Menu Close


Person-First Language in Behavioral Health Care

a therapist talks to a client using person-first language in behavioral health care

The gaining traction of person-first language in behavioral health care helps empower patients while reducing the stigma of seeking help. As a provider, there are several ways that you can incorporate person-first language into your practice, including through your staff, educational materials, and even your business software.

Sunwave Health understands that when you empower your patients, you allow them the opportunity to truly accept the help you’re offering. Our software for behavioral health providers makes it easy to utilize person-first language in patient progress tracking and other everyday tasks. Find a solution for your practice by calling 561.576.6037 or contacting us online today.

What Is Person-First Language?

Person-first language is a respectful way of communicating that puts the individual before their diagnosis, condition, or circumstance. It acknowledges the person’s humanity and emphasizes their unique strengths, abilities, and experiences. In health care, this means using phrases like “person with substance use disorder” instead of “addict” or “individual with bipolar disorder” rather than “bipolar.

Why Is Person-First Language Important in Behavioral Health Care?

Using person-first language in behavioral health care has a positive impact on patients’ morale and well-being. It promotes dignity, respect, and empathy, which are crucial components of effective behavioral health care. Studies have shown that person-first language can reduce stigma and discrimination against people with mental health conditions, leading to better treatment outcomes and overall quality of life.

One study found that therapists who used person-first language were perceived as more empathetic and caring by their clients. Similarly, separate research revealed that person-first language usage reduced negative stereotypes about people with substance use disorders.

The Growing Prevalence of Person-First Language in Mental Health Treatment

The use of person-first language is becoming increasingly prevalent in healthcare settings. Many professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, endorse the use of person-first language in their guidelines and publications. This growing trend underscores the importance of adopting person-first language as the standard in behavioral healthcare practices.

Strategies for Prioritizing Person-First Language in Your Practice

Adopting person-first language is not difficult; it just requires mindfulness and consistency across your entire practice. From the way you interact with your patients to the way your chart their progress, here are some ways you can start communicating more compassionately.

Staff Training and Ongoing Education

To ensure that person-first language becomes ingrained in your practice, invest in staff training and ongoing education. Offer workshops, seminars, or online courses that teach the principles of person-first language in behavioral health care and provide examples of how to use it effectively. Encourage employees to practice using person-first language in their day-to-day interactions by:

  • Avoiding labels and negative terms
  • Speaking with respect, understanding, and empathy
  • Asking patients how they identify themselves or what terms they prefer
  • Prioritizing the person rather than their condition

You can also use person-first language throughout your software and other brand materials, which helps set the standard for your staff.

Utilizing Software that Prioritizes Person-First Language

Consider incorporating software that prioritizes person-first language into your practice’s workflow. Electronic health record (EHR) systems and other healthcare applications often include features that promote person-first language, such as customizable templates and language prompts. Using these tools can help staff members consistently use person-first language in their documentation and communication.

Creating Educational Materials for Patients and Stakeholders

Develop educational materials that highlight the importance of person-first language and its benefits for patients and stakeholders. Distribute these materials in waiting rooms, on your practice’s website, or through social media channels. By educating patients and stakeholders about person-first language, you can foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals seeking behavioral healthcare services.

Find Your Software from Sunwave Health

At Sunwave Health, we understand the impact that person-first language can have on a patient’s well-being. Our software for behavioral health providers makes it easy to utilize person-first language in charting, billing, and lab integrations. It also allows you to customize your templates with your practice’s preferred terminology. Find a solution for your practice today by contacting us at 561.576.6037.