My visitors today

Wednesday 29 April 2009

My Klients are all busy "doing Petö"

Familiar faces, by Susie Mallett, 2003

Its that synchro-thingy at work again

I had a lovely day yesterday. My knees got a rest. There were no Kindergarten children to crawl after on the floor, to roll over with on the mats, or to go sliding with on the slides.

Surprise, surprise

Instead I was in Würzbürg to present Conductive Education to the local Multiple Sclerosis society (DMSG). I surprise myself to write that I loved it, because I thought I was still not able to say that I really like to give presentations, but that now seems to have changed, I enjoyed it. And what’s more I did it all without a paper. I had just a few hand-written notes.

What is even more surprising, and very nice for me, is that the audience appeared to enjoy it too. There was lots of laughter and three rounds of applause from a group of thirty-plus people with MS. Anyone who works with MS clients will know that is quite an achievement.

There was an extraordinary atmosphere in the whole building. As soon I walked in the door I could feel it, relaxed, jolly, a healthy soul. It was something that I have never experienced at a DMSG group meeting here in Germany before, and I have attended several. Here were a very cheerful welcoming group of people, with handshakes and an exchange of names at the door, and coffee-drinking and Brez'n=eating before I began to "entertain" them.

A day of treats

As well as giving the talk I also had the opportunity to meet my friend Lisa, from Fortschritt Verein, Würzbürg. She picked me up from the ICE train (the train ride was also part of my “day out” treat) to drive me to the MS centre.

As I had got an earlier train than needed we had time for breakfast together on the station. This was another treat as, after Norwich and Keleti Pu, Budapest, Würzbürg is one of my favourite railway stations, reminding me so much of Eastern European railway buildings.

Lisa and I also had time for lunch together later, which gave us lots mre time to chat. As we are both begeistert (enthralled) by Conductive Education we didn’t talk about much else. We are making plans to expand groups for adults in Würzbürg, which is why I was invited to give the talk.


I asked Lisa to tell me about anything in my presentation that she thought I could change, anything that I could do differently, anything that she felt worked well and anything that didn’t. I asked her tell me about the reactions that she saw in the audience.

She made a few suggestions over lunch, some things that I had wondered about myself while preparing for and during the talk. One of them was the best way and the best spot in the talk to introduce the fact that the biggest part of my work is psycho-social rather than physiological. When should I talk about working with "healthy souls"? My decision had been that in this instance this doesn’t really matter. People who have multiple sclerosis are quite used to talking about psychological aspects of their illness and their lives. I would no to frighten anyone off, as Lisa feared.

Something else

Now we were at the station and Lisa had thought of something else. Already back at the train station after a successful morning, I had my hand on the door-handle of her car, poised to jump out to run for the train back to Nürnberg as I had to be back in time for my evening adult group, but there we were, still talking.

This was my use of the word Klient (client). We discussed this almost longer than we should have (I nearly missed the train). It was something that we had both been thinking about in recent weeks, independently of each other, I magine my amazement when I switched on the computer last night to find that Andrew Sutton had also been giving some thought to the same subject.

His article, which was posted at almost exactly the same time that Lisa and I were having our related chat, almost word for word a transcript of our conversation!

What's in a word?

I had used Klient in my presentation. I always use the word "client" when referring to my adults. As Andrew suggests in his posting the children are my children, their parents I would refer to as my clients, and the adult group members too.

Lisa suggested that I use the word Teilnehmer (participant) like I have heard used by the conductors I have worked with who trained at NICE. The conductive centre in Würzbürg has a new board of governors and I suspect that this subject had been brought up by one of them. The centre has used the word Patient until now when speaking about the adults attending its groups. It now uses Teilnehmer and have welcomed this change. Lisa said exactly as Andrew stated in his blog, there is no medical imput in CE so she now realises that to call them patients is inappropriate.

As I read Andrew’s blog I thought perhaps he had been eaves-dropping outside the car at Würzburg station!

When I was a student in Hungary, working in the adults' department of the Petö Institute, they used the word beteg (invalid, sick person) when referring to the adults in their groups. I believe that this is still the case.

When I work with physiotherapists at the workshop for disabled adults, the word used is Mitarbeiter (fellow-worker, colleague), as it is in all departments in this charity that I often work for, or Mitbewohner (fellow-inhabitant) in the context of the sheltered housing and home.


When I landed in Germany back in 1993 I gave a lot of thought to the word I would use to for the adults I worked with. I did some first research by asking English-speaking Germans; family, friends and CE group members, for their opinions. I couldn’t speak German well and it was a long time before I got a feel of what the words really mean.

I eventually decided on Klient and I have stuck with this ever since. Even though over the years I have got more of a “feel” of the German language, I have never found a better alternative.

I decided against Teilnehemer from the start. It is difficult to explain why, but I think that this it is because the word "participant" gives me the feeling of clients being less important than they really are. These people are my clients, they pay my rent. Without them I wouldn’t eat.

I wonder whether this feeling has something to do with being self-employed. This could influence how I interpret words and how I choose the words that I use in my work.

The parents of my children, my boys, my girls, my young men or my young ladies, are my clients. They pay me and I am responsible to them. My adults are also my clients. I am the provider of whatever they need from me at the time and they pay me for providing it.

So for the time being I am happy with the word "client", and I am sticking with it.

"Doing Petö"

Lisa and I did not discuss the “doing words" as Andrew describes verbs but I often think about this too. It still sounds so odd to my ear when clients and children say we are "doing Petö" when they are attending a group. Many also say that they come to "do Konduktive Förderung", which has a less comical ring to it.

I wish that they would all say the same as one of my stroke clients who says that she lives conductively but attends a Petö group to achieve success in the group that she cannot achieve alone when living conductively at home.

A bit of fun to finish off with: Petözunk

Years ago, when we began the conductive groups for children in Nürnberg, we first heard the children say "We are doing Petö". This amused us so much that a Hungarian colleague and I began to use a new verb in Hungarian: petözni, "to petö".

Petözok, petösz, petözik, petözunk................ ??????



1 comment:

Andrew Sutton said...

Thanks for your extensive elaboration. Would only that there were many more such like yourself.

On balance, like yourself, I personally incline towards 'clients' rather that participants; like you too I am not altogether sure why.


Your suggestion about the importance of the direct responsibility, clearly apparent for any self-employed, private practitioner, offers a good pointer, one that I should like here to take further.

If for any reason I hire a professional person to do a job for me, a solicitor for example, I am a client and I have certain expectations as such of the nature of the contractual relationship. I pay, the practitioner provides, if I am not satisfied I go somewhere else or, if things turn out really badly, I seek redress.

Yes, I know, the word 'client' has been appropriated (i.e. stolen) by some workers within the public sector, social workers and educational psychologists for example. If you become the 'clent' of such people through the public sector, this is not usually of your own volition. You pay, but only indirectly, through the taxation system. If you don't like what you get, you cannot go elsewhere and there is no redress.

Clearly here, this secondary meaning of the word 'client' is altogether different.

Even so, and perhaps here I am guilty of being a liberal romantic, there seems a powerful force in the simple market discipline of the word's primary meaning.

Because of the way in which so much Conductive Education is funded now around the world, like it or not the implications of the primary meaning of 'client', within the present employment market for conductors' labour, are strong ones for Cnductive Eduation as a whole.

The word 'participants' has served well but from now on I shall think, speak and write about 'clients', and emphasise the duties and responsibilities that I think accompany this word.


I go for the word 'children' too.

This gives the beneficiaries of Conductive Education one simple division, between adults and children, with the usual hazy transition area in between.

This fits is well with other areas of real life and the obvious reality of two relationships:

- with adults, in any role, direct, unmediated;

- with children, mediated via parents, guardians or other adults such as teachers.

I would still, though, like to know what other people think.