In this issue, AFCPE’s Research to Practice Task Force is introducing a twist to the typical research brief. This format is designed to summarize the research, share personal realizations from a practitioner, and encourage dialogue amongst researchers, practitioners, and educators.
As you read research, ask yourself: Did you have an “Aha moment?” Can you apply these learnings to your practice? Or does it raise new questions and/or research opportunities for you?

If you enjoy this format, visit the AFCPE blog. At least every other month, the Research to Practice Task Force will continue this series as part of #ReseachWednesday.

Discourse Analysis for Evaluating Financial Counseling” by Dr. Charlotte Zeamer (Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 2020)

Quick Summary:

Discourse analysis is a research tool that analyzes conversations to identify best practices and areas of improvement.  Using it to understand the quality of financial counseling and coaching practices is relatively new, but one pilot program provides helpful insights into how we, as practitioners, can measure our impact.

What I Learned: 

Measuring impact is important. It is difficult to measure success and impact, and all too often the focus is more quantitative than qualitative. As practitioners, how do we know we are doing well, beyond our basic satisfaction surveys? At a deeper level, there are several unique client aspects to consider such as characteristics, emotional state, relationship with counselor, client involvement with financial literacy and learning, in addition to measuring the effectiveness of counseling and the client evaluation of the counselor.  These personal aspects impact our counseling and coaching of personal finance which in turn can impact financial habits; therefore, it is something that could be added in the measurements of success. 

Key Insights: 

Clients are all motivated enough to attend a session to solve a particular problem. However, many of our clients attend a session feeling nervous, helpless or guilty. We should recognize that clients benefit from the emotional support just as much as they benefit from the technical advice. The research showed that clients report feelings of pleasure, empowerment and gratitude for the feelings of respect they sensed from their counselor. Helping clients recast experiences of frustration to hope and encouragement is an important aspect of a successful counseling or coaching session. People want to feel good about themselves, and they often like emotional support and appreciate homework or to-do lists to provide accountability.

My “Aha” Moment:  

I can evaluate my own service. The evaluation process can feel somewhat overwhelming. As a single practitioner, tools are often limited or just not available. Yet, from this research, I see that there are simple steps I can follow to evaluate my own service. Using the research insights, I created a list for self-reflection and self-evaluation – questions that I can ask myself after each session that address the basics of compassion, structure, follow-through, and providing room to grow. These are all essential for personal and financial success. Did I:

  • allow my client to bring their full selves to the session, being open to discussing personal issues?
  • first learn about [get an update on] their lives or current situation (life events, relationship issues, employment issues, etc.)?
  • connect emotionally (trusting) and provide financial education?
  • help them identify goals, create clear problem statements, and identify concrete and measurable next steps?
  • address real problems, or did we focus on minutiae and turned that into problems (just part of smaller issues instead of serious issues)?
  • remind my client of access to financial education skill building resources?
  • use easy-to-use learning or training materials?
  • set up appropriate check-ins based on severe financial difficulty or emotional stress?
  • guide the session by paperwork?  For example, reviewing the budget is not the best use of time?

Using these questions, consider taking a few moments after your session for a critical review. Thinking about how you can help your clients advance towards their goals can help you not only identify your client’s progress, but also your own performance as a counselor and coach!

What do you think?  How do you use evaluation in your practice? Join the conversation in the AFCPE Connected Community.

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