Why is rehabilitation not yet fully person-centred and should it be more person-centred?

Disabil Rehabil. 2007;29(20-21):1616-24. doi: 10.1080/09638280701618620.


Aims: It is a generally shared opinion that rehabilitation is not (yet) 'fully person-centred' and that it should be more. For a certain number of authors, this deficit in person-centredness has originated from the important weight of a 'medical framework' within rehabilitation. In this paper, we will discuss this criticism and its corollary: the idea that rehabilitation is bound to choose between a non-medical and a medical paradigm, since there is a fundamental contradiction between medicine and person-centredness. In the first section of the paper, we will examine the conceptual history of rehabilitation and question whether this history can really be summarized as a 'shift from a medical approach to a person-centred approach'. In the second section, we will question assumptions and suggestions that have been made to develop person-centredness in rehabilitation. In the third section, we will discuss what might be gained but also what might be lost by reinforcing person-centredness in rehabilitation.

Key findings and implications: (i) The history of rehabilitation is complex with several stages and paradigm shifts. Furthermore, these paradigms do not succeed one another but overlap. It would therefore be erroneous to reduce the history of rehabilitation to merely a shift 'from a medical approach to a person-centred approach'. (ii) Several proposals of how to make rehabilitation more person-centred are found within the literature. However, none of these appears satisfactory with each leading to theoretical and practical difficulties. (iii) Although person-centredness has unquestionably contributed to the overall progress of rehabilitation, it is not certain that more person-centredness is the solution to current challenges to rehabilitation.

Conclusion and recommendations: In some ways, the challenge rehabilitation faces is the need to transpose and adapt a notion (person-centredness) that has emerged from fields that are in fact unrelated to disability such as, for example, clinical psychology. The difficulties encountered are therefore not so much related to the particular dominance of a 'medical model' in rehabilitation than they are to the complexities of the concept of disability. We argue that one way forward might be to clarify further the respective role of the medical and non-medical aspects of rehabilitation in ways that go beyond what has been already achieved in either the ICIDH or ICF but which is still unsatisfactory or incomplete in many respects.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Attitude to Health
  • Disabled Persons / rehabilitation*
  • Holistic Health
  • Humans
  • Models, Organizational
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care*
  • Patient Participation
  • Patient-Centered Care / organization & administration*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Recovery of Function