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EP Consultation, remote working and Covid-19

The wonderings of two second year trainees about how to adapt and use consultation during Covid-19 when working with people on the telephone.

Prepare

As we try to adjust to novel ways of working, we’ve found that returning to more familiar practice frameworks has helped. Frameworks offer EPs a systematic way to clarify their thinking and reasoning (Kelly et al., 2017). When we can’t see a child or young person ourselves, practice frameworks have been a useful tool for mapping out what is known about a child or young person and beginning to explore any guiding hypotheses about this. This has been supportive prior to – or as part of – consultation work.

Alongside preparing, we’ve thought about how we could help consultees to prepare for the consultation. Wagner (2017) suggests asking clients to consider questions such as: ‘What would you like to get from the consultation?’ or ‘How would you like things to change?’ Asking these questions may empower others at a time where many may feel disempowered.

Establish rapport

In order to work well with others, share objectives and attain solutions we must be able to establish rapport (Beaver, 2011). There are some things we may not have realised were important to rapport building before, such as walking together to the meeting room or making a cup of tea with staff and parents. The setup of meetings and introductions are important in the work that we do but they are not happening at the moment; so how can we work differently to build relationships with school staff and parents? We’ve needed to be flexible when setting up meetings, considering the time pressures of others, and ensuring that all those involved have access to a distraction-free environment.

In the current context, we have also needed to think about alternative ways to ensure we manage power dynamics between ourselves and the people we are working with. “Consultation is a voluntary, collaborative and non-supervisory approach, established to aid the functioning of a system and its inter-related systems” (Wagner, 2000, p.11). Stating the purpose of the consultation and clarifying roles from the outset has helped consultees to feel valued. Additionally, ensuring that others feel affirmed, safe, accepted and understood has enabled us to develop trusting relationships.

Develop attuned interactions

Not being able to see someone can make consultation incredibly difficult. So much of what we do involves visually ‘tuning-in’ to peoples’ non-verbal communication. In the absence of this, we’ve tried to think carefully about how to demonstrate attentive listening and how to encourage consultees to share their thoughts. Previously, we may have nodded or smiled to show others that we were listening but now we can’t do that; therefore, it’s been helpful to use short verbal affirmations (e.g. “I see”, “uh huh”, “hmmm, that sounds tricky”) which have encouraged consultees to continue. Alongside this, paraphrasing, summarising, clarifying what has been said and reflecting back feelings (e.g. “I think I hear you saying…”, “Let me see if I understand: you…”) has ensured that consultees know that we are listening.

Additionally, being comfortable with silence has been useful. At times it has helped to pause for longer than may be expected in a face to face consultation. It seems that this silence might help us to generate thoughtfulness (Miller & Rollnick, 2012) as well as allowing the consultee uninterrupted time and space with their thoughts. It would be interesting for future research to explore the ‘sound of silence’ further when it comes to telephone consultations.

Make use of solution-focused approaches

Even before the current situation changed our lives, solution-focused approaches enabled EPs to help clients to look beyond their current reality and consider more positive futures. Helping clients to explore what they would like to happen can be a constructive step in moving forwards. And now – when so little about our here and now is known – use of miracle questions can shift the narrative to create a shared vision for the future.

Alternatively, if it’s easier to think about the current situation then do so. But when listening to problems, we’ve considered taking a solution-analysis approach. Harker et al., (2017) speak of the need to, “Listen to the person and the possibility” going on to suggest that, “There are always exceptions to the problem”. Our changed lives have generated some great opportunities for comparison. For example, perhaps a child who previously struggled with handwriting is now making exceptional progress at home; what is it about this exception that is working? Which factors, strengths or skills are enabling this?

Reflect and seek supervision

As trainees we are encouraged to embrace the use of reflection. Whether it be informally in the car on the way home from a school visit, or a formal structured supervision session, being reflexive (Wagner, 2017) is a key part of our role and facilitates our professional development.

In the uncertain times that we are living in, perhaps the value of supervision is emphasised by EPs: it is something that we can use in order understand the impact that we are having. We must not be afraid to ask for help and question the new ways in which we are working (e.g. How does the work that I’m doing sit within HCPC and BPS ethical guidelines?) .

Over the past month, many EPs have had to be flexible, open to challenges and adaptable in response to the needs of the children, young people and families they work with. In order to do this going forward, we must continue to: reflect and review our practice; understand the value of critical reflection; and consider alternative ways of working.

Final thoughts

Consultation represents a multi-faceted and diverse range of psychologically informed approaches and we are aware that we have touched on just some of these. Yet on reflection, this is a potentially novel time for us to consider both how we deliver consultation and how our consultation is valued by those we work with.

We look forward to hearing from others in the profession about how your ways of working have differed and how you are adapting practice to meet the needs of the people we are working with in these different and challenging times.


References

Beaver, R. (2011). Educational psychology casework: A practice guide second edition. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

British Psychological Society (BPS) (2018). Code of ethics and conduct.

Harker, M. E., Dean, S. & Monsen, J. J. (2017). Solution-Oriented Educational Psychology Practice. In Kelly, B., Marks Woolfson, L., & Boyle, J. (Eds), Frameworks for Practice in Educational Psychology (pp. 167-193). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

HCPC (2015). Practitioner psychologists: Standards of proficiency. London.

Hughes, D., Golding, K. S., & Hudson, J. (2015). Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP): the development of the theory, practice and research base. Adoption & Fostering, 39(4), 356-365.

Kelly, B., Marks Woolfson, L., & Boyle, J. (Eds), (2017). Frameworks for Practice in Educational Psychology (pp. 167-193). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2012). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change. Guilford press.

Wagner, P. (2000). Consultation: Developing a comprehensive approach to service delivery. Educational Psychology in Practice, 16(1), 9-18.

Wagner, P. (2017). Consultation as a Framework for Practice. In Kelly, B., Marks Woolfson, L., & Boyle, J. (Eds), Frameworks for Practice in Educational Psychology (pp. 167-193). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


About Rosie Pengelly

Rosanna is a trainee educational psychologist at the University of Exeter. She previously worked as an assistant psychologist in the child and adolescent team and has a keen interest in promoting positive mental health in schools.

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About Clare Sowman

Clare is a trainee educational psychologist at the University of Exeter. Her research explores social participation, play and the experiences of pupils with SEMH needs.

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2 Comments so far:

  1. Mark Adams says:

    Useful reflections, thank-you, and a reminder of some of the important ingredients that will improve the chances of these conversations proving effective.

  2. Alison Bates says:

    Lovely reflections and I particularly liked the concepts of the ‘sound of silence’ and the use of exceptions. Perhaps these uncertain times may provide some positives in helping to re-shape/re-think our practice.

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