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You've been assigned a new case worker, counselor, physical therapist, home health aid... and the list goes on. It can be exhausting organizing your life and reality around these new faces. It can be equally frustrating when you feel like lines of communication are not as open as they could be.

No matter how well-intentioned direct-service providers can be, it's perfectly OK to recognize their limitations. There are 5 KEY SKILLS that you want to have in your toolbox when communicating with service providers. These skills are meant to ensure that YOU are in the driver's seat, and that you understand the rationale behind their role and duty to serve YOU. 

I've worked with many clients who feel disempowered and unable to address issues they face with service providers. It's critical to self-educate and stay aware of your autonomy. 

1.) Understand their Scope of Practice

Whether or not you have heard the term before, Scope of Practice is basically a way to describe the limits and boundaries of the duties certain service providers can perform. For example, as a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, it is crucial that I am upfront and transparent about my scope of practice with my clients. I inform them that I cannot provide prescriptions for Low Vision Magnifiers, that I make recommendations with safety at the highest priority, and that extensive counseling services need to be provided by a Social Worker or Counselor. 

Here are some ways you can inquire about the scope of practice of members of your service team:

  1. Could you tell me more about what the limits of your role are?
  2. How do you determine when it's appropriate for me to see an additional specialist?
  3. What can I expect from our time together? 

2.) Cooperate with Assessments and Treatment Programs

Generally speaking, each service provider and therapist working with you will be required to perform an assessment, and follow-up instruction that will include treatment programs for you to practice at home. Often times these assessments can feel unnecessary, tiresome, and redundant. I've received push-back in the past from clients who have "had it" with assessments, and have "given up" on many of the services designed to improve their quality of life. Although I understand that life can get in the way, the assessment and follow-up practice is instrumental in ensuring that you reach your independence goals.

Here are a few questions to ask if you find yourself uncomfortable with the assessment or at-home practice:

  1. I'm aware that the assessment is a necessary part of our time together, but I get (insert adjective here) easily, could we break it up into two sessions? 
  2. Before we dive into the assessment, I'm just curious if you could give me an overview of what the assessment entails, and the typical duration.
  3. Sometimes I have difficulty following up on treatment programs, do you know of any tools that can help me stay motivated?

3.) Recognize their "Successful Outcome" and don't be afraid to be honest

Effective Communication

Communicating with Service Providers

We all have an agenda. Service providers are no exception. Most of the time we are looking for our clients to reach successful outcomes, which can sound a bit vague. What exactly is a successful outcome? And what happens if you don't reach it? In Vision Rehabilitation Therapy our success is defined by individuals reaching independence and safety. This isn't the case in every field.

You have the right to expect transparency from the service providers that are working with you. Don't be afraid to ask them to define what their working definition of "success" is. Don't settle for open-ended responses. Their performance is judged based upon their ability to create successful outcomes for you. Opening up this dialogue will improve your understanding of what is being measured. 

4.) Ask Questions

This cannot be overstated enough. I have observed countless lessons and assessments where there is no time for the client to breathe, let alone ask a question. For whatever reason, service providers tend to want to stay in control of the teaching environment . With regards to andragogy, a key principal of Vision Rehabilitation Therapy, adult learners should be treated as collaborators. This means their opinions, questions and contributions should hold equal value to that of the instructor. Asking questions is a clear and direct way to ensure that you maintain your autonomy while communicating with service providers. 

5.) Ask for a Second Opinion or Supervisor

When in doubt (and not unlike customer service) - you ALWAYS have the power to either speak to a supervisor or request a new service provider. These requests are not made enough. Too often I see my clients settle for whoever they are assigned to work with, and are left unsatisfied. It is a general misconception that people who are receiving social services need to subscribe to the providers they've been assigned. Remember, if you can provide a clear-headed rationale, you can always ask for a change. 


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