In this insightful debut, a Dutch social worker lobbies for a more enlightened understanding of so-called “problem behavior.”
According to Bettinger, it’s easy for caregivers to misinterpret or ignore their loved ones’ or clients’ needs and treat unpleasant actions as behavioral problems—particularly if those people can’t speak or express their needs appropriately. Bettinger dramatically illustrates this point by recounting how being sexually abused as a child led to his difficult behavior, such as constant arguing and running away from home: “I can now understand that I gave many signals to the outside world without ever telling the story.” Throughout the book, the author stresses the importance of respecting clients as individuals, a notion that he embeds in the book’s title: “If we actually stand still beside each individual, we will get to know him better….We will gain more insight into the meaning of his signals.” This is a book of short, high-impact chapters, each laced with engaging case studies and closing with provocative “Reflective questions.” The chapters address key elements of caregiving and, more importantly, the perceptions that caregivers have of their clients. In one chapter, for example, Bettinger uses two case studies to illustrate how always initially saying “yes” to a client’s questions and wishes can lead to fruitful discussion, which can solve problems in a more equitable way. Another chapter presents, rather starkly, reasons why notations in a client’s file can sometimes do more harm than good. What caregivers write in a file, says Bettinger, “is often subjective, and therefore hardly in the best interests of a client.” There’s real power in the author’s prose, and his passion and clarity of purpose pervade the text. Moreover, he demonstrates a keen understanding that a person’s “problem behavior” can alert caregivers to issues that can be addressed. The author’s advocacy for clients is unbending as he exhorts readers to “reflect on ourselves more” and “repeatedly ask critical questions.”
A revelatory, compassionate wake-up call for caregivers that’s written with a critical eye.