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READING FOR CHILD AND YOUTH CARE WORKERS
ISSUE 28 MAY 2001

OLD BOOKS

Understanding our limitations

"When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
                  
Anonymous

The human services are full of cynical, disillusioned souls who somewhere in the course of their careers lost their idealism, their ambition, and their hope. Preventing this seemingly inevitable rite of passage is of concern to authors Gail S. Bernstein and Judith A. Halaszyn. In their book, Human Services?... That Must Be so Rewarding, they urge us to understand ourselves and shed our aspirations to sainthood. 

They identify personal limitations common to most of us:

You do not love (or sometimes even like) everyone you are supposed to serve

Nor do you have to. As long as you know how you feel and behave professionally toward everyone, this is acceptable. What's more, not all the people you serve will like you. Some will resent needing help, and others will resent your "professional expertise."

You will not be able to save everyone

You may need better skills. You may want different outcomes than the people you are serving. You may just not have enough control over the situation to achieve the desired outcome.

There is never enough time

There is always more to do than time to do it in. If you do not learn this lesson, burnout can be expected. You have to manage your professional time and take time to meet your personal needs. If you fail to do so, your work will suffer.

There will always be things about your work and the people you work with that cause a strong emotional reaction

These are the situations in which your buttons get pushed. You do not react rationally, even though you know you are overreacting. It may be a tone of voice or a form to fill out. The first step toward coping is to identify those situations that set you off and prepare yourself accordingly. 

Bernstein and Halaszyn identify other limitations inherent in the construction of systems for delivering human services. These "external" limitations include:

  • There is not enough money:  When a human services program is not an entitlement program, there is usually not enough money to serve all eligible people. When the service is an entitlement, and the program does not have enough money, everyone is served, but not as well as they would be served with additional resources.
  • Some programs work against social values instead of promoting them:  For example, there are welfare programs that do not pay benefits for children to women whose husbands live at home. Some social service systems will only provide for children with disabilities if they move to foster homes or institutions.
  • No one knows enough:  There are some human problems no one knows enough about to solve completely. Systems problems can ultimately be overcome but only by people with the power and knowledge to change them. 

By acknowledging and understanding your limitations, both internal and external, you will have more energy to focus on the resources available to you and use your strengths to be a more effective professional.

 

Bernstein, Gail S. & Halaszyn, Judith A. (1989). Human Services?... That Must Be So Rewarding. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Reviewed in The Child & Youth Care Administrator.

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