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J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2009 February; 18(1): 70–71.
PMCID: PMC2651221

Brief Intervention for School Problems

Reviewed by John C. LeBlanc, MD, FRCPC
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Reviewed by Danielle Quigley

Brief Intervention for School Problems.
Murphy, Duncan .  The Guilford Press,  New York,  2007.   210,  US $30.00. 

Murphy and Duncan’s 2nd edition of Brief Intervention for School Problems is a fresh perspective on client-practitioner relations and intervention-based solutions for school problems experienced by children and youth. The authors take an applied academic look at school issues and intervention and have produced an interesting and pertinent read for school practitioners, trainees and new professions, as well as researchers in this field. The book is focused on relevant issues in intervention: the importance of client-practitioner alliance, recognition of the client’s voice, story and abilities, and continual thorough evaluation of implemented interventions. Topics covered in the book range from assessing individual maladjustment to ways to empower the client. The authors engage the reader in an examination of students’ disruptive behaviour, poor academic performance, and internalizing problems like anxiety and depression. They even dedicate an entire chapter to the controversial topic of medicating children.

The authors provide a theoretical framework backed up by empirical research on which to construct interventions as well as practical guidelines and vivid examples. These illustrations bring their intervention guidelines to life. Their organized chapters are well rounded with useful bulleted guidelines and thorough conclusions throughout.

Murphy and Duncan highlight the importance of the alliance between the practitioner and the client. They stress the absolute necessity of agreement on tasks and goals of the intervention and they present research that is evidence to this need: the strength of the alliance predicts dropout rates and outcome of intervention, even at follow-up tests.

Their take on this subject gives due respect and consideration to the client and her or his capability and voice. Acknowledging the beliefs, situations, and events that lead clients to where they are allow the practitioner to better understand and therefore approach an individualized intervention. An implicit assumption of their guidelines is that the client is the vehicle of change. A strong belief in the client’s own abilities to overcome and solve problems and eliciting awareness in the client of her or his own abilities can lead to positive outcomes.

Collaboration is integral to the success of the client-practitioner alliance. The authors promote the initiation of this collaborative process at the first meeting and every moment of every meeting thereafter. When each moment is taken advantage of to its fullest value, both client and practitioner can feel that the productivity is high and intervention will inevitably take less time. Brevity of the intervention doesn’t come at the cost of intensity and value.

Of utmost importance to the book is the core value: think small to create big change. Recognizing smaller, perhaps seemingly insignificant details in the client’s story and using those small strengths, delights, tools of change, or whatever else they may be, to facilitate a larger change in the client’s life is an often overlooked but critical strategy for change.

The authors also stress the importance of continued evaluation of the intervention process and outcomes. Without evaluating the success of the intervention, we are more likely to believe we’ve been successful simply because an intervention is in place. Soliciting client feedback again encourages clients to become full partners in this process.

This book, although focused on addressing school problems, takes into account all facets of the life of the individual having the problem(s). Individual considerations and home life considerations are considered as influences on the individual’s life in the classroom, instead of considering the classroom as an isolated environment. Much of the book is devoted to finding solutions based on the many environments and strengths elsewhere in the student’s life and sometimes incorporating those into classroom strategies.

Brief intervention for School Problems is a well-organized and thorough look at the intervention, the client and the practitioner. Murphy and Duncan examine practitioner philosophies, theories and models of intervention through the critical lens of evidence-based practice. Their client-based approach is refreshing and necessary in the field today.


Articles from Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry are provided here courtesy of Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry