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The Caring Together Art Journal Project

Mental health carers as partners in recovery

The No Blame Campaign – and a free poster

Download poster here. Provided for non profit use “as is” to promote a positive culture. Copyright remains with Helen Wilding – http://helenwildingart.com

We have all experienced blame – whether we are carers, consumers, clinicians, parents, brothers, sisters, butchers, bakers or candlestick makers. We’ve all been on the receiving end at some time – and you can bet that we have all taken turns handing blame out too (including me, I’ll sadly confess).  We know how awful it makes us feel, but still it remains the elephant in the room – something we all know is there, but are too scared or embarrassed to talk about.

Blame makes partnership impossible. It makes it hard to trust people or speak openly. It makes us feel lousy when we find out we were wrong and had blamed someone unfairly. It makes us feel guilty, angry and defensive if we feel blamed ourselves. It makes it hard to provide constructive feedback or accept suggestions for change. It stops us from seeing mistakes as an opportunity to learn.

When I talk about blame, I’m not just thinking about how families used to be blamed for mental illness, shocking as that was. I’m also talking about blaming clinicians when things go wrong, when it is usually the system that needs fixing. I’m talking about blaming people for making bad decisions when they are so ill that they can’t think clearly. I’m talking about honest feedback being treated as a complaint and the hunt for a scapegoat rather than a solution. I’m talking about parents being blamed for their children’s behaviour when they have been to every parenting class known to mankind. I’m talking about all those situations where we look for someone to blame, rather than ways to make things better.

It’s quite simple, really. If we continue to look for scapegoats, pass the buck, blame people behind their back (and in front of it), we will never be able to move forwards as partners. (Remember we are not talking about genuine criminal responsibility here – that is a whole different issue.) Apart from anything else, it is such an incredible waste of energy. Just imagine how far we could go if we put that same energy into fixing the problem instead of whingeing about whose fault it was!

I believe we can beat blame together. Here are some ideas:

  • Acknowledge that blame exists. Bring it out of the closet and into the open where it is much easier to deal with. We can’t beat blame if we don’t talk about it.
  • Say out loud that blame is not okay. For example, acknowledging it has happened and saying you don’t agree can completely diffuse the situation and allow you to move on eg “Yes … you WERE blamed. That was wrong.”
  • Join our No Blame Campaign and put our poster on your walls. Or make your own version and tell us about it. Putting something like this up on your walls is a message to everyone that blame, scapegoating and guilt are not welcome and that you will actively fight them. However honesty, responsibility, problem solving and partnership are welcome. Imagine how you would feel if you were a client walking into a room with a sign like that up on the wall. Would it make you feel you were in safe hands? How about working in that environment?
  • Create a work culture where feedback can be accepted in a positive way. Celebrate responsibility and problem solving and ban buck passing. Remember – improvements make great quality projects!
  • Use humor to commiserate with an impossible situation. For example, you could jokingly admit that parents can’t possibly win – that they either love their children too much or they love them too little. If you laugh at the suggestion, it makes judgments like those ludicrous. Just picture those blindfolded carers teetering from side to side, umbrella in hand, while trying to balance on a continually shifting  tightrope of “perfect parenting” …
  • Use positive language – in the way you talk and the reports you write. (There are lots of positive words here.)
  • Treat mistakes as an opportunity to learn. Mistakes just show us one way that doesn’t work – and the only people who don’t make mistakes are the ones who don’t actually do anything.
  • Learn from the past. Read about the bad old days of schizophrenogenic mothers and refrigerator mothers being blamed for mental illness. It seems ridiculous now, but it wasn’t long ago, and that type of thinking is surprisingly hard to shift. Find out how these theories evolved at times when people were fumbling in the dark, desperate to find the cause of mental illness – but at what cost?  Talk amongst yourselves about whether this still happens. For example, if a client is diagnosed with a personality disorder, what assumptions are often made about the parents?
  • Acknowledge that we all make assumptions and begin with pre-conceived ideas. What matters is that we question our assumptions and don’t let them rule our behaviour. For example, we may believe that parenting is responsible for a child’s problems – but how do we know that is true in this case?
  • Write reports in a way that is non judgmental. Base records on facts, not assumptions.
  • Consider how you would feel if you were on the receiving end.
  • If you are at the receiving end and it is getting you down, try to see blame as a gift you can choose to refuse.
  • Don’t believe everything you hear. Check the facts and make up your own mind. Think “How do I know that is true?”
  • Look forwards rather than backwards. If there is a problem, look for a solution (which will empower you and make you feel good), rather than dwelling on past mistakes (which can’t be changed and make you feel lousy and hopeless). Try to move on.
  • If you have made a mistake acknowledge it and apologise. Then brainstorm how to do things differently next time. Don’t underestimate the healing power of a simple “sorry“.
  • Focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. Shift the emphasis. Create hope.
  • Celebrate positives. Even small ones.
  • Say “thank you” , “well done” and “good idea” more.
  • Share more “warm fuzzies”!
  • Let us know how you went!! If starting a campaign like this manages to change the way people work together, then that is reason for celebration – and something to share.

Good luck!!

Written and illustrated by Helen Wilding 2013.

Cite as: Wilding, H. (2013). The No Blame Campaign – and a free poster. The Caring Together Art Journal Project. Retrieved from https://caringtogetherproject.com/no-blame-campaign/

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