Monday, October 16, 2006

An Experiential Approach to Teaching Research to the Counselling Course Students

Entry for 16 October 2006:

Instead of giving lectures or teaching classes here, the Diploma staff refer to “offering input”. Today was my first opportunity to “offer input”, in the form of two lectures: An introduction to research, for the fulltime course, and a somewhat more advanced input on quantitative methods/questionnaire design. These are two of the 6 or 7 total segments of the “research module” to the diploma courses, each segment 1.5 to 2 hours long. Going into this, it was clear to me that just getting up and lecturing was not going to work with these students. The most important thing is to help them connect with the idea of research, and not get (more) turned off by it. Naturally, I was anxious about how these two class meetings would go.

This morning did not begin well. Our furnace at home decided to go out, which made me late for the management group meeting and annoyed Mick. Lorna didn’t tell Beth that she was supposed to stop at 11, so she was surprised when I slipped in at 5 past. Then, they informed me that the students needed a break before going on, so we ended up starting at 11:25. This did give me plenty of time to set up the equipment and test it, but did not prevent me from having trouble with it when I later got to the powerpoint part of the presentation. Then, partway through, Tracey came in to inform me that we needed to finish early because of a crisis with the parttime course (one of the students had unexpectedly died over the weekend).

Given all this, it turned out to be a very good idea that that I had decided to lead off the session with a large group exercise, entitled “Focusing on your Felt Sense of ‘Research’”. Its instructions are as follows:
– Take out a piece of paper.
- Get comfortable, close your eyes or look at a point.
– Ask yourself, “When I think about research, what comes up inside?”
- Be patient, take your time (30 sec)
-When you’re ready, try to put your feeling or feelings about research into words
- As they wish, members of the group are invited to take turns sharing, while the instructor writes down their answers on a flip chart.

This turned out to work exceptionally well: Practically all of the 30 students shared something, and I filled a white board with their descriptions, which were highly ambivalent. I offered mine at the end: “Curiosity. A sense of something so interwoven into who I am that it is difficult for me to imagine myself separate from research.” This made a very nice lead-in to a mini-lecture on science as ethical system and utopian system (courtesy of science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson), followed by a summary of the research-practice gap. Along thenway, I invited lots of questions and we had interesting and productive discussions.

This was followed by Mick’s “Research Quiz” in which I gave them a list of 8 multiple-choice questions and had them break up into small groups to work out answers. After 20 minutes of separate discussion, we got back together and I talked them through the “right” answers, complete with Alice in Wonderland (“Everyone has won and all shall have prizes”).

I concluded by suggesting homework, in the form of a double exercise entitled Two Paths to Selecting Research Topics:
Part A. Going your own way: Finding your curiosity
- Take out a blank piece of paper
- Take a minute to relax, clear your mind
- Ask yourself: What is something am I curious to learn about Person-Centred counselling (that there doesn’t seem to be clear answers for)? Or: What is my sense of something that is still unclear about Person-Centred counselling?
- Wait… Take your time… See what comes to you…
- Write down 1 or 2 research topics that symbolize your curiosity
- Check each research topic to make sure it fits at least part of your curiosity

Part B. Collaborating: Looking at what’s available to see what fits
Consider each of the following possible candidates for your sense of curiosity, then pick the one that fits your curiosity best, if there is one:
•School-based Person-Centered counseling
•Relational depth
•Clients’ experiences of helpful and hindering processes in Person-Cented/Experiential psychotherapy or counselling
•Person-Centred/Experiential therapy with social anxiety difficulties
•Applying the legal model to outcome research on Person-Centred/Experiential psychotherapy/counselling

* * *

In the end, it was a good thing that this first input worked so nicely, because the second input ended up being cancelled altogether in order for the course members to deal with the death of one of their members. It is a sobering experience to lose a course member in this way, but I was impressed with the care with which the parttime course staff handled the situation and was glad they handled it in this way. We will try again another day!

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