Monday, March 8, 2010

An Orientation to Practice

With every client encounter, I have an opportunity to change the way that they experience the health care system. The way I orientate myself to my work, the way I enter into the space between myself and my client is integral in creating an environment that encourages change, growth, renewal and healing.

Among other things, I along with my esteemed colleague A.S., have been working on articulating an 'orientation to practice' that captures the essense of a culturally safe approach to working in the area of abuse and neglect with vulnerable First Nation adults.

The front line struggle of 'how to be most effective but least intrusive' in responding to reports of abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults is made even more complex when working across culture with vulnerable First Nation adults. Knowing that historically the very presence of health care clinicians (aka. 'outsiders') in the lives of First Nation individuals and communities has been experienced as 'intrusive', I grapple even more with the question of how to do this work well.

Abuse, neglect, vulnerablity... these are not medical conditions that can be cured or fixed with a 'one size fits all' approach. These are complex relational realities influenced greatly by historical circumstances and diverse social factors, the impact of which are not just experienced in the present but woven through and across multiple generations. Responding to and intervening in situations of abuse and neglect is a complex endeavor that extends beyond the limits of medical expertise. It requires clinicians to broaden the scope of understanding to include the historical, social and cultural context of any given situation, the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual functioning of the vulnerable adult and how the interplay of these elements contribute to a more accurate assessment of vulnerablity, risk and well-being. In my frontline work in this area of practice it has became clear that a different approach is required, a different dialogue and a different level of engagement, particularily when working with vulnerable First Nation adults, their families and in their communities.

The "orientation to practice' that has been articulated in a recent working paper is a 'hybrid' approach, drawing on indigenous knowledge, valuable concepts and models of cross cultural practice and social work theory, insight from research on abuse prevention and social determinants of health, and anecdotal accounts of community abuse prevention and response projects from First Nation communities across Canada. It is a holistic approach that weaves together aboriginal wisdom and worldview with western clinical practice theory creating a broader lens through which risk and vulnerability can be more accurately assessed and health and well-being can be better interpreted, understood and supported. Of particular importance is the recognition that culturally safe practice requires careful, intentional and respectful collaboration between aboriginal and non-aboriginal health care clinicians, service providers and involved community members. The challenge for the clinician is to find ways to respectfully and humbly enter the 'space between' - creating opportunities for full, even conflicting narratives to emerge, taking the time to listen and understand mulitple perspectives, holding sacred these voices and co-creating meaningful and effective responses that mitigate risk and vulnerability and perserve dignity both for the individual and community.