Column: Making every door the right door

The Chilliwack Child and Youth Committee (CYC) is attempting to make the experience of looking for help a little less distressing.

Have you ever needed help and not known where to turn?  It can be a distressing experience.

Most of us are self-sufficient most of the time. We live in a culture that prizes independence.  This can make needing help an uncomfortable experience.  Starting the journey of seeking help – especially when you don’t even know what help you need – can be perplexing.

The Chilliwack Child and Youth Committee (CYC) is attempting to make the experience of looking for help a little less distressing.  Feedback from the 2013 Consultation on Chilliwack’s Children led to plans to make “every door the right door.”  What this means is, if you show up at a place that can’t respond to what you need, that “door” will help guide you to the right resource. You won’t be left on your own. In order to achieve this, the helping community has to be well integrated; the various services have to know each other and what they do.

Knowing what others do is an important part of having an integrated, well-functioning community. This gets harder the bigger the community is. Consequently, the CYC puts a lot of effort into networking opportunities to increase that sense of neighbourliness.

The size of the community shouldn’t dictate the nature of the person-to-person interaction when seeking help.  Towards this end, the CYC held training for administrative, front-line staff, the first people to answer the phone or greet you when you walk in the door. The training they received could help any of us if we know someone who has asked for help. Here are some of the key points:

• Remember that asking for help often makes us feel vulnerable, and when we’re vulnerable, we’re more anxious.

• When we’re anxious, we’re more likely to be forgetful or to seem aggressive when we really mean to be assertive.

• Being vulnerable connects us with feelings of helplessness. Because few of us like feeling  helpless,  we sometimes convert this feeling to anger and come across angry or controlling.

• When someone comes across angry, it excites mirror neurons in our brains that arouse the same emotion in us. This is a natural reaction and part of our empathy system.  It’s important to detach from this feeling and pay attention instead to the helper seeker’s sense of helplessness underneath the emotion they’re outwardly displaying.

• People seeking and needing help often experience “self-stigma,” an internal sense of shame about having a problem. Instead of thinking “I have a problem, and at one time or another everyone has,” when we have self-stigma, we may think,  “I am a problem and others aren’t.”

• The more we remember our own frailties, the easier it will be to have compassion for people seeking help. This known is as the Wounded Healer phenomenon.

Making every door the right door is something that can be a reality when we get to know what is available in our communities and work to cultivate attitudes of compassion and kindness.

Dr. Rob Lees is the Community Psychologist for the Ministry for Children and Family Development in Chilliwack