If you asked me “what’s the most important thing you learned in your Social Work graduate education” I would say it was Dr. Maureen Didier telling me, “Take the client where they’re at, take the client where they’re at, not where you want them to be, not where you think they ought to be, where you think they should be, take the client where they’re at!”
I had Dr. Didier for three out of the four semesters of our 64 credit hour Masters in Social Work program. I, as a young person, had some disdain for my graduate work become it wasn’t pure social science but applied social science with lots of methods courses. And so I held a lot of my education in those days in some contempt I am embarrassed to now say because it has served me very well.
Outside of class I would mock Dr. Didier and say to my fellow students, “Can you believe that this is what passes for graduate education, her standing up there saying ‘Take the client where they’re at. Take the client where they’re at” in a high sing song mocking voice. And yet 40 years later I have Dr. Didier on my right shoulder whispering into my ear when I am frustrated, when I am going too fast with a client, when I find myself imposing my values, and hopes and dreams and preferences and desires onto the client, “David, take the client where they’re at.” And I slow down, step back, listen more deeply, try to understand where the client is coming from and what the client wants, and I realize that things always go better.
I find the maxim, “Take the client where they’re at” to be just as important and just as good advice in my personal life as in my professional life.
After 40 years, I thank Dr. Didier and marvel at her wisdom. I laugh at my vanity, egotism, condescension, and am ashamed to tell you that I laughed and mocked her.
I don’t know where she is, or even if she is still alive. I think she has probably died. I thank her every day and say a prayer of thanksgiving for what she taught me. I am sorry for mocking her. I hope she would forgive me for not appreciating her wisdom when I was younger.
I pass her wisdom along to you and suggest if there is never anything else you learn in your Social Work education and/or practice or life, remember Didier’s dictum – “Take the Client Where They’re At.” It will serve you, your clients, and those with whom you are in relationship very well.