This is a guest blog post by Certified Trainer, Randy Jones.
Looking back I can now see that my families’ expedition into Collaborative Problem Solving actually began over two decades ago.
My wife and I have provided services to those living with cognitive disabilities for over 20 years now. In the beginning we worked with developmentally challenged adults and later began working with mental illness.
We have seen the systems and models of care evolve over those years, bringing with it improved quality of life for everyone. I went from providing services that “protected” the community to actually assisting people in overcoming difficulties in living and achieving efficacy. In the beginning of our careers a good day was defined by little to no negative events occurring with little concern for any practical skill building.
Over those years we have had the opportunity to provide services in many different programs and locations. We have changed locations, from Oregon to Nevada, and have worked in environments from one extreme to the other. We have been a mom and pops foster care home, we have built and operated a corporation with many homes and apartments and we have worked in secure lock down facilities for the adjudicated. We have worked as direct care, as “behavior specialists”, as consultants and as trainers.
During these times I have felt and experienced many different emotions and mindsets, including feeling burnout, overwhelmed, under-appreciated and superfluous. Often it seemed we were providing ineffectual services to people that didn’t want them anyway and then explaining why no “results” were achieved and brainstorming on how to get those served to “want and accept” the services.
In a field where five years is the expected length of most caregivers employment we have not only stayed engaged, but are still enthused to be able to provide support and assist people in overcoming the exact challenges that I assisted people with, in the very beginning of my career.
In the past mustering hope and encouraging others to do the same seemed to be the most difficult part of my day. Seeing how easily people can meet the criteria for a Mental Illness and how difficult it is to become “recovered”( in fact there is no criteria for being recovered), has ended the desire to help in many care givers.
CPS has provided the frame work in which we may articulate to everyone the true nature of being mentally disabled. I see it as the calculus of the human mind. Just as Newton gave us a means to explore our world, a way to disseminate information into its basic elements, understand the order and process of those elements, and then manipulate those elements to produce a desirable outcome; CPS does this for our minds and strengthens those elements through practice.
My family has grown over these years as well; we now have a son that operates his own foster home serving developmentally delayed with a focus on Autism. Our daughter operates a foster home serving those living with mental illness, our nephew and niece in-law are caregivers. My wife and I assist, consult and train caregivers, providers, government agencies and businesses.
Today each of us will tell others when they ask what we do for a living that, we get to assist people in overcoming challenges and difficulties in their own lives. We “get to”. After all these years we are still enthused.
We are enthused because we have seen CPS work for those whom practice it. We have witnessed people overcome their disabled status. Though they may always live with a disability they are no longer disabled. This is CPS.
The journey to this point was not always (if ever) easy. Changing minds is the most difficult undertaking a person can embark upon. Because as people, we do well when we can, and we also believe that what we are doing is well.
Just as in the early days of my career, I was doing well by protecting the community from potential impacts that those I served may cause. Thus, I spent a great deal of time proactively ensuring that the community was not negatively affected, meaning those I served were expected to follow rules, cooperate and comply with my decisions. I was very good at convincing those I served that they “wanted” to do as I directed. I was very good at “feel good” behavior plans and token economies that focused exactly on what would motivate each of those I served.
Still, our shift was less complicated than most, I think for a couple of reasons. Having already finished 16 years serving those with disabilities, having been trainers for most of that time as well, we had already stumbled onto a perspective based approach. When we were introduced to CPS our culture was fertile soil.
Secondly, our programs are family operated. Though we have employees, we use CPS as our HR model (Human Resources) and our relationship to each person becomes priority, much as it is in my family. With the mindset that all problems will eventually need to be worked out, less time is spent on deciding consequence and punishment for missed work expectations and more on building systems that foster accountability and skill development. This is CPS.
Though implementing CPS into our program had exceeded all expected times, it was still a rigorous process. We had our token economy that evolved into a “talking point” program with no focus on providing motivations. We definitely had our growing pains as each new situation arises and we practiced viewing it through a CPS lens. I believe that each of us had our own moment of realization that CPS is the way.
Mine came when I was serving an individual that began smoking in his room while living with me in my foster home. After reporting the event his support team reacted like most would, informed him that was against house rules, unsafe and unwise, and etc. We tried threats like your rep will instruct the program to divvy out your smokes and finally threatened to evict.
Staying true to our faith that we all are doing the best we can given the challenge we face and the skills we posses, we decided not to evict and rather we would discuss it as a matter of program……”so I noticed that sometimes you decide to smoke in your room, can we talk about that?”. We had already accepted that this person has difficulty with expressing himself, so we approached each event as an opportunity to practice those skills.
Despite some serious misgivings from certain supports and feeling as though “nothing was being done to address” the behavior, we were able to eventually discuss with the person that he felt belittled and disrespected, so he didn’t care to explain why he was smoking. After addressing these concerns we realized that he was using the best solution he had, as the house rules stated the doors were to be locked after 11pm and caregivers did not want him going out.
Again, I had to bring out my CPS lens and this time point it at the house rules. The homes rules were mostly agreed upon by the residents, but why 11? After a few plan b’s with everyone it was concluded that; the doors were only locked to help people feel safe, one person in particular. The final solution was the smoker could smoke when he liked and would try to remember to lock the door when he came in, and the scared persons solution was a lock on her door with a peep sight.
Because we are family owned I could easily have the program provide the lock and install the peep sight. For $25.00 and some empathy, we were able to avoid evicting a person and starting a cycle all over again.
By the way, this person completed the program, moved into an apartment with supports that he later did not require. He now lives without caregiver support, is driving again, has gotten married and is taking care of his aging parents. This is CPS.
Collaborative Problem Solving has permeated every aspect of our lives and we are better for it. From communicating with each other and our children; to operating our business and interacting with our staff. We practice CPS and strive to use it when we are at our worst, because it builds our brains.
Most of our immediate family members are Tier 2 trained and are continuing on their course to becoming consultants and trainers. We are always interested in exploring new ways to spread the culture of CPS. For example, in order to develop her skills and learn to cope with possible resistance during trainings, my wife turned to the internet.
By reposting a viral video of a child during a “tantrum” and asking for a respectful debate, she was able to start a week long discussion from our local community as to the value of punishment and what it actually accomplished. She then addressed every post through a CPS lens and began to generate support for the philosophy.
We have since began work on our website to include a link to “The Viral Video of the Week” for each of us to switch off answering posts using our philosophy and practicing our skills. Imagine a world that everyone in the community used a CPS lens to solve problems.
Thanks for your time,