With good intentions: Appalachian service providers in human services and community mental health

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


This study is a self-assessment of a small group of Appalachian face-to-face service providers in human services and community mental health. It has evolved from their daily experiences. The purpose of the study has been to reflect back to these providers information about themselves. That reflection has been given in the form of an Adlerian life style analysis, a psychological assessment for individuals modified as assessment of a group.

The reflected impression provided its own image for change and an opportunity for the participants to assess what impact, if any, their jobs might be having on other aspects of their lives. In the process of informing the participants about themselves, there has been the intent to give that same information to the people who come for services, supervisors, administrators, policy makers, and ultimately the community of academics and scholars.

The author of this study functioned as a co-worker with the other participants, becoming a part of that system which she was observing. The job gave wide access for observation and work with the participants in a variety of settings. The primary interactions took place in the homes of families referred for alleged child abuse and neglect, to include sexual abuse.

The methodology allowed the research effort to be one of exploration and evolution. Based on the notion expressed by Carol Ehrlich that people can do research for and about themselves rather than having others do it for them, it drew from several theorists, described in order of their use in the study: H.T.Wilson, Brian Fay, Alfred Adler, Stephen Fawcett, and George Gazda.

Presenting one subjective view of reality, conclusions of the study pointed to unconscious guilt on the part of participants with respect to system inadequacies, marked by a desire to feel superior in the helping relationship or in the relationship with those perceived to have authority over them. Unaware of these feelings, and in the simple performance of their jobs, the participants help to perpetuate the systems in which they work and often purport to deplore.