02nd October 2016

Hearing The Voice of the Person

I’m very fortunate in that I’ve been asked to lead, for the new Mental Capacity Forum, on the theme of ‘hearing the voice of the person.’

What does that mean?  Obviously, it’s not just about listening to what people say: there’s far more to it than that.  We all communicate in lots of subtle ways that are understood by those who know us best.  The Mental Capacity Act (MCA) highlights how important it is to find out as much as you can about the individual, so that you can build into the care plan things that are really important to that person, though they wouldn’t matter to someone else.

The Golden Thread

The ‘golden thread’ that runs throughout the MCA is that we should let people live their lives as they choose, as much as we possibly can.  This means bending over backwards to learn what people want, to see their unique slant on life, and make their life history, their culture, and their wishes central to the way we interact with them.

We are all still learning, I think, how best to work within the empowering ethos of the MCA.  Many people still fall into the trap of giving too much importance to any possible risk of harm: we should rather start looking for ways to allow someone as much freedom as possible to live as they want, while doing all we can to make the risks as unlikely, or as small, as possible.

A Real Example

I thought of this the other day, about the man I’ll call ‘Pat’: you’ll see why, in a moment.  I met Pat in the care home where he now lives with dementia.  It was a horrible morning, sleeting and blustery, but Pat was desperate to go out.  Unable to find the words he needed to explain, he was making frustrated noises, and trying to get through doors and even windows, to get outside.

Rather than just steering him to the lounge and ‘Good Morning Britain’ on TV – or, worse, labelling Pat as aggressive or ‘difficult’ – his care worker said to Pat: ‘You were a postman all your working life, weren’t you, Pat: and I know you won a medal from the Post Office for your perfect record of never going off sick.  That’s so amazing!’

She went on, ‘I know you can’t bear being stuck indoors in the mornings.  Let’s go and find your mac and wellies, so that you can go out and feel the wind in your face.’

Ten minutes later, I saw Pat, well wrapped up, striding around the large garden in the rain.  He looked calm and purposeful: a man doing what made him feel right.

She certainly ‘heard his voice’, though he couldn’t find the words to say what he wanted.

Do please tell me of good examples of how you have ‘heard the voice’ of someone: I’d love to share them more widely.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Rachel Griffiths

Mental Capacity and Human Rights Specialist

Rachel has huge experience and knowledge in the area of Mental Capacity, including how to recognise deprivation of liberty, when and how to assess capacity and how to go about making decisions in someone’s best interests. She is nationally recognised as a leading voice with regards to Mental Capacity, and is involved with setting the agenda as well as providing advice and information about Mental Capacity. The information, guidance and support that Rachel provides helps to ensure that the way people work is within the law and recognises that the person using services is always at the centre of any decisions made. Read more

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