Managing self-perception and expectations
When you market yourself as a healer, what are your expectations?
That through your practice, you’ll encounter some people for whom healing is not possible?
What do you mean when you use the word ‘healing’?
What’s your client’s definition of ‘healing’?
You may both be using the same word, but is there a shared understanding of the meaning both of you intend.
How do you manage clients’ expectations and your own?
Does that depend on what stage of the dis-ease process they are living with when they reach out to you to enquire about your services?
What about when a client has successfully worked with a META-Health approach to resolve a health condition, but a different bio-logical conflict isn’t responding as ‘successfully’, how do you reframe their expectations of healing?
How can we be our authentic Self, honour the prospective client’s journey, while upholding the reputation that META-Health as a methodology and its practitioners have, and are still working hard to cultivate?
These questions emerged from a long email I shared with a MHI board member. I was thinking aloud, contemplating how we present ourselves to the world, how we wish to be perceived and how others actually perceive us.
To state the obvious, we cannot know how others perceive us until we enter into some form of dialogue with them. When we listen to the individual and they feel heard, we can attempt to manage any unrealistic expectations, explore what’s possible and decide whether working together is right for both you and the prospective client.
A personal example
I thought back to when I started my career as a sign language interpreter. In the early days, I was eager to please, desperate to prove my competency to myself and others, inexperienced and naive. There’s no other way to gain experience, other than taking the plunge. Some domains were off limits – working for the police, courts and mental health field, until I was qualified and experienced. Once I was competent in interpreting, and confident in my practice, I sought to work safely, co-working under the auspices of ‘veteran’ interpreters in legal and mental health fields. They monitored my interpretations, offered feedback, decoded specialist jargon so I understood what needed to be conveyed and schooled me in the protocols of court rooms, prisons and Mental Health Tribunals.
This support and supervision was done voluntarily. Some experienced interpreters leant a hand to help trainee or newly qualified practitioners move forward. They remembered that somebody had given them a leg up when they were developing as an interpreter and gave back to the profession through adopting a senior interpreter role during assignments. This was vital because, at the time, the profession lacked a formalised supervision framework for freelance interpreters.
That didn’t mean that I didn’t run into difficulties, though. Like the time I accepted my first police assignment – my phone rang after midnight; a Deaf man suspected of drink driving was in custody and they needed an interpreter to read him his rights before they breathalysed him. I’d declined police work for years, even after qualifying, but this sounded like a job I could undertake without doing harm. He’d refused a roadside breath test, probably because he knew he’d fail and was arrested.
It was only upon reflection that I realised that I wasn’t functioning under optimal conditions and cognitively, my cut off time is 8 or 9pm. My brain wants to chill out and watch television, not contend with ‘unpacking’ legal concepts and simultaneously interpreting between a spoken and signed language!
I arrived at the station and was introduced to the detained man. We checked that we understood each other. And then proceeded to the room where he’d be tested. His legal rights were read to him as we stood in front of the Intoximeter. I duly interpreted. He seemed to understand, but then he signed, “What’s my constitution?”
It didn’t make sense. We couldn’t proceed because I didn’t understand what he was trying to convey and he just kept repeating the same question. He was blowing wrong into the machine. Was his failure to master the technique down to my interpreting the instructions? Finally, he blew clear and was released without charge.
That assignment caused me sleepless nights. I should not have accepted the assignment. I wasn’t competent to undertake it. Such was my self-talk that I contemplated shelf-stacking at the local supermarket as an alternative career. Until, my friend and colleague, a sign language lecturer at the college we both worked at, shifted my perspective. He told me that a man at the Deaf club was boasting that he avoided a drink drive charge by deliberately signing nonsense to the interpreter and feigning confusion. As he recounted the tale, he shared it was the “Black interpreter.” (I was the only Black interpreter in my region, possibly even up North, at the time, so I was very visible and easily identifiable.)
The self-criticism was replaced with anger. How dare he? Did he know how bad I’d beaten myself up over that police job, while he regaled others with his anecdote of beating the system? Then, once the anger subsided, my perception shifted again to acceptance. When people are backed into a corner, they will do anything to get out. That includes using an interpreter as a scapegoat. It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t about me, nor my interpreting skills. It was a tactic, that, with some distance from the assignment, I was able to laugh at.
But I noted his name, and whenever I was asked to interpret, even during daylight hours, and it was him, suddenly I’d misread my diary and wasn’t available, as I first thought. I chose not to work with him again; I just didn’t tell anyone of my decision, nor why.
But going back to the questions at the start of this post, my expectation was that we all wanted to understand each other. My assumption was wrong.
We all had different goals:
- mine was to do a good job, get paid and catch a few hours sleep before work the next day.
- the police, I assume, was to enact the law, determine whether alcohol limits were within or exceeding the legal limit and proceed according to the results
- the detainee’s aim was to stall long enough in the hope that his alcohol reading would have dropped to within the legal limit
In the absence of shared outcomes, the other parties would, no doubt, become frustrated. Upon reflection, the experience becomes a learning curve – what, if anything, could you have done better and how? Would you do anything different if it happened again or not?
Reflective practice and experiencing sessions where people had ulterior motives and hidden agendas that were at variance with my own explicit intentions i.e. to interpret to the best of my ability, meant I was in a better position prior to assignments, or at the very start, to establish expectations, lay the foundations for effective communication to take place and withdraw from assignments where I felt my position was untenable.
I wonder whether, as META-Health professionals, parallels can be drawn between our practice with clients and experiences from within other fields?
Do we need regular supervision?
Is there a moral ‘duty’ to unofficially mentor newly qualified practitioners, until a more formal global mentorship scheme is established?
Is there a need for a mentorship scheme, centrally maintained by MHI? Do practitioners even want one?
How can we safely gain the experience required to continue developing as practitioners, while encountering clients who may not be a ‘good fit’ for us? Beyond gathering data on a client consent form, initial questionnaire and during an initial consultation, what happens when it becomes apparent that the working relationship has been compromised?
When do you refer on?
Who do you refer the client on to? Another META-Health practitioner – a master practitioner, specialist or trainer?
Perhaps you recommend an alternative approach to META-Health?
Or, do you end the relationship without offering the client an alternative?
I think there’s a discussion to be had about supervision, reflective practice and perhaps, even formalising continuing professional development to support practitioners and META-Health in our collective evolution.
What do you think?