Category Archives: Training

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/

 

 

Covid 19 Experiences – Using Talking Mats in a Secure Hospital Setting

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As a group of Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) working in a secure hospital we recently embarked on a mini project using Talking Mats to check in with our service users with learning disabilities during Covid-19. We collated the evidence from our respective professional bodies (Royal College of Occupational Therapy, Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy, Chartered Society of Physiotherapists and British Dietetic Association) in terms of changes that people might experience if they’d had Covid-19 and produced a talking mat around these.  

It quickly dawned on us that we might be on to something here, and that creating an opportunity to ‘check in’ more broadly with our service users would serve a useful purpose, so we added some additional categories around changes to routine, psychological wellbeing and feeling safe.  

This was my colleagues’ first experience of using talking mats, and their faces when I turned up clutching my 99p actual doormat were a picture! I introduced them to the theory behind the mat and its presentation and harped on about the benefits in terms of attention, comprehension, non-threatening interaction, initiation and structuring narrative; they nodded supportively.  

We set off across our learning disability wards in multi-disciplinary pairs and all but a few of the service users agreed to have a chat with us. My colleagues commented that they were pleasantly surprised by the engagement and the amount and novelty of the information gained; we  identified things that the service users hadn’t told anyone because they hadn’t been asked that question!  

JB Blog Photo

In talking to others we were asked why weren’t rolling this out in a partner secure hospital for people with mental health conditions? ‘no reason really, we just haven’t got there yet’ we answered. Then came the…. but we can just do it like a questionnaire with them. This question wasn’t, and in my experience isn’t ever ill meant. It comes from a place of naivety in relation to the presence of communication difficulties in people with mental health conditions and because of that, lack of exposure to different professional groups such as Speech and Language Therapy and the skills and approaches we have to offer. Skills in gaining and holding someone’s attention. Skills in decreasing pressure in communication situations. Skills in enabling time, space and ways in which people can initiate their thoughts.  

The Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) working around the project has enabled me to show others how talking mats can support their practice. It has enabled them to see how a very simple and non-threatening visual tool can open up conversations and lead to information that the service users hadn’t shared before, in a way that a face to face conversation doesn’t.  

Thanks to Jo Brackley, Clinical Lead, Speech and Language Therapy Secure Services at Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust for this inspiring blog – which demonstrates when we shift the way we listen and gather information from patients we get a different result and improve the quality of information and communication . If you or your team want to consider Talking Mats training then we can provide this for organisations . At the moment we can take a cohort through our online course together and then arrange a zoom call to discuss application to your work setting  – email info@talkingmats.com for more information.

 

Returning to school after lockdown  

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What do the young people I work with think and feel about returning to school after lockdown? I am a Speech and Language Therapist working within the Learning Centre at the Donaldsons Trust in Linlithgow. I work with young people with a variety of communication needs and although the Learning Centre was closed for a short period, we re-opened a few weeks ago to provide continuity for our young people who all have additional needs. Given the current situation, many changes having been put into place to ensure the safety of the staff and children in these unprecedented times. This has included children coming in part-time and on different days from some of their peers and a designated staff team for each group of children. For some children the changes have also meant that their parents now drop them to school rather than coming in a taxi and they have their temperatures taken on arrival. The children now see some staff wearing PPE and they are asked to socially distance from those in their class. They have all coped incredibly well, adapting and accepting these ‘new normals’. As a team we have tried hard to make the transition back into the Learning Centre as relaxed as possible as many of our young people find change difficult to manage.

Prior to lockdown I was almost finished my foundation Talking Mats course and was about to submit my video assessment. Lockdown meant that this did not go ahead as planned. On returning to work, I felt a Talking Mat would be a perfect way of exploring the children’s feelings and opinions about the changes that they have been faced with both at home and within the Learning Centre. I printed symbols which I felt were the most relevant for the current situation and this included symbols such as ‘socially distancing’, ‘having temperature taken’, ‘coming to school in the car with mum and dad’, ‘staff wearing masks’ and ‘friends coming on different days’ I  used the top scale of  ‘this is working  well ’ – ‘I’m ok with this’-  ‘this isn’t working well’. I completed the mat with one of our pupils as part of my video assessment, but the aim is to complete with all of the young people within the Learning Centre over the next few weeks.

The outcome from the completed mat was very helpful .Using Talking Mats allowed me to gather information in a clear way that I would not have been able to do otherwise. The framework allowed for improved understanding of the questions presented as well as a clear and visual way to indicate responses. I feel that having the Talking Mat as a tool has been a wonderful resource to gather the opinions of the young people in order to make sure that we are minimising any anxieties that they may be feeling. We hugely value and respect the opinions of our young people and allowing them a means of sharing their opinions about what is happening around them, through the use of Talking Mats, has been invaluable.

Thanks to Kirsten Lamb for her helpful blog describing how she used Talking Mats to help the young people express their views about adjusting to the new normal . If you want to develop your Talking Mats skills like Kirsten then take advantage of the reduced training during lockdown.   Training Order Form – 30% Discount

Online Training offer

talking mats online course offer

The current situation is strange for everyone so please read about our online training offer*.  Whilst normal work practices are put on hold, the need and desire to keep our minds challenged in order to provide the best care possible for our clients and families is still there – perhaps more so!  Our online learning course provides a stay at home option that will:

  • Allow you to understand the Talking Mats evidence-based approach to communication and thinking;
  • Help you apply a creative approach to conversations and interviews within your setting. This could be for goal setting, staff appraisals, service evaluation;
  • Help you gain confidence in using a tool that embodies a person-centred approach to communication and increases awareness of your own communication style;
  • Let you study in your pyjamas with the cat on your lap.

*Please note this offer has now finished but you can still book a place on one of our online courses.

The course runs for 6 weeks with 4 modules to complete that are fully supported by a Talking Mats Associate who provides individual feedback.

Here is what previous students had to say about their online learning experience:

“I found it helpful to be able to go through the training at my own pace and spread it out across 5 weeks. This gave me time to reflect on what I had learnt and consolidate my learning.”

“I liked that I could access the training at any time and was able to review bits that I was unsure of – overall a positive experience. Thank you.”

“I liked that the online course could be taken at my own pace as having four children and found I had frequent interruptions. The layout was easy to navigate and I found the forum section a helpful read.”

And the impact it has had on them personally:

“From this training, I learned to adjust my communication styles to support my communication partner’s engagement in a conversation.”

“This training has improved my confidence and skills when supporting clients to think and express their opinions and has improved my knowledge about the different benefits of Talking Mats that I had not previously considered, e.g. as a thinking tool.”

Upcoming start dates: 22nd September, 6th October and 3rd November.

To register interest, please complete the registration form and email it to info@talkingmats.com

Remember you can use Talking Mats remotely and there is a Digital Talking Mats Covid19 offer.

 

 

When is a Talking Mat not a Talking Mat?

DTM with arrow where you live

It’s always great to see pictures of Talking Mats on social media.  The stories behind them, and the positive changes that can result for people keeps us motivated to share this powerful tool.

It is apparent however that not all pictures that are called Talking Mats are actually Talking Mats!  For example,

TOP SCALES   If the  top scale is Yes / No Or  a tick /cross

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It is apparent from these mats that the questions are likely to be closed, and don’t provide a scale for reflection.  Closed questions can be leading and suggestive of a set answer the listener is seeking. e.g  ‘Did you enjoy your lunch?’  v. ‘How was your lunch?’

A yes/no, or a tick and cross at the top  are occasionally used with topics which appear to test understanding of rules, e.g acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in a classroom.   In that instance the listener facilitating the mat keeps the control and the power imbalance that exists in conversations for people with communication difficulties isn’t reduced.

The top scale used with each  topic is key to the mat working.  A Talking Mat could find out what the person thinks about the rules, and which ones they feel are good -not good or help -not help.   Our Foundation training includes how to match the top scale to the conversation. https://www.talkingmats.com/training/

TEACHING TALKING MATS   Some people with communication difficulties need to learn how to do Talking Mats.  Learning how to express a view can take time and has to be taught.  We  see pictures of what appear to be Teaching Mats. For example, starting with closed questions might be necessary to introduce the idea of preferences.

It is important that these Teaching Mats are not used as a true representation of a person’s view but seen as a step towards this skill- It can take time but great learning takes place along the way.

We have guidelines for teaching steps for people with autism on our website-

https://www.talkingmats.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/2018-Talking-Mats-and-ASD-guidelines.pdf

Supporting people to share what they think, and giving them the control to say when they are not happy with an aspect of their life, is within their legal rights.

‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity’     Nelson Mandela