The 2015 Counselor Education Graduation Speech I Didn’t Give

This is the transcript of the 2015 Graduation Speech for Counselor Education I didn’t give. I should note, I wasn’t really invited to deliver a speech, but since I’m in Absarokee and can’t attend graduation, I’m pretending this is the speech I would have given. In other words, I’m making all this up.

The Speech

Graduation speeches are supposed to be lightly profound with a substantial dose of inspiration. Well . . . this one, not so much.

Seriously? Like you didn’t know this speech would be different?

After all, two years ago (or maybe three or four years ago for some of you who are extra special), you all enrolled in a graduate program in . . . COUNSELING. Basically, what I’m saying is that something in your rational brain snapped and you let an empathic, compassionate, impulse to help others for the rest of your life take over and start making your BIG life decisions for you. You know you did. And your family and friends know you did. I’m just naming the elephant in the room by saying it in public

I’m proud to say that I’m proud of you for that. And this is coming from someone who basically hates and avoids the word proud. That’s partly because pride is one of the seven deadly sins and it goeth before a fall and all that. I just thought you should know how hard it was for me to say that I’m proud of you . . . which makes me think in my head that I almost feel a little proud of myself, which I would never, of course, say out loud, which I’m not doing now because if there’s anything I certain of, I’m certain that you can’t hear my thoughts.

But what I am saying is that I’m glad you made the decision to forsake nearly all of the materialistic messages given to you, heretofore (I really like saying things like heretofore, especially during graduation speeches), by contemporary society. Just think, if everyone went down the evil road of materialism we wouldn’t even have graduate programs in counseling where people like you spend good money to learn how to listen well and help others, while not making very much bank. You know what I’m talking about.

My point is, you’re just DIFFERENT and unless your faculty forgot to tell you, you should know that by now. And my other point is: that’s why you should have known this would be YET ANOTHER LECTURE and not some sappy, emotionally inspiring speech. And the reason for this is that in the business you’ve chosen to practice . . . learning NEVER ENDS . . . and so I don’t want to give any of you the wrong impression that somehow graduating means you get to stop learning. You don’t. I’m here to tell you that.

This leads me to my lecture, the title of which is something like:

Everything I Should Have Taught You Over the Past Several Years,

But Because You All Talked Way Too Much In Class I Didn’t Have Time.

And I should mention that this lecture could take anywhere from a few minutes to several days. Please. There’s no need to thank me. You’ve earned this.

Let’s start with you taking notice of the imprecision I used in stating my lecture title. I said, “. . . something like.” This is our first and most important lesson for the day. When it comes to counseling humans, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we can be precise. This is why you chose to study with us touchy-feely-counseling types over here in the College of Education instead of running over with your calculators to psychology where you could be a scientist (at this point in the speech I’m making an enigmatic face that makes you wonder if I’m praising psychology as a science or making fun of psychology for just having lots of irrational cognitions about being a science). This is why you set collaborative goals in counseling and not unilateral goals.

As Salvadore Minuchin said a couple of decades ago at a workshop here in Missoula, “Don’t be too sure.” I like that message.

And now although I’m not too sure about whether what I’ve got planned next is a good idea, it’s something I feel compelled to teach you. After all, prior to this last year’s holiday party, when there was an opportunity for Karaoke and, in the humble way that you’ve come to know as characteristic of me, I sent you all an email explaining that I had co-invented Karaoke in 1973 in Mike Bevill’s basement and consequently was happy to provide everyone with Karaoke lessons, the response was COMPLETE EMAIL SILENCE. Consequently, how could I not conclude that either you (a) have debilitating Karaoke anxiety, or (b) have low Karaoke-esteem, or (c) are uninformed as to the benefits of Karaoke, or (d) all of the above, or (e) only a and b?

Hopefully you got the answer to that rhetorical question correct, because here comes the Karaoke lesson.



Of course, before I start, as I like to say in my classes and workshops, you can always pass on this experience and if you so choose, please do so by doing what many of my teenage clients do – ignoring me – which may or may not involve you placing your hands over your ears and humming or laying your head on your arm and snoring.

The first rule of Karaoke is, as the late Bill Glasser would have said—had he ever had the good sense to lecture on Karaoke—“Your goal should be within your personal control.”

This rule has several implications, but most importantly, it speaks to song and wardrobe selection. Specifically, you always want to select a Karaoke song that’s within your range and within your wardrobe. I cannot emphasize this enough. For example, although I very much like the song . . . “This Girl is on Fire” I tried singing it and it didn’t go well.

As you can infer from the photo below, choosing the wrong song can be embarrassing and beyond your control. Don’t do it . . . unless it’s part of your shame- attacking treatment plan.

Peg and John Singing at Pat's Wedding

So, obviously, pick a song that fits your voice and your gender stereotypes.

The second rule is all about song lyrics and so I’ve made up another rhyme to help you auditory learners remember. That is, “To function to the best of your ability, you should embrace your multicultural humility.”

What I’m saying here is that, as you know, many pop songs have lyrics that are racist, sexist, and sexually explicit. To maintain our multicultural sensitivity (and humility), it’s important to either (a) avoid songs with insensitive or sexualized lyrics (which is why I never sing Lady Gaga’s song that includes the line about her not bluffin’ with her muffin) or (b) change the lyrics on the spot (for “Say a Little Prayer for You” I like to substitute, “Do a little non-denominational mindfulness meditation for you.” It works fine, you just have to say the words very quickly) or (c) just mumble when the offending lyrics appear.

The third rule can also be captured with a nifty, easily memorized rhyme: “An alcoholic drink, will not help you think.” It also won’t improve your judgment or make you look more impressive to your audience. I hope what I’m saying here is clear. Just like when you’re providing professional counseling, when doing Karaoke, it’s best to be squeaky clean and sober. I should add, contrary to popular belief, drinking alcohol will NOT MAKE YOU A BETTER DANCER. Although the caveat to this is that if OTHERS are drinking alcohol during your performance, it might make them THINK you’re a better dancer.

The corollary to this rule is that evidence-based Karaoke-ers use dancing to optimize their performance. This probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, “Be solution-focused and go with your strengths!” If your voice is bad or the lyrics are bad or you’re so nervous you’ve lost your ability to read, DANCE BIG. I did this a few years ago when I planned a rap to the Simon and Garfunkle tune “Feeling Groovy” and it quickly became obvious that the audience mostly wanted to watch my radical rapping dance moves and so I just went with that. The fact that no one at that party will talk to me anymore is irrelevant. I think it’s mostly because I intimidated the heck out of them and so they’re afraid to approach me now. I should note that this is a particular cognition that my counselor and I decided I shouldn’t test . . . so I’m just going with it. Here’s a photo of that performance. Apparently all the video recordings were lost or burned.

John Rap

The fourth and final Karaoke rule is this: “A pill is not a skill . . . but Karaoke is a thrill.” What this means is that if you want to grow up to be a bad-ass Karaoke singer like me, then you have to practice, practice, and then practice some more . . . because as they say about counseling and counselors, all we ever do is practice.

There is no final performance.
There is no end to your learning.
And this is not my final goodbye to you.

I will be thinking of you all and wishing and hoping you the best success in whatever you choose to practice, knowing that I’ve had the excellent fortune and gift of time with you and that I’ve come to believe deeply in your ability, skill, compassion, and character.

One time when I was working with a dad and his son in counseling, the dad got right in his son’s face and delivered him a message that he would never forget. And so I want to end by sharing that message with you in hopes that you will hear it over-and-over in your brain:

“I will always be proud of you.”

Thanks for listening. Thanks for reading. Thanks for watching.

And thanks for being different.

P.S. I’m available for Karaoke tutoring and supervision and I can show you some hand movements, that, in particular, will blow your mind and insure an unforgettable Karaoke experience.


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The Art and Science of Clinical Interviewing (in Chicago)

In about 10 days I’ll be on my way to Chicago to video-record five short lectures on Clinical Interviewing. Alexander Street Press is producing this video project and Dr. Sharon Dermer of Governor’s State University is hosting. The project is titled “Great Teachers, Great Courses.” [This is pretty cool and my thanks to JC for getting me included.]

I’ll be recording the morning of Tuesday, May 19, which happens to be just before Debbie Joffe Ellis, who just happens to be the wife of the late Albert Ellis. She asked to switch times with me and so I obliged, noting in an email to Dr. Dermer:

Sure. I can do morning. Besides, if I said no I would end up with the Ghost of Albert Ellis’s scratchy voice in the back of my head saying things like, “What the Holy Hell is wrong with you?”

I’d just as soon avoid that.

All this is my slightly braggy way of explaining why I’ll be writing about five upcoming blogs on Clinical Interviewing. Here we go.

What is a Clinical Interview?

Definitions can be slippery. This is especially true when our intention is to define something related to human interaction.

One of my favorite descriptions of clinical interviewing is scheduled for inclusion in the forthcoming “Handbook of Clinical Psychology.” Mostly I suppose I like this description because I wrote it (smiley face). Here it is:

In one form or another, the clinical interview is unarguably the headwaters from which all mental health interventions flow. This remarkable statement has two primary implications. First, although clinical psychologists often disagree about many important matters, the status of clinical interviewing as a fundamental procedure is more or less universal. Second, as a universal procedure, the clinical interview is naturally flexible. This is essential because otherwise achieving agreement regarding its significance amongst any group of psychologists would not be possible. (page numbers tbd)

When it comes to formal definitions, it’s clear that clinical interviewing has been defined in many ways by many authors. Some authors appear to prefer a narrow definition:

An interview is a controlled situation in which one person, the interviewer, asks a series of questions of another person, the respondent. (Keats, 2000, p. 1)

Others are more ambiguous:

An interview is an interaction between at least two persons. Each participant contributes to the process, and each influences the responses of the other. However, this characterization falls short of defining the process. Ordinary conversation is interactional, but surely interviewing goes beyond that. (Trull & Prinstein, 2013, p. 165)

Others emphasize the development of a positive and respectful relationship:

. . . we mean a conversation characterized by respect and mutuality, by immediacy and warm presence, and by emphasis on strengths and potential. Because clinical interviewing is essentially relational, it requires ongoing attention to how things are said and done, as well as to what is said and done. The emphasis on the relationship is at the heart of the “different kind of talking” that is the clinical interview. (Murphy & Dillon, 2011, p. 3)

From my perspective, the BIG goals of this “different kind of talking” can be broken into two main parts: (1) ASSESSMENT and (2) HELPING That said, I’m likely to further break these two main parts into four interrelated and overlapping parts that may or may not be formally including in a single clinical interview:

1. Establishing a therapeutic relationship
2. Collecting assessment information
3. Developing a case formulation or treatment plan
4. Providing a specific educational or psychotherapeutic intervention

What are the Goals of a Clinical Interview?

[In the following two paragraphs I’m including a more wordy and erudite way of saying the preceding . . . which is one of the things that we academics are wont to do. I should note these paragraphs are excerpted from my entry in the Encyclopedia of Clinical Psychology (2015). This piece, very recently published, is cleverly titled, “The Clinical Interview” and coauthored with Drs. Waganesh Abeje Zeleke, and Meredith H. E. Hood.]

Perhaps the clearest way to define a clinical interview is to describe its purpose or goals. Generally, there are four possible goals of a clinical interview. These include: (a) the goal of establishing (and maintaining) a working relationship or therapeutic alliance between clinical interviewer and patient; research has suggested the relationship between interviewer and patient is multidimensional, including agreement on mutual goals, engagement in mutual tasks, and development of a relational bond (Bordin, 1979; Norcross & Lambert, 2011); (b) the goal of obtaining assessment information or data about patients; in situations where the goal of the clinical interview is to formulate a psychiatric diagnosis, the process is typically referred to as a diagnostic interview; (c) the goal of developing a case formulation and treatment plan (although this goal includes gathering assessment information, it also moves beyond problem definition or diagnosis and involves the introduction of a treatment plan to a patient); (d) the goal of providing, as appropriate and as needed, a specific educational or therapeutic intervention, or referral for a specific intervention; this intervention is tailored to the patient’s particular problem or problem situation (as defined in items b and c).

All clinical interviews implicitly address the first two primary goals (i.e., relationship development and assessment or evaluation). Some clinical interviews also include, to some extent, case formulation or psychological intervention. A single clinical interview can simultaneously address all of the aforementioned goals. For example, in a crisis situation, a mental health professional might conduct a clinical interview designed to quickly establish rapport or an alliance, gather assessment data, formulate and discuss an initial treatment plan, and implement an intervention or make a referral.

What Happens During a Clinical Interview?

The range of interactions that can happen during a clinical interview is staggering. This could partly explain why we (foolishly) wrote a textbook on this topic that’s 598 pages long and includes an instructional DVD.

My son-in-law says one good way to get a flavor for any book is to put together the first and last words. In this case, our Clinical Interviewing text reads (not including the front or back matter), “This . . . culture.” To give you a further taste of “This . . . Clinical Interviewing . . . culture,” here’s a modified excerpt from the text:

Imagine sitting face-to-face with your first client. You carefully chose your clothing. You intentionally arranged the seating, set up the video camera, and completed the introductory paperwork. You’re doing your best to communicate warmth and helpfulness through your body posture and facial expressions. Now, imagine that your client:

  • Refuses to talk.
  • Talks so much you can’t get a word in.
  • Asks to leave early.
  • Starts crying.
  • Tells you that you’ll never understand because of your racial or ethnic differences.
  • Suddenly gets angry (or scared) and storms out.

Any and all of these responses are possible in an initial clinical interview. If one of these scenarios plays out, how will you respond? What will you say? What will you do?

From the first client forward, every client you meet will be different. Your challenge or mission (if you choose to accept it) is to make human contact with each client, to establish rapport, to build a working alliance, to gather information, to instill hope, and, if appropriate, to provide clear and helpful professional interventions. To top it off, you must gracefully end the interview on time and sometimes you’ll need to do all this with clients who don’t trust you or don’t want to work with you. (pp. 3-4)

In my opening Great Teachers, Great Courses lecture I’ll be focusing on the definition of the clinical interview and then limit myself to describing and demonstrating about 18 different interviewing “behaviors” or responses that clinicians who conduct clinical interviewing have at their disposal. These behaviors are named and organized into three categories. And so to help myself stop writing this blog and get back to work, I’ll wait and write about them later.



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Dandelion Day: First Paddle of 2015


This is my friend Gary’s blog. He likes to stay under the radar. But he’s such a good writer that I want to share this anyway and he never told me not to. So there. That’s what I like to say. John SF

Originally posted on ospreypaddler:

I hope I’m wrong, but I have a sense that this summer may be hot and dry with all the consequences we’ve come to expect. The best paddling this season might be in May or June rather than later in the year. When the forecast for a Tuesday in late April predicted 75 degrees and waves less than a foot tall, I decided to ignore the laundry, dandelions in the front yard and my need for a haircut, as well as a few more serious responsibilities.

IMG_2482After winter, even a mild one by Montana standards, I need reassurance that life at 47 degrees latitude shows signs of rejuvenation. On a scale larger than my back yard or the slope leading down to the stream I want to see evidence of the generative and recuperative power of the earth. I want to see arrowleaf balsamroot in bud and bloom, a bee…

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Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Uncategorized


A Little Something on Cancer, Privilege, Gratitude, and Anger

Things here on my blog have been pretty quiet. This is mostly because about three weeks ago, my wife (Rita) was diagnosed with endometrial clear cell cancer of the uterus. This is a very bad cancer. Take my word for it; it’s better not to read about it online.

In response to this bad news, our Harvard-trained physician daughter (Chelsea) told us, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” But then she sprinted to her phone and did some networking magic, somehow setting up two different surgery appointments within the next week with the best docs in the region (she made two appointments for two different surgery types because she didn’t have the CT scan results and didn’t want to wait to nail down the appointments). Then she miraculously dropped everything to fly from Orlando to Seattle to arrive in time for the pre-surgery appointment. Both Rita and I were immensely happy to have Chelsea present before, during, and after the surgery. Somehow having a HMS-trained physician with you through this experience is good medicine. Go figure.

Chelsea’s husband, Seth, spontaneously decided to fly our other daughter (Rylee) up from her studies at Stanford Law School to join us. I have only one word to describe how it was to have Chelsea and Rylee with us for this part of the journey: GRATEFUL. Well, maybe two words: IMMEASURABLY GRATEFUL.

Early in this process, one of Rita’s favorite lines was, “Having cancer is so inconvenient.” She’s pretty funny. She’s also tough and smart and peaceful. Instead of “fighting” the cancer (which our surgeon agreed is passé), she’s offering it a friendly exit. Good bye cancer . . . you’re not needed here in the least bit. You can just sprout wings and gently fly away.

My response, which I usually keep to myself, is more like, “This is totally fucked up.” And I should mention here that I don’t really use profanity in my life. But this is fucked up because my wife, who was looking forward to retirement, is now looking forward to days when she doesn’t feel like puking. And it’s fucked up because this is a woman who was living just about the healthiest lifestyle possible. She was already drinking vinegar. Last summer she grew over 500 organic onions. She ran every other day for as long as I can remember. She conscientiously drank ½ a beer ever day (for her cholesterol). She made her own granola and put whole wheat and soy milk and vegetables and flax seed on everything.

About 10 days ago, after Rita’s surgery and before chemo started (this past Wednesday), I fulfilled an obligation to do a two-day professional workshop in Missoula. When I said yes back in October, I recognized that the topic—grief—was slightly outside my comfort zone. But it was a special two-day event for one of my favorite charitable organizations (Tamarack) run by one of my favorite people (Tina Barrett) and I have trouble saying no . . . so I said yes . . . and then by the time the workshop arrived, the topic of grief or anticipatory grief had drifted several miles away from my comfort zone. And so I over-prepared, put myself on auto-pilot, and dissociated my way through two emotional days with a group of astounding people dedicated to helping people work with and work through powerful grief.

My best coping strategy was to lay down two ground rules for emotional survival and explain them to the 90+ participants. Rule 1: “I know you’re all compassion-freaks here, and so you simply cannot approach me during breaks and look at me with your empathic eyes and ask, ‘How are YOU doing?’” Rule 2: “During breaks, please don’t talk to me about cancer.” Every one of the wonderful participants complied.

It seems like forever that I’ve been prone to anger and irritability if things don’t go my way. After embarrassing myself for about 20 years, I learned to mostly hide it. But right now there’s an angry and nasty part of me ready for someone to “make my day.” I know this is a little crazy and clearly stupid . . . but that’s one of the many dimensions of my emotional life right now.

One of the worst things about anger is that it’s nearly always linked to self-righteous indignation. It just feels right . . . in the moment. Of course, anger also has a way of leading to regret. Right now I’m just a few synapses and neurochemicals from instant regret. All it takes is one tiny annoying stimulus and aggressive images take over. I see myself smashing whatever appears smashable. I hear myself swearing at anyone who blocks my path. I’m millimeters from flipping off drivers, small children, the television, and other minor annoyances.

The good news is that so far, other than repeatedly mumbling WTF to myself, I’m relatively under control.

In my personal tornado of self-pity and anger, it’s easy to forget my privilege. While my wife was in the hospital my daughters and I hopped from hotel to hotel. At one point, while working out at a 4-star hotel fitness center, I looked outside and saw two Black guys sit down next to a concrete wall in an alley and proceed to work a drug deal. I saw them passing money and then smoking crack while I finished my first-world workout.

As angry as I am over my wife’s diagnosis and miserable treatment protocol, I can also see my pain is first-world pain. While I go through this, I have my Harvard and Stanford daughters with me. I have a comfortable hotel and the only drug deals I’m doing are with the Starbucks app on my smartphone. Chelsea got Rita into the best surgeon in the region in less than a week after her initial diagnosis. And the surgeon sat with us, patiently answering all our questions before and after the surgery. For the post-surgery consult, Chelsea was Skyped into the room.

But first-world pain and suffering is still pain and suffering. Rita is way stronger than I could be through this, but she can’t help but worry. Every ache and itch feels like cancer. I can’t even think about the things that she worries about missing. No one should minimize these painful worries. But, at the same time, our White daughters are highly unlikely to have a police officer shoot them in the back . . . or stop them for having a defective brake-light.

On this planet humans live in many different worlds. Our particular world happens to overflow with privilege. Don’t get me wrong. We’re miserable. For one reason or another, we’re moved to tears every day. But just as often as not, our tears are tears of gratitude. Rita is courageously staring down 18 weeks of chemo and one week of radiation. But we have good medical insurance. I’m taking time off from work to walk with her as best I can through this . . . but I’ve got an awesome job and incredibly supportive colleagues who cover for my absence. When there was a possibility that our insurance might not approve a CT scan, within hours two friends had teamed up to get us into an alternative medical center and to pay for the scan themselves. Our friends and colleagues and family have been fabulous. We’re running a miserable sad and angry marathon, but it’s got some sprinkles of gratitude.

Neither of us imagined this road in our future. Neither of us really embraced the idea that, over 29 years ago, we were getting into this relationship for, as Jon Carlson recently said at a conference I attended, “for better AND for worse” not “for better OR for worse.” The worse always comes. No one can stop it. Sooner or later everyone faces hard times. We’ve been healthy and happy and although our hard times are hard, they’re just a little softer with our privilege.

But in the end, all my intellectual reflections about privilege don’t take the edge off my anger. And it doesn’t shrink the immense sadness and disappointment. Sometimes it even makes me feel sadder, because things could be worse and having it bad and hard makes me also realize how much I’ve been ignoring all the bad hard things happening to everybody else.

I worked with a teen boy once who said, “I don’t get sad, I get pissed.” At this particular moment in time, I totally get what he was saying. For now, I prefer the strength of my anger over the vulnerability of my sadness. So watch out. If you look at me with your empathic eyes you might need to be ready to have compassion for my rage . . . because that’s way easier to talk about right now.


Posted by on April 27, 2015 in Personal Reflections


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Check Out the April 2015 Issue of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling for an Article on Evidence-Based Relationship Practice

This is an excerpt of the first portion of an article I had the honor to publish in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling. My thanks go to Rich Ponton, the JMHC editor for both his patience and for making this article possible. The first 835 words of the article follow. For the whole thing, you can go to the JMHC website:

Competence in mental health counseling is inevitably complex and multidimensional. Ironically, the complexity can become overwhelming when well-intended professionals work together to identify the knowledge and skills counselors need to be considered competent. A good example of this is the standards defined in 2009 by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program (CACREP, 2009). To establish competence in mental health counseling, the standards require that counselor training programs integrate into their curricula eight core knowledge-based standards and six specialty standards. The eight core standards are splintered into 67 learning objectives and the six specialty standards into 61 critical knowledge and skill components that must be measured as student learning outcomes (Minton & Gibson, 2012). To further elaborate the complexity, the American Mental Health Counseling Association (AMHCA, 2010) has its own Standards for the Practice of Mental Health Counseling.

The myriad standards mean that counselor educators and counseling students must determine exactly how the 128 CACREP competencies (many of which are clearly unrelated to actually doing counseling) and the AMHCA clinical and training standards together translate into mental health counselor competence. Although meeting this challenge can be intellectually exhilarating, moving from the standards to how mental health counselors should act in the room with clients is far from intuitive.

This article represents an effort to gather evidence-based practice (EBP) principles and describe them in terms of practical behaviors or approaches that contribute to counselor competence and positive client outcomes. Although considering the standards conceptually is necessary and sometimes helpful, the purpose of this article is to present a straightforward EBP model that can be tailored to fit different theoretical orientations and individual counselor styles.

What Is Evidence-Based Mental Health Counseling Practice?
Historically, the counseling profession has not had a strong science or research emphasis (Sexton, 2000; Yates, 2013). In fact, a PsycINFO title search of the top five professional counseling journals revealed only 12 articles over the past 15 years that had “evidence-based” or “empirically-supported” in their titles (the journals were Counselor Education and Supervision, Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation; Journal of Counseling and Development; Journal of Mental Health Counseling; and Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development). In a systematic review, Ray and colleagues (2011) reported that only 1.9% of articles in counseling journals are concerned with outcomes research. No wonder, as Yates (2013) wrote in Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation, “Despite the recommendations for infusing outcome research and evidence-based practices (EBPs) into the counseling profession, there still exists uncertainty and confusion from educators and students about what EBP is” (p. 41).

In some ways it is right and good that professional counselors have a less scientific orientation than related disciplines. After all, mental health counseling evolved, in part, as an alternative to treatments provided by psychologists and psychiatrists (Gladding, 2012). This less rigorously scientific approach may partly explain why the public usually views professional counselors as more “helpful, caring, friendly . . . , and understanding” than psychologists and psychiatrists (Warner & Bradley, 1991, p. 139). The purpose of this article is certainly not to make a case for professional counselors to become more rigidly scientific but rather to help counselors embrace practical and relevant scientific research while maintaining a friendly interpersonal style and a wellness-oriented professional identity (Mellin, Hunt, & Nichols, 2011).

Like all words, the terms used to describe evidence-based counseling and psychotherapy are linguistic inventions designed to communicate important information. Unfortunately, evidence-based terminology has by now evolved into what might best be described as Babel-esque. Therefore, before outlining an evidence-based mental health counseling model, I look briefly into the politics, history, and usage of evidence-based terminology.

Evidence-based terminology originated in medicine, spilled over into psychology, and from there made its way to professional counseling, education, social work, prevention, business, and nearly every other corner of the first world. Recently I was at a conference where the keynote speaker described not including purple on Powerpoint slides as a best practice. Although no doubt the speaker’s comments were based on something, I was not convinced that the something had anything to do with scientific research.

In mental health treatment, at least some of the confusion about EBP originated in 1986, when Gerald Klerman, then head of the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), remarked in a speech to the Society for Psychotherapy Research (perhaps with irony) that “We must come to view psychotherapy as we do aspirin” (quoted in Beutler, 2009, p. 308). Klerman was promoting the medicalization of psychotherapy as a means to compete for limited health care dollars. He was advocating scientific analysis and application of psychotherapy for specific ailments. The use of aspirin as his medical analogy was ironic because, although the active ingredient in aspirin is well-known (acetyl salicylic acid), until the early 1980s little was known about how and why aspirin worked—and even today there remain mysteries about aspirin’s mechanism of action and range of application. However, like aspirin Klerman’s comments had a specific effect but also triggered gastrointestinal side effects in some professionals .



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Grief Institute Powerpoints on Suicide Assessment and Intervention

The link below takes you to the powerpoints for Day one (4/16/15) of the Grief Institute:

Suicide for the Grief Institute

Clinical Interviewing

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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


Nice Review

Victor Yalom of recently emailed us a copy of a review of our Clinical Interviewing DVD. This is a wonderful review from someone we’ve never met . . . but we think we’d like him. He’s a professor at Western Illinois University.
Here’s an abstract of the review.
Interviewing with humanity intact.
By Knight, Tracy A.
PsycCRITIQUES, Vol 60(9), 2015, No Pagination Specified.
Reviews the video, Clinical Interviewing: Intake, Assessment & Therapeutic Alliance by John Sommers-Flanagan and Rita Sommers-Flanagan (2014). This video blends the procedural with the human in a way that will enhance and deepen the training of mental health professionals. Beyond describing the most valuable guidelines of clinical interviewing, John and Rita Sommers-Flanagan provide multiple illustrative interviews with clearly nonscripted participants. Most importantly, the Sommers-Flanagans discuss both the information as well as the interviews, displaying both their depth of knowledge and perhaps the most important attributes of gifted clinicians: humility and curiosity. They not only provide a map, therefore, but also fully display and describe the landscape that interviewers and their clients traverse. The DVD includes seven distinct areas of focus, each one building on the previous. Initially, the authors succinctly describe basic listening skills, including both nondirective and directive approaches. Their definitions are clear and evocative, and during the sample interviews, the distinct attributes of the therapist’s actions are listed for viewers. This sets the stage for the authors’ subsequent discussion, during which they explore the dynamics of the sample interview and lucidly discuss important human factors. The reviewer concludes this video offers both knowledge and wisdom, providing students and trainees with an approach to clinical interviewing that makes the process more efficient, while always respecting the beating heart of humanity that rests within it. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved)
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Posted by on March 8, 2015 in Clinical Interviewing


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