The busy season
Fall is one of the busy periods of the year for me.
This week I am working with two handy “instruments”. One is the Bayley III Child Observation Inventory and the other is the standard, reliable genogram.
The Bayley makes it possible to assess children almost from birth to four years. It is a sort of overall developmental health or progress survey that can be administered by parents, teachers, caregivers – almost anyone in a controlled and guided setting with the Bayley tool kit.
Each module comes with a series of detailed questions and tasks for the examiner to administer and some colorful props like plastic rings, cubes, balls, picture books, story books, shapes, crayons, pencils. There are a number of modules and each has a pretty steep price point, otherwise parents could just buy them and use them at home to see how their kids stack up.
Naturally some children excel in areas like fine motor skills but may lag in language or cognitive abilities. In any case, it is easily adapted by picking up equivalent objects at a toy store and informally gauging how a little one is doing. Of course, if one were to do this informally, it would have little diagnostic or prognostic value and should not be seen as a substitute for professional assessment if signs indicate that an evaluation is in order.
Nevertheless, it is just nice to know that a lot of research went into its development and it is a way to create a sort of developmental progress profile long before the Stanford Binet-type instruments for IQ and aptitude would be appropriate.
For other reasons, the genogram, which has been around for decades, is an old fashioned diagrammatic standby. It enables just about anyone to get a pictorial view of social dynamics, especially in families. It has been used in many settings but is particularly useful in couples or family counseling. The “person-centered” approach that has developed from the theories of Carl Rogers, views the psychological evolution of individuals as attempting to self-actualize. When two or more individuals interact, that actualization is either enhanced, left neutral, or impeded. This branch of psychology assumes that the inter-actors themselves, once they can recognize their needs and see how those needs interplay with the needs being acted out by others, can then be led to express them, which can be therapeutic for some people.
The genogram then allows those expressed needs to be visualized in a simple diagram, using standardized symbols. Once that is done, the actions of each person are diagrammed and can be studied and discussed. The psychologist employing this technique, acts as a facilitator who gently steers the analysis and does not direct it. In the process of creating a genogram of the individual’s feelings/actions and the interactions that take place above and below the surface, between those individuals, presumably greater empathy is developed. The subjects ideally move from purely mental to emotional analysis and awareness.
So it works something like this. Each person writes down his/her feelings at the moment (or for some delimited time period), usually just making a list. The list should include the feelings that are overt and those that are covert. In other words, what is above the surface and easily expressed, and what is below the surface and usually just felt or thought and not expressed.
The guide then makes a genogram (using standardised symbols and signs) on a white or blackboard, diagramming the two (or more) actors involved and listing underneath the symbol for that person (usually a square for males and a circle for females, with their first initial or name in the middle) one word summaries of the listed feelings and thoughts. The guide draws a horizontal line across the page, a little below the two symbols. All the terms above the line are expressed, easy to observe. Below the line are unexpressed, hidden feelings and thoughts. Then the list is discussed and the guide continues to draw lines and arrows indicating the dynamics of the interactions between the subjects. The simple act of diagramming feelings and thoughts and viewing them on a large vertical surface is revealing and hopefully leads to discussion and catharsis as each person gets a chance to give and receive feedback in a structured but evocative way.
Images: Pearson Clinical; Psychometrics.cam; Indiana.edu; Wikimedia Commons