Tuesday, 12 February 2013

You only see what you're looking for.

Here's a story that proves the point that you only see what you're looking for.

Researchers took this image into the places where radiologists work. The radiologists were absolutely brilliant at looking at what the picture revealed about the patient's health condition.

Only 17% of them spotted the big gorilla in the upper right of the picture.

We train our attention onto one thing, we miss everything else. The better we get at focussing on one thing, the more of everything else we miss!

Full story from NPR here

That's why we need to change what we are looking for when we meet people who use health and social care. We've been trained and conditioned over the years and by the risk averse culture and atmosphere of health and social care services to ask "what's wrong with this person?" "what do they need help with?" "what are their deficits?" All our attention gets focussed into these areas.

There's nothing particularly wrong with those questions. They're useful to pick up things that can be 'fixed'. But they only reveal a small part of who that person is, and when we focus solely on what can be fixed, we start thinking we can fix everything, and even that we have a right to 'fix' people when actually we should be working to accept them for who they are, and enable them to safely be who they are in the wider community.

We need some different questions: Questions that direct and focus our attention onto positive aspects and potentials of the person.

The person centred thinking and planning movement has spent the last couple of decades thinking of other questions and other things to look for, helped by ideas like appreciative inquiry and capacity thinking. Person centred thinking questions add a whole range of subjects to our focus:

A key question to start with is "What is important TO this person". This includes a range of questions: What helps this person to feel comfortable? satisfied? happy? What brings them contentment and fulfilment? This could include people, places, social roles, important rituals, how things are done.

Another key question focusses on the person's gifts. How many professional assessments look into what a person's gifts and skills are? What their passions are? What they have to offer? What their achievements are? What people like and admire about them? By not asking these questions we implictly assume that the person we're working with is not gifted, cannot achieve anything, has nothing to offer. We need to become as skilled as radiographers are at spotting potential tumours, in how we spot people's potential gifts.

We need to ask the same questions when we enquire into the community - where are the potential spaces where this person can contribute to their community? Where are the opportunities to have presence? To make connections? To contribute? Where are this person's particular gifts welcome? Where can they have valued roles?

When we've spotted and shared these things, then comes the support questions: how do we support the person to get more of what's important to them? How do we support them to express their gifts? How do we support them to connect with and contribute to the community? And in doing all this, how can we also keep them and others healthy and safe? How do we help the person stay healthy and safe in a way that's consistent with what's important to them?

There are a lot more person centred questions than this, and many different ways of asking and exploring the same questions - but these few are a great place to start. There are tens of thousands of people still out there who have had services imposed on them that have still never asked these questions, thought about them deeply enough or turned the answers into actions; people whose support is reduced to a set of mindless mehanical tasks, support that keeps them trapped in lives that make no sense to them, where they have no real choice or control.

Lots of questions to ask, lots of things to spot. But lurking in each person there could be a big positive hairy wonderful gorilla that everyone else has missed, because they weren't asking the right questions or looking in the right places.

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