Upcoming Workshops: L.A., Chicago, Morgantown, and Greensburg (outside Pittsburg)

Rainbow 2017

October is almost always a big month for counseling and psychology conferences and workshops. This October is no exception. I’m posting my October workshop presentation schedule here, just in case you want to say hello and possible collect some continuing education credit.

On Thursday, October 5, I’ll be in Orange County for the California Association for School Psychologists conference. Here’s a link: https://event.casponline.org/#intro

On Sunday, October 8, I’ll be in Chicago for the Association of Counselor Educators and Supervisors to present on the Mental Status Examination with Thom Field of the City University of Seattle.

On Thursday, October 12, I’ll be in Morgantown, WV for an afternoon workshop with counseling and psychology students from West Virginia University.

On Friday, October 13, I’ll be in Greensburg, PA (just outside Pittsburgh) for an all-day workshop sponsored by Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The link: https://www.iup.edu/counseling/centers/upcoming-workshops-and-events/

Today is the first day of Autumn . . . I hope this signals the end of hurricanes, floods, fires, and other challenges so many people are facing.

 

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Weekend Listening: The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is BACK!

John and Ry and Photo

You know you’ve been waiting for this moment, ever since Season 1 of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast ended with a thrilling cliffhanger.

And now, your long wait is suddenly over.

Today is the world premier of Season 2 of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast. You may be wondering: Did Rachel get back together with Ross? Who shot J.R.? Will carnage ensue in GoT Season 8?

As important as they are, the PPPP promises to answer none of the above. Instead, we will rivet your attention with a swashbuckling episode titled, “Technology as a Barrier or Bridge to Family Relationships”

Here’s the trailer (er, description):

This OPENING episode of Season 2 of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is positively packed with information and tantalizing tips. TECHNOLOGY and SCREEN TIME is a huge issue for many parents. In this captivating episode, Dr. Sara and Dr. John are talking back to technology; they’re saying, “Hey technology, we’re taking you down! Well, not really. But the episode does include a range of AMAZING insights and tips to help parents understand and deal with the dangers and opportunities of technology and screen time. When you tune in, be sure to listen for:

  • Sara’s obsession with using contracts to manage her children’s screen-time
  • A clip from Dr. Dimitri Christakis’s TEDx Ranier talk where he provides a fun critique, partially narrated by Dr. Sara, on Baby Einstein (to watch Dr. Christakis’s full talk, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoT7qH_uVNo
  • How much a baby’s brain grows from birth to age 2 (can you guess?)
  • John’s four tips for raising children with healthy brains
  • Christakis’s three stage theory about how constantly changing screens contribute to children having attention problems
  • Sara’s and Dr. John’s thoughts on the appropriate use of technology and screens for families

Don’t wait. Sit your children down in front of the television (not serious here), grab your favorite personal device, and listen to your favorite podcasters launch themselves into SEASON 2!

To listen on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

To listen on Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/technology-as-a-barrier-and-bridge-to-healthy-family-relationships

Email your ideas, reactions, hopes, dreams, questions, and commitments for underwriting support to: johnsf44@gmail.com

 

 

Evidence-Based Relationship Factors in Counseling and Psychotherapy

The medical model of psychotherapy . . . has led us to accept a view of clients as inert and passive objects on whom we operate and whom we medicate. Gene V. Glass, in The Great Psychotherapy Debate, 2001, p. ix

John and Max Seattle

In a 1957 publication in the Journal of Consulting Psychology, Carl Rogers boldly declared:

  1. No psychotherapy techniques or methods are needed to achieve psychotherapeutic change.
  2. Diagnostic knowledge is “for the most part, a colossal waste of time” (1957, p. 102).

Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on what Rogers was saying.

**PAUSE HERE FOR SERIOUS REFLECTION**

If diagnosis is a waste of time and therapy techniques are unnecessary, then what can counselors or therapists do to produce positive outcomes? Here’s what Rogers said:

All that is necessary and sufficient for change to occur in psychotherapy is a certain type of relationship between psychotherapist and client.

Rogers’s revolutionary statements refocused counseling and psychotherapy. Until Rogers, therapy was primarily about theoretically based methods, techniques, and interventions. After Rogers, writers and practitioners began debating whether the relationship between client and therapist—not the methods and techniques employed—might be producing positive therapy outcomes.

This debate continues today. Wampold (2001) has called it “the great psychotherapy debate.” This debate has been boiled down to a dichotomy captured by the question: “Do treatments cure disorders or do relationships heal people?” (Norcross & Lambert, p. 3).

Keep in mind that like lots of things on planet Earth, the techniques vs. relationship debate promotes a false dichotomy. IMHO, most “rational” professionals understand that therapy relationships and techniques are BOTH important to positive outcomes. Seriously, how could it be otherwise?

But there is a positive outcome from this debate. Various researchers around the world started focusing on how to define specific relationship factors that contribute to counseling outcomes. Previously, these relationship factors were lumped into a category called “common factors.” Common factors were viewed as the main reason why all therapy approaches tend to produce approximately equal positive outcomes.

Flowing from research on common factors, one of the most fascinating and important movements in counseling and psychotherapy is now called, “Evidence-based relationships” (Norcross, 2011). As it turns out, there’s a large body of existing and accumulating research to help us clearly identify what’s relationally therapeutic.

In the attached link, you’ll find the powerpoint slides that Kim Parrow and I developed for a supervisor training yesterday, at the University of Montana. Our goal was to describe, demonstrate, and discuss 10 specific and observable relationship factors that contribute to positive counseling outcomes. We call them Evidence-Based Relationship Factors (EBRFs). They include:

  1. Congruence
  2. Unconditional positive regard
  3. Empathic understanding
  4. WA1: Emotional bond
  5. WA2: Goal consensus – Focus on strengths
  6. WA3: Task collaboration
  7. Rupture and repair
  8. Countertransference (management)
  9. Progress monitoring (feedback)
  10. Culture and Cultural Humility

The link at the bottom of this post will take you to our powerpoint slides. Also, for more information, you can always check out various theories textbooks, including Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice (from which this blog was adapted). https://www.amazon.com/Counseling-Psychotherapy-Theories-Practice-Resource/dp/1119084202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504292029&sr=8-1&keywords=counseling+and+psychotherapy+theories+in+context+and+practice

EBRFs for Supervisors 2017 FIN

Counseling Theories Lab Activities

With Wubbolding

Hi All.

Below I’m pasting links to a variety of lab activities that I’ve used in teaching Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories. Although I’ve got a textbook that I’d love you to use: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1119084202.html, this post is about free stuff that I’m happy to share to help make your theories teaching experiences more practical and more fun.

Here are the activities:

This is a short guide to conducting an Adlerian Family Constellation Interview: Chapter 3 Family Constellation Interview and Earliest Memories

This is a short guide for doing and debriefing a person-centered interview: Chapter 5 Person Centered Activity

Dreamwork can be enlightening. This guide helps students explore each other’s dreams: Chapter 6 Jungian and Gestalt Dream Work

This handout helps your students practice conducting a behavioral or cognitively oriented symptom interview. Chapter 7 Analyzing Symptoms Interview

This isn’t really an activity, just a sample Ellis ABCDE form. Chapter 8 Ellis ABCDE

These two handouts provide tips for doing a CBT Six Column intervention, as well as a sample Six Column form, filled out using an angry teen example. Chapter 8 Six Column CBT Tips  and Chapter 8 Six Columns Youth Anger Example

Here’s a video clip (just a snippet) of me doing a CBT example:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ8hNDHoyDU

This is an interview activity to give students and role-play clients a taste of solution-focused interviewing: Chapter 11 Solution-Focused Activity

I hope these materials are helpful for you. As always, if you have feedback to share, you can share it on this blogsite or via email: johnsf@mso.umt.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefits and Limitations of Rhyming and Alliteration

Smoky Sunrise Aug 2017

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-rhyming and I’m not anti-rap.

Truth is, I think rhyming slogans are pretty darn cool. Ask my students, I use them all the time. Here are a few that have been known to slip out my mouth and into a class lecture from time to time:

  • A pill is not a skill.
  • Get curious, not furious.
  • Your goal should be within your personal control
  • To function to the best of your ability, you should embrace your multicultural humility
  • An alcoholic drink, will not help you think (better)

The benefits of rhyming (and I daresay, alliteration) is that messages emerge with might and mass, which makes them more memorable. What I meant to say here before my alliterative self took over is that rhyming produces a powerful and memorable message. That’s the good news.

The “less good” news (as us therapist types like to say) is that rhyming and alliteration, although clever and appealing, usually don’t capture ALL OF THE TRUTH, and, are often misleading.

All this initial commentary is my way of leading up to my recent critique of the liberal use of a couple of F-words (nope, I’m not talking about “Fire and fury” although that could be an alliterative example of something that’s simply not soothing the simmering psyches of people who need to settle down). Instead, the target of my critique today is the all-too-common utterance, “Fight or flight.”

What follows is an excerpt of a slight rambling rant that was included in my keynote speech at the Montana Prevent Child Abuse Conference this past April.

The context: I had just shown a video of a Harvard professor who happened to mention (without checking with me first) the clever and popular phrase, “fight or flight.” Here’s what came next:

*****************************

You may not be aware of this, but I’m an official, self-appointed member of the counseling and psychotherapy theories police. I don’t have a badge, but I’ve got a book. What this book means is that I’ve done a little background reading on lots of theoretical concepts, like “Fight or Flight.” “Fight or Flight” – We hear that a lot, even from, as my older daughter would say, that fancy Harvard guy on the video.

The problem with most rhyming concepts is that they tend to oversimplify whatever it is we’re talking about. Take for example, “No pain, no gain.” There’s some truth to that, but that statement probably doesn’t hold for everyone, everywhere.

Well, the troubling truth is that fight or flight isn’t really all that accurate. Stress doesn’t just trigger two behavioral options. There are other behaviors activated by stress, some of which also start with an F, but don’t rhyme so neatly.

There’s Faint. And there’s Freeze. Chronic stress can also increase Feeding; some of us know that first-hand. My favorite stress food comes from places that rhyme with Fakery, so I guess that’s another F word. But, then again, stress can also dull your appetite, so the feeding thing isn’t a universal response.

Then there are the “P” words, like poop and pee. High stress can affect those, sometimes rather dramatically.

But what most people—even fancy Harvard guys—don’t tell you or don’t know, is that much of the Fight or Flight research was conducted on White Males.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the research was actually conducted on White, Male, Rats.

After re-analyzing old data and new studies focusing on female rats and female humans, years ago, Shelly Taylor and her research colleagues at UCLA discovered that for females of the species, there was a tendency toward a different set of rhyming words. The females coped with stressors using a strategy referred to as “Tend and Befriend.” And to further complexify the situation, sometimes males do the tend and befriend thing too. . . although not quite so frequently as the white, male, rats.

The point . . . I know I’ve strayed from it, is that financial and workplace interventions are very good for decreasing child abuse, but IMHO. . . interventions that increase social support and connection (the tending and befriending as methods for helping highly stressed families cope) are equally important . . . and that brings us right back to you and what you can do to prevent child abuse.

*********************

Today’s blog is just a reminder that although powerful and memorable communication is remarkably powerful and memorable, it’s usually incomplete, not always accurate, and a function of the speaker’s need or desire to be powerful and memorable. This is just as true when I say “a pill is not a skill” or when other people say other things that make use of rambling and reckless rhetoric of the alliterative or rhyming ilk.

To finish, I’ll leave you with what Shelly Taylor said back in the year 2000, as excerpted from our forthcoming textbook, Counseling and Psychotherapy in Context and Practice (John Wiley and Sons, 2018). This particular excerpt ends with brief comments from us that also, in case you are wondering, might be relevant to the recent Google manifesto brouhaha.

****************************

Stress researcher and social psychologist Shelly Taylor made a similar contribution when researching the well-known fight or flight phenomenon (Taylor et al., 2000). She and her colleagues wrote:

A little-known fact about the fight-or-flight response is that the preponderance of research exploring its parameters has been conducted on males, especially on male rats. Until recently, the gender distribution in the human literature was inequitable as well. Prior to 1995, women constituted about 17% of participants in laboratory studies of physiological and neuroendocrine responses to stress. (2000, p. 412)

Reanalysis of existing data and new research revealed significant differences in the ways in which females and males respond to stressful situations. Taylor and colleagues (2000) concluded:

We propose a theory of female responses to stress characterized by a pattern termed “tend-and-befriend.” Specifically, we propose that women’s responses to stress are characterized by patterns that involve caring for offspring under stressful circumstances, joining social groups to reduce vulnerability, and contributing to the development of social groupings, especially those involving female networks, for the exchange of resources and responsibilities. We maintain that aspects of these responses, both maternal and affiliative, may have built on the biobehavioral attachment caregiving system that depends, in part, on oxytocin, estrogen, and endogenous opioid mechanisms, among other neuroendocrine underpinnings. (p. 422)

The preponderance of the research suggests that in fact, that White male ways of being aren’t always normative for females, or even for all males. There are physical and psychological similarities between females and males, but there are also differences. In this case, it would be inappropriate to make the case that a typical male fight-or-flight response is superior to a typical female tend-and-befriend response. There is likely an evolutionary benefit to both stress-related behavior patterns (Master et al., 2009; Taylor & Gonzaga, 2007; Taylor & Master, 2011). Sometimes differences are just differences and there’s no need to advocate for one sex-related pattern as superior over another (although if they feel threatened by this information, white male rats are highly likely to fight for their position…or run and hide in little holes in our cupboards). In this case it seems clear: Neither behavior pattern represents psychopathology…and neither will always be the superior response to threat.

 

Boy Brains, Girl Brains, and Neurosexism

Black White Bikes

Sorry to say, I’ve been irritable the past couple days. If you don’t believe me, just ask my internet provider . . . or my editor . . . or ask me about my upcoming book deadline. There’s evidence everywhere for my irritability and impatience. You might even see evidence for it in this short excerpt from our forthcoming Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy textbook. In fact, you should read this now, because I’m pretty sure it will get censored before appearing in our text.

Here you go.

You may be aware of popular books describing and delighting in the differences between female and male brains. Here’s a short list, along with my snarky comments:

  1. The essential difference: Male and female brains and the truth about autism (Baron-Cohen, 2003). Baron-Cohen is an autism researcher. His book allegedly, “. . . proves that female-type brains are better at empathizing and communicating, while male brains are stronger at understanding and building systems-not just computers and machinery, but abstract systems such as politics and music.” Comment: It’s so good to finally understand why most of our politicians are smirky White males who look like Baron-Cohen (heads up, this statement is sarcasm).
  2. The female brain (Brizendine, 2006): Brizendine is a neuropsychiatrist. Her book is touted as bringing “. . . together the latest findings to show how the unique structure of the female brain determines how women think, what they value, how they communicate, and who they love.” Comment: In Delusions of gender (2011), Cordelia Fine reduces Brizendine’s arguments to rubble. Nuff said.
  3. Teaching the female brain: How girls learn math and science (James, 2009). Comment: It’s hard to know how this book could be more than two pages given that there’s extremely sparse scientific evidence to support what this book’s title implies.
  4. Female brain gone insane: An emergency guide for women who feel like they are falling apart (Lundin, 2009). No comment. I couldn’t bring myself to read beyond this book’s title.
  5. The male brain: A breakthrough understanding of how men and boys think (Brizendine, 2011). Comment: The main breakthrough finding is that when you sell a million+ copies of your first book, a sequel, with similar drama, but equally slim scientific support, is essential.
  6. Unleash the power of the female brain: Supercharging yours for better health, energy, mood, focus, and sex (Amen, 2014). Comment: Better health, energy, mood, focus, and sex? I want a female brain!

The dangers of over-stating what’s known about the brain is significant, but nowhere are the dangers bigger than when you’re talking about sex and gender. Over time, physical differences between females and males have nearly always been used to justify systemic mistreatment of females (and limitations for males, as well). Some examples:

Plato didn’t think women were created directly by God and so they didn’t have had souls.

Aristotle thought women were deficient in natural heat and therefore unable to cook their menstrual fluids into semen.

Gustav Le Bon (1979) concluded that women’s intellectual inferiority was so obvious that no one could contest it. He wrote: “All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women, as well as poets and novelists, recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man” (see Women’s Brains by S. J. Gould). Le Bon purportedly based his ideas on Broca’s measurements of 6 female and 7 male skulls. Not surprisingly, Le Bon strongly opposed the whole idea of educating women.

More recently, over the past 30 years, I’ve seen and heard and read many different descriptions and explanations about female and male brain differences. Nearly always, there’s the same old story: Women are more “right brained” and intuitive and less “left brained” and rational. Of course the actual brain hemisphere research is sketchy, but the take home messages are much like Baron-Cohen’s and Brizendine, which happen to be much like the philosophy of the Nazi Third Reich, which is that girls and women are well-suited for working in the kitchen and the church, and especially good at caring for children, but that women had best leave politics and the corporate world – where steady rationality is essential – to the men.

All this reminds me of the time my daughter, then a senior in high school, was shown a film in her science class depicting the female brain as structurally less capable of science and math. She came home in distress. We showed up at school the next day. What do you suppose happened next? We’ll leave that story to your imagination.

Genderizing the brain marginalizes and limits females, but it can also do the same for males. Take, for example, this quotation from “Dr.” Kevin Leman.

“Did you know that scientific studies prove why a woman tends to be more ‘relational’ than her male counterpart? A woman actually has more connecting fibers than a man does between the verbal and the emotional side of her brain. That means a woman’s feelings and thoughts zip along quickly, like they’re on an expressway, but a man’s tend to poke slowly as if he’s walking and dragging his feet on a dirt road.” (pp. 5-6).

Just FYI, even though my emotional quotient is just barely dragging along Leman’s dirt road, I can quickly intuit that what he wrote is sheer drivel. It’s not partial drivel because . . . as Cordelia Fine might say, “He just made that shit up.”

Seriously? Am I making the claim that male and female brains are relatively equivalent in terms of empathic processing? Yes. I. am.

Using the best and most rigorous laboratory empathy measure available, empathy researcher William Ickes found no differences between males and females in seven consecutive studies. However, based on a larger group of studies, he and his colleagues acknowledged that there may be small sex-based differences favoring women on empathy tasks. It should be noted that he and his research team (which includes females who may be more limited in their scientific skills than Baron-Cohen) offer at least two caveats. First, they believe that females being raised in social conditions that promote a communal orientation may account for some of the differences. Second, females are especially likely to be better at empathy when they’re primed, directly or indirectly, to recall that they (women) are better at emotional tasks than men. The converse is also true. When men are primed to think all men are empathic dullards, they tend to perform more like empathic dullards.

What all this boils down to is that females and males are generally quite similar in their empathic accuracy, not to mention their math and science and language abilities. It appears that the minor observable differences between females and males may be explained by various environmental factors. This means that if you want to stick with scientific evidence, you should be very cautious in making any conclusions about brain differences between females and males. To do otherwise is to create what has been eloquently termed, a neuromyth.

In summary, the safest empirically-based conclusions on sex- and gender-based brain differences are:

  1. The differences appear to be minimal
  2. When they exist, they may be largely caused by immediate environmental factors or longer-term educational opportunities
  3. To avoid mistakes from the past, we should be cautious in attributing female and male behavioral or performance differences to their brains
  4. If and when true neurological differences are discovered, it would be best if we viewed them using the Jungian concept of Gifts differing (Myers, 1995).
  5. Consistent with Cordelia Fine’s excellent recommendation in Delusions of Gender, we shouldn’t make things up—even if it means we get to sell more books.

Author, Speaker, University of Montana Professor