By Ken McGill, EdS, LMFT, Rutgers University
What is more basic to our understanding than how we develop and use language? Language is used to communicate who we are as individuals. It can be used to describe how we are ‘feeling inside’ to others. It is through this sharing or using words to connect feelings and emotional states that we can also better understand our own sense of self–the real self. The genuine person or individual each one of us develops into from birth, throughout childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and later, if fortunate, late adulthood. All human beings are expressive creatures and will often use verbal language to convey their messages.
When you really give this some thought and attempt to break it down to its very simple components, what we get are five letters (sometimes six) which create the essential sounds. When put together, with the twenty or twenty-one letters that make up the rest of the English alphabet, they create words. The words unfold and within a grammar syntax, meaningful communication is created for another individual or individuals to hear with the goal of comprehension.
This is where communication through language starts to get complicated. More importantly, complex is a word that would best describe those who use language…US. My writing this blog is not to further confuse or alienate those who want to serve others in the human services field. In fact, my goal is to make it simpler (or at least less confusing). This is exactly what Dr. Lyons and the development of ‘communimetrics’ has accomplished over the decades. It breaks the work down and captures information about those we serve through communication.
I strongly encourage everyone in this field to read Communimetrics: A Communication Theory of Measurement in Human Service Settings by Dr. John S. Lyons. For more information, you can go to the Praed Foundation website.
It is from a communimetric position that I now go back to the early paragraph where vowels were being mentioned. Those five (or six) letters, A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y, make up the sounds to create the countless number of words with language. This does not seem possible but it is.
When we look at a communimetric measurement like the Child Adolescent Needs & Strengths (CANS), we may also have this kind of skepticism. How can a compilation of separate items—each given a rating of 0, 1, 2, or 3—represent a list of Needs and Strengths? Further, how can these Needs and Strengths comprehensively and accurately reflect what is happening in the life of a child/adolescent? This does not seem possible…but it is possible.
Since CANS is a communication tool and language is at the core of its use, then the vowels are very relevant as they are the essence of language….communication. Now let us use the vowels as an acronym for how we can embed the CANS into the work that we do with those we serve.
It is important to remember that the CANS is not a form to complete or a checklist to follow. Since many of those we serve report that they are assessed many times and have to share their ‘story’ repeatedly, we must Assess with the purpose to gain knowledge. It is through this Engagement we must listen to learn, which can lead to empathy. Therapeutic rapport can be built in the midst of this perspective sharing. Identification of underlying needs and strengths are what will be implemented in the care planning or treatment plan. The successful plans of care, which are those individualized to match that particular unique person, will lead to Outcomes. The results of this meaningful Understanding strengthens the ‘shared vision.’ It is through this comprehension that we, the helpers, gain a richer picture of those we serve. Additionally, and I would say more importantly, those being served gain a more complete sense of self in this process.
Finally, what about the Y? I would say that YOU or all those who serve in the human services field must have a reverence for those we serve. The ‘Y’ can also serve as a reminder of ‘Why?’ we do the work. I too often think professionals fail to respect the power inherent to our roles. However, if we consistently remind ourselves of what a privilege it is to walk with those on their journeys to increased health and wellness it can be an empowerment.
The next time you look at the CANS, specifically the items on the particular communimetric tool you use, think of them as the ‘vowels’ which can be used to formulate a language or meaningful communication…the actual work we do. CANS supports the foundation of the human services field.