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What the client thinks: capturing the essence of the conversation

For the consultant sport psychologist, it is impossible to process or remember all the important information that a client might disclose in a session. As a result, the sport psychologist, like other practitioner psychologists, needs effective techniques to record important information whilst also listening, probing, empathising and challenging as an active participant in the consultancy session. So how can you be completely engaged whilst producing an accurate picture of the client for future use? There is a range of techniques that can be used, all of which have benefits, and all of which also have drawbacks. So it seems that the consultant needs to make a decision on what is most important to them in choosing the techniques that they use.

You might ask the question ‘why do I need to keep records at all’? Well apart from enhancing recall of important and correct information it is also a core professional responsibility of registered/chartered psychologists. Depending on the professional body you are affiliated with the specifics can vary, but the fact remains you are required to keep accurate records. But the question remains, what is the best way to collect this information?

I have tried many different approaches in my time as a consultant, many of which have been applied from listening to, and observing fellow practitioners in the field. In particular I have tried writing notes (pen and paper), writing notes (electronically on my ipad), recording the discussions (audio), recording the interactions (video), summarising the discussions on a white board (then taking a photo at the end of the session for my records). Below are my reflections on each:

Writing notes – The big advantage of writing notes on a piece of paper is that it is a relatively instant way to record important bits of information and to make a note of pertinent questions that might arise while you are listening to your client.  However, for me, when I write notes there is still some of the discussion that you miss unless you continually stop the client, and interrupting their flow is not particularly productive in gaining good quality information. As a result I have looked at other techniques that allow me to be more fully involved in the moment. The other issue with writing notes, which might seem straight forward enough is that the client can see you writing the notes, and can become apprehensive about what you are writing. Also, my hand writing is not great, so I end up typing up my notes afterwards. This is has been helped in part by using my ipad but the other limitations still remain.

Recording the session (audio) – This is a technique I have used a lot. Using my mini digital voice recorder to record the whole conversation. I have found that informing the client they are being recorded can make them a little more candid initially, but they soon become desensitised to the recorder. This is a great way to collect all of the information in the session whilst being able to commit you time and attention fully to the session, which also enhances the quality of the overall result. However, while the quality of the information is very good, there is an associated significant increase in the demands on you time. At the very least you need to listen back through the conversation and make notes, and at the worst sit and transcribe the recording. You can argue though that the quality of the information is worth it if you can the time to spend doing it.

Recording the session (Video) – This is a technique I have used but not that extensively. You do get an extra layer of quality information by having a record of the non-verbal communication from your client, but I also find it is very difficult to desensitise the client to the camera. To get the best footage it needs to be looking at them head-on, which means the camera is permanently in their field of vision, making the client consistently aware that the camera is there. What you end up with though is a very good record of the session that can then be further analysed after the event.

Summarising on a whiteboard– This is a technique that I unashamedly ‘stole’ after attending a Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course. I was taken by the simplicity and effectiveness of the technique. Making notes on the white board as the session progressed, and clarifying with the client as you go. In adopting this technique I added a further element by taking a picture of the whiteboard summary for my records, which in turn is easily enough to store electronically. Like the writing of notes this approach does only provide a summary, but has the advantage of being something the client can engage with and agree.

In the main now I use a combination of the whiteboarding technique and recording the conversation with my digital voice recorder. This gives my a very good instant summary of the conversation while also having the complete audio record if I want to go back an listen to parts of the original discussions. But, I am always keen to enhance my practice, so if anyone has any suggestions of alternative approaches I would be glad to hear about them!

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