In the UK we are emerging out of lockdown and there are concerns about the impact on the mental health of people at all ages and stages of life. This is a good time to reflect on the wide variety of blogs that have signposted how useful Talking Mats can be in helping people to think, structure coherent responses, and express their views. If this is an area of interest to you then take a look at these blogs to find out more:
- Edith Barrowcliffe from The Action Group demonstrates how Talking Mats has allowed individuals with intellectual disabilities access talking therapies and counselling. https://www.talkingmats.com/counselling-communication-1/
- Edith expands on this work in her second blog, describing how she adapted this approach to use during remote support during lockdown. https://www.talkingmats.com/counselling-learning-in-lockdown/
- Jo Brackley, NHS Clinical Lead for SLT Secure Services (Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust) describes how Talking Mats helps people with mental health open up and have richer conversations, with increased novel information gained. https://www.talkingmats.com/covid19_securehospitalsetting/
- Susan Gowland, SLT at NHS Fife Forensic Learning Disability Service, describes how Talking Mats support patients to express what they think in forensic learning disability setting. https://www.talkingmats.com/forensic_ld_setting/
- Dr Carla Innes, Clinical Psychologist for Learning Disabilities at Stockport Healthy Young Minds (CAMHS) describes how Talking Mats helps the team to gain more insight to the children and young people they are working with, and how it has helped intervention focus on the child’s potential, and zone of proximal development. https://www.talkingmats.com/talking-mats-and-mental-health/. This work in Stockport is further expanded on in a presentation by Dr Rosie Noyce, Clinical Psychologist, given at the Talking Mats 21st Birthday Event in August 2019. https://www.talkingmats.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Talking-Mats-and-Young-Peoples-Mental-Health.pdf
- Georgia Bowker-Brady, Advanced Specialist SLT (Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust) describes how using Talking Mats in dementia care and acute health patient inpatient services helps patients organise their thoughts and express what is going well for them, as well as what isn’t. https://www.talkingmats.com/acute-mental-health/
- Rachel Woolcomb, Talking Mats OT Associate, explains why Talking Mats supports thinking, and why it can be particularly useful in helping people to structure and express their thoughts. https://www.talkingmats.com/talking-mats-as-a-thinking-tool/
We would love someone to carry out some research in this field, so if this sparks a research, or blog idea, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to Peter Just, Head of External Affairs, RCSLT and Padraigin O’Flynn, External Affairs Assistant, RCSLT for this blog describing the newly launched UK-wide RCSLT Survey, which includes free Talking Mats resources to support those with communication difficulties to have their voices heard.
Like many of you, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) has been worried about the impact of COVID-19 on people with communication and swallowing needs. Based on what we’ve heard from our members, service user organisations and service users themselves we’ve been very concerned about how the UK-wide lockdown (March-June 2020) affected people’s access to the speech and language therapy they and their families and carers need.
To help us understand the issue better and to inform our response, we’ve just launched a UK-wide survey. Following consultation with service user organisations, the three key questions we’re asking are:
- How did lockdown affect your speech and language therapy?
- What impact did this have on you?
- What are your thoughts about the future?
From the start, we were clear: we wanted the survey to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, no matter how they communicate and no matter what their communication preference is. Over the past couple of months, we’ve worked with members to produce the survey in a range of accessible formats.
We’re particularly delighted that one of those formats is Talking Mats – and we’re very grateful to Lois and Laura for all their advice and support . As you will know better than anyone, the mats will enable people to give us their views and tell us how they’ve felt and are feeling. We are delighted the mats will provide people with the means to self-advocate – this will add a richness to the survey findings that they might otherwise lack.
We’ll be working with service user organisations to promote the survey to their networks. But we’d also really like your help too. Please share the survey and encourage as many people as possible to fill it out. The more voices we hear, the more stories we collect and the more responses we receive, the greater the impact of the survey findings will be.
Those findings, which we hope to publish early in the New Year, will be used to influence Governments, Parliaments and Assemblies across the United Kingdom. The case that will be making to ministers, officials and parliamentarians – that people must have access to the speech and language therapy they need – will be all the stronger for it being based on service users’ lived experiences. The very powerful testimony that the mats will provide will strengthen that case even further.
The survey is open until 5pm on Friday, 8th January 2021 and you can find more information about it here:
We hope you find the mats useful and if you had any queries or wanted any more information, please let us know. We look forward to working with you to help make a difference to the lives of people with communication and swallowing needs.
Peter Just, Head of External Affairs, RCSLT
Padraigin O’Flynn External Affairs Assistant, RCSLT
Following on from last week’s guest blog, Edith Barrowcliffe from the Action Group describes how she has continued using Talking Mats throughout lockdown. Please note that the image used in this blog is from a mock session and has been taken for publicity purposes only.
In the second week of March I was running a 9 week old pilot counselling service (HearMe at The Action Group) for adults with cognitive and/or communication difficulties, supported by Talking Mats.
A week later lockdown catapulted me into remote working and demonstrated just how crucial Talking Mats were. Without access to the digital app or a suitably high resolution webcam my first online sessions were conducted without them. One client immediately began struggling to retain the thread of their subject matter.
I quickly rigged up a secondary webcam, allowing me to shift between my face and a clear view of the physical mat on my desk. Clients direct me how to place the symbols for them.
I’ve recently acquired a Talking Mats digital license and am pleased to find I can add in additional images. My experience with the physical cards is that allowing the client to direct the session often means searching through multiple different sets or hastily drawing new images. We move at a slower pace because of this but it seems to be an important way of giving weight and attention to whatever the client (Thinker) brings. My fantasy version of the digital talking mats app would include an image search function allowing me to rapidly search all the symbols in all the sets, pick one and caption it appropriately mid-session!
The client I mentioned above uses Talking Mats in this very freeform way – when they tell me something I ask if they want to put it on the mat and they will reply yes, or no. Once I’ve located or drawn the image they tell me where to place it. Towards the end of the session we review the mat, photograph it, and I send them the picture.
Another client uses a more structured approach. I present a choice of symbol sets based on topics that seem to be important to them (eg home environment, relationships, mobility). They select a topic and we begin a more typical talking mat, giving us a framework and focus to explore their feelings around each symbol. After a while the client/Thinker moves on to other emotionally weighted topics unrelated to the symbol set and we transition into something more akin to “regular” counselling – albeit with simplified, concrete, reflections of the kind proposed by Garry Prouty  Yet the Talking Mat seems to provide a “way in” to these deeper feelings that we otherwise don’t reach.
Not everyone uses Talking Mats. Lockdown has limited my capacity to offer it – not all clients have a computer/tablet for video calls and some clients actively prefer the phone. I’m continuing to learn, explore and find my way with this very diverse client group, but there is no doubt that Talking Mats opens up emotional exploration for some who might not normally manage it.
Edith Barrowcliffe, Hear Me, The Action Group
With thanks to our funders and partners for making this work possible – Hospital Saturday Fund, The Action Group Board, Leith Benevolent Society, Port o’Leith Housing Association, and The Scottish Government. And to the team at Talking Mats for their support and help!
 [PROUTY, G. (2008) Pre-Therapy and the Pre-Expressive Self. In: PROUTY, G. (ed.) Emerging Developments in Pre-Therapy. Monmouth: PCCS Books; also PÖRTNER, M. (2007) Trust and Understanding. Revised Ed. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books, pp82-85].
A new, updated version of our Digital app, will be available in the New Year. You can download a free taster version of our app here:
For more information about using Talking Mats remotely, check out this recent blog: