Since our inception in 2009, COR has embraced the philosophy of Gentle Teaching and has asked its caregivers to utilize this alternative approach to supporting people. COR has put aside traditional practices of support such as physical management, restraint and consequences. It does not accept interventions based on the use of reward and punishment designed to modify personally and socially destructive actions.
A culture of gentleness is woven into all aspects of the organization – in the people it hires, how each person is mentored, and in the selection and support of individuals and families. This culture is about us as caregivers coming to the people we support in a non-violent way; non-violence is the understanding of what the other person perceives as violent – not what we perceive as violence. In a culture of gentleness, interactions are warm, welcoming and aimed at nurturing relationships based on equality and interdependence. Our focus is on building a sense of companionship and community with those we serve.
A critical part of this culture of gentleness involves shedding some common attitudes that lead to intolerance toward ‘troublesome’ people, such as seeing individuals solely as behavior problems, and being unwilling to express love toward them. A person’s value is not based on their behaviour – what they do, or do not do with us, or for us; it is inherent and unchanging. Once people learn that we value them, they can then learn to value others – that it is good to be with others and do things with others.
The first duty of a caregiver is to assure each person protection from any harm, primarily through a sharp eye on prevention, constant nurturing and loving interactions. The Gentle Teaching approach encompasses a transformation of both the marginalized person and the caregiver. It is not an approach that presents fixed and immutable answers that caregivers follow in a lock step manner. It is one that asks caregivers to interact within a broad framework based on the prevention of harm and the expression of unconditional love. Harm’s prevention often initially involves giving the person what he/she wants, as long as it is not harmful, so that the caregiver can enter the person’s space and begin to teach, “When you are with me, you are safe and loved.” Individuals learn to see their caregivers as authentic companions and to slowly learn to trust others in the broader community. It is not an approach that centers itself on behavioral change. It is an approach that beckons spiritual or internal change.
The use of traditional approaches and practices based on control and compliance emphasize the changing of the other person; Gentle Teaching challenges caregivers to change themselves and base their interventions and relationships on unconditional love. COR asks its caregivers to see themselves as companions to marginalized persons; for it is the responsibility of the caregiver to initiate and initially present and sustain this mutual transformation process.
The central and guiding focus is for all caregivers to help the person learn to feel safe and loved. Feeling safe is vital in Gentle Teaching; it means that the person starts to feel unafraid of our presence. This can be observed in the warmth and peacefulness of the person’s face, further expanding to deeper feelings such as wanting to be with us, spending longer periods of time with us, awaiting our coming back when we leave, and eventually doing activities with us. Feeling loved embodies the characteristics of feeling safe, but with a deeper sense of feeling safe. It creates an urge for the person to be with us, to come to us, and to want to stay with us. It can involve a reaching out to us or seeking a hug from us. It is seen in a smile, a warm gaze, walking happily toward us, accepting and giving an embrace, and a host of other indicators. Love is impossible if the person does not feel safe.
It is important to recognize that old memories cannot be immediately eradicated; it is our hope to help the person evolve new memories starting with the feeling of being safe and loved. It is only when one feels both safe and loved that the individual may begin to express love toward the broader caregiving community and become engaged more fully in the outside community. These purposes are essential in all moral development and are the core of our human interdependence and connectedness with others. One’s focus must center on who the person is becoming, not what we might want to get rid of.
As part of a culture of gentleness, COR has developed a flexible, person-centered approach and a-quick-to-respond management model that recognizes the depth of each person’s past experiences and the wounds and scars that these have left on the hearts and souls of those served. COR places a significant emphasis on the education and mentoring of its caregivers, as well celebrating and sharing each person’s talents and gifts.
In its approach to Gentle Teaching, COR defines care giving as:
- The development of new memories.
- Feeling safe within oneself and with others.
- Feeling loved, respected and even noble.
- Feeling accepted as a person.
- Being an active participant in one’s own life project.
- Feeling the power and strength to help others and live in community.
What is Gentle Teaching? A look at the basics. (downloadable handout)