Saturday, 22 May 2010

What On Earth Has Happened to The Samaritans (2) ?

To continue where I left off, let me give another example of the end result of a rigorous training that is all about Samaritan needs, on their terms....

It is a Crime to Chat.

Sams are told in training that chatting is not an acceptable use of time, nor does it help callers. This, just as the literal application of silence, leaves our Samaritan who genuinely wishes to help people, caught in a bind.

In reality, the interpretation of the work "chat" is not only arbitrary, when it comes down to it, but leads to an indiscriminate judging of people based upon a particular Sams interpretation of what constitutes "chat". A subjective, ruthless enforcement of the "no chat" rule leaves genuine callers upset, insulted and bewildered.Sams themselves are invariably so frightened that anything they say is "chat" that they are unable to engage with the caller AT ALL.

The Samaritan requirement for the caller to talk about their feelings has also become a servant of the Samaritan need to command and control "chatting". A huge number of Samaritans demand feelings which are to exclude the context around which those feelings exist, so that anything that is not soley and literally about feelings, will likely be penalised.

Because the Sam is told that chatting is not allowed, the opportunity for a caller to talk about their feelings has become, widely, a command to do so, based upon at its most extreme, the need to eliminate chatting. Many Samaritans want feelings from callers with no context at all (let alone any human interaction between Sam and caller). The experience for many callers, therefore, is that the events in their lives that give rise to any feeling of worry or distress, will be disallowed. This would mean that talk of family, events in the day, life circumstances, etc., all significant to the callers distress, will all be excluded by many Samaritans as "chat". A digression into the prohibited territory of,say,explaining family events in the day that led to whatever feelings prompted the caller to phone, may result in the Sam's parental-role-authority raising its reproving fist to threaten, "unless you talk about your feelings, I will end the call." Yet, if the caller rings again.... and gets another Samaritan who is not authoritarian (these are too few), he may find that "chatting" about context such as family, is thought not to be "chat" at all ! The fact is that a caller does not know whether the Samaritan they get can be trusted to be non-judgmental, whether they will judge that anything that is not purely "feelings" will be judged as chat, or where, indeed, the judgment will fall.

You may think, like me, that the two examples given so far, point to a service that is overly concerned with what IT wants rather than care for the caller. You`d be right. Of course, what is deeply alarming is that the bullying of callers at the behest of Sam training can have devastating consequences to vulnerable people. To be impugned with such judgments as being deemed non-genuine, or that one`s issues are in fact "chat" and, to boot, being told that the Samaritans is not the organisation for you if you want a less disciplined, less sterile approach, is deeply wounding.

But the judgments don`t stop here. Many Sams operate an assessment protocol whose purpose is to weed out those deemed unworthy of time. The Sam mantra has been that they are non-judmental, yet judgment is firmly rooted in a policy to judge which callers need time. I suppose the less loaded way of putting this would be to say that Sams are looking for folks who most need time, but, of course, you can see the problem....

Problem: how exactly do you judge who isn`t in distress sufficient enough to need time? Sams here, too, make up their own minds. They play God with callers, deselecting those who seem to have more trivial problems, according to a subjective view, and selecting ones who trigger the right signals for "acute", "needy", "distressed", and so on. Samaritans differ so much that one Sam will tell a caller that M.E. is not sufficient reason to call and another will see this as having great sympathy-value !! The subjective opt-out for a Sam who finds that they have no sympathy for serious illness, or anxiety about children, for example, will use one of the Sam phrases, "not here to chat", etc., to end the call. Absolute power. The caller has no chance.

I talked a little about why this happens in my last blog... Of course, we see a disparity of power wherever there are people in need and certainly "givers" have undue power over them. Paradoxically, the very anonymity of the Samaritan service contributes to Samaritans being able to be judgmental and cruel to many callers and for there to be little chance of recourse. Calls go to anywhere in the country and it is difficult for a caller to identify the Sam Centre where a Sam has been abusive. Of course,as one would expect,Samaritans who bully callers can lie about their location, making it more difficult for them to be caught and,sadly,even if complaints identify the offending Samaritan, other members at that branch, or in that locality, may well take it out on the person who has complained if they call again.

In summary, wherever people are abused there has to be opportunity to dispense bullying behaviour without being caught. Sams have this opportunity. Not all would take advantage, but it is to be noted here that all forms of abuse need a victim and a suitable situation to enable abuse. At this point we must observe that Samaritans are not overseen by anyone else ...with more tolerant, humanistic values. They are self-policed. There is no external challenge to their new system, its humanity, its efficacy or its rightfulness. With the clear inability of the organisation to be introspective it is necessary, I feel, for outside intervention.

I want to come back in a bit and talk about the psychology of this a little more. See you soon, I hope !!

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