Philosophy vs Belief

Change in an organization’s philosophy of treatment is not an easy thing to implement. It requires a belief in the new philosophy at every level: administrative, clinical, managerial, and direct support. “Philosophy” is a soft word; pleasing to the ear, and eloquent to speak.  This word (though pleasing) doesn’t quiet feel tangible. Before a new philosophy can be put into practice, it must evolve into a belief.

Emily Oliver, one of my college professors, first put me onto the idea many years ago, when she said something that has always stuck with me: Never say you ‘think’ a certain way. Always, say, ‘I believe…’” Her reasoning was that thoughts are mostly opinions, which are often easily swayed. A “belief,” on the other hand, is something you hold onto strongly and isn’t as easy to break.

In thinking about her words as they apply to Grafton’s philosophical change to a “Comfort vs Control” approach in providing treatment, the biggest challenge, from my perspective, has been in transforming this philosophy from a thought into a belief for all of us.

Personally, I already believe in “Comfort vs Control.” In my role at Grafton, I am, to a degree, an agent of change. Part of my job is to teach both the nonphysical and physical methods of this approach and do my best to facilitate the philosophy into a belief in each staff member I help train. However, this isn’t always easy!

Over the past seven years, I have heard some staff resistant to this change.  Thankfully, with each year, the resistance has diminished. When I say “resistance,” I am referring mainly to this particular statement: “These kids don’t have any consequences!” Translation: our clients don’t receive any punishment for negative behavior.

It isn’t entirely accurate, of course, to say that our clients don’t experience consequences. But it is true we don’t purposely punish negative behavior. Instead, we work to reward/reinforce positive behaviors.

When I meetthis kind of resistance, my first thought is that it comes out of a punitive, controlling mindset. But whenever the “consequences” idea pops up, I try to listen closely and patiently, as the person vents their frustration.

Because that’s what is underneath the mindset: frustration. When a client is physically aggressive or blatantly defiant, it can be extremely frustrating to maintain composure and show patience and kindness. Offering comfort may not be our first impulse in these situations, but it needs to be, and it will be if we have a genuine, strongly held belief—rather than simply an opinion—that “Comfort vs. Control” really works.

We need to remind ourselves—and at times have others remind us—that our responsibility is to keep the individual safe and look for the reasons behind his or herbehavior. If all we do is take the negative behavior at face value, then it can indeed seem hopeless.

No one simply has a behavior. He or she “uses” a behavior. It is our job to figure out it’s happening.

I like to address the statement of “not having any consequences” with some ideas and stories to help change a skeptical staff member’s perspective to belief:

  1. If we could offer a punishment (or reward) that would instantly stop the negative behavior, our clients wouldn’t need to be in a treatment setting. They would be able to function successfully in a public school system and/or home.
  2. Many of our clients have already been through multiple placements and have received punishment based programming, but it hasn’t worked. That’s why a lot of them are referred to Grafton.
  3. Some of our clients have already suffered some of the worst punishments imaginable at home, and that hasn’t worked either. I offer the story of a former client who we once served. When the individual would act out at home, the parent burned the child with a hot clothing iron. But even this wouldn’t stop the child from exhibiting negative behavior! So, if burning the person with a hot iron didn’t stop their behavior, what punishment could we possibly hand out that would make a difference?

As I said earlier, sometimes we need to be reminded of who we are to our clients, and why we do what we do—why “Comfort vs Control” needs to be our belief instead of simply our philosophy, or idea, about how things should be done. Despite our frustrations at the negative behaviors many clients exhibit, our data of our client’s progress largely enforces my belief in “Comfort vs Control,” and I hope it does yours, as well.