This is my new idea for the new year. See, I love learning new things, especially theoretical-type things. (Just for the record, a life goal of mine is to teach a Theories of Counseling class someday.) However, my love of learning new information doesn’t always make the leap into practical applications–there is often a big gap between what I read and what I actually do. I’m not sure why–fear of trying something new and failing? I want to be a good counselor, and draw ideas and techniques from a variety of places, so it’s time to challenge myself and try out ideas I’ve pulled from reading. I’d like these posts to be a book review/practical application hybrid, and I welcome comments and ideas on how you’ve incorporated these books in your own practice.
Up first: Ruby Paine’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty. We discussed this book in my Multicultural Counseling class this summer and I intended to buy and read it. Then the move, internship, and the start of a new job intervened and it just didn’t happen. Until one day, when I mentioned a book about the culture of poverty to my brand-new office mate, and she literally turned around, pulled the book out of her desk drawer, and told me it was one of the most influential things she’d ever read.
Serendipitous beginnings aside, my coworker was right–Payne’s lessons have crept into my thinking and colored how I understand my clients and others around me. Payne holds that poverty creates a distinct culture, typified by a lack of resources. Financial resources, yes, but also emotional and social resources. This lack of resources, in turn, creates a distinct worldview and set of values, or set of rules, as Payne calls them. The middle and upper classes also have unique rules. Thus, we can’t ever hope to lift someone out of poverty by giving them only financial resources, since they can’t play the game if they don’t know the rules of the other classes, right? Helping professionals also can’t fully understand our clients unless we know these rules, too.
Since reading A Framework for Understanding Poverty, I see culture differences between classes everywhere. Work, school, home, friends, counseling, media, advertising, everywhere. Take, for example, the hidden rules regarding food. Those living in poverty value quantity, those in the middle class value quality, and those living in wealth value presentation. This explains the difference between Golden Corral (quantity), Ruby Tuesday (which has recently repositioned itself as a place of quality), and very upscale restaurants. (Ok, I couldn’t think of an upscale restaurant that everyone might know. Think of any of the dishes featuring “foams” that Marcel on Top Chef created about 100 years ago. You get the drift–small plates of very decorative food.) Once you read the book and start seeing culture differences, they’re hard to un-see. They’re not necessarily a bad thing, and I’m not saying one class is better than another. They’re just different.
Although the book is geared towards teachers and others in education, those in any of the helping professions can certainly benefit. It just takes a little more reading between the lines and figuring out how to apply Payne’s points to an older crowd. Almost immediately after reading the book, I was able to apply Payne’s concepts of child, teacher, and adult voice to a series of constructive feedback seminars I gave to young adults this fall. They work with school students, and so frequently fall into either child or teacher voice by default when giving feedback to each other. Recognizing that more neutral and balanced adult voice helped some of them give feedback to each other in a more positive and constructive manner.
I also use some of Payne’s lessons in my counseling internship, albeit indirectly. By observing and speaking to my clients, I can often tell which rules they follow. Again, this isn’t any kind of judgment on my part, just a way to better understand and empathize with my clients. Some of their behaviors or values become less puzzling when I understand their rules. They still might not be the most constructive behaviors or values in a middle class-governed society, but at least I better understand their motives and can approach them in a way that makes sense.
In all, A Framework for Understanding Poverty was a quick read and yielded some valuable insight. Have you ever read this book? What did you think? How have you applied its lessons?