What’s Good About West Virginia?


The easy and short answer to the “What’s Good About West Virginia?” question is: Chris Schimmel, Ed Jacobs, and Sherry Cormier. The harder and longer answer is harder and longer and consequently won’t be answered here.

This post includes two educational content-pieces related to my presentation today at the Morgantown Art Museum, but that we don’t have time to cover.

What’s Good About You?

            [This excerpt is adapted from our Tough Kids, Cool Counseling book]

About 25 years ago, in collaboration with a colleague of ours, Dudley Dana, Ph.D., we began using a relationship-building assessment procedure that can provide a rich interpersonal interaction between young clients and counselors.  The procedure is called “What’s good about you?” It’s designed primarily as an informal assessment of self-esteem. Depending on the age of the child with whom you’re working, you can introduce it as a game with specific rules:

I want to play a game with you. Here’s how it works. I’m going to ask you the same question 10 times. The only rule is that you can’t use the same answer twice. So, I’ll ask you the same question 10 times, but you have to give me 10 different answers.

When playing this game all you need to do is get out a tablet or clipboard with paper and then ask your client, “What’s good about you?” Your client may moan and complain about this game.  You can empathize, but encourage full participation.  This assessment activity should be done at a point in counseling when you know your clients well enough to provide a few genuine positive statements in case they can’t come up with anything good to say about themselves.

After your client responds to the question say, “Thank you” and smile and write down whatever was said, while repeating the statement out loud. If your client says, “I don’t know” write that response down too, but add with a smile, “I’ll write that down, but you can only use that answer once.”

The “What’s good about you?” game will provide you (and perhaps your clients) with interesting insights into client self-perceptions and self-esteem. For example, some youth have difficulty clearly staking claim to a positive talent, skill, or personal attribute. They sometimes identify possessions like, “I have a nice computer” or “I have some good friends” instead of taking personal ownership of an attribute such as, “I’m a great skate-boarder,” or “My friendly personality helps me make friends.” Similarly, they may describe a role they have (e.g., “I’m a good son”), rather than identifying personal attributes that make them good at the particular role (e.g., “I’m thoughtful and very responsible and so I am a good son”). Obviously, the ability to clearly state one’s positive personal attributes may be evidence of higher or more intact self-esteem.

You can also gather interpersonal assessment data also through the “What’s good about you?” procedure. For example, we’ve had some assertive or aggressive children request or even insist that they be allowed to switch roles and ask us the “What’s good about you?” questions. We always happily comply with these requests because they:

  • provide us with a modeling opportunity,
  • provide clients with an empowerment experience, and
  • are a sign of engagement.

Additionally, the way young clients respond to this interpersonal request can be revealing.  For instance, youth who meet the diagnostic criteria for conduct disorder (or who are angry with adults) sometimes ridicule or mock the procedure, while most other children and adolescents cooperate and seem to enjoy the process. See Box 2.1 for an interesting example of using this procedure with a multicultural client.

The What’s Good About You Activity in a Multicultural Context

While implementing the What’s Good About You activity with an Japanese American teen, I (John) recently had the opportunity to directly experience multiple and contextual levels of identity in a Japanese American teenage client. Specifically, when asked to respond with 10 different answers to the question, “What’s good about you?” the 15-year-old boy responded with a direct and assertive refusal. He said, “I’m not comfortable with that. We don’t talk like that in our family?” Upon hearing his refusal, I immediately accepted his position and fortunately, he was willing to share his perspective with me. He made it clear that making positive statements about oneself was inappropriate, not only in his family, but also within his Japanese culture. Interestingly, he noted that his Japanese mother and White father were both especially encouraging of him to raise his self-esteem and wanted him to be able to say positive things about himself. However, he tended to find their efforts demeaning in the sense that he felt they were worried about him and his self-esteem—which just made him even less willing to say positive things about himself (after all, if they really thought he was so wonderful, why then, did they need to keep telling him that as if he needed it). At the same time, he also expressed an interest in being able to display more confidence in social situations—similar to his White American friends. This situation illustrates how tensions can arise between cultural identity, familial context, social context, and personal or individual distress and how it is the counselor’s responsibility to negotiate these various tensions, without judgment, in partnership with the client or student.

Here’s a link to the video of me doing “What’s good about you?” with  a 16-year-old girl. The audio isn’t great, but the process is very interesting: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=4GtfO-rBIIg

The Three-Step Emotional Change Trick

For a description and video demo of the Three-Step Emotional Change Trick, go here: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2017/03/12/revisiting-the-3-step-emotional-change-trick-including-a-video-example/

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