• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Friday 26th October, 2007

Listening Before Doing! A commentary on the Bennett Lecture:

The Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi said that the only effective mind is a “beginners mind” — one that is always open to revision, one that is not too attached to its current view. It takes real discipline to keep our minds open in this way.This year’s Bennett Lecture provided us with an especially powerful demonstration of how rewarding such discipline can be. The Lecture is a yearly time of celebration and reflection at the Prevention Research Center. It recognizes the stellar work of an internationally recognized prevention scientist, and the talks given as part of the Lecturer’s visit are just the tip of the iceberg. The lectures this week by Tom Dishion from the University of Oregon have been thoughtful and penetrating. But what struck me most in his numerous and well-known projects is his ability to listen to participants. It is his methodical and careful listening, not only in the moment, but also through the painstaking coding of video, that has allowed him to discover some of the most important insights into the processes of teen interactions and the needs of families.In his Wednesday lecture, on deviant peer process, he presented multiple studies illustrating how the moment-by-moment processes in teen conversations can catalyze deviant behavior in other teens, how teens who are deviant find each other, and how a 30-minute taped conversation in early adolescence of teen conversation with a close friend can uniquely predict who will show increased rates of delinquency years later. In Thursday’s lecture, he discussed over ten years work on the innovative “family check-up” model - a new model of family-based support that utilizes rapid feedback, motivational interviewing, and brief, strategic interventions to support parenting in the preschool and teen years. Again, one of the most important aspects of his work is how carefully he listens to the thoughts, needs, and desires of families at risk.While these talks were quite stimulating, it is when one goes below the surface that it really gets interesting: his daily conversations with multiple research groups, which I was fortunate to be able to sit in on, illuminated his success as a scientist studying complex phenomena. Dishion was clear that he is still learning — still working to keep the beginner’s mind — and his style of careful listening to teens and parents was also obvious in his interactions with faculty and student: listening attentively, knowing that every conversation might provide that spark of new insight.His work illustrates the finest level of prevention science. He begins by studying a basic phenomenon he believes is related to an important outcome - in this case the details of teens' peer interactions and the potential connection to delinquency and substance use. Second, he utilizes multiple measures drawing from developmental psychology, learning theory, mathematical models of chaos and entropy, and clinical insights to draw a complete picture of the interactional processes that lead towards greater risk for teens. Then he develops formulations of how we might best develop new intervention models that would lead to promoting healthy outcomes. Careful piloting further refines the intervention. Randomized trials then test whether the intervention actually does lead to desired outcomes. Finally, the trial outcomes feedback to improvements in the intervention. Listening to participants, listening to data, listening to colleagues.

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