All posts by johnsommersflanagan

Revisiting Rita’s Blog

Hi All.

You know how relationships can be. Sometimes it’s easy to take the person whom you’re living with or hanging out with for granted. This morning, I was reminded (again) that Rita is a very talented writer. So I’m sharing with you a link to her blog. Warning: Rita is exploring varieties of “God” manifestations in the world. It may not be your cup of tea; on the other hand, you might like the idea of ongoing conversations with God and therefore you might love her writing. In this blog-episode, God is coming back from a short vacation. If you’re interested, check it out.

via God Comes Back


Doing Behavior Modification Right

Toilet Drinking Ed

Opposite Day was on January 25th and, sadly, I forgot to celebrate it. Maybe that’s for the best now that it feels like we’re living in an opposite world where, as parents, we need to constantly monitor and compensate for what our children see and hear on social media, television, the news, and from the President.

About a decade ago I “invented” the term: “Backward behavior modification.” It’s sort of like Opposite Day in that it captures the natural (but unintentional) tendency for parents to provide positive reinforcement for their children’s negative and undesirable behavior. As a part of backward behavior modification, parents also often ignore their children’s positive behaviors.

Celebrating Opposite Day requires creativity, mental effort, and planning. Saying the opposite of what you mean is difficult. In contrast, backward behavior modification is all natural, but unhelpful. As parents, we seem to do it automatically. It requires creativity, mental effort, and planning to do behavior modification in the right direction.

The latest episode of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is all about how parents can do behavior modification in the right direction. Now, don’t get me wrong . . . I’m not a BIG proponent of mechanistic, authoritarian behavior modification. However, as Dr. Sara and I talk about on the PPPP, behavior modification is a tool that most parents, at least on occasion, should have in their toolbox.

Here’s a link to the podcast on iTunes:

Here’s another link to the podcast on Libsyn:

Here’s the official podcast description:

Behavior Modification: To Use or Not to Use—That is the Question!

Parenting is difficult. Parenting is also wonderful. As parents, most days we’re reminded of parenting challenges and joys. In today’s episode, Dr. Sara and Dr. John talk (and John dons his professorial persona and talks too much). Sara and John they talk about adding the crucial tool of behavior modification to your parenting toolbox. Don’t worry, we know how the idea of “behavior modification” can feel to parents; it can feel too sterile and mechanistic. The expectation isn’t for you to use behavior modification all the time, but instead to be able to use it when you need it. Even more importantly, our hope is for you to learn how to use it effectively. To help fulfill our hopes, Sara tells a story of behavior modification gone wrong and John and Sara share tips for using behavior modification effectively.

Don’t forget to like the PPPP on Facebook:

And now we’re on Twitter. You can follow us there:

How about Spirituality and the Constructive Perspective?

The second most popular blog post in the history of time is about the distinction between social constructionism and constructivism. Since I’m sure you want to do what’s popular, here it is:

Wait. I constructed that reality. It would be more accurate to make it clear that my bold claim only pertains to my little tiny blog. The constructivism vs. social constructionism averages about 21 hits a day. Whether that makes it popular or not depends on our agreed-upon definition of popular.

We currently live on a planet where people get away with labeling anything they personally disagree with as “fake news.” For many of us, this may have shaken our trust in all things real. Of course, that doesn’t justify me lying. about my so-called popular blog post. In fact, it may  be all he more important for me (and everyone) to be more diligent about the truth.

But this week I’m posting about spirituality and constructive counseling and psychotherapy theory. That means we question reality; it doesn’t necessarily mean we should lie.

Here’s the section from Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice.

Constructive Theory and Spirituality

For constructive theorists and therapists (aka narrative and solution-focused practitioners), spirituality and religion are either (a) individual or (b) social constructions. That doesn’t mean faith is unimportant or irrelevant. In fact, narrative and solution-focused approaches can attract highly religious and spiritual individuals. However, within the scientific literature, there aren’t many publications focusing on the integration of spirituality and constructive therapies.

A PsycInfo title search identified only a handful of publications combining solution-focused or narrative and religious or spiritual. These included an article on solution-focused counseling with clients who have spiritual or religious concerns (Guterman & Leite, 2006) and a meta-analysis of spiritual/narrative interventions on quality of life among cancer patients (Kruizinga et al., 2016).

Guterman and Leite (2006) proposed implementing a standard solution-focused approach with clients who have religious or spiritual problems. They reasoned that because problems are socially constructed and can be addressed via solution-focused strategies, then religious or spiritual problems could be addressed in the same manner. In particular, they advised that the change process involve helping clients to identify and amplify exceptions until the problem is resolved (p. 45). Further, they recommended that a thorough understanding of client worldview was needed to facilitate generation of appropriate and effective solutions.

In the meta-analysis of spiritual/narrative approaches with cancer patients, 12 trials with 1,878 clients were included. Results indicated a moderate immediate effect on overall quality of life (d = 0.50). However, at 3–6 months, the quality of life was no longer significantly improved. The researchers recommend additional studies to understand better how spiritual/narrative interventions might come to have a longer-term effect.

Overall, the crossroad of spirituality and constructive counseling and psychotherapy doesn’t have much traffic. This leaves open great possibilities for further explorations, including the chance to drive brand new thesis and dissertation projects down (or up) this wide-open road.

This photo constructs a reality wherein my long-time friend Neil and I are still only 18-years-old.

Neil and John



Feminist Theory and Spirituality

Woman Statue

Continuing on our stroll through counseling and psychotherapy theories and spirituality, we come now to complicated crossroad; this is where feminism and spirituality intersect. Our focus is on how feminist theorists and feminist therapists deal with spirituality.

This intersection is complex primarily because the manner in which many religions characterize women’s roles and women’s potential is, shall we say, limiting. In contrast, feminist theory views the limiting of women as inappropriate, inaccurate, unacceptable, oppressive, and pathology-creating. All this is to say that when religion and women’s rights converge, there’s ample room for conflict.

The following excerpt from Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice is a lazy stroll. It’s lazy because we don’t go very deep. Instead, because adherents of both perspectives may have strong beliefs (and emotions), we leave the going deep to you. As you contemplate going deeper, it’s nice to keep in mind the theological, philosophical, and practical idea of “Both-And.” There may be paths for becoming both profoundly spiritual and profoundly feminist. And, at least from the surface, the spiritual-feminist path has the look of something quite different from a lazy stroll.

Here’s the short excerpt:

Feminist Theory and Spirituality

Most dominant world religions have rules or practices that restrict women’s freedoms. In some cases, feminists view religion as abusive, coercive, and dangerous toward women. In most cases, feminists view dominant religions as laden with conservative, patriarchal values (Hagen, Arczynski, Morrow, & Hawxhurst, 2011; Jiménez, Almansa, & Alcón, 2017).

The naturally activist orientation of feminism can create tension between feminist therapists and specific religious practices. For example, female genital mutilation is considered a male-perpetuated human rights violation that sanctions systemic violence toward girls and women. Despite the feminist general philosophy of openness to diverse ways of being, feminists view systematic oppression of females in the name of religion to be intolerable (Jiménez et al., 2017).

Feminists see potential for affirmation and liberation in spiritual alternatives. Specifically, feminist writers have discussed ways in which sexually diverse women can use spirituality to enhance their resilience within oppressive sociocultural contexts (Hagen et al., 2011). Integrating affirming spirituality into feminist therapy is an acceptable and, for many clients and therapists, preferred practice (Funderburk & Fukuyama, 2001; Hagen et al., 2011)

Adherents to male-oriented religious or cultural norms are unlikely to welcome feminist critique of their values. This is where the potential for conflict is highest and where feminists could be viewed as imposing their values on other cultural or religious groups. Feminists view the systematic oppression of women as unacceptable, regardless of political, religious, or cultural justifications that might be used to support oppression.




Feeling Sad and Angry About Another School Shooting


Hi All.

I feel sad and angry about the perpetual and unrelenting series of tragic shootings that have been happening in our country. In response, I’m offering part one of my National Firearms Safety Proposal. You can get to this proposal by clicking on this link to my “other” blog:

Thanks in advance for reading and sharing this firearms safety proposal. I hope we can continue working together to help make America safer.


John SF


Upcoming Workshops!

John II

Coming up in March and April, I’ve got two, two-day professional workshops scheduled at the University of Montana. Together, these workshops can earn you 2-credits through the U of M . . . or you can enroll for continuing education credit (one workshop = 2 days = 13 CE hours). Whatever you decide, coming to Missoula in early March and early April is pretty fabulous. We’ve scheduled these workshops for the first Friday and Saturday in Missoula to coincide with the First Friday Art Walk. That way you can workshop during the day and walk around downtown Missoula and check out fantastic Montana art Friday evening.

The workshops and their descriptions are below:

March 2 and 3, 8:30am to 4:30pm: Working with Challenging Youth and Parents . . .  and Loving It

Counseling difficult youth and challenging parents can be immensely frustrating or splendidly gratifying. The truth of this statement is so obvious that the supportive reference, at least according to many teenagers is, “Duh!” Using storytelling, video clips, live demonstrations, group discussion, and skill-building break-out sessions, John will present essential evidence-based principles and over 20 specific techniques for influencing “tough” clients or students. Techniques for working with youth will include, but are not limited to: (a) the affect bridge, (b) what’s good about you?, (c) empowered storytelling, (d) generating behavioral alternatives, (e) the three-step emotional change technique, and many more. Dr. Sara Polanchek will join John for the parenting portion of the workshop. They will describe essential principles for working effectively with parents, how to conduct brief parenting consultations using a positive, solution-focused model, and strategies for providing parents with specific suggestions and advice to parents. Issues related to ethics and culture will be highlighted and discussed throughout this two-day workshop.

Here’s a link to the registration form for both workshops. Registration Form for JSF Workshops 2018

If you want to call for more information: Call 406-243-5252 and leave a message if our administrative person is away. Or you can always email me:

April 6 and 7, 8:30am to 4:30pm: Variations on the Clinical Interview: Collaborative Approaches to Mental Status Examinations, Suicide Assessment, and Suicide Interventions

The clinical interview is the headwaters from which all mental health assessment and interventions flow. In this workshop, following an overview of clinical interviewing principles and practice, skills training for conducting the mental status examination (MSE) and suicide assessment interviews will be provided. Participants will learn MSE terminology, common symptom clusters and presentations, and strategies through which the MSE can be more collaborative and user-friendly. Additionally, participants will learn a flexible model for conducting suicide assessments. This model features eight core suicide dimensions and techniques for directly and collaboratively questioning clients about suicide ideations, previous attempts, hopelessness, and more. Five suicide interventions will be featured: alternatives to suicide; separating suicide intent from the self; interpersonal re-connection; neodissociation; and safety-planning.

One last note: On Wednesday, February 14, I’ll be doing my annual 1/2 day workshop on Tough Kids, Cool Counseling in the Schools at the annual meeting of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). We’re in Chicago this year. So if you happen to be in Chicago, check out the NASP conference.





Choice Theory/Reality Therapy and Spirituality

John and Bob Wubbolding 2017 B

Counseling and psychotherapy theories are wildly variable and surprisingly convergent. What do I mean by this? Well, despite the fact that Sigmund Freud and Francine Shapiro and Steven Hayes and Marsha Linehan have very different ideas about what helps people change for the better, there’s also a boatload of commonality.

Based on my narrow range of experience and knowledge, nowhere is there more commonality than the theoretical outposts of Adlerian theory (i.e., Individual Psychology) and Choice Theory/Reality Therapy. Both of these approaches include a broad theoretical concept related to an individual’s personal and cultural construction of how they view themselves, others, and the world (i.e., Adlerians say “Lifestyle” while Reality Therapists say “Quality World”); both perspectives view individuals as pulled forward by internal values (and not driven by Freudian conflicts); both perspectives view behavior as purposeful, and perhaps not coincidently, they also view psychopathology as purposeful.

All this theory-speak is way for me to introduce this post as a continuation of my spirituality and counseling/psychotherapy theories series. What’s especially interesting about this post (IMHO) is that I’m writing about spirituality and Reality Therapy. I mean, how can a form of therapy that explicitly emphasizes “reality,” accommodate “spirituality?” We’ll see about that . . . maybe.

Chapter 9 of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice focuses on choice theory and reality therapy. Many people may not perfectly understand the definitions of choice theory and reality therapy. As a quick refresher, here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 9, followed by the brief spirituality section.


Reality therapy is often oversimplified and confused with confrontational therapeutic approaches. In this chapter we describe and explain the nuances and clarify the confusion.

What is Choice Theory and Reality Therapy?

Glasser developed reality therapy in the 1960s. Later, recognizing that he needed a theoretical foundation for his therapeutic approach, he began exploring cybernetics and control system theory (Powers, 1973; Wiener, 1948). Initially, Glasser used control theory to explain reality therapy. Later, he adapted the theoretical model and shifted to using choice theory (Glasser, 1998).

Choice theory is based on the idea that conscious behaviors are chosen in an effort to satisfy one of five internal basic human needs (Wubbolding & Brickel, 2017). The human mind or brain acts as a “negative input control system,” providing feedback to individuals so that they can correct behaviors and continue getting what they need and want (Wubbolding, 2012, p. 13).

Reality therapy is a present-focused, directive therapeutic approach designed to help individuals identify and satisfy their needs and wants more consistently and adaptively. As Wubbolding (2012) has written, “If choice theory is the track, reality therapy is the train that delivers the product” (p. 5).

Choice Theory, Reality Therapy, and Spirituality

In the 1989 Spring issue of the Journal of Reality Therapy, Brent Dennis, a certified reality therapist, wrote an article titled, “Faith: The fifth psychological need.” Glasser (1989) responded later that year. Glasser noted that he found the discussion interesting, but that there is “no possible way to resolve an argument about belief” (p. 29). He concluded with a statement embracing inclusiveness toward whatever anyone might place in their quality world. Consistent with this perspective, contemporary reality therapists have published book chapters on how to help interfaith and multicultural couples succeed in their partnerships and marriages (Minatrea & Duba, 2012; Olver, 2012). It’s interesting however, that Glasser described faith as residing in an individual’s quality world; he did not embrace it as a new psychological human need.

In an article on integrating reality therapy into Malaysian Islamic culture, Jusoh and Ahmad (2009) described many ways in which choice theory is consistent with Islam and can be practiced in Asian cultures. Specifically, they focused on the WDEP and SAMI2C3 systems and emphasized their compatibility with Islamic concepts. They concluded that “choice theory and reality therapy have universal attributes, and these can be interpreted in any religion or culture” (2009, p. 7). This statement seems consistent with Glasser’s (1989) inclusive statement on spirituality as a potential human need.

Overall, aside from the content briefly summarized here, little information exists on the integration of spirituality into reality therapy. However, given the growing international flavor of CT/RT, progress in this area seems inevitable.