"But how could you live and have no story to tell?" — Fyodor Dostoyevsky (White Nights)
What do myths, comic books, fables, The Holy Bible, and fairy tales have in common? They are passed down from generation to generation and inform us about values, adventures, history and relationships. Jesus often used parables. Moviegoers camp out for the release of the new Hunger Games adventure. What child has not heard the story of the three little pigs. We love stories. They capture us, teach us, scare us and thrill us.
We may live in the age of Big Data and Powerpoints, but even those mediums must tell a story. Business proposals tell stories. A good wedding toast includes a funny story. Want to give a successful TED talk? Relate a funny, meaningful story. We are quickly bored with facts. Numbers make our head spin. Tables make our eyes cross. Unless you are telling a story, your audience is not listening.
Fortunately, we spend our day with individuals who are characters in a compelling plot of crises, survival and redemption. There should be no shortage of storytelling in community corrections. We are changing lives but that will go unnoticed unless we weave a tale that instructs and impassions. A lasting story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Our treatment process does too. When you communicate effectively with judges and community critics you are telling a story.
Your discharge summary is a story. Treat it as such. You are taking a journey with your clients. You are keeping a journal of the events and characters. Your documentation matters. A lot! It is easy to fall into the trap of treating documentation like busy work or a necessary evil. I have certainly been guilty of that. We all have the privilege of working with some very interesting clients on a pilgrimage of self-change. We have the obligation to tell the story of what interventions provided hope for change and what unforeseen forces led to self-betrayal and moral failure.
Future treatment providers, judges, probation officers, and case managers need to understand the beginning of the story in order to continue on the journey with this client in a manner that leads out of the forest rather than walking in circles hopelessly lost. Document your journey!