"Hope is an internal expectation of a different outcome."
Have you ever had the experience of being pulled between two opposing, but brutally powerful feelings of hopefulness and hopelessness? Where, on one hand, you are overwhelmed by the enormity of a problem that is so deeply and historically rooted in dysfunction and despair, but, on the other hand, you are giddy with excitement at the fact that you have the opportunity to make a real change in the system, contribute to the well-being of others, and actually help a human life?
I imagine teachers vacillate through this continuum frequently, as do maybe medical doctors and social workers. Today was my day to join the ranks, get on the emotional roller coaster, and feel my stomach leep into my throat at the task before me.
See, although I "started" my job Friday, I participated in my first job-related activity today. I spent today (and tomorrow) at a seminar regarding the effects of trauma on children. In addition to discussing the neurobiological aspects of trauma, the presenter spent a great deal of time identifying problems in the child welfare system and with us as clinicians that further perpetuate the problems, ultimately setting the kids up for chronic misunderstanding, distress, and ultimate failure. Moreover, he talked, in brief, about funding issues, and the amount of money spent on reactive services, like psychotherapy, for traumatized children who really need change at the vary basic neuronal levels that can't come through simple psychotherapy, once a week for one hour. So here is the hopelessness.
Then he talked about relationships, human connections, ideas as small as sustained eye contact or tactile comfort...so many things that, when done with repetition for extended time, can bring about change. He used real examples of both success and failure, and let me tell you - just when you think you have heard the worst of the stories (and I've heard some that make you actually ache with sickness), there is always another that is worse. I am really simplifying this, I know, but this seminar was dead-on. And the thing is, he wasn't trying to "sell" anything, but rather was passionately putting forth his life's research and experiences in a way to educate and motivate us to make some real change.
While I have been in the child welfare system now for the last five or six years as a clinician, I have always provided "reactive" services, like therapy and consultation for kids "at the end of the line," at a point when all other service providers were throwing their hands in the air, giving the kid up as a "total loss." Today, I was informed that my new position is actually part of a larger state-wide initiative that is trying to overhaul the child welfare system in this state, trying to identify and tackle the issues at the very heart of this chaotic mess, and make some policy, structural, clinical and practical changes. And to do this, we are finally starting to educate those cogs (I am one) in the system who are front-line providers about the cyclic nature of abuse and trauma, a point that sounds so common sense, yet has clearly taken so long to come to fruition. So now I am coming at this from a new angle.
From a hopeful angle.
The reality is is that we have a massive and bottomless pit of a system that is historically flawed and overwhelmed. Workers (caseowrkers to therapist alike) are overworked and underpaid, andultimately under invested, and we give that feeling right back out to these kids that have been neglected and abused from day one. We then expect these kids to form connections with us (therapists) based on once/weekly interactions, and pour their souls out to strangers when most of their social interactions have reinforced the idea that people will hurt and abuse them. At some point, the other providers stand back and wonder why the kids won't change. And that's just the surface level issues.
I can hear the soapbox starting to creak underneath my weight so I will step down. But I just feel that, for the first time since I have been in this field, in this state agency, that maybe, just maybe, things can change. This is huge to me.
It gives me hope.