Mainstream Living

"I Don't Want to Work on My Goals"

From an outsider’s perspective, working at Mainstream Living can seem like a pretty straightforward job.  Members tell staff what they want to do with their lives, and staff help them fulfill those goals.  Once we work directly with members, however, we come to realize that the work we do has the same complexity as life itself, and there are countless variables that can get in the way of performing this seemingly simple task.  As a staff person, your main role is to help people work on the formal goals written in their case plan, but situations will inevitably come up in which a member can’t or won’t work on their goals.  Below are some tips on how to approach this situation.

When someone refuses to work on their goals, our initial reaction is to try and reason with the member.  While it is our job to provide this encouragement, we also need to keep in mind that a person may have a number of reasons for not wanting to work on a goal.  Maybe it’s a goal they’re not interested in anymore.  Perhaps it was something they weren’t really ever on-board with, but it is necessary for their health or safety.  Maybe mental health concerns are getting in the way.  Or they could have simply had a long day and are tired.  

Whatever the reason, it’s always good to try to gain understanding.  For some people, you could ask questions.  For others (e.g. people who do not generally speak), this may mean giving someone the benefit of the doubt, or affording time or space.  Oftentimes, giving people space to process their emotions, and affirming their feelings can eventually lead to a discussion in which you hold the member accountable to their goals.  However, even if it does not lead to this outcome, it will still strengthen your relationship with the member so that they may be more willing to work with you in the future.
After helping a member process their emotions, it may be a good time to negotiate with them on doing something in regards to their goals. Bear in mind, however, that this person may only have the capacity to work up to a certain level of that goal.  If it is written in a plan that someone wants to maintain a clean apartment, consider starting with a lower level commitment (like cleaning dishes), rather than listing off all the things that need to be cleaned.  Figure out where that person’s current threshold for work is, and try to get them as close to that threshold as possible.  If someone still seems relatively stable after doing a few dishes, try and persuade them to clean the countertops too, or sweep the floors.  If you sense that you are pushing the person to a point of emotional instability, back off a little, give some space, and try scaling back your expectations.  Remember too, that the person is more important than the goal. 

Everyone on a member’s support team wants them to work on goals as much as possible.  However, if despite your best efforts, a member does not make any progress toward a goal on the day you are working with them, that’s okay.  Even if someone made no progress, you still need to document your prompting and attempts you made for them.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, it allows the team to look at the situation and the methods used, and determine what does and doesn’t work.  Secondly, in order for us to bill for services so that we have the money to keep our programs running, we need that documentation.  Whether or not you succeeded, we can still generally bill for the effort you put forth.

Sometimes you and a member just have a bad day, and not getting goal work done is an isolated incident.  But it may be that you have worked with a member for months, tried many different approaches, and it is still not working.  Either way, you are not alone.  It is always a good idea to collaborate with your other team members to find a solution.  If you are struggling to find solutions, you can call or text your supervisor, write a note in the communication book asking for help, or bring up concerns in a staff meeting.  Chances are, someone on your team has a method for approaching a challenging problem that you have not considered.  And if everybody is struggling, it may be an indicator to your supervisor that that person’s goal needs to be tweaked or changed.

Some members take a while to build up trust with new staff, and they need that trust before they are willing to listen to you.  Having conversations, listening, finding common interests, and admitting mistakes are just a few ways to work on this relationship.  There are times though, that you won’t mesh well with a member.  It’s okay to talk with your supervisor about possibly switching to working with a different member.  This is not something to take personally, and a switch may be better for both you and the member.  We serve about 500 people, and chances are we can find a group of people that you will get along with.

Above all else, it is important to recognize how it can feel just being in a position in which staff prompt you to work on goals.  Most of us have probably tried to go on a diet or eat healthier.  Goals like this can be a struggle, and although it can feel good to have someone hold you accountable, it can also be annoying and invasive.  Some of the people we serve have staff with them 24 hours a day, constantly holding them accountable to their goals.  Imagine if you were on a diet, and every time you wanted to eat something unhealthy, a staff member was there to try and talk you out of it.  Although it is your job to hold people accountable to their goals, sometimes we all need breaks.  Try to find the balance that works best for you and the members.

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