Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mindful Consultation

The previously posted quote "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are" is a great example of why Mindfulness is important in the area of School Based Consultation / Instructional Consultation (IC). The above video halariously shows how school based problem solving can go terribly wrong. As School Psychologists we also serve as  instructional consultants. Effective collaboration skills are imperative for providing school-based service delivery that enhances academic achievement in students.

In general School Psychologists enter into a consultee-centered relationship with school staff and parents that usually has the basic goal of enhancing academic achievement in students (this may also include increasing or decreasing behaviors which impede upon this goal). School Psychology: A Blueprint for Training and Practice III (Ysseldyke et al., 2006) identified interpersonal and collaborative skills as foundational competencies that are "indispensable for school psychologists" (p. 15). As a Consultant you possesses some piece of knowledge that a consultee inherently seeks. This knowledge is the foundation of the data -based decision making and problem solving process. However, it should be noted, that  psychological consultation consists of a problem-solving, interpersonal relationship that develops through periodic face-to-face contacts between consultant and consultee (Erchul, 2003). This  interpersonal relationship is just as important as whatever knowledge the consultee is seeking. Building a positive relationship is imperative and must be approached in a nonherarchical manner in order to resolve a problem. This may be difficult for some  Psychologists (like our friend above) or other porfessionals that have sacrificed 6 years of their life on a PhD that ultimately screams hierarchy (the below graph is by no means scientific)

This is where Mindfulness comes into play and can inform how we build and maintain interpersonal relationships. Practicing Mindfulness not only helps us acknowledge our own thoughts and emotions, but it can also foster compassion for those around us. Practicing Mindfulness actives neural integration of the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC). When activated, the specific area of the PFC know as the "medial prefrontal cortex", supports our ability to take in communication signals and be influenced by that information (Siegel, 2007). This area of the brain is also responsible for Empathy, which helps us stay open with others during difficult times.

By increasing awareness of what is happening in the moment we can acknowledge our emotions or assumptions that may impede on what is trying to be communicated. This ability is at the heart of Mindful Listening. Some of the ways one can listen Mindfully include:
  • Body Awareness: Paying Attention to your body and facilitating openness during listening (e.g. arms not crossed, relaxed shoulders)
  • Eye Contact:
  • Listen for Significance: Why is the person saying what they are saying, what do they need from me in this moment, Do they need advice? or just need to share without feedback? Many times teachers and other school personnel just need to vent and do not need your expert opinion.
  • Ask for Clarification: Clarifying questions help you better understand what a consultee may need. This is especially important in with regards to Problem Identification within the IC framework.
If Listening skills are necessary with regards to building interpersonal relationships then Mindfulness of Speech is the other side of the same coin. Before any verbal exchange one should take a moment to establish what their intention is in this exchange. Marshal Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, breaks intention down to two categories, the intention to create connection or the intention to create separation. With regards to IC the intention should always be to connect the consultee to information that helps resolve a problem they are having . Acknowledging preconceived notions or judgments that may impede upon this intention are a crucial part of engaging in Mindful Speech. This includes paying attention to how and why we say things. This may be difficult during a heated exchange, or a conversation that involves unresolved feelings (the Speech/ Language Therapist above may have a previous negative history with the Psychologist); however, with a Mindfulness practice that includes staying in the moment and creating space between thoughts and actions this ability will soon become part of your communication style.

Therefore, when talking about Instructional or Behavioral Consultation within the context of School Psychology, one must not be primarily concerned about problem solving (or declaring who has a greater knowledge base). It is also important to build and maintain an active and healthy personal relationship that has foundations in Mindful Communication skills which foster intentions that include collaboration, empathy and connection.

Erchul, W. P. (2003).  Communication and interpersonal processes in consultation: Guest editor’s comments. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 14, 105-107.

Siegel, Daniel J. (2007) The Mindful Brain. New York, New York: W.W. Norton Company


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is great! We can all learn something about listing Mindfully!