Interview with Yulia Shalkovskaya: Psychologist Techniques

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A psychologist, like any specialist in any field, has a variety of work techniques in their arsenal. Without these, without the knowledge and ability to apply them depending on the specific case and the individuality of the client, effective work is impossible. We spoke with psychologist Yulia Shalkovskaya.

Yulia, could you please tell us about the various techniques a psychologist might use? Can they be classified?

We should start by acknowledging that psychology encompasses many different directions, and the choice of direction determines the use of specific techniques. These directions include cognitive, referral, behavioral, child, developmental psychology, gerontopsychology, among others.

various directions in psychology

For example, cognitive psychology, i.e., the psychology related to the process of thinking and human memory, broadly encompasses intellectual processes.

Behavioral psychology is based on the scripts and lines of behavior of the client. One of the most common and vivid examples in this direction is a request for a change in appearance.

A client comes in and tells the psychologist, “I want to dye my hair pink.” The psychologist agrees, but the client shares their fears, “People will laugh at me.” This is where the psychologist’s work begins, understanding that they will need to work with fears related to behavior. By analyzing the situation and determining how the client who made the request will act, the psychologist should conclude by asking questions about who reacted how and whether there really were people who laughed. This is how behavioral psychology works.

There are many directions, and each employs its techniques, depending on the psychologist’s practical experience and preferences. For example, I prefer to work with Gestalt psychology and its client-centered offshoot, using techniques like writing, “the hot seat,” and others.

The psychologist’s main technique – being able to listen

However, the main technique for a psychologist is the ability to listen attentively. This technique is indispensable for a psychologist, very important, and must be mastered as well as possible.

Indeed, listening, especially as part of one’s job, can be challenging both emotionally and physically. How do psychologists master this technique?

They learn and work with it, despite the effort involved, but mastering the technique itself is not difficult. The technique of listening or active listening, as it’s also called, is used not only by psychologists but also by educators. Active listening is particularly useful for mothers – it’s an excellent technique for moms, especially if the child is in a conflict situation. Moreover, without mastering the technique of listening, it’s impossible to quickly understand the essence of a conflict, not just to avoid it.

Listening technique

There are a set of rules for mastering this technique. Firstly, simply to hear out and listen attentively to the speaker, like a child who comes home dirty and with a bruise. It’s very important to listen in such situations, to focus on listening, rather than getting carried away by emotions. This is where the main crux of the listening technique for a psychologist lies – not to let emotions take over the mind and disrupt thoughts.

The listening technique, especially active listening, has several very important techniques that can help both the psychologist and their client find a solution and understand the situation. If we’re talking about psychologists, we can agree by repeating the last few words of our client’s sentence. We can nod our heads, thereby emphasizing our engagement with the client’s problem. Sometimes we rephrase what we’ve heard and ask if we’ve understood a particular point correctly.

For example, when dealing with family issues, often related to infidelity and the painful reactions to them (which psychologists frequently work with), mastery of the listening technique is essential. Listening can be difficult and emotionally draining, but mastering the listening technique allows the psychologist not to miss any thread in the conversation with the client.

The technique of listening in all its diversity is a very important part of a psychologist’s work

The technique of listening in all its diversity is a very important part of a psychologist’s work – it’s the bridge to the next stage of work. After the client has expressed themselves, taken a breath, and the psychologist has listened, you can move to the next stage of work: understanding the client’s fears, anxieties, desires. How to resolve the situation, what options are available, what the client should do next, and so on.

What techniques does a psychologist use when working with clients with inclusion? For example, with those who are blind or visually impaired. Can all listening techniques be used in such cases?

 I would say that the listening technique is the preferred technique in a psychologist’s work. And in the case of working with those who are blind, it can also be successfully applied. Of course, it will no longer be possible to use facial expressions, that is, in such cases, I will not be able to raise an eyebrow to express my attitude or emotion. But the technique of repeating the last phrase, the technique of clarification, paraphrasing in the case of those who are blind, will work.

art therapy

In general, any technique is suitable for working with the blind, art therapy techniques such as sculpting work very well, even excellently. Dance therapy, although it may seem strange to many, is also suitable for the blind. For example, I have poor vision, but at the same time, I dance quite well because I had an excellent coach who understood how to work with someone like me.

Dance therapy is suitable for working with the blind

She was able to convey movement in direct contact with my hand when I did not understand how, for example, to position my hand in space. Or how a particular movement is made with the legs or hips. She let me feel the body, taught me how to control it, and for a blind or visually impaired person, this is very important. Similarly, a psychologist, working with someone who has vision problems, confirms contact with the client through words, even whole replicas.

Similarly, a psychologist working with visually impaired individuals uses words, even whole sentences, to affirm contact with the client.

Is there something common between dance therapy and somatic therapy? To my layman’s eye, they seem similar because both are related to the human body.

No, somatic therapy is not similar to dance therapy; it’s a different form of therapy. Somatic therapy is used to overcome physical barriers. There are many different barriers in a person’s body, and the most common physical barrier is the language barrier, which each of us has encountered in one way or another.

This barrier is associated, on the one hand, with the fear of incorrectly using an article or misplacing words in a sentence in a foreign language. On the other hand, it’s related to a physical barrier in our throat, which also plays a role in our fear of speaking in English or another foreign language. Somatic therapy works with such barriers, helps to remove them, and aids in overcoming our fear of speaking. And not just in a foreign language, but also in other life situations when we need to express hurt, refuse, express our own opinion, or speak in front of a large and significant audience.

Somatic therapy is fundamentally different from dance therapy

Somatic therapy differs fundamentally from dance therapy. Simply put, if we move away from textbook definitions and those found on the internet, somatic therapy is about working with the barriers of the human body. For example, those that prevent us from speaking a foreign language – the most common barrier. Recall how often thoughts about mispronouncing something, placing words in the wrong order, mixing up tenses, have prevented you from responding to a foreigner. You’d agree, it happens quite frequently. And how frightening it can be to perform even in front of a familiar audience: a lump or spasm in the throat, freezing in place, fists clenched, and much more. Somatic therapy also deals with these cases, helping to relax the diaphragm, tense hands, and immobile legs. 

Dance Therapy

Somatic therapy works with resentment 

I’ll say one more unusual thing about somatic therapy. It deals with resentment. Yes, don’t be surprised, very often a barrier in our motor system arises precisely because of resentment. We often hold grudges against our husbands and wives, children, friends, colleagues, bosses, passersby, even unknown fellow passengers in transit and on the road.

Wow, that’s so interesting! I would never have thought that resentment could affect how we move and speak.

Yes, it happens, and not so infrequently. For example, a lump in the throat, as I’ve already mentioned, is a very common issue, especially if someone yells at you, interrupts you, or forces you to do and say things you don’t like. When you have a sensation of a lump in your throat, you need to work seriously with this feeling. Don’t distract yourself with something else, don’t just lie there staring at the ceiling or even reading an interesting book, but work with the problem. You can cry, but that’s not a solution to the problem, because the solution lies in working with both your physiology and psychology together.

A psychologist skilled in somatic therapy has a set of exercises that help to remove barriers, like that very lump in the throat or intermittent breathing, that arise in situations similar to the lump in the throat. These exercises involve relaxing the diaphragm, arms, legs, and breathing in a way that’s safe, correct, and beneficial. For example, relaxing the arms is when the arm falls swiftly, I would even say like a rag, rather than gently, like a sheet of paper gliding off a desk.

Julia, is somatic therapy suitable for those who are blind or visually impaired?

Yes, it is very suitable for them, and here’s why. People who are blind from birth are often very tense, especially those who are completely blind, as they find it very difficult to walk due to the stiffness in their legs, to gesture, and their movements are often spontaneous. They also experience the sensation of a lump in the throat more frequently than other people. Body-oriented therapy is very suitable for them. It helps not only to remove barriers, such as in the diaphragm, but also to move confidently, to relax properly, I would even say effectively.

somatic therapy

At the same time, it’s easier to work with people who have lost their sight during their lifetime. They possess skills in gesturing, operating the vestibular apparatus, and expressing emotions through facial expressions.

The variety of techniques a psychologist uses naturally raises the question of whether a psychologist can be equally proficient in all of them. I ask because we often see advertisements claiming that a psychologist can work with any technique, as if they were a magician or wizard.

How can I put this? No, they cannot be equally good at all techniques. They might know all of them, but using them with the same effectiveness in practice is unlikely.

For example, I work with adults and children, as well as with the elderly, and for this, you need to know the techniques of family psychology, the specifics of parent-child relationships. When working with the elderly, it’s important to understand the peculiarities of their age and social conditions of their lives.

Every psychologist chooses what they are closer to

Every psychologist chooses what they are closer to. Some may prefer working with psychoanalysis, and thus psychoanalytic techniques are more suitable for them, while others may lean towards behavioral psychology and its respective techniques.

Personally, I am most aligned with gestalt psychology, though I am knowledgeable about other techniques, I primarily work with gestalt. If I see that gestalt is not working, I switch to another technique to achieve results.

Even polyglots don’t have equal proficiency in all languages. They might know Spanish a bit less well than German, and the latter much better than, say, English.

However, when I come across advertisements claiming that a psychologist is also a tarot reader, I can’t help but laugh! For some reason, it makes me think of a combination like a gynecologist-dentist, pardon the comparison.

Are there any other techniques/therapies that are suitable for working with those who are blind?

In my opinion, art therapy is very suitable for those who are blind or visually impaired. The combination of therapy and art produces excellent results. Among the tools of art therapy, sand therapy stands out – it’s ideally suited for those who are blind or have low vision. Engaging in sculpting can develop tactile sensations and relax the hands. Play therapies are especially suitable for children, including those who are blind.

Overall, a psychologist has a wide variety of techniques to work with clients, and it’s important to choose the one that best suits the specific individual and their characteristics. Additionally, art therapy works wonderfully with people experiencing an existential crisis, providing a path to navigate through it.

Many believe that art therapy is only for those with a talent for art, but that’s not entirely true. In art therapy, the process is as important as the outcome, meaning that how you create something is just as important as what you create.