Doing an Internet Interview on IHeart Radio

Today I did an internet interview with Dr. Carlos Vazquez on his “Circle of Insight” show on IHeart Radio. A few minutes after we finished, I got an email from Dr. Carlos indicating it was posted and ready to hear. Wow. Technology is amazing and it’s especially amazing when it works.

Here’s the link to the interview. Check it out if you like. Or ignore it if you prefer.

The show is titled: A discussion about Psychological Theories and how to talk to parents so they Listen with Dr. Sommers-Flanagan

This is what I look like when I do radio interviews.



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Counseling Culturally Diverse Youth: Research-Based and Common Sense Tips

This is a rough preview of a section from the 6th edition Clinical Interviewing. As always, your thoughts and feedback are welcome.

Counseling Culturally Diverse Youth: Research-Based and Common Sense Tips

Research on how to practice with culturally diverse youth is especially sparse. To make matters more complex, youth culture is already substantially different from adult culture. This means that if you’re different from young clients on traditional minority variables, you’ll be experiencing a double dose of the cultural divide. These complications led one writer to title an article “A knot in the gut” to describe the palpable transference and countertransference that can arise when working with race, ethnicity, and social class in adolescents (Levy-Warren, 2014).

To help reduce the size of the knot in your gut, we’ve developed a simple research- and common-sense list to guide your work with culturally diverse youth (Bhola & Kapur, 2013; Norton, 2011; Shirk, Karver, & Brown, 2011; Villalba, 2007):

1. Use the interpersonal skills (e.g., empathy, genuineness, respect) that are known to work well with adult minority group members. Keep in mind that interpersonal respect is an especially salient driver in smoothing out intercultural relationships.

2. Find ways to show genuine interest in your young clients, while also focusing on their assets or strengths.

3. Treat the meeting, greeting, and first session with freshness and eagerness. There’s evidence that young clients find less experienced therapists easier to form an alliance with.

4. Use a genuine and clear purpose statement. It should capture your “raison d’etre” (your reason for being in the room). We like a purpose statement that’s direct and has intrinsic limits built in. For example: “My goal is to help you achieve your goals . . . just as long as your goals are legal and healthy.” One nice thing about this purpose statement is that sometimes young clients think the “legal and healthy” limitations are funny.

5. Don’t use a standardized approach to always talking with youth about your cultural differences. Instead, wait for an opening that naturally springs up from your interactions. For example, when a teen says something like, “I don’t think you get what I’m saying” it’s a natural opening to talk about how you probably don’t get what the youth is saying. Then you can discuss some of your differences as well as you’re desire to understand as much as you can. For example: “You’re right. I probably don’t get you very well. It’s obvious that I’m way older than you and I’m not a Native American. But I’d like to understand you better and I hope you’ll be willing to help me understand you better. Then, in the end, you can tell me how much I get you and how much I don’t get you.”

6. Provide clear explanations of your procedure and rationale and then linger on those explanations as needed. If young clients don’t understand the point of what you’re doing, they’re less likely to engage.

7. Be patient with your clients; research with young clients and diverse clients indicate that alliance-building (and trust) takes extra time and won’t necessarily happen during an initial session

8. Be patient with yourself; it may take time for you to feel empathy for young clients who engage in behaviors outside your comfort zone (e.g., cutting)

I hope these ideas can help you make connections with youth from other cultures. The BIG summary is to BE GENUINE and BE RESPECTFUL. Nearly everything else flows from there.


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Take Me Home, West Virginia (and the platform for my presidential campaign)

Today, I finally found the best place to announce my candidacy for the President of the United States. It happened at the annual fall conference of the West Virginia School Counselor Association. I know what you’re thinking: There are hardly any better places than Charleston, West Virginia to spontaneously get a presidential campaign rolling.

My presidential ambitions probably won’t get me into the next Democratic or Republican debates. In fact, after announcing my intentions and getting a few responsive chortles, none of the West Virginians EVER mentioned it the rest of the day. It was just like the fall of 1974, when, as a senior and captain of my high school football team, I tripped during the opening celebratory introductions and fell flat on my face. Being embarrassed, angry, and disoriented . . . I exited sideways through the tunnel of fans. It was a bad omen for our season; we lost all 10 games. The incident was so exquisitely humiliating that NO ONE, not my parents, not my friends, not my coaches, and not even my arch enemies, EVER spoke of it. Some things are best left in the past where they belong.

As a part of my presidential announcement, I shared my political platform.

The road to economic vitality . . .
The road to environmental sustainability . . .
The road to excellence in health care and social support programs . . .
And the road to good government . . . always has and always will run through education.

Education isn’t part of a civil society. It’s the essence of a civil society. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is peace. Knowledge is justice. Knowledge is dignity. Knowledge creates the awareness that makes all these things possible. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “I hold these truths to be self-evident.”

It may be no surprise to find out that I’ve made this speech before. Nobody ever really listens. But it might be a surprise to learn that way back in 1775, John Adams the great architect of the American Revolution (and our 2nd President), articulated a similar belief. He wrote:

“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, NO EXPENSE FOR THIS PURPOSE WOULD BE THOUGHT EXTRAVAGANT” (McCullough, 2001, p. 103; the ALL CAPS are added for emphasis).

Even though they seemed unmoved by my campaign-launching announcement, in the moment, the West Virginians were fabulously supportive. That might have been because I promised, if elected, that I’d get them all the raises they deserve. They responded with applause. Now I understand why being a politician is linked to lying. I liked it when they clapped. I was tempted to keep on lying to keep them clapping.

But they do deserve raises. And their students deserve more school counselors. We have too little funding for schools ACROSS THE BOARD. So, why hasn’t that come up in any presidential debates? Why don’t any American politicians currently view the value of education as self-evident? Do Americans REALLY THINK we can perpetually underfund education and maintain health, humanity, and a functional government? I hope not. We can’t.

But the real purpose of this blog post—other than to kick-start my campaign donations—is to say thanks to the superb school counselors of West Virginia. It was a great day. It was an honor and a privilege to spend time with you. In particular, I owe BIG THANKS to Iestyn Bright and Christine Schimmel for making my appearance in Charleston possible.

And so, in conclusion, the keynote powerpoints are available here: WVSCA No Photos

And the break out session powerpoints are here: How to Listen for WVSCA No Photos

And a selfie of me with my new presidential campaign staff is here:



Posted by on November 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


Why is it so Easy to be Judgmental and so Hard to be Accepting? Reflections on Lamar Odom and Neighbors

I was writing today about unconditional positive regard. It’s such a warm and fuzzy and nice concept. We should always strive to accept the other person as a valuable and separate entity. Of course, that’s impossible. Even Rogers referred to “unconditional positive regard” as “an unfortunate phrasing” because the best we can hope for is intermittent positive regard.

Then, while writing about Rogers, I received a link in my email to an article about Lamar Odom. In case you’re not aware, Odom is the NBA basketball player in the news lately because he’s in the hospital after having a drug overdose at a brothel.

Here’s the link:

Then I read the article. And I recognized (again, for the seven millionth time) how easy it is to immediately judge another person—especially based on some quick media information. I always seem to rush to judgment . . . instead of thinking that there’s probably a better, more understanding, and more compassionate way of thinking about that person, in this case, Lamar Odom.

Living life in reality is much more difficult than living a life “in theory.” Many mornings I wake up feeling profound acceptance and connection. In that moment, I think I love everybody. And so while lying in bed, I commit myself to being perfectly accepting, loving, and compassionate. Typically, after getting up, I can’t sustain this commitment more than 15 minutes before judgmental thoughts begin raining on my acceptance parade. What makes it so hard to be accepting? What makes it so easy to judge others?

Of course, we shouldn’t judge Lamar Odom based on what we know of him from the media. That’s obvious. But even more importantly, we shouldn’t even judge our neighbors based on our direct experiences with them. There’s nearly always more to the story.

There’s nearly always more room for compassionate acceptance.

And besides the fact that we should all practice more compassionate acceptance just because . . . it’s also true that judging our neighbors too harshly almost always just ends up creating one sort or another of unpleasantness. It might be worth avoiding all that.

So, tomorrow, for my birthday, my goal is to make it 16 minutes into the day before the judgments start. Then I’ll have a real reason to celebrate.

John Casual


Posted by on October 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


Don’t let your Philosophical Beliefs Make you Less Professionally Competent

This is just a short rant that may find itself a home in a Putting It in Practice Box of the 6th Edition of Clinical Interviewing.

Over the years I’ve noticed students and professionals sometimes eschew what they view as the cold and rigid application of behaviorism in therapy. This is problematic for two big reasons. First, behavioral science isn’t necessarily cold and rigid. When applied to human clients, it can—and should be—warm and flexible. The idea that behaviorally informed therapists must be cold and rigid is patently false. They can be, but then they’re just being bad therapists.

Second, behavioral principles are operating everywhere all the time. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. Behavioral principles are so ubiquitous that we now label behavioral ignorance as “backward behavior modification” (Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2011, p. 39). Backward behavior modification occurs when individuals unintentionally reinforce undesirable behavior and ignore or punish desirable behavior. This often happens with parents and families and within individuals. Occasionally I want to shout out things like: “Of course you’re having trouble controlling your anxiety . . . IT’S BECAUSE YOU KEEP REWARDING YOURSELF FOR BEING ANXIOUS!!”

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be broadly existential or compassionately person-centered or dogmatically eclectic. You can be those and more. I’m also not saying everyone should become behavior therapists. That’s a dreadfully depressing idea. Our point: Please, don’t ignore one of the foundational sources of knowledge in the helping professions. We ARE social and behavioral scientists. And although sometimes the science doesn’t fit, if you ignore behavioral principles out of an allegiance to an alternative philosophical perspective, you do so at the expense of your own competence. Even worse, you do so at the expense of your clients’ welfare.

Mary Cover Jones

This is a photo of Mary Cover Jones. She was a behaviorist. She was neither cold nor rigid. Just thought you should know.

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Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


Evidence-Based Relationships: Three New Case Examples

September has been quiet for this blog as it included family traveling as well as immersion into the 6th edition revision of Clinical Interviewing. While re-working Chapter 7 (Evidence-Based Relationships), we developed three new case examples. As with all case examples, these are inspired by real cases of our own or of other professionals, but also include plenty of fictional components. The fictional components allow for concise articulation of specific learning goals, while preserving anonymity.

On a related note, one highly-esteemed reviewer of the 5th edition commented—repeatedly—that the text was filled with “bloat.” This was helpful feedback, albeit difficult. Ouch! And so we are striving in the 6th edition to consistently de-bloat everything:). What fun! Don’t worry; we’re still hydrating (this is exactly the sort of commentary that gets us into bloating trouble)

Here are the Case Examples.

Case Example: 7.1

Congruence across Cultures

Cultural identity has many dimensions (Collins, Arthur, & Wong-Wylie, 2010). In this example, during an initial clinical interview with an African American male teenager, the clinician is using congruence or authenticity across several different cultural domains.

Client: This is stupid. What do you know about me and my life?

Clinician: I think you’re saying that we’re very different and I totally agree with you. As you can probably guess, I’ve never been in a gang or lived in a neighborhood like yours. And you can see that I’m not a Black teenager and so I don’t know much about you and what your life is like. But I’d like to know. And I’d like to be of help to you in some way during our time together.

This clinician is being open and congruent and speaking about some of the obvious issues that might interfere with the clinician-client relationship. It would be nice to claim that this sort of openness always results in clinician-client connection, but nothing always works. However, as researchers have reported, there’s a tendency for congruence to facilitate improved treatment process and it also appears to contribute to positive outcomes, at least in a small way (Kolden et al., 2011; Tao, Owen, Pace, & Imel, 2015).

Case Example 7.2:

Intermittent Unconditional Positive Regard and Parallel Process

Michelle is a 26-year-old graduate student. She identifies as a White Heterosexual female. After an initial clinical interview with Hugo, a 35-year-old who identifies as a male heterosexual Latino, she meets with her supervisor. During the meeting she expresses frustration about her judgmental feelings toward Hugo. She tells her supervisor that Hugo sees everyone as against him. He’s extremely angry toward his ex-wife. He’s returning to college following his divorce and believes his poor grades are due to racial discrimination. Michelle tells her supervisor that she just doesn’t get Hugo and that she thinks she should refer him instead of having a second session.

Michelle’s supervisor listens empathically and is accepting of Michelle’s concerns and frustrations. The supervisor shares a brief story of a case where she had difficulty experiencing positive regard toward a client who had a disability. Then, she asks Michelle to put herself in Hugo’s shoes and imagine what it would be like to return to college as a 35-year-old minority person. She has Michelle imagine what might be “under” Hugo’s palpable anger toward his ex-wife. The supervisor also tells Michelle, “When you have a client who views everyone as against him, it’s all the more important for you to make an authentic effort to be with him.” At the end of supervision Michelle agrees to meet with Hugo for a second session and to try to explore and understand his perspectives on a deeper level. During their next supervision session, Michelle reports great progress at experiencing intermittent unconditional positive regard for Hugo and is enthused about working with him in the future.

One way to enhance your ability to experience unconditional positive regard is to have a supervisor who accepts your frustrations and intermittent judgmental-ness. If the issues that arise in therapy are similar (or parallel) to the issues that arise in supervision, it’s referred to as parallel process (Searles, 1955). This is one reason why when you get a dose of unconditional positive regard in supervision, it may help you pass it on to your client.

Case Example 7.6

Mutual Empathy – A Feminist Relationship Factor

Chantelle, a 25-year-old woman attending community college, came to the student health service for counseling. She was intermittently tearful as she described her abusive childhood. Her counselor, a 25-year-old female counseling intern, listened, paraphrased, offered feeling reflections, and stayed connected with the client through the stories and tears. At one point, the client expressed hate for herself and then described repeated scenarios where she felt coerced into providing sexual favors for males in her household in order to have access to transportation and food. With tears of empathic resonance in her eyes the therapist said, “I have this image of you in prison and the men in control only hand you the keys to temporarily go out on leave if they shame you by giving them sexual gratification.”

The client noticed her counselor’s emotion. In response she had a powerful emotional outpouring. Later, when asked about what was helpful in her work with the counseling intern, the client identified her counselor’s tears. She said that her mother and sisters always minimized and humiliated her for “complaining” about living in a home where she had food and shelter. For the client, the whole idea and experience of someone else having an empathic emotional response to her shame and self-revulsion played a big role in her healing.

And this is the end of the case examples. Comments–excluding comments about bloating–are always welcome.

R and J in Field

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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Uncategorized


Supplementary Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories Readings

Over the past four years I’ve written over 40 blog posts linked to teaching and learning the theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. While procrastinating on another project, I decided to organize these blog posts by topic. If you follow the links below, they’ll take you to blog posts relevant to specific theories. Included in some of these are a few links to short (and free) theories-based video examples. If you teach a theories course, you could select some of these links to assign students outside readings or you could peruse them yourself to stimulate a few lecture ideas.

Please note that if you use our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice textbook, there’s a bit of redundancy with the textbook’s content. However, if you don’t use the text, the material will be new to you and your students.

Chapter 1 – Opening and Overview

A Plan for Maximizing Positive Counseling and Psychotherapy Outcomes:

Teaching Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories: Reflections on Week 1:

Reformulating Clinical Depression: The Social-Psycho-Bio Model:

Chapter 2 – Psychoanalytic Approaches

Attachment-Informed Psychotherapy:

Chapter 3 – Adlerian Approaches: Individual Psychology

The Three-Step Emotional Change Trick:

A Parenting Homework Assignment on Natural and Logical Consequences:

More Than Praise — Other Ways Parents Can Be Positive With Their Children:

Chapter 4 – Existential Approaches

Reflections on Listening to Irvin Yalom at the ACA Conference:

A Short Existential Case Example from Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories . . .:

Chapter 5 – Person-Centered Approaches

Reflections on Magic:

Listening as Meditation on

An Interview with Natalie Rogers (Daughter of Carl Rogers) about Person-Centered Therapy:

Why Therapists Should Never Say, “I know how you feel”:

Carl Rogers and Brain-Science do an Empathy Smackdown in Chapter 3:

Chapter 6 – Gestalt Approaches

Go Go Gestalt: The Theories Video Shoot, Part I:

Chapter 7 – Behavioral Approaches

A Black Friday Tribute to Mary Cover Jones and her Evidence-Based Cookies:

Behavioral Activation Therapy: Let’s Just Skip the Cognitions:

Imaginal or In Vivo Exposure and Desensitization:

A New Look at Time-Out for Kids and Parents:

Information on Using Time-Out — Part II:

Talking with Parents about Positive Reinforcement:

Backward Behavior Modification:

Chapter 8 – Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches

Positive Thinking is Not (Necessarily) Rational Thinking:

How to Use the Six Column CBT Technique:

A Quick Look at the Collaborative Cognitive Therapy Process:

Tomorrow’s Election and Confirmation Bias:

Confirmation Bias on My Way to Spearfish, South Dakota:

Chapter 9 – Choice Theory and Reality Therapy

The Seven Magic Words for Parents:

Give Information and then Back-Off: A Choice Theory Parenting Assignment:

How Parents Can Use Problem-Solving Power:

Chapter 10 – Feminist Approaches

Opening Thoughts on Feminism:

The Girl Code by Ashley Marallo:

A Guest Essay on the Girl Code and Feminism:

Feminist Culture in Music:

Chapter 11 – Constructive (Solution-Based and Narrative) Approaches

Is Solution-Focused Therapy as Powerfully Effective as Solution-Focused Therapists Would Have Us Believe?:

Secrets of the Miracle Question:

The Love Reframe:

Chapter 12 – Family Systems Approaches

None posted on this topic. Obviously, I need help here.

Chapter 13 – Multicultural Approaches

Four Good Ideas about Multicultural Counseling and Psychotherapy—In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Good Ideas about Multicultural Counseling and Psychotherapy – Part II:

Cultural Adaptations in the DSM-5: Insert Foot in Mouth Here:

Psychic Communications . . . and Cultural Differences in Mental Status:

A White Male Psychologist Reflects on White Privilege:

Chapter 14 – Integrative Approaches

None on this chapter either.


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