I take to heart my tagline – ENCOURAGE. EQUIP. EMPOWER. Each of these things mean a LOT to me, and I would love to unpack them for you over the next 3 blog posts. Today I will focus on what ENCOURAGEMENT looks like for me. These three activities in my social work practice are linear. I can’t really move on to EQUIP until I have sufficiently ENCOURAGED you. And, you guessed it, I can’t very well EMPOWER before I have given you tools through EQUIPPING.
So, what does it mean to ENCOURAGE someone? As the word leads you to believe, it is the process of instilling courage into a person. But then, you might ask, what is COURAGE???? This is a theme that I have explored with students in-depth over the last couple of years. We can find many other nuances of meaning, but here is my thumbnail definition of COURAGE:
“Courage is choosing to do the the right thing, no matter how I feel.”
If courage is all that, then the act of encouraging means that my passion in life is to help motivate and inspire you to choose to do the right thing no matter how you feel.
Okay. Sounds good enough. Then how do I go about motivating and inspiring people?
Through card tricks and stuffed animals with goofy voices! Through my gift of goofiness, I build bridges. Since I work primarily with youth and children, this works to my advantage. Many times, when I first meet with a student, especially one with a reputation of being aggressive or hard to reach, I get my deck of cards out of my desk drawer and perform one of several card tricks I have learned over the years. Of course, there’s no magic involved, except the magic of relationship unfolding. Students see that I am there to connect and not condemn. They learn that I am approachable and relatable. They come to trust that they can open up to me without fear of me spilling the beans to anyone outside of my office.
If I’m working with an elementary student, I sometimes go the route of play therapy. I have an array of crazy voices that match several of my office stuffed animals, including Grumpy from Snow White. Apart from a little stuffed animal fox, the most popular plushy in my office is Grumpy. Why? Because he understands what it feels like to be in a super bad mood. My students LOVE sharing their days’ struggles with him, and some even feel better after throwing him against my office wall. But then the magic happens when Grumpy begins to ask questions (still, in his “Grumpy” voice): “I’m sorry your classmate made you feel like that. What did you do when you blew up at him? Oh, I see… What do you think would be a better thing to do next time he does that to you?” And so on. I have taught more coping strategies via Grumpy than I have on my own!
The bottom line is this – I ENCOURAGE (and motivate & inspire!) with the backdrop of relationship. Before a student or client trusts me, prior to that rapport being built, I cannot give students strength for their journey. But once that connection is made, then they are more willing to buy in to the EQUIPPING I do in the next phase of my therapeutic relationship with them.
I love working in a school setting. It helps me to break up the school year into achievable chunks of time. If I have a new-to-me student, I aim to spend up to one whole quarter on this ENCOURAGING phase. Yes, I will be helping them with their day-to-day struggles and questions, but I will not dive deep into EQUIPPING them with mental health tools until about that 2nd quarter.