Posts Tagged ‘How to help’

“You have to have a label, to get services,” I said, looking my friend in the eyes and repeating a truism I had heard years ago.

But it is true.

My daughter got services when she got labeled —  seizure disorder, brain damage, disabled, slow.

Ouch!

Deep ouch!

But this is what we tend toward when things deviate from the norm. We tend toward simplistic labels — mental illness, addiction, autism, brain damage  — and we like the labels very much, because we can pin simplistic solutions on these simplistic labels and feel like we have done something.

But simple labels don’t always well represent complex realities, and labels may lead us to apply wrong, overly simplistic solutions.

“She’s autistic.”

“He’s an addict.”

“Cancer patients tend to …”

“The low functioning  … ”

“The sexually abused  …”

“Males  … ”

“Latinos  …”

Really?

It’s that simple?

Really?

Broad labels, one-word simplifications of reality have resulted in some of the worst human behaviors on earth — racism, genderism, overly heroic and invasive medical treatment, neglect, fear, violence   — which ironically are themselves overly simplistic labels.

Take the autistic thing. It’s not simple. We refer to a person being on the autistic spectrum, thus admitting that there is a range, that there are differences within the label, within the diagnosis. But reality is much more complicated than even the ranging, reaching, inclusive idea of a spectrum.

I know a person who has been diagnosed as autistic but was also sexually abused as a child. Plus she is in a family that lacks resources, plus her siblings are disabled, plus her single mom has to work full-time. Is there a label for this?

The best we might say to even get started is, “It’s complicated!”

Yes, it is complicated. It’s complicated and a team of  helpers and specialists are needed and a complex treatment plan is needed. To help this person and their family recover and thrive, we must help them grieve, and help them understand all they are dealing with. We must team up, pray, find and learn compensating behaviors, discover social solutions, discover medical helps — really uncover all the relevant solutions in all the relevant arts and sciences.

Yes categories and labels help us to understand similarities, understand experiences we have in common,  understand kinds of realties, but too often labels short change understanding and keep us from needed, nuanced thinking.

The family with a complicated reality is in need of more than one label and more than one solution. A concerted, integrated multi-solutional effort is needed.

What are we saying?

The sciences need to cooperate with each other better. The helping professionals in various fields need to team up more.

And, as we work with people and families to try to help them — perhaps because of our own areas of specialization — we must not overly simplify their problems, or the solutions.

If we want to help, if we want to be a helping person or helping team for someone’s spiritual problems, social problems, physical problems, resource challenges and mental problems then we must open up our minds to the full and complicated contexts of their situations.

And we could do with fewer labels.

A person or family in difficulty may well need a multi-solutional response — yes to prayer or other spiritual helps, yes to recovery groups, yes to doctors, yes to therapists, yes behavioral specialists, yes to medications, yes to financial support and yes to a supportive family and community.

Complicated — it’s the solution to complicated.