A long time ago - back when the hills were mountains - I was in graduate school, studying for my Masters in social work. There were classes in theory, classes about research methodology, classes to teach us community development, others that taught counseling skills and one of the common themes were client empowerment, the contract both parties agreed to at the start of the process - I started in clinical, before I switched to policy development, but come to think of it, that contract occurs in all levels of social work, whether it be clinical, community development or policy development. As a social worker, you are an agent of change regardless of where you work and you make a contract with the client to help guide them through to the desired change. And somewhere in my first year, when we were talking about this process, I came up with a theory of my own.

Which is summed up as follows: as a social worker, you manipulate the client (individual, community, organization) to achieve the desired change. And that's when my teacher and I engaged in about an hour’s worth of vigorous debate while the rest of the class looked on rather stupefied. Because the person teaching the class did not like my theory at all, in fact, this person got completely and utterly stuck on the term I was using, insisting that what you as a social worker did was to guide, to encourage, to empower. Yes, I said. To manipulate. Forget about the usual negative connotations of the term, take a step back and look at it. If someone contracts with you to help them through a change process, they are in effect contracting with you to be manipulated to achieve that change.

Manipulate: to handle, manage, or use, esp. with skill, in some process of treatment or performance

No. Definitely not. There was no manipulation whatsoever and I was on crack for thinking it. To which the rest of the class nodded sagely, looked at me as if I'd grown an extra head and I decided to keep said theory myself for the duration of my university career. Turned out that graduate school was more about parroting existing dogma than thinking outside the box.

If I go to a therapist or social worker with the problem that I want to change and which I have been unsuccessful in changing myself, I am asking them to take me out of my comfort zone and help me change the way I think or act and you can call that empowerment, guidance or manipulation, but as long as there is a contract between client and change agent, it's ethical practice. Getting hung up in the definition of a word that is most often used… well. The term little minds is flitting about in my brain, but that's probably arrogant.

Maybe ir's the word geek in me?