‘I was just thinking’

Cognitive self-reports and engagement with feelings-talk in child mental health assessments


  • Ian Hutchby University of York
  • Michelle O’Reilly University of Leicester
  • Alison Drewett University of Leicester
  • Victoria Stafford University of Leicester




child psychology, conversation analysis, emotional and behavioural difficulties, epistemics, expert–lay discourse, feelings-talk


Based on a corpus of child mental health assessment meetings, this article explores how practitioners use reports on their own cognitive processing, such as I was just thinking or I’m just wondering, in interaction with children and adolescents presenting with potential mental health issues. Using the methods of conversation analysis, the findings reveal different ways in which this device is used to encourage the child to engage with a particular topic, interpretation, or version of events from the standpoint of subjective experience; in other words, to produce feelings-talk. The analysis contributes further towards the understanding of child–adult interaction in professional arenas of action: in this case child mental health assessments.

Author Biographies

Ian Hutchby, University of York

Ian Hutchby is honorary professor in the Department of Sociology, University of York, and a Visiting Researcher in the Greenwood Institute for Child Health, University of Leicester. His research uses conversation analysis to investigate the situated social competencies of children interacting with adults in everyday and institutional settings such as child counselling, family therapy and child mental health assessments.

Michelle O’Reilly, University of Leicester

Michelle O’Reilly is associate professor of communication in mental health at the University of Leicester, Greenwood Institute for Child Health. Her joint activities between the university and Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust centre on qualitative research in child mental health, with a focus on family therapy interactions and child mental health assessments.

Alison Drewett, University of Leicester

Alison Drewett is a specialist speech and language therapist with Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. Her recent research, based in the Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, is a conversation analytic approach to investigating decision-making in mental health hospital ward rounds for autistic patients, particularly around requests for home leave and discharge.

Victoria Stafford, University of Leicester

Victoria Stafford teaches children with special educational needs in the primary school sector, and is a doctoral graduate and Visiting Researcher in the Greenwood Institute for Child Health, University of Leicester. Her research interests centre on the discourse practices of child mental health assessments, using conversation analysis.


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How to Cite

Hutchby, I., O’Reilly, M., Drewett, A., & Stafford, V. (2021). ‘I was just thinking’: Cognitive self-reports and engagement with feelings-talk in child mental health assessments. Research on Children and Social Interaction, 4(2), 145–167. https://doi.org/10.1558/rcsi.17650