Emotional Availability

Best Practices 

BEST PRACTICES IN GENERAL EA USE  

After training many hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of professionals in the EA system and in conducting 3 extensive reviews of the literature (beginning in 2014) and at present working on a 4th review, many lessons have been learned.  Among these important lessons include that having natives to a particular country code their own tapes is very important, and the decision to train professionals to do their own coding has been a good one.  If you are working in an international context, ideally, your coders should be native, but on some occasions, the native investigators are coding immigrant samples and so this is not always possible, within the resources of a particular team. To the extent possible, having translation is important, because without that translation, you are mainly coding nonverbal communication.  While EA in the early years is predominantly guided by nonverbal signs, nonetheless, many statements can convey endearments as well as hostility, and sometimes there is mismatch between what a parent says and how they are saying it.  With that said, parents and children in refugee camps (where it is so loud that it is not possible to understand what they are saying to each other) have been successfully coded. On the other hand, it is not possible to code parent-child interaction if you are not seeing the face of both and so the face does need to be visible and not covered, and close enough to see facial expressions of emotion.  Unfortunately, studies looking at ethnic/race matching with respect to observational work have not been done and so we cannot say if this would be a good idea.  When my colleagues and I have conducted work on different sub-cultures in the US, we have not sought out coders with the same background, simply due to resource issues.

Another topic that often comes up is the version of the system that is still acceptable to use.  If one is conducting a longitudinal study, and started with the 2nd (published in 1993) or 3rd edition (published in 1998) of the EA System, it may be challenging to switch to the newer 4th edition.  Aside from such studies, it is time to update so that we can all speak the same language and do not need to “translate” across editions. It is also a problem related to training and use in that there has been no training on these earlier editions since 2008, and 15 years is too long to go without upgrading and/or recalibration.  Authorized EA training/certification is not forever for anyone.  

Related to this is that there is no such thing as an “expert scorer”, as sometimes professionals refer to themselves in publications if they have been doing coding for a long time.  There is no such thing as an expert coder and certainly no external expert coding service–you would need to join a research team at an intellectual level (and hopefully, through co-authorship) and be committed to doing inter-rater reliability with another partner, refresher trainings, and abide by all other aspect of the guidelines outlined here.   On occasion, my students, associates, and I have done coding for other research labs, but this practice has been discontinued and instead, checks on reliability for the investigators is offered. This modification is in line with no one being an expert coder, including the method developer.

It is important that:

  • professionals be trained through an authorized training route, as outlined on this website; if not, they are practicing outside their scope for the use of evidence-based instruments, and should identify as a “casual user”;
  • use the 4th edition, unless continuing a longitudinal study;
  • use the system as designed–adaptations require prior permission;
  • describe the system in narrative format, rather than with scale points, which can mis-lead a quick reader/scanner, despite the authors’ best efforts to be clear that they are not depicting the “real deal”;
  • use the term emotional availability or EA, preferably in the title and hopefully throughout (so that it can easily be located and contribute to the coherence of the EA field) rather than other similar sounding terms;
  • typically, at least one of the authors is EA certified.

BEST PRACTICES FOR REPORTING IN A PUBLICATION  

Using an evidence-based assessment is similar to the use of an evidence-based intervention, in that it should be conducted as designed and reported in a standard way. Please make sure to include the following so that those reading the articles can also abide by the dissemination guidelines for this evidence-based work, including practitioners who typically locate tools of interest by reading the research articles and often follow the lead of published accounts.   

A minimalist example of what can be written is as follows, and helps the reader identify key aspects, such as the edition used, duration of observation, context of filming, authorized training, and reliability of said coders:  

A 15-minute parent-child free play with knights and princesses was videorecorded. Instructions were to “be together” as you normally would. Two raters attended an authorized online training using the 4.1 edition of the EA System (EA® System, https://emotionalavailability.com, accessed on 25 November 2022) (Biringen, 2022; Biringen, 2008; Biringen et al., 2014). After certification of each coder through authorized training, inter-rater reliability of the first 10 cases was achieved, and then 20% of the whole sample was coded by these coders. Intraclass correlations were conducted for each of the scales and the EA Clinical Screener exceeded .75 in each case, and for the 4-classification EA zones, kappas ranged between .80-.85. At least one of the authors (Dr. Jones) in this publication is a trained/certified EA coder.  

SPECIAL MENTION OF BEST PRACTICES FOR PRACTITIONERS  

Given EA is an evidence-based system, any professional using the system should abide by the above, researchers and practitioners alike. Mere attendance at an authorized training (online or in person) is never sufficient.  Setting aside the time for a reliability test is sometimes challenging for practitioners, but it is so very necessary so that you represent yourself accurately to parents, to legal professionals (if that is your line of work), and to other professionals.  However, being certified in EA BASIC does not mean practitioners are now experts–what it means is that there is a minimum level of competence to use the system and they, too need to do refreshers/recalibrate!   Because practitioners will not have a “sample” on which to obtain additional inter-rater reliability, the inter-lab reliability with us is viewed as sufficient.  All other aspects of “best practices” described above still apply.  

Just like researchers, practitioners are asked to train as a “group” (with a minimum of 2 people in the group), and these professionals within the trained group can help provide consultations on challenging cases. Periodically, practitioners (either individually or as part of their agency) are encouraged to ask for Community of Practice master consultations (1 to 1 ½ hour consults with the developer) to continue to grow their expertise. Such Community of Practice is often what is needed (beyond the simple inter-lab reliability required for initial certification) to really help practitioners to richly evaluate their cases. Ethics approval (e.g., addition of the developer’s name or your “group” members’ names to protocols) or parental consent to show your videos via zoom is often what is needed. Practitioners working with the court system should request our template which attempts to educate attorneys and judges about the EA System and provides a convenient way to present your EA findings so that they can be most useful to children and families.