Person-Centered Thinking: Living the Life I Choose

Philosophy statement

One of the positive shifts that is happening in Community Living is a move away from systems or organization centered thinking to Person-Centered Thinking (PCT). Semiahmoo House Society has embraced this philosophy as the way to support people who have disabilities to live lives of their choosing in the community. Our cheery and creative in-house training team of Nolda and Lynne work hard each year facilitating two day training workshops so our entire staff learn the principles of PCT.

The first day of training lays the foundation of the philosophy and includes empathy building exercises that demonstrate how difficult life can be when you have no control over it. Participants also learn about the importance of daily rituals in people’s lives and how to figure out the balance between what if important to people (what they desire to do or be) and what is important for people (health and safety factors).

The second day of training incorporates role play as staff and volunteers work in pairs and begin writing person-centered descriptions through directed conversation, listening and sorting information, and writing down what they have learned about their partner.

Having been employed 25 years ago as a front-line worker supporting youth who have developmental disabilities, I can see how much the shift from putting a system first to people first has enabled people to have a voice in their own lives. I remember spending hours working with a young man, teaching him how to tie his shoelaces—a goal that his social worker and his parents had created for him. I developed whole charts to mark his progress but after a year of working on the skill, he had progressed little in his ability to tie his own shoelaces. This was not a goal he had in his life, and, in fact, working on his shoelaces got in the way of us going out into the community and forming relationships. Exasperated, I finally convinced his parents to buy some shoes with Velcro straps and we were able to spend more time in the community meeting people and learning how to take buses and have more control over his own life. The shoelace tying was an imposed goal based on what was considered “normal” development that had little purpose in the overall quality of his life (and a problem that had an easy solution: slip on shoes or those with Velcro straps).

Semiahmoo House Society is taking a leadership role in PCT. We have trained other organizations in the philosophy and will continue to develop expertise within our organization (I am one of the people being trained as a trainer).  More information about PCT can be found at http://www.learningcommunity.us/ .

By Doug Tennant, Semiahmoo House Society

Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. 

The Semiahmoo Foundation, located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.

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