Establishing a working relationship with our students is one of the most important features of educational therapy. Within that learning alliance, an essential ingredient is trust. In Dorothy Ungerleider’s most recent book Educational Therapy in Action: Behind and Beyond the Office Door, Ungerleider provides readers with a first-hand account of that essential component needed to engage students. She describes how the initial intake with a student is the first opportunity to establish trust and facilitate a collaborative, organic experience. She conveys this by illustrating an intricate and richly drawn relationship with her student Nora.
Nora is 17 years old when Ungerleider starts working with her. By the time she arrives at Ungerleider’s office, Nora has been misdiagnosed, expelled from school and misunderstood by her teachers and family for most of her life. Ungerleider listens to Nora’s story, and collaborates with her as she builds a learning profile. This initial engagement speaks to the dynamic, psychological world of true educational therapy. By listening to Nora, and responding to her learning needs, Ungerleider shows her respect and willingness to participate in Nora’s life, on her terms. This collaborative process helps establish trust and allows Ungerleider to begin assembling an effective learning curriculum. Ungerleider refers to this gradual but crucial process as the Organic Curriculum, “Every comment and explanation offers more clues…information that may never be mentioned in standardized or diagnostic testing.”
We know that Ungerleider well understands the intricate neuropsychological reports that often greet educational therapists when their students arrive with “testing in hand.” Yet, it is her gift of not over-exaggerating their importance above her own professional and clinical judgment that underscores the significance of this Organic Curriculum – one that both the student and the educational therapist co-construct from their shared experiences. “These were the scoreless aspects of testing, the critical information-by-observation that fleshed out every clinician’s toolbox for evaluation of difficulties, strengths, and intangibles that factored into each individual’s performance.”
There are many components to educational therapy and Ungerleider describes several of them in Educational Therapy in Action, including case management, a deep understanding for learning challenges and strategies to support all learners. However, this book highlights the most significant component of all: the therapeutic and emotional connection essential to supporting students with learning challenges. Ungerleider’s insights and observations are readily shared so the reader comes away with a genuine understanding for educational therapy.
© 2011, Previously published by the Association of Educational Therapists.
Loren Deutsch is an eductional therapist and founder of Loren Academic Services, Inc.