Do Roses Have Thorns, or Do Thorns Have Roses?

Avoiding Malpractice: Tips for Social Workers to Manage Risk

Do Roses Have Thorns, or Do Thorns Have Roses?

What in the world does this question have to do with the world of insurance and risk, you would reasonably ask? It’s all about the language.

At its root, language can be uplifting and powerful in a good way. Yet language can be perceived by the listener as sharp and demeaning with hurtful characterizations. Regardless of intention, the choice of words and the way that they are strung together can intentionally or unintentionally cause the listener, particularly a patient, to be left in a wake of inspired enlightenment, or in a state of shattering depravity.

Mark Twain distinguished the “Lightning” from the “Lightning Bug”. He said that the difference between using the almost right word and the right word is a very large matter indeed. Well, so too is the importance of word selection with therapy aspect when communicating with patients, clients, and who are more recently popularly referred to as “customers”, and “survivors”. In the substance abuse world, the word “survivor” is preferred by the “customers”. Find out in the first therapy session what your new patient is comfortable with, along with her or his name.

In the insurance world, we use cold, sterile, and legally defined words that are detached from real heartfelt practitioner-patient relationships. The Courts and litigation action requires this level of impartiality and sharp preciseness. Examples include “Insured” or “First-Party”, such as the customer who bought the insurance policy, or who occasionally becomes the “Defendant” when a lawsuit arises. Another example of a legally defined term is “Third-Party“, such as an entity or person under the employ of the “Insured”, or interacting with the “Insured”. While strict legal definitions are a prerequisite in legal insurance policy contracts, it is imperative that the practitioner ascends to higher level language when treating patients-clients-customers-survivors.

The treatment relationship blossoms into a more sincere and trusting therapy sphere within the context of seeking wellness built on mutual respect. Moreover, it mitigates the likelihood of therapy dissatisfaction, which leads indirectly or directly to Licensing Board complaints, parental dissatisfaction, and ultimately claims and lawsuits being filed against you for a myriad of reasons.

Practitioners often rely on “WRAP” training which is a “Wellness Recovery Action Plan”. It starts with using words and language the correct way, not the wrong way. Part of this “Plan” is monitoring your feelings and word selection communication so you always have a plan to deal with triggers that can escalate into a crisis mode. Defuse the situation by going back to the things that resulted in you and your patient feel good.

One out of every five people has or will have some sort of mental health issue. Mental health issues are more common than people think. It can happen any time to anybody. So it is imperative to step out of the legal language mode and step into the comfort zone of the “people first language mode”.

People have feelings. The therapy session works better when the participants are happy and relate well with mutual respect and trust. That relationship, which is the bedrock of a conducive therapy program plan, starts with using the correct words and language. So think respect and shared humanity, and avoid words or phrases that could be interpreted to demean, stigmatize, pathologize, or discriminate.

Here are some examples for you to use:

Disabled or HandicappedPeople With Disabilities
Wheelchair-BoundShe/He Uses a Wheelchair/Mobility Chair
Cripple Physical Disability
Birth DefectCongenital Disability
Learning or Physically Disabled Learning/Physical/Developmental Disability
Normal or Healthy PersonPerson Without a Disability
Handicapped BathroomAccessible Bathroom
Is Non-Verbal Communicates With Device, Hands, or Eyes
Low FunctioningUsing Wellness Tools or Having Challenges in Certain Areas
Relapse PreventionRecovery Maintenance
DecompensatingEncountering Difficulties
Suffer FromChallenged With, and Can Be Hurdled
Recovering Drug AddictPerson in Recovery
Treatment PlanRecovery Plan or Wellness Plan
WeaknessAreas to Develop and Enhance
Problems With/Special NeedsShe/He Needs or She/He Uses
Case ManagerWellness Guide or System Navigator
Discharge PlanCommunity Support Plan

Remember what George Orwell said:
“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”.

Published January 2019

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