Read a case study on the Davis counselling approach.

The Davis approach to working with people with dyslexia is based on the principle that dyslexic strengths and difficulties share the same root – the dyslexic thinking style. Dyslexics tend to think primarily through pictures and images rather than through the internal monologue used by verbal thinkers.

People who think in pictures tend to use global logic and reasoning strategies, capturing the whole picture rather than working through a process in sequential steps. When they are confused or intrigued by an object or situation, they will mentally move around and explore it from different viewpoints or angles. From this, they develop many abilities and talents in areas such as spatial awareness, creativity, practical skills, lateral thinking and problem solving.

However, picture thinkers may become confused by things that do not make sense to their non-verbal thinking style. With two-dimensional symbolic objects, such as alphabet symbols, they may not make the automatic sound–symbol connection. They may be less likely to use a phonic approach to reading or spelling, grouping a word like ‘leaf’ not with other words with similar sounds, but with ‘feather’ because they both float.

Functional high frequency words for which there is no instant mental picture also cause confusion. For example, the word ‘dog’ easily conjures up a picture, but it is difficult to make a picture for a word like ‘the’, apart from seeing the letters of the word itself. Davis practitioners refer to these words as ‘trigger’ words – the words that trigger confusion.

People with dyslexia become confused and stressed when this picture thinking process does not work. They will concentrate harder and become more tense, until the intense concentration causes disorientation. At this point, the senses become distorted and the brain will no longer receive accurate messages. This may manifest itself in print instabilitysubstitutions, reversals, transpositions, or omissions in reading or writing letters, words and numerals. Many dyslexics commonly garble or mishear words or the sequence of words in sentences. Their internal sense of time can also become distorted, their motor control can appear delayed or clumsy and balance and motion may be affected.

A Davis practitioner works with learners individually. A self-assessment process draws out their strengths, weaknesses and goals. Learners are then guided through a programme tailored to their need. A Davis programme will contain many elements and will be based around two key practices.

The first is to help the learner to establish a mental focusing tool that s/he can use to bring their mind back on track when disorientation occurs. These are simple visual or kinaesthetic mental exercises. Gradually, the learner becomes aware of moments of disorientation as they occur and learns to use the orientation process automatically whenever it is needed.

The second key practice is to work with the learner to deal with those things that triggered the disorientation in the first place. Typically, this will include work on alphabet, punctuation symbols, trigger words and other areas such as numbers.

The learner masters trigger words by making models of them in clay. They usually start by making and working on a clay alphabet and set of punctuation symbols. They use their focusing tool to make sure they are perceiving the letters accurately. This may be the first time a learner has perceived the alphabet accurately and can really get to know it.

They may move on to tackle trigger words (such as ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘of’) by discussing the meaning of the word and making a model of that meaning, together with the word itself. The combination of accurate perception and the elimination of confusion leads to improvements in areas like reading performance.

There are further specialist techniques for reading, maths concepts, handwriting and attention deficit difficulties. Strategies to help the learner address stress and energy levels, balance and coordination can also be used.

History of the Davis counselling approach

These methods have been used since the 1980s in the USA, when Ronald Davis, himself severely dyslexic, began to discover ways to overcome his difficulties and founded the Reading Research Council. Between 1981 and 1995 around 1500 students, adults and children, received a five-day Davis dyslexia programme at the centre. In those early years, practitioners also visited the centre and learnt Davis methods through an informal apprenticeship and applied or integrated methods within their own practice, as they felt appropriate.

Training and delivery of the programme was standardised in 1995 with the establishment of Davis Dyslexia Association International. Since that time, approximately 400 individuals in 29 countries worldwide have undertaken the full training programme and currently 312 of these are licensed as qualified facilitators. The methods are used in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, as well as in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.

The methods have been used in the UK since 1997. There are currently 26 qualified facilitators working in the UK and several others who are part way through the process. Additionally, there are many teachers, parents and others who have completed the first stages of the training.

Current usage of the Davis counselling approach

Trained Davis practitioners work in many countries worldwide. In Britain, there is an association of trained practitioners (known as facilitators) and training is available. Most facilitators work privately, although some are now working in schools and colleges. In the private sector, a client will work with a facilitator on an intensive 30-hour programme, usually over a week, with follow-up. In colleges and schools, the work will often be spread out over a longer period.

Training consists of a series of four- or five-day courses and a number of assessed assignments. Training is offered at different levels, from a four-day introduction to full qualification.

Where can practitioners find out more information?

The Davis Dyslexia Association UK website provides full information on courses and costs. Alternatively, people may write to:

Richard Whitehead (Director)
The Corner House Offices
High Street
Kent TN17 3DF
Tel: 08700 132945; Fax: 08700 469658

Detailed information on Davis methods, the organisation and research articles can be found on the Davis Dyslexia Association website

Read a case study on the Davis counselling approach.