All posts by johnsommersflanagan

The University of the Cumberlands Powerpoints

Hello Cumberlands! Here’s a link to your powerpoints: u of the cumberlands 2019 final

More coming soon.

 

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Helping Children Deal with Fear and Anxiety

Shark in Pool

Facing fear and anxiety is no easy task. It’s not easy for children; and it’s not easy for their parents. Here’s a short piece of historical fiction that captures some of the dynamics that can emerge when you’re helping children face their fears.

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“I’m scared.”

My nephew turned his pleading fact toward me. He was standing on the diving board. I was a few feet below. We had waited in line together. Turning back now meant social humiliation. Although I knew enough to know that the scene wasn’t about me, I still felt social pressure mounting. If he stepped down from the diving board, I’d feel the shame right along with him. My own potential embarrassment, along with the belief that he would be better served facing his fears, led me to encourage him to follow through and jump.

“You can do it,” I said.

He started to shake. “But I can’t.”

Parenting or grand-parenting or hanging out with nieces and nephews sometimes requires immense decision-making skill. I’d been through “I’m scared” situations before, with my own children, with grandchildren, with other nephews and nieces. When do you push through the fear? When do you backtrack and risk “other people” labeling you, your son, your daughter, or a child you love as “chicken?”

This particular decision wasn’t easy. I wanted my nephew to jump. I was sure he would be okay. But I also knew a little something about emotional invalidation. Sure, we want to encourage and sometimes push our children to get outside their comfort zones and take risks. On the other hand, we also want to respect their emotions. Invalidating children’s emotions tends to produce adults who don’t trust themselves. But making the decision of when to validate and when to push isn’t easy.

I reached out. My nephew took my hand. I said, “Hey. You made it up here this time. I’ll bet you’ll make the jump next time.” We turned to walk back. A kid standing in line said, “That’s okay. I was too scared to jump my first time.”

Later, when the line had shrunk, my nephew wanted to try again. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll walk over with you.”

He made the jump the second time. We celebrated his success with high-fives and an ice-cream sandwich.

Like all words, the words, “I’m scared” have meaning and provoke reactions.

Sometimes when parents hear the words, “I’m scared” they want to push back and say something like, “That’s silly” or “Too bad” or “Buck-up honeycup” or something else that’s reactive and emotionally invalidating.

The point of the story about my nephew isn’t to brag about a particular outcome. Instead, I want to recognize that most of us share in this dilemma: How can we best help children through their fears.

Just yesterday I knelt next to my tearful granddaughter. She was too scared to join into a group activity. She held onto my knee. We were in a public setting, so I instantly felt embarrassment creeping my way. I dealt with it by engaging in chit-chat about all the activity around us, including commentary about clothes, shoes, the color of the gym. Later, when she finally joined in on the activity, I felt relief and I felt proud. I also remembered the old lesson that I’d learned so many times before. In the moment of a child’s fear, my potential emotional pain, although present, pales in comparison to whatever the child is experiencing.

If you’d like to hear more about how to help children cope with their fears, you can listen to Dr. Sara Polanchek and me chatting about this topic on our latest Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast. Here are the links.

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

On Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

And follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/

 

 

Predicting the Future of Psychotherapy and Counseling

Eta Cow Pi 1979

Ever since my sisters and I experimented with our Ouija board back in the 1960s (and possibly before), I’ve been fascinated with prediction. It seems, in retrospect, I should have been able to predict that, in 1985, I would decide to do a dissertation on personality and prediction.

The results were stunning. My discovery? Human behavior is notoriously difficult to predict. Although, to be honest, because hundreds of previous researchers had already made this remarkable discovery, it’s probably more appropriate to call it a re-discovery.

Slamming into the prediction is difficult reality hasn’t stopped me from loving prediction. Not even close. But that’s predictable too. Most people ignore reality; instead we prefer to fool ourselves into believing our own idiosyncratic magical thoughts and wishes. And so even though I incessantly brag about my ability to predict the future, I secretly recognize the truth; most predictions, similar to my annual March Madness picks, are mostly wrong, most of the time.

But the end of 2018 is near. And you probably know what that means.

It means people become more predictable. That makes this particular moment in time (late December) an unparalleled opportunity to accurately predict the future. On that note, I offer you my late 2018 and early 2019 predictions:

1. Right around December 24, families from around the world will gather together with love in their hearts. Many of these families will simultaneously experience both love and dread, partly because there will be predictable conflict around current politics and past family dynamics. But hey, that’s love.

2. Toward the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, the media will be preoccupied with “the best of 2018” and “predictions for 2019.” Will Mueller and Trump meet at a D.C. Starbucks for an amiable chat about whether to trade a witch hunt for a presidential resignation? Will Rudy be one of the top “Baby names” for 2019? Will White Nationalists suddenly discover (or rediscover) that Jesus was a Jewish person who loved diversity? All that and much more is coming your way.

3. And this, according to leading astrologists, “Capricorn rules the governmental structures of society: politics, church, monarchy, big corporations, monetary system, and macroeconomics.” Well. That’s obvious. What’s less obvious is that the pesky presence of Uranus and Pluto means there will be continued government instability; on the other hand, Jupiter is on it’s way, which signals a potential calming of emotional turbulence, as well as new prospects for romantic love. I should note that every year the astrological forecasts are the same: Romantic love may be in your future.

4. Rita and John SF will publish a short, new article on the future of psychotherapy and counseling. Wait. That already happened. Our fancy new article about the future was just published in the Psychotherapy Bulletin. You should know that, in this article, we don’t say anything about astrology, Ouija boards, or politics. However, we do construct a future scenario of what psychotherapy and counseling will be like in the year 2068!

I know this article isn’t as exciting as predicting romantic love in your future, but if you go to the link below and scroll down to page 7, you can read about the future of psychotherapy in an article with the fancy title: “Recursive and emerging themes in psychotherapy: Past, present, and future.” Here’s the link:

https://societyforpsychotherapy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/2018-Psychotherapy-Bulletin-Volume-53-Number-4.pdf

And here’s the official citation: Sommers-Flanagan, J., & Sommers-Flanagan, R. (2018). Recursive and emerging themes in psychotherapy: Past, present, and future. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 53(4), 7-12.

One more prediction: March Madness is coming . . . and this year, I’m more certain than ever, my bracket will be perfect.

Advances in Suicide Assessment and Treatment . . . just published in the Jubilee Edition of Psychology Aotearoa

Ocean View

Here’s the view from New Zealand.

The professional journal, Psychology Aotearoa is the flagship publication of the New Zealand Psychological Society. Just yesterday I received a copy of the Jubilee Edition of the journal. I’ve got a brief article on pp. 76-80, but the whole journal is an interesting glimpse of psychology, psychotherapy, and counseling at an international level. Here’s the pdf: 2018 November JSF New Zealand Pub

Why Kids Lie: The Podcast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I still recall the first chapter of the first statistics textbook I ever read. It was titled, Lying with Statistics. Pretty cool title. At least I think that was the title. Is it still a lie if I think I’m remembering something accurately, but I get a few details wrong? Maybe it’s a partial lie. In psychology, we call that confabulation.

We all know first-hand about lying. Maybe we tried it out ourselves, in the past, of course. Or maybe we still engage in a little dissembling here or there. And, undoubtedly, we’ve likely been on the other end of a lie. Is that called being on the “butt-end” of a lie? If not, it should be, because that’s how it feels.

How about for you? How does it feel to tell a lie? Does it feel different when you get away with it versus when you get caught? How does it feel when someone lies to you? I can answer these questions from my perspective, but this post isn’t about me. It’s about you, your children, your friends, your colleagues at work, and obviously, it’s about American politicians. In particular, it’s about you and your children. If you’re like most parents (and humans), when your children lie to you, you might feel some flashes of anger. Although the anger is natural, in our Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast episode on “Why Kids Lie,” we recommend trying to follow the old Families First Boston motto of, “Get curious, not furious.”

Like everything, lying is developmental. Most of us lied about something, sometime, while growing up. But for most of us (I hope), the usefulness of lying started fading and was replaced by the usefulness and value of being honest. Our hope for you is that, if your children are lying, you can help them grow out of it.

Below is the blurb about this week’s PPPP episode. As usual, you can listen on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2) or Libsyn (http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/) and you can follow the PPPP on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/).

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When it comes to boastful lying, there’s no better example than Penelope, one of Kristen Wiig’s characters on SNL. Penelope is incessantly popping up here and there, basically lying her ass off. The purpose of Penelope’s lies appear relatively straightforward. She seems to be insecure on the inside, therefore, she boasts and brags about her amazing accomplishments, constantly “one-upping” anything that anyone else says.

On second thought, maybe there’s another fictional-nonfiction character who does her one better in the lying department, but let’s not go there.

This Practically Perfect Parenting podcast on lying focuses on two key issues: (1) Why children lie . . . and (2) How parents can handle their children’s lying in ways that encourage honesty.

Sara and John review many different motivations for lying. These include, but are not limited to Penelope’s ego-boosting motivation. For parents, it can be helpful to understand the goals of your children’s lies. Obviously (or maybe not so obviously), if your children lie because they’re afraid to admit they did something wrong, then using harsh punishment with your children may make them even more afraid to tell you the truth and more inclined to lie and more likely to become even better liars.

Not surprisingly, in this episode, John tells a few lies. You’ll have to listen to see how Sara handles him.

Burning Out, Burning Up, or Just Singed: The Partnership Health Center Powerpoints

California Street FootbridgeThe powerpoints pasted below are from my educational workshop with the staff of Partnership Health Center in Missoula, Montana. In case you didn’t know, PHC provides dental, medical, and counseling services to about 16,000 individuals with limited incomes and who are facing challenging life situations. The people who work at PHC are inspirational. I was fortunate to spend several hours with them this afternoon.

Here’s the ppt: PHC Burnout and SM 2018

A Bonus Counseling LAB Activity: Person-Centered Problem-Solving

Riverbed and John

After having learned a bit about person-centered theory and therapy and then being exposed to behavior therapy, it makes sense to consider how you can combine the two. For me, the best first step is to integrate your person-centered attitude and skills into a behavioral problem-solving process.

 Person A: As usual, your job is to pretend that you’re a client who’s coming for counseling. You have a minor, but frustrating problem. It helps if the problem is concrete and best if you have a recent experience with it so you can describe it well.

When you sit down with your counselor, take about 5 minutes to describe your problem. Explain how bad it is, how difficult it is to change this problem, and share some of the strategies you’ve tried on your own. As the counselor listens and responds, do your best to respond genuinely back to the counselor and then go with the counseling flow.

Your counselor will engage you in a problem-solving process. Be yourself and participate as you would if you were with a “real” counselor.

Person B: You will be combining your person-centered attitudes and skills with a problem-solving approach. The basic steps to problem-solving [which you should always remember] are as follows:

  1. In collaboration with the client, identify the problem. When you do this, use your listening skills to try to operationalize it in a behaviorally specific way. Remember, you can ask questions, but if/when a person-centered counselor asks questions, the questions are centered on your client’s experiences and emotions. Remember also to avoid asking two questions in a row, because you need to paraphrase before moving to another question.
  2. Brainstorm (generate) a list of possible strategies that your client could use to solve or manage the problem that you’ve collaboratively identified. Remember to: (a) ask your client permission to start making the list, (b) tell your client that you’re only “making a list” to so that both of you can see all of what might be possible, and (c) therefore neither of you can criticize the alternatives/strategies on the list. In fact, you should let your client know that you’d also like to hear some bad ideas or strategies that have been tried, but that didn’t work perfectly.
  3. After you’ve generated 5-10 alternatives, share/show the list to your client and then ask if it would be okay to discuss the pros and cons and likely outcomes linked to each strategy. The purpose here is to collaboratively engage in a reflective process. You’ll want to know about obstacles that might make using some strategies more difficult and potential positive or negative outcomes/side-effects of each strategy. Explore your client’s thoughts, emotions, and reactions to each of the options, using your best listening skills. Behaviorists call this process “means-ends” thinking or “consequential thinking.” Engaging in this process can be naturally behaviorally inhibiting (meaning that it can decrease the chances of an impulsive behavioral response).
  4. Hand the list to your client. Ask something like, “Based on our discussion and on your feelings and thoughts, would you please rank these ideas from 1 to 8, with 1 being your first choice and 8 being your last choice (assuming there were 8 options).
  5. After your client has ranked the ideas, collaboratively make an implementation and evaluation plan. Your client might choose to use 1 or 2 or 3 different strategies. That’s fine. Ask questions like, “How will you remember to try this out?” and “How will you know if your strategy is successful?” You might need to help your client understand that the goal or outcome needs to be within your client’s circle of control. You also might need to provide psychoeducation on solutions often don’t fix things quickly and that it might take weeks to see progress. Let your client know that you’ll be checking in on progress at your next meeting and that although it would be very nice if the strategy has been implemented, it’s also a success to just be thinking about implementing the plan.

Close the session by thanking your client for engaging in this process with you.