About staff saying: ”What the hell else could I’ve done?”

Sometimes I meet staff who’ve been involved in a situation that didn’t turn out very well. They may have used a restraint like straps or belts or another physical intervention, or perhaps just set a limit they felt wasn’t right afterwards. Perhaps they’ve taken a mobile from a service-user or dismissed him or her from the common room. When talking to me about it afterwards they describe the situation and conclude by saying: ”What the hell else could I’ve done?”

In an interview with Danish psychologist Benny Lihme in the Danish newspaper Politiken, Lihme describes a situation where a youth at a group home sits on another young man’s scooter. The staff asks him to return the scooter to the owner, but he refuses. He even says: ”You can’t touch me, don’t you think I know the law.” Benny Lihme continues: ”Then the staff drags him away from the scooter.” His defense of this method is that they have no choice. What else could they have done?

This general statement is interesting. As I interpret it, staff I meet in my work as well as Benny Lihme already know that it is wrong. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have defended themselves by using this specific sentence: ”What else could I’ve done?” That’s interesting. If you know that you’ve done something wrong, but you both defend it and plan to do it again neither the quality nor the care will improve.

A better approach is to embrace a simple principle: All pedagogical defeats require an action plan. The main question shouldn’t be what else could’ve been done, but how we can make sure it won’t happen again. If you acted in self-defense or in a crisis, the main question should be: What can we do next time it happens to ensure that the situation turns out better? Here I refer to the great method of self-defense, Studio III. But the most important question is how we can make sure it won’t happen again.

We have to go through the factors that led to the crisis. We need to consider whether the physical framework is optimal or contributed to the escalation (for example, that a hallway is too narrow), we need to look at whether we’ve implemented enough structure to the person’s daily life, whether it was obvious to the person what he or she was expected to do, whether the sound level was too high, or if there were too many people in the room at once. We need to look at the stress level in the situation. And we need to look at what we ourselves did in the situation. Did we make unnecessary demands? Did we try to set a limit to compensate for our groundwork not being good enough? Were we low-affective enough? Can we do it differently next time?

To say: ”What the hell else could I’ve done?” indicates a huge powerlessness. It shows that you don’t have a better method and therefore use one that you deep down know is wrong. Powerlessness often leads to sick leave and eventually perhaps even to burnout. Therefore, we can never accept that phrase in our work or in our workplace. Not in our family either. If we don’t think a situation turned out well, we have to find out what we can do to make it do so the next time.