Sunday, June 29, 2008

Writing about a person with PIMD or “all about me”...

Over the past 12 months I have been involved in several conversations regarding the use of first-person in writing. Writing in first person means using the term “I” to refer to the author, for example “I like folk music”, as opposed to third-person “Sheridan likes folk music”. In writing about people with PIMD, writers may be faced with the dilemma of, do I write in first-person or third?
For people with PIMD it may be clear that the person themselves has not “written” the document, however the writer may choose to write the document as if the person was saying it themselves. There is a belief that writing in this way may get the reader to “listen” more to the document and see the person as a person with views and perspectives. This practice is very common in adult disability services. There are many reasons, however, to be extremely cautious about using first-person.
Does “pretending” that the person wrote information further disempower the person? What if what has been written is not in fact true (e.g. “I hate folk music”)? What if what is written about the person may be encouraging responses which deny the person’s rights (e.g. “When I suck my finger, hold my hand down in my lap”)?
Issues of first-person use have been explored by Michael Smull and others involved in person centred planning (thanks to everyone on www.elpnet.net that helped me to navigate this information). Smull and Sanderson wrote that “one of the abuses of person centered planning that can be found with distressing frequency is to change traditional plans from third person to first person and call the result a person centered plan” (see http://www.virtualward.org.uk/silo/files/think-before-you-planpdf.pdf). Smull discourages the use of first-person language unless the person has clearly been involved in what has been written – this means that they have said it using symbolic forms and they have confirmed it on review of the document (he also recommends testing out the ongoing truth of the statement). If first-person is used because the person has expressed it, he recommends that facilitators are very mindful that they haven’t used leading questions to generate the quotes. He suggests that if the writer and all people who know the person are not 100% sure that this is something that the person would say if they could, then using third person is recommended.
I think this is very sound approach. What do you think and how does this reflect practice in your organisation?

5 comments:

Robert Weetman said...

I think that the other problem (and I agree with your comments by the way) is that people think that person-centred planning consists of writing one of these documents. These documents can be very powerful IF they are written with imagination, and IF they portray a real picture of a human being (as you do in your post about Nim for instance - http://pimda.blogspot.com/2008/07/honouring-friend.html). But they often aren't written in this way. AND even if they are then the point of good person-centred planning is much more than the production of one of these documents. See this article for more: http://capacitythinking.blogspot.com/2007/11/planning-not-plan.html

Jo said...

Apologies for being a tad slow coming to this discussion. I have only just found Sheridan's blog. I think we have had a conversation about first versus third person in the past Sheri. I certainly have had many a debate with others. I agree, I am very uncomfortable with the use of first person if we are not 110% sure the content reflects the person's point of view. I think though, that there is room for use of first person if what we are writing is generic rather than individualised. I am working on some guidelines for supporters and loved ones of people with PIMD. Specifically, these guidelines are being written to allow people with PIMD to have as much control over their own life decisions as possible. I have written these guidelines in the first person, as each point has a generic intention, with relevance to all human beings. For example one of the guidelines reads "We all need information to make decisions. We need it in a way we understand. Please speak my language". They are not a reflection of an individual point of view, which is why I feel comfortable using first person. I have been challenged on this before (with particular reference to person centered planning literature), and am in 2 minds about it. I could be persuaded not to use Third person for this purpose, however feel the resource won't be as powerful. Any thoughts?

Jo said...

Apologies for being a tad slow coming to this discussion. I have only just found Sheridan's blog. I think we have had a conversation about first versus third person in the past Sheri. I certainly have had many a debate with others. I agree, I am very uncomfortable with the use of first person if we are not 110% sure the content reflects the person's point of view. I think though, that there is room for use of first person if what we are writing is generic rather than individualised. I am working on some guidelines for supporters and loved ones of people with PIMD. Specifically, these guidelines are being written to allow people with PIMD to have as much control over their own life decisions as possible. I have written these guidelines in the first person, as each point has a generic intention, with relevance to all human beings. For example one of the guidelines reads "We all need information to make decisions. We need it in a way we understand. Please speak my language". They are not a reflection of an individual point of view, which is why I feel comfortable using first person. I have been challenged on this before (with particular reference to person centered planning literature), and am in 2 minds about it. I could be persuaded not to use Third person for this purpose, however feel the resource won't be as powerful. Any thoughts?

Sheridan said...

Hi Jo,
Thanks for you thoughts re the use of first person. I think the generalised use of we is sort of okay, but caution needs to be exercised when we think the "we" desires of one person will match the "we" of another person. For example, "we all want to work", is actually not a true statement. I really like some of the principles from writing Social Stories which push towards writing to literal truth.
However I continue to not be so comfortable with use of I, Me, or My, as it moves from general to specific. There is something rather odd about saying "please use my language" using a phrase that is not the person's language.
I fully support people seeing individuals as people with intentions and personalisy, but I'm not sure that writing, as though the person said something that they didn't say, is perhaps furthering the denial of who the person really is.
It's a tricky issue, but I think it is important to be up front. I wonder if families would also respond better to this stripping back of pretence.

Jo said...

Hmmm Sheri! Yes it is a tricky issue. As I said I am yet to be convinced as to which way to go on this. Your point about the phrase 'please speak my language' is a good one. Perhaps I will go through the guidelines and analyse each statement to ensure it is not absolute. Would love to continue this discussion with anyone who feels like it, but right now it is time for bed!