Maryland Positive Behavior Support Training

Increasing Awareness of Power With Versus Power Over Others

Two young men on mountain bikes contgralulating each other as they reach their destination. Mountain range is in the background.

Many people with disabilities rely on others to help them with everyday tasks. A person may need assistance changing clothes, going out into the community, or managing health care tasks. Depending on someone else can lead to feeling helpless. We can become frustrated because we must rely on help from another person. An important part of being person-centered involves paying attention to whether we are giving people control over their own lives. Our job is to help each person we support lead their own lives and make important decisions.

Sometimes conflict arises when we are supporting a person because we want them to do something right away or in a certain manner, usually in a way that we are used to doing ourselves in our own lives. Putting pressure on people to follow our own personal way of doing things is understandable. It can be easy to assume that everyone has the same interests, habits and routines as our own. Engaging in power over types of interactions with someone means that we are telling the person what to do and how to do it without giving them choices or control over decisions in their lives. As a staff person providing services, we hold power over the people we support because that person depends upon us to complete certain tasks.

When we engage in power with interactions with someone, we are inviting the person to make a decision about something or choose how and when to complete a task with us. Our messages, both verbal and nonverbal, are to offer a chance to work together with the person while that person is making their own decisions. We are giving each person as much control over their lives as possible.

  • “You need to clean your apartment….”
  • “Stop playing computer games and clean your room now…”
  • “I already told you that you can’t have that…”
  • “Hurry up, you can’t miss the doctor’s appointment today.”
  • “What do you want to do first…finish your computer game or start working on making dinner?”
  • “Let’s look at the schedule so that you can create a plan for what you want to work on this morning.”
  • “I know this chore is not fun…let’s make it more interesting by turning on your favorite music while we are getting the task done."
  • "Your doctor’s appointment is coming up in a few hours, do you want to create a plan to do something fun right after we see the doctor?”


Try this with a friend or co-worker who is also reading this module:

  • Write down the steps you take each morning when you get ready to go to work.
  • Send this list to your friend or co-worker, ask them to follow your morning routine tomorrow and listen to their response.
  • How did they react? Did they tell you about how different their morning routine looks in comparison to yours?