Article

Frontline Initiative: Self-Care for DSPs

"The Way of the Support Worker"
Book Review

Authors

Mary M. Lawson is Administrator at PAKS Developmental Services in Ogallala, Nebraska.

Image of the cover of the book "The Way of the Support Worker"

The Way of the Support Worker, (2016). Kevin Alexander, NADD-DSP, Published by NADD Press.

This book is a must-read for anyone who supports people. It is helpful for all Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) regardless of your job position, your title, or your pay grade. This book can be used by individuals, teams, and organizations to discuss challenges and to develop solutions to address those challenges.

Kevin Alexander guides us through his career as a DSP, the lessons he learned, and how he has managed to continue to do the important work of supporting people for more than 20 years. The 10 chapters are packed with bits of wisdom. It asks tough questions of us as DSPs. It challenges long-held beliefs and attitudes about how we support people.

The Way of the Support Worker is not for the faint of heart. It took me months to make it through. However, that may not be the case for you. I read and highlighted a few pages, then I had to lay it down and process what it said. The following are a few concepts from the book that resonated with me, followed by my thoughts about how the concept has influenced my work.

“It is time to start to listen to the people we support and start to help them with what they need to survive in this world.”

How often do I just want to “fix” or “protect” the person that I serve? How often am I telling someone, “No, I don’t think so” instead of supporting them in and through the situation.

It continues to be a struggle to support to a life full of meaning and adventure when it is easier to protect them. I need to remember to ask myself, “How will this person get along when I am no longer around to support them?”

“I am not there to do what others do not like to do. If I do dislike working for someone, I belittle the people that I support and myself.”

I think that it is in the nature of the majority of us who enter this field as DSPs to be a helper/doer for the people that we serve. We jump in too soon to assist, or even deny the person opportunity because we do not believe that they could or should be participating in something. We devalue the people we serve by not supporting them to be empowered to take informed and dignified risks.

“Longevity in frontline work is a constant balancing act that requires continual adjustments.”

As DSPs, we must take care of ourselves. Doing quality work with purpose and intent takes all the mental, emotional, and physical energy that we can muster up. We get so busy taking care of others that we often forget to stop, rest, and renew. Often, we work extra shifts and have limited financial resources. Both of these present challenges to our own self-care. Focus your free time on things and people that bring you joy. Weed out the negative. Start with just 10-15 minutes a day. Focus on something positive that brings you joy. If you enjoy reading, find a good book and escape for 10-15 minutes. Your local library is a great resource for free downloads and for borrowing books. This is just one example.

“Doing quality work with purpose and intent takes all the mental, emotional, and physical energy that we can muster up. We get so busy taking care of others that we often forget to stop, rest, and renew.”

“I always have a choice to feed someone’s reaction or not. I choose to feed positive, healthy reactions and ignore negative and destructive reactions.”

I don’t recall when it finally sunk in that I needed to respond to the positive aspects in a person’s life as opposed to constantly reminding them of what they did wrong. My least favorite phrase that is often used is “that’s not appropriate.” This phrase feels belittling. I look forward to the day when I hear the response, “Then teach me what is appropriate.”

“Purpose is an essential aspect of our work. Intention is vital to the ability to survive the long days. Knowing why you are there is fuel and provided action in your day.”

How often do we show up for a shift but we are not really ready for the day? Knowing our long-term purpose of our presence at someone’s home or job is critical. When we work with positive intent toward the purpose and the outcome, we are more successful in our work and so are the people that we support. I challenge you to ask yourself if you know your long-term purpose, not just your day-to-day purpose. If you don’t know your purpose, do yourself and the people you support a favor and find out. When you know your purpose, review it every day until it is in the forefront of your mind when you do to work. Going to work with purpose and intent will fuel you.

“When you know your purpose, review it every day until it is in the forefront of your mind when you do to work. Going to work with purpose and intent will fuel you.”

“I am there to teach as much as I am there to learn. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.”

We can learn from each person that passes through our life. We have to be open to listening to those nuggets of wisdom that people drop. My first position as a DSP was in South Texas. For a Nebraska native, I had a lot to learn about the culture. I was tasked with teaching one young woman how to prepare her favorite meal. It involved Spanish rice and tostadas. I had never heard of a tostada. Nor did I know that Spanish rice in Texas is not the same as Spanish rice is in Nebraska. When I admitted to this young lady that I didn’t know how to make a tostada or Texas Spanish rice, she laughed at me and said “Come on I will show you.” She taught me all she knew about her favorite meal. Today when I am training other DSPs, I remind them that it is not only okay, but also really humbling to have moments when you don’t know how to do something, and it provides the person you support the opportunity to teach you.

“The fact that frontline workers are fighting with other frontline workers takes away from the work we need to get done and the point of what we are doing.”

Communication and positive relationships are two of the most difficult things we humans have to work through. As DSPs, our purpose first and foremost is to provide support to those we serve. It is inevitable that conflict will arise. While conflict is often uncomfortable, it can render a positive outcome when we work through it in an objective way. Where there is not conflict, there is not passion. Going through a conflict resolution process can provide a “win-win” situation.

I hope that you are curious about the book, and that you too will find it helpful in reflecting on your work.

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