Category Archives: Clinical Interviewing

The DSM-5 as Poetry

This morning I was trying to make fun of the DSM-5. My strategy was to read passages from the DSM-5 Introduction to Rita after breakfast. Somehow, I must have read them slowly and poetically because Rita really liked the passages . . . which I didn’t expect.

Rita’s response inspired me to place the DSM passages into an appropriate poetry format. And so although I’ve taken the liberty to title and format the words based on my own judgments, the words themselves are taken directly from the DSM-5 (with page numbers cited, so you can find them yourselves).

 Diagnosing Peter Piper

The symptoms in our diagnostic criteria

are part

of

the relatively limited repertoire

of

human emotional responses to

internal

and

external stresses

that are generally maintained in a

homeostatic balance

without a disruption in normal functioning.

It requires clinical training to recognize

when the combination

of

predisposing,

precipitating,

perpetuating,

and

protective

factors

has resulted in a

psychopathological

condition in which

physical signs and symptoms exceed

normal

ranges. [From the DSM-5, p. 19]

 

Shifting Boundaries and Thresholds

The boundaries between normality and pathology

vary

across cultures

for specific types

of behaviors.

Thresholds of tolerance

for specific symptoms

or behaviors

differ

across cultures,

social settings,

and families.

Hence,

the level at which an experience becomes problematic

or pathological

will differ. (DSM-5, p. 14)

 

The Exciting New Preface from Clinical Interviewing (5th edition)

It’s hard to adequately express the excitement surrounding the upcoming publication of the DSM-5. Oops. I meant to write: “the 5th edition of Clinical Interviewing.” I knew there was a 5 in there somewhere.

To help the many world citizens eagerly anticipating this 5th edition, I’m including, hot off of my computer, the first part of the preface. I know . . . it really couldn’t get much more exciting than this.

Who knows, soon I might even be releasing the second part of the preface to this long-awaited masterpiece. [I hope you all can recognize the sarcasm I’m directing toward myself when you read this. It’s just that I’m working on the preface right now and I felt the need to post something on my blog . . . and these two things suddenly merged in space and time.]

Here it is.

Preface

Clinical interviewing is the cornerstone for virtually all mental health work. It involves integrating varying degrees of psychological or psychiatric assessment and treatment. The origins of clinical interviewing long precede the first edition of this text (published in 1993).

The term interview dates back to the 1500s, originally referring to a face-to-face meeting or formal conference. The term clinical originated around 1780; it was used to describe a dispassionate, supposedly objective bedside manner in the treatment of hospital patients. Although difficult to determine precisely when clinical and interview were joined in modern use, it appears that Jean Piaget used a variant of the term clinical interview in 1920 to describe his approach to exploring the nature and richness of children’s thinking. Piaget referred to his procedure as a semi-clinical interview (see Sommers-Flanagan, Zeleke, & Hood, in press).

Our initial exposure to clinical interviewing was in the early 1980s in a graduate course at the University of Montana. Our professor was highly observant and intuitive. We would huddle together around an old cassette player and listen to fresh new recordings of graduate students interviewing perfect strangers. Typically, after listening to about two sentences our professor would hit the pause button and prompt us: “Tell me about this person.”

We didn’t know anything, but would offer limited descriptions like “She sounds perky” or “He says he’s from West Virginia.” He would then regale us with predictions. “Listen to her voice,” he would say, “she’s had rough times.” “She’s depressed, she’s been traumatized, and she’s come to Montana to escape.”

The eerie thing about this process was that our professor was often correct in what seemed like wild predictions. These sessions taught us to respect the role of astute observations, experience, and intuition in clinical interviewing.

Good intuition is grounded on theoretical and practical knowledge, close observation, clinical experience, and scientific mindedness. Bad intuition involves personalized conclusions that typically end up being a disservice to clients. Upon reflection, perhaps one reason we ended up writing and revising this book is to provide a foundation for intuition. In fact, it’s interesting that we rarely mention intuition in this text. Although one of us likes to make wild predictions of the future (including predictions of the weather on a particular day in Missoula, Montana, about three months in advance), we still recognize our limitations and encourage you to learn the science of clinical interviewing before you start practicing the art.

Language Choices

We live in a postmodern world in which language is frequently used to construct and frame arguments. The words we choose to express ourselves cannot help but influence the message. Because language can be used to manipulate (as in advertising and politics), we want to take this opportunity to explain a few of our language choices so you can have insight into our biases and perspectives.

Patients or Clients or Visitor

Clinical interviewing is a cross-disciplinary phenomenon. While revising this text we sought feedback from physicians, psychologists, social workers, and professional counselors. Not surprisingly, physicians and psychologists suggested we stick with the term patient, whereas social workers and counselors expressed strong preferences for client. As a third option, in the Mandarin Chinese translation of the second edition of this text, the term used was visitor.

After briefly grappling with this dilemma, we decided to primarily use the word client in this text, except for cases in which patient is used in previously quoted material. Just as Carl Rogers drifted in his terminology from patient to client to person, we find ourselves moving away from some parts and pieces of the medical model. This doesn’t mean we don’t respect the medical model, but that we’re intentionally choosing to use more inclusive language that emphasizes wellness. We unanimously voted against using visitor—although thinking about the challenges of translating this text to Mandarin made us smile.

Sex and Gender

Consistent with Alfred Adler, Betty Freidan, contemporary feminist theorists, and American Psychological Association (APA) style, we like to think of ourselves as promoting an egalitarian world. As a consequence, we’ve dealt with gender in one of two ways: (1) when appropriate, we use the plural clients and their when referring to case examples; and (2) when necessary, we alternate our use between she and he.

Interviewer, Psychotherapist, Counselor or Therapist

While working at a psychiatric hospital in 1980, John once noticed that if you break down the word therapist it could be transformed into the-rapist. Shocked by his linguistic discovery, he pointed it out to the hospital social worker, who quipped back, “That’s why I always call myself a counselor!”

This is a confusing issue and difficult choice. For the preceding four editions of this text we used the word interviewer because it fit so perfectly with the text’s title, Clinical Interviewing. However, we’ve started getting negative feedback about the term. One reviewer noted that he “hated it.” Others complained “It’s too formal” and “It’s just a weird term to use in a text that’s really about counseling and psychotherapy.”

Given the preceding story, you might think that we’d choose the term counselor, but instead we’ve decided that exclusively choosing counselor or psychotherapist might inadvertently align us with one professional discipline over another. The conclusion: Mostly we use therapist and occasionally we leave in the term interviewer and also allow ourselves the freedom to occasionally use counselor, psychotherapist, and clinician.

Your Life is Now: Trapper Creek Reflections

The Road

Note: This is a re-post. I had a chance to drive to Trapper this past week with one of our doc students and I was reminded of the powerful life experiences that happen at Trapper Creek Job Corps.

********************

Sometimes on Thursday or Fridays I drive from Missoula to Trapper Creek Job Corps. Then I drive back the same day. It’s a 140 mile round trip. Sometimes I have interns with me. The company makes the miles go by more quickly. Sometimes the interns are very nervous sitting next to me for the whole drive and consequently compete to see who gets the back seat. This makes me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t quiz them about theories of counseling and psychotherapy as we drive there together. Although I wonder about this . . . I haven’t changed my behavior. Maybe this means I’m trying to scare them all into the back seat.

This week I was on my own. When this is the case I usually begin wondering why the heck I drive all these miles. Of course, I get paid to go to Trapper Creek. That’s one answer I give to myself. But I keep wondering anyway. It’s a long day, usually 11 or 12 hours. And when I’m about halfway there, 45 minutes into dodging deer with 45 more minutes to deal with Bitterroot drivers, I begin planning my retirement from Trapper Creek.

This is my 10th year (2013). I know the road and I know the deer and I know the Bitterroot drivers, who, in an apparent show of independence, nearly always drive either 10 mph under or 10 mph over the speed limit.

Today my retirement planning ended shortly after arriving at Trapper Creek. There were three straight appointments scheduled for me: three straight chances to do something more than talk about how to do psychological assessment and psychotherapy. And then a chance to observe and give feedback to the nursing staff and a chance to offer my unsolicited opinion to the physician on how to deal with an ingrown toenail and then a fourth student to see and a staff consultation and a meeting and a quick hello to our three University of Montana school counseling interns and wild typing of reports and poof . . . the day is over without a moment to ponder life or reflect on retirement.

The drive back to Missoula is nearly always better. There are stories to tell, opportunities to second guess myself, and unrealistic hopes and fantasies about having possibly helped someone. The miles melt away.

[The following stories are vague and distorted to preserve anonymity]

Today, with no interns for company my buddy John Cougar Mellencamp joined me on the drive back. We decided to sing together. We sang the same song so many times we lost count.

Your Life is Now

This is your time . . . to do what you will do

The first two young women were graduating from Trapper and moving on to advanced Job Corps training. They needed brief clinical interviews and mental status exams. These two hard working and delightful young women are at Trapper because they’ve experienced poverty and want to improve their lives.

Your life is now

One had a history of having been diagnosed with two severe mental disorders. Before coming to Trapper she’d been on two very powerful psychotropic medications. Funny thing: At Trapper she attained a very high level of functioning without medications . . . for nine straight months!

Your life is now

She had many “citations” for positive behavior. The staff love her. There was no shred of evidence that she had a mental disorder. So I just told her so. She grinned, looked at me, and said, “I guess that’s pretty good news.” Yep, pretty good news.

Your life is now

The second young woman was equally impressive.

In this undiscovered moment

But my last appointment, a young man with a history of trauma, really made my day.

We had visited two weeks previously and had made a plan to try some EMDR for his troubling trauma symptoms. He was eager and right on time. We talked briefly to warm up. He chose a memory. We went through various rating procedures included in the EMDR protocol.

Lift your head up above the crowd

We did several sets of eye movements. I did my usual wandering in and out of the “proper” EMDR protocol. After 10 minutes, we stopped and I asked him to reflect on his experience. He turned his head back and forth and said, “My neck doesn’t hurt anymore.”

We could shake this world

Then he smiled and said, “I feel like I can breathe again.” And then, “I wish I’d known about this ten years ago.”

If you would only show us how

Thank you Trapper Creek

Thank you fine young women and men

Thank you nurses and doctor and interns and staff

Thank you deer and Bitterroot drivers

Thank you for showing me how to shake this world and make a difference.

 Your life is now

Talking About White Privilege with Tommy Flanagan

Tonight I’m in Absarokee, MT and had a chance to talk awhile with my very cool nephew, Tommy Flanagan. Tommy attends Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. He shared with me this evening that he’s currently enrolled in several courses focusing on gender, feminist, and cultural issues. We talked about our respective invisible knapsacks and he even asked me how a White guy like me would approach counseling with a Black Lesbian woman. In response, I said, “Well, I just wrote something about that in the Clinical Interviewing text and I had a Black Lesbian woman review it so I would be sure to get some feedback.”

And so here’s the piece:

Working with Gay and Lesbian couples or couples and families from different cultural backgrounds can present clinicians with unique challenges (Bigner & Wetchler, 2004). As discussed in Chapter 11, when a clinician and client have clear and unmistakable differences, the client may initially scrutinize the clinician more closely than if the client and clinician are culturally similar or of the same sexual orientation. These circumstances call for sensitivity, tact, and a discussion of the obvious. Imagine the following scenario:

You’re a white, heterosexual, Christian male. You have a new appointment at 3pm with Sandy Davis and Latisha Johnson for couple counseling. When you get to the waiting room, you see two African American females sitting side by side. You introduce yourself and on the short walk back to your office you mentally process the situation and come to several conclusions: (a) You’re about to meet with an African American Lesbian couple; (b) you’ve never done therapy with this particular cultural minority group; (c) you’re aware of your uncertainty and your concerns about your lack of knowledge makes you feel uncomfortable . . . but also recognize that you want the couple to be comfortable with you . . . and realize they may be feeling similar discomfort about your cultural differences; (d) you are clear that it’s your ethical mandate to provide services to the best of your ability; and (d) although you don’t feel competent to work with this couple, this is a low-income clinic and so the couple may not have many alternatives. How do you proceed?

Below is a brief list of how a clinician might specifically handle this situation. After this list, we provide a description of the underlying principles:

  1. Welcome the couple to your office with the warmth and engagement you offer to all clients (e.g., “I’m glad you could come to the clinic today for your appointment and am happy to meet you. . .”).
  2. Explain confidentiality and the limits of confidentiality. Also, review relevant agency policies that you routinely review with new clients.
  3. If you know the purpose of their visit (e.g., couple counseling) because of the registration form, explain how you usually work with couples.
  4. Let the couple know you’d like them to ask any questions of you they may have . . . but before they ask the questions, explain: “My usual approach with couples is primarily based on work with heterosexual couples. I don’t have experience working with African American Lesbian couples. I’d like to work with you as long as you’re comfortable working with me and it seems like the work is helpful. I know there aren’t lots of couple’s counseling options available. What I propose—if it’s okay with the two of you—is that we start working together today. Today I’ll be asking you directly about your goals for counseling, but also about your interests, values, spirituality and other things that will help me know you better as individuals and as a couple. And toward the end of our session I’ll ask you for feedback about how you think our work together is going and I’ll try to honor that feedback and make adjustments so we can work well together. If, for whatever reason, it looks like we can’t work together effectively, I’ll offer you a good referral to another therapist. What do you think of that plan?”

As described in Chapter 11, the general multicultural competencies include: (a) Awareness (e.g., knowing your biases and limitations); (b) knowledge (e.g., gathering information pertaining to specific cultural groups); and (c) skills (e.g., applying culturally-specific interventions in a culturally sensitive manner). In addition to these competencies, the preceding case illustrates the need for clinicians to explicitly address cultural differences using the following strategies:

  • Cultural universality (treating culturally different clients with same respect you offer to culturally similar clients)
  • Collaboration (working with the clients to understand the particulars of their culture and situation)
  • Feedback (soliciting ongoing feedback regarding client perceptions of how the interview is proceeding and make adjustments based on that feedback).

No clinician can be expected to have awareness, knowledge, and skills for working with every possible diverse client. That being the case, if you also rely on cultural universality, collaboration, and feedback to help strengthen the therapeutic alliance, you’ll have a better chance for therapy to proceed in an ethically and professionally acceptable manner.

 

Mental Status Examination Video Clip

Historically, the mental status examination (MSE) has held a revered place in psychiatry and medicine. In recent years, professional competence in conducting MSEs has expanded to include all mental health professionals, especially those who work within medical settings.As an example of how MSE skills have become more cross-disciplinary, the latest accreditation standards for professional counselors require coverage of MSE concepts and skills within master’s level counseling programs (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, 2009). Overall, the MSE offers physicians, psychologists, counselors, and social workers a unique method for evaluating the internal mental condition of patients or clients.

Very recently, our publisher, John Wiley and Sons, posted a clip from a training DVD we filmed on MSE skills. Check it out at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lu50uciF5Y

 

Guidelines for Violence Risk Assessment

Predicting violence is notoriously very difficult. Nevertheless, sometimes counselors, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists are faced with situations where they need to make estimates or predictions of violence potential. The material below is a short preview from Clinical Interviewing, 5th edition. http://www.amazon.com/Clinical-Interviewing-John-Sommers-Flanagan/dp/1118270045/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

Research findings imply that therapists who hope to conduct accurate violence assessments should know actuarial violence prediction risk factors. However, as is often the case, scientific research doesn’t always parallel real-life situations faced by therapists. For example, while much of the actuarial violence research has been conducted on forensic or prison populations—with the designated outcome measure being violent recidivism—therapists typically face situations in schools, residential treatment centers, and private practice (Juhnke, Granello, & Granello, 2011). Consequently, although actuarial violence prediction risk factors may be helpful, they probably don’t generalize well to situations where a counselor is making a judgment about whether there’s duty to protect (and therefore warn) a shop teacher about a boy (who has never been incarcerated) who reports vivid images of slitting his shop teacher’s throat.

Given these limits, it’s best for us to call clinical interview-based assessments in school and agency settings violence assessment, rather than violence prediction. This distinction helps clarify the fact that what most clinicians do in general practice settings, including public and private schools, falls far short of scientific, actuarial-based violence prediction.

A Reasonable Approach to Violence Risk Assessment

Predicting violence is a challenging proposition. Despite the many shifting variables that change based on the specifics of any given situation and despite the low base rate, and therefore inherent unpredictability of violent behavior, this section provides general guidelines that may be helpful should you find yourself in a situation where violence assessment is necessary. Of course, in addition to this guide you should always pursue consultation and supervision support when working with potentially violent clients.

Table 12.2 includes a general guide to violence assessment. It doesn’t include common actuarial risk factors from two common instruments, the Violent Rate Appraisal Guide (Harris, Rice, & Quinsey, 1993) or the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (Hare et al., 1990; Harpur, Hakstian, & Hare, 1988). If you find yourself intrigued with violence risk assessment you may want to explore a career in forensic psychology.

Table 12.2. A General Guide to Violence Assessment
The following checklist is offered as a general guide to conducting violence assessment. It should not be used as a substitute for actuarial prediction.
____1.  Ask direct and indirect questions about violent behavior history. Be especially alert to physical aggression and cruelty. If the violent behavior that’s being threatened is similar to a past violent behavior the risk of violence may be higher.

_____2. Because potentially violent individuals aren’t always honest about their violence history, you may need to ask collateral informants—someone other than the client—about the client’s history of violent behavior (assuming you have a release of information signed or have determined you have an ethical-legal responsibility to protect someone from harm).

____3.  You should listen for details that might help you identify potential victims. If the details are not forthcoming, you may need to ask specific questions in an effort to obtain those details. Identification of a specific victim increases violence risk (and provides you with information about whom you should warn).

____4. As clients talk about violent urges, you should listen for specifics about the plan. As needed, you may, through curious and indirect questioning, make efforts to further assess the specificity of the client’s violence plan. More specific plans are associated with increased violence risk.

____5. If clients don’t tell you about his or her access to a weapon or means for committing his or her planned violent act, you should ask. Similar to suicidal situations, access to lethal means increases violence risk.

____6. Historical information is doubly important. Generally speaking, the sooner violent behavior patterns began, the more likely they are to continue and clients raised in chaotic and violent environments (including gang involvement) are at higher risk for violence.

____7. Diagnostic information may be helpful. When looking at DSM diagnoses, the best violence predictors include items from list B** of the **DSM’s Antisocial Personality diagnostic criteria (see DSM-IV-TR**).

____8. Evaluate current cognitions. If clients have low expectations of being caught or of having consequences, risk may be higher.

____9. Consider substance use. Positive attitudes towards substance use and substance use when carrying weapons confer greater risk.

____10. Notice your intuition. Intuition isn’t a great predictor of anything, but if you have images of violence linked to a particular client, it’s reasonable to err on the conservative side and begin the process of warning potential victims.

**This information may change in the DSM-5

Musings About Online Counseling

As Rita and I updated the Clinical Interviewing text, we did a little web-searching for online counseling resources and the excerpt below includes our musings on this very interesting topic.

From Clinical Interviewing, 4th ed, updated, SF & SF, 2012

http://www.amazon.com/John-Sommers-Flanagan/e/B0030LK6NM/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

Online Counseling: Ethics and Reality

As a part of reviewing information for this chapter, we perused Internet therapy options available to potential consumers. Previous publications suggested a possible plethora of Internet counseling and psychotherapy providers with questionable professional credentials (Heinlen, Welfel, Richmond, & O’Donnell, 2003; Shaw & Shaw, 2006). Although we hoped that Internet service provision standards had improved, we weren’t overly impressed with our results. Generally, we found that most providers may have more expertise in business and marketing than they do in professional clinical work. Affixed on this foundation of business and marketing, we found two distinct approaches: the more ethical and the less ethical.

The Less Ethical Approach

Many providers offer online services but don’t acknowledge having specific credentials (e.g., a license) typically associated with clinical expertise. For example, practitioners with bachelor’s degrees (or less) made statements like the following:

“I am a counselor, life coach, and spiritual teacher with over 20 years of experience. I have studied the fields of counseling, psychology, personal growth, relationships, communications, business, computer programming and technology, languages, spirituality, metaphysics and energetic bodywork! In addition to my training, a [sic] 18-year relationship with my second husband has deepened my capacity to help others with relationship issues.”

This sort of enthusiastic introduction was typically followed by an equally enthusiastic statement about the breadth of services offered:

“My online counseling services specialties include, but are not limited to: anxiety/panic, self-esteem, highly sensitive people, couples counseling, relationship advice, life and career coaching, emotional intelligence, personal growth, affairs, guilt issues, work and career, trust issues, abuse/boundary issues, communication skills, conflict resolution, grief and loss, emotional numbness, spiritual development, stress management, blame, court-ordered counseling, codependency, problem resolution, jealousy, codependency and attachment, anger and depression, food and body, and developing peace of mind.”

Curiously, we found that the broad range of claims on websites such as these did not move us toward developing or experiencing peace of mind.

The More Ethical Approach

There were also websites that included professional, licensed providers. For example, one website listed and described eight licensed practitioners with backgrounds in professional counseling, social work, and psychology. These professionals offered webcam therapy, text therapy, e-mail therapy, and telephone therapy.

Prices included:

  • E-mail therapy: $25 per online counselor reply
  • Unlimited e-mail therapy: $200 per month
  • Chat therapy: $45 per 50-minute session
  • Telephone therapy: $80 per 50-minute session
  • Webcam therapy: $80 per 50-minute session

The more ethical professional Internet services also tended to include information related to theoretical orientation. For example, a “postmodern” approach was described as involving: “Staying positive . . . focused on the here and now . . . offering solutions that meet your needs . . . a collaborative and respectful environment . . . quick results . . .”

How to Choose an Internet Services Provider

The National Directory of Online Counselors now exists to help consumers choose an online provider. They state:

“We have personally verified the credentials and the websites of each therapist listed in the National Directory of Online Counselors. Feel assured that the therapists listed are state board licensed, have a Master’s Degree or Doctoral Degree in a mental health discipline, and have online counseling experience.”

The listed therapists and websites are set up and ready to handle secure communication, and offer various services such as eMail Sessions, Chat Sessions, and Telephone Sessions. All work conducted by the professional licensed therapists meet[s] strict confidentiality standards overseen by their professional state board.

Both of these distinct approaches to online therapy emphasize that help is only a mouse click away.