Advice for Practitioners

This is an experimental page at this point, based on some ideas I had about communicating to people in the helping professions.

Difficulties you will probably encounter when trying to help

  1. You will have a different idea of what the outcome should be than the person you want to help.
  2. The person will want to tell you his stories about how bad he’s been treated or how he has been made into a victim.
  3. The person will be hesitant or unwilling to confide in you about certain aspects of his life that embarrass him.
  4. The person will have obvious problems in his environment that he doesn’t tell you about because he thinks they are normal.

Traditional “therapies” often hang up on one or more of these points. Most helping professionals are at such a loss at how to overcome these difficulties that they have resigned themselves to using techniques that may assist the person and/or society by successfully altering the person’s behavior, but that otherwise have little therapeutic value.

The moral and ethical underpinnings of therapeutic interventions

Therapeutic interventions will not succeed if the person you are trying to help is not willing to be honest with you, or does not realize certain things about his environment. These factors include:

  1. Insufficient nutrition or rest. The person may not even be aware that this makes a big difference. The person may be so poorly nourished or so under-rested that proper food and rest alone may “cure” him.
  2. Insufficient moral compass. The person may be engaged in morally questionable behaviors, but has glib justifications such as “everybody does that.” Realize that in his environment, this may be true. He may be lacking a proper moral education. A non-religious moral code such as The Way To Happiness (the only one I know about) should help with this. If the person is experimenting with drugs or alcohol he may need additional education in that area as well, such as from the Truth About Drugs materials. The person may also be lacking sufficient understanding about basic human rights. The materials at Youth For Human Rights can help with this.
  3. The person may be illiterate. These days, it is possible to make it through school, apparently, without ever really learning how to read. Or the person may be able to “sound out” what he reads without understanding what the words mean. Using written materials is pointless if the person is illiterate. Even people who are literate prefer materials with pictures, or other ways to obtain “more mass.” These basics are covered in the materials presented by Applied Scholastics.
  4. The person may be living or working with a sociopath, also known as a Suppressive Person. This “friend” relative or associate will actively interfere with any attempts the person makes to “get better.” They find well and able people too threatening. A primer on the anti-social personality is available on

If you specialize in working with “underprivileged” persons, the above points are very very important. The first one in particular. Although, these days, these points can trip up anybody in any socioeconomic position in life. You must check these points as a part of any intervention that is intended to be more than just superficial.

The lowest common denominator of modern “therapies”

If someone trying to help does not pay attention to the above points, they will have losses in their work. This had led most people in front-lines positions in the various modern “care” systems to fall back on what has come to be known as “cognitive behavioral therapy.” There are likely many versions of this, although this has evolved into a quite structured approach.

Though CBT today is considered to be as or more effective than psychoactive drugs for helping people with problems, particularly young people, that’s not saying much. In the end, we can categorize this approach as educative, but otherwise not that therapeutic. IPT (interpersonal psychotherapy) is in a similar position.

To go beyond merely educative “therapies” aimed at changing behaviors under certain particular conditions, all the above points must be under good control. If your only tools for achieving this are CBT and IPT, go ahead and use them. I was taught different tools, but I am not a student of academic psychology.

Achieving the goals of real help

When you first started out trying to help other people (perhaps a distressed parent or sibling) you might have hoped that you could make them actually happier or more able to face their troubles. You may have succeeded. But you can probably think of some times when you didn’t.

Real help is possible. Its goals might be considered to include:

  1. Permanent increase in happiness level.
  2. Gaining a skill or skills one didn’t have before.
  3. Rehabilitating abilities that became “lost” due to disuse or failures.

Such gains are more difficult to achieve than simple behavior changes, but are well worth achieving, and probably are a big part of what you hope to achieve with the people you try to help. They can be achieved. But be prepared to put considerable time and effort into the work.

You have to get in the above basics first. Then you have to work with the person in a way that discovers and handles factors that most people in society today are unaware of or consider to be “belief systems” rather than the most basic stepping stones towards improvement. If you want such gains in those you help, be prepared for pushback from persons who feel threatened by your new-found abilities and sense of purpose. The gains are well worth it, but require – besides a bit of time – a certain amount of courage to attain. Good luck!