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What is a Consultant in the Gifted Education Realm?

consultant in the gifted education realm

“I’m not being evasive but I am saying I’m not a scientist and I’m not directly involved in the consultation however the science must be sound, it must be agreed and the consultation must be of a high quality or no one will have any confidence in the process.”
John Anderson

Frank C Worrell’s (2007) article entitled, “Consultation in the Gifted-Education Arena: Old Wine in a New Skin” is an analysis of the meaning of the term consultation in the world of school counseling.

Worrell begins the article by giving a brief overview of the definition of consultation, types of consultation and goes into detail about the distinction between consultation and collaboration.

By using Caplan’s (1965) work entitled, “Opportunities for School Psychologists in the Primary Prevention of Mental Disorders in Children” as his backdrop, Worrell uses four articles on gifted and talented students as examples of the wide range of applicability the term consultation has in today’s consulting world.

Worrell argues that school consultation has grown beyond its original intent of being a resource for teachers, administrators and mentors into a position of direct service providers.

Worrell premises that this new definition of consultation can serve a positive role, but school service providers must have concrete parameters in order to actually understand what being a consultant entails.

“It is important to remember that consultation as it is defined in the literature has certain specific features. Therefore, simply labeling oneself as a consultant does not necessarily mean that one is engaging in consultation” (Worrell, 2007, p. 375).

Critical Analysis

Gerald Caplan (1963) in his article, “Types of Mental Health Consultation” gave us the original definition of consultations as:

A process of interaction between two professionals – the consultant, who is a specialist, and the consultee, who invokes the consultant’s help in a current work problem that he/she believes is within the consultant’s area of specialized competence.

The work problem involves managing or treating one or more of the consultee’s clients or planning and implementing a program to cater to the clients. Client is used to denote the layperson who is the focus of the consultee’s professional operations; the client could be a teacher’s study, a nurse or a physician’s patient, a clergyman’s congregant or a lawyer’s client.” (p.11)

Worrell argues that though Caplan was discussing mental health consultation by definition, it could be used by school consultants in interpreting their role and breaking their job description into three key distinct aspects:

  • Consultation as a process
  • It involves a triad (consultant, consultee and client)
  • Consultant has a specialized expertise (Worrell, 2007).

Worrell uses Caplan and Caplan (1999)” Mental Health Consultation and Collaboration” to define four major subtypes of consultation:

• client-centered case consultation
• consultee-centered case consultation
• program centered administrative consultation
• consultee-centered administrative consultation.

In client-centered and consultee-centered, it is the consultant’s use of expertise to guide the consultee to create a program that will remedy the problem that will be implemented by the consultee.

Program-centered administrative consultation and consultee-centered administrative consultations are very similar from the first two examples but the client is a system or organization not a person.

Lastly, Worrell (2007) discusses the difference between consultation and collaboration. Worrell uses Caplan et al (1994) “Caplanian Mental Health Consultation: Historical Background and Current Status” to argue that there are seven differences between collaboration and consultation.

Consultation is:

  • external to the organization
  • had little or no client contact
  • assumed a coordinate and non-hierarchical relationship with the consultee
  • worked with consultees who volunteered
  • were typically involved in dyadic (opposed to team relationship)
  • assumed consultee freedom to reject consultant’s advice
  • had no responsibility for the outcome of the case under discussion.

With all the definitions of what consultation is and isn’t, Worrell visits the first article entitled, “Consulting Psychologists and Developing Talent” by Calderon et al. (2007).

Calderon shares a three-stage process of talent development with the gifted and talented students in a Pinnacle Program. To help generate this plan was the use of consultants who would:

  • take a broader look at the particular program and make recommendations
  • help members creating the program view through an alternative lens
  • support individual mentors as they work with their mentees in a particular talent domain.

Worrell states that the use of consultation within this article fits the classic job description definition of consultation.

School-based Resources

The second article, “Professionalism, Diversity, Context and Collaboration in Gifted Education” by Matthews et al (2007) discusses the use of special education teachers as school-based resources for analyzing the programs created for gifted and talented students.

Worrell argues that in this example, not only were the consultants doing the work expressed in the first article but they were crossing the line into being collaborators by taking a vested interest in the outcome by meeting with students directly and within those meetings, making contributions to the outcome.

Crossing the Line

In his article, Matthews defined consultation as “as a mutually voluntary professional association based on reciprocity and respect” (Worrell, 2007, p. 380) which Worrell felt crossed the line into being a model of collaboration rather than consultation.

Ouyang and Conoley (2007) in their article, “Consultation about Gifted Hispanic Students” discuss the use of consultants broadening their job description by implementing and setting the agenda for consultation and in so doing, being advocates for change for the Hispanic students.

Worrell does not disagree with the assessment for the need for advocates to support minority gifted students, but he feels that this role is clearly beyond the traditional definition of a consultant’s role (Worrell, 2007).

In the last article, “A Counseling Perspective on Consultation to Giftedness by Peterson (2007),” Worrell suggests differences in opinion with Peterson’s suggestion that consultants can wear many different hats at the same time.

Peterson uses the example that consultants can be consulting with gifted students directly and with parents of gifted students “in sequence” playing the role of consultant and consultee at the same time.

Worrell argues that “consultation requires an actual consultant, that is, an expert who understands what consultation is and who chooses to engage in the consultation” (Worrell, 2007 p. 382).

Worrell also suggests that is would be highly unlikely that a consultant role would be properly functional by a school professional moving from the consultant role back to a teacher then moving to being a consultee and back again.

To Worrell, three of the four articles show misuse of the proper definition of a consultant’s role and in his mind, if consultation is to be taken seriously “cogent definitions must be developed and applied appropriately.”

It is in these examples where it needs to be clear what consultation is and is not, and what the differences are between consultation and collaboration, he believes.  (Worrell, 2007, p. 383).

Insights

Worrell argues the position that he is not opposed to many of the different interpretations of consultation suggested by the writers of the articles. His concern is that all of us in the counseling field have a clear understanding of the proper role we all share in what is and isn’t consultation.

In many ways, Worrell suggests that this is an exciting time to rethink the definition of consultation “which brings consultation clearly into the realm of positive psychology, with its focus on promoting well-being and not just preventing illness” (Worrell, 2007, p. 383).

Worrell noted that although change and adaptation can be positive, it is very important to understand what having a title of consultant entails and how to engage in consultation.

Many of the scenarios lacked a consultation process, a classic consultation triad and confusion as to who was the consultant and the consultee.

Again, it is imperative to Worrell that we not only revisit the definition of consultation but have an understanding of the parameters of training, counseling, advocacy and what it entails for an individual to wear these hats and the definition of each one.

Worrell concludes with a special insight in the area of advocacy. He shares the need to pay particular attention for the large number of students not being served adequately within our school systems and the inequality of resources put forth to better their plight.

But what concerns Worrell is that “advocacy is an important activity that psychologists and education professionals engage in, but should this advocacy role be labeled consultation” (Worrell, 2007, p. 384)?

As more and more uses of consultation are found (not just trouble youth but gifted and talented) by individuals in the field, it will become even more important “to revisit the classic definitions of consultation as a basis for describing their practice and proposing changes to what should be classified as consultation” (Worrell, 2007, p. 384).


References

Calderon, Jeffrey, Subotnik, Rena, Knotek, Steven, Rayhack, Kristin and Gorgia, Jason (2007). Focus on the psychosocial dimensions of talent development: An important potential role for consultee-centered consultants. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17(4), 347-367.

Caplan, G. (1963). Types of mental health consultation. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 33, 470-481.

Caplan, G. (1965). Opportunities for school psychologists in the primary prevention of mental disorders in children. In N. M. Lambert, The protection and promotion of mental health in schools (Mental Health Monograph 5). Washington D.C: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Caplan, G., & Caplan, R. B. (1999). Mental health consultation and collaboration. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

Caplan, G., Caplan, R. B., & Erchul, W. P. (1994). Caplanian mental health consultation: Historical background and current status. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practiceand Research, 46(4), 2-12.

Conoley, J. C., & Conoley, C. W. Matthews, Dona, Foster, Joanne, Gladstone, Deborah, Schieck, Jeannette and Meiners, Judy (2007). Supporting professionalism, diversity, and context within a collaborative approach to gifted education. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17(4), 315-345.

Ouyang, Meimei and Conoley, Jane Close (2007). Consultation for gifted Hispanic students: 21st- century public school practice. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17(4), 297-314.

Peterson, Jean Sunde (2007). Consultation related to giftedness: A school counseling perspective. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17(4), 273-296.

Worrell, Frank C. (2007). Consultation in the gifted-education arena: Old wine in a new skin. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17(4), 375-386.

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What is a Consultant in the Gifted Education Realm?