At a strategic level we are continually expanding the language, but essentially using new words and phrases to say the same thing… recovery, personalisation, self-directed support, person-centred planning, re-ablement/re-enablement. Nobody can seriously disagree with the premise that service users should be given a voice in order to say what they need and want, to reflect on how best to meet their wishes and aspirations, to exercise choice and feel supported in their decision-making. However, there is often a gap between what we are saying we are doing as services, and what service users are experiencing on the receiving end. The distance between strategic vision and practical reality rarely conforms to anyone’s idea of close proximity.
This is where the Strengths Approach or Working with Strengths come into their own… call it what you will, but we need some way of translating the big picture into something that is clearly understood and able to be delivered by workers with service users (and carers). We can talk about journeys all day long, but unless you can walk it unaided then we need a vehicle, a route map, a travel guide or companion… a means of travelling that journey. The Strengths Approach sets out a clear statement of values and principles to guide and support good practice; it provides fit-for-purpose tools and the necessary guidance on flexible use of such tools; and it sets out practice-based policy statements that help to tie-in the organisation – team – practitioner levels to an agreement on what we are doing to support people to experience the rhetoric of person-centred services in reality.
Check out my 2014 publication ‘Working with Strengths…’ for the full story, complete with ideas and tools to support the implementation of best practice.
Wanda Rusiecki has been working in ‘intensive case management’ services in New York State for 25 years, supporting some of the most vulnerable people experiencing mental health problems within the state system. Wanda describes her experiences working intensively with small caseloads of people with very complex problems, who require a stronger degree of linking and co-ordinating of services as well as more creative ways of engaging trusting working relationships.
Wanda’s reflections pick up on her value base that emerged from childhood as a theme for connecting with those who present as different. She identifies the importance of ‘strengths’ in her own approach of developing the conversation and listening more through ‘looking for the healthy side of people’. Wanda identifies the characteristics of what makes for a good case manager and what has sustained her to stay in this line of work for the long-term, as well as the challenges that the ‘system’ presents when trying to deliver best practice. The true meaning of ‘recovery’ is identified through eliciting each individual to tell their own story and identify their own priorities.
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