Saturday, 12 June 2010

What on Earth has Happened to The Samaritans (4)?

The rigidity of the Samaritan relationship to a caller leads one to question,why? I want to look at this in this blog, along with my usual examination of group psychology.

OK., so we can see that Samaritan volunteers need some sort of training and that inevitably training will carry definite prescriptions. The problem is that for many years Sams have been taught to be strict with callers according to a one-track formula. Whilst the minority of Sams with a more person-centred approach apply training loosely and intelligently, the majority of Sams do not.

Unfortunately, for most people, training is something that has to be adhered to precisely, not wisely. This applies to us all in all walks of life. We are brought up in an educational system that requires conformity to succeed, a system that does not reward individuality or initiative. We are therefore frightened to break rules.

The Samaritan structure, like any group organism, coheres around the acceptance of a particular method, in other words, a belief system. All groups function around mind-sets that everyone is expected to conform to, those who do not will find their place in the group under threat, not least because their non-conformity represents a threat to the group itself. This is true of the Samaritans as of any other group. Here, a belief that callers must be directed and controlled in a parent-child style, that all callers want and need silence, or whatever the notion we care to example, leads to a cold, clinical, robotic mode of relation where, paradoxically, a caller is expected to talk about their feelings in an environment that is bereft of human warmth !!

But as we see in other situations where rigid control is upheld, the more control there is, the more control is needed. What I mean is, if we take the example of unwanted child behaviour and set the threshold too high, we end up having a constant battle to maintain our stance. We become more anxious about our self-made rules than we do about the child we seek to control ! Broadly, we feel more and more threatened the more we lose control over the person we are trying to control and this leads us to employ greater and greater measures to hold our position. This is what commonly happens between a Samaritan and his or her caller. The primary focus is not helping the caller, but rather applying training with a rule book that inhibits both the Samaritan and the caller.

With the Samaritan`s level of expectation upon a caller set so high, he puts himself in a position of a parent who must maintain discipline at all costs.Let me reiterate that: At all costs. And this is what happens, inevitably: a caller, unwittingly, has to measure up to a whole list of criteria (which are to do with the needs of the Samaritan), and like a child confronted with zero tolerance, is treading on a mine field.The Sam, like an insecure parent, uses all manner of discipline to prevent chat and, frankly, get their own way, with the ultimate penalty of absolute power, ending the call. (A reminder that we are talking about a genuine, non-offensive caller here.)

It`s all about what THEY want.
Let`s look at what the typical Samaritan wants from a caller: firstly, the Samaritan expects that the caller has to be happy with silence,then comes the need for the Samaritan to have a call from a "genuine caller" who exhibits a level of distress that the Sam can relate to. We then have the Sam needing to not be caught chatting (whatever that means!) and to ensure the fulfilment of this overwhelming rule the Sam decides that they must not make comments as the caller relays his plight. The result is, of course, a caller who is expected to talk about their feelings, yet no emotional support is forthcoming from the other end of the phone. In effect, the stricture of training has stripped the call of anything that would be called human, caring and supportive. I think that the Samaritan`s need not to chat....and to deliver silence for the caller to fill, causes them to be detached, non-involved with the call, and this created distance bleeds the call of humanity. In fact, a Samaritan in this functional mode has little or no manifest caring for the caller simply because they do not engage with them. With no two-way contact the Sam`s posture is perfunctory and compassionless.

We have to emphasise here that individual Sams are not to blame, they are merely doing what they are told do. They believe what they are told to believe. Where they are told that callers want silence in which to talk, they think that this is universally true. In order to become a Samaritan one has to believe what one is told and use it upon callers. Training also teaches the fear that NOT to follow the instructed method will be detrimental to callers and so there is a fear/guilt devise that makes Sams conform.

There has to be a better way.
So what would be a better model for helping callers? Well, I think for starters, the ethos would have to change, revert back to the humanity of Chad Varah. The Nanny State-ism would have to go, to be replaced by respect for the caller and HIS needs. I think that, too, the caller would have to be treated with a presumption of genuineness, along with adopting a truly non-judgmental stance that does not discriminate between callers upon grounds of the subjective measure of distress. I think that with a refocus on the callers needs a more humanistic approach would follow, where a Sam would engage in a human way with the caller.

But in all of this we must not forget our Samaritan`s wishes to help people.. We must not forget that Sams themselves are victim to a training regime that not only disrespects callers, but disrespects them, too. So I think that to train Sams to be responsive to the needs of callers, to be adaptable, to have confidence in their OWN ability to relate to people would empower THEM to do what it is that they volunteer to do, for it is not just that callers are under the thumb of an all powerful rule book, Samaritans are too. Both Samaritans and callers are treading on egg shells.

I hope to come back in a bit to round this up. It`ll be a shorter blog (!)
that looks at the benefits of a more humanistic approach..... Hope to see you soon !

Best advice: remember the Sams operate on the basis that YOU are there for THEM. In other words, you are there to comply with what the Sams want from you.
If you need to phone many times over a period of time, don`t phone the same part of the country and don`t use the same name each time you call. If you phone many times information may be gathered about you (from the calls) because the Sams decide that they want to restrict your access, for whatever reason they see fit. This info is passed around branches.N.B.You may be in genuine distress over a period of time, but this is irrelevant to the Sam's decision. They decide what is best for you, whether you agree or not... and there is nothing you can do about it.

N.B. If you complain about one Samaritan at one branch, there is a high chance that other Sams at that branch or in that area will be unkind to you and may bully you.(Information will have been gathered about you so that they all will be able to identify you when you call.) This is typical of group behaviour so it`s no surprise!
Further,if you are badly treated by more than one Sam (this is very common so don`t think that it`s you personally!)and feel you should make another complaint, please remember that several complaints will likely get you labled as a "complainer". If this happens, it demonstrates the groups need to shift their guilt onto YOU. It is, as we have discussed many times, a typical strategy to protect themselves by making you look like the problem.

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