Self-Directed Living

What is self-directed living?

Self- Directed living’ or ‘SDL’ is a school of thinking and practice relating to the arrangement of high quality ‘person-centred’ or ‘individualised’ supports that enable people with disabilities, mental health difficulties and dementia to maintain or develop full and meaningful lives in their communities. In a context in which there are many different and sometimes competing models of support, SDL recognises that a number of these models share a common purpose: to bring about a situation in which individuals, with the necessary support, are able to choose, pursue and achieve ‘their good life’ to a similar extent to others in their society.

We are accustomed to noticing what is “wrong” with peopleHope Leet Dittmeier

Origins in Sunbeam


Self-Directed Living at Sunbeam House was initiated to respond to requests by people that want a support service built around their life and not their life built around a support service. Traditional support services in group settings work extremely well for some people yet a growing number of people are becoming dissatisfied with this style of service provision. The supports and services offered to adults with an intellectual disability have always been in a constant slow state of transformation, from no services to large institutional services, smaller institutions to group homes, day services to accessing community services, sheltered employment to supported employment.

The movement toward SDL has been gathering pace in recent years and gained real momentum throughout Ireland and within SHS since the immersion project in May 2013. This project brought cross representative teams (service users, family members, managers, frontline staff etc.) from organisations all over the country. Together they immersed themselves in week long workshops and lectures exploring different approaches to service delivery. The main focus was on a support structure directed by the person and facilitated by the organisation, Self- Directed Living. The National Federation of Voluntary Bodies organised the event and brought leaders in the field from all over the world to facilitate the learning. For the past couple of years Sunbeam House has initiated our own training programs and lectures by Irish and international leaders in the intellectual disability sector such as Michael Kendrick, Mary Keely and Doreen Kelly. The most powerful, influential and valuable learning of the SDL approach has been through the sharing of peoples stories of their lives transformed by.

SDL is difficult to do properly. Life is not straight forward therefore SDL is not a straight forward process. The supports offered are unique to each person and can often change in accordance with the person’s wishes or requirements. The values of the person come first not those of the supporter or indeed the organisation. This is why the Organisational Development Team has made the decision to commit a small staff team to a Self- Directed Living approach of support. The SDL team will be working for some people within our services that have expressed (verbally or through action), a strong desire to direct their own supports.

We have chosen to rent a small base on the main street in Wicklow town. To avoid confusion in support delivery style, we have chosen our base to be outside of other SHS properties. The base is also purposefully small to avoid it becoming a centre for activities. It will be used for meetings with people and their families. It will also act as a resource/administration base for the team and a place to share learning and experience.

The approach the SDL team is using is based on the theory of practice of Social Role Valorisation. We have been trained on how to apply this theory into practice on the Enabling Excellence training program. To begin with the SDL team are working with a small group of individuals.

Social Role Valorisation


Social Role Valorization (SRV) developed by Dr Wolf Wolfensberger is a set of approaches designed to enable devalued people in society to experience the Good Life. These approaches are best used by persons who clearly believe that devaluation of a party is wrong, and who are prepared to work to overcome this. SRV’s many strategies derived from practical experience and from what research has revealed, is to help devalued people achieve valued social roles. It finds that this is the most powerful way to work against devaluation and its negative effects, and provides a wide variety of techniques and approaches for doing so.

Social Role Valorization, when well applied, has the potential to help socially devalued people to gain greater access to the good things of life, and to be spared at least some of the negative effects of social devaluation.

Enabling Excellence


Enabling excellence is a training program, which is facilitated by Social Role Valorisation specialist, Hope Leet Dittmeier, with support from Genio. The program consists of four modules, which started in February and will finished in September. The training aims to equip the trainees with the skills necessary to develop high quality individualised supports. The people attending the course come from a range of backgrounds. There are some from organisations like sunbeam, others who work in the mental health sector and there are also a few family members. The people from Sunbeam that are on the course are; Paul Downes, Michael Kirwan, Padraig Ruane, Suzanne Bennett, Valerie Webster and Lawrence Howey.

Our base is right in the heart of the community in Wicklow Town. Pictured are the Self-Direct Living Team Michael Kirwan, Paul Downes and Padraig Ruane

Enabling Excellence with Hope Leet Dittmeier.

Meet the Team


Links and Further Reading