Opinion: Personal reflections about Self direction

Opinion: Personal reflections about Self direction

By Leanne Pearman

At the moment, there is a lot of talk around the disability and mental health sector, using words such as self-direction, self-directed services, choice, control, flexibility, responsiveness and planning. There are words used commonly such as ‘building capacity’, ‘developing informal supports’, ‘contributing to community’, ‘co-designing’ and ‘partnerships’. These are words I have used many times myself. There are also other words becoming even more common such as ‘line items’, ‘clusters’, ‘plans’, ‘goals, ‘strategies’ and ‘outcomes’.

I guess I would like people to stop for a second (or more than that if you can), and really think about what all those words mean; who are they for, and why?

Let’s just take one of those words. Self-Direction. What does it mean?

There are a number of definitions, however, the one I like the most, is: (of persons) free from external control and constraint in e.g. action and judgment.

It is NOT about money or ‘funding’. It is NOT about being so independent we have no support to help us. It is NOT about a system. It is NOT ‘just’ another ‘buzz’ word or ‘catch phrase’. It is about US, as complex and beautiful human beings who get to be our own person, with our own authority and our own ways of being, loving, communicating, working, playing, and deciding what is right for us – free from external control and constraint (of course excluding those constraints that apply to us all under the law) because it is NOT us being able to do whatever we want, to whoever we want, however we want just because we want to. 

So if we have a rough definition of ‘what’ Self Direction means, we need to then think about ‘why’ this is so important to us. We seem to expect, and value being able to have control of what we want our lives to look like and the decisions we make. We value having the authority to communicate with people – ‘this is what I want and need’ – in words and actions. We value self-determination and being able to guide and determine what it is that is most important to and for us and to be able to ‘just do it’. Sometimes, we may need some help to ‘just do it’. I know I sure do! We value ‘competency’, so if we are able to guide our own lives, ‘self determine’, and ‘self direct’, we are seen as competent in the eyes of others. We are given opportunities to further challenge ourselves, learn and develop in many ways because people INVEST in us. We value doing and sharing all of that with others we are in some sort of relationship with. We share the joys and sorrows our experiences bring. I think these are some of the reasons ‘why’ self direction is important to us all.

So, if the ‘WHAT’ around self-direction is clear, and the ‘WHY’ around self-direction is sound, why is the ‘WHO’ around self-direction so challenging to me? It sounds so simple, so right, and so ‘expected’ by us all that we ‘self direct’ our lives, yet thinking about the ‘who’ self direction is for, can keep me awake at night.

I think about me, and who I am, and how I ‘self direct’ my life, the decisions I make (both good and not so good), I think about my friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and how they may be able to ‘self direct their lives and make decisions they want and need to make.

So, self-direction is for everyone right? Except??? Who? 

This ‘who, and except who’ is what keeps me awake. Except the person who makes poor or risky decisions for themselves (by our judgment)?  What about the person who has been labeled as having a ‘severe intellectual and physical disability’? What about the person who has been labeled as ‘unable to communicate’? What about the person who has been stigmatized as having a ‘mental illness’? There will always be people we could label in ways that make the ‘except who’ list. One of the things I have realised through my experiences is that we add the negatively tainted lens of ‘except who’ over the principle of self-direction.

We. Don’t. Listen.

We (good people) can disregard what people are capable of, what people are trying to tell us in their words and actions to where we do not hear them. We do not listen to people in a way that really discovers what and how people want to live. We do not capture ways that people ARE making decisions and ‘self directing’ in their own way.  We default to ‘we know what is best’ – an attitude which is sometimes hidden deep inside us and we don’t even realise it raising its invisible head.

We. Limit. People.

WE (good people) limit people’s ability to self-direct. OUR views and deeply held and hidden beliefs LIMIT people living good lives. We may not invest in discovering what is possible, because our lens is already tinted.  We default to our own experiences as being the only things possible and we fail to seek and understand more of the things that WE are challenged by or don’t believe are possible. We, by default, decide what is good for people by NOT seeking and investing in these possibilities.

We. Control. People.

We (good people) end up controlling people and their lives, to where we convince ourselves it is what people need and we justify many reasons why ‘self direction’ is not possible for this ‘except who’ person. In our care and love for the person, we protect, and we can unknowingly impinge on their human rights, ‘in their own best interest’.

Self direction has become a ‘buzz’ word for us all, and that makes it SO important to focus on what it really means, who it is for, and why. It is critical to; challenge ourselves, challenge each other and to rely on what we ALL value as citizens in our community.

Remember, Self Direction is about US, as complex and beautiful human beings who get to be our own person, with our own authority and our own ways of being, loving, communicating, working, playing, and deciding what is right for us – free from external control and constraint.

Leanne Pearman is the Chief Executive Officer for WA Individualised Services. Leanne is a much valued friend of Inclusion WA and has a lifetime of experience working alongside people and families to assist them to live their life their way.















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