Different systems with different types of professionals have historically differed on their approaches. Critics have seen social workers and mental health counselors as doing too many things for clients that they could do for themselves, while addiction professionals were accused of bullying clients into choices they were not ready to make.
Luckily, we’ve moved away from these stereotypes. Teaching self-advocacy strives to find the balance between the two extremes. This requires an accurate assessment and the proper balance of advocating for, educating, and coaching your client. Of course, establishing a therapeutic relationship is a pre-requisite.
One helpful tool is the Life Wheel. It will help you assess each of the eight areas. The Life Wheel and many similar tools help normalize your clients’ needs and wants. It’s often helpful to provide a copy to your clients.
To use this tool, explain that each of the areas included deserve attention in every person’s life, and that you will work with your client to determine what he or she needs and wants to have a more satisfying life.
Talk about each category and ask how it’s going. Explore areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in each area.
For example, in reference to the recreation category, you might ask how clients use their spare time: Do they participate in any sport? Do they go to plays? Do they see movies? Do they read? Do they do any type of arts or crafts?
If the only answer is, “Nothing,” or “I watch TV,” ask if they are interested in pursuing any other recreational activities. If so, together you’ve identified a goal and an opportunity for learning self-advocacy.
In reference to other categories, you may become aware that your client hasn’t had a physical check-up in many years. Perhaps your client wants to reconcile with family, but doesn’t know where to start. The wheel can help practitioners be aware of and help organize client needs, and can also be used as a tool to transfer these skills to the client.
Food and Clothing
Clients’ post-employment options will, of course, be more varied than the ones we consider here. We start with consideration of the most basic needs first.
Clients will have many different goals and preferences for addressing food and clothing needs. Encouraging consideration of a wide range of options is helpful in teaching self-advocacy, so clients expand their food choices beyond shelters, soup kitchens, cereal, and peanut butter.
There are many resources for clothing including thrift shops and government programs. Choice of clothing establishes a personal identity, and teaching self-advocacy involves facilitating awareness in clients that the way they dress can contribute to the way they feel, think, and act.
Helping clients who haven’t formed clear preferences to discover what they like and want is often a part of rehabilitation too. Learning appropriate dress for different sets of circumstances will reinforce stable employment and helpful social relationships.
The following questions may uncover information that facilitates your teaching of self-advocacy:
- Do you eat regularly?
- Can you afford to buy the groceries you need?
- Are you aware of how to obtain food from a food bank, participate in a weekly free lunch program, or use other resources that may be available?
- What is your typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
- Do you know how to access free or low-cost clothing?
- Do you have a warm coat for the cold season?
- Do you have comfortable shoes?
Potential resources for food and clothing include:
- Mental health advocacy and consumer group housing projects
- Community food banks
- Meals on Wheels
- Community service organizations
- Mental health and psychiatric rehabilitation programs
- Homeless programs and shelters
- Crisis services
- City, county and state social and health services programs, including the food stamp program administered by your state
- Senior centers and services
- Disability programs