Sometimes we just need to hear it, over and over again.
Over the last few weeks a few things have come across my desk which have reinforced my belief that being an IEC is being in a profession of helping, support and compassion. The catalyst for this awareness was Kenneth Rosen's book, Troubled, The Failed Promise of America's Behavioral Treatment Programs. Rosen was recently on the podcast Stories from the Field hosted by Will White, co-founder and owner of Summit Achievement a wilderness program here in Maine. Disclaimer, I think Will is absolutely one of the kindest and most thoughtful humans I know. In his talk with Ken (as he called him, forgive my informality) I was so taken by how much listening both Will and Ken did. The two of them were having an actual conversation about some very difficult, painful and traumatic events in Ken’s life. Will didn’t try to convince him of anything, and he didn’t try to steer the conversation; instead, he listened, he learned and he empathized. It was one of the most real and honest conversations I have ever heard about our field, and the impact that decisions made by parents can have on children.
There is a great deal to unpack from that interview, and I will listen to it a few more times to make sure I actually heard what was being said. My initial listen reinforced so much of what I have known for many years about the field I am in; that by no means is it perfect, that there are both good and bad people and that the idea that there is something wrong with these kids, and that they need to be fixed is at best outdated, and at worst dangerous.
I am always someone who tries to learn and grow from experiences, and personally I look at Ken’s book as an opportunity for me and others in my field to learn. Not only about the experiences of the subjects of his book, but also about what we as IEC’s do, how we do it and how our work impacts others.
In addition to what I learned from listening to the conversation between Ken and Will, this week I also learned from Christie Woodfin, an IEC whom I have known for years. Christie, one of the most genuine humans I have ever know, was taking this opportunity to (re)educate us, her fellow IEC’s, about referring to what we do as an industry, which many of us do/did. I have heard Christie talk about this before, but honestly, up until now, I didn’t really think too much about the verbiage; I really just thought it was two different ways of saying the same thing.
But after listening to Christie and Ken, I admit; I was wrong.
Below are excerpts from what Christie said to all of us via an email thread, and I found her words really did a wonderful job of explaining the very real difference between an industry and a field
"I'd like to covey that I am even more convinced than I've been for years that we have to stop referring to the programs as an industry and we must refer to what we do as our practices and our field rather than our businesses. Many of us have clinical training. Do you hear psychologists, counselors or shrinks talking about their businesses or their practices??? … I think we should be viewed as part of the mental health team that works with parents to get their children through the troubling passage to adulthood"
In short, words matter. To expand on that - if we as IEC’s think of ourselves as partners with parents, students, colleagues and programs as a piece of the solution, we can assist families rebuild. I often speak with clients and parents alike in reinforcing this idea of teamwork, support and collaboration, and I will continue to do so in the future.
A lot of my knowledge of, and confidence in, what I do comes from the fact that I am a member if IECA - and this brings me to the third piece which came across my desk this week. Soon after Ken’s book came out, along with some other press regarding high profile adolescents who had negative, and even traumatizing experiences in programs, IECA sought out members of the therapeutic community to see how they could partner with us to make sure people had the opportunity to learn what role IEC’s do, and do not, play in the journey of a family who is struggling. Their statement, How IECA Members Support Best Practices in Helping Families Find Residential Therapeutic Programs That Fit Their Needs was a wonderful example of how partnership and collaboration benefits us all.
I admit, I am a different, and I would argue better, consultant that I was in 2004 when I started. I am more knowledgeable of programs and systems. I am more mature. I am now a father and stepfather of 4 and have a great deal more empathy for the parents I work with. I’m quieter, in every sense of the word. Not going to lie, I am a bit more skeptical when it comes to programs and their tours and am not as enamored with the show they put on. Today I’m much better at being able to separate the genuine, caring teams from the ones out to make a quick buck. I have a lot less hair now. I’m smarter because of the training I have done through IECA and other professional organizations, and I am more humble because of my own struggles.
I am all of these things because I have slowed down, I accept help when offered and I have really embraced listening…