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Prioritizing Relationships Beyond Diagnosis

by Vanessa Johnson

The world of Human Services involves many types of providers who feel a call to help those in need and want to assist them with living lives that are healthier both mentally and emotionally. Every day, individuals who work in the human service field work with people who have experienced great trauma and are unsure of how to navigate the waters between healing and not seeing the world around them through the lens of trauma and hopelessness.

When individuals present signs of mental and emotional health disorders A diagnosis will be given to identify the specific mental or emotional health issue. As we move into a new century of how individuals are responding to the therapeutic process, we have come to recognize that the work with them has to be seen not only from the lens of a textbook. Building relationships has become a foundation that contains a level of trust that therapeutic treatment can be built on. Relationships have proven to be not only a way to connect with individuals and families, but also aids in helping them through difficult stages of the healing process. For example, when a person is presented with therapeutic services such as therapy, In home counseling, or therapeutic mentoring, they may wonder how this practitioner views them. If the practitioner enters the client’s space and begins to talk about all the issues that are present without understanding them as a person, the interaction between them becomes a space of transaction where a problem needs to be “fixed” instead of a person in need of services.

Entering into the realm of family dynamics and the challenges they face, it’s important to know that the impact of mental and emotional health disorders goes beyond individual experiences. When circumstances like neglect, abuse, child endangerment, domestic violence, amongst others are present in families on top of individual traumas, the involvement of human service organizations like the Department of Social Services can add an extra layer of support but also exacerbate a family’s level of stress and anxiety.  People are hungering for someone to see them through a lens that allows the person working with them to show them a future beyond their current circumstances. Studies continually show that the root of the aforementioned concerns have a root of trauma that is related to the manifestation of these behaviors. Transactional relationships do not take the cyclical nature of these behaviors in mind thus causing them to only scratch the surface of what is happening within these family systems. Very often after the checklist has been completed these behaviors will resurface and regression is imminent. The cycle of bringing new providers into the family unit with the same mindset only keeps families repeating behaviors thus causing more harm to their family system.  Healing cannot take place in an environment that addresses only what is seen and negates the hidden emotional instigators that have been a detriment to these families.

Agencies that work with individuals and families from a community-based perspective need to recognize the importance of relationships to those that they serve. To discount the evidence and dismiss the atmosphere that trust forms in helping families, creates a barrier to the healing and restoration process.  Those in crisis deserve providers in the human service field who see them not as a diagnosis but simply as human. These interactions are crucial to not only changing families but the community at large.


Vanessa Johnson is a Human Service Counseling Professional since 1993, specializing in family support. With a BS in Psychology and an MA in Human Service Counseling, she combines academic knowledge and practical experience. Pursuing an Ed.D in Community Care and Counseling(Traumatology) from Liberty University, Vanessa aims to educate on trauma’s emotional impact. Vanessa is the owner of Thrive2Heal Services, a Charlottesville based  Counseling service that offers community based therapeutic services to the Central Virginia area. To learn more please visit .

Stock photo from FREEPIK


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