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Therapeutic risk-taking

It is possible to assist people with social care needs (complex or otherwise) to develop the quality of their lives and to enhance their coping strategies. In large part this is achieved by assessing and encouraging risk-taking.

Without risk, life becomes empty. We develop as people by stretching ourselves and by gradually pushing the limits of what has come to be known as the ‘comfort zone’. But there is a balance to be struck, both in terms of ensuring that risks are reasonable and also in motivating clients to take therapeutic risks with a high likelihood of success.

This involves careful planning in order to ‘factor in’ the possibility of failure so that setbacks are seen not as disasters but as learning experiences – grist for the mill in refining plans to enable future success. This process is known as ‘risk debriefing’.

An understanding and appreciation of risk in relation to personal development is a vital element in the provision of social care in any setting. The process of person-centred planning must involve personal development and a striving for increased independence. This cannot happen without appropriate risk-taking.

So what are the elements of risk assessment?

According to the Health & Safety Executive there are 5 elements of good risk assessment and management and 5 principles that risk assessment is not

Risk management principles

  • Ensuring that workers and the public are properly protected
  • Providing overall benefit to society by balancing benefits and risks, with a focus on reducing real risks – both those which arise more often and those with serious consequences
  • Enabling innovation and learning, not stifling them
  • Ensuring that those who create risks manage them responsibly and understand that failure to manage real risks responsibly is likely to lead to robust action
  • Enabling individuals to understand that as well as the right to protection, they also have to exercise responsibility

Sensible risk management is not about:

  • Creating a totally risk free society
  • Generating useless paperwork mountains
  • Scaring people by exaggerating or publicising trivial risks
  • Stopping important recreational and learning activities for individuals where the risks are managed
  • Reducing protection of people from risks that cause real harm and suffering.

Task debriefing

We all learn by our mistakes. Everything that you have achieved has been the result of trial and error – often the most valuable and effective lessons are learned precisely because of our errors in judgement. This is as true for our service-users as it is for us. If we give up on our plans at the first hurdle then we are doomed to fail. If we give up on our service-users when they make mistakes we doom them to failure just as surely.

Autobiography in 5 chapters (Anonymous):

Chapter 1

I walk down the street. There’s a hole in the road. I fall in the hole. It’s deep and I can’t get out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the street. There’s a hole in the road. I see the hole but I fall in it anyway. It’s deep and dark and I can’t get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the street. I have my ladder with me. There’s a hole in the road. I see the hole but I fall in it anyway. I use my ladder to get out.

Chapter 4

I walk down the street. I have my ladder with me. There’s a hole in the road. I see the hole and I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down a different street.

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Course design 4: Know your audience

Knowing the client is important as we saw in the last episode. But beyond that it’s equally important to know the audience. After all it’s one thing to know that you’re delivering training for a Local Authority but that knowledge alone won’t help you decide whether to plan a course for senior social workers in child protection or home care service providers in elderly care services.

We need to know who the training is aimed at as well as who it’s delivered for.

There is no point introducing training on medication administration to workers who don’t deal with it. Similairly it’s not necessary to train psychiatrists in psychiatric diagnosis – they’re already well versed in that. It doesn’t matter how interested I might be in deliberate self harm (as it happens that really is a topic that fascinates me) – not everyone needs to know about endorphins, self harm as a coping strategy that releases emotional turmoil resulting from invalidation and trauma.

This is one of the many situations in training design and presentation when we need to be clear that our own individual opinions and preferences are much less relevant than the needs and philosophies of the client.

There is a limit to this, of course, and most of us have at one time or another withdrawn from training rather than become involved in something we disagree with but these are relatively rare extremes. More often than not disagreements between the interests and philosophies of the trainer and the client are much less significant than that.

In most cases all we need to do is remember that good trainers are able to ‘step aside’ and focus upon the topic at hand rather than their own personal opinions and bias.

So another of the keys to good and effective training is to know your audience.