WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Helping hand

Well, see, I took up psychology because I wanted to understand what normal behavior is. Counseling on demand oftentimes dwells on behaviors that are — temporarily or more stubbornly — on the other side of the continuum, so I'd rather leave it well enough alone.

But the paradox of normal behavior is that it is actually normal to have problems. We stop having problems when we die. Some people are good at solving problems mainly because they don't avoid them. In fact, they anticipate problems and are ready for them before the difficulties get to be overwhelming. They recognize problems as part and parcel of living in this world. And they know themselves too well to recognize what works for them and what does not.

Some aren't so lucky.

How do we then help people move towards wellness? My personal philosophy of it is that there is no one-size-fits-all formula. A helping hand should recognize individual differences, and most especially in the way people experience life's problems.

The interactionist perspective acknowledges the interplay between the influence of both inherent and environmental factors in determining for the person the patterns of thinking, acting, and feeling that would characterize his individuality. It is therefore important to take these factors into consideration when making personality assessment for the purpose of situating the individual in his subjective world of experience for, when all is said and done, we all live subjective realities.

Personality assessment is a necessary procedure in any helping situation as it allows the helper to grasp the problem from the perspective of the client. It also offers insight into the client's perception of the range of alternatives available for him and the support systems he could tap to allow him to move towards wellness.

But while reviewing the roots of stresses and problematic behavior is necessary, to dwell on these too much fixates the problem in the past. Worse, it sometimes becomes the excuse for the client to rationalize his situation, to habituate the cycle of ineffectual responses, and to normalize what could very well be a pathological condition.

And while social conditioning oftentimes has the power to reshape and give direction to the discovery and expression of innate potentials and capabilities, those in the helping professions should also recognize the individual's capacity for learning, creativity, and dynamic problem-solving abilities. People indeed learn enduring patterns of behavior from the reinforcements drawn from social norms and recurrent interactions, but it is always possible to learn new ones by reconfiguring the social systems from which these reinforcements are derived. People retain that capacity to change their behavior. People can take control of themselves in order to better control their world.

It is a point for reflection what the intentions are that drive one's practice of helping others. Is wellness about making people understand and relive the roots of their maladjustment and maladaptation? Or is it about empowering people towards healthy adjustment and adaptation? Should the present be recalibrated by looking over one's shoulder or by looking forward?

My view is that within each of us lies the capacity to solve the riddles of living in this world. Sometimes, circumstances are such that we need help bringing it out. But our destiny is to gain strength to take that power within and give back to the world.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)

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