More RESPECT Needed for People Being Served
Recently, I read a post by William White, the well-known Recovery advocate. The post dealt with the troublesome area of language used to describe, refer to people suffering from various conditions – addictions being only one. While some may respond to his post by thinking it is simply a radical neo-constructivist viewpoint, I think he is right on the mark. We all have conscious and unconscious biases, and we all “think” our own views hold merit. I believe a few simple reminders will help all Helpers learn and practice better ways to use language when referring to people who are suffering from various conditions. Let’s be real: we all are suffering from something, but some people suffer from far more serious and painful conditions in their lives. Helpers face major double binds when it come to the use of language and labels. To collect income for services, many of us must use DSM-V ( The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) related labels and clinical conditions to prove to payers that the clinical situation is important enough/serious enough to warrant payment for services. In other words we prove to the payers and the immense multiple layers of regulators and bureaucracy that the client/consumer/customer is eligible for covered services. Let’s NOT forget that it is a good thing when a person is eligible for services; intervention and support services, along with self-help, is often the most common pathway to recovery and well-being. The double-edged sword of psychobabble and psychiabable is quite daunting. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual requirements still need to be used when billing is involved for specific clinical/licensed services. However, that is where the marginalizing and difference-making language should END! There is no justification to carry such language into other conversations about or with clients/consumers/customers. So, STOP using the person’s clinical problem/diagnosis to describe them!
I offer a list of recommendations for you to consider.
Some come from White’s post and some come from me.
- Remember, that all people suffer from something – that only the intensity, duration, and harm are different.
- I like to use the terms “suffering from…” to describe a group of people with similar (but never the same) conditions. However, even “suffering from…” may feel pejorative to people with such conditions. I do think, however, that step one of AA suggest suffering has occurred.
- White recommends that we use terms like: “people with….” or “people affected by…,” or “people experiencing….” These suggestions make great sense and provide a subtle form of caring compassion for people who may suffer more than we (helpers) do – at least right now.
- He also suggests that the general public, which ALL of us have failed regarding stigma reduction and educational understanding of almost all conditions of suffering, may misunderstand the nature of such systems of recovery as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. He hints that the progressive, inclusive nature of such self-help organizations may leave the public thinking they are only for people with ongoing, active addictions and compulsions
- Perhaps no other group has suffered more from the general and professional publics’ use of devaluing and marginalizing language than those self-identifying as LGBT and LGBTQIA. We have a great deal of work to do to improve our language and attitudes when dealing with members this group.
- One of his suggestions is to consider the word “sobriates” to self-identify and identify people in recovery. This term implies there is no longer a need to use or misuse addictive substances.
- Along the same line of reasoning and fairness, he suggests we stop using terms like substance abuse. I prefer substance misuse, since this term could just about include all people who have ever used a mind-altering substance at any time in their lives. This is a huge group.
For more information refer to William White’s December 4, 2015 post about the use of language at www.williamwhitepapers.com. Retrieved on May 7, 2016.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
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