Life of a Year 1 Trainee Educational Psychologist – Lockdown Edition

By Ella Mansfield

woman using her laptop on video call

Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

In January, I wrote a blog post about what an average week is like for a year 1 trainee educational psychologist at the University of Birmingham. At that point, I had no idea that in a matter of months I would be continuing the course from my parents’ home, writing essays from my childhood bedroom and starting my second placement remotely, having never met any of my new colleagues face to face.

Back in March, the university decided not to continue face-to-face lectures. This was a relief, in a way, as sitting in close proximity to twelve other trainees for six hours a day was beginning to feel a little panic inducing. The news about growing infection rates was becoming more serious and we were all starting to worry about the health of both ourselves and our loved ones. When I was sure there would be no more lectures, I had a hasty  departure from both my shared rental home and the city, one week before lockdown started. I packed up the car with everything I own, and made my way back to Surrey where my parents and boyfriend live.

This was my fourth week at my second placement in Year 1 of my course, in June 2020.

Monday

This morning, I ‘met’ with my placement supervisor via video call to talk about last week’s work and plan for the next few days. Over the last two weeks, we have been co-writing some non-routine statutory casework for a teenager who has had a long history of difficulties in educational settings. The case is complex, as the young person has  multiple learning difficulties and social, emotional, and mental health problems. . Social distancing measures have resulted in some adjusts to practice including the inability to visit the teenager in school to assess their needs. This first-hand information would help to fill gaps in the information we are provided by other professionals, so that we can have a holistic view of the case. Instead, we are planning on contacting the young person and their parents via a phone call..

During our meeting, my supervisor and I also discussed a potential training opportunity. My placement service has set up a helpline for parents to offer support during the pandemic. Having volunteered as a counsellor for ChildLine, a listener for Samaritans and managed a phone counselling service for students, my supervisor suggested that it might be useful to share some of my experiences in the hope that it might help support and improve the educational psychology helpline and other phone support services. We discussed the relevance of my experiences and which areas might be helpful for educational psychologists to hear about. Whilst I’m excited about this project, I’m wary that any content I share with my colleagues must be applicable to what they are doing as there is great demand on their time. .

I spent Monday afternoon working on the outcomes and recommendations for the casework and then had a short peer supervision video conference  with one of the other year 1 trainee educational psychologists  who is on placement at the same local authority. I find these meetings so useful – not just to discuss placement and university, but also for social time and maintaining my own wellbeing.

After work, my boyfriend and I went out for our government-approved exercise – a jog. I decided to force him to run up Box Hill – a famous beauty spot and very steep slope! I instantly regretted it of course, but it was worth it for the views.

Tuesday

This morning I ‘attended’ (via video) a RAG review meeting for a specialist secondary school for pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties. A RAG review meeting involves the identification and discussion of children within a school who are considered the most at risk, which could be due to things such as bereavement, dangerous behaviour, or domestic issues at home.

The school are  trying to ensure that pupils who are most at risk are in school if possible. Transport is a  problem as many pupils need specialist equipment and travel long distances to get to class. The staff appear to be under a great deal of strain as they try to continue as normal whilst working in shifts, maintaining social distancing where they can whilst also  catering for the pupils themselves as the school kitchens are  closed. All this with little or no PPE, causing concerns about their own health and the health of their families. I’m looking forward to being part of these meetings on a weekly basis as this has taught me a lot about the lived experience of school staff and pupils during this difficult time. School is so important for these pupils, not just for learning but also for social experience, routine, specialist support, parent respite, nutrition and community inclusion.

This evening I phoned around some local farms  to try to source some chickens for my parents. My boyfriend and I have been building a chicken coop in the garden from an old swing set and recycled fence panels. It’s not beautiful but we think it should keep the foxes out!

Wednesday

Today, I mostly focused on my training for educational psychologists on helpline services. As I was wary that some might not find the content of my training applicable to their role, I decided to create a short survey to gauge interest.. I sent it off in the morning and got some lovely feedback from my colleagues about how refreshing it was to complete a questionnaire in under a minute! I was pleased to see that all respondents  suggested that they thought the training would be useful. The topics they were most interested in learning about were helpline frameworks, supervision and aural active listening techniques. Now, I suppose, I need to get on with planning it!

During the afternoon, we had a team meeting, chaired by the Senior Educational Psychologist who manages the team. The meetings would usually be fortnightly, but due to the pandemic they’ve become a weekly occurrence. I’ll be honest, I’ve found them a little disorientating, but it’s normal to feel a bit lost when you first start a new placement, simply because you don’t know people’s names or interests and the topics of discussion are different at each Educational Psychology Service. However, when you don’t know what anyone looks like, let alone whose voice is whose, it can be even more confusing! I’ve been trying to let the information wash over me and be at peace with the idea that I don’t need to know everything and everyone all at once. I tend to write down words and phrases I don’t understand and either look them up or ask my supervisor about them later on.

Thursday and Friday

Thursday and Friday are our study days. I’ve been trying hard to keep these days completely separate and use them to only work on things for university. I’m currently writing an essay about the unique role of the educational psychologist in working with children with low-incidence complex individual needs. I chose this topic as, for me, this year has largely been about understanding the educational psychology role and I was keen to know more about how it differed from other specialist roles. Educational psychologists have a  broad skill set which doesn’t lend itself to a clear role description when collaborating with other specialists  There are certain functions which are unique to the educational psychology role. Collaborative communication with others and skill in building rapport means that educational psychologists are well-placed to gather information and make change in a range of environments, including the child’s school, home and community. Psychological knowledge is therefore a  strength, meaning that interventions and approaches can be tailored to the child as an individual.

Ella is a Year 2 trainee on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.

Reflections on my first year of training as an educational psychologist

By Dawn Dance

Finding our more about the role

In my previous working life I had never met an educational psychologist despite working for nearly ten years in a Post 16 and secondary school setting. As part of my application I had the chance to talk to some educational psychologists and to read about the role but I struggled to make sense of what that meant in practice. Being on the course and my placements has shaped my understanding of the role of an educational psychologist. Here I want to share some of the key aspects of my learning during my first year of training.

Early Days

During my first weeks of lectures I began to realise that educational psychologists don’t just do tests! I was introduced to dynamic assessment and other models that offer alternative ways to gather information to help me to connect with and understand a child or young person. This is important to me, because some children and young people just don’t ‘do’ tests (there’s a reason why we’re advocating for them). I can see that some tests might have a role in educational psychology practice, but they don’t have to be the first port of call.

When I started my first placement I was concerned about needing to appear to have all of the answers to hand (I do wonder if some of my ideas might have stemmed from other professionals’ perception of educational psychologists). My first placement supervisor (in particular) helped me to understand that my strategies don’t all have to work as  that I can re-visit them. This was a great relief!

Other Reflections on my Learning

Communication: One thing I quickly realised is the necessity of being observant and a good communicator! Communication underpins the role of the educational psychologists, who must connect very quickly with people from all backgrounds and professions.

Consultation: Before my first placement, I imagined consultation as having a ‘chat’, but have since discovered that consultation isn’t just a series of conversations, it’s purposeful. It’s structured and designed to gather information that will help to think about the problem that has been raised.

Problem solving: This concept spans multiple contexts and the use of frameworks for practice are recommended for trainees (the Interactive Factors Framework is a favourite tool of mine to use). This is to help them to consider all aspects of the systems that sit around the child. The more I use the frameworks, the more it helps me to intentionally reflect on what I’ve observed and heard.

Voice of the Child: I’ve always considered the voice of the child to be important to my practice and quickly realised that a person-centred approach is paramount to the EP role. The role of the educational psychologist is to ensure that the voice of the child is woven through the assessment process and reflexively checking that the child’s or adult gatekeeper’s voice permeates every part of our work.

Training: I had the opportunity to train local authority employees in the use of applied psychology and this was a great feeling. Firstly, because if they apply what they learned we are able make a difference to the lives of the children and young people that they support. Secondly, we’re demonstrating our commitment, as outlined in the SEND Code of Practice (2015) to working with other professionals.

Research: I was able to contribute to a small-scale study investigating the evolving role of EPs in a local authority service during COVID-19. This is intended to inform future practice in the service and has shown me how educational psychologists can be part of influencing systemic change.

Final thoughts

My experiences in Year 1 of the training course have given ‘life’ to the picture that I had in my head about what an educational psychologist does. I’ve begun to realise that we have the capacity to work holistically, from an individual to systemic level, so that all children and young people can benefit from our applied psychology.

An educational psychologist has many tools that they can use to promote children’s development and learning, but how this is done is very much a professional and personal decision. To quote Shakespeare: “This above all: to thine own self be true”. and my newly acquired understanding of the educational psychologist has given me the opportunity to do so.

Dawn is a Year 2 trainee on the initial training course at the University of Birmingham.

 

 

A rapid literature review of how to support the psychological well-being of school staff during and after Covid-19

By Amber Bhardwaj, Catherine Byng & Zoë Morrice

Editorial Note from Julia Howe, Course Tutor

This is a slightly different blog post from those that we normally publish. It is a piece of work commission by Dudley Educational Psychology Service (EPS) from the Year 1 trainees on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham. The trainees were asked to complete a Rapid Review of literature from previous epidemics in order to provide evidence based guidance for the EPS on how to support school staff during and after the current pandemic. As mentioned in the review this guidance has been extrapolated from research mainly conducted with health care workers and in this respect it needs to be treated with caution. It has not been peer reviewed but we hope that it is still useful in supporting the work of local authorities and other services. For the practical reason of length I have taken out the table that provides an overview of the research studies and their methodologies but I can provide this if you contact me.

Introduction

people wearing face mask for protection

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 

 

In light of Covid-19, this rapid literature review aims to examine what psychological support may be helpful for school staff during and after the pandemic. As there is very little evidence in relation to school staff this review will also examine the literature into what support is helpful for frontline healthcare workers during and following epidemics in order to consider how this can be applied to workers in other areas.

Summary of findings

Within the literature on how best to support staff during and after an epidemic, the key overarching principles were strengthening resiliency and empowerment by building on and mobilising existing resources. The literature identifies that within any support or intervention it is crucial to consider culture. This means that a ‘one size fits all’ approach would not be beneficial. Furthermore, the importance of a stepped approach was evident as the literature highlighted most individuals are highly resilient and do not require psychological intervention. Ensuring normal reactions to the situation, such as responses to grief and high stress, are not pathologized is therefore important. Key factors highlighted within these stepped approaches were first ensuring basic practical support needs were meet before considering emotional support.

The empowerment of individuals through the identification and development of coping/self-help strategies and psychoeducation about stress and anxiety, were evident within many papers. Furthermore, the importance of looking at the wider community systems in order to strengthen connectedness, belonging, and identify resources was highlighted. Social support was identified to be a key protective factor and measures implemented during epidemics such as social distancing were found to reduce social connectedness and support. Consideration of how to rebuild connectedness between families, friends, employers and colleagues is therefore important.

The most common programmes used within the literature to support frontline workers were Psychological First Aid and the Mental Health Gap Action Program (WHO, 2010). However, there is a distinct lack of evidence into the long-term outcomes of interventions in this area. So, some caution is necessary as there is not a clear understanding of how to intervene effectively.

In terms of how best to support workers during or following an epidemic from an organisational perspective the literature identifies key factors to be visible leadership, clear communication and open discussions, and building team cohesion. Furthermore, allowing individuals time to reflect and utilise peer support or supervision has been suggested as being helpful.

A needs assessment identifying what support individuals found helpful and what ongoing support staff would like may also be useful. Additionally, identification of individuals who may be ‘at risk’ of greater psychological difficulties to allow for monitoring and extra support if needed should be considered.

The literature indicates risk factors for greater psychological distress during or following an epidemic to be previous mental or physical health difficulties, personal impact of the epidemic (e.g. bereavement, loss of housing/income), low socio-economic status, and poor self-perceived social support. Finally, continual support for staff members development and learning, such as acknowledging reflective conversations as useful learning opportunities, is suggested to enhance resilience. Training staff on how to support others (e.g. peer support groups) has also been shown to not only support those receiving the help but also to be beneficial to the helpers’ wellbeing, however ensuring staff have an awareness of when to seek further help or supervision is key.

 Guidance

Based on the findings of this rapid literature review, the following recommendations for supporting frontline workers in the education sector have been provided:

Culture and context

  • EPs will need to gain knowledge of the existing systems of support that are already in place in settings. This can be achieved through multi-agency working and collaboration with key stakeholders.
  • Strong systems of support within the workplace during/after the pandemic may mitigate some of the potential adverse psychological outcomes for staff.
  • It is important to understand the individual characteristics of the staff who do require support, whilst also taking into consideration the complex dynamics of the organisation’s culture.
  • EPs should encourage visible leadership, clear communication and open discussions within settings, to enhance team cohesion.

Organisation and individual factors

Peer support/supervision and rebuilding connectedness   

  • EPs should support leadership to provide staff with the time to reflect on experiences, offer opportunities for ongoing peer support, and praise staff for their response to the situation.
  • If appropriate to the setting, EPs should consider setting up weekly peer support groups to create a safe space for staff to discuss emerging issues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Peer support groups may also incorporate discussions and exercises with staff that focus on the development of coping strategies and enhancing resilience, to minimise the risk of burnout.
  • It may be necessary for EPs to facilitate open discussions between staff and senior leaders to encourage reciprocity of decision-making within organisations and encourage sensitivity to ethical and cultural considerations.
  • EPs should make use of the technology available to stay connected with schools, social workers and families throughout the period of social distancing and look to strengthen social connectedness within and between settings.

Assessment of individual needs

  • Individual and psychological support should be offered to members of staff who are considered to be ‘at-risk’ of greater psychological difficulty, and who may be displaying maladaptive responses/ coping strategies.
  • Factors that may place an individual at greater risk are; bereavement or illness of a relative or close friend, exposure to the COVID-19 outbreak at work, perceived level of risk at work, being quarantined, loss of housing/income, lower socio-economic status, and poor self-perceived social support.
  • For individuals requiring psychological support, action plans will need to be holistic, informed by evidence and make use of implementation strategies that are focused on sustainable, long term outcomes.
  • EPs will need to ensure they are only delivering mental health care that is within the boundaries of their competence. It may prove worthwhile for the whole service to engage in Psychological First Aid training.

Resiliency and empowerment

  • It will be important to consider how staff resilience can be continually promoted to develop protective factors that will facilitate personal empowerment and the ability to cope with both the personal and professional challenges of living and working through a time of crisis.
  • EPs can support leadership teams to encourage help-seeking amongst their staff and promote continual learning and development to enhance staff resilience.
  • It may be useful for EPs to determine suitable interventions to enhance staff resilience e.g. Psychological First Aid, and tailor these approaches to school staff.

Psychological Interventions

  • EPs should consider both the personal and professional burdens of school staff to establish the area of greatest need (e.g. practical vs personal) before planning an intervention.
  • Consultation, review and responsiveness should be embedded into the decision- making process before any intervention is carried out/continued, and ongoing evaluations conducted to ensure best practice is being achieved.
  • Formal psychological intervention should take a stepped approach. This includes ensuring basic practical needs are met before considering emotional support. This type of approach is addressed through the Psychological First Aid program.

 

Psychological First Aid (PFA)

  • PFA provides a programme of interventions that can be utilised by EPs to support staff and pupils during and after the pandemic e.g. building social support, normalising grief.
  • It may be appropriate for experienced EPs to train school staff and to deliver PFA within their own settings, incorporating interventions that focus on self-help/ coping strategies that can be used in their work to support one another.
  • Using a ‘train the trainer’ approach (EPs training school staff) may help staff by empowering them, as well as benefiting pupils.
  • EPs could offer supervision and/or facilitate the set-up of peer support networks within settings, e.g. buddy systems, to ensure staff who are implementing PFA have connection with social supports.
  • Important aspects of PFA may include supporting with/ teaching self-help strategies (e.g. relaxation techniques), practical support, psychoeducation about COVID-19, looking at community systems, normalisation of an anxiety response and knowing when to seek further help.

Methodology

Search strategy

We searched the literature using a range of databases including PubMed, Google Scholar & FindIt@Bham. We used the key words keywords “Ebola” OR “SARS” OR “MERS” OR “Covid-19”AND “Mental health” OR “Intervention” OR “Mental health intervention” OR “Psychological intervention” OR “Psychosocial intervention” OR “Social intervention” OR “Mental health program” AND “Frontline worker” OR “Frontline staff” OR “Education” OR “Teachers”.

Selection criteria

Studies were included if they addressed the mental health of frontline staff. Studies focused on children or patient groups were excluded. We included any type of study design, report or review and included guidance from major organisations involved in responses to epidemics and pandemics such as the World Health Organisation.

Caveats

The findings and guidance in this review needs to be viewed with caution because of the short timeframe and the less systematic approach to searching the literature. The synthetisation of evidence in this rapid review is not as rigorous as a systematic review would be. This may mean that evidence has been missed as our search is not as comprehensive as a systematic review. Our findings also need to be interpreted cautiously as we have extrapolated the data from frontline workers, usually healthcare workers during and after previous epidemics and used the findings to offer guidance to support school staff and social workers during the current pandemic. It may not be appropriate to extrapolate the data from one population to another. Some of the literature included was guidance from major organisations based on psychological principles but was not rigorous evidence based on experimental studies which may limit some of our findings.

 

References

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Brooks, S. K., Dunn, R., Amlôt, R., Rubin, G. J., & Greenberg, N. (2018). A systematic, thematic review of social and occupational factors associated with psychological outcomes in healthcare employees during an infectious disease outbreak. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 60(3), 248-257.

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Duffield, & O’Hare. (2020). Teacher resilience during coronavirus school closures. Retrieved from http://www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/Member%20Networks/Divisions/DECP/Teacher%20resilience%20during%20coronavirus%20school%20closures.pdf

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