This is the second article from a guest writer, Kadampa Buddhist and student social worker. For the first, see Meditation Helps Me Be a Better Social Worker and Vice Versa.
The problem is not in the person — the problem is the problem and the person is the person.
~ Solution-focussed social work theory
Our problems do not exist outside our mind. The real nature of our problems is our unpleasant feelings, which are part of our mind.
~ How to Solve Our Human Problems, Gyatso, 2005, p3.
When I first started training as a social worker I was immediately drawn to an approach which I feel is similar to Buddhism. It’s called “solution-focussed assessment and intervention”. As the first quote says, you don’t identify a problem in the person — the person is the person, the problem is the problem — and it is about identifying with solutions, and not giving too much energy to problems.
This reminded me of my Buddhist practice of trying to acknowledge my delusions, then let go of them and increase my positive qualities (solutions), and how as an aspiring Bodhisattva I can have a special view of others by not looking at their negative qualities, but focus on their good qualities and let these outshine any negative ones. As Geshe Kelsang often says:
“Where is a problem? It does not exist outside our mind.”
Many social workers are into empowering people and I find solution-focussed social work to be empowerment at its very best. You try and get clients to understand that they don’t have to identify with their problems, to get them to try and see the changeability of a problem and that they can eventually deal with and even transform the situation.For example in a mental health charity I worked for I helped a service user realise that external problems such as personal relationship difficulties and negative people within the community weren’t always problems and that, when she was feeling good, the people were friendly and the problems weren’t there as much. She understood the changeability of the situations and my advice helped a little. This person lacked self-esteem but I was able to help her improve her view of herself by helping her understand her good qualities such as being a good cook, being good at arts & crafts and being a very social person. She learned to deal with her problems and difficulties better.
As a social worker you are a mediator between an individual and society. You are concerned with helping vulnerable people and can often be a positive change agent for individuals. Helping vulnerable people can be very beneficial. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune my teacher Geshe-la quotes Arya Asanga’s eleven ways of helping others such as: alleviating the suffering of others and offering them assistance in their work, teaching others skills when they do not know how to accomplish tasks, removing dangers that threaten others, consoling others when they are in grief and giving material assistance to those who are destitute. (Gyatso, 2006, p457)
My Kadampa values have definitely helped me in my social work practice! Through them I am now adopting my own individual assessment and intervention approach based on solution-focussed theory. You always have to be aware of risk and assess this, but resilience, people’s strengths and solutions to problems are the main emphasis.
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Other articles by our guest social worker are available here.