How can a clinical psychologist help your child with SEN?

Child peeking through a hole
Clinical psychologist Elizabeth Kilbey chats to TheSchoolRun about what her job involves and how a clinical psychologist can support a child with special educational needs.

What is the difference between educational and clinical psychologists?

One of the differences is the settings we work in. Educational psychologists are based within the educational system and work in schools. So where a child is presenting an emotional or behavioural difficulty within a school setting, the school will consult with their educational psychologist about what might be happening. Clinical psychologists are based within the NHS. We work in clinics, similar to where GPs work.

Clinical psychologists are interested in difficulties that children present that appear to be related to their life in general rather than specifically at school. So if a problem existed outside of school, or there was a strong feeling that the difficulties they were having were related to more global issues, then that would be where a clinical psychologist could help.

What can a clinical psychologist do to help a child?  

The starting point would always be a thorough assessment, which would include meeting the child and talking with them, depending on how old they are or where their verbal skills are at.

We would also want to talk to the people around the child who know them well - usually parents or carers - and we would contact schools to hear about how the child is doing there. It's all about helping us build up a picture of that child, what the difficulties are and where and how they present themselves.

Once we have a good understanding of what we think is going on, we can begin to think about the kind of treatment that needs to happen. This could be either:

  • Individually with the child – the clinical psychologist meeting on a one-to-one basis with the child, doing some therapy with drawing, playing or talking.
  • Involving other people – maybe sessions with families together or involving other people as well in doing what we call systemic (group) sessions looking at the whole system.

Based on what the assessment tells us we think about what interventions we might offer.