Frontline Initiative: Supporting Healthy Relationships

Frontline notes

The Dali Lama said it best,

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. “  

We need others in our lives. As our world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded how important our relationships are to us. While we practice "social distancing," we may experience how it feels to be isolated. We may not be able to go to the places we enjoy. We may not be physically present with our friends and family. We are reminded that we depend on each other in order for our society to work, and to bring our lives meaning. We are not here simply to exist, but to build healthy relationships. Healthy relationships help us to live our best lives. Living our best lives includes sharing our gifts, talents, unique perspectives, and experiences with each other. Many of the people we support have not had as many opportunities to develop relationships with friends, a significant other, or to express their sexuality. We know that our work as Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) includes developing healthy, professional relationships that support people to live active lives in their community. To support the skills you need as DSPs, we brought together authors to speak to this topic, “Supporting Healthy Relationships.”

colorful painting with four animals: a gray elephant, brown monkey, white rabbit, hornbill bird.

Four Harmonious Friends

We recently heard a traditional Bhutanese story entitled, the Four Harmonious Friends. The story is depicted here, with an elephant carrying a monkey. The monkey is carrying a hare, and the hare is carrying a hornbill bird. Each animal is on top of the other. The elephant, along with the other animals are standing under a fruit tree. The animals have an argument about living together. To sort out the argument they try to figure out who is oldest (and wisest) using their memories of the tree. After the elephant, the monkey, and the hare recount their early memories of the tree, the bird tells the others they planted the seed from which the tree grew. None of the other animals can remember a time before the tree was planted. So, the animals decide that the bird is oldest. But all the animals realize they have all enjoyed the tree. The elephant used the tree for shade. The monkey used the tree for swinging, the hare remembers the tree as a sapling. The story highlights how the four animals have lived together. They learn to respect and cooperate with one another. They help each other enjoy the fruits of the tree. The story highlights the importance of relationships and cooperation. This is not unlike our ideals for community living. We aim for respect and cooperation for the people we support to be a part of their community in the ways that they wish. Our role as DSPs is to listen and support them to develop friendships, healthy relationships with their family members, and significant others, and begin their own families.

This issue of Frontline Initiative focuses on developing awareness, knowledge, and skills for supporting healthy relationships. We also include information about tools and resources that you, as a DSP, can use for supporting people to develop both friendships and romantic relationships. We hope this issue inspires you to start a conversation with the people you support about the relationships they currently have and those they wish they could have. We hope you find some tools to help equip you as you support people to develop healthy relationships.

The editors

Frontline Initiative • Volume 16, number 1 • 2020

Editors: Julie Kramme and Chet Tschetter

Graphic design: Connie Burkhart

Web developers Shawn Lawler, Jonathon Walz, Kristin Dean

Editorial board

Tony Anderson, Robin Kusiak, Mary Lawson, Colleen McLaughlin, Diane Potts, Rachel Jacob, Robert Schier, and Eryn Starck

NADSP staff

  • Joseph Macbeth, President and CEO
  • Desiree Loucks Baer, Chief Operating Officer
  • John Raffaele, Director of Educational Services
  • Dan Hermreck, Director of Certification and Accreditation
  • Nicole Dama, Office and Communications Manager

NADSP board of directors

  • Caitlin Bailey PhD, Chair
  • Jeanne Farr, MA, Vice Chair
  • Josh Smith, Treasurer
  • Katherine Dunbar, Secretary
  • Cheryl Dougan, Director-At-Large
  • Chester Finn, Director-At-Large
  • Kelly Friedlander, MSW, MPA, Director-At-Large
  • John McHugh, MBA, MS, Director-At-Large
  • Chet Tschetter, Director-At-Large
  • Gabrielle Sedor, Director-At-Large
  • Becky Watson, Director-At-Large


If you are interested in contributing to Frontline Initiative or reprinting an article, please contact —

Julie Kramme or Chet Tschetter, Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, E-mail:

View past issues of Frontline Initiative here:

Frontline Initiative is supported through a cooperative agreement between the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education (#H133B080005) and the Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTC) at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the RTC, Institute, University of Minnesota, or their funding sources.

Frontline Initiative is available in alternate formats upon request.