If you’re looking for a job in social care, you’ll come across the phrase ‘person-centred’. It’s used when working with people who need extra support in their lives, for example because of health issues, age, learning disabilities or autism.
Perhaps it’s obvious, but what does this concept actually mean?
Think about something that’s important to your daily life. Your morning cup of coffee? Going out for a walk? Deciding what to have for lunch? Got it? Right, hold that thought.
Next, reflect on what you what you want to do longer-term. What ambitions do you have, how do you want to live, what work do you want to do?
Now imagine what your life would be like if none of this was possible.
What if your cup of choice is coffee and someone keeps giving you tea? What if someone says you can’t go out for a walk? What if someone comes in and paints your bedroom yellow because it’s a nice, cheerful, sunny colour, but you hate yellow? What if…
Can you feel that sense of helplessness, of frustration, of not being heard?
A truly person-centred approach means really listening to someone. Often that's simple: we listen to their words. Sometimes it's not so simple: not everyone who needs support to live their lives can express their preferences easily. People with dementia may have lost the thread of what makes their lives meaningful, people with a learning disability may not use conventional language. So sometimes, we’ll be using observation to establish someone’s preferences, or consulting written histories to discover what makes them tick.
Being person-centred means treating everyone as an individual with their own likes and dislikes, with their own characteristics, with agency over their lives.
It’s an accepted approach now, but years ago, this was far from the case. When my late brother, who had Down’s Syndrome, went on holiday away from the family in the 1960s, the people in charge served boiled eggs to everyone for breakfast. Boiled eggs because it was easy to serve everyone the same rather than cater for individual tastes. Philip protested, saying he didn’t like eggs. They made him eat one. He was sick. They brought him home early from holiday as punishment. (My mother, usually quite a mild-mannered woman, was a sight to behold in her anger and distress over what had happened. She caused a couple of heads to roll. But that’s another story!)
We’ve all had experiences over the past two years of COVID of not being able to live as we want. Imagine if that was your daily reality for ever.
If you come to work with us at MacIntyre, you’ll learn how to apply the principles of person-centred approaches as you support real live breathing human beings with their own stories, their own personalities, their own preferences. We’ll treat you in the same way, building on your individual strengths and interests as your career with us progresses.
Clare (Tess) Marshall
In-house recruiter, MacIntyre