Family Vs Professional Expertise

May 13, 2017

 

Family members have years of experience caring for someone living with a mental health, alcohol or other drug problem. And yet when accessing health services for support we can come away feeling powerless and useless as a parent, sister, brother or husband. We can feel judged and blamed, as if we did or didn't do something that caused our family member to have the health problems they have. On top of that, health professionals (of which I am one) think they know what is best for families. They seem to think they are the experts of our lives.

 

Let's think about this though. Health professionals do have knowledge and skills in treating mental health, alcohol and other drug problems. They train for years and gain further expertise through clinical work experience. And some health professionals have family members affected by mental health, alcohol or other drug problems so they do understand. But the issue is that health professionals often think that they know our family better than us. And that if we do everything they say then everything will be alright (sounds like a Bob Marley song :-) They can judge us harshly for doing or not doing something that they think will improve the situation for 'their patient'.

 

What troubles me about this situation is that we know ourselves and our family better than anyone. We know what works and what doesn't - although admittedly we do run out of ideas sometimes and need some help. And we know the behaviours and patterns in our family. Family members are sometimes asked by health professionals about the family but in my experience this is rare. If asked at all it is usually a request to provide health services with information to help them understand 'their patient' (our family member). Which is great, but judgements are then made about family functioning. And health professionals are not asking us about how we are or how the whole family is with a view to helping us as a family unit. They are looking to family as an accommodation and exit plan for 'their patient'. But they forget to ask us how that plan will impact on the whole family.  And the judgements are fierce if you say no to their plan(s).

 

The last point worth noting here is that family members can be harsh towards mental health professionals for how they treat us and how they treat our loved ones. And this is sometimes justified because we know that terrible things can happen when people living with mental illness are placed in mental health services. But wouldn't it be great if health professionals and families could get over thinking 'I'm the expert' and work closely together to support each other and the person living with a mental health, alcohol and other drug problem. 

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