It’s an honor to be here on this excellent almost-spring-day in Alamosa, Colorado. Thanks to Jazmin, Chris, and Lori for inviting me here and arranging this visit. I’m so touched about this that I wrote a song especially for this event. And so you’ve got that to look forward to.
When it comes to giving speeches and workshops, one of my former professors used to say this: If you ask me to give a 15 minute talk, I’ll need all day to prepare; if you ask me to talk for a couple hours, I’ll likely need a couple hours of prep. But if you want me to talk all day . . . I’m ready.
This is why I have some verbatim notes here. Tomorrow I’ll be talking all day and therefore be way more spontaneous. Today, I need a guide to keep me focused.
The first thing I’d like to report is that the profession and discipline of Counselor Education is doing well . . . and maybe even booming. Just last night at the University of Montana we held our live group admissions interview for our CACREP-accredited Clinical Mental Health and School Counseling M.A. Programs. We have a total of 18-20 openings for these degrees and 71 applicants. About 45 applicants showed up for a 2 ½ hour group interview. After the interview, late into the night, we were discussing the applicants and one of our current students who was helping with the process exclaimed, “Thanks for letting me be a part of this. This was like Fantasy Football in February.” We took that as a compliment.
This is why I LOVE being a Counselor Educator. I don’t love it for the Listserv, or the ACA convention, or the status and prestige of being a Counselor Educator and teaching at the University of Montana. I love it because every year I get to spend most of my time teaching the kindest and most respectful graduate students on the planet; students who are deeply committed to helping others and to making the world just a little bit better place for individuals, couples, families, groups, schools, and communities. I have the honor of teaching these great people and maybe partly because we teach them how to have awesome listening skills, when I teach, they actually look like they’re listening to me. This is the best job ever.
And so thanks for letting ME be a part of THIS Excellent Day and CSI Induction Ceremony. It’s definitely better than fantasy football in February.
What I hope is that this is not just an initiation ceremony . . . it should also be a celebration . . . which brings up an important question: “How shall we celebrate?”
Well, of course, there should be dancing . . . and singing . . . and maybe some slam poetry . . . and of course, high fives all around, and arms raised in the air, and clapping and cheering (woo hoo) and toasting and smiling and laughing and eating desserts. Let’s do it all!
Counseling is a profession and identity that comes from the people. From way back in 1909, with Frank Parsons publishing “Choosing a Vocation” (with Pauline Agassiz Shaw’s unwavering financial and emotional support), it had become clear that modern citizens from the early 20th Century could benefit from assistance in making important decisions.
Think about that. Where do we learn to make decisions? Not just decisions about vocation and career, but other important life decisions? Did your parents explicitly teach you? Did you take a “Decision-Making” course in high school or college? Did you enroll in a life decision-making workshop? Probably not. Sometimes I think it’s mostly only in graduate school where Counselor Education students get taught how to make decisions and how to help people make important decisions.
This is still a big part of what we, as counselors, do. We help people make everyday life decisions. We help them sort through the thoughts, feelings, impulses, and social and cultural forces that make decision-making so challenging. And we help them make bigger decisions too.
Counseling is a profession with roots back in the early 1900s with Frank and Pauline, but professional counseling is a much more recent development.
Not long before Thomas Sweeney of Ohio University founded CSI in 1983, it was becoming apparent that Psychiatry, Psychology, and Social Work weren’t adequately serving the needs of all the people. In the 1960s and 70s, Psychiatry was mostly taking the BIG PHARMA road, Social Work mostly linked hands with Medical professionals, and Psychology mostly decided to embrace Ph.D.-only training, a sort of scientific fundamentalism, and the pursuit of becoming mini-physicians.
IMHO, this was a mass exodus from the needs of most people. Helping became much more about the medical model – assessment, diagnosis, and treatment – and less about helping people achieve what most of us really want in our daily lives, good health and positive wellness.
So there was something big missing. People wanted to work with professional practitioners who were empathic, kind, compassionate, and positive, and interested in helping them feel WELL, instead of just helping them not feel sick. This is the breech into which professional counseling stepped. And this is probably why, in a study conducted in the Psychology Department at the University of Montana in 1991, it was reported that consumers rated Counselors as warmer, kinder, more genuine, and more desirable to see than Psychiatrists or Psychologists.
At the University of Montana we have an MSW, a Clinical Psychology, and our Counselor Education graduate programs. Not surprisingly, we have a bit of a friendly competition for graduate students. Don’t get me wrong, I love my colleagues in Psychology and Social Work and I think they do a fantastic job educating their students; I just think their professional disciplines have gotten drawn a bit too far over into the medical model. Consequently, when prospective students ask me what program they should choose, I find it very easy to say, “If you want to learn how to do, I mean, really how to do individual, couple, family, and group counseling, then you should join us in the Department of Counselor Education.” Even the graduate students in these respective programs recognize that Counselor Education students learn these skills faster than other disciplines . . . principally because that’s what we focus on.
This brings me to some concerns for the future.
There will always be medical creep, pharmaceutical creep, and insurance company creep. The medical model is strong and compelling. We have to watch out for that. For example, right now we’re right in the middle of a Neuroscience party that’s dominating popular discourse. This reminds me of a Psychiatrist with whom I worked at a Psychiatric Hospital back in 1981. He said it wouldn’t be long until we were all taking drugs to manage and moderate our emotions and behaviors. Well, mostly he was wrong.
Now we have “brain-based” this and “brain science” that and to be “in the dominant cultural discourse club” we have to put “neuro” in front of every other word or sentence.
But there are some surprising ways in which the medical model and neuroscience don’t provide much guidance or truth.
There’s really no such thing as a chemical imbalance. If you speak Spanish and I don’t, then our unique brains have to be different. The chemical imbalance as an explanation for mental health problems has no particular scientific support.
In addition, the track record of psychiatric medications curing illness is rather abysmal. I’m not saying that medications never work, I’m just saying they work less well than most of the public has been led to believe.
And the majority of the quantitative research published in psychology journals is, to borrow Carl Rogers’s words from 1957, “for the most part, a colossal waste of time.”
My point here is: Let’s be damn good professional counselors, and not try to be like those other professional disciplines. They have their niche; they’re needed in some ways for some things. But let’s stick with what we’re doing well.
As I’m sure you all know, because I don’t have a portable MRI or PET scanner in my office—which wouldn’t allow me to really “see” what’s happening in someone’s brain anyway—there’s really only one good method for me to know what’s going on in my client or student’s brain.
The best way to do this is to sit with the person and listen well and develop a trusting relationship and ask things like:
• What are you thinking right now?
• What do you want?
• What emotions are coming up for you?
• What feelings and sensations do you have in your body?
Being with people in positive therapeutic relationship and sometimes asking no questions at all, is the best brain scanner we’ve got.
And here are a few more important truths:
1. A pill is not a skill
2. There’s no better medicine than a healthy and caring relationship, and
3. The profession that is currently doing the best at focusing on skills and relationships is Counselor Education!
As the EMDR therapists would say, “Let’s go with that.”
Before ending, I’d like to tell one short story; then we can officially start celebrating.
Meeting Jesus at the Portland VA Story: What this psychotic patient wanted and what he responded to was what most of us want and respond to . . . to be listened to . . . and to be treated with respect and as an individual, not as a psychiatric label.
Now let’s begin our official celebration with a song that I wrote especially for this auspicious occasion. Ready? I’ll sing it through first and then you can all stand if you like and join me:
Oh, I wish I were a counselor-in-training, counselor-in-training . . .
Oh, I wish I were a counselor-in-training, counselor-in-training . . .
I think it’d be rather swell
To help everyone be well
Oh, I wish I were a counselor-in-training, counselor-in-training.”
Everybody now . . .
Thanks for listening and my BIG congratulations to all of the initiates and the faculty here at Adams State University.