Guest Blog: Bully for You by Debra Hindlemann Webster

Submitted by admin on November 13, 2013 - 1:23am

Debra Hindlemann Webster is a freelance writer, educator, tutor, and the President and Owner of Custom Uniform Company. She has an adult child with a disability. Information on Debra and her company can be found under the "About Us" Section of her company website at:

People go into professions that suit their personal psychological needs as well as their physical and mental abilities.  A pediatrician, for example, usually enjoys children; a physician who treats only adults, will be more comfortable with patients and people who are over the age of 18.


Those who relate well with others, do just that in their workplaces--they enjoy the camaraderie of their colleagues, and their customers.  Folks who are more task oriented, preferring to involve themselves with skills rather than customers, orient to occupations that are duty-focused.  Individuals who would rather control or direct, are most often selected for leadership positions, not wanting to be confined to the day-to-day tasks, nor having to "relate" to folks as their primary goal.  These are your three types of workers: "Taskers;" leaders; "relaters."


It generally works this way.  Sadly, workers who are in the wrong jobs for their psychological needs, either don't remain there very long, or aren't very effective in terms of performance--let alone occupationally fulfilled.  Career preferences chosen according to an individual's psychological needs are as important as any training, schooling, or experience that one encounters.


The world of disabilities is enormous.  Today, people are living longer and survive illnesses and accidents that previously would have been fatal.  Often they survive with long-term, and sometimes complex disabilities. ,. When a person's physical, mental, or emotional abilities are compromised, when aging takes those properties from people who were at one time, able to function independently but no longer can, services and supports are required to participate adequately within the mainstream world—and sometimes for mere survival. 


Providers are called in: Caregivers in all varieties; social workers; healthcare professionals; medical support personnel; educators; job coaches; therapists; advocates; nurses along a wide spectrum of expertise.  There are a myriad of agencies for this function or that.


One of the tragedies, yet all-too-frequent realities for the “client”  is that they are perceived as a  "helpless victim" and the professional believes that they are a "rescuing caregiver". This can cause a blur between professional and personal needs on the parts of the “caregivers” and/or the people they are paid to support.


The primary role of the “caregiver”, in any capacity, is not meant to be a personal one, but a professional one. There are boundaries or limits between client and caregiver; there are duties or executive orders that lie between them. While a caregiver must be compassionate and understanding in his job, the role of a provider primarily is not about being a people person, so much as it is about being a task person.  Get the job done, provide proper care, above all. Duty first.  Or the individual receiving services can be injured or even die. Nurturing, protection, enabling, have their places; however, the caregiver's focus must be objective, and separate from the client, before all personal involvements.


What can happen, when an individual who is primarily a people person (who wants to be friends, pals, a parent or sibling) is placed in the caregiver's dutiful role, and that professional is truly not suited for properly performing regimented tasks and executing details, lines get crossed.  The caregiver who is more personally people oriented instead of distanced, disciplined, and objective enough to perform and organize in an exemplary manner, ends up re-focusing his or her own "duties" so that they become more about controlling the client, rather than seeing to those elements that surround the individual, and support his wellbeing.  A kind of guardian effect may occur, where the worker decides that a personal relationship with the client is more important than the tasks this worker was originally hired to perform: Father knows best? Mother knows best?  Nope.  Support person knows best. And, that's not okay.


Caregivers, providers, support people, or agencies of any type, can easily slip away from the tasks at hand, and become instead, personally involved with the client.  Thus, the priority of the worker is no longer about objective services, but subjectively about the client needing “care” that seemingly only that worker or agency can provide.  It creates a dependency, and it validates the worker’s psychological need to be personally connected, in order to be of value.  The tasks the worker was originally hired to perform for the client, become secondary to the worker’s own psychological needs.


What is potentially worse is the same scenario but where the worker becomes a leader, or puts himself in charge of the client; a role of importance and control, not through a personal relationship, but rather through a kind of executive decision made by the worker, himself.  This healthcare provider  legislates the needs of the particular client  to the exclusion of others--including the client, himself.   Control gradually becomes absolute.  It is no longer about the client receiving objectively evaluated services from a competent task person; all else is subordinated to the worker’s need to control, commanding others to do what was once the worker’s actual task-oriented job of scheduling, organizing, and executing specific duties.


The inappropriate shift in roles, in order to fill personal psychological needs, warps a worker in whatever capacity; the thrust of that individual toward his client, is no longer a clear, distanced evaluative focus, but rather one of superiority.  It's all too easy when tending folks who are challenged in one way or another, to forget about respect, empathy, distancing, boundaries; and to slip into the role of ruler, surrogate parent, or boss


People who are providers who have more psychological needs than their particular job placement may provide; on a day-in-day-out, year-by-year kind of schedule are most susceptible when it comes to slipping out of their assigned duty-oriented careers; rather, they ease into an orientation of control.


There may be times when the nature of the disability requires that a support person provide some direction or cueing or even supervision within a specific plan of care.  


However, direction is one thing; bullying is quite another.


Simply because a person or agency has done a job for years and years and years; has expertise in his field; has taken responsibility in various areas of his vocation; it does not give him a green light when it comes to taking charge of another person's life, to the exclusion of that individual's personal rights or the rights of others. When it comes to contribution, input, or care that is of significant benefit to a patient or client, there must be shared responsibility between all parties; the professionals must stick to the job descriptions they were meant to carry out.


When any caregiver or support person takes over the rights of a particular individual; when that individual becomes manipulated or less independent as a result of increasing control on the part of that worker, what is referred to as "for your own good," is more aptly  labeled "ego trip."  It speaks to the psychological needs of a healthcare professional or agency gone awry and who has turned away from the tasks that are his responsibility;  instead, twisting his job to suit himself, either by creating a too dependent relationship with the client, or by legislating what the client needs or ought to do:  Not only so that it ostensibly suits the client, but primarily so that it suits the workers needs to control, as well.


Either way, it's about personal psychological needs trumping job-description. It's about bullying rather than advocating for the individual’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.


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