One of the most significant features of educational therapy involves establishing a relationship with our students in which we provide academic support and guidance. 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 thoroughly describes how the initial intake with a student is the first opportunity to establish trust and facilitate a collaborative, organic experience. Ungerleider conveys the complexities and nuances of educational therapy, 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. To that end, Ungerleider’s deep appreciation for listening to Nora’s story, and collaborating with her as she builds a learning profile, speaks to the dynamic, psychological world of true educational therapy. By listening to Nora, Ungerleider participates in Nora’s subjective experience of her own learning challenges. This collaborative process allows her 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. This is evident in Nora’s language struggles and the cognitive testing clearly described those difficulties. However, it was Ungerleider’s observations of Nora’s fear about answering questions that empathically attuned her to ways she might engage with Nora, and support her emerging language skills. “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 of educational therapy and several are well described 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’ for whom learning is eminently challenging. Ungerleider’s insights and observations are readily shared with each person who picks up this book. For that reason alone, it is worth reading to understand what this unique brand of one-on-one academic support and case management provides to students and their families.
© Previously published by the Association of Educational Therapists, September 2011
Loren Deutsch is an eductional therapist and founder of Loren Academic Services, Inc.