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September 3, 2010

I wrote yesterday about some thinking that Dr. Dolores Subia Bigfoot inspired about Parallel Processes. She also gave me another way of thinking about how we should structure the services we provide. And that is to always treat our clients with respect, and never punitively.

One of the problems we have in the Alaska Native community is how we are treated after making and missing appointments. When a family is in distress, it becomes difficult to convince family members to attend appointments for therapy. They also submit documents late or not at all. We create barriers to their participation in the very services that are supposedly designed to help them with the issues they face, which often time are exacerbated by a lack of respect. They make provider lives difficult, and we react in less than positive ways. Quite frankly, this is what our clients experience in most of their interactions—with the court system, with the Children’s Services offices, and with assistance agencies. In Anchorage, a frequent complaint about court hearings are that clients typically have to find transportation, babysitters, and then wait while their hearing is delayed and often postponed. They then have to do it again. As a consequence, they are frequently absent or late, with dire consequences. We often have similar responses when they miss appointments with us, or arrive late.

When we react negatively, and with no respect, we are not encouraging our clients to return to our services. If we do not foster a human connection with them, we are not likely to be successful helping them, which Dr. Bigfoot made me think about. If we can connect with a client, and help them overcome their issues, we all win. If we are punitive when they miss or are late for appointments, then they won’t want to come back and we can’t help them overcome their issues. If we are here for the client, then what approach should we be taking.

Well, I come down on the side of no punitive response, and treating them with respect. After all, our goal is to help the client. In our world, they are our family. We cannot hold them accountable and responsible with punishments. We can respect them and give them every reason to continue to see us.

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