Frontline Initiative: The Diverse Voices of Direct Support Professionals
Staying True to Yourself in Your Work
Author, Diane Potts
I (Diane) am an E-Badge Reviewer for the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) areas of Cultural Reflection and Cultural Connections which are part of Cultural Competency. I have great respect for the work of many amazing direct support professionals (DSPs) supporting people with cultures that are different from their own. In these cases, you need to add a level of sensitivity to each individual’s preferences. This requires you to be open, aware and willing to adapt your language, your activities, your actions and even your attitude. Consistently, this is what I note and admire in the work samples that come in for review as a part of E-Badge submissions.
But what happens when DSPs find themselves in a situation that places their role to support an individual at odds with their own core values and beliefs? How do you provide best practice and support the beliefs of others without compromising your own strongly held beliefs?
But what happens when direct support professionals (DSPs) find themselves in a situation that places their role to support an individual at odds with their own core values and beliefs? How do you provide best practice and support the beliefs of others without compromising your own strongly held beliefs? I noticed over the past few months that more E-badge submissions were revealing a sense that the DSP needed to ignore their own convictions in order to support diverse preferences of the individuals they supported. This actually does not align with the intent of the standards. True, each of us can learn, reflect and adapt, but there should be no expectation that one person’s views are more important than another’s views. The two areas are defined as:
- Cultural Reflection: Recognizes own biases and doesn’t let them interfere in work relationships.
- Cultural Connections: Assists the individual to find social, learning, and recreational opportunities valued in his or her culture.
DSPs often face dilemmas where the person they support has differing values and beliefs than their own. They are ongoing and never easy. It can be helpful to hear from other experienced DSPs who have grappled with this issue to shed light on upholding the NADSP Code of Ethics when our personal values are in conflict. The Code of Ethics reminds us, “As a DSP, my first allegiance is to the person I support; all other activities and functions I perform flow from this allegiance.” My fellow E-badge reviewer, Don Traynor, also has a career as a DSP. I invited him to share his perspective and how he balances this tight rope.
Author, Don Traynor
Years ago, my (Don’s) colleague Lisa Burck shared with me an important mantra. This has supported me in situations where I have been responsible to shift my perspective when providing supports to people in situations where some of the person’s beliefs, values, and attitudes may not align with my own. While this can be difficult, it’s important to have the ability to recognize the purpose of your presence in the life of someone you support. My professional role is to provide support as a conduit to help someone else execute their life on their terms. I’m not being asked to change my belief system to do this. The mantra has helped me so often to develop the ability to “see myself in the work.”
An example in which I made an adjustment after recognizing a personal bias in myself that was interfering with my ability to provide person-centered support existed when I was working a shift that required me to support a man on Sunday mornings as he attended his church. The church he attended was not the same denomination as my church and I was initially hesitant about being asked to take him to church because I was not familiar with the culture of the church and the rituals of how they worshipped. As I performed cultural reflection, I was able to quickly reach a place where I realized that my job requires me to support an individual and things that are important to him or her, not necessarily hold the exact same values and beliefs. By doing this I was able to respectfully support him as he worshipped and not feel as if I was being forced to identify with his spiritual beliefs if they did not match my own.
The reflection and adjustment I made is consistent with the NADSP Code of Ethics in several ways. Firstly, my reflection and actions demonstrated an allegiance to the person I support because I did not put my values and beliefs before his. I understood my professional role to act in collaboration with the man, which demonstrated integrity and responsibility. I respected him and his choice to worship as he believes, which is also supporting justice, fairness, and equity. By supporting him at the church of his choice I am encouraging self-determination and also helping him develop and maintain friendships and relationships. By supporting him in attendance at his church I am playing a role in promoting his emotional and spiritual well-being.
It’s interesting and appropriate that the two NADSP areas we are discussing in this article, Cultural Reflection and Cultural Connections, contain two words which I feel are keys to empower you to perform at your highest level as a DSP. Those words are “Reflection” and “Connection.
Being culturally competent involves being able to recognize your biases and not let them interfere in your work relationships. As a mechanism for recognition, you need to spend some time, as I say, dipping your toes in the pool of reflection. This is about gaining an understanding of where you are coming from and how you feel about topics informed by your personal values and beliefs.
Being culturally competent involves being able to recognize your biases and not let them interfere in your work relationships. As a mechanism for recognition, you need to spend some time, as I say, dipping your toes in the pool of reflection. This is about gaining an understanding of where you are coming from and how you feel about topics informed by your personal values and beliefs. This exercise is important because when you are charged with providing support for a person, it is important that you have a baseline understanding of how you personally feel about things. Once you have that, you are in a position to educate yourself on another’s culture, another side of the coin. Yes, sometimes there are more than two sides to a coin! I feel taking this approach demonstrates integrity. It softens the intensity of being challenged by alternate viewpoints. Seeing myself in the work means I uphold my responsibility to be true to myself but also support a person to gather information, so they are ultimately prepared to make an informed choice, especially when it involves cultural preferences.
The other word is “connection.” Honestly, I feel you might find this to be an area where you are simultaneously uncomfortable yet also exhilarated. It’s been said that all the good stuff starts right about at the point where your comfort zone ends. In direct support, you might find yourself doing work that stretches your comfort level! Seeing yourself in the work of connection allows you to act with the goal of supporting an individual to find learning, social, and recreational opportunities that they value. This can be especially powerful when you support the person to make connections with people who share similar beliefs and values.
I provided supports to a man living in an IRA with seven other gentlemen. This gentleman enjoyed an Italian heritage and had participated in many activities related to his ethnic culture throughout his life, almost always with his parents. Unfortunately, his mother had recently passed and his father’s health was not too good. A cultural activity that was a tradition and important to the man was the upcoming yearly Italian Festival held in his city. Now that he was no longer going to go with his parents, I knew it was my responsibility to keep this man connected with his Italian heritage by learning about his preferred traditions and supporting him as he desired to attend events he valued.
The Italian Festival weekend came, and I was delighted to provide supports to the man so he could attend. He was known to many others in attendance, and he was able to connect with them in this celebration of his Italian heritage in the way of food, music, and dancing. I learned quite a bit as well and together we were able to introduce and share some of the aspects of his culture he enjoyed most, especially food, with the other men he lived with at his home.
If you happen to know about the cultural endeavor where you are providing support, you have an opportunity to share your experiences to provide exceptional support. However, if the culture is new to you there is also a wonderful opportunity to learn side-by-side with the person as you provide support. In either case, it’s a win-win scenario if you can develop the ability to see yourself in the work and know that you don’t have to disregard your personal beliefs and values in order to support someone in developing and refining their own.