I was doing some training lately with a small staff group and talking about the “free expression of emotions” aspect of RP, i.e. the idea that it’s recommended to share emotions, tell people how you feel, etc. And someone made the point that they’d be afraid if someone else told them at the start of the day that they weren’t feeling great, for fear they would have to “carry” the other person for the day. And it got me thinking. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard such a sentiment and, no doubt, won’t be the last. I’ve probably thought it myself on more than one occasion over the years. “I’ve enough to be dealing with looking after the young people, never mind my colleagues. Why don’t they just do their job?” Equally, I know I’ve also gone to work on occasions wishing I could tell someone how I felt and not done so. You could argue that society in general is pretty useless at knowing what to do when someone is having a bad mental health day. Then again “we don’t know what we don’t know”. But we’re in the RP business now and we do know what to do, because the principals and ethos can guide us.
Firstly though, is the principal of free expression of emotions, the 4th key element of RP (the others being Social Discipline Window, Fair Process and the Questions), correct? Or, are you better to keep things in? I think it’s fair to say, “it depends”. Certainly, no one would advocate walking around telling every person you meet all your thoughts and feelings, but let’s consider our worker from earlier on who’s not feeling great and his/her colleague who may not want to know about it. If the worker doesn’t confide something in relation to how they are feeling, he/she might go into their work distracted by their thoughts and feelings, not focused on the young people and disaster may ensue for either staff and/or young person. At a minimum, they will spend the day in survival mode, unsupported and more focused on their own needs than those of the young person – not an ideal scenario either. (The added tragedy of course is that everyone will be likely to see that something is not right, even when the person thinks they are “keeping it together”).
What then if they tell someone and the other person doesn’t know what to do? This is the real fear of everyone, both the worker unwilling to speak and the other worker terrified how to respond. And it’s an understandable fear. Nobody wants to put themselves out there only to be let down further. Thankfully RP has the answer – and it’s a combination of active listening, working “with” the person and using question no. 6 on the cards, i.e. “what do you think needs to happen next?” When I explained this to the worker from earlier on, there was a kind of eureka moment, as they realized that the answer could actually be using RP principals. Just by listening to someone’s story and asking what they needed, rather than assuming they needed to be carried, could you live the RP principals AND help the other person get on with their day. You didn’t have to carry your colleague, you didn’t even have to come up with the answers for them. You just needed to work with them. Suddenly, something that was so complicated became so simple. (Incidentally, if the other person by some chance did ask to be metaphorically “carried” you can always state your own needs, i.e. you need their input also, and still ask the question how we can work together).
Knowing the theory is one thing. Applying it is something else. But sometimes it’s transferring the applications to a new area which we’re not used to using it is what catches us. We don’t even consider that RP can be used here. So the next time you find yourself stuck in a situation just ask can RP be applied here. There’s every chance it can and you too will have your eureka moment. Even if not, it never hurt just to ask a question. Best of luck!
My name is Joe Power and I am the restorative practice development officer in Limerick since May 2018. I first came to RP in 2016 when it was introduced to the residential centre where I also work. I thought I would start to write a little about my experiences in developing both my own understanding of RP, as well as my experiences in trying to spread RP across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for other's to benefit from these thought (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it. Also please e-mail any thoughts/comments/stories you might have to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.