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 is taught, 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!