Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The reality of being a fully qualified EP

“No idea is conceived in our mind independent of our five senses”               Albert Einstein

I’ve always been quite a ‘sensory’ sort of person. I enjoy a good foot rub, I have a keen sense of smell, I certainly love to eat; and those of you who have read my first blog post will know that I try to live my life by the music of the Clash. I even experience a bit of synaesthesia (an unusual sensory phenomena) now and then.

I was once fortunate enough to hear the great Temple Grandin give a talk about her ingenious ‘squeeze machine’ which she uses to alleviate her anxiety associated with her needs arising from Autism. This made perfect sense to me, to the extent that I would even consider a trip to her Texan cattle ranch to give it a go myself. I am certainly, like most of us, somewhere on ‘The Spectrum’.

Therefore, when I sat down to try to write a blog to summarise my feelings after a full year of qualified EP life I couldn’t help reverting to my sensory seeking tendencies.

For me ‘feeling held’ is a sensory experience; one which I may not necessarily have been aware of until the feeling went away. As hectic and fraught as the training experience may have been, it was a ‘wrap around’ experience. I could access peer supervision with my course mates and fellow trainees on placement and I received good supervision regularly both at university and on placement.

That is not to say that I have now been ‘dropped’, but supervision is a bit more ‘as and when’ and the very nature of no longer needing those reports signed off can lead to some silo working. No longer needing to write that reflective practice report at the end of the year also places a little less pressure on reflection. As any psychologist, I am reflecting and ‘being reflexive’ (and sometimes over-reflecting) regularly. However, from a sensory perspective it has felt different in my first year post qualifying.

I am fortunate to work in a rather ‘flat’ team hierarchically but I do wonder whether that has left me feeling a little less ‘held’. My final year supervisor was somewhat maternal; no wonder it feels a little less ‘attachment-ey’ this year by comparison. I was trained to believe that good quality supervision should provide a ‘secure base’; one from which to explore and experiment with psychological theory. Although I was also trained to believe that what you learn in training may differ drastically to what you experience ‘out in the field’.

When sitting down to contract outcomes with my supervisor in my training years, those outcomes invariably revolved around me learning the role, developing my application of psychology and passing the doctorate. However, once qualified these outcomes have, at least partially, been achieved, therefore outcomes can be a little harder to define. Yes, of course, I still want to develop my practice and develop my competencies and expertise, but also I want to regain my work-life balance and position myself as a ‘team player’ to fit in with my new colleagues.

This year that tension, between idealised and real world psychologist, has led to doing that extra report as a favour to a member of the team rather than reading that interesting article; doing that statutory work rather than attending that CPD. Or going to that professionals meeting rather than attending supervision. Of course the conflicts of work pressures are not unique to psychologists and I am not the first person to highlight the need for more time reflecting and receiving supervision in the work place. 

I recognise that supervision is my responsibility as much as my supervisor’s, and I have attempted to initiate peer supervision within my team in addition to monthly supervision. However, that sensory feeling has gone, the safe space (or ‘play space’ as I think Winnicott so fantastically put it) is not a regular weekly time slot but rather the occasional lunch, monthly meeting or chat in a corridor. Fully qualified life is great but it is missing some sensory reinforcement.

Maybe I needs to take a trip to that Texan cattle ranch after all!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Sleep Issues: Can EPs do more?

So I have completely failed to keep on top of my blogging; as is the nature of the EP workload. I have, however, managed to gain a small publication!

Sleep problems can have a significant impact on young people’s wellbeing. This article will focus specifically on sleep difficulties for adolescents; an age group for which sleep issues can receive much less professional attention. Evidence will be considered for sleep hygiene interventions whereby sleep routines and environments are considered key for good quality sleep and duration. This evidence base will then be critiqued for its applicability to young people with additional social, emotional and mental health needs. The aim is to highlight the importance of sleep for young people and to encourage Educational Psychologists to consider the issues for their practice. 

Bryant, A. (2017). Sleep issues: Can EPs do more? Educational Psychology Research and Practice3(1), 70–74. Available at:

Saturday, 5 November 2016

That which we call Beyonce would smell as sweet by any other name

Kids’ names today! I just can’t keep up with all the Cosmoses and Octavios; and don’t even get me started on the spelling! Any pretence that English originated in Anglo-Frisian dialects goes straight out the window with such overuse of x and z that we see today. I believe it was the late, great Alan Bennett who bemoaned generations to come where the Ethels and Doreens in the care home would be replaced by Traceys and Sharons.
It would be nothing new for me to reflect on the classist and snobbish judgements of name complaining, indeed I believe that Katie Hopkins got there before me three years ago on a ‘This Morning’ interview. But what does this phenomenon mean for educational psychologists?

In a recent professionals meeting that I found myself in, the revelation that a child known as Ronnie was in fact a Ronaldinho preoccupied the meeting for several minutes. Most could reflect that this was merely the modern day interpretation of another generation’s Bobbys and Jimmys, however, there was another layer to this discussion. There is an implicit assumption that a Greek god or Biblical parable namesake is superior to a footballer.

Daniel’s taming of the lions may be more impressive than Lionel Messi’s left foot for some, but for others football has far more relevance within our current reality than a two-thousand-year old story. The positioning of those who operate within the philosophical, theological and theoretical (myself obviously included) above those who live in the here and now is an age old social conflict that we as psychologists have an ethical duty to be aware of.

The classist discourse around names so often intersects with the cultural. At a recent dinner party much joviality was had at the expense of Provenance, Patience and Blessing. This is an example, it was decided, of people trying to do Biblical naming but getting it wrong. Noticing cultural difference is helpful and often necessary to being a responsive professional; it is important that we hold in mind the ‘both and’ construct of being the same but different. I often find this tricky, especially with the natural pull to side with my own group. However, this pull is something that we need to, at the very least, notice, and if appropriate to do so, name.

As well as the disbelieving there is also the indignant. At a multi-disciplinary meeting there was a discussion around a David. This eight-year-old David was of middle eastern heritage and the professional in question initially could not fathom that this child could have such an “English name”.  However, the silencing effect of other professionals not concurring prompted some reflexivity in the room. Collectively we had enough knowledge of human geography and history to reflect that the Hebrew origins of David and the significance of this language and culture within many other cultures could excuse this child of his name.  

To some extent names are merely a commentary about social change and we can all be pulled in to this nostalgia from time to time. Cultures are different and noticing variance is not only natural but also sometimes very helpful for supporting young people to feel safe and accepted. However, names and culture are also identity. And by culture I’m not just talking about countries but also social and economic identities. And I apologise to Shakespeare because I disagree. The answer to ‘What’s in a name?’ is "a lot".

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The mythical even playing field

My opinions about grammar schools will come as no surprise to anyone that knows me. However, I am willing to engage in informed debate on this issue from many different perspectives, except one.

The philosophical and pedagogical assumption that it is a ‘good idea’ to select children at the age of 11 may have been one that Piaget himself would agree with. Much has been written about grammar schools being ‘good schools’; they ‘push’ the gifted and talented to achieve, or some such logic. Although, I’m not quite sure what the gifted and talented student is supposed to do if they have not been ‘pushed’ at their primary school or by an eager  parent and cannot pass a test.

Of course, as an EP, I can understand that these are ‘intelligence tests’ searching for the mythical ‘g’. However, as an EP, I cannot quite get my head around the concept of intelligence being fully formed at the age of 11, especially given what we know about the massive proliferation of brain development in later teenage life. And, as an EP, I am of course fully aware of the limitations of such tests. Never mind, testing is what we do in education and for many it continues into our professional lives so let’s just get on with it.

As a discursive and narrative psychologist, I find the messages that are received by those that fail the test somewhat irksome, as they are expected to carry on in education in the knowledge that they are ‘secondary’. I was under the impression that we were all aware of self-fulfilling prophecies after the era of 1960s psychology but maybe I should go back to my textbooks. There is of course also the potential impact on these ‘secondary’ secondary schools of being ‘secondary’, and the possibility of ‘sink schools’. The negative impact of selection within a community does not sit well with me ontologically, however, I do know that some comps and grammars work well together (in a similar manner to a Downtown Abbey servant appreciating the scraps that they have been fed).

As a local authority employee who has felt fairly aggrieved by the previous regime’s aggressive pursuit of the academy system; this grammar ban lift is wearisome. The whole academy thing has been a bit of a mess. In some places highly successful, in others extremely dodgy. But a lot of people have worked very hard to support the academy system, even when it has tried to avoid surveillance, so now to be thrown a ball from the far right field will likely elevate everyone’s cortisol levels.
There is also the social mobility argument. Grammar schools are not bastions of social mobility. We know they are not. They are bastions perpetuating inequality.

All of these are lively debates which I am happy to be engaging with over the coming weeks. However, one argument that I will not be engaging in from the other side is that because grammar schools promote inequality the implication is that our current system does not do so. We have a system with a gender skew in certain diagnoses, representations from different ethnic minorities with different SEND labels, appalling outcomes for kids in care, access to services by postcode, over representations of certain ethnicities and certain social economic backgrounds in youth offending institutions, secretive ‘managed move’ processes, reports going home to parents with no budget to translate them into their home language, inappropriate uses of cognitive assessments and parents and children not invited to consultations about their own lives.

In conclusion, no thank you to grammar schools, yes please to education and social reform.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

"I'm sorry, I didn't want to cry on TV"

So the Olympics is over for another four years and daytime TV returns to the dull and downright banal. Our acceptable forum for a little nationalism and pride must retreat at least until the start of the Paralympics.

I have felt such passion and enthusiasm for our athletes (such that I even describe them here as ‘our’) despite not having ever met any of them or even bought a lottery ticket. As always there were those who won medals and there were those who nearly made it. And as always we will lament that there are no medals for being the fourth fastest person in the world.

For those who fell at the last hurdle (either literally or metaphorically) they were often hauled in front of the cameras to deconstruct their performance whilst looking like there was absolutely anywhere else in the world that they would rather be. During these often awkward, strained commiseration interviews, there was one most commonly heard phrase; “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to cry on TV”, often followed by swollen eyes and gulps trying to hold back the tears.

This is surely a strange phenomenon. I have absolutely zero sports prowess. The closet I’ve ever come to athletic achievement was third place in the Year 2 egg and spoon race. But even I can mentalise a person who has trained every day for four years, ate a strict diet, hardly spent any time with their family and friends, genuinely believed they could make it; and now in that most important moment lost out on the medal they had their heart set on. Surely now more than ever is an appropriate time to cry?

But it appears that Olympians want to appear ‘strong’ and ‘dignified’ and that means no tears (just to stay on topic here I will leave gendered discourses around strength and weakness for another day). Perhaps Olympians are reserving their emotions for their loved ones and support networks, which is fine, but I just wish they would embrace their tears a little more.

In the EP world I meet a lot of young people who are confused about or who are struggling with their emotional regulation. The number of children that I have met who have told me that they feel they need to be happy all the time is more than a little concerning. I for one would be disconcerted to live in a world with consistently smiling people. And I think my ability to be a psychologist in such a world would be significantly impaired.

The Olympics and Paralympics are a great opportunity to discuss a diversity of emotions. They provide a visual aide and scaffold for discussions around emotional expression and the links between thoughts, feelings and behaviour. I appreciate that it is not an Olympians’ job to do my job for me but a few tears would really help!

Monday, 22 August 2016

Working for the Clampdown

I have always had a passion for the music of The Clash. Something about the heady mix of punk rock, reggae, ska and their rebellious attitude appealed to my middle class teenage sensibilities when I first discovered them. Erikson would likely explain this within the context of my adolescent search for identity amidst struggling and negotiating within my social world.

When faced with the tedious task of spending several hours a day in my car on placement during the second year of my Educational Psychology (EP) training I happily rediscovered my London Calling album. These tracks stand the test of time with their status at number eight in Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Over the past two years on placement, pootling around the local authority in my Renault Clio, one song in particular has become over-warn on the disk. After a tricky consultation, frustrating review meeting or extensive battery of cognitive assessment I have enjoyed nothing more than blasting track 9; Clampdown, at full volume along the M25.

You grow up and you calm down and you're working for the clampdown.
You start wearing blue and brown and you're working for the clampdown.

A little over dramatic, I know, but extremely cathartic. In those moments I can easily position the local authority as ‘The Man’ and myself as an idealised version of my seventeen-year-old self, determined to do everything differently to those who have come before me.

Kick over the wall, cause governments to fall.
How can you refuse it?
Let fury have the hour, anger can be power.
D’you know that you can use it?

And now in the summer before I take up my first position as a qualified Educational and Child Psychologist I wonder if I have let Joe and Mick (lead vocalists of The Clash) down? The short answer, of course, is yes! Clampdown is an ode to socialism, berating the ideology of the slavish structures and false promises of capitalism. Whilst I may frequently espouse socialist principles at the varying middle class dinner parties which I find myself attending these days there can be no avoiding the comfortable position I find myself in, about to take up a job in local government; the very epitome of everything that punk rock rallied against.

But hang on a minute, perhaps I’m forgetting my university training. I’ve just spent the last three years studying on a doctoral course that frequently advocates for social justice, sensitivity to power dynamics, use of an ethical framework and championing marginalised voices. Yes, it may not always be clear as to how to apply these principles in practice, in part due to consumer driven demands of traded service, but the ideas are certainly there somewhere. And yes, Educational Psychology is often berated for its apolitical stance but perhaps I should take a closer look.

After all, surely a cognitive assessment is a political statement. By conducting one don’t we say, “there is this mystical construct which we can call intelligence, which I can attribute a number to and this should then impact on your schooling.” And don’t we also demarcate between children, subtlety (or not so subtlety) suggesting at which school they may be better off being bused to? And do we occasionally buy into narratives around ‘certain sorts’ of parents? And don’t we accept what works within the system rather than constructing alternative systems? It’s a political attitude of sorts, but perhaps not the one that Joe and Mick were talking about.

I say all this with tongue in cheek, of course, I do genuinely believe in the ability of EPs to affect positive change for children, young people, schools and families. This blog is meant more of a reflection about how I managed to re-enter my teenage years during training and how I now find myself on the precipice that is adult life i.e. fully qualified Educational Psychologist status, with adult questions to ask myself, such as what kind of EP do I want to be?

However, I still can’t quite shake that feeling that I’m working for the clampdown.