Introductions and Full Disclosure (at least in part)

When people ask me what I do for work, I often tell them I have the best job in the world; then I describe it to them: “Every spring our faculty intensely screens a group of about 50 applicants to our graduate programs in counseling down to about 20 students who are admitted. And then I have the summer off. And then the new group of students show up in the fall and they’re all smart and kind and compassionate and because they’re graduate students, they’re motivated and focused and they want to attend class and become the best darn counselors they can become. And then, when I have them in class I’m with this group of incredibly socially skilled and sensitive, nice people and they make eye contact, nod their heads, act like they’re listening to me, and laugh at my jokes and stories.” Pretty much after I describe this scenario whoever asked me the question has either walked away or has crumpled into a heap on the floor racked with pain and jealousy.

This past Friday I got to teach my first full-day class with our new students. And just like Mary Poppins, they were practically perfect in every way.

Students in our graduate programs school and mental health counseling have a plethora of opportunities to engage in role-plays. As you may guess, these opportunities may or may not be met with great enthusiasm. More often than not we suggest to our students that they think of a minor problem in their lives, exercise censorship, and actually play themselves in these role-play encounters. This is totally fun . . . at least for the faculty.

Because we ask so much from our students—we expect them to “bring it” every hour of every class—at the beginning we offer our first year graduate students an activity where they can come to the front of the room as ask faculty members any question they’d like. This is totally fun . . . at least for the students.

On Friday, I had the added joy of listening as our two newest faculty members, Dr. Kirsten Murray and Dr. Lindsey Nichols, got quizzed by the new students. It was fabulous. I was filled with pride and happiness over having colleagues who are amazing and cool. Then it was my turn.

Somehow, the very first question turned into an awkward explanation of my professional status. I’m pretty old and I’ve answered a gazillion student questions about myself over the years, but I still felt the inner warmth, the sudden presence of sweat on my skin, and that funny feeling of hearing my own voice from a distance (totally fun!).

The problem is that I’m trained as a clinical psychologist and I teach in a counselor education program. To some people, this is like blasphemy. It’s like I was born in the country of clinical psychology and immigrated to the country of counselor education. At some tiny level, I sense how it might feel to be in the marginalized category of acculturation. Sometimes, under stress, I start speaking the language of clinical psychology (one time at an editorial board meeting of the Journal of Counseling and Development I accidentally said “A-P-A” instead of “A-C-A” and thought for sure I might be stoned; but everyone acted like they didn’t notice; of course, they also acted like they didn’t notice me after the meeting—or maybe I was just imagining that and isolating myself?).

I love my country of origin—the country of clinical psychology. I could talk about Rorschach cards and what it means for me to have a spike 5 and subclinical 6-9 profile on my MMPI for days. Studying psychopathology was like the coolest thing ever.

But I also love the country I’ve immigrated to. I have pleasant flashbacks of my first ACA conference back in 1992 when I volunteered to participate in a group counseling demonstration with Jerry and Marianne Corey. They were fabulous and I was hooked. I still like going to APA conferences, but for me, ACA conferences are a little less anal and a little more fun. I mean like one time I got my photo taken with William Glasser and last year I got it taken with Robert Wubbolding. They’re starting to think of me like a Reality Therapy groupie. What’s not cool about that?

The problem is that some members of ACA and APA don’t really like each other all that well. And neither of them really like the NASW or that evil “other” APA. The turf issues around professional discipline strike me as silly and overdone. I’m pretty sure that at this point I’m completely unemployable as an academic anywhere but the University of Montana. Psychology departments wouldn’t touch me because of my counseling cooties and Counseling departments now have to abide by a rule where they can’t hire anyone who doesn’t have a doctorate in counselor education. This would be pretty funny stuff if it weren’t so ridiculous. Psychologists want prescription privileges, Counselors want to do psychological evaluations, Social Workers want to do everything and anything, and yet, in many ways, we’re all more alike than we are different. I’ve got no solutions here . . . just observations.

And so in the beginning I experienced only a mild dissociative episode as I squeezed out my full disclosure—admitting before God and the class and my fellow professors that I am, in fact, BOTH a clinical psychologist AND a counselor educator. And in the end, it felt good. We had more discussions and questions later and no one (at least while I was looking) made the sign of the cross and shrunk away. I was just part of an amazing group of people who want to help other people live happier and more fulfilling lives. It could have been a group of students studying psychology or social work or counseling or maybe even all three at once . . . . It was really very nice.

John Dancing at a Wedding Reception


6 thoughts on “Introductions and Full Disclosure (at least in part)”

  1. As ever, a pleasure to read.

    Ok, so now I”ll get blasphemous. I sometimes have fantasies about going to talk to the head of our fine university and going into one of my favorite tangents. There are two really. This morning’s is something along the lines of “why do we have three separate graduate programs, with 3 separate faculty (Psych, Coun, MSW) to train all these wonderful people to go out in the world and do mostly the same thing? Why not combine them?” Of course I know this isn’t 100% true, but if you look at the people in private practice in MSO and elsewhere, it is peopled by wonderful clinical psychologists, LPCs and MSW who all do basically the same thing: have deep conversations with people who are troubled about something in there lives, in an attempt to help them figure out how to make themselves feel better. Of course PhDs are trained to work with people who have more severe difficulties, and do testing, and MSWs are given more training in how to change systems… And of course COUN comes out of a different historical background and philosophy about human wellness. In places like NYC and Chicago, and probably Zurich and other large urban centers there are still people in opposing analytical programs who don’t speak to each other in civil tones, but most of us are not like that. We have wonderful “boundary crossings” with people in clinical psych and social work – and more would be better. So, in my perfect world there’s be one big program with a core of masters level training in “essential helping skills” and then specialties / advanced degrees in areas like psych testing, experimental psych, community change, addictions counseling, families & couples…

    Time to make breakfast for the gang.


    Nancy Seldin, MPH, EdD Licensed Professional Counselor #285 Intercultural Youth and Family Development program The University of Montana, Missoula MT 59812 ________________________________________

    1. As always, you make an excellent point Nancy. We should all be together and celebrate our common ground as well as our unique strengths. . . but I’m pretty sure that’s not happening in our lifetimes:).

      I hope you have a great breakfast and fabulous Sunday.


  2. As part of my clinical psychology internship, I spent 6 months in a counseling setting. My clinical psychologist supervisor described himself, and encouraged me to think about myself, as a hybrid, bringing the strengths of both traditions to the tasks of helping others. The metaphor of hybrid messes with the notion of “boundary,” because the hybrid is a unified entity having the characteristics of more than one parent. The hybrid often has strengths non-hybrids do not have, although also some weaknesses non-hybrids lack. “Boundary” is a concept from physics; “hybrid” is a biological concept, pertaining to living beings. What could be better for a Montana professional!

    1. Hi Alan!

      Thanks for the comment. I do like the hybrid metaphor and very much appreciate your perspective on this and especially appreciate your disclosure of your similar experiences. Identity is an interesting and ever-evolving process and it helps to resonate back and forth with others who have more of a hybrid and less of a homogenous identity.

      I’m sure sorry about missing out on getting together this summer. Next year we’ll have to plan ahead more as our traveling and that cocksackie virus got in the way.

      All my best to you and the family.


  3. My goodness, John, just landed here in the way-back machine, while looking for links on suicide assessment to pass on to students (they’re doing ice breakers for Intro to Groups and I want to point out that risk assessment should always be on our radar). Back on topic…

    Yes, if there were a cabal of folks trying to keep mental health practitioners in their place, they couldn’t do better than the “divide and conquer” mindset the field has brought on itself. Teaching Theories last year I noted to students that not one of the exemplars in our text would meet current requirements for “core faculty” of that accrediting body which shall remain nameless. Even Reality Therapy’s Bob Wubbolding (my high school counselor and professor) wouldn’t. That’s just wrong.

    Ah well, we’ll continue to do our best teaching our students and serving our clients. I’ll just have to live with my “outcast” status.

    1. Hey John. Yep. I find the issues linked to so-called professional identity to be mystifying. Lots of otherwise rational professionals seem to react negatively to any effort to integrate professional disciplines, usually citing all sorts of either irrational or irrelevant information. This led me to comment to CACREP about “ethnic cleansing” which I suppose was over the top . . . then again, when I get consistently rejected for presenting at ACA (and just got my rejection from ACES), I can’t help but wonder if I’m being discriminated against for one reason or another. Oh well. I appreciate good work and collaboration and hold irrational hopes myself, that such things will win out in the long run. Thanks for your thoughts. John

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s