Seek first to understand, then to be understood

By Slim Nash
Director of Community Based Services, Western Kentucky

A large component of the work we do with children and families involves educating them and encouraging them to change behaviors. Whether we are teaching coping skills, basic household management or parenting, our jobs involve influencing change in the lives of our clients.

Recently, a Diversion Case Manager in the Family Preservation and Diversion Program in the Bowling Green office faced a particular challenge as she provided services to a family whose value system did not match hers. The family had been referred due to concerns related to the teenager’s and parents’ drug use, including cultivating and selling marijuana. The family not only actively used marijuana, but also relied on the income generated from selling it.

While the family initially presented with much resistance to services and much suspicion regarding our role in “the system” they distrusted, the case manager approached the situation by first seeking to understand the family’s perspective. By investing the time to learn about a value system very different from her own, the case manager both learned about the family and developed a trusting relationship with them.

As the case progressed, she was also able to share with the family information about the concerns and risks associated with continuing their behaviors. At the end of the case, the family had obtained legal employment and they were passing all drug screens.

Six months following the end of their intervention, the family reached out to the case manager to notify her that they knew it was time for their follow-up and indicate they were eager to see her. You read that correctly — the family that was once resistant and suspicious took the initiative to contact the case manager about the six-month follow-up.

The adults are still gainfully employed and their case with Department of Community Based Services (DCBS) has been closed. Seeking first to understand their situation created an environment where resistance shifted to resilience and lasting change was able to occur.