Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Makes That Orange Different Than The Others?

My husband and I have finally gotten around to watching Orange is the New Black. If you haven't heard of it, it's loosely based on the memoir of a woman who went to prison for around a year due to being involved in a drug cartel shortly after college. She stopped being involved, ten years goes by, and then she is named as an accomplice. The statute of limitations was not over, and she was advised to plead guilty and serve time.

In the series, the main character Piper (based on the author) appears to be treated with more respect than the other inmates by Sam, an officer and counselor. Sam seems to have clout in managing the prison. We haven't finished the series, so I don't know how their relationship plays out. After watching the fourth episode, my husband asks, "Why does Sam favor Piper? She's an inmate, too."

The show is sensationalist, but the general social dynamic reminded me of what someone might find in some mental health settings. This is how I explained the Sam/Piper phenomenon:

"Imagine you work in a mental health setting. All day long, you interact with people who yell at you, use drugs, ignore your recommendations, and come from an environment that is socioeconomically disadvantaged. And then, every so often, there is that one person who comes to your office that seems a little like you. They have some sort of education, do what you ask, make polite conversation, are of a socioeconomic class similar to yours, and may even be the same race as you. You click with them. It makes you feel like you're actually making a difference because they seem to be doing well in the grand scheme of things."

Made sense to him.

Behavior occurs as the result of circumstance. In most situations, people have legitimate objections to what goes on in their environments and the recommendations they are given by mental health professionals. Do people always use strategies that are effective and not harmful? No. If people were always skillful and rational, I would not have a career. Some folks go to extreme ends to meet their needs, but at the end of the day meeting needs is what we all do.

I have witnessed the scenario I described above on more than one occasion in multiple health professions. I don't think providers do it on purpose in general, rather they do it unconsciously. Everyone gets along with some people more than others, usually people who have things in common. It's normal. I think the key for professionals is to be mindful of how we act towards the people we work for (The people we serve), and find ways to assist in differing needs as opposed to assuming what works for one person works for everyone.

My generalizations and opinion.

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