If It Looks Like a Duck, It Might Not Be a Duck


If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck. Right?


There’s a lot of value placed in our culture for calling things like we see them. Personally, I have a lot of respect for people who are able to cut through the surface and deal straight with the real issues that face them in life. Honestly, I strive to be that person. But what if what we see and how we perceive a situation isn’t the reality?


As a therapist I have the privilege of working with all different types of people – different personalities, abilities, talents, cultures, and needs. I try to be honest about what my clients can and can’t do. Sometimes it’s easy to get so caught up in the “can’ts” that I lose sight of their list of “cans.” It’s so easy to forget to presume competence.


Presuming competence is pretty simple in theory but challenging in practice. On paper, presuming competence says I believe that my client understands the concepts or skills necessary to complete tasks. Presuming competence means assuming that my client understands what I’m saying, even if they don’t have a way of responding with their own voice. Presuming competence means affirming that my client’s thoughts and emotions are just as valid as any other person’s on this planet. It means not dumbing things down for them and holding them to the high standards that I would have for any of their same aged peers.


In reality, there may be a blank stare when I talk.


In reality, she doesn’t follow my directions after the first, second, or third time I ask.


In reality, he is fixated on the last line of the song we sang 5 minutes ago instead of moving with me to the next exercise.


If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck… It may not be a duck… What we see and experience from the surface isn’t necessarily what you’ll find underneath the facade. In music therapy I strive to find the sweet spot of knowing exactly how much my clients understand and how to best support them to get them where they need to be. This doesn’t mean doing everything for them, although it might mean I offer some adaptations to help them be successful. It doesn’t mean I talk over them, but rather I include them in conversations with caregivers and in developing a plan of action for their therapy (whenever possible and appropriate). It takes work to presume competence and it is my constant reminder throughout my day.


When I take the time to truly know who my clients are and what works for them, I have seen them thrive again and again. It isn’t easy for me (and it’s not always a pretty process for them to watch as I figure it out). This process always requires compassion and humility to see people for who they are, not just what’s on the surface. Sometimes it even requires asking forgiveness from my clients when I fall short of this standard. That said, the daily process of presuming competence is worth every ounce of effort in helping my clients know that I see them, hear them, and walk with them on their journey… just for being who they are.


Photo Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Male_Mallard_Duck_photo_D_Ramey_Logan.jpg