How to Advocate

How do we build a team of support for our relative?

The team of support includes the family, close friends, the mental health professional and the healthcare providers.  A family oriented psychiatrist and nurse practitioner act as essential members of the team.  We use  everday life skills to   establish a context for helping our relative.  These are skills we all have, we just don’t think of them as advocacy tools.

When we build a competent team of support, our ill family member should feel that they are respected and their goals are at the center of the treatment plan. 

What are the skills we need to have under our belts as we approach the challenge of advocacy?

  1. Interpersonal tools
    1. Respond appropriately to the moods, motivations and desires of others.
    2. Ability to see another’s viewpoint.
    3. Empathy
    4. Cooperation
    5. Respect
  2. Organizational Tools
    1. Arrange and coordinate the pieces of the advocacy plan into a complete well-integrated whole.
    2. Systematic planning
    3. Coordinated team efforts
    4. Documentation
    5. Presentation skills or “selling” someone on working with you for a common solution
  3. Intrapersonal skills
    1. Self-aware of inner feelings, beliefs, values and thinking
    2. Sense of personal value, know you make a difference
    3. Reflective of self and situation…develop ability to observe from a distance

Examples of how these advocacy skills are used:

  • Begin with a call to the agency…director of social work, who knows which social worker is on the case and where the loved one is in the process.  This puts the family in contact with a decision maker and begins developing credibility with the agency.  A business-like approach gains respect.  Follow up with a thank you, send the client profile or historical chronology with a cover letter stating your interest and your intention to support the healthcare process, start a dialogue between the decision maker for mental health services and the social worker.
  • Follow-up in writing is crucial.  Paint a picture of your relative as someone who can be successful.  Promote the belief that the family can do some work for the social worker.  The Historical Chronology and Client Profile are like gold to social worker, especially when your relative is new to the agency or institution. 
  • Don’t whine.  Use a business-like approach to make a favorable first impression.  When you complain in your first interaction with a mental health care worker, it sets up an expectation of the family as a problem.  The honest truth is  that usually agency staff are not paid to work with the family.  Lay the groundwork at the beginning so your relative has a chance to succeed.  Family involvement can take more time for the social worker, so take the time to write thank you notes, especially to their boss.  Acknowledge them for their successes.
  • People who work in the agency sometimes use the confidentiality laws to mask their fear of working with families.  They fear that families may take too much time and might be more trouble that they’re worth.  Be aware of that potential bias and show that you are there to be helpful.  Advocacy is a process of working with people one by one.  Know and respect the fact that advocacy is a long-term project.
  • Remember to check in with yourself often and learn your particular process for coping with the added stress.  Use your awareness as a guide to remain calm and balanced in your own life.


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