Privileged glimpses 13: The saviour fantasy

This series of blog posts first appeared a few years ago on a now defunct blog called ‘Care Training’. It was inspired by the training maxim of ‘making the unconscious conscious’. It is intended to take what really ought to be the most basic principles of health and social care and put them down on paper. The series isn’t only an exercise in stating the obvious though whatever the title might suggest. It’s actually intended as a philosophical foundation manual for workers and informal carers to help them get their care ‘on track’ and then to keep it that way.

There’s an irony about health and social care work. More specifically there’s an irony about health and social care workers. The workers who want to save the world are the ones most likely to cause harm, to themselves and to other people.

Saviour fantasistIn the trade we sometimes talk about the ‘saviour fantasy’. It’s an admirable quality in new and inexperienced staff but it’s unrealistic, dangerous and much less positive among more experienced workers. Those who come into this line of work expecting to make everything alright for everyone they meet tend to be committed and hard working. They have the potential to be excellent carers and advocates for those they work with. But those who hang on to their saviour fantasy over time demonstrate something else as well. Experienced saviours also demonstrate an inability to learn and that makes them dangerous.

We cannot please all the people all of the time. Nor can we ever know everything and we’re not able to do everybody’s jobs. It’s enough to ensure that we get our own part of the equation right. When we try to improve upon the work of others we risk meddling in what we’re neither trained nor sufficiently well-placed to understand.

Saviours are also much more likely to burn out themselves. If they expect only good things for their clients and take too much personal responsibility for ensuring positive outcomes for everyone they quickly become crushed when reality bites. There are many, many reasons why things don’t always work out in mental health care. Saviour fantasists blame themselves and the remorse they feel can be overwhelming.

Don’t be a saviour fantasist. It damages both service users and workers alike.

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