As therapists we are positioned to bring new ideas and possible solutions to families of children with special needs. Often the families we are there to serve experience a “state of desparation” and “hopelessness”, floundering for ways to help their child. This state of vulnerability expressed by families can seemingly place us as professionals into potential positions of power over the family rather than in a mutual partnership.
Throughout my career as a therapist and teacher, I have faced many an accusation from my peers as offering “false hopes” to families through my enthusiasm and beliefs of human potential. The belief in the necessity to empower others through hopefulness and optimism is often misinterpreted as a misleading path of delusion that confuses and leaves families powerless.
This experience has intermittently resulting in my feeling daunted and saddened, left to explore the root of my reaction to these returning experiences. Why is it that so many find it necessary to champion “realism”, squash inspiration and dispell “denial”. What is the underlying fear experienced by so many? Why do we feel so responsible for the experiences of others?
What is hope?
Hope is defined as a “feeling of trust and a desire for good, it is accompanied by the assumption that the desire is attainable; requiring faith”. That is a loaded definition!
The description “feeling of trust and desire for good” implies an honest intention. An authentic desire for a positive outcome. The word honest demands self-inquiry and examination on the part of the therapist. An examination into the dark corners of the self; aspects of the ego that may be hooked into the powerful feelings linked to the helping role. Honest also requires an investigation into one’s personal beliefs about healing and the role we each play in this process.
In my experience of the healing process, healing and curing are often terms used interchangeably. The healing process being a movement from a state of dis-ease and discomfort towards ease. A process that does not always involve a cure.
Professionally, when we engage with a family in a therapeutic relationship it is necessary that we desire a positive outcome as an aspect of our intention, otherwise we would be of limited benefit to the situation. A positive outcome can be disguised in many forms, and may not always be apparent in the moment. One of my clients, who is now twenty years old recently reported that what he remembers most about his therapy sessions as a child was how good he felt about himself after the sessions and not the actual skills he learned at all!
As therapists we are in a position to support, encourage and empower families as they walk this path of healing. The ups, the downs, the flux, the dissapointments and the triumphs are all part of the journey we experience with clients. We are but a small piece of this process, with many other influences having impact upon each family’s individual experience. The intimacy of the relationship we share with our clients provides us with the opportunity to be an observer of the process with suggestions and ideas that may support families in shifting their perceptions of their experience. This is transformation in the making.
Ultimately, it is the family that is responsible for their choices! The healing responsiblity is ultimately an individualized one and not a path that follows any pre-determined prescription. Perhaps we will play a part in the healing process of our clients and perhaps we will not. It is not a situation that requires judgment; merely observation.
The second part of the definition of hope involves the “assumption that the desire is attainable?” This is the aspect of the definition that requires faith. Each of us as therapists bring to the therapeutic process a set of ideals, beliefs and assumptions about the human capacity for healing, change and growth. This spiritual aspect of our practice is often implicit and hidden in the background. Our increasing pressure for accountability, sustainability and professionaliaty emphasizes that we prove efficacy in all that we do. This is a contradiction to the process of healing which requires a state of hope and optimism in the human spirit beyond what is proven.
Hope can be an idea of the mind, that when lacking the ignition of faith is “false hope”. Hope can be a disguise for denial , but the continuum of hopefulness treads through phases of doubt and despair. We often aspire to be hopeful, but when change is not readily apparent in the healing outcome, we become discouraged. Without alignment between acceptance of what is and hopefulness for something more, hope merely becomes an intention rather than a true state of being.
Psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrinology, the science of mind body connection reminds us of the power of the state of mind over the physiology. When you are in a state of hopefulness, your cells are shining! Your immune system becomes primed for optimum state!
So how then can we create “false hopes”? Unless we are promising cures in our statements to families, best practice includes connection, inspiration and motivation to help clients learn and participate in the healing process.
Lastly, families who fall prey to “false hopes” and set off on a search for cures, are actively embarked upon the healing path. They are demonstrating to us clearly, where they are at in their healing experience. When we practice ethically, professionally and in good faith the intention of healing is in place. Inspiring hope with an authentic belief in human capactity, empowers others to believe in themselves as they experience the human journey.