The concept of whole person assessment seems to be getting more attention recently as it is at the core of community navigator and social prescribing projects. I believe that it is relevant to all organisations that support clients and should be the standard in how we approach individuals. Hopefully this will set out what is meant by whole person assessment, why it is beneficial and some of the challenges.

Whole person assessment means ensuring that your assessment process tries to capture all the issues that might be present in a client’s life. This is an attempt to not only understand the issue that a client might be approaching you for support with, but all the other parts of their life that might impact on that issue. In our own lives, we know that the things we try to deal with do not exist in isolation, people are complex, so are the issues they present to services.

This creates a daunting prospect for many services. We recommend that this should not be a systematic process of questions. Confronting clients with a detailed questionnaire, that might not be relevant to their most pressing issue, is likely to alienate people. We suggest that this type of assessment should be carried out through disclosure. As people talk about the issues that are most concerning them, they will talk about the other things that relate to them.

For example, someone approaching a service to talk about financial hardship can readily reveal how their housing and health situations have impacted on their day to day lives. As issues are disclosed they are recorded.

For many organisations, the first question we are asked is “why?”. It’s a reasonable question. Why do you divert attention from the issue presented to you and look for other things that your organisation might not be able to help with? My first response is that in many cases, where issues are interdependent on each other, then it is the process of unpicking these that will give you the most success in helping people.

Secondly, this process improves the quality of referrals and integration between agencies. If you are actively looking to refer clients to other agencies that might be able to support, then the whole system works more effectively. Where agencies are working together with people then the outcomes for those individuals improve.

The biggest challenge we have found with implementing this is cultural. It is difficult for staff to switch their attention from the things they know about, and can help with. In some ways, it’s human nature to prioritise what you know and park what seems insoluble.

The way to manage this instinct is to identify those partner agencies that deal with the issues that are outside of your area of expertise. With most organisations, there aren’t a vast number of extra issues that clients present. Once you have identified the most common issues it’s a process of how you most effectively refer to the relevant issues. This involves creating a relationship with those agencies and developing a process that is more effective than just signposting.

We have an interest in this because we use a very effective method for carrying out whole person assessments. Our system of Risk Maps present the most common issues in a format that makes it a simple process to record the complexity of an individual’s life without getting in the way of the time you have with a client.

If you are interested in how you can change the way you assess clients we would be more than happy to talk to you.