Using Feedback to Address Difficulties

A colleague and I played phone tag for a few weeks trying review results of a child I had evaluated. When we finally connected, I was relieved to learn that the child was in very capable hands and that the parents were equally encouraged by what they were witnessing in their child. This process got my colleague and I talking about what had transpired in my feedback with this family that they decided to take our recommendations this seriously. We arrived at a few principles that I think are helpful across many settings.

  1. Questions Answered: Patients and their loved ones typically approach providers chiefly because they would like to get relief from something causing them distress, whether a physical, emotional, cognitive, or academic matter. At some point in the relationship, providers need to give clear answers to patients and their families. In the instance where my colleague and I recently collaborated, I recalled that even the child sat across from me nodding their head in agreement with our findings and recommendations. The questions that we answered included three basic issues: “What is going on? Why is it happening? What can be done about it?”
  2. Experiences Normalized: Clients and their loved ones take great comfort knowing that their situation, although quite challenging, is likely not an isolated occurrence – meaning, “you are not alone.” This knowledge that others have encountered similar struggles, and that a considerable amount of research has gone into finding solutions, often brings relief. I can think of no better illustration than my young client asking, “so you mean I’m not some crazy psycho?” In life, it is easy to think that we are alone in our struggles, whereas there are others shouldering similar difficulties. Feedback allows providers to help clients recognize that there is a vast community of others successfully working through situations that are somewhat close to the clients’ experiences.
  3. Hope Instilled: For me as a neuropsychologist, one of the greatest delights of our work is to watch the excited faces of individuals taking encouragement from feedback. I recall a 12-year-old boy who arrived at feedback with his dad, his face showing considerable disinterest in being back at our office. As we talked about his strengths, he wiped his hair off his face, sat up, and said to his dad, “I always knew I was smart, but something is getting in the way.” The change in demeanor said it all. We, as providers, carry the ethical responsibility of communicating our results in simple, clear tones that allow for everyone – no matter their background – to make sense of their results. Further, if we are fortunate, we may witness all kinds of positive changes right before our own eyes.


Whether patients come to our office or visit a different provider, the least they can expect is clear communication and recommendations about their needs.

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