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Seek first to understand…

Posted Feb 26 2014 5:28pm

Seek first to understand then to be understood….
Stephen Covey.

I read that line I dont know how long ago and it seemed revolutionary.  It still does.

It is at the core of the difference between the medical model and the recovery model.  It defines who has the power and in that assumption defines helping either as something done to people or with people.

The medical model defines understanding as something done to the person.  Information is gathered, the problem is classified and based on that classification a plan is implemented.  The primary role of the professional is to be understood, to convey information to the patient in such a way as to solicit his compliance with the plan.  The one who must be understood is the expert.  It is in the end his frame of reference that is relevant. The view of the patient is often dismissed as a symptom of his problem or his resistance towards any change at all.

But as countless professionals can tell you people dont listen to or value what people say who dont listen to or value them.  Understanding precedes being understood.  If it does not the odds are not with being understood.

When you listen to people talk about their experience “in treatment” this is the common place it falls apart.  Therapy becomes a war of attrition as the professional tries to “motivate” the patient to recognize his authority and wisdom.

The recovery model begins with understanding as something between people. It is not about power and the experience of the person seeking help provides direction. It is not only about what is wrong or hard for me, but also what is important and what I do well. It believes that strength matters and seeks to amplify and develop capacity. It treasures success but knows there is victory even in the lessons learned in defeat.

“Seek to understand first….” If there is a first principle perhaps that is it.

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