I had an extremely nervous new client who was genuinely afraid that her house would be the worst I had ever seen. She had good reason to feel nervous. She had previously hired a housecleaner who had arrived and quickly made an excuse to leave. An hour later, the agency who had sent the cleaner rang to say that her home was not the “sort of house” they cleaned. Ouch!
In fairness to the cleaner, this was not a cleaning job. To the untrained eye it probably looked like hoarding. In reality, the client struggles with mental health challenges that have resulted in chronic disorganisation and accumulated clutter. Unlike people who hoard, this client was ready and willing to discard, she just needed support to make decisions. She also needed support to develop habits and routines that worked with her mental health challenges.
I’ve seen hundreds of homes, many that have become squalid. But I have not encountered a home that frightened me, or that couldn’t be made safe and comfortable. What I have encountered is people who are unwilling to accept support. We call these people treatment-refusing and they are incredibly difficult to make progress with.
As support professionals, we need to have the skills to assess both the environment and the client. We must understand what is beneath the clutter to know if we have the appropriate skill set to help. Angela recently shared her thoughts on a similar experience in a Facebook Live post.
The cleaner I mentioned earlier was obviously scared by the level of clutter in my client’s home and was unlikely to have the skills to work with a complex client. I have a completely different skills set and have thoroughly enjoyed working with the client and watching her progress.
The lesson in both mine and Angela’s recent experience is that we need to have reliable assessment tools in our tool kit. Rather than drawing conclusions from the environment alone, we need to assess the person and their willingness and capacity to engage in the work required. Only then can we know if we have the appropriate skills to work with the client. When Angela and I looked beyond the clutter we found delightful clients who were capable swift decisions and eager to embrace new ideas to improve the safety and comfort of their homes.