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Table of Contents

What is this module for

  • to understand the principles and values of Person Centred Thinking
  • to be able to use a range of tools to develop Person Centred Thinking
  • to develop one page profiles

What is it about

The module explores the history and background to Person Centred Thinking. How the tools developed from Essential Lifestyles Planning (SMULL) are used to understand how the person wants to live and be supported. It examines the negative experiences barriers and discrimination faced by individuals with a disability and addresses how services and organisations often focus on fixing or changing people rather than what support staff need to do differently to support the person. The module teaches a range of tools that participants can use to find out more about the person, so that they understand better and can offer the kind of support which works for the individual.

Person Centred thinking emerged from Essential Lifestyles Planning (ELP) (SMULL, HARRISON 1992) was developed by Micheal Smull and Susan Burke Harrison late 1980’s in USA. Following the emergence of Person Centred Planning in the UK a government white paper ‘Valuing People’ 2002 stated that every person with have a person centred plan if they choose to have one. Person centred planning co-ordinator and facilitator posts were introduced into every region and their role was to support the implementation of person centred plans through training and facilitation.

However it became apparent that peoples’ lives were not changing as hoped from the development of a person centred plan. Too often plans were a work in progress, so actions were not developed or acted upon. This necessitated a change in approach which required all people supporting individuals to recognise their responsibility in using person centred approaches. Person Centred Thinking has enabled people to use the planning tools in a much more flexible way, on a day to day basis when they are relevant to the individual. Currently the tools have been used with children and families, older people, people who use mental health services, have drug or alcohol issues, people who are homeless, travelling communities, people with physical impairments or illness. They are also being used in life coaching and are fast becoming considered to be relevant for anyone.

How can the message be delivered

The Person Centred Thinking Tools begin with the fundamental understanding of knowing what is 'Important to' someone and what keeps them ‘healthy and safe’ and being able to sort out the difference. Workers and supporters need know this information as it forms a foundation for all the other tools. When organisations provide a service to support people their focus is often on what needs to happen to keep the person healthy and safe such as eating well, taking their medication or being safe when crossing the road. They may not have thought about the important people, places, interests, possessions, routines, work, activity, values, culture, etc. that makes the person who they are and gives sense and meaning to their lives. However to lead a happy and fulfilled life, we all strive to find some balance between what is important to us as well as what is important for us. The same is true for anyone who needs to be supported in their lives by others because of a disability or impairment.

Participants learn that if they are to support people more successfully to respond to how to keep a person ‘healthy and safe they need to look for the solution in what is ‘important to’ them. They practice further tools for themselves such as exploring ‘rituals and routines’, ‘what makes a good day and a bad day’ and ‘supporting reputations’ which enables them to develop conversations which give richer information about what is important to and for that person.

Other person centred thinking tools enable them to reflect on what they have learned about the person and what they need to do differently. Participants use peoples stories to think about 'What is Working and What is Not Working' from the persons perspective and what is the view of others then to plan actions for what needs to change. This tool offers a clear and transparent process which enables everyone to have their say. It is very useful in meetings and reviews. The 'Learning Log' enables workers to reflect on ‘What is Working and What is Not Working’ for the person by recording information over a period time.

'The Doughnut' enables supporters and workers to be clear about their responsibilities and what isn’t any of their business. Staff and services sometimes make decisions about people’s lives which they do not have the right to do or they may say it is not their right as workers but they have forgotten their role in supporting the person to make a decision and ensuring that person has the information they need to make a decision. The tool also invites participants to think about when they can use their own judgement and creativity in decision making.

'The Relationship Circle' tells support staff who is important in a person’s life by mapping in a circle how close the person is to them. The conversation will give supporters and workers information about who the person may like to involve more in their lives and who may become involved in attending reviews or circles of support.

People who are supported by services may find themselves being viewed negatively by those services. Incidents which may occur are recorded and remain as evidence or many years to come. People with little or no control of their lives or who have difficulties with making themselves understood may find themselves resorting to behaviours which lead to confirming the views which people in services have about them and so negative reputations are established. The ‘like and admire’ tool highlights the positive aspects rather than the negative reputations. It invites us to share these views and reframe our thinking about the person.

All behaviour is a communication. It is a more accurate reflection of what we are thinking and feeling than what we choose to say. When we are unhappy stressed or anxious can control what we say but it is more difficult to control what we do. 'Communication charts' help participants to understand more clearly what people are saying with their behaviour as well as with words and to know what they should do. Participants are invited to use the charts to record information about what a person is saying or doing and what that might mean in columns. There is additional column to record what a supporter should do in response.

The 'matching staff' tool focuses on the importance of finding the right person to work with someone. It invites participants to explore the qualities, characteristics and interests of workers as well as their skills and consider the best match.

Participants are able to use the tools to in pairs to create their own 'one page profile' which captures key information on a single page which gives family friends or staff an understanding of the person and how best to support them. The profile records detailed specific statements which participants have developed during the workshop. A person may have more than one profile depending on the purpose of the profile. They may have one which identifies what staff needs to know about them when they are at home but another for what people would need to know if that person went into hospital.

Tips for training

Participants need to be prepared to explore the tools from their own experience and practice them before using them with others. Course facilitators may demonstrate this by using examples from their own lives.
Real examples and stories enable participants to see clearly how the tool works.
Working in small groups on tables can help to build confidence.
Participants are invited to share examples of their own statements they are making in the exercises in the large group. This enables the course facilitator to identify whether they understand and are able to create good specific and detailed statements.

If you want to know more

BAILEY,G., NEILL, M. (2006): Quality in Person Centred Planning.
BOWERS, H., BAILEY, G., SANDERSON, H., EASTERBROOK, L., MACADAM, A. (2008): Person Centred Thinking with Older People. HSA Press.
CAMPS,S. (2010):Celebrating Families Toolkit.  HSA Press
NEILL, M., SANDERSON, H., SMITH, H., BAILEY, G., CARTER, N, HUGHES, A., JONES, V.: Person Centred Thinking Day Services and Beyond. 
Person Centred Thinking Mini Books series HSA Press 
Person Centred Thinking Cards. HSA Press
RITCHIE, P., SANDERSON,H., KILBANE, J.,  ROUTLEDGE, M. (2003): People Plans and Practicalities: Achieving change through person centred practice. Joseph Rowntree Foundation
SANDERSON, H. (2010): Habits for highly effective staff: Using person centred thinking in day to day work. 
SANDERSON,H., KENNEDY,K., RITCHIE,P., GOODWIN,G. (1997): People Pans and Possibilities: Exploring Person Centred Planning, 1997
SANDERSON, H., TAYLOR, M. (2008): Celebrating Families. HSA Press
SMULL, M., BOURNE, M.L., SANDERSON. H. (2008): Becoming a Person Centered System: A brief overview of what we are learning in the USA and UK.
SMULL, M., SANDERSON, H. (2005): Essential Lifestyles Planning for Everyone. HAS Press
Support Planning Cards. HSA Press 
THOMPSON,J., KILBANE,J., SANDERSON,H. (2008): Person Centred Practice for Professionals. Open University Press
WILLIAMS, T., SKELHORN, L., MATTHEWS, A.: Total Communication: Person Centred Thinking and Practice. HSA Press


Homepage of Helen Sanderson Associates with many materials to download 
Podcasts of the Learning Community of Person Centred Practise: Michael Smull introduces person centered thinking tools
Helen Sanderson Press Homepage – many books and material on person centred thinking to order
Inclusion Distribution - many books on person centred planning and thinking to order 
Person Centred Thinking Tools This website is a community resource for people who have had training or support in using person centred thinking tools.