Sophie Brigstocke received a Rapid Response Fund grant to develop case studies to show the application of theory to clinical practice
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN FORUM 38: 24-25
Students coming to study psychology at the University of York are often interested in pursuing careers in practitioner psychologist roles such as clinical or educational psychology after graduating. Competition to gain places on postgraduate training programmes for these careers is steep. Students must demonstrate that they have a solid academic grounding in psychology, evidenced by an excellent mark in their undergraduate studies. They are usually expected to demonstrate some practical experience working with vulnerable individuals, usually gained from voluntary placements in hospitals or support groups for individuals with learning or mental health difficulties. To offer a competitive edge, it is an advantage if students can show that they have developed some of the practical skills required for a practitioner psychologist role.
Indeed, systematic observation and assessment of behaviour are skills that form a major element of the defined core competencies for practitioner psychologist training. They are also valued in programmes as diverse as teaching, social work and medicine, as well as behavioural research. They are a key component of linking theory and practice; however, within an academic university context, it is rarely possible to teach such skills using traditional approaches involving direct observation of individuals in real time. This gap is due to the sensitive nature of the work involved in psychology, and issues such as obtaining access to and consent from individuals with developmental difficulties. Finding alternative ways of providing training that is not only intellectually meaningful but that translates into real world skills useful for employability is therefore a challenge.
Bridging the theory to practice gap
In order to attempt to meet this challenge, the Department of Psychology applied for a grant from the Rapid Response Fund to develop videos of practitioner psychologists working with children. Informed consent was obtained from the parents of the children to use the videos of the assessments as ‘case studies’ for teaching purposes. These case studies seemed an ideal way to show the application of theory, learned from academic studies in the department, to clinical practice: they could provide an experience that students would not otherwise get within the current module structure of our BSc or MSc programmes. The video footage comprises clips of two practitioner psychologists employed within the department administering standardised psychological tests with children referred to the York Educational Assessment Clinic due to concerns about specific learning difficulties or developmental disorders.
Students watching the footage could see the administration of different standardised tests to individuals of varying ages with a diverse range of clinical presentations. In total, eight assessments were videoed – each covering an interesting case, e.g. a child with autism spectrum disorder completing a play-based assessment to examine his social communication difficulties; a child with attention deficit disorder completing an educational test battery; an A-level student with general intelligence levels in the superior range who experienced severe developmental dyslexia.
Students could also develop their observations skills through repeated watching of the videos on the VLE. Importantly, the videos were edited to highlight significant behaviours in their assessments, and pictures and subtitles were used where appropriate to guide the watcher through the procedures and tests used by the psychologist. These annotations were vital in order to prevent video watching from becoming a passive experience for the students. Repeated observation of the same clip is an established method to develop accurate observation skills. Students could also observe how the psychologists responded to challenges that arose during the assessments and the skills they used to overcome them. An important learning tool for the students was the availability of the psychologists’ full written report of each case study. This allowed the students to see how the tests they had observed were scored and recorded. They could then develop an appreciation of how test scores, together with the psychologists’ observations of the child during the assessment, were interpreted with reference to formalised theoretical understanding of developmental disorders. This link between theory and practice is essential for the psychologist to arrive at a formulation or ‘diagnosis’ of the individual’s individual profile of strengths and weaknesses.
Putting theory into practice
Although watching the case studies on the video provided the students with some valuable learning experiences and exposure to a range of developmental disorders, it did not provide them with practical experience in administering standardised tests. In order to address this gap, we asked students on the MSc in Developmental Disorders and Clinical Practice course to work in small groups each week and learn to use a different standardised psycho-educational test. We also asked them to film a tutorial using an iPad to present to their peers in the lecture to teach them to administer and score a particular standardised test. The tutorial would finish with the students demonstrating a full run-through of the test and the other students in the lecture would be asked to score the test, as if they were in a live assessment situation. Over the course of the term, each student had direct experience administering at least one standardised test and learning to accurately score a wide range of different tests.
Recent feedback gathered from students on this course indicated that they had enjoyed it greatly and felt that using the iPad and watching the videos had enhanced their learning experience and added to their skills. As a result, we are keen to continue using the new technologies in relevant modules on our MSc and MPsych level courses next year. We would like to express our thanks for the Rapid Response Fund grant and to the Head of the Psychology department for their support in making the videos.
‘Really interesting course – liked being exposed to tools to assess and the videos on the VLE’
‘Really like this course, it is one of the only ones that give practical skills we can use in our careers. Great idea to make the groups do the actual tests and present it to others’.
‘Doing our own iPad videos was also a help and I learned a great deal from the practical experience and using the score sheets to then assess the videos (case studies) as if you were conducting the test’.
‘Module was really useful for applying some of the theory we learned. It was beneficial to see assessments in practice and have a go at carrying them out rather than only learning the theory. I feel like it has given us a good basis for putting these tools into practice in the working world – we can use these skills in a clinical/assessment setting. It was also a good way to pull together multiple disorders and the theory of each. Looking at reports and interpreting the scores meant a critical analysis of different presentations.’
‘This module was really useful for applying some of the theory we learned. It was beneficial to see assessments in practice and have a go at carrying them out rather than only learning the theory. I feel like it has given us a good basis for putting these tools into practice in the working world – we can use these skills in a clinical/assessment setting. It was also a good way to pull together multiple disorders and the theory of each. Looking at reports and interpreting the scores meant a critical analysis of different presentations.’
Sophie came to work in the Department of Psychology as a research fellow on a project investigating Reading, Language and Numeracy in Children with Down Syndrome following a career change from working as an investment banker in London. She went on to complete her PhD, supervised by Professor Charles Hulme. During this time she also worked, under the supervision of Professor Maggie Snowling, conducting assessments for children with educational difficulties in the small private clinic run within the department, and gained HCPC accreditation to work as a registered Educational Psychologist. Sophie now works as a teaching fellow on the MSc in Developmental Disorders and Clinical Practice, run by Emma Hayiou-Thomas, and runs the York Educational Assessment Clinic, following the departure of Professor Maggie Snowling.