The Importance of Partnership

by Beth Barto

Does the organization ask me my ideas on how to improve its services?  This is one of eleven questions on LUK’s consumer satisfaction survey.  This question has layers of meaning underneath the written intent for feedback.  The question implies that youth, families, adults and communities impacted by LUK inc. provide helpful guidance to how the organization can improve services.  The question reflects our core belief in the importance of empowerment as an anchor to recovery.  Empowerment and partnership with the people we serve is what LUK strives to nurture in our work.  The belief is that by understanding other voices, opinions, and perspectives, LUK will improve how we are part of a person or communities’ journey.

 The power of voice recently was demonstrated by a mother who wrote a letter to LUK’s trauma center on how services assisted her family after a tragedy.  This same parent has given back to the center through program development meetings and provided insight on how to engage youth and families in services.  The mother provided permission to post a part of her article to capture the importance of partnership between clinicians and persons served:

“What I can share, without being in a medicated haze, the trauma counselor who knocked on my parent’s door that morning to help me through a nightmare, guide me through a situation that I was determined to hide from in a bedroom of my parent’s house for the rest of my life.  Her.  That woman.  That stranger.  She was the reason I started with my feet on the ground that day.  She was the reason I was able to face the sun shining into that bedroom window for the next three months.  She was the one that allowed me to give my daughters the ability to know their daddy loved them very much and is an angel on their shoulder every day, now and forever, and ever. Who is “she”?  I wish I knew.  I don’t know and I have always wanted to know so I can thank her.  What I do know, she was sent to me by LUK.  As crazy as it may sound, I owe “she” a small piece of my heart.  Without her I would still be sleeping in that bed, with the sun shining in my face, hiding in that bedroom, with my two beautiful, wonderful daughters, forever, and ever.”

Sometimes helpers do not know the impact made until later in their career. Recently, I reconnected with a former work colleague who let me know a past youth we helped had came back to visit with staff.  The colleague explained that he was asking for me and wondering how I was doing.  The youth went on to express that my colleague and I had changed his life.  He explained he felt safe with us and knew he could return and we would be happy to see him.  I learned that this young person was doing well, making great choices and seeing a hopeful future. 

Through this short reconnection I reflected on my work with this young person.  I recall being straight out of graduate school and overwhelmed by the history of the child in front of me.  I remember reading the case file and the court records and knew I was charged to help him feel better.  I vividly remember the weekly sessions of sitting with the youth as he recalled his life.  I remember that sometimes there was silence.  This was not an awkward silence but rather a feeling of connection at a moment of distress.  Back at that time, there was not a lot of specialized training for working with a child with such complexity in his world.  During my career, I have often reflected back and wonder if I helped.  This young person’s ability to voice his gratitude 10 years later has provided affirmation of the importance of partnership in helping relationships. 

How does change happen?  When is someone ready for change? What does the person need to give up for change?  What will replace what they give up?  A partnership with those seeking help requires the helper to ask these questions and be prepared for the answers.  While trying to help, great wisdom comes from the helper who integrates resistance to change into how they interact with the person served the next time.  What is the person trying to communicate with me?  Do they feel I do not understand their experience?  Has the person experienced poor connections with past helpers?  What can I do to make their experience improved?  Does the person served feel empowered to guide how I help?  Do I provide the person served with the freedom to speak their mind and change my approach to meet this need? 

All of these questions require a helper to give up perceived “power” or “ego” and learn from the person in front of them.  Partnership occurs when the person’s served input is in par with the professionals within organizations and they have equal voice and input into processes.   I ask you to ponder are you in partnership as a helper?


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