Are We Making A Difference?

Are We Making A Difference?

The question that is never an easy one to answer with behavioral health services is how do we measure success?  How do we prove we are, indeed, making an impact?  We try to find things to measure like a decreasing number of calls to 911 or the number of times someone uses behavioral health services, but none of these really measure what we do every day…the impact we know we see in the faces of the community.

Making a difference, in the behavioral health setting, means something different to each person.  We often use the phrase “meeting someone where they are at.”  This doesn’t mean physically meeting them where they are located; but meeting them emotionally where they find themselves.  For one person, the biggest crisis they have ever faced is a speeding ticket; thus leading to a behavioral health intervention on the side of the highway.  Did we reduce measurable recidivism for that person?  No.  However, the influence that a listening ear had on that person’s life cannot be discounted.  For someone else, their crisis involves a combination of serious mental illness, substance use, and homelessness.  We cannot expect a change in behavior overnight; but a warm meal and a new pair of socks does, in fact, change that person’s life and set them, perhaps, on a changing course.

Being invited into someone’s life at their worst moment is a gift of extreme responsibility.  What we do in those moments, can change a life forever.  Occasionally, we are lucky enough to see an immediate change.  More often, however, we simply plant a seed.  Like any good gardener, we recognize that every seed germinates and grows at a different rate.  

It is not our job to define a crisis, it is our job to respond to it.  In the words of Anne Frank, “how wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment to save the world.”  

Are we doing the R.I.G.H.T. thing?  You bet we are. . . one seed at a time.

Tips for the Street: Active Listening

One of the most important skills when interacting with a person who is experiencing a behavioral health crisis is active listening.  The good news?  Anyone can do it!  Here are six phrases you can use to help:

  • “Do you mean . . .” the makes sure you understood what they were trying to say
  • “It sounds like . . . “  another way to provide clarification and demonstrate empathy
  • “Really?”  this phrase demonstrates encouragement to keep speaking and elaborate
  • “I’ve noticed that . . . “ by pointing out observations you are demonstrating you are paying attention to verbal and non-verbal communication
  • “Let me make sure I have this right.”  Summarizes what you have heard the say to validate you have been listening and understanding.
  • “I’m sorry.  That really ___.” Name the situation (stinks, is terrible, must hurt) to verbally acknowledge how crummy the situation is to validate their emotions.