For a psychology consultant to succeed in his work, he needs to engage well with his clients during the initial stages of their meeting. The consultation process consists of four stages, which include the “entry, diagnosis, implementation and the disengagement” stages (Dougherty, 2014, p. 54). This critique will concentrate on the entry phase since that is where Dr. Lindsey seems to have gone wrong.
The case scenario indicates that Dr. Lindsey had been contracted to find out the cause of high worker turnover in a local health center. According to Dougherty (2014), there are four phases of entry. The first phase involves exploring the needs of an organization. In this first phase, the consultant needs to engage other stakeholders (e.g. doctors in the health center and the employees therein). Such engagement enables discussions to occur, and resultantly, the consultant understands the best way in which to proceed with the consulting exercise.
Contracting is the second phase when entering into psychological consulting and involves acknowledging the expectations held by different parties, and agreeing on how best to meet them (Dougherty, 2014).
In contracting, the consulting agreement is formalized and things such as fees, expectations, and deadlines are agreed upon and indicated (mainly through writing) by the parties involved. Notably, even in-house consultants engage in informal contracting. For the informal contract to be applicable, there needs to be mutual consent between parties, and the consultant needs to get valid consideration (Makin, Cooper & Cox, 1996). Additionally, the competency aspect needs to be present, in that the in-house consultant should have the skills needed, while the clients should be made aware of the consultation process. The professional code of ethics in psychology consulting must also be followed during the consultation process.
The third phase in the entry stage involves a consultant “physically entering the system” (Dougherty, 2014, p. 54). The aforementioned ‘physical’ entry involves building relationships, studying the organization, contacting the client/client system, and beginning work in the subject organization (Cooper & Rothman, 2013). The third phase is important in psychology consulting because it determines the possible success or failure of the consultation (Brown & Brown, 2003; Cooper & Rothman, 2013).
The foregoing argument is informed by the fact that the physical entrance into a system as indicated above enables the consultant to forge a psychological contract with the client system. The components of the psychological contract include trust, open communication, and/or a sense of shared responsibility between the two parties to a contract (Cooper & Rothman, 2013; Rosenfield, 2004). Additionally, issues related to objectives of the consultation, rewards, and/or responsibility must be clarified during this phase.
The final phase in the entry stage of psychology consulting is “psychologically entering the system” (Dougherty, 2014, p. 54). This phase requires the consultant to be accepted in the client system (e.g. by the people in the organization acknowledging the need for consulting services).
According to Dougherty (2014), internal consultants need to build a strong rapport with the client system in order to be psychologically accepted, while external consultants need to forge a good relationship with the client system so that they can be considered temporally organizational members. The psychological entrance into a firm during consulting is not just a one-time thing; rather, Dougherty (2014) notes that it is a phase that goes on during the entire consultation process. In other words, the consultant needs to continually earn the trust of the client system.
A critique of how Dr. Lindsey carried out the entry stage of consultation
Dr. Lindsey assumed that the high turnover of workers at the local health center was the result of burnout among workers. Arguably, the foregoing was the wrong approach to entering a consulting relationship. The foregoing argument is informed by the fact that Dr. Lindsey assumed what was ailing the health center, without even consulting the director of the health center and/or the workers. He thus failed to engage the client system, and as a result, did not understand their needs.
His ‘solutions’ were therefore based on assumptions, which even the director of the health center – Dr. Gonzalez seemed hesitant to accept. Instead of using the initial meeting with Dr. Gonzalez to know more about the health center and its challenges in relation to worker retention, Dr. Lindsey chose to do most of the talking; even going to the extent of indicating how he would deal with the problem, which he incidentally knew very little about.
The second wrong approach by Dr. Lindsay was in the vagueness of just how long the consultation would last, the physical support he would need, and the materials he would need to effectively consult. Going by his answers, Dr. Gonzalez was wary, and this indicates a lack of trust. Arguably, therefore, Dr. Lindsay failed in developing a psychological contract with the top-most person in the organization.
According to Cooper and Rothman (2013), “the formation of a psychological contract depends to a high degree upon a good first impression or match between the consultant and the client system”. The foregoing means that even Dr. Lindsay’s casual dressing may have jeopardized the formation of a psychological contract, especially considering that Dr. Gonzalez’s manner of dressing was neat and formal.
The third wrong move on Dr. Lindsey’s part was requesting employees to come in early for the orientation, during which he showed them what the consultation process would be about, and his expectations for them. During the foregoing meeting, Dr. Lindsey did not consult the employees; rather, he imposed the conditions of the consultation on the workers. Chances are that his approach did not inspire any trust, and as such, he might have compromised a chance of being accepted as part of the organization’s in-group. The foregoing could mean that he was unable to physically enter the client system as indicated by Dougherty (2014).
Overall, Dr. Lindsey seems to have failed in exploring the needs of the health center. Secondly, He did not engage in contracting, especially because he lacked relationship-building skills. The foregoing absence of relationship-building skills ideally compromises his ability to ‘physically enter’ the client system as indicated by Dougherty (2014). Finally, the absence of a written or verbal contract (mainly as a result of Dr. Lindsey’s vagueness on such issues as time, materials, and support needed to complete the consultation) meant that contracting was not achieved by both parties. Contracting would have enabled Dr. Lindsey and Dr. Gonzalez (on behalf of the health center) to understand what was expected of each party.
A re-written scenario
After being appointed to handle the case of high worker turnover in a local mental health center Dr. Lindsey of the MCC makes a telephone call to the director of the center Dr. Sara Gonzalez to schedule a consultative meeting. On the appointed day, Dr. Lindsey dresses formally and leaves his office in good time. He arrives punctually and after introducing himself to Dr. Gonzales, asks to be briefed about the problem at the health center.
He listens attentively and takes notes, and occasionally, asks questions to clarify issues that he does not fully understand. At the end of the meeting, Dr. Lindsay indicates that, in order to fully understand the exact reasons for the high employee turnover, he needed to engage with the employees. He asks Dr. Gonzalez to indicate the best time to schedule an initial engagement session with the employees. The two settle for Wednesday afternoon. On Wednesday, Dr. Lindsay dresses formally and arrives in good time for the initial meeting with the employees. In the meeting, he introduces himself and indicates his reasons for visiting the health center.
He then engages employees about issues that motivate them, issues that satisfy them, and issues that cause them discomfort and/or discourage them from attending work. At the end of the meeting, he asks employees’ opinions regarding the best method of engaging them on a day-to-day basis. Would they, for example, like to meet him for a brief meeting at the end of each workday, or would they rather he visits and chats with them at individual workstations?
After the meeting, Dr. Lindsey compiles a preliminary report about his engagement with the workers, in which he indicates the preferred methods of consultation, the materials, resources, and time needed to accomplish the task successfully. Dr. Lindsey then joins Dr. Gonzales for tea/coffee in the Health center’s cafeteria, during which he presents the preliminary report and asks for Gonzales’s opinion/input on the same. In the end, the two agree on the best way of conducting the consultation, the timeline, and the resources needed for the same.
Brown, R., & Brown, T. (2003). Handbook of pediatric psychology in school settings. New York: Routledge.
Cooper, C., &Rothman, I. (2013). Organizational and work psychology: topics in applied psychology. New York: Routledge.
Dougherty, A. M. (2014). Psychological consultation and collaboration in school and community settings (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
Makin, P.J., Cooper, C.L., & Cox, C.J. (1996). Organizations and the psychological contract. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.
Rosenfield, S. (2004). Consultation as dialogue: the right words at the right time. In N.M. Lambert, I. Hylander & J.H. Sandoval (Eds.), Consultee-centered consultation: Improving the quality of professional services in schools and community organizations (pp. 337-347). New York: Erlbaum.