Marilyn Dyck: 30 Years of Listening with guest speaker: Jeff Couillard

Thank you for having me. When Marilyn asked me if I would talk, I was infinitely honored and thrilled and terrified. And usually I get to hide behind a set of slides and a microphone and a stand and I’m educating so it’s not as hard as trying to recognize and acknowledge and celebrate the life work of 30 years of listening to young people. So I’m deeply honored to be here today.

My background is addictions treatment and what I know about youth is what they taught me. When I actually stopped trying to change them and stopped trying to fix them and met them where they were at, I realized that when we do that, things get easier and changes actually happen.
Just out of curiosity, hands up if you would say addiction, anxiety, depression, homelessness are problems?

I’m going to suggest that they’re not actually problems. I’m going to suggest that they’re actually symptoms of problems. They’re symptoms of deeper, underlying dysfunctional distress and disconnection (largely) in our society. And when I made that realization you know talking to kids and changing the environment that they found themselves in and how they could experience themselves in that environment and we would see substance abuse and addiction just go away. What is it about the context of the environment that they find themselves in that leads to some of these symptoms of distress?

When I came across The Doorway and had coffee with Marilyn, I was able to sit down and talk through that and to learn an organization’s been doing that for 30 years, despite all the challenges, despite all the obstacles. It’s not common, the model, right? And the perspective and the values. I walk into a lot of organizations – health care, education – and on the wall, it says ‘Client Centered’. It says ‘Participant Centered’. It has values like trust, and integrity, and accountability and all these things that on the surface sound really great. Then you look at the practice and you start to talk and inquire. You talk to the actual participants and realize that the experience they’re having is so disconnected from those values that are supposed to be about change. Because it really impacts the quality of the care.

If we start to think of these things as symptoms and not as causes, we have to start asking questions like ‘What is addiction?’ ‘What is homelessness?’ and ‘What are these symptoms of?’ And I think there are four symptoms of distress, four causes of disconnection.

The one we don’t talk about nearly enough – and the one I think is most important – is the dislocation of the experienced individuals from our values, from our needs, and from our strengths and from our goals. Those four things – I call them the Core Four Motivators: needs, values, goals and strengths – when we get dislocated from that – when I get dislocated from that, I suffer. When I don’t get my needs met – when I find myself living in-congruently with my values, then I start to suffer symptoms of anxiety, depression, a little extra scotch on Friday night, Netflix. Those are just behaviors to cope.

When we look at the model of The Doorway – when we look at how young people are treated when they walk in the door – what are they doing but sitting down and identifying: what are your needs? What do you care about? What’s important to you? What are you good at? What are your capacities and capabilities? When those things are on the table, and when those things are centered in our practice, that’s what Participant Centered practice looks like. Too often young people experience coming into care, coming into an organization and having their problems centered, having their homelessness centered, having their addiction centered.

Any one here ever set a goal to change, New Year’s resolution-style? Lose a little bit of weight, maybe exercise a little bit more – I certainly have. And what I didn’t do was print out pictures of candy bars and put them on the fridge. I didn’t go around reminding myself of the problem. Which is all too often what happens when kids enter our systems. They get reminded over and over and over again of the problems in their lives, and not the fact that they can take action, and that they can make change. So The Doorway as an organization, when I entered the space and started to chat with people, I identified four different themes.

The first one is accountability. We want accountability in young people. I’ve got an 8, 5, and 3 year old and I really want them, by the time they leave the house, to be accountable for themselves. I think it’s a value we probably all share. And yet to have true accountability, we have to give ownership. And how often do we find ourselves actually giving ownership? We give incentives, and consequences, but we take the edge off. The Doorway really embraces this idea that ownership is something they should rely on. They can take ownership over their own process, their own change processes. We don’t have to be the ones driving it home.

Trust. I see a huge emphasis on trust in the organization. And not the kind of trust like ‘We trust you to show up on time’ or ‘We trust you to answer that email’ or ‘We trust you to do your job’. It’s the kind of trust you get when you sit down next to somebody and actually look them in the eyes and you recognize them as a person and you share a little piece of humanity with them. The kind of trust that you’re a whole person – that kind of deeper trust. I don’t know if you’ve been to The Doorway and as you walk in the front door you feel that primal sense.

I also felt a lot of love which I don’t think we talk about nearly enough as helping professionals, and as systems of care, whether it is education or health care. We don’t talk about the necessity of love, and I could talk all day about how important love is. I won’t but …

The last one and the most important one, the ultimate objective I think that we should be aiming ourselves at is a sense of hope and hopefulness. At the end of the day, it’s not about a roof over head or food on the table. Those things are nice and are important and we need to work towards them but if young people leave a program or leave a relationship with a sense of hope and hopefulness that they have some capacity, they have some capability, and they can see a pathway to get from here to there, well I think we definitely helped, and I don’t think the system is doing that. I know the system isn’t doing that.

And The Doorway is – that’s really remarkable and it’d be really tempting to chalk that up to Marilyn, to say it’s because of Marilyn. It certainly is 30 years of bringing those values. But we shouldn’t just see those as characteristics of Marilyn, and we shouldn’t see them as her personality. Certainly, she embodies all of those, but it would be a mistake if we attributed success solely to that because that would ignore how much work she’s put into that, right? How much intention, and the effort it takes to show up with love, and hope, and trust. That’s something that she’s been practicing, and it’s something we can all practice. It would be a mistake because we kind of let ourselves off the hook maybe – now that she’s moving on to other things – to carry those forward. Those are values that the organization holds, and everybody in this room holds. It’s our job to take those values and ask What does this look like in our practice? How do we maintain this our legacy? This 30 years of really operationalizing those values.

There’s really no great way to wrap up a talk about this kind of stuff but I wanted to leave you with a quote, my favorite quote. I’m going to read it because it’s long and I haven’t memorized it but it’s one of my favorites and it’s stuck with me for a long time. It’s by Marianne Williamson – you might know it:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So thank you Marilyn for liberating us, for liberating a lot of people through shining your light. Thank you very much.

-Jeff Couillard

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