This article describes the three perceptual positions and how providers can step into the Self position to strengthen relating, set effective boundaries with patients, and improve outcomes.

The three main perceptual positions are Self, Other and Observer.

  • To experience the Self position, ask yourself, “What do I think, what are my feelings, my ideas and my observations?”
  • To consider an issue from the Other position, imagine stepping into someone else’s shoes, taking on that person’s feelings, perceptions and world view.
  • To experience the Observer position, step out of your Self position and see the situation from a distance, witnessing in a neutral way.

What is the purpose of being in the Self position? What good does it do?

The Self position allows others to connect with you and enables you to set effective boundaries with staff, co-workers and patients. Speaking from the Self position gives other people a sense of who you are and where you stand. Some compassionate providers tend to over-focus on patients or cope by over-extending with difficult patients. Using “I” language shows patients your perspective and strengthens the therapeutic relationship.

Being in Self position helps you strengthen connection with yourself, and therefore to others. The Self position requires you articulate what matters to you and reflect on the unique experiences that have created your values. Stepping into the Self position allows you to better understand WHY something is important to you, developing self-understanding. This self-understanding allows appreciation for others’ points of view.

How can I step into this role? How can I tell if I am really acting as Self?

  1. Use first person language, such as “When I do…” instead of “When you do…” Also, using third person language such as, “People get angry when…” doesn’t speak to your values and your being in the same way as “I get angry when…” does. Choose first person language to amplify your own experience.
  2. Make physical gestures toward your self. For example, if you say, “I believe in my mission,” while gesturing in the direction of your heart, the statement will resonate deeply with you. Saying “One should believe in his mission in order to be successful,” just doesn’t carry the same weight. The gesture itself helps create the experience. Using “One” or a generalized “You” keeps it out there, but using “I” embodies it, and adding a gesture makes it even stronger.
  3. Be fully in the experience and experience your passion. In order to experience passion, you have to be strongly in Self position. If you lack passion, you may have difficulty adopting a strong Self position.

The Self position is important when you want to deepen self-understanding and express your perspective. However, to express your self without regard for others would be unproductive. As you gain knowledge about how and when to step into all the perceptual positions effective relating results.

Also remember that exercising the Self position will be more challenging —yet ultimately rewarding—for providers who were discouraged early on from expressing themselves with words such as, “Don’t rock the boat,” or “Don’t say things that are going to hurt other people’s feelings.”

In summary, The Self position strengthens personal connection, ultimately allowing providers to set effective boundaries with patients, and improve outcomes.

The research is clear: patient success is linked to the quality of the relationship between provider and patient. Knowing how and when to step into and balance each of these perceptual positions is fundamental to creating a positive therapeutic alliance.

Watch for more on Perceptual Positions in upcoming newsletters.