Spring 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW3

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Working Through Crisis


Ruth I. Harmelink
Family Life Specialist and Assistant Professor
Oregon State University-Corvallis

Agricultural lenders face enormous pressures as they find themselves having to say "no" to farmers who may also be their friends and relatives. Many lenders and farmers, having lived in the same community and attended the same church and social functions, now find themselves in an adversarial relationship.

The "Farmers and Lenders: Working Through Crisis" workshop was developed in 1986 in response to the stress that agricultural lenders were feeling as a result of the farm crisis. The workshop's overall objectives are:

  • To enhance communication skills within the farmer/lender relationship.
  • To help the lender identify and successfully deal with his/her feelings of stress.
  • To help the lender understand the feelings of the farmer, including recognizing the warning signs of potential suicide, and where to seek help.
  • To promote wellness and a healthy balance between the lender's personal and professional life.

Program Content

The centerpiece of the program is a videotape based on several interviews edited into a 22-minute presentation. Included on the videotape are interviews with bankers from a rural Iowa bank, the head of the Iowa Farmers Home Administration, and a counseling psychologist who had worked extensively with the FmHA. All of these lenders emphasized the importance of having good communication skills in working with farmers, and stressed that communication wasn't something they were normally taught in their profession. They also discussed how much stress they were feeling as a result of the rural crisis. The psychologist shared some of the work he had done with the FmHA lenders, emphasizing the importance of taking care of themselves, being able to recognize suicidal tendencies in a co-worker or farmer, and the importance of putting "balance" into their lives. This information laid the groundwork for the materials.

The workshop leader's guide includes materials and activities for over three hours of training. However, parts of the workshop can stand alone, if less time is available. Materials include a take-home handout for the lenders that summarizes the materials presented in the workshop: fine-tuning communication skills, learning to express feelings, understanding the farmers' feelings, recognizing suicide warning signs, and taking care of yourself during stressful times.