One of the aspects of raising children with higher needs is the myriad of professionals who end up being part of your life.
Over the years, we have been blessed with many amazing health and social care professionals. A few of these have had such wisdom, insight, and sensitivity that they have opened my eyes to see myself, my children, and my parenting in a whole new light.
But we have also had other experiences that have felt more like emotional warfare than support.
Just last week, I was in a meeting about my son’s needs at school. All the professional big players were in the room – the school principal, head educational psychologist in the municipality, one of the managers of the local educational department, and others.
I shared with the group about the therapies my son was receiving. I also volunteered the information that I myself had arranged to receive parental guidance from a senior psychologist.
That was it. The thing that I consider to be one of my greatest strengths (something that I never used to be able to do and have worked so hard to achieve) … the fact that I am now able to admit when I need help and open myself up to receive it… got taken and twisted like a dagger.
One of the leading professionals in the room, who had been trying to give me advice throughout the meeting about how to raise my son (misguided advice because she has never actually met him) and who had been getting increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t lapping up every word appreciatively, now had a weapon to stab me with.
“Well,” she said, “if [the name of the psychologist I’m working with] thinks you need parental counselling, there is obviously some problem with your parenting that she is trying to correct!”
With that, she made a few notes in my son’s file and moved the discussion on.
Now, as I replay the conversation in my mind, I can think of a hundred witty one-liners that I could have thrown in at that moment.
“Is your professional advice always this wide of the mark, or are you just having a particularly bad day?”
“Are you paid to make parents feel bad about themselves, or do you do it for fun?”
But the truth is that I was so taken aback by her words that I said nothing at all. I just sat there quietly as she wrote down her poisonous opinions and moved on to another topic.
As unfair and humiliating as this experience was, in a sense I’m glad it happened because it highlighted an issue that I was already passionate about and gave me the push that I needed to speak out.
The issue of how, too often, the professionals who are meant to be supporting us end up disempowering us and leaving us worse than we were before.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against seeking professional help when we need it. I’m always the first to advocate for early intervention if a child is struggling to meet developmental milestones. Or for individual or family therapy if we find ourselves trapped in negative emotional and behavioral patterns.
But I also believe that in our interactions with health professionals, we always have to keep one question in mind: “Is this person really interested in helping me get better or do they just want to make themselves feel good?”
When a senior professional announces in a room full of people who I have worked hard to build trust and cooperation with that there is something wrong with my parenting, this is not in my best interests.
This professional was on a power trip. Pure and simple. And she was using psychological weapons to claim her one-upmanship.
Sometimes the professionals in our lives need to tell us things that we don’t want to hear. I can think of several times, particularly in the early days when I didn’t want to acknowledge my son’s developmental delays, when I came out of assessments feeling mad at the therapist!
Yes, these professionals made me feel bad. But deep down, I knew they were right. They were just identifying painful truths that I wished I could ignore.
There’s a big difference between this and interactions that leave you with a general, over-riding sense of shame, helplessness, and failure. No professional has the right to make you feel this way.
People holding professional positions in the fields of health and social care don’t always realise the power that they carry. We often come to these professionals when we are at our most vulnerable and share with them things that we would never dream of sharing with anyone else. Things that are painful and confusing.
The role of a professional in these circumstances is to help us understand what is going on, equip us with the knowledge and insight we need, and gently reinstate us to the driver’s seat in our own lives. Sometimes these professionals may need to give advice or take actions that we disagree with, but even this must be done with respect for our dignity and without any belittling.
Most people, even those who are experiencing an emotional crisis (maybe especially those who are experiencing an emotional crisis) are able to discern whether the professionals in the room genuinely care about them or not. Most people can sense when someone is patronising or insulting them.
It’s important for all of us to know that we don’t have to stay with a professional who is undermining our confidence in ourselves.
On the rare occasions when we do not have the choice to stop seeing a certain professional, it’s important for us to find some way to express how we feel about the experience so that we don’t internalise a sense of helplessness and shame.
Sometimes it’s a question of telling the professional how their approach makes us feel. “When you question my decisions the whole time, it makes me feel weak and doubt myself. It doesn’t help me get strong.”
It’s amazing how empowering it can be to speak out, calmly and respectfully, and tell the other person how they are making you feel. What you are doing is taking yourself and your own feelings seriously and standing up for your own needs. These sorts of conversations very often pave a way for a more balanced working relationship.
Sometimes it’s not right to address issues directly with the professional, especially if you sense that they will twist your words. In these instances, it’s best to end the professional relationship or to find a way of voicing your concerns with someone external.
Every situation is different, and there is no single right approach for managing every interaction.
But one truth does apply to every relationship between a professional and his or her client / patient / service user. These relationships are partnerships between two people of equal value.
Both partners have their own areas of expertise. The professional may have a great deal of experience, knowledge, and insight into his or her speciality. But you are expert on your own experiences, and very often those of your child. If you have been dealing with a certain condition for a long time, it’s likely that you may even know more about it than some of the professionals you encounter. The best professionals don’t feel threatened by this and are happy to learn from their clients.
What’s important is that, even when we’re discussing topics that make us feel vulnerable, we hold on to our own sense of dignity and self-worth. No other person, regardless of their experience or qualifications, has the right to take these away from us.
2 thoughts on “When The Professionals In Your Life Make You Feel Worse, Not Better”
Your humility is your true strength, I believe, Helen. When you next meet the ‘professionals’ be assured that you, too are a ‘professional, you have a wealth of knowledge and unique experience, that could blend in very positively with theirs. You could consider offering insights / training to the team to help them better understand the perspectives of a mother bringing up a child who has special needs , what it’s like to be in your situation, sharing strategies, words and actions that impact a child who struggles, positively / negatively, and how working collaboratively is more likely to reduce frustration and build success. It gives opportunity for building and equipping all who are involved in a child’s life and it may be a wonderful opportunity to share your life skills, needs, hopes etc and at the same time can help the professionals to understand and partner together with you as a parent and avoid negative impact.
So true, Heather! I am blessed to have some amazing professionals around me, too. Just as you say, they see their role as partnership with me and it’s very powerful & effective. It just saddens me to see when professionals intentionally or unintentionally disempower their patients/clients. Thank you for your encouragement!