On #AncientAbledProverbs, Person-Centered Language & More

Social media continues to be an amazing place for thought provoking material. In the past I have blogged about #WhyWeDontEngage. This hashtag challenged me to think about how as mental health professionals we are of too quick to label people as “not engaging in treatment”. How we as professionals define “engagement in treatment” is vastly different from how those who are receiving treatment.

I ran into a similar hashtag this weekend, it started for me with this tweet..

I was immediately impacted by how the language used diminished the meaning of a person with a disability. Ableism is defined as “ Discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Furthermore, Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled.” The language we use in society can make individuals with disabilities feel “less than”. It is not only the assumptions and stigma that hurt, it is also the assumption that they should somehow be “more able”.

I found lots of these tweets incredibly thought provoking…

Ableist language is part of the nomenclature. We use it so frequently, it probably goes unnoticed… but not not by those who have disabilities.

I started to reflect about my own professional use of ableist language. This was not new to me as I have written about language and how it effects both care around Suicide and those with Borderline Personality Disorder. The topic of abelist language presents a bit of challenge for social work. We attempt to be strengths-based and solution-focused in our language.

But in doing so are we being Ableist? Are our goals that we set for therapy and case management what “we” think people should achieve? More importantly do the goals we set make people feel “less than” ?

I know one I am guilty of is say “Well, when you look at the DSM-V, you can find a way to diagnose your self with something”. This tweet made reflect on the couple of times I have said that..

Also themes of what we as professionals also consider success gave me pause…

If you are twitter, I would encourage you to look at this hashtag and see what resonates. The most thought provoking for me was again the theme of first person language…

The big take home for me was that of course the language matters but it is the intention. We can talk about being “empowering”, “strengths-based” and “solution focused” all we want. We can also use all the “Person-Centered” language in the world. However it needs to have meaning for the person receiving it.

It reminds me that similar to “engagement”, a lot of the constructs we use in therapy have meaning to us as professionals but not to those who are at the receiving end.

I got into a follow up conversation with someone of these tweets and we talked about the need to not to assume but to check for understanding. Before we define someone’s disability, use their definition not ours. In terms of person centered language ask people what they want to be called..

Meaning making…so much about healthcare and mental health is about making meaning. What #AncientAbledProverbs taught me is to be even more careful about this. In order to create more meaningful change for the people we work with, we need to understand what meaningful changes means to them. We need to be mindful of how the language we use can both not only facilitate change but also impede it.

Please feel free comment, you can find me on twitter at @StuckOnSW, and email me at stuckonsw@yahoo.com. Thanks for reading.