Purpose: The definition and aims of rehabilitation are both topics of frequent debate. Recently several authors have suggested defining rehabilitation and its goals in terms of 'person-centredness'. However such attempts to define rehabilitation in this way have not occurred without running into their own difficulties and criticisms. Consequently, one may question whether person-centredness is a good candidate to characterize and define rehabilitation. The purpose of this article is to reflect upon the historical background and conceptual underpinnings of this term and their relevance for understanding contemporary person-centred rehabilitation.
Method: We conducted a conceptual and historical analysis of the notion of person-centredness in relation to rehabilitation. We ask first whether person-centredness has a consistent and fixed definition and meaning? Secondly, where does person-centredness come from, what is its conceptual history and does an historical approach enable us to identify a unique source for person-centredness?
Results: In the context of rehabilitation, we have identified four main understandings or interpretations of the term person-centredness, each of which denotes several ideas that can be, in turn, interpreted in quite different ways. Thus the concept of person-centredness in rehabilitation has multiple meanings. The conceptual history indicates that person-centredness has diverse meanings and that it has been used in a variety of contexts somewhat unrelated to disability and rehabilitation. Moreover, there does not seem to be any strict relationship between person-centredness as it is used in the context of rehabilitation and these prior uses and meanings.
Conclusion: Person-centredness has an ancient pedigree, but its application in the field of rehabilitation raises both practical and theoretical difficulties. It may be that rehabilitation might get a better sense of what it should be and should do by focusing less on the rhetoric of person-centredness and by putting more emphasis on the investigation and operationalization of its key conceptual components.