Crazy Life: In Praise of MHTs

Mental health technicians, in my humble opinion, really form the backbone of group home and day treatment care of the mentally/emotionally/psychologically-challenged. Much like CNAs (certified nursing assistants), they are “down in the trenches,” so to speak, and fighting alongside the “consumers” (as we are, unfortunately, called) in our daily battles against our illnesses.

mental-health-technician-women-s-t-shirtI found this to be very much the case while living in the Samson (Alabama) Group Home, and marvelled at just how much patience and understanding was required of MHTs. Not that I have a clear and complete picture of MHTs across the state and country (and, I suppose, the world), but my limited experience gives me at least an informed appreciation for the work required in this profession.

At the group home, with which I am familiar, it falls to the MHTs to lead group sessions, to prepare (or help prepare) meals, to dispense medicine (except to “self-medicators”), to mediate disagreements among residents, supervise chores, and so very much more. Indeed, it takes a very special kind of person to be able to do this sort of work, all the while truly caring about the flesh-and-blood human beings they are serving.

Of course, this in no way implies that everything was hunky-dory while in the group home. MHTs are by no means perfect, and I brushed shoulders with some who, quite honestly, needed to find another type of employment. For example, I encountered one young girl ~ young enough to be my daughter ~ who treated us as if we were toddlers. At one time she actually threatened to put one resident in time out as a form of discipline!

Needless to say, MHTs are every bit as human as “consumers,” which means they have their own faults, failings, and shortcomings just like everyone else. There was another MHT that I clearly recall, who took it upon herself to openly, and rather brashly, criticize individuals who received disability benefits… She did this numerous times, dogmatically asserting they didn’t need this income; they ought to be out working, she complained.

Well, believe it or not, all in all she was (and is) an excellent MHT. No, she certainly should have kept her opinions to herself (on the matter of disability benefits, anyway), but being human is being human, and this means that we all sometimes spout off and say things we shouldn’t. Overall, this MHT really did do her work very well …. and residents, in turn, really did (and still do, I presume) respect her.

But I also think of one sweet, little girl ~ and by the way, there were no male MHTs where I was, for some unknown reason ~ who also could have been my daughter. She was very petite and quiet. At such a young age, and being so tender, I really felt as if she’d been thrown to the wolves, in a manner of speaking. Not that residents in the group home are wolves (exactly); she just didn’t have what it took to exercise authority.

And this is, of course, one of the greatest challenges an MHT faces, that is: To exercise at least some modicum of control over the environment and various situations with which they are confronted on a day-to-day basis. After all, if an MHT cannot establish and maintain leadership, then they are very unlikely to be able to accomplish any of their numerous responsibilities. Point in fact, they will get run over, and very quickly at that!

Overall, my experience with MHTs was good, and as time went by I learned to appreciate and respect them more and more deeply. Of course, when I finally decided that I wanted to enter into some form and fashion of counselling (eventually), it did occur to me that I’d have to be able to live up to their examples; after all, counselling entails at least as much pressure … perhaps even more, at least in some ways.


For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

Crazy Life: A Little Less Crazy? But Still Guilty

Crazy Life: Dreams and Dreams Again

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4 thoughts on “Crazy Life: In Praise of MHTs

  1. I think you touched on something that is worth noting, and it is nice to know that there are people of the right temperament and perspective who can interact with those who need support. However, as you also noted, not everyone is suited for that position. It would seem to be a very big step to allow one’s well being to be, in essence, given over to someone on a technician level, because at first thought one would assume that these folks are poorly paid and are simply trained to follow an algorithm, if you will, or protocol as designed by someone with a little more education. And, I guess, sometimes that is true. And I wouldn’t necessarily want that type of person to have control over me in that case. So, I guess, it took a trusting, willingness on your part to allow it, and quality people for their part to make it work as it sounds like it may have worked for you. The ability to be free and live with dignity at all times is what is worthwhile, to me. Only when those we love and trust believe that our perspective is out of focus should we ever entertain any form of coercion. Happily, it seems that based on your experience, we can’t always rely on our preconceived notions. You’ve sort of put a little of yourself out here and I want to say that your writings are very meaningful. I encourage you and pray for your strength as you continue to fight the good fight.

    1. Thank you so very much, Carl! It is true, I’m afraid, that MHTs (at least in this part of the country) are under-trained and poorly paid. In my case, what I saw was their genuine willingness to dedicate themselves to the individual people in their “charge,” if you will. I mean, for the most part, they really took the time and made the effort to get to really know each of us, and they showed forth authentic compassion while at the same time maintaining structure and schedule. Like nursing assistants (and LPNs, and others, I suppose), they do deserve to be positively recognized and even praised a bit. Thank you once again for your most encouraging words! Blessings to you, my friend!

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