Monday, July 30, 2007

Gentle Teaching International conference stuff

Most of you know the House of Jones is pretty involved with Gentle Teaching. I had a question come through the website for the annual GT conference, which is being held in Saskatoon this September. I thought some might be interested in hearing the answer, so here goes:

Q: I found reference to gentle teaching in a book while doing research for an assignment. The book discusses controversial therapies/methods. Can you tell me why your method is considered controversial?

A: Gentle Teaching is considered controversial because it asks caregivers to remove punishment and contingencies from the caregiving formula. For example, agencies working with people who struggle with challenging behaviors such as violence or those considered socially unacceptable most often have care plans that are centred around teaching the person to stop doing those things. Often that is done by withholding treats if that behavior occurs, or punishing in some way or another. With Gentle Teaching, the entire focus is taken off the behavior and onto the relationship between caregiver and the person supported. Caregivers are asked to develop an interconnectedness with the person for whom they care. Instead of a "You need me to make you behave properly" mentality, it becomes a "We need each other because we are equal" mentality. And this is a difficult concept for most people with a background in behavior modification. Behavior mod is focused on the negative, and often the care relationship devolves into a hierarchical one where the caregiver is waiting for the person to screw up, and then the interaction between the two is one of control and being controlled. With GT, the interaction is one that teaches first and foremost that the person is safe with us and that we value them regardless of what they do or don't do. The last part of that sentence is where people often get snagged - to think that a person with intellectual disability and violent tendencies is valuable regardless of that violence is tough for some to swallow. Using the tools of Gentle Teaching (teaching someone to feel safe, feel unconditionally valued, then teaching them to value others and become meaningfully engaged using not cattle prods and restraints but merely our eyes, hands, words and personal presence) allows the person in care to move into a place of peace and even healing after years of institutional and often harsh 'care'. Another way to put it is, most caregivers focus on stopping bad behaviors, which is learning how to stop engaging with others in a harmful way. With Gentle Teaching, the focus is first and foremost on the first two pillars: teaching the person to feel safe with us and unconditionally valued by us. As our relationship grows, only then can we move into the last 2 pillars: teaching the person to value others and be meaningfully engaged. That is only after they really have learned that they can trust us and they are safe with us. With behavior mod, we seek compliance. With Gentle Teaching, we seek something much deeper.