The things we say and how we say them can impact powerfully on other people. You need to be intentional and considered in their use of language. Take time to choose your words carefully by thinking about recovery and peer values. You also need to be aware of avoiding the use of language which leads us away from hope and a strengths base. In other words, we encourage to use a recovery filter in their language.
Peer supporters should aim to use ‘person first’ language. This is a concept that grew out of the disability movement and affirms that first and foremost people are people and not a diagnosis, or client, or patient, or service user. Talking or writing about a person as a thing or as an illness rather than as a person is disrespectful and discriminatory.
Describing people by their diagnosis or use of services can risk labelling people and reinforcing identities based on illness and use of services rather than identities based on wellness, individuality and hope. This can negatively impact on an individual’s identity and recovery.
Similarly, we should also be conscious of the tendency to describe people by their use of services e.g. service user, patient. Labelling or categorising people can also lead to the ‘them and us’ environments that recovery focussed environments seek to avoid.
The language peer supporters use can empower or stigmatise. When you find yourself categorising people in this way, step back and think of alternatives. Peer supporters will also find opportunities to constructively highlight and challenge this type of labelling with friends and colleagues.
Lori Ashcroft and William Anthony- two leading writers in recovery in the United States developed the following list to demonstrate the use of language ‘that promotes acceptance, respect and uniqueness.’ (Ashcroft and Anthony, 2006).