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