• Benefits planning is a relationship job, not just an information job

    Part 2 of a conversation with Steve Shober, BS, LSW, about the importance of benefits-planning services. Steve tells some stories and provides some tips for helping providers transform an intrusive just-the-facts approach into meaningful relationships. Change do-for approaches into do-with strategies that help people make more informed choices for themselves.

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March 21, 2009

GETTING STARTED, PART 2

Benefits planning is a relationship job, not just an information job

—by Matthew K. Weiland and Paul M. Kubek

In Ohio and many other states, there is often a just-the-facts approach to benefits planning. Counselors typically meet one time with consumers, ask a lot of questions, and provide a deluge of information. This can feel intrusive, confusing, and defeating to people who rely upon benefits programs. There may be follow-up calls from counselors, but those also typically focus on information—just the facts.

Steve Shober, BS, LSW, takes a different approach. He has learned from his experience as a vocational specialist and job coach that benefits questions from consumers are very personal matters that are loaded with strong feelings—of the need for privacy, of skepticism and distrust of information, of concern for the stability of one's financial future and medical benefits. Steve points out that it is natural, almost instinctual for people to be hesitant to make decisions. After all, the consequences of misinformation can be devastating.

Steve knows that people are likely to feel more comfortable talking about their finances with service providers who they know and trust. They want information from credible sources, namely, people who truly understand their concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams. So for Steve, benefits planning is not just an information job. It's a relationship job—one that should be approached with utmost respect. In this way, case managers, vocational specialist, and other service providers may effectively complement the work of full-time benefits planners with some basic knowledge of benefits programs and a working alliance (therapeutic alliance) with consumers.

THE CONVERSATION

This is one installment in a collection of stories from conversations with Steve Shober, BS, LSW, about the importance of benefits planning. Steve is a former vocational specialist, job coach, and benefits counselor who works as a consultant and trainer at the Ohio Supported Employment Coordinating Center of Excellence (SE CCOE), an initiative of the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at Case Western Reserve University.


1.) A Very Personal, Private Matter (1m, 41s)
Many people diagnosed with severe mental illness rely upon cash benefits (non-earned income) from Social Security and medical benefits from Medicaid and Medicare to meet their basic needs. They will feel protective of these lifelines, and rightfully so. You must demonstrate that the information you share is accurate and relevant to address their worries, hopes, and dreams. Allow people to question you.
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2.) We'd Talk About Music, Computers, Model Planes (2m, 16s)
Here's a method of building rapport with consumers. Start conversations by asking people about what matters to them and ease into discussions about benefits. Steve found a common ground with one man in conversations about his hobbies.
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3.) I Don't Have All the Answers, But . . . (2m, 17s)
Case managers and employment specialists who see consumers on a regular basis have the opportunity to build trust with them around benefits issues. This is why it is important for service providers to have some basic understanding of benefits programs and an understanding of each consumer's concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams. Case managers and employment specialists can help consumers find answers to their questions and make informed decisions.
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4.) Invite People to Fact-Check with You (0m, 56s)
Here's one way to help people dismantle the mystique and intimidating nature of benefits programs and government bureaucracies. Invite them to visit the local Social Security office with you. Introduce them to the people who will be handling their paperwork. Encourage them to learn the name of someone who is knowledgeable and capable of answering their questions. The face-to-face contact will support and promote rapport and self-efficacy.
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5.) Respect People's Ability to Make Decisions (1m, 28s)
"Support self-efficacy." It's a buzz phrase in human services, but what does it really mean? Steve has a helpful explanation: If you tell people what to do, you take power away from them. So, give them information they need to make informed decisions, and respect their ability to make those decisions for themselves.
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6.) Sign Off (0m, 44s)
A production of the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at Case Western Reserve University—a partnership of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case and the Department of Psychiatry at the Case School of Medicine.
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BENEFITS PLANNING SERIES

Get a list of all Benefits Planning eConsults (click here).


Matthew K. Weiland, MA, is senior writer and producer and Paul M. Kubek, MA, is director of communications at the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at Case Western Reserve University—a partnership of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case and the Department of Psychiatry at the Case School of Medicine.
 

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