Hattie, 53, lives in Kennebec County and is a DLS and a MHRT-1. She works in the homes of people of any age range who have mental illness in three areas: mental health, ADLs, and Community Integration.
What has your career path looked like?
I never thought I’d get into this particular field or in caretaking in general. I spent 20 years in office work but what got me here is my own journey. I had an abusive ex and developed PTSD. As I was working through my own journey, which included medication and CBT, I really got to see what mental illness is and what it isn’t. I was one of those people before who was like ‘Just get over it.’ From there, I had the opportunity to get in at the ground level, which is Daily Living Skills. As far as training courses, there were a lot at first, but the good thing is you need no degree whatsoever to do this job. They’ll train you on the job.
I can’t believe I get paid for helping someone. It has felt like a calling for the three years I’ve done this job
What do you consider success in your job?
I always consider knowledge as the key. Beyond the regular standard training courses, you need to have an interest in this particular field. I’ve done all sorts of research into this field, so when I speak with my clients, I am confident and sound confident. When I make a suggestion on problem-solving or coping skills, they believe me and trust me. Trust is vital in this job. They welcome you into a deep part of their lives, so you need to build that trust before you can help guide them.
How would you describe the impact of your work as a DSP?
I had an impact on my first client. After working with her for some time, in essence, she fired me. We had this great connection and she had four different goals to accomplish. We made great headway on three of the goals, but there was one we just couldn’t reach. Every single time I’d say something, she’d redirect me or we wouldn’t be able to make any headway. One of her goals was to be more assertive. She never spoke up for herself or said ‘This is what I want and this is my goal.’ I realized the impact I had on her when she told the agency, ‘I really like Hattie but I need to work with a different DLS, so I can reach my fourth goal.’ I’ve never been so proud. She knew what she needed and was able to acknowledge the great connection we had and still make a choice that was best for her. I felt like I succeeded with her.
What advice would you give people who want to be a DLS and MHRT-1?
You can’t take anything personally. They tell you that and then the first time someone doesn’t connect with you, for a microsecond, you do. But you can’t. It’s their journey. They need to have the right fit. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing your job right; it simply means you’re not the right fit.
What kind of person is the right fit for your line of work, both in personality and character traits?
You need to be empathetic, nonjudgmental, and be able to set good boundaries, such as not allowing them to know too much about your life. It’s natural for clients to want to form friendships, and in a sense you are, but you have to always keep it at the professional level. I made up an acronym that I filter everything through, which I call R.E.D.: Respect. Encouragement. Dignity. You have to respect that this is their home and their choices to make, even if you don’t agree with them. You encourage them for every step forward, but also, they’re going to take steps back, and you still need to encourage them. And you need to restore their dignity. That’s vital; they automatically don’t feel dignity because of the mental illness stigma, not being able to do what others do, or feeling like their lives are never going to get better. So, if I filter everything I do through R.E.D. then I know I’m going to do everything correctly.
What do you wish people outside the industry knew about your daily challenges?
I wish they would understand how the stigma of mental illness hinders self-esteem and productivity. Our brains can get sick, just like our bodies and it’s not a weakness. It’s not an excuse. It’s a cry for help. We hear a lot about having societies that are all-inclusive–well, that also includes being all-inclusive for the mentally ill as well.
What do you want them to know about the rewards of your line of work?
For me, I have the privilege of walking along someone else’s mental illness journey and that’s amazing. There really isn’t any better job than being able to help someone. I never thought I’d be in that mindset, but I love seeing the changes in someone, seeing them feel encouraged. I can’t believe I get paid for helping someone. It has felt like a calling for the three years I’ve done this job. It feels like what I’m supposed to do.
Glossary of Terms
Daily Living Support Services are intended to assist those struggling with severe and persistent mental health challenges.
A MHRT-I provides personal supervision and therapeutic support to persons with severe and persistent mental illness.
Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)
Community integration, while diversely defined, is a term encompassing the full participation of all people in community life.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness.