The scaffolding of hope

The scaffolding of hope

In a very perceptive thesis for a psychology degree, Coral Westaway suggests that the key role of the worker in a homelessness setting is not that of providing practical help, nor even of motivational support, but of 'holding the hope' for those that have lost the capacity or the strength to still have hopes for themselves.

The role of the service, she suggests, is 'the scaffolding of hope' - offering up a structure, like the scaffolding on a building site, that can support the individual from the outside, whilst they do the work on the inside.  That structure can then be dismantled when the individual no longer needs it - although in some cases, some such 'buttressing' may be needed all their lives.

We see many examples of such holding, scaffolding and buttressing in PIES. In the side panel here (or below, on a mobile device) we can give just a small selection of examples.


Is lack of hope irrational?

Footballer managers - and others - have recently adopted a phrase "It's the hope that kills you"- which means that 'having no expectations or hopes may be better, as your dreams may not be destroyed in a cruel manner.' We can all relate to that.

In homelessness work, and other areas of social exclusion, it is tempting - and increasingly common - to see a lack of hope in rather 'pathologising' terms, as being in itself an expression of a past-traumatised life experience. To some extent this may be true enough. But this is only one side of the story, and it is important to keep a balance, to hear the full message.

The economist Amartya Sen introduced into the discussions on inequality the concept of 'adaptive preference'. By this he means that humans rarely live for long with an unbearable sense of self and frustration; instead, we 'adapt' what he hope for to something more within the range of what we just might be able to get.

This, in economic theory terms, contradicts the view that economies are run on purely rational decision-making. But in psychological and sociological terms, it suggests that abandoning hope can be entirely rational; and as such, must be respected, or at least appreciated.



This alternative perspective does have implications for PIEs. It suggests that the insights of anthropologists and sociologists may often be just as valuable as those of psychologists - at least if by 'psychology' we mean individual or clinical psychology. (Organisational psychology remains relevant, as a cross between the two.)

This also suggests we may need to expand the range of 'psychological awareness' to encompass wider cultural awareness of street homelessness as a sub-culture - just as we must do with issues of gender, ethnicity, or other forms of marginalisation of which we are aware.


Further background reading and listening.

On hope

Westaway and Nolte in interview (audio)  : HERE

The relational nature of hope (audio) : HERE

From Sartre to Sen : HERE

From Sartre to Sen to Wilkinson : HERE


On working at service users' timescales

Steve Robertson on the Big Issue (audio)  : HERE

Graham Gardiner :  Manageable chunks of time : HERE

St George's Crypt (audio)  : COMING SOON

A way of life (Paul Ashton) :  HERE


On witness

Outreach and community work (video) : HERE

Attachment, witness and continuity (interview with Jay Levy) : HERE

Pretreatment (Multiple pages) : HERE

Psychological awareness in action* (Page)   : HERE

(* esp.'Diversity and cultural (in)sensitivities')