Your work is NOT person centred if…

My inbox is rammed with emails from various agencies of the State claiming that they are developing person centred approaches to service design, delivery and development.

Most are not.

  • If you have set up a service designed to promote behaviour change because you have been told/asked/contracted to do so by a policy maker – then your work is not person centred – it is policy centred
  • If you have developed a service that only works on predefined agendas, with pre-defined ‘solutions’ and services, then your work is not person centred – it is service centred.
  • If your service works on a  premise that service users are in some way broken, faulty or otherwise in need of your modification (smoking cessation, weight management, more entrepreneurial, better CV and qualifications etc) then your work is NOT person centred.
  • If you push your services on people without being invited, using systems of sticks and carrots, and large marketing budgets, to promote engagement – then your work is not person centred – it is, to some degree at least, manipulative and coercive.
  • If you make decisions that prioritise achieving targets over the wellbeing of the people that use your service – then your work is not person centred.  It is target centred.

Person centred work is done:

  • At the invitation of the person – they invite you to work with them – primarily based on their perception of your relevance to them and their agendas.  If people are inviting you to work with them and finding the process helpful then word of mouth will soon spread and you do not need to spend vast sums promoting your service.
  • When the person sets out their agenda and accesses the support that they choose (rather than those that your agency is set up to deliver).  They always have choices and person centred work helps them to recognise these and prioritise amongst them.
  • When interventions let the person decided whether they wish to engage with ‘professional service providers’ and/or with their neighbours and peers – they don’t assume that the solution lies with experts and ‘mainstream’ providers.
  • When the ‘whole’ person is acknowledged and accepted – not when we fragment them according to our service design.  If we have a service that is just designed to promote health, crime reduction or entrepreneurship – then we are not person centred.

This matters enormously.

Once we start to take the ideas and ideals of person centred working seriously we can transform the impact of the so called ‘helping services’.  Instead of a Nanny State we can have an enabling and empowering state.  And people can really start to recognise their own responsibility for helping themselves in a context that is out to help rather than to fix.

Carl Rogers in On Becoming a Person had this to say:

It has gradually been driven home to me that I cannot be of help …by any means of any intellectual or training procedure.  No approach which relies upon knowledge, upon training, upon the acceptance of something that istaught, is of any use.  These approaches are so tempting and direct that I have, in the past, tried a great many of them.  It is possible to explain a person to himself, to prescribe steps that should lead him forward, to train him in knowledge about a more satisfying mode of life.  But such methods are, in my experience, futile and inconsequential.  The most they can accomplish is some temporary change, which soon disappears, leaving the individual more than ever convinced of their inadequacy.

The failure of any such approach through the intellect has forced me to recognise that change appears to come about through experience in a relationship.

If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur.

Carl Rogers – On Becoming a Person

So my plea to you: If your work is not genuinely person centred – please don’t say that it is. You will just be serving to reduce the chances of genuinely person centred approaches ever getting a fair crack at the whip.

And if you you want to explore how you can adopt genuinely ‘person centred’ approaches then please do get in touch!


  1. Harry Fortune says:

    Great article Sir, I find your blog an ejoyable and thought provoking read, People centred approach is a perfect way of helping entrepeneurs – it is given as a good example in Ripples from the Zambezi – clients will seek you out. However, if they don’t know about you how will they seek you out? How long can you wait for them to find you when you have targets to reach for your funders? What if they have not even considered entrepreneurship as a way of being more enterprising – then if you are offering them the chance to use entrepreneurship as a vehicle for enterprise you may need to tell them that it is possibly one of their options.

    In the quote from Carl Rogers it says that the person will develop through the relationships that he has, does it take time to develop those relationships or can you, for want of a better phrase, have a quick and dirty relationship, lasting a couple of hours, where the person comes seeking advice or knowledge (and they know what advice or knowledge they want) you provide it and they can go away and be more enterprising? In this occasion they have invited you in as they have asked for a meeting, they know roughly what you can offer them. They know what the service can provide as it focuses on just one area, not the whole person, you give them what they are seeking – then is this not a person centred approach?

    The overarching shadow of funder, government departments and politicians whims and fancies may not be people centred, but at grass roots level, surely it could well be?

  2. Marie McCarthy says:


    Bravo ! As always an accurate succinct and clear analysis of the situation that befalls so many “engagement practices”.

    I still struggle to fathom why so many agencies/policy makers just don’t get it ?

    Meaningful and balanced relationships are pivotal to quality of life both as an individual and a collective.

    Keep up the great work.

    Kindest regards

    • Agencies and policy makers are paid to be policy and outcome centred not person centred. They just want to sell you something – TV licence, car tax, employment, health. The option of you not wanting what they have to sell is just not available.

      Thanks for the lovely comment!


  3. Wow. Just stumbled here but just brilliant, cheers dude!

  4. I find this post really interesting. It also made me think – you quote Carl Rogers and his thoughts about relationships and building relationships but surely he describes them in his book in a counselling context which is quite different to service delivery. I believe you can have still services that are person centred and work using person centred principles. The focus should perhaps be on the “unconditional positive regard” towards the person not necessarily on the relationship building (which are important but not always possible), as someone already said in here that there might not be the time to build a relationship in a short space of time. The service could still be person centred when they consider a person as a person and respond to their needs and wishes in a way that is empowering.

  5. Gerry Andrews says:

    Very interesting!!
    I can understand where you are coming from, Mike, but I also tend to agree with Milo’s insightful comments.
    I wonder if there is a way to see this not as an “either/or” situation, but as an “as well as” opportunity?
    There are still some services/organisations (and more so in the private sector!) who see things from the ‘inside-out’, rather than from the ‘outside-in’. But I suspect the big difference is that it depends on who’s doing the looking as to whether its service-centred or person-centred?!
    I think for those of us who believe in empowering the individual, the dilemma is in marrying community development principles with a free market ideolology! Tricky!!

    • Language is such a tricky beast Gerry. There are service providers who see things from the ‘inside-out’ but the perspective is still usually about getting service design right. The context is service design, usually around a service to achieve pre-determined policy goals or social objectives.

      For me, person centred approaches, are purely responsive. There is no agenda about ‘us’, or ‘our service’. It is just about them, their self interest, and how they pursue that in and with a community.

  6. Gerry Andrews says:

    Is ‘co-production’, as described by nef, an example of a person-centred approach?


  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mikechitty: Your work is NOT person centred if…:

Speak Your Mind



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: