September 20, 2019

Harley Hayes, occupational therapist and winner of the Australian Allied Health Awards, Early Career Excellence category, talks about the benefits of using person-centred therapy to support people with disabilities to have more choice and control in the areas of their life that are important to them

While I was at university completing my occupational therapy degree, we would often talk about person-centred practice, why it’s important to be person-centred as a clinician and the benefits of using this approach for the person being supported. However, it wasn’t until I started supporting people living with a disability that I fully understood the true meaning of this approach and the powerful impact it has on the lives of the people I support.

What does being person-centred actually mean?

A person-centred approach puts the person being supported at the centre of their therapy.   Unlike more traditional approaches, the person-centred approach enables the person being supported to be the expert in their own lives rather than the clinicians who are providing the therapy.

It encourages clinicians to see the people we support as being their own unique person with exceptional and distinctive qualities. It’s not something that you do once or twice. It’s a journey you take with the person and their support team, ensuring that they are the focus and centre of their support.

What does a person-centred approach look like in practice?

A person-centred approach supports a person living with a disability to have a life that includes choices, rights and inclusion.  It includes:

  • having conversations and discussions with the person, instead of about the person
  • involving the person in all decisions on the journey and supporting them to have the capacity to make their own decisions
  • involving and coaching the person to have active involvement in planning and developing goals
  • focusing on the person’s unique strengths and abilities and incorporating these strengths into therapy and focussing on what they ‘can do’.
  • including the key people in their lives, such as friends, family, and community members, recognising they can make significant contributions when included in the person’s therapy
  • doing things so that they work for person and not because they work for the services
  • listening to the person and their support network
  • working with the person, and their support network to overcome barriers to achieving their goals, rather than see the person as someone who needs to “be fixed’
  • recognising that one approach will not work for everyone.

As a clinician working in an organisation that uses a person-centred approach across everything we do, I can deliver services in a way that supports people to build their capacity to make choices, have control over their lives, and live a good everyday life.