Gentle teaching

Gentle teaching was developed in the eighties by John McGee. In the early years gentle teaching was especially known as an approach for helping  people with an intellectual disability and severe behavior problems. In gentle teaching however, we rather don’t speak about behaviors of people, because - even without our intention to do so - this places us above the person. We start to judge about the behaviors and tent to control behaviors we don’t approve of. We always have to remember that a behavior – even if it’s harmful – is never the problem to be solved. The problem we should solve is the problem the person experiences, and which is the cause of the behavior.

The essence of gentle teaching

Gentle teaching is the expression of what McGee describes as the Psychology of  Interdependence. According to this psychology, every human being needs to live connected with others in an equal and reciprocal relationship, and embedded in a loving and caring community. This community invites the individual to develop his qualities for the benefit of himself and the community.

The relationship, which is the basis for social development, is called companionship, and has four pillars:

To feel safe with each other

To feel loved by each other

To feel loving towards each other

To feel connected with each other

It’s essential that this relationship is unconditional. Meaning that the persons feels that our attitude towards him doesn’t depend on his behavior.

People who – for whatever reason – are dependent of caregivers for their daily wellbeing, need to experience the feeling of companionship with their caregivers. This is not  possible when the caregivers work with an aloof professional attitude. The need to make authentic contact  with the person, based on personal interest and commitment, and with the deep intention to make the person feel well.

Our vision on harmful behaviors

The cause of harmful behaviors is not that a person intentionally want to harm us or others (even if we often suppose or say this).

Usually the person loses control as a result of stress, caused by inner emotions and feelings  or external circumstances (or a combination of both). The fact that stress leads to lose of control, may be caused by a disharmonic development of the person, traumatic life-experiences, psychiatric disorders, or/and … not feeling connected with others.

  • In the moment of stress, the person needs someone he feels safe with, he trusts unconditionally, and who can guide him through this stressful moment.
  • People who are at risk of having frequent moments of stress and loss of control, often have a long history of conditional and domineering relationships with others, instead of unconditional and safe relationships.
  • This creates an increasing fear of others, especially on moments of stress.  And these are exactly the moments when they need us the most.

Gentle Teaching

The first and most important goal in gentle teaching  is to develop companionship, the unconditional relationship which makes it possible to support the person in moments of stress. A side-effect may be that we can (hopefully) prevent  harmful behaviors to occur. But this is not a goal in gentle teaching.

After we have established companionship, we can support the person in his personal development and in realizing his dreams. As a result his quality of life will improve and the causes of stress will further decrease.

Implementing and developing gentle teaching has a number of aspects. 

1. New representation of the person

  • Insight in the vulnerabilities of the person and the stress which can cause loss of control
  • Insight in the development profile and possible traumatic life experiences of the person
  • Letting go of negative and stigmatizing thoughts about the person 


2. Personal development of the caregiver

  • Insight in the moments we fall back on domineering reaction patterns and a conditional attitude toward the persons.
  • Developing a strategy and qualities to become unconditional and supporting on challenging moments.
  • Insight in the feelings and emotions a person evokes in us and working constructively with emotions which are not good for the caregiver himself and the relationship with the person (anger, fear, powerlessness)
  • Developing qualities to be genuinely present with the person 


3. Development of the basic attitude of the caregiver

  • This basic attitude contributes to the development of a culture in which the person can feel connected and secure and develop his personal qualities (Culture of Hope)
  • This attitude connects the caregiver with his fundamental motivation, so he gets more satisfaction from his work
  • Avoiding or converting threats to the quality of life of the person 


4. An individual, methodological, teaching plan for the person, focused on

  • Teaching to feel safe, loved, loving and connected
  • Teaching to stay in contact with the caregiver at increasing levels of stress and being guided through stressful moments
  • Developing the personal qualities and strengthening the possibilities of the person to influence his quality of life 


5. Teamsupport

  • Developing a management style with the teammanager and psychologists that enables the caregivers to relate better with the people they serve,
  • and that gives the caregivers the feeling that the organization sees them as equal important as the people they are serving.
    Gentle teaching isn’t a cure for all diseases. Depending on specific problems and qualities of a  person, a combination with other methods may be useful.


Target groups

Gentle teaching started as a way of serving people with an intellectual disability – mild as well as severe - and challenging behaviors.  Over the years gentle teaching was also introduced for other target groups, like people with a mental illness, people with Alzheimer, children with autism or ADHD, etc.

Actually, gentle teaching is an expression on human relationships in general. It can be applied in the family, at school,  at work, etc.

It’s important to use the principles of gentle teaching when we are working with children or adults who at risk of developing a disturbed relationship with important others.  By living and working according the principles of gentle teaching we can prevent them to become or feel marginalized.

And the benefit for us: we can feel content that we do what we are born for as human beings