Perspective is a powerful thing. By definition, perspective is a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view. We all have our own perspectives that we bring to the table, and these are usually determined by our personal thoughts, beliefs, and previous life experiences. I’m sure at some point we have all heard the phrase: “Is the glass half empty, or half full?” Simple as it is, a small change in language can change the way we think about something. As this rings true for our personal life, it can also support our clinical work.
Consider these shifts.
Best practice for language and clinical writing is constantly changing. Some recent changes in language I’ve noticed and implemented in the past few years have included swapping out using “special needs” for simply saying “disabled,” and using identity-first as opposed to person-first language when referring to a disabled person. These changes are what I have observed and learned to be most preferred by disabled people as expressed by themselves, but of course always ask a client their personal preferences. Today, I am going to share some simple language and perspective shifts that I have found to make my clinical writing more respectful, person-centered, and less stigmatized. If you, too, have recently begun to question the language you use, I invite you to consider these language swaps and embrace them as opportunities to positively impact you and your work in a way that feels authentic to you and your clients.
In the graphic above, you will see some real-life examples of ways I have at one point seen/heard being used to describe disabled people in therapy spaces in the left column (and even used to use myself). These words are commonly used, and I am sure you’ve probably seen and heard them too. Unfortunately, these words (although typically and hopefully not ill-intended) come with the baggage of negative connotations and preconceived indications on how we can expect a disabled person to think, say, or act. When we shift our perspective and language to the ideas in the right column, it allows us to see a client for who they actually are and it helps us empathize and acknowledge their experiences. Words are powerful, and taking the time to reflect on these descriptors can make a difference!
Know better, do better.
Real talk, it can be challenging, confusing, and maybe even uncomfortable to change the language that we were once taught to use and that has been the standard for so long–but it doesn’t have to be. I believe that when we change our perspective and become open to new ideas, the language and verbiage follows suit. I am hopeful that these simple swaps can make person-centered language more accessible for you with some concrete phrases. Feel free to screenshot and use as a visual reminder! I am continuing to learn and grow myself, and I think it’s important to try our best even when we get it wrong. Ultimately, we should always have the best interest of our clients in mind. The respect we have for them should be evident through the language we use when speaking (and writing) to/about them, and they should be involved in their treatment as much as they would like/are able. I find the phrase: “Know better, do better” to be helpful in holding myself accountable while also giving grace for the times I didn’t know better and may not have used the most respectful and accurate language.
“But wait! I never learned that…”
It is OKAY. We learn as we go! Below I have linked some of my favorite Instagram accounts that have helped shift my perspective as a therapist and provide great starting points for independent learning. Give them a follow, and let us know if you have any other favorite accounts or resources that have helped you learn and grow as a clinician!
This blog was written and shared by Abby Petrey, MT-BC. Abby provides 1:1 and group music therapy support services in people’s homes, the community, Cleveland schools, and via telehealth. Abby is also our social media coordinator. Abby’s passions outside of music include reading, cuddling her cat, and spending time with friends. All images in this post were created by Abby.