Sunday, February 23, 2014

I "love" the guys....

Been a while since a post.  I am not as prolific a blogger as others in this cyber world of opinions and insights but I usually write when I am moved, inspired, pissed or feeling like something needs to be said.   Now, is one of those times.

I have been spending lots of time with direct support professionals these last two months.  I have probably have met with over 400 direct support professionals these past weeks and there is a serious concern.

Many direct support workers use a phrase that is all too common,  "I love the guys".  Worse yet is when I hear a DSP say, "I love MY guys"!  It is truly amazing how much this is said and how offensive it is. Let me explain.

Relationships that are created between direct support professionals and people supported should be based on professional competence and ethics.  It should never be based on "love" of the people or a notion that one "loves" the persons they are paid to support.  In fact, this is a dangerous idea.

 I have heard brand new direct support professionals, within one day of working with people with developmental disabilities, say..."I just love these guys"!  "They are like my family member already"!  I have even heard things like this: "If I ever leave this job or have to move or something like that, I will always keep in touch my MY guys"!   I cannot count the number of times I have seen DSPs, and other staff as well, suddenly depart willingly or otherwise from an agency or organization....more importantly, from the relationship where they "loved" the guys.....never to be heard from or seen again. 

To me saying things like, "I love my guys" objectifies people with disabilities, diminishes the profession of direct support and ultimately is an impossibility. (It is also sexist in that the term guys implies male gender)  I know of no other profession other than perhaps religious clergy where loving the customer is accepted.  Also, saying "my guys" implies your ownership and control "over" people.  This is totally against the message of our code of ethics and is a slippery slope into servitude. 

One may grow to love and respect a person supported but direct support professionals need to understand that their role is not one of family or friend.  The primary role is that of  assistant, stage-hand and ally.  Most certainly we can develop affection and indeed, love, over time as we grow in our professional relationships. However, to say that the reason we work as direct support professionals is our "love" of the guys is disrespectful and ultimately not true. 

Direct support professionals are often referred to as, "angels", "God's hands on Earth", "where the rubber meets the road",  and so forth.....Most people see the work of a direct support professional as something valiant or noble. Something that not just anyone can do or wants to do.  True, the work is rewarding and many great things occur in the the relationships that grow between DSPs and the people they support, but DSPs are not angelic or noble or otherwise (at least as a blanket idea for the profession).  

Direct support is a profession.  It is still being identified and developed but stands as a wonderful and meaningful career choice.  In this profession one may develop close and meaningful relationships with people.  However, never be mistaken that the work executed on a daily basis is rooted in knowledge, skills and is never rooted on the love of the people supported.  

So, if you say, "I love the guys" or "I love my guys" in your usual conversations,  I ask you to stop, reflect on this blog, and reconsider your role in the lives of the people you support.  People supported belong to themselves.  We do not own anyone.  We don't love everyone. 

As an alternative say, " I love my profession!"


  1. Hear Hear! My favourite of those kinds of quotes from a direct support professional that was speaking to me after a conference, "We normalize ours." Yikes and yikes again. I love my job, I love what I do, I love feeling that the work matters. I love seeing people I work with grow and develop. But that's it. I can care, and care a lot, but ... I don't sell love.

  2. There are many levels to this. It first calls us to recognize that this is common only because the individuals being objectified are in the position to be objectified - workers pick up on this quickly and simply carry it on because it appears natural.

    Certainly policy and training can help, and respect of words and actions must be required, even if a situation of respect is denied. Workers in this field must do all they can to make the best of a decidedly unbalanced situation for the lives of those who are being supported.

    The "my guys" is indeed unprofessional and can only add to the denial of real social capital for people who come to equate paid presence with friendship.

    I would however go a step further in the reflective process and suggest that the "my guys" phenomenon is in fact a symptom of the systems lifestyle rather than a simple failing of workers within that system.

    Certainly professional standards are preferable to the alternative, but the real and meaningful change would be to discontinue the practices that create "my guys" situations: segregated education, segregated living, and segregated occupation. A systems lifestyle can be improved by quality staff, but cannot ever aspire to a real life in the community with personal choice and reciprocal relationships.

  3. This post both upsets me and intrigues my thinking. I work as a DSP for a nonprofit organization that works with a smaller population strictly for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. I work with a population directly of 12 individuals in my program... And I do love them. Over the years, I have grown great relationships with the individuals I work with. It's been tonight with our Christian organization that we can express and share love. We work with individuals who live independently or with only one or two other people, guardians or parents and do not have strong relationships outside of ours. Why should we not spread love and share our care forthe individuals we work with? Yes, I agree in the sense that there is a very large portion that needs to be kept at a professional level, but I believe the purpose of being on this earth is to spread love, and I could guarantee that with our mission in our organization, others would agree. The matter of stating ownership is something I fully agree with. We use the term Individuals instead or "guys or girls" simply because we don't want to show ownership, because there is no ownership from one human being to another. When I say I love someone I use their name. I am guilty of stating "my individuals" or w "our individuals" , not out of intent to show ownership but because I'm human and make mistakes. Overall, I agree with your stance on ownership, but not with the spreading of love.

  4. This is intriguing indeed! I think when i worked in the profession I might have initially felt offended that the hard work and dedication was being minimized....but I see your point and have never viewed it from this perspective until now. Now being out of the profession, Bottom line....I agree with you and wish that someone had educated me years ago about the distortion the concept "i love my guys" creates... its like in any profession...being a photographer (clients pay me for my service) and I do my best to cultivate the relationships that I establish...but I do not think to say "I love my clients"...same with doctors... I never hear a doctor walking around saying "I just love my patients, they are like family". The truth is that the DSP profession is not entirely viewed as such ....YET! but i do have faith that one day it will be.. Great Job John.. you always had a way of making people see things differently.. keep up the good work!