Saturday, 22 May 2010

What On Earth Has Happened to The Samaritans?

Hello Everyone!!

I hope you are very well !!!

For those expecting my continued blog about eating animals, apologies. I will come back to this soon.

It is with great heaviness that I come to this blog. It is not easy to know that which is uncomfortable to know ....

So, due to the sensitivity of this matter, I want to start with a statement of support for those who volunteer to be a Samaritan and to affirm their good intentions. It also has to be said that many Samaritans don`t use the regime-technique of which I am about to speak and are truly person-centred, compassionate and non-judgmental. However, this blog is about the very serious and deeply saddening issue of how most Samaritans treat people and that their manner of relation towards callers represents a desperately radical schism between the founding ethos of the Samaritans movement and present day practice.(I am talking about Samaritans in the U.K.)

It is out of respect for Chad Varah, founder of the Samaritans, and a deep caring for all folks in distress who call them, that this blog is written.

The first thing to mention is that the Samaritans work upon a parent-child basis. It is this that is the fundamental we shall the way a Samaritan will relate to a caller. To digress slightly, we have seen in government in recent times the phenomenon of Nanny State. A State that invades and interferes and controls everything we do. This is the State being our parent, disrespecting us as individuals and thinking that it knows best in its assumption of the parental role over us, its citizens. This is, of course, a social trend and the Sams are following a tendency to assume the role of parent that we see in many areas of our lives.

The parent-child role that all Sams are trained to employ is thought to be in the best interest of the caller (they know best). There is no malintention to control, disrespect, or aim to limit the potential of the call or to behave in an inhumane manner. Of course not. However, the one-track-mind-set of Sam training..... to do what is best for the caller upon a Samaritan-formulated agenda, results in an exacting, judgmental, controlling and punitive regime that is just about as far from what most people suppose the Sams to be about as to be almost impossible to believe.

We will be examining in these blogs the Sams fundamental disrespect for callers, their bullying of people in genuine need, and a Samaritan`s "comply with what we want or I`ll hang up", mentality.

The Wall of Silence.

Let me illustrate the manifestations of a parent-child ethos by giving some examples: Sams are told in their training that callers want and need silence.(This silence is thought of in terms of "giving the caller space to think".) The parent knows best what is good for them! Our well-intentioned volunteers therefore believe this not only to be true across the board, but MUST be dealt out to EVERY caller without any leeway. For a caller with some trepidation at making a call, a wall of silence is extremely disturbing, but the Sam will not adapt to the particular needs of the caller because they are trying to do exactly what they have been told to do in their training !!! This means that a caller who is inhibited by a policy of silence will not get a service at all from the Sams unless they bury their inhibitions and COMPLY with what the Samaritan thinks is best for them. You will see just how abusive this is when you consider that this one blanket practice discriminates against a caller (who may be in an equal state of distress to a caller who wants silence) who finds a wall of silence difficult to deal with.

But this is still more problematic because the Samaritan, having been drilled in good practice, believes that unless they stick to the way they have been told to "make space for the caller to think" they are doing something WRONG and certainly the caller is wrong not to be happy with it!

Sams are not told to adapt and put the caller first, they are told to stick to their training ! Tragically, if a caller asks for a more relaxed approach, that might be more conducive, the Samaritan will refuse upon a string of formulaic retorts.(We are, of course, talking about a genuine caller here.) Examples would be, "we don`t give advice", "we are hear to listen","we are not here to chat", etc., all rudely directed at a caller who does not want advice or, God forbid, want to chat. All pretty shameful avoidance tactics to shift the onus onto the caller and away from their own inadequacy.

Why do they do this? The answer is that a person wishing to help others goes into training and believes that the training is absolutely to be adhered to no matter what happens, and that this is THE way that they will be able to best help people. When they are presented with a caller who doesn`t fit their mold, they feel threatened. They then defend themselves by making the caller guilty, rather than blaming their own rigid formula. As is typical with groups, the group comes first, does no wrong and must be protected. The outsider, in this case the caller....and a caller who does not quite fit what the group demands....must be made guilty. With this position of self allied to group defence, the Samaritan then decides that a caller who wants something a little more person-centred is not a genuine caller. This is the point at which the Samaritan will bully the caller.Bullying is common place and knows no bounds.(I will give examples of this bullying later, probably in my second blog on this subject.)

You could be ostracised.

Let`s look at group psychology:
Groups exclude people who don`t fit in, who don't follow the thinking that the group expects. A caller who feels uncomfortable with a regime of silence, even if it is meant to be for his own good, will now come under the fist of a parent (Samaritan) who wants his wishes obeyed. At this point the Sam will make an ultimatum that either the caller fits in with what is on offer, or they will put the phone down. This sounds horrendous doesn`t it, though it is common practice for Sams to bully callers and to be abusive and cruel.This attitude reminds me of the confrontation between a parent and child when the child does not want to eat the food that is on offer, yet says they are hungry ! The parent will say, "If you don`t eat it, you aren`t hungry!" Well, in the same way, a caller who prefers a relaxed style from a Sam will be deemed "not really in distress" if they refuse what is on offer ! (Of course, this caller may feel timorous to call again, but several calls later will find a Samaritan who does not use a wall of silence, nor a harsh approach and the call will go very well.)

A genuine caller, who does not use bad language, is not offensive in any way and who is not a time-waster, can be excluded from a branch or a group of branches simply because they are branded by one or more Samaritans "non-genuine" on the basis of something like not feeling comfortable with silence. It`s that simple. A caller who needs a more humanistic approach can be ostracised from a branch purely because they don`t fit what ONE Samaritan demands.
We have discussed many times how groups demonise outsiders to secure or "make right" their own position and this is not only a classic example, but to be expected of group behaviour.Groups will unite in demonising a particular caller, human nature yet again, and this can happen in a branch where one Sam dislikes a caller and gains support from others to shut them out.
Of course, a practice that subjectively demonises and excludes certain non-offensive, genuine callers, using gathered information to identify people, will inevitably lead to over-invasive scrutiny of some callers thought to BE an individual who has been excluded, and to the slap in the face of mistaken identity. It is on these such occasions that an ordinary, distressed caller alarmingly discovers the full thrust of Samaritan behaviour and a painful glimpse into how others are treated.

In my next blog we will go on to explore such examples, and I hope, to come to an understanding of why Sams are able to bully and abuse completely genuine callers, in a one to one encounter that is unwitnessed and unpoliced.

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