Support and Empowerment… in Helping Others
How may our worldview influence our method when it comes to training and also helping others? If we do not acknowledge our own worldview, what impact may this have in how we support others? Also, how can we even begin to ponder what our worldview is, and so consider the above questions, if we don’t take the time to reflect and deeply contemplate on who we are and what we bring to a helping relationship?
These are questions that surfaced for me as I attended a ‘train the trainer’ program for a suicide alertness program called safeTALK last week. I have previously shared a short introduction to the program (https://safetyrisk.net/safetalk-suicide-alertness-program/) and as noted in that piece, I would further explore its methodology. This is what I intend to do here.
While some may find the tools presented in both safeTALK, as well as the other LivingWorks program I recommend called ASIST, useful if supporting someone having thoughts of suicide, it is the philosophy and methodology that lies behind both programs that stood out for me last week, as much as the tools.
Before I explore this further, I hope you don’t mind if I make a few short notes of self-reflection about my experiences and involvement with similar ‘train the trainer’ sessions.
I’ve been involved in workplace training for most of my career, spanning some 20+ years across a range of industries. This has included ‘teaching’ in the more formal environment of TAFE; ‘facilitating’ a regulator (at the time WorkCover NSW) approved training course for Health and Safety Committees and; ‘delivering’ a range of formal and informal training while working both within, and consulting to, organisations.
All the time I thought I had a good grip on teaching and in particular, learning. However, it has not been until recent years of; study, extensive reading, personal critique, reflection, tension, critical thinking, questions and some discomfort; along with; positive reinforcement, discovery, encouragement and importantly change, that I’ve begun to understand what it means to learn. So, what struck me the most with the safeTALK ‘train the trainer’?
To start, and in keeping with the points noted above, the trainer manual notes; “trainers are familiar with the amount of critical thinking that goes into the creation of a LivingWorks program.” I concur! I’ve seen plenty of generic ‘just follow the process’ trainer manuals and subsequent programs, however this was different. How?
The first example to highlight is that throughout the program, there is a strong emphasis on recognising the tension between what is explained as ‘support’ and ‘empowerment’. And rather than making an absolute argument for one or the other, they recognise and call out the tension between these binary opposites. Conceivably, the designers of this program understand and accept a paradoxical and dialectical way of thinking, helping and being? How so?
For a start, they describe how the program considers ‘support’;
“Some people are more inclined toward support… they tend to emphasise safety first. They are likely to surround a program with many safety features, including quality control measures and support for trainers.
…. When it comes to suicide, their basic motto is likely to be something like. “Practice what you teach”. They tend to see people who are hurting or disturbed as needing support and safety.”
Source: safeTALK Trainer Manual – Chapter 2 (2016, p.16)
However, it then moves on, to equally describe how ‘empowerment’ is also key to its philosophy;
“Others are more inclined toward empowerment… they tend to emphasize challenge first. They place less emphasis upon formalizing safety features, including quality control measures and support for trainers, assuming instead that others can do fine on their own.
…. When it comes to suicide generally, their basic motto is likely to be something like. “Help them to decide”. They tend to see people who are hurting or disturbed as being in a state of readiness for change and growth.”
Source: safeTALK Trainer Manual – Chapter 2 (2016, p.16)
Openly affirming such tension felt refreshing and liberating. So much better than the; “everyone must think like this”, approach that I’ve experienced in the past. And while I will now train others in the ‘method’ of safeTALK, I don’t feel the need to control, fix and govern them. Rather and instead, I will provide tools that they may use and practise for themselves. Of course, there is some tension in this, what do I mean?
Like many programs that provide a suggested ‘model to follow’, there is some element of ‘reproduction’ in the way that the model is both taught and practiced. For example, in safeTALK there is a strong emphasis to ‘trust the process’ (i.e. the TALK element of safeTALK). With this, it acknowledges that suicide is often a difficult topic of conversation and while on the one hand having a clear and easy to follow process may make this simpler, there are of course no guaranteed outcomes or results. We cannot predict, nor should we, how people will respond. So, while following the process may help, we need also to be conscious of not turning into, nor occurring to others as, an automated robot in the process. That is, not to make safeTALK just about a process, but also about a genuine concern for people with thoughts of suicide.
How may be overcome this challenge? Maybe the following questions will help in contemplating this?
As noted at the beginning of this piece, how may understanding ourselves and our own worldview be helpful? How could recognising where we sit on the ‘support’ and ‘empowerment’ spectrum help us to better help others? If our aim is to support and help others, how do we ourselves cope with the tension that lies between support and empowerment?
Maybe you also have other questions that come to mind? If you do, why not share?
If you or someone you know needs help now or in a crisis, Lifeline is available 24/7 on 13 11 14.