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Why Do We Seek Change?

Why do we seek change? Is it inherent in our nature to always want something to be other than what it is, or are we, as human beings, always striving for a better answer, a more gratifying way to walk through life, or a more humane and just way to interact with others around us? Earlier in my own life, I was a musician and learned the power that one human being can have on another as I began to reach people’s emotions through music. I realized that we needed each other to help us sort through life’s mysteries and to journey on a satisfying pathway. It was the 1960s and 1970s and a time of tumultuous public events. I learned early that the world was not always even and fair and that there were people who were disempowered and disenfranchised by society, sometimes for no reason at all. I felt the need to try and change that. I knew where we were, and I knew where I wanted us to go. So I began my journey of change by applying for a master’s degree in social work.

Most human service professionals go into our line of work because they want to make the world a better place. Some may want to make the world a better and easier place than the one they grew up in. Many of us in human services choose our professions on the basis of our desire to “give back” to those who may have eased our own burdens as we made our way through life. I entered the field of social work for just those reasons. Yet, as I was taught how to practice and then began working in the field, something was not quite right. I was not seeing enough change in the people with whom I worked, and I was hearing many of my fellow practitioners agree that the causes were embedded in the course of the “disease” or in the person’s lack of desire to commit to treatment. Expectations and outcomes for people with serious mental health issues were different from outcomes for people who were working on other life issues. Many treatment programs used force and coercion, and other programs supported “chronicity” and passivity as acceptable outcomes. Was this making a better life for those with whom I was working? It didn’t seem so.

It was clear that I still had some learning to do, and that learning would come over the years as I listened to the voices of those I served. I worked with many different people who were at various stages of dealing with their mental health issues. It always seemed the same, in that people with a lived experience knew what they wanted but often were not encouraged to ask for it—and certainly were not encouraged to try to attain it. In fact, individuals who asked more strongly and more often ran the risk of being labeled as noncompliant and combative and often were discharged from the very programs and services that could have helped them attain their dreams. Even worse, they faced the risk of being forced to take medications or being hospitalized against their will.

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