Education is not only one of the most important and complex social processes. Through it, entire cultures can be modified and, of course, the way of thinking and acting of the people who live in them can be changed.
That is why teaching and education is an area that can be approached from different disciplines, many of which are increasingly building bridges of dialogue towards pedagogy. Psychology, of course, is one of them .
Interview with Elisabet Rodríguez Camón, child and youth psychologist
In order to know first-hand that point where psychology and education touch each other, we interviewed Elisabet Rodríguez Camón , who in addition to collaborating in Psychology and Mind has experience both in psychopedagogy and child and adolescent psychology as well as in psychological care for adults.
What has been your professional career until now? What projects are you currently working on?
I started my professional activity in the field of psychology after doing my internship in the Eating Disorders Unit at the Hospital Mútua in Terrassa. This period of time helped me to make a professional choice for the clinical route in the cognitive-behavioral current, so I prepared for three years the PIR competitions. Although I did not obtain the position of resident, I considerably strengthened my theoretical knowledge in the field of clinical psychology. Afterwards I spent a year working on the elaboration and development of various psychological prevention projects for victims of traffic accidents and I began to carry out my first individual psychological interventions on patients with anxiety-related symptoms.
Currently, I work as a psychologist at Centre d’Atenció Psicopedagògica Estudi (Sant Celoni) working as a child and youth psychologist, adult psychologist and psychopedagogue, although I have been collaborating in different psychological care centres for more than three years. In addition, since last April, I have been involved in a project/agreement between the Centre Estudi and the Social Services of the Sant Antoni de Vilamajor Town Council, offering psychological therapy to users who demand the service. I combine all this with the collaboration in your Digital Magazine “Psychology and Mind” and the development of the Final Thesis for the Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychopedagogy, which is entitled: “Incorporation of Mindfulness Techniques into the school curriculum: psychological effects on students”.
Since you have been doing research on the practice of Mindfulness, in what way do you think its techniques can be useful in the educational field?
The truth is that this field is still at a very early stage in terms of studying the effects of this type of technique in the educational context. Until now, Mindfulness has been closely linked to clinical psychology and its application to the adult population; between 1980 and 2000, some 1000 references to Mindfulness were published, while between 2000 and 2012 the figure has risen to some 13,000.
As far as the school population is concerned, most of the research carried out at an international level belongs to the last decade (and in Spain it is even more recent), which in science is a very short period to assess results in depth. Even so, in most of them the findings are oriented to conclude numerous benefits achieved in the intervened students in terms of measures of attention capacity and concentration, cognitive skills in general, as well as greater empathic ability and higher level of general well-being, and even lower rates of aggression. In any case, the publications converge on the need that the studies should be complemented by longer-term follow-up assessments after the intervention and that they should have a greater number of representative population samples in order to validate a generalization of the findings obtained. The results are very promising, in short, but more studies are needed to corroborate them.
There is much criticism of the tendency on the part of the educational system to give much importance to examinations, in which correction is made by assuming that there is only one correct answer to each question, which can serve to reward rigidity in the way of thinking. What position do you hold in this debate?
To talk about the education system in a uniform way would be unfair to the teachers. Slowly but progressively, the teaching community is opting for evaluation systems other than the traditional ones (which are associated with a more finalist character) such as self-evaluation, co-evaluation, heteroevaluation or peer evaluation, among others. However, it is true that the Education Administration does not seem to support innovations in the area of assessment as a learning tool. An example of this is the external tests introduced by the LOMCE.
Similarly, thinking that the school is the only educational agent that has responsibility for the development of rigidity in thinking would not be completely accurate either, since the influences that an individual receives from the different environments where he or she interacts are very relevant in the configuration of one’s reasoning capacity.Creativity, for example, is a concept that is intrinsically incompatible with an inflexible style of thinking, and its main determinants are both cognitive and affective, namely openness to experience, empathy, tolerance of ambiguity and of other people’s positions, positive self-esteem, high motivation and self-confidence, etc.
These aspects must be forged together also from the family environment, which is why this educational agent and the values it transmits to the child are extremely relevant and must be in line with the factors indicated above.
How would you describe the changes produced in the conceptualization of the current educational system with respect to the traditional one? Do you think there has been a significant evolution in this field?
Undoubtedly. I think that in the last couple of decades, especially since the publication of Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book “Emotional Intelligence” and all the research that went into this new field at that time, there has been a great paradigm shift in the way we understand education today. Since then, other types of learning such as cognitive-emotional skills have begun to be taken as relevant, to the detriment of more instrumental and traditional content.
There is still a long way to go, but we are beginning to see how emotional variables condition academic performance and the performance of the individual in his or her environment of interaction, that is, in social relationships. An example of this would be once again the boom in the incorporation of Mindfulness techniques and emotional intelligence content in the classroom.
To what would you attribute the increased incidence of learning disorders in the child population? Do you think there is an overdiagnosis?
My opinion on this matter is somewhat ambivalent. Obviously, I am convinced that part of the increase in the number of diagnoses is due to the progress of science and the fact that today we know of psychopathologies whose nosologies at the beginning and middle of the last century went unnoticed, underestimated or wrong. Let us remember that initially autism was described as a kind of child psychosis, until Leo Kanner differentiated it in 1943. However, I also believe that recently it is moving to the other extreme, insofar as there are cases in which diagnoses are granted even though the criteria are not met in a sufficient quantitative or qualitative way. At this point I see clear pressure from the pharmaceutical industry to try to maintain a high volume of diagnoses that will allow them greater economic benefit, as is the case with the diagnosis of ADHD, for example.
On the other hand, as I said before, in a considerable proportion of the cases detected both the diagnosis of learning disorder and the nature of the evolution observed in the child is significantly influenced by emotional factors. Many times, low self-esteem or self-concept, lack of self-confidence and achievement motivation, difficulty in emotional regulation, etc., undermine the achievement of the main goals in the intervention of learning disorders, usually related to difficulties in reading and writing. For this reason, my opinion is that emphasis should also be placed on analyzing the factors that cause these emotional deficits, while working to improve the cognitive abilities that are mainly affected, obviously.
If you had to mention a series of values in which children are educated today and which were not so prominent in the schools of 20 years ago… what would they be?
In my opinion, and derived from the experience I have had working closely with schools, it is possible to differentiate very clearly the values that we try to transmit from the educational context to those that prevail in the more personal or family environment. In schools I observe a great deal of teaching work that tries to compensate for the harmful influence that can be derived from the media, social networks, the capitalist economic system that surrounds us, etc.
I could say that the teachers with whom I interact on a daily basis are very clear that today’s student should not be a passive recipient of instrumental knowledge, but should play an active role both in acquiring this type of knowledge and in being educated to live effectively in community. Examples of this would be the strengthening of their critical reasoning capacity and all those skills that will allow them to establish satisfactory interpersonal relationships such as empathy, respect, commitment, responsibility, tolerance of frustration, etc.
In the case of the family sphere, I believe that, although the importance of incorporating these adaptive values is gradually beginning to sink in, there is still a long way to go in this regard. I usually find myself faced with cases in which parents spend insufficient quality time shared with their children (although not in a premeditated way, in most cases) and this makes it difficult for the little ones to internalize the aforementioned skills. In my opinion, the influence of the values that characterize today’s society such as individualism, consumerism, competitiveness or quantitative results make it very difficult for families to inculcate learning that goes in the opposite direction on a more "micro" level.
How does society and the environment influence the way children regulate their emotions?
One of the problems that most frequently motivates consultations in my workplace is, in both the child and adult population, the poor ability to manage and adapt to emotional expression and lack of tolerance to frustration. This is very relevant since the reference figures for a child are their parents and it is very complex for the child to develop adaptive psychological capacities if they do not observe them in their role models, that is, family members and educators. I believe that today’s society is generating individuals who are not very "resilient", understanding resilience as the capacity a person has to overcome adversities quickly and effectively.
That is to say that in this society of "the immediate, of the quantitative or productive" the message seems to be transmitted that the more roles an individual plays, the higher level of success he or she will achieve: professional role, parent role, friend role, son/brother role, sportsman role -or all the hobbies the person may have-, student role, etc. The eagerness to embrace more and more vital competencies becomes an infinite loop, since the desire to go further and further or to achieve a new objective will remain constantly latent in the person. And obviously, the efficient assumption of so many simultaneous roles is impossible to achieve. At that moment, frustration appears, a phenomenon diametrically opposed to the resilience I mentioned at the beginning.
For all these reasons, one of the main objectives in the interventions that I carry out in most cases is to work on the identification, expression of the emotions and sensations of the moment, parking both the past and the future. I also prioritise learning to detect how language determines our way of thinking (based on judgements, labels, etc), trying to establish a balance between both elements. The philosophy that guides my work is aimed at making patients aware that it is advisable to learn to stop working with "the automatic pilot" and to stop "producing" constantly. Many studies advocate the beneficial effects of getting bored a few minutes a day.
In short, I try to teach that the key is in becoming aware of a given situation, because it is what allows one to choose what type of response to give consciously, instead of reacting to a stimulus in an impulsive or automatic way. And this facilitates a greater capacity to adapt to the environment that surrounds us.
The youngest population is the one that has been most intensely involved in the use of new technologies that many adults still do not understand.
On this issue, it is undoubtedly observable that the use of new technologies has changed the way we relate to the world in a very short period of time; the first smartphones were launched on the market only about 15 years ago. In the question of technology, as in most aspects, in my view, the key is not in the concept itself, but in the use made of it. Technology has brought medical advances and significant positive results in psychological therapy; virtual reality applied to anxiety disorders would be a clear example.
Even so, at the most individual level, I believe that the use of new technologies is certainly unbalanced towards excessive and deregulated consumption. For example, one of the most common situations that I find myself in consultation refers to the fact that the use of the tablet, console or mobile phone has replaced other traditional elements such as playtime in the park or the performance of a pleasant extracurricular activity as objects of punishment towards the child. It is also possible to see how, from the adolescent stage onwards, the constant sharing of all kinds of details of personal life on social networks is the order of the day. It seems that face-to-face conversations are no longer fashionable, but exclusively through the screen.
As a result, I believe that a sense of fear may be developing towards the idea that the uncontrolled use of this type of technological device is on the increase. However, I do not believe that the solution lies in a ban on their use, but in education for responsible and balanced use, both in terms of the type of content transmitted and the total time invested in their use. On this controversial issue, I would like to recommend the Black Mirror series to the interested reader; I must say that on a personal level its contents have managed to get him to adopt a new perspective on this issue.
What future projects would you like to embark on?
In the near future, I would like to direct my professional career towards further training in the field of the application of Mindfulness and Compassion in clinical practice. The truth is that since I chose this topic for my final research, my interest in this field is increasing. In addition, I would also be interested in the field of learning disabilities and emotional intelligence.
I believe that continuous training is an indispensable necessity to achieve optimum professional performance, especially in the field of clinical psychology and education, which are so closely linked to scientific advances. Finally, although I am very comfortable in my work in consultation, I am very interested in the research sector, although for the moment it is only an idea to be valued in the longer term.