Category Archives: Participation

Counselling across Communication Barriers (Part 2): Learning in Lockdown

Action Group Stock Photo 2 crop

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.

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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 [1] 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!

[1] [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:

  https://www.talkingmats.com/product/talking-mats-taster/

For more information about using Talking Mats remotely, check out this recent blog:    

https://www.talkingmats.com/using-talking-mats-remotely/

 

 

Counselling across Communication Barriers (Part 1)

Action Group Stock Photo

Many thanks to Edith Barrowcliffe from The Action Group for sharing her experiences of using Talking Mats to support counselling with adults who have cognitive or communication difficulties. Watch this space for Edith’s follow-up blog next week which will describe how she has continued to use Talking Mats during lockdown.  Please note that the image used in this blog is from a mock session and has been taken for publicity purposes only.

Eleven years ago, I began working at The Action Group with adults who have additional support needs and was struck by how many had mental health difficulties that they were getting little help with. Sadly, with services scarce enough for the “mainstream” population, I could see why.

The issue resurfaced for me in 2016 when I began training as a counsellor. I kept returning to whether talking therapy was possible with those who had difficulty communicating – or even thinking about – their feelings.

Then in 2019, I attended Talking Mats training. Immediately excited by the potential for emotional connection, I signed up for the advanced “Keeping Safe” training and approached The Action Group’s CEO with the beginnings of a plan.

I’m fortunate in working for an organisation willing to take new ideas and run with them. Within six months I was embarking on a pilot project, called HearMe, offering counselling to adults with cognitive or communication difficulties, with Talking Mats as a key method to help overcome those barriers. Within a fortnight of opening the service was full to its limited capacity and had a waiting list!

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The work has been experimental, learning as I go and adapting to the particular needs of each client. To conduct initial assessments, I’ve assembled symbols based on “Thoughts and Feelings” from the “Keeping Safe” pack. We return to this to review progress. Most clients have used a top scale of “True”/ ”Not True” with statements “about me” for the assessment. We always begin with a practice mat based on more neutral material, allowing the client (Thinker) to learn what’s involved and me to gauge whether the mat is right for them. This is crucial – one client found a way to frame everything we placed on the mat positively even when they’d been able to tell me the opposite was true a moment before! In this case we simply used each symbol as a focus for exploration.

We’ve kept the number of questions relatively small, but the assessment can take two or three sessions to complete as clients often respond quite deeply to the symbols.

Some more verbally able clients move on to a more “freeform” style of counselling as we progress, relying less on the mat to open up. But even in these cases having symbols on hand can be helpful. One client brought up the topic of sex – then apologised and asked if it was OK to talk about it.

“It’s fine,” I was able to reassure her, producing the relevant symbol. “Look, we even have a picture for it”. She laughed and visibly relaxed, the card giving her tangible evidence that the topic was allowed.

It’s still early days, but from the feedback we’ve received so far, the project really seems to be helping people to open up, express feelings they’ve never given space to before, and explore ways they want to change their lives.  The power of simply being heard.

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!

Follow the link below to find out more about our Keeping Safe training (now available online) and resource: 

https://www.talkingmats.com/keeping-safe-a-new-talking-mats-resource-available-to-purchase/

 

 

Using Talking Mats Remotely

german app in action

Since the start of the restrictions placed on us by Covid-19 there have been lots of questions to us about how you can use Talking Mats remotely. We have all been forced to learn quickly what we can and cannot do in a virtual world when we need to be physically distanced from each other.

We have tried various ways to do Talking Mats virtually, but the easiest way we have found is to log into your digital Talking Mats through our website and use the Talking Mat in this mode. Then open your virtual meeting app, e.g. Microsoft Teams or Zoom, and share your screen. For both you can share the control of your screen so your thinker can move the options as you talk them through using the standard Talking Mats principles.

For Microsoft Teams see https://support.office.com/en-gb/article/share-content-in-a-meeting-in-teams-fcc2bf59-aecd-4481-8f99-ce55dd836ce8

For Zoom see https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362673-Request-or-Give-Remote-Control

Sometimes people run into problems with the Talking Mats  digital log in because they get a message about Adobe Flash. If you get that, our advice would be to try a different browser or if you are using Chrome do the following:

  • Click on the 3 little dots at the top-right of chrome
  • Click on “settings”
  • “Privacy and security”
  • “Site settings”
  • “Flash”
  • Change from “Blocked” to “Ask first”

EXTENDED OFFER to increase digital access during the Covid-19 Emergency

We realise that many of you don’t have the digital Talking Mats so we are making it available for a charge of £30.00 including VAT  from now until the END OF 2020. Fill in this form DISCOUNTED DIGITAL TALKING MATS REQUEST FORMremote DTM(We hope you will understand that we will not release your digital logon until payment is received.) We always recommend the Talking Mats foundation training to get the full benefit from this communication framework so watch out for our online training offer which will be released next week.

On a personal level we have been testing remote use of Digital Talking Mats amongst the Talking Mats team. We used the coping set from our Health and Wellbeing resource and it has helped our own reflections on how we are feeling about the current restrictions on our lives and the impact it is having on us.

We are aware it is still early days and we do not have a lot of experience of using the digital Talking Mats remotely with people with communication difficulties.  It would be good to have a forum for sharing those experiences. We held a virtual meeting on Thursday 23rd April at 10.00 a.m. to do that here is the report of that meeting including a link to a video demonstrating how to set up your digital Talking Mat 20200429 post zoom meeting notes_ no link

Talking Mats in Swedish Home Care Services – A Research Project

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Many thanks to Professor Anna Dunér, Dr Angela Bångsbo and Associate Professor Tina Olsson for this guest blog describing their research project where Talking Mats will be used to enable service users living with dementia to be involved in decisions about their home care services. The project is based on a collaboration between Department of Social Work at the University of Gothenburg, Borås University College and the municipality of Borås, aiming to develop and evaluate the use of Talking Mats. 

Anna Duer  Professor Anna Dunér

Angela Bangsbo   Dr Angela Bångsbo

Tina Olsson  Associate Prof. Tina Olsson

 

In Sweden, as in many other developed countries, ideas of consumer choice and personalisation of services have been implemented in social care with the intention of achieving better choice and control as well as increased quality of the services provided for the individual. However, persons living with dementia are at risk of being excluded from the opportunities provided to other groups of service users. Thus, it is important to develop both needs-assessment procedures, and improve the performance of home care services, to enable older people living with dementia continuous choice and control in their everyday living.

We hope that Talking Mats will improve the communication between service users, care managers and staff in eldercare and lead to increased influence of service users over the decisions and planning of their home care services.

During 2020 we have funding for a planning study where we can develop and test the Talking Mats decision aid, identify, translate and test outcome measurements, and refine and test the procedures for a comparative intervention project. In 2021 we hope to attain funding for a three year study.

We have already received valuable advice and information about Talking Mats research from Dr Joan Murphy and hope to keep in contact with her and the Talking Mats team throughout our project.

If you are interested in Talking Mats Research, check out our recent blog with details of how you can get involved with our Virtual Network: 

https://www.talkingmats.com/virtual-talking-mats-research-network-launched/

Positive Behaviour Support and Talking Mats

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Many thanks to our new Talking Mats Research Associate, Dr Jill Bradshaw (Tizard Centre, University of Kent), for this latest blog focusing on how Talking Mats can help people with communication difficulties to express themselves – to help work out the reasons for behaviour that challenges.

We know that around 10-15% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities display behaviour that can be challenging.  This might include hitting out at other people or injuring themselves.  These behaviours can serve very important functions for the individual (e.g. to avoid something unpleasant or to get a need met).  When we try to help make things better, we often focus on improving communication, quality of life and health and wellbeing more broadly.

How do we work out why behaviours that are challenging occur?

We often spend time observing the person and talk to carers and staff who work with the person to gain information about what is working well and what might help.  This is part of a functional analysis.  Here, the aim is to identify the factors that have led to and are maintaining the behaviours displayed.   Traditionally, we have not really asked people directly what they think.  This is partly people who display behaviour that challenges almost always have complex communication challenges.

How can we better access views of children and adults and would Talking Mats be one way of gaining views?

Together with Nick Gore, we have been working on ways of using Talking Mats to enable children and adults to give their views.  We developed a series of mats focusing on:

  • Likes and dislikes;
  • Difficult behaviours;
  • Things that help;
  • Things that don’t help;
  • General preventative variables.

What happened when we used the Talking Mats?

People were able to use these Talking Mats to tell us about what was important to and important for them.  Some information was similar to reports from carers and staff and some information was in addition.   For example:

  • we gained information about preferred activities, such as riding bikes and preferred snacks. Doing things we like to do is important for all of us!;
  • people gave us information about their difficult behaviours and where these took place;
  • people were also able to give us at least some information about what made a bad day and what helped on a bad day. This information helped to inform support strategies.

You can read more about this work here: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/67033/1/PDF_Proof%20%283%29.pdf

Using Talking Mats certainly enabled some people to give their views.  It was particularly helpful as a way of talking about difficulties, where a focus on the mat rather than on direct questioning was useful.

Talking Mats

As expected, more people were able to access the more concrete topics we discussed and the more abstract topics were more difficult.  We have also been working with the Challenging Behaviour Foundation to develop a range of methods (including Talking Mats) to help to gain the views of people with communication challenges.  You can read more about this work here:

https://www.challengingbehaviour.org.uk/learning-disability-assets/valuingtheviewsofchildrenwithalearningdisability.pdf

To view Jill’s presentation about this topic from our Talking Mats is 21 event last August, click here: TM and PBS final version for handout

If you are interested in Talking Mats and Research and have completed our Foundation Training Course, you can find out more about our new Talking Mats Research Network Group by emailing Jill at  J.Bradshaw@kent.ac.uk, and watch this space for a new blog all about the group – coming soon!