Beyond the Deficit Reduction Model of Care
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Let me describe an all-too-common scenario in my work as a college counselor: A parent’s texts and daily calls to a student surpass harassment and qualify as abuse, an endless stream of criticisms, suspicions, invalidations, and accusations. This onslaught clearly focuses more on the parent’s needs than the student’s. The parent has a huge blind spot for his or her own needs better addressed with a professional than with a child struggling to master quantum mechanics, emerging intimacy needs, and an uncertain career landscape.
When the student bravely confronts the parent for the harsh intrusions, the parent answers, “I say these things because I care.” Then the parent triples the onslaught, ironically seeking sympathy for the stress of parenting from a distance.
This dynamic plays out in marriages, workplaces, churches, and any gathering of two or more interdependent people. Abusers sincerely believe they care. While their tragic condition derives from a complex array of causes, culture contributes with a pervasive and lopsided concept of care.
Call it the deficit reduction model: Caring means finding someone’s problem and fixing it. Certainly when we take our pain to the chiropractor, our unruly hair to a stylist, or our nagging worry to a counselor, we need that kind of care. We need someone with a trained eye to detect our deficit and help us correct it.
If the chiropractor, stylist, or counselor delivers only that, we will not likely get our money’s worth. We manage better when the provider helps us identify our strengths and resources and helps us leverage them. The chiropractor who encourages continuing new health habits, the stylist who points out the beautiful features to bring out, and the counselor who underscores the patient’s resilience skills empowers the person who came with a need.
Moving beyond deficit reduction to strength leveraging balances care. With a deficit reduction model alone, the care provider serves a needy clientele. While that common model of care usually comes with kindness, it can serve abusers’ belief that they care and that others needs their control.
Full scale care requires more than a balance between deficit reduction and strength leveraging. It requires respect, compassion, and patience. It requires recognition that deficits don’t define people. It requires humility and good humor about our own deficits, and willingness to share our vulnerability to validate others amid their struggles.
My young client and I cannot change the abusive parent with a lecture on better care. But I can give my client full care that not only corrects but empowers, and in doing so, I can offer an example of care from which the student can learn. We may not talk about God. But I believe in a God who cares with an empowering love, and I pray that by offering a dim reflection of it in my care, that all of us, even the abuser, will come to know divine mercy, the giving and receiving of it.
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