When we are commencing work as support workers what should we know before we meet and what does my new client need to know about me?
Jack reached out for support. Jack is new to this role and has worked with 3 people that could have been long-term but ended up being short-term- lasting between 4 and 6 weeks each. Jack is not sure what is going wrong as she puts in lots of energy and often will work more than the shift states. It is clear Jack enjoys supporting people to reach their goals.
The role of a support worker is complex. We are essential service supports that enable people to live in their homes, the way they choose to live. Without this, many people are housebound, and more often without appropriate services, become bedbound. This is often due to the impact on one’s physical and mental health.
We are invited into people’s homes and lives in such a way that we are extremely privileged to share their journey. We must be aware of how important it is to remain consistent in how we interact. What we established on day one, will be how we are on day 101. We must demonstrate that we are here for the long term by immediately establishing a positive connection. Our verbal and nonverbal interactions can make or break the therapeutic rapport that is required between support workers and the people we empower.
We can only empower others by understanding our own emotional strengths and weaknesses. By understanding our own interoceptive needs we can show our own vulnerability and acknowledge these as required. Our role above all else is to find creative ways to enhance the lives of those we support but also that of the family. The relationship with the family is just as valuable. We need to work in a way that allows all the family to grow in their connections with each other.
In her book, The Art of Connection: 8 Ways to Enrich Rapport & Kinship for Positive Impact, Susan Young (2017) describes the following ways to shine a positive light on others:
- Maintain a sense of calm rather than acting with defensiveness.
- Solicit the other person’s opinion.
- Be patient.
- Allow the client to appear smart and insightful.
- Avoid behaviour that is humiliating to the other person, such as pointing out flaws.
- Put your own ego on the back burner.
- Practice concern for and awareness of the other person’s feelings.
- Find ways to make the other person feel at ease.
Along with Young’s (2017) suggestions, additional methods of increasing positive rapport must always:
- Use nonverbal cues that convey warmth and understanding.
- Break the ice with small talk.
- Integrate humour into the conversation as appropriate.
- Show empathy and compassion, especially when the client is distressed.
- Avoid being judgmental.
- Treat the client as a partner/collaborator in all processes.
- Foster the client’s sense of self-efficacy.
- Attend to the client’s nonverbal cues.
- Use reflective listening and paraphrasing.
- Engage in active listening so the client feels truly heard.
- Do not allow personal disruptions or distractions during sessions.
- Maintain a positive, enthusiastic, and supportive attitude.
- Use positive affirmations.
- Clarify client confidentiality and privacy rights.
- Avoid technical jargon.
- Be flexible and open-minded.
- Use open-ended questions to elicit further information.
- Use a soothing tone of voice.
- Never move too quickly, begin with ice breaking, and proceed at the client’s pace.
When you first meet, ensure you are punctual and if there is a need to be delayed- make contact so as not to create unnecessary distress, as many of the people we support have been left waiting for support that has not arrived in the past. We need to be aware that this is a trauma we can avoid and must where possible.
When meeting, if key details are not already established, now is the time to do so. Be a note-taker and consider these factors
- TIME – When do we meet? Will we set a beginning and ending time- is there flexibility?
- COMMUNICATION – Everyone has different communication needs. If possible, it is best to discuss how we communicate, as many of our clients are impacted by emotional dysregulation that may impact their ability to verbally interact in a way you may expect. Having a discussion (written/verbal/ ACC) about this will ensure open communication is possible.
- CONFIDENTIALITY – discuss the need for shift notes. Ask what information can be shared with whom? Just because you may find people living in a home together – they may not share personal information.
- DECISION MAKING – How will we make decisions? Can we independently plan activities and experiences or are there others that need to be consulted? How will we deal with conflicts?
- PARTICIPATION – How will we encourage everyone’s participation? How do we allow for the dignity of risk while also keeping to the policies and procedures of Flair & Fine Care?
- EXPECTATIONS – What do we expect from each other? Are there requirements for participation?
Like all relationships, the first few weeks are new and special. As we don’t know each other there is no real expectation, however, what is demonstrated soon becomes the expectation. It is essential to model what you can continue to do. Please do not make the mistake of working at such a pace that will lead to burnout after 6 weeks as the load you create for yourself becomes the expectation.
By the 6th week, there will be a familiar pattern developed with trust, and from there we can see real growth. Trust in our words and physical predictability builds active participation. This is necessary. Without our client’s trust in this, the relationship stalls. The client will not feel they can rely on what you say or do, and progress will stall. If trust is not present, there will be a significant increase in emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation can have its consequences, and we will discuss that in a follow-up blog as that is a session on its own. Please reach out if you require further support.