John Sommers-Flanagan is a professor of counseling at the University of Montana. He received his doctorate in psychology in 1986, completing his pre-doctoral internship at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, NY.
In addition to teaching, research, and supervision, John also has a small independent practice. Previously he was the mental health consultant for Trapper Creek Job Corps (2003-2014), served as executive director of Families First Parenting Programs (1995 to 2003), and was co-host of a radio talk-show on Montana Public Radio titled, “What is it with Men?” His work with youth and parents has been captured for educational purposes on many different local and national video productions.
John primarily specializes in working with children, parents, and families. He is author or coauthor of over 100 professional publications, including eight books. A sampling of his books include Tough Kids, Cool Counseling (2nd ed., ACA Publications, 2007), Suicide Assessment and Treatment: A Strengths-Based Approach (2021, ACA Publications), Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice (3rd ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2018), Clinical Interviewing (6th Ed., Wiley, 2017), and How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen (Wiley, 2011). John is widely sought as a keynote speaker and professional workshop presenter throughout the United States and Canada.
John is featured in many different counseling and psychotherapy training videos published by Psychotherapy.net, Alexander Street Press, PESI, and John Wiley & Sons. In 2018, he produced a three-part, 7.5-hour suicide training video with Psychotherapy.net.
John has published many newspaper columns, Op-Ed pieces, and has had articles in Psychotherapy Networker, Counseling Today, and Slate Magazine.
In his spare time, John loves to run (slowly), dance (poorly), laugh (loudly—usually at himself) and produce home-made family music videos.
40 thoughts on “John’s Bio”
My name is Jan Kanani Thomas and I am presently a Substance Abuse Counselor at Molokai High School on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. I first read some of your publications when I lived on the island of Oahu and worked at Hawaii Job Corps. I was the “TEAP specialist” there and used your book Tough Kids, Cool Counseling in my practice. Thank you for your great ideas, now more than ever your book comes in handy. I heard you speak at the ACA conference at the convention center on Oahu but don’t “get out much” since living on Molokai. Keep up your good work!
Thanks for writing. I’m glad Tough Kids has been helpful. Because I’m in Montana not getting out much in Molokai is sounding really good right now:). Best of luck (and skill) in your important work in the high school. I’ll be the substance issues are huge.
I hope you’re doing great.
These are terrific .. will pass it on ..
Thanks Russ. I appreciate it and hope you’re doing great.
Hello! I saw you speak at the ACA Conference in San Francisco and was blown away. Your presentation was funny, informative, and moving! I am just finishing my Master’s degree, so I’m not yet out in the schools, but I plan on buying your book as part of my preparation! Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.
Hi Jami. Thanks for your very nice comment about my talk at the ACA conference. I appreciate the positive feedback. Good luck as you finish up your MA and in making the transition to some very important school counseling work.
Hi John, I also saw you speak at the ACA Conference in San Francisco. Thoroughly enjoyed your presentation as well as meeting you at your book signing. Tough Kids, Cool Counseling has exceeded my expectations and helping tremendously as I continue working with students at a non-public high school in CA. I was taking notes during your presentation but am wondering if I may get a copy of Techniques To Help Challenging Youth Make Positive Life Changes. Again, many thanks for your book and this website – incredibly helpful information for incredibly wonderful kids.
I’m glad you have found the Tough Kids book helpful. I’ll send you a copy of the ppts via your email address which I think I have here.
Thanks for the nice feedback.
I just ran across your quoting me when I spoke at the American School Counselor Association in Seattle. The story about my career fair is one of my favorite stories about changing how one views one’s concepts about career. It is amazing how narrow our view of life can be if young people are not given the opportunity to expend their views of life.
Yesterday I gave a speech at a Health Fair in Des Moines, WA about How to Spend the Rest of Your Life. I am hoping that in our segregated society–segregated by income and age–that we can find ways to expand our views of the world and find ways to interact with all ages.
I try to speak to as many groups as I can to spread my philosophy of life which includes living life to the fullest and mingling with all ages while I am at it.
Cheers, Georgie Bright Kunkel
I hope you’re okay with me repeating your story. I thought it was fabulous and that you were a highlight of the ASCA conference. Also, I introduced myself to you at the workshop I did in Spokane at Gonzaga. Anyway, thanks for your storytelling and inspiration!
Currently reading your text for Richardson’s intro level counseling theory course at XU. It’s absolutely outstanding- concise, balanced,well written, rich in information on both theory and practice. When I first bought it I thought there’s no way it could be worth what I paid for it; now I’m thinking they’re not charging enough . . .
Thanks very much for the feedback . . . especially because it’s positive. It you want to pay extra money be sure to offer it to Brent because he’s been telling me that he should get a commission for using the text. Seriously, I do very much appreciate the nice comments. Revising the text took away my summer last year and so it’s great to know it’s appreciated.
And of course, if you’d like to post these comments on Amazon, that would be very cool too.
Good luck with your studies and tell Brent hello!
All my best,
hi mr sommers
I hope you’re okay. my name is nader karimian. im Ph. D. student in family counseling in Iran.
i read your good writing. Family counseling is very young in iran and cant earn its fit position. Our masters are not very update.Unfortunately i couldnt find a good subject for my phd these . I hope you can help me to choosing a good subject on family and marital therapy.
Hi Nader. I’m glad to hear you’re working hard on your Ph.D in Family Counseling in Iran. Of course, it’s impossible for me to provide you with good advice that will fit your situation, given our big cultural differences. However, I do think you might be able to explore some of the intercultural validity of research marital therapy conducted in the U.S. To help a bit with that, here’s a weblink to Dr. John Gottman’s resources. He’s an excellent marital therapy researcher from the University of Washington. You could take any of a number of his ideas and evaluate their cultural validity in Iran. Here’s the weblink and good luck!
I am an MFT student just finishing up my last two semesters. During my undergrad program I heard your ACA podcast, then I bought your book I loved the ideas, but I was not seeing clients at the time. Fast forward 3 years and I have some teen clients and needed some advice, so I search the web and came across this blog. It is awesome, thanks for taking the time to do it.
Thanks for the nice feedback. I’m very happy to hear that you liked the book and find the blog helpful. Mostly I’m having fun with it as I explore the world of social media.
Good luck with those teen clients!
Hello John – I am hoping to get the script for your Hexaflexercise and could not find it online. Could you spare a copy?
You bet. Right now I’m out of town and I only have hard copies.It’s from a book and not mine, but I can mail you a copy as I think it’s fair use. Could you email me at email@example.com and include your mailing address and I’ll have it popped in the mail when I’m back next Monday.
I hope you’re doing well.
There is a commission of inquiry into child suicides in Australia that is asking for submissions. Although this is in Australia, any breakthrough there could have an influence in the U.S. The emphasis of the inquiry seems to be on Australian indigenous kids in foster care, but the inquiry is not limited to that. Almost certainly, these kids in foster care are being drugged, leading to greatly increased rates of suicide. Please spread the word among your colleagues.
My interest is that my son committed suicide after several years on antidepressants.
Thanks for your comment and for your information. I will check it out. Of course, as you may know, I’m very much NOT a supporter of overmedicating young people. I am very sorry to hear about your son and I hope you’re doing the best you can given the tragedy. All my best, John SF
In your book (Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories), you mentioned and perpetuate the believe that psychology was founded by a bunch white privileged men. Freud was the first one to obtain a degree in his family, the same as Otto Rank, and others in that group that made the psychoanalytic approach a phenomena that changed our lives. Additionally, not only they were not considered “White” but they were Jews. Jews were emancipated mid 1800. They were considered minorities without rights until then. They were emancipated about 10 years before we emancipated slavery in America. I don’t understand why the beginning of psychoanalytic approach is diminished by race? Obviously, these Jewish people were trying to live the European dream, make a name for themselves by attending college just like our minorities do here now. They found their calling in psychoanalysis. It seems that your view is kind of the same sentiment that plagues the Jews everywhere they go: They must be rich and privilege if they are successful, well that is not always true and in the case of Freud is not true at all.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment regarding our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories text. I think you make an excellent point about the cultural context of early psychoanalytic proponents. I agree that they were following their dreams . . . and I certainly did not intend to imply that their accomplishments should be “diminished by race.” It does seem appropriate, however, that their accomplishments, like the accomplishments of everyone, are limited by culture.
As a person with Jewish heritage myself, I definitely don’t want to circumscribe the ways in which Jewish people can be successful.
The “Whiteness” or Western European nature of psychoanalytic thinking in no way diminishes its historical significance, but it can limit its application. That said, I will soon be starting on the next edition of this text and I will keep your thoughts on this issue in mind and try to be as balanced as possible in how I write about it.
Thanks again for your input.
I’m Lisa and I am from Southern California and also a 2nd year MSN student at Gonzaga University in their Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program. In your Clinical Interviewing book, chapter 4, you speak about the Miracle Question and mention that there is a more detailed version by Berg and Dolan here on your blog. Can you tell me where to find it here; I must be missing it.
I am enjoying your text and using the DVD as I read with you and Rita and the other people who help create the scenarios for facilitating student understanding. Thanks to you and Rita for writing an excellent book.
Lisa DeBrier RN, BSN
Thanks for your message. I’m very glad that you’re enjoying the Clinical Interviewing text and DVD.
Well, now I’m looking for that blog post and not finding it. In the meantime, here’s a short section on the Miracle Question from our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories text:
The Miracle Question
The miracle question is by far the most well-known solution-focused therapy technique (Hurn, 2003; Nau & Shilts, 2000; Santa Rita, 1998; Strong & Pyle, 2009). stetdDe Shazer’s (1988) original version of the miracle question follows:
“Suppose you were to go home tonight, and while you were asleep, a miracle happened and this problem was solved. How will you know the miracle happened? What will be different?” (p. 5)
The miracle question is simply another presuppositional question that helps clients focus on a positive future. When clients respond to the question, it’s important for counselors to obtain clear, concrete, and behaviorally specific descriptions of what would be different. In some ways, this question helps clients develop and hopefully maintain a positive future vision. The question also builds rapport with clients; when therapists validate and nurture each answer the client provides, the therapy alliance is deepened.
The miracle question is a flexible intervention that can be modified for use with various populations. For example, Bertolino (1999) suggested an alternative wording when using the miracle question with young clients:
“Suppose that when you went home tonight and went to sleep, something strange happened to you and your life changed for the better. You may or may not know what actually happened, but you knew that your problem had gone away. What will be different?” (p. 75)
In the preceding example Bertolino used word strange instead of miracle. He also suggested that therapists working with youth might use the word weird or an alternative word the client has previously used in therapy. He advised therapists to modify their language style when working with young clients.
Tohn and Oshlag (1996) described a slightly different version of the miracle question for use with mandated clients:
“Suppose that tonight, after our session, you go home and fall asleep, and while you are sleeping a miracle happens. The miracle is that the problems that brought you here today are solved, but you don’t know that the miracle has happened because you are asleep. When you wake up in the morning, what will be some of the first things you will notice that will be different that will tell you this miracle has happened?” (pp. 170–171, bold in original)
Tohn and Oslag explained that beginning with the word suppose is crucial because it leads clients toward pretending that the miracle has already happened, rather than speculating on whether it will or will not happen. They also noted that saying “the problems that brought you here” focuses the question on the reality of the situation. In contrast, they claimed that when therapists use “your problem is solved,” clients are likely to respond with a more grandiose disappearance of the problem. Finally, they used the word notice toward the end of the intervention to help clients respond using a wide range of sensory experiences.
One thing to remember Lisa is that often, the client’s first response to the Miracle question is, “I don’t know.” Then, gentle exploration may be helpful.
I’ll be looking for the other post and pass it on when I find it!
I am reading your book, Clinical Interviewing; which will become my bible for teaching…I love it! This is my first semester teaching this topic and I am in awe of your style and resources. I’m excited to introduce your work to my students.
After reading the first chapter, I went to the accompanying website and downloaded the PPTs (You get another A+ for adding those) and came across the 4th or 5th slide which said…Initial Experiential Activity of “Getting to Know the Instructor” from the electronic Instructor’s Manual – but…where is the electronic Instructor’s Manual located – as I don’t see it on the website? Is that a separate purchase?
Looking forward to using your book and material, such a huge help in every way! Thank you for organizing, sharing, and enabling educators to have such a wealth of information available in a complete package! I highly recommend this text to individuals in varied health and human services careers…it will become your bible too!
Valarie Whiting, PhD
Department of Developmental Services
Training and Staff Development
500 Harrison Ave
Boston, Ma 02108
Thanks for your very nice email. I’m happy to hear that you find the text and supplementary materials helpful.
The e-Instructor’s Manual should be easily available. Try this. Just go to: http://bcs.wiley.com/he-bcs/Books?action=index&itemId=1118270045&bcsId=8255
Then click on browse by resource and then click on Instructor’s Manual.
If that doesn’t work, then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll connect you with someone at John Wiley & Sons to help with the process.
Thanks for writing and I’m very glad to hear it’s your new bible for teaching:).
Happy New Year!
Hi,I’m Dian, student of postgraduate in Psychology. In our mayor, non test assesment as one of our subject, using your book as reference Clinical interviewing Third edition. It’s is very helpfull, thank you.
By this letter on behalf of psychology student of Muhammadiyah University of Malang Indonesia, I would like to ask your permition to translate your book into Bahasa so that will use by every student in Indonesia, especially to understand clinical interviewing deeply.
Psychology Faculty of UMM, postgraduate program
I’m glad you’re finding the textbook useful.
Right now I’m working on revising the text for the 6th edition. The first thing is we should try to get you a more current copy.
Would you please email me at email@example.com regarding the translation question. I will need to forward your message to my publisher, John Wiley and Sons, to inquire about translation into Bahasa.
Thanks for writing and Happy New Year.
I’m excited to have come across your work after reading Yaloms Book Loves Executioner and wanting to know more existential therapy in practice. I’m at a practicum placement now where I’m working with a lot of autistic children/youth/teens – would you recommend any of your work for that demographic or parents as well?
So thrilled you love dancing and family music videos 🙂
Hi Again Carla,
Thanks for your positive enthusiasm. Mentioning me along with Irvin Yalom is a very nice compliment for me!
I’ve got a book on working with parents and one called, “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling.” Although, I must admit, neither of them focus much on autism spectrum issues. Sorry I don’t have more to offer. Best, John SF
I’m wrapping up my first quarter of school for my MA in counseling psychology. For one of my classes, we’ve been reading your (and Rita’s) book on counseling theories and watching the accompanying videos. First, it is really helpful to see the theories in practice, so thank you for the videos. Second, I really appreciate how much of yourselves you’ve put into the book. I love your humor, and the strength of your voices humanize the content. This feels less like a textbook (dry and devoid of personality), and more like having two very personable extra professors in the class. Thank you for sharing so much of yourselves and treating your audience like the human readers we are.
Wow, Debbie. Thanks VERY much for your kind comments about our textbook and videos. Our main goal is to provide people like you with an engaging and memorable learning experience, and so it feels fabulous to get your feedback. Have a great rest of the week and all my best to you in your graduate studies. Best, JSF
Can I please have your email address?
Hi Sandy. You bet. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Great linebacker at mount hood
Haha. And who might this be who knows a bit of trivia about my past?
Hello John! I grew up in Bozeman MT and am currently working on my doctorate (PsyD in MN) I recently came across your videos on psychotherapy.net, interested in learning more from you. I found your video on counseling and psychotherapy theories in context to practice so amazingly comforting as a student in training to be a psychologist.
Thanks for your message. It’s nice to hear from another Montanan–even if your from Bozeman (haha, I have to say that because I teach at UM; actually I like Bozeman a lot). I’ve got lots of educational stuff happening. Feel free to email me if you want more info. email@example.com. Have a great evening.
Sorry Dr. Flanagan! My apologize!