from a crappy situation involving a client. Everytime I try to search for this, all that comes up are the books that help clients who have been mistreated by the therapist. But what about us?

In my first year as a social worker, I worked as an intensive case manager in a housing and addictions (harm-reduction) program. As I look back on one specific client I worked with for 18 months, I realize now he was incredibly abusive (verbally, emotionally) and manipulative during this time. I chalked it up to "but this is my job" and "it's not that bad, I knew his history/behaviour going into this" and hid behind the shame of "what kind of worker am I to not have seen this/missed this/allowed this?". I'm more so now looking at the organization I worked for and questioning how they let this continue, knowing full-well how I was being treated, that he was still very much in his addiction, he was completely volatile, and I mainly met alone with him in his home. But that's the job.
A situation happened in the end that revealed he definitely saw our professional relationship as something much more (I have wracked my brain to try and find out how/when this happened and know I did nothing wrong), and a no-contact order was put in place by police (not me).
There was 0 closure for either of us. I learned to ignore my gut instincts with this client quickly during my time working with him and am struggling to get it back. I'm trying to move forward and know the typical ''closure'' therapy things...but struggling more so as The Worker in this case. While we can have no contact, I still run into him in the community and am instantly anxious.
Any book suggestions on when a client is the abuser towards the worker? (And yes, I'm reading The Gift of Fear already :) )
posted by katie521 to Human Relations (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Someone I knew who worked in a residential setting for folks with addictions and mental illness used to go through regular debriefings with their supervisor as well as maintain a private therapist for themselves. Just because you are the one helping someone less fortunate doesn't mean that you don't need a good sounding board to help you through. You are as deserving of help as the people whom you are helping.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:39 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know of any books that deal with client abuse of the client/therapist relationship. However, I think I would start by looking at books on therapist self-care, because I would imagine that some self-care books would address the issue of therapists who have been abused at work and provide information on further resources. I know that at my agency, the book Trauma Stewardship has been recommended several times; I'm sure there are others equally as good.
posted by epj at 5:07 PM on June 24, 2013

Where is your work place in all this? If, as you say, your organization let this client's abuse continue even after you explained what was happening, that is a giant, glaring, red flag.

I believe in the philosophy of harm reduction with every last bit of my heart, but I also had the most terrible work experience of my life at a harm reduction organization. One of the problems there, just like you describe here, was in setting boundaries with clients. There are a lot of specific challenges that practitioners face in harm reduction models, distinct even from the problems other social service workers encounter.

I would strongly suggest reading this recent article from Harm Reduction Journal about secondary trauma and mental health problems among harm reduction workers. Hell, share it with your boss and everyone else at your workplace too. I warn you, there are no easy answers within that link. It gives me hope, though, to know that someone is researching the specific things that make harm reduction simultaneously amazing and maddening.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:47 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am really, really sorry for what you have been through. If you cannot find enough good books, I would look for online support groups. If there aren't any appropriate ones, I would start one.
posted by Michele in California at 7:41 PM on June 24, 2013

Response by poster: My work place was behind the program 100% so even though I brought this up in supervision often (prior to the final situation), the most that would happen would be I would be given some tips on how to handle the client and sent back out. That's the job. So weekly, I would drive to his home, knock on his apartment door (alone) with my gut screaming that this is a bad idea and to run away...BUT "this is the job", and most of the time once I was in it was going to be ok. Things quickly deteriorated though and the client's behaviour would end up escalating, he'd do his freak out on me, and within hours call and apologize. Looking back, I'm very aware my supervisors should have stepped in much sooner and the way they handled things was less than ideal.
I'm no longer with that organization and in a much better position at a new agency, but still run into this client from time to time.
posted by katie521 at 4:55 AM on June 25, 2013

Check your MeMail, k?
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 7:33 AM on June 25, 2013

Best answer:
I worked as a high school teacher in one of the worst schools in Florida. I went in believing that I could bring love and literature to kids who may not have had a chance to discover how great words are. I left with high blood pressuer, PTSD and a loathing for the word, "Miss".

Are you in therapy? If you are, great! If not, why not? You are just as traumatized as anyone who has been in any kind of abusive relationship. The fact that your supervisors allowed it to continue, and the fact that you have shame about it are contributing to your feeling that somehow this was something within your control and you just failed to see it and properly manage it. Bunk!

This situation requires more than a book. You need to unburden with someone who's there for you 100% and who has no other agenda but that of helping you see what happend and to draw appropriate boundaries so that it doesn't happen again.

The first year of any job is so hard, Social Work is even moreso. You did fine with the tools you were given. Now it's time to get better tools.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:51 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you googled vicarious trauma? Lots of resources come up when I do...
posted by foxjacket at 3:52 PM on June 25, 2013

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