We, professionals, often think that we are the only holders of intelligent observations and trained to understand insights. After all, we have studied human behaviors long and hard, learned about theories and diagnosis, and trained in evidence-based approaches.One of the lessons many of my mentors/supervisors shared with me was the importance of recognizing the innate wisdom lurking in every recipient of our care.

Underneath odd behaviors, colorful speech, or unusual attire, there is probably a person who, if given half a chance or multiple chances, knows themselves the best and can lead the two of you in the right direction toward healing.

For example, there was a middle aged woman named Susan, who dressed strangely and hung around the center asking to help, not for help.  The staff consistently pushed her away and thought she was a pest.  A young social work trainee made friends with Susan and, much to everyone’s surprise, found that she had been a young MSW, herself, once upon a time.  She had been raped long ago but no one had ever treated her for the trauma and its aftermath.  She had gradually become the person whom everyone thought was a lost cause.  Susan and the young student put together a plan to establish a mentoring program in which peers, who were further along the recovery process, would begin to help others.  Susan grew stronger herself, got her hair cut, took more showers, and dressed more appropriately.  Little by little, she grew into a leadership position and ended up helping many people, both staff and recipients.  The student learned a lot, herself, by recognizing that she didn’t know everything, listening well, and working as a partner with Susan.Perhaps if we all adopted a more humble stance and walked a path together with service recipients, we would be amazed at what we, too, can learn!

This essay is a reprint of an editorial originally published in RECOVERe-works (No. 56, December, 2009, pg. 1) for the Center for Rehabilitation and Recovery in the Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies in New York City.

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