The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

Projective techniques: using psychology to support new SEND arrangements

How can schools benefit from taking a psychodynamic approach to provision under the SEND reforms and Children’s and Families Act? 

What is a psychodynamic approach?

‘Psychodynamics is the interplay of motivational forces that gives rise to the expression of mental processes, as in attitudes, behaviour, or symptoms’. (Definition from The Free Dictionary)

Our current trainee educational psychologist is undertaking work for her thesis on An exploration of the use of projective techniques by Educational Psychologists in the UK. This has afforded many fascinating discussions about how the implementation of SEND reforms, specifically the focus on outcomes for young people, opens up the opportunity for a psychodynamic approach.

These discussions have developed my views on outcomes and aspirations for young people and the potential that projective techniques could be better aligned to new ways of working than current assessment models and methods.

What are projective techniques?

Projective techniques are rooted in psychodynamic theory. As we have a therapeutic support model (which we’ve been developing over the last ten years), projective techniques would appear to be well-aligned to our provision.

I am, however, aware that although projective techniques have been used for over 50 years, some consider them controversial (Chandler, 2003).

Yet the underlying theory from research is that humans have a tendency to interpret the world in terms of their own experience, and to extend their inner attributions to the outer world.

Therefore, I feel that due to the often free-form response received from projective techniques, and directing an analysis in terms of the individual rather than demanding a right or wrong answer (Chandler, 2003), this model creates an exciting area to develop.

Also, it seems to me, it is much closer aligned to the EHC plans and family-centred work resulting from SEND reform.

Aside from specific reform, it is also an area of personal interest, starting from a project I worked on with the University of Northampton entitled Notions of Self: how we become who we are, a few years ago.

Taking a psychodynamic approach

Linnenbrink-Garcia & Pekrun (2011) emphasise how emotions permeate pupils’ educational experiences. This link between emotions and academic achievement highlights the importance of considering approaches involving the emotional life of children and young people, in addition to academic outcomes.

In a school such as mine - a maintained, comprehensive and inclusive community school - we find a multi-professional team that works on a number of different levels and with many different stakeholders is a good way of creating a successful whole-school approach to provision.

Currently, within our key staff, we have a psychotherapist, speech and language therapist, trainee educational psychologist and drama therapist working with our staff, young people and parents/carers regularly. We also support other schools, as part of partnership arrangements for example.

Through discussions with our trainee EP it would appear that there is a lack of research addressing emotions in educational psychology literature (Efklides & Volet, 2005). Others have more positively highlighted the use of psychodynamic thinking for effective teamwork (Dennison, McBay & Shaldon, 2006) and the importance of psychodynamic concepts in understanding relationships, especially involving children (Billington, 2006), within the EP role.

I see considerable possibilities in developing our existing work and building upon our solution-focussed therapeutic approach, as part of a whole-school system.

With the growing focus on addressing mental health issues in schools, we need professionals with a holistic and wide ranging skillset in order to enable all pupils to get more out of their school and home lives.

The use of projective techniques may increase participation and access for more young people; maybe a new approach to assessing and supporting young people can be developed in schools?

What's next?

As we head into the final year of implementation of the reforms, it's time for SENCOs to reflect on current success, set clear action plans for next steps and leave with a renewed focus on your provision.

Join us for the 15th annual SENCO Update, Thursday 25th May 2017 in London. Register now to secure your place! 

You can expect to:

  • learn how to evidence the impact of your school’s SEND provision at your next inspection
  • gain strategies to establish accurate baselines, set effective targets and track and monitor progress
  • learn how to incorporate destination data, child aspirations and softer skills into a meaningful view of successful outcomes.

Register your place here

Related content


  • Billington, T. (2006) Psychodynamic theories and the ‘science of relationships’ (Bion):
  • A rich resource for professional practice in children’s services. Educational & Child Psychology,23(4), 72-79.
  • Chandler, L. A. (2003). The projective hypothesis and the development of projective techniques for children. In C. R. Reynolds & R. W. Kamphaus (Eds.), Handbook of psychological and educational assessment of children: Personality, behavior, and context (pp. 51-65). New York: Guilford
  • Dennison, A., McBay, C., & Shaldon, C. (2006). Every team matters: The contribution educational psychologists can make to effective teamwork. Educational & Child Psychology,
  • 23(4), 80–90.
  • Department for Education (2014) Children’s and Families Act, London.
  • Department of Health (2015) Future In Mind, London.
  • Efklides, A., & Volet, S. (Eds.) (2005). Emotional experiences during learning: Multiple, situated and dynamic. Learning and instruction, 15, 377–380.
  • Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Pekrun, R. (2011).  Students’ emotions and academic engagement: Introduction to the special issue. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 36, 1, 1-3.


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