Think back to a time in your life when someone treated you with disrespect.
How did you feel when this happened? Did you become annoyed? Angry? Humiliated? And how did it affect your opinion of the person who disrespected you? Did you lose some of your trust and respect in them?
Now think of a person who has always treated you with the respect you deserve. Do you feel understood and accepted when you speak to them? Do you trust them with personal information that you wouldn’t tell just anyone? Do you respect their thoughts and opinions when they share them with you?
Respect plays an important role in how we view and interact with other people. In fact, feeling respected by other people increases our self-esteem, sense of affiliation, and sense of belonging in a group. In mental health settings, respect can help a person feel comfortable to honestly share their thoughts and emotions, which is crucial for any therapeutic relationship.
At Cummins Behavioral Health, respect is one of the core values that guides the work we do each day. We strive for all of our actions to convey respect for the uniqueness, dignity and worth of every individual we interact with. Individually and collectively, we seek to be advocates for those we serve.
To better understand what respect means at Cummins, we spoke to four members of our staff who embody this value: Suzette Corrie, Marion County Access Team Lead; Melissa Bush, Licensed Therapist and Clinical Team Lead; Pati Hopkins, Medical Services Liaison for State Hospital and Civil Commitments; and Melissa Lawson, School-based Life Skills Specialist.
In this post, they explain not only why respect matters, but also how they show it in their day-to-day work.
What Respect Means for Our Staff
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, to show respect toward someone means “to consider (them) worthy of high regard.” However, the ways in which someone shows respect through their words and actions can vary greatly.
For our staff, showing respect means treating people in a way that is nonjudgmental and that acknowledges their value as an individual. “Respect means always showing someone you care by actively listening, offering support and confidentiality, and above all treating others how you wish to be treated,” Melissa Lawson says.
Pati agrees, adding, “Respect means treating others in a way that allows them to maintain and maximize their dignity. To validate and encourage, to support them, to advocate for them, to stand for them. To show that they matter.”
All four providers indicated that their personal sense of respect could be traced back to a family member who influenced them in their youth. “Two people who shaped my thoughts on respect are my parents,” Suzette says. “They both showed and taught me that no matter what you might be going through, there is always someone who has it worse. That statement goes through my mind almost daily.”
For Melissa Bush, her father played an enormous role in shaping her deep-seated belief in respecting others. “He was a Navy and Vietnam veteran,” Melissa explains. “He instilled in me a core belief system consistent with the Golden Rule. He believed that all humans are truly created equally and are worthy to be treated as such. He instilled the value of service in me.”
Why Respect Matters—in Therapy and in Everyday Life
As we mentioned above, the presence or absence of respect makes a profound difference in our relationships with other people. When we believe that others respect us, we feel included and valued. And by contrast, when we sense disrespect from others, we feel excluded and devalued, and our self-worth may be damaged as a result.
“I know the positives that respect brings, and I know the damage and pain that disrespect does,” Pati says. “I abhor when persons are disrespectful and tear others down. Basic human dignity matters. Kindness matters.”
It is vital for every person’s self-esteem and wellness to feel respected in their day-to-day life. Respect is even more important in the context of therapy and counseling, because a consumer must be able to trust that their provider always has their best interests in mind. Melissa Bush explains, “Each person has incredible value. They are someone’s son, daughter, parent, grandparent, sibling, or loved one. They deserve to have five-star care. This person’s journey has brought them to us, and they entrust us with so much.”
Of course, treating others with respect is easy when that respect is reciprocated in turn. The true test—and the moment when respect is most crucial—is when we are confronted with disrespect. Our providers suggested that part of their job involves responding to disrespect with grace and understanding.
“When someone is disrespectful towards me, I try not to take it personally,” Suzette says. “I don’t know everything about what is going on in their lives or what happened before they walked in. I try to calm them down by listening and not reacting to their disrespectful comments.”
Melissa Lawson adds that the appropriate response to an instance of disrespect depends on how harmful that disrespect may be to others. “Knowing that others have different perspectives and attitudes, I let it go if it is something inconsequential. If it will have a negative impact on me or on someone else, then I let the person know how I feel and how I want myself or others to be treated,” she says.
How Our Providers Show Respect to Cummins’ Consumers
In some ways, the respect that a therapist or counselor shows to a consumer looks much the same as the respect that any person shows toward another. Respect means listening to the other person, acknowledging their worth, and treating them as they wish to be treated. But in a therapeutic relationship, respect also means establishing a supportive and collaborative relationship between provider and consumer.
“I express sincerely how honored I am to work with them, to be entrusted with such important life issues and needs,” Melissa Bush says. “I respond quickly when they reach out to me with a need. I ask them for feedback about our work so I can adjust to their needs.”
Melissa Lawson adds, “I show respect to consumers by building a collaborative partnership, being present and positive in reflecting on their feelings and needs, supporting consumers’ efforts by focusing on their strengths, maintaining confidentiality, and providing frequent feedback on positive growth.”
A foundation of respect in the provider-consumer relationship can sometimes solve problems that would be otherwise unsolvable without it. For instance, all four providers we spoke to could think of a time when the respect they showed a consumer made a significant difference in that person’s experience at Cummins.
“One time my respect made a difference for a Cummins consumer,” Suzette says, “was when a mother came in very upset that her child was not going to be seen due to her being a few minutes late for her appointment. I asked her if she would like to go into another room so we could talk about it in private. We did, and I found out that the reason she was late was through no fault of hers. I asked her to wait in the room while I went to talk to the provider, and her child ended up being seen. The mother was very pleased.”
Pati shares another experience when her respect made a big difference for a consumer: “Someone I provided services to had a significant trauma history. She didn’t believe that she ‘deserved’ respect. She was very uncomfortable with the concept. Over time, with practice and trust, she came to see that she not only deserved to be treated with respect, but she expected to be treated with respect. She set boundaries, and if persons in her life couldn’t step up, she set them free. She grew to become confident rather than scared. It was beautiful to see her respect herself.”