The Things They Say

I’ve had two people telling me recently about the things that professionals say to them that are completely unhelpful.

This reminded me of the first thing I heard in advocacy about the unhelpful things that they say and this was 20 years ago. So, you see, we are not moving on that quickly are we.

Way back then, a resident of a John Grooms Home was keen to promote her independence. She had made moves to achieve this. One day she said: “I would like help to put my socks on”. The institutionalised response was; “If you cannot put your socks on you cannot be independent”. Our hero replied; “It would take a personal assistant two minutes to put my socks on. It takes me three hours”. Sadly the link between independence, everyone’s interdependence and the ongoing need for support remains largely misunderstood and under resourced.

The two recent examples both came from mental health service users. In the first instance a service user asked a social worker to write a letter for him. The social worker said; “Write your own letter. It’s empowering”. Again empowerment depends on appropriate support, useful resources, and a willingness on our parts to take responsibility for ourselves and what we want. The latter part of this equation was in place. Support and resources were not. This little snippet also puts me in mind of the Blairite dictum that I hear more and more. “You have your rights. its time for you to be responsible”. Nope. If you have spent your life in a constant state of disempowerment, if you have not been included or allowed to practice skills, if you do not have the confidence to do for yourself then rights will remain denied.

My third story concerns a response to a malicious complaint. The complained about party contacted the complaints handler to say that he was happy to participate in process but this was very stressful for him. The handler said; “If you have not done anything wrong then you have nothing to be stressed about”. This often cited phrase is considered to be unhelpful at the least and incredibly stupid at most. However, for the person who was being complained about it was heard as “If you are guilty, then you will be stressed”. This made him withdraw from the complaint until he was given unconditional guarantees that he would be given a fair hearing. For me it’s about a lack of care and understanding and it is at this stage that the social model of disability demands that we all check our responses as they reveal our attitudes and the attitudes of the organisations that we work for.

One that is currently puzzling me. I have no idea what this one means. A carer came into the office asking for help and criticising what was happening to their disabled brethren because “she isn’t a viable person”. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.



  1. Kev Towner said

    That’s impossible to answer without having some sort of context for the situation or the comment

  2. Remembering back i think the carer came for advocacy support because services where being taken away from a person with learning disabilities. The quote was something like; “how can they do this? I mean, she’s not even a viable person”.

  3. detrich said

    Because Dolly Sen liked my comment on facebook which was a comment on her comment I’m stealing or simply quoting what she said:

    “so language is meaningless in mental health, some wanker said to me. Well, if that is the case, let’s change the word ‘normality’ in mental health to ‘mediocrity’ and ‘typical’ to ‘average’. How to use that in a sentence? “We want to help you get back to mediocrity; you are not having average experiences.” No, you won’t say that? Makes sanity sound bad, not something to aspire to, not language you can use to control people? Don’t argue with a mad writer, you are going to lose”.

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