A few weeks ago, in the graduate class I teach, one of the students asked (paraphrasing) if I used counseling skills when working with people on assessment (thanks, Dylan!). I hadn’t ever thought about it that way. I am certainly not a trained and licensed psychologist or counselor like the fabulous staff at Counseling and Psychological Services (http://caps.tamu.edu/), and it’s been many years since a I had a counseling/helping skills class, but I can see a few similarities. The assessment relationship helps people through a reflective and analytical process ultimately to make some sort of improvement. Potentially oversimplifying, the counseling process usually takes people through a process of reflection and thought/behavior change to make some decision/action to improve.
From the very beginning, the assessment professional has to put the client at ease. The client may be nervous about the process, fear the feedback, or unsure of the amount of work it might take. Because staff take ownership in their work, they may have some anxiety about how the program or service reflects on their own performance. The assessment professional can address those concerns by talking about the process, the outcomes, and the good things that assessment can help them with. The unknown can be scary, but it can also been seen as an opportunity. The more motivated the client is, the easier the assessment process can be. I see that building rapport is something a counselor needs to be good at to get their client comfortable with the process. I certainly would not want a counselor who made me feel more anxious or stupid.
Counselors and assessment professionals ask good questions. That’s part of the job. They know how to push without being pushy, how to challenge without causing shut down, and how to get clients talking. When clients come in for assessment help, they may be lost as where to start, what to ask, and what to do with results. The assessment professional can ask probing questions to get to the key issues, the background and priorities, the desired outcomes, and the risks of change. That also sounds like a counselor strategy.
Counselors maintain impartiality. The assessment professional is also a neutral third party, in that they don’t have a stake in the outcomes of most assessments. That allows them to see things with some clarity, without pre-conceived notions, and with an open mind for the future (and yes, we all come with some biases related to our experiences; a good professional can recognize and address them as needed). Because the client is immersed in the program/service/activity, they may have a hard time stepping back and looking at things objectively.
Related to that, the assessment professional may be able to see more options based on knowing about other assessments, how others have used assessment, and what is happening in other environments. While the client is immersed in their program, the assessment professional can see across other assessment and data available that could inform the assessment process or using results. Just like a counselor, the assessment professional can look at a topic from several angles and use several strategies to help the client.
Most comforting, the counselor and the assessment professional provide support to the client. Sometimes it’s being a cheerleader, sometimes a coach, and sometimes an empathetic listening ear. I was going to say a shoulder to cry on, but, to paraphrase a famous movie quote, “there is no crying in assessment.” (Okay, that’s not really true, but I hope there is less crying in our office than in Counseling and Psychological Services.)
I hope this month’s blog has given you some perspective about the relational and support side of being an assessment professional. I would love to hear your perspective.