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The five most important influences on my understanding of what is right and what is wrong were Stephen Fry, Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Gaiman, as well as two books, “The Little Prince” and “Catch-22”. The mentioned authors and the books translate the same idea about human dignity, the value of human life, acceptance of others, and need of diversification. At the same time, they put emphasis on how bureaucracy, war, and ineffective cooperation can ruin people’s lives and make them appear invaluable.
I value respect because without it persons are at risk of violating the private life of others. Respect should not come from person’s status or position; it is an attitude that we should have toward whom and what we confront.
I also value understanding because its lack often leads to dreadful consequences such as racism, discrimination, violence, and neglect. Without understanding, cooperation is not possible, and without cooperation, humanity will not be able to make the world a safer place.
I value support because it is a strong force that can carry one through rough times and help the person view a tragedy as a period and not a constant. The lack of support can lead to isolation and aggressiveness, as well as hopelessness.
To live morally, one should:
- Respect oneself and others
- Approach their thoughts and opinions of others critically
- Address situations both from an emotional and rational point of view
- Understand that one’s own life and the lives of others are complex mixtures of moral and less moral decisions, conflicts, emotions, interactions, etc.
The majority of these ideas is expressed by different humanists (e.g., Stephen Fry) and often translated via liberal and democratic media. In the era of fake internet news, critical approach toward it is necessary.
My biggest heroes are Kurt Vonnegut and Neil Gaiman because they are able to use their talent and fame to teach younger generations that the world can be a better place if humanity will put an effort in it. Despite the challenges they both have faced, they remained respectful to others and their former and current families, and had (or still have) faith in humanity and the future of our planet. The virtue of Kurt Vonnegut was in his ability to transform pain into art and lessons, showing readers how one could cope with trauma non-tragically and remain open to others. The virtue of Neil Gaiman is his compassion and respect toward those who need help (e.g., refugees) and his confidence that within each human there is a unique world that hides both miracles and tragedies.
Politeness is highly significant to me because it is the most basic part of respect and human dignity. Without politeness, effective cooperation and communication are rarely possible, and interpersonal relationships are at risk of collapsing. I also believe that politeness can teach individuals to respect personal space of others and understand how not to intrude into the life of those close to the individual. Politeness is the first step toward mutual respect, especially in groups that are going through a conflict situation. Per se, politeness cannot erase such serious problems as racism and discrimination, but it can emphasize those to the individuals who cannot or do not want to see them. Politeness also helps evaluate one’s own behavior and see whether it can potentially harm anyone or, alternatively, support somebody.
The Least Comfortable Group
I would feel least comfortable when working with persons who perpetrate: child sexual abuse, domestic violence, rape, and racial hatred and those who abuse drugs and/or alcohol. The potential aggressiveness and conflict behavior might adversely influence the course of counseling. At the same time, stigmatization and stereotypes about both groups can also affect my perception of them. From a rational point of view, these individuals require help because they might have mental illnesses or traumatic past. However, from an emotional perspective, it might be difficult to distance myself from the crimes they committed (more applicable to those who perpetrate child sexual abuse, domestic violence, rape).
As to the working process with persons with drug/alcohol abuse, it will be difficult because I have rarely encountered such behavior in my life. I have never considered drugs as an option, and during my teenage years, I viewed those who used drugs and alcohol as weak. I see the problem differently now, but former perceptions might still resonate with me during my work with such individuals.
The Somewhat Comfortable Group
I would include persons with AIDS to this group. The reason behind my decision is the stigmatization of such individuals that I still cannot fully overcome. It is evident that the disease should not be associated with people who engage in marginal behaviors as it was believed several decades ago, but such stereotyping still influences my perception of this group. The responsibility for this approach toward the group is mine since I believe that these people should not be marginalized and worked with differently only due to their condition or HIV status. An important part of counseling is intervention, “change in the client’s thoughts, perceptions, and actions, as well as change in the environment that affects or impinges the client” (Sheafor & Horejsi, 2014, p. 18). If I as a counseling professional am unable to address and erase my stigmatization of this group, no successful intervention will also be possible because these individuals face marginalization and stigmatization every day and should not be exposed to it during their sessions with a counselor.
The Most Comfortable Groups
I would include the three remaining groups in this section: persons who are homeless, persons with concerns about sexual orientation, and women seeking abortion counseling. Although I used to have stereotypes about these groups when I was younger, I have successfully worked on them and overcome internal stigmatization. I understand that the background and experience of these people do not define them as individuals, as well as their current issues (homelessness, sexual orientation, abortion). Since they face a difficult event or even a crisis in their life, my responsibility as a professional is to address their problem using suitable tools (e.g., dialectical behavioral therapy, trauma-related approaches), assess their need of care, understand family life cycle, etc. (Sheafor & Horejsi, 2014). I also think that with these groups I will be able to continually practice, evaluate, and improve my ability to counsel professionally.
The mentioned groups might be exposed to stigmatization from strangers and/or family, and the counselor’s neutral (i.e., not bound with stereotypes) approach toward them and their problem will partly ensure fruitful and effective therapy. As Sheafor and Horejsi (2014) point out, clients are not influenced by the theory but by the worker’s actions; unbiased action and perception are obligatory for effective counseling.
Nonverbal communication is an important part of both everyday communication and counseling. First, nonverbal communication can reveal cultural differences between the client and the counselor, thus showing the values of the latter. For example, expression of grief and happiness may differ in various cultures, and the client can misinterpret my reactions toward his or her emotional expressions. Furthermore, the client’s discussion of specific events that took place in their life might cause a specific reaction from the counselor that will reveal my attitude toward some of the client’s characteristics or decisions (e.g., domestic violence, decision to use drugs, conflicts, thoughts on abortion, etc.). The counselor’s decision to shorten or increase conversation distance can also reveal my reaction toward the expressed opinion or described deed; it will be noticed immediately by the client and, possibly, addressed. If it is not addressed, the client might form a negative opinion about the counselor, as well as believe that their problem or issue is not perceived in an appropriate manner or belittled.
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Furthermore, lifestyle will also indicate my values. For example, if a client with an alcohol addiction will find out that the counselor does not drink and smoke, jogs, and attends meditation sessions twice a week, he or she might assume that the counselor will find it difficult to understand how painful it is to cope with and work on such addiction. The physical appearance of the counselor might also negatively influence the working process. For example, if a person struggles to obtain positive self-perception due to living in poverty, a counselor that is dressed in closing manufactured by famous brands might be perceived as somebody unfamiliar with the client’s problems and therefore unable to help.
Some of the clients might discuss potentially dangerous behavior (e.g., people with AIDS with unknown HIV status, unwillingness to use condoms, etc.) that will create an ethical dilemma for the counselor and lead to non-verbal disagreement with the client (e.g., changing the ton of conversation, frown, etc.). These discrepancies in values can lead to a conflict between the social worker and the client.
Homeless people might be influenced by the counselor’s lifestyle and quality of life (e.g. if he or she has a car, an apartment/a house, etc.) and lead to the belief that the counselor will not be able to enhance the client’s quality of life and understand their aims (Dolgoff, Harrington, & Loewenberg, 2012).
Persons with concerns about sexual orientation might be influenced by the counselor’s marital status or whether they have a husband/a wife (e.g., single asexual people can be reluctant to share information regarding their orientation due to fear of being misunderstood by a married person).
Women who seek abortion counseling and the counselor can have polar views on it (when one person is religious, and the other is not), which can cause misunderstandings between the individuals.
Clients who abuse drugs and/or alcohol might express less trust in their counselor and the effectiveness of sessions if they find out that the social worker him/herself or their family do not consume alcohol or are against drug (e.g., marijuana) legalization.
Various perpetrators, including people who committed sexual abuse, domestic violence, or racial hatred, might recognize the counselor’s negative attitude toward the crimes committed, as well as understand that the counselor’s responsibility is also to protect the victim of abuse, especially if the perpetrator and the victim are living in the same house (Dolgoff et al., 2012). The social worker’s decision to report a situation can also make clients reluctant to share information about previous or recent incidents (e.g., a conflict with a wife/husband that led to domestic violence).
Dolgoff, R., Harrington, D., & Loewenberg, F. (2012). Ethical decisions for social work practice. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Sheafor, B. W., Horejsi, C. R. (2014). Techniques and guidelines for social work practice. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, Inc.