Dr. Maureen Didier, my Casework Professor at SUNY Albany, where I got my Masters In Social Work degree in 1972 also told me that as a Social Worker clients would manipulate me. I remember her telling me that it is OK to be manipulated if you know you are being manipulated and agree to it, but to be manipulated and not realize it will lead to a world of trouble and is incompetent practice.
Over the course of 40 years of practice, I can’t tell you how many thousands of times I have been manipulated and have known it and gone along with it. Over the same period of time I have been manipulated also by my wife, my children, my neighbors, my friends, my colleagues, my employer, my political representatives, business people, and the list goes on.
Dr. Didier told me it is OK to be manipulated as long as I am aware of it, and I have struggled for years to become more and more aware. Developing awareness takes ongoing effort. It never ends. Being aware of the need to continually increase one’s awareness requires ongoing willingness to learn, to approach life in a “not knowing” and open hearted way, and to reflect on one’s own experience and sift it for nuggets of wisdom.
This self-reflection often requires a discussion with trusted others who have the time and interest and willingness to listen carefully, ask good questions, and provide honest feedback. Seeking out consultation and supervision is critical to good Social Work practice and to just about any other endeavor in life whether to manage your own emotions, manage your intimate relationships with others, parent your children, take care of your health, manage your finances, develop your spirituality, or learn any new skill or master any new body of knowledge.
On the other hand, Social Workers also manipulate clients all the time under the guise of providing service or “treatment”. Social Workers value the client’s right to self determination and we have an ethical responsibility to obtain a client’s informed consent before we engage them in service activities and yet formalizing this idea of protecting clients from unwanted and involuntary manipulation often is illusionary because we are manipulating people all the time when we interact with them to get what we want and to influence other people’s behavior and to move situations in our desired directions.
Manipulation has taken on a pejorative meaning in our current terminology but if we change the word from manipulation to influence it doesn’t seem so bad. The point to this chapter is that manipulation goes on all the time. It is part of life. There is nothing wrong with it necessarily as long as you are aware, and when ethically required, we disclose our intentions and obtain consent. It is the way we give respect and maintain our self-respect.