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Using person-centered thinking

By Darcy Cole

4-H one page description worksheet
As youth development professionals, we plan many experiences for young people and we sincerely try our best to think about (from our own personal perspective and lens) what is best for them and what we think they should do or learn. However, we may not ask often enough what is important to them, and what they want to do, learn or experience. This may be because it seems easier for us to speak on behalf of youth than it is to empower them to be their own voice. We may also think that we know what they want or sometimes we may even have our own agendas that we want to promote.  Person-centered thinking provides a way for us to empower youth to be their own voice and advocate for themselves in our programs.   

The concept of person-centered thinking (PCT) is used most often in the disability field. It can, however, be beneficial for those in youth development. PCT is about identifying both what is important TO a person and what is important FOR a person while also identifying the connection and balance between the concept of important TO and important FOR (The Learning Community for Person Centered Practices, 2022):
  • The concept of important TO someone is about having individuals self-identify what matters to them, what they like, dislike, need, want to do, learn, etc. 
  •  The concept of important FOR someone is about others identifying for them the safety concerns, needs, learning goals, etc. 
Person-centered thinking is essentially the opposite of using a “one-size-fits-all” approach.  It’s about asking what really matters and personalizing experiences based on what’s shared.  PCT can be used by individuals, families, teams, or organizations.

One way to identify what is important TO someone is to use a one-page description that shares important information about a person in a quick and useful way. One-page descriptions are a way to communicate strengths, needs and interests in an easy-to-understand format that helps others get to know the person better. Here ia a 4-H example. You can learn more about this concept and other available resources by attending Person-Centered Thinking Training.

In youth development, we can use person-centered thinking to help us plan programs, events, learning and other opportunities for young people. PCT is about self-empowerment and voice, both of which are important in our work. How have or could you use person-centered thinking in your work? How would using PCT change your work and what impacts might that have on program participants?

-- Darcy Cole, Extension educator

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