Social Skills Training

Over the past 39 years, I have spent much time working with disturbed and disturbing adolescents.  My brief for my work was quite clear (if originally woolly in the methodology).
I was trying to help these troubled young people to develop the social skills they sorely lacked, in order to make their lives easier to manage for themselves.
In the 1970's I was in charge of an "Off Site Centre" (currently known as a Pupil Referral Unit) where I was responsible for young people at risk of permanent exclusion from a large mainstream comprehensive school.
In the 1980's I qualified as an educational psychologist and learned about "cognitive complexity".  More recently I read about
"emotional literacy".  Additionally I worked alongside Tim  Francis who now practises as an independent educational psychologist who showed me a framework on which to base my previous (albeit unstructured) knowledge.
My current work with permanently excluded teenagers is founded on my own early experiences at the "Off Site Centre", my theoretical knowledge of psychology, the practice of Tim Francis
and my additional studies of "emotional literacy".

Social Skills Training - First Aim

To develop cognitive complexity.

Tim uses a framework that he calls "Choice Points".  This encourages the student to look back at the history of an event/s with a view to identifying "choice points" - cusps or nodes where a different choice could have been made. Tim usually asks "What else could you have done?" but he does not offer an answer.
The underlying idea is to encourage students to pause, think and with peers, generate an array of potential responses, evaluate the outcomes and fall out and then make an informed choice.
( When Tim and I tried to explain this approach to a Pastoral Head in a large secondary school, he said that he did this all the time - "I tell them straight, if they do that again they will be excluded!"  Tim suggests that this "if A then B" conditioning actually programmes students for failure.)
Often,  same age peer advice is more compelling than any tomes of wisdom handed down from grey bearded men (me not Tim).  This is why this work is best done with a  group of similar age peers.  With judicious button pushing from the adult leader, some youngsters (but not the ones with the immediate problem) can come out with some veritable pearls of wisdom.
Over the years I have been told many times by students that school problems would evaporate once the individual student had a job. Financial reward would resolve any difficulty.
In one group session, Simone (not her real name), a 15 year old excluded pupil summed it up wonderfully. She said "It's just patterns isn't it?  You skive off school - you throw a sicky at work.  You cheek the teacher - you bad mouth the boss.  It ain't no different.  You get excluded  - you lose your job."
Out of the mouths of....

Social Skills Training - Second Aim

To develop emotional literacy

I genuinely believe that many young adults and sadly a good few grown ups  (for whatever reason) are just unaware of the messages they send out by their actions and words.
For me, emotional literacy is trying to be aware of what message we are giving during a communication.
Some people talk about "meta communication".  I understand this to mean the subliminal (perhaps) message that surrounds the content of the communication.  For instance, is a female person of 60 years of age, an "old woman" or a "senior lady".
When a student of 15 years sits in front of me with a hooded sweat shirt covering his eyes and his school tie in his mouth, what is he "saying" to me?
When I as a 53 year old man, put my jacket over my head, suck my tie and  lounge in my chair before a 15 year old, what am I saying to the "client"?   My provocation is often perceived as monstrous! But it's ok for them to do it to me and anybody else!

Social Skills Training - Third Aim

To combine a developing depth of response with an awareness of effect on other people's feelings.

I try to use role play and peer comment to explore the array of possible responses to given situations.

Ideally, I want my clients to think ahead and avoid the situations in the first place, but living in the real world I like to offer practical solutions.

Once the mechanics of a course of action have been decided, the emotional consequences must be considered.

What could you have done? How would s/he have felt? What would have been the consequence for you?

"But she was a minger!"
 said a young boy who was surprised to be slapped in the face by a woman whom he had told was ugly.

These are my personal opinions which
reflect my experience of  39 years in education
including  the last 25 years of practising as an educational psychologist.

Ged Balmer
Chartered Educational Psychologist
Cert. Ed., BSc.(Hons), MSc.,
C. Psychol., AFBPsS.
British Psychological Society No: 34097

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Chartered Educational Psychologist
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