What Is Consultation?

Consultation is a voluntary, nonsupervisory relationship between professionals. In the case of schools the professionals might include general education teachers, special education teachers, school psychologists, and visiting teachers. As students with disabilities are included in general education classrooms, special educators are called upon to serve in a consultative role.

What Is Not Consultation?

Supervision - The consultant should avoid supervisory functions including evaluative decisions, insisting that recommendations be followed, and overly structuring the meeting time.

Program Development - The promotion of a particular program or product may limit potential solutions to the needs of the consultee.

Collaboration - Theories on consultation differ on the limits of collaboration in a consulting relationship. In general, the consultee has the responsibility for implementing the recommendations. If the consultant becomes involved in implementation it is to model skills or increase the repertoire of the consultee.

Teaching - Consultants impart information but do so based on consultee needs. Consultants rarely impart an organized or specific curriculum.

Psychotherapy - In contrast to psychotherapy, consultation limits the focus to problems experienced by consultees in work settings.

What Are Guidelines for Consultation?

The consultee initiates the service.
The consultee may accept or reject consultative services.
The relationship is confidential.
The relationship deals only with professional problems.
The focus is on prevention.

The consultant goals include:

  • Providing an objective point of view.
  • Increasing problem-solving skills.
  • Facilitating coping skills.
  • Increasing resources available for handling persistent problems.
What Skills are Needed for Consultation?

Skills for effective listening include the following:

  • Acknowledging- words such as, really, right, yes, and good may be used to acknowledge what a consultee is saying. Acknowledging can communicate an interest in what the consultee is saying and an awareness of the emotional content of the message.
  • Reflecting- the process of repeating back the consultee's own words. Reflecting may underline the importance of some information or move the conversation in a particular way.
  • Paraphrasing- involves substituting synonyms for the words of the consultee. Paraphrasing should be offered tentatively to allow the consultee to confirm or deny the consultant's interpretation.
  • Summarizing- By listening carefully, a consultant can list back the important points of a conversation.
  • Clarifying- Clarification involves questions that invite elaboration on important points
  • Elaborating - building on what has already been discussed in a conversation. Elaborating on the consultee's idea can increase the likelihood that the consultee will accept the idea.

Nonverbal Skills:

  • Consultants should seek to convey interest in what the consultee is saying. This can be accomplished through body language, leaning forward slightly, maintaining eye contact and appearing relaxed and comfortable.

By practicing the skills and attributes of consultation, a special educator may more effectively work with teachers in providing services to students with disabilities.

Adapted from:
Conoley, J.C. & Conoley, C.W. (1992). School consultation: practice and training. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.