Category Archives: Clinical Interviewing

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.

Exploring Empathy III

This is a practice-based situation that makes for good discussion about how empathic and how leading it’s appropriate to be in a counseling or psychotherapy session.

Putting It in Practice 5.1

What and How to Validate? Empathic Responding to Trauma and Abuse

Empathy often includes validation of client emotional experiences. But sometimes clients have ambivalent feelings about their own experiences which makes empathic validation complicated. This is especially possible in cases of trauma and abuse where victims can and do experience victim guilt—feeling as though they caused their own abusive experiences. For example, take the following Therapist-client interaction:

Therapist: “Can you think of a time when you felt unfairly treated? Perhaps punished when you didn’t deserve it?”

Client: “No, not really. (15-second pause) Well, I guess there was this one time. I was supposed to clean the house for my mother while she was gone. It wasn’t done when she got back, and she broke a broom over my back.”

Therapist: “She broke a broom over your back?” (stated with a slight inflection, indicating possible disapproval or surprise with the mother’s behavior)

Client: “Yeah. I probably deserved it, though. The house wasn’t cleaned like she had asked.”

In this situation, the client seems to have mixed feelings about her mother. On the one hand, the mother treated her unfairly; on the other hand, the client felt guilty because she saw herself as a bad girl who didn’t follow her mother’s directions. The therapist was trying to convey empathy through voice tone and inflection. This technique was chosen due to concerns that focusing too strongly on the client’s guilt or indignation and anger might prematurely shut down exploration of the client’s ambivalent feelings. Despite the therapist’s minimal expression of empathy, the client defended her mother’s punitive actions. This suggests that the client had already accepted (by age 11, and still accepted at age 42) her mother’s negative evaluation of her. From a person-centered or psychoanalytic perspective, a stronger supportive statement such as “That’s just abuse, mothers should never break brooms over their daughters’ backs” may have closed off any exploration of the client’s victim guilt about the incident.

Alternatively, this is a situation where gentle, open and empathic questioning might help deepen the therapist’s understanding of the client’s unique personal experience and help her explore other feelings, like anger, that she might have in response to her mother’s abuse. For example, the therapist could have asked:

I hear you saying that maybe you feel you deserved to be hit by your mother in that situation, but I also can’t help but wonder . . . what other feelings you might have?

Or, the therapist might use a third-person or relationship question to help the client engage in empathic perspective-taking herself:

What if you had a friend who experienced something like what you experienced? What would you say to your friend?

From a nondirective perspective, sensitive nondirective responses that communicate empathy through voice tone, facial expression, and feeling reflection are usually more advantageous than open support and sympathy. There’s always time for open support later, after the client has explored both sides of the issue.

In first version of this interaction, the therapist used a nondirective model, expressing only nonverbal empathy for the client’s abuse experience. He didn’t openly criticize or judge the mother’s violence. Do you think the therapist might have been too nondirective—in some ways aligning with the part of the client that felt her mother was justified in abusing her? Is it possible that the client actually might have been more able to explore her anger toward her mother if the therapist had led her in that direction using immediacy (i.e., empathic self-disclosure):

“When I imagine myself in your situation, I can feel the guilt you feel, but also, a part of me feels angry that my mother would care so much about housecleaning and so little about me.”

This self-disclosure is both empathic and leading. Do you think it’s too leading? Or do you think it’s a better response than the neutrality often emphasized in psychoanalytic therapies? These are important issues to discuss as you intentionally develop your own therapy style. . . and so be sure to discuss the variety of ways you might respond empathically and therapeutically to this client scenario.

Exploring Empathy — Part I

Happy Saturday. This post is the first of a three-part preview of our discussion on Empathy from Clinical Interviewing, 5th Edition.

See: http://www.amazon.com/Clinical-Interviewing-2012-2013-John-Sommers-Flanagan/dp/1118390113/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

Empathic Understanding

Empathic understanding is a central concept in counseling and psychotherapy. Rogers (1980) defined empathy as:

. . . the therapist’s sensitive ability and willingness to understand the client’s thoughts, feelings, and struggles from the client’s point of view. [It is] this ability to see completely through the client’s eyes, to adopt his frame of reference, (p. 85) . . .  It means entering the private perceptual world of the other . . . being sensitive, moment by moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person. . . . It means sensing meanings of which he or she is scarcely aware. (p. 142)

Rogers’s definition of empathy is complex. It includes several components.

  • Therapist ability or skill
  • Therapist attitude or willingness
  • A focus on client thoughts, feelings, and struggles
  • Adopting the client’s frame of reference or perspective-taking
  • Entering the client’s private perceptual world
  • Moment-to-moment sensitivity to felt meanings
  • Sensing meanings of which the client is barely aware

A Deeper Look at Empathy

As with congruence and unconditional positive regard, the complexity of Rogers’s definition has made research on empathy challenging. Many different definitions of empathy have been articulated (Batson, 2009; Clark, 2010; Duan & Hill, 1996). According to Elliott, Bohart, Watson, & Greenberg (2011), recent advances in neuroscience have helped consolidate empathy definitions into three core subprocesses:

  1. Emotional simulation: This is a process that allows one person to experientially mirror another’s emotions. Emotional simulation likely involves mirror neurons and various brain structures within the limbic system (e.g., insula).
  2. Perspective-taking: This is a more intellectual or conceptual process that appears to involve the pre-frontal and temporal cortices.
  3. Emotion regulation: This involves a process of re-appraising or soothing of one’s own emotional reactions. It appears to be a springboard for a helping response. Emotional regulation may involve the orbitofrontal cortex and prefrontal and right inferior parietal cortices.

Empathy is an interpersonal process that requires experiencing, inference, and action. In chapter 1 we noted that playing a note on one violin will cause a string on another violin to vibrate as well, albeit at a lower level. In therapy, this has been referred to as resonance. Most people have had the experience of feeling tears well up at a movie or while someone talks about pain or trauma. This is the experiential component of empathy that Elliot et al., (2011) referred to as emotional simulation).

Beyond this physical/experiential resonance, one person cannot objectively know another person’s emotions and thoughts. Consequently, at some level, empathy always involves subjective inference. This process has been referred to as perspective-taking in the scientific literature and is considered a cognitive or intellectual requirement of empathy (Stocks, Lishner, Waits, & Downum, 2011).

Empathy—at least within the context of a clinical interview—also requires action. Therapists must cope with and process the emotions that are triggered and then provide an empathic response. Most commonly this involves reflection of feeling or feeling validation, but nearly every potential interviewing response or behavior can include verbal and nonverbal components that include empathy. The action component of empathy is likely what Elliot et al., are referring to with the term emotional regulation.

Simple guides to experiencing and expressing empathy can help you develop your empathic abilities. At the same time, we don’t believe any single strategy will help you develop the complete empathy package. For example, Carkhuff (1987) referred to the intellectual or perspective-taking part of empathy as “asking the empathy question” (p. 100). He wrote:

By answering the empathy question we try to understand the feelings expressed by our helpee. We summarize the clues to the helpee’s feelings and then answer the question, How would I feel if I were Tom and saying these things? (p. 101).

Carkhuff’s empathy question is a useful tool for tuning into client feelings, but it also oversimplifies the empathic process in at least two ways. First, it assumes therapists have a perfectly calibrated internal affective barometer. Unfortunately this is not the case as clients and therapists can have such different personal experiences that the empathy question produces completely inaccurate results; just because you would feel a particular way if you were in the client’s shoes doesn’t mean the client feels the same way. Sometimes empathic responses are a projection of the therapist’s feelings onto the client. If you rely solely on Carkhuff’s empathy question, you risk projecting your own feelings onto clients.

Consider what might happen if a therapist tends towards pessimism, while her client usually puts on a happy face. The following exchange might occur:

Client: “I don’t know why my dad wants us to come to therapy now and talk to each other. We’ve never been able to communicate. It doesn’t even bother me any more. I’ve accepted it. I wish he would accept it too.”

Therapist: “It must make you angry to have a father who can’t communicate effectively with you.”

Client: “Not at all. I’m letting go of my relationships with my parents. Really, I don’t let it bother me.”

In this case, asking the empathy question: “How would I feel if I could never communicate well with my father?” may produce angry feelings in the therapist. This process consequently results in the therapist projecting her own feelings onto the client—which turns out to be a poor fit for the client. Accurate empathic responding stays close to client word content and nonverbal messages. If this client had previously expressed anger or was looking upset or angry (e.g., angry facial expression, raised voice), the therapist might resonate with and choose to reflect anger. However, instead the therapist’s comment is inaccurate and is rejected by the client. The therapist could have stayed more closely with what her client expressed by focusing on key words. For example:

Coming into therapy now doesn’t make much sense to you. Maybe you used to have feelings about your lack of communication with your dad, but it sounds like at this point you feel pretty numb about the whole situation and just want to move on.

This second response is more accurate. It touches on how the client felt before, what she presently thinks, as well as the numbed affective response. The client may well have unresolved sadness, anger, or disappointment, but for the therapist to connect with these buried feelings requires a more interpretive intervention. Recall from Chapter 3 that interpretations and interpretive feeling reflections must be supported by adequate evidence.

To help with the intellectual process of perspective-taking, instead of focusing exclusively on what you’d feel if you were in your client’s shoes, you can expand your repertoire in at least three ways:

  1. Reflect on how other clients have felt or might feel
  2. Reflect on how your friends or family might feel and think in response to this particular experience
  3. Read and study about experiences similar to your clients’.

Based on Rogers’s writings, Clark (2010) referred to intellectual approaches to expanding your empathic understanding as objective empathy. Objective empathy involves using “theoretically informed observational data and reputable sources in the service of understanding a client” (Clark, 2010, p. 349). Objective empathy is based on the application of external knowledge to the empathic process—this can expand your empathic responding beyond your own personal experiences.

Rogers (1961) also emphasized that feeling reflections should be stated tentatively so clients can freely accept or dismiss them. Elliot et al., (2011) articulated the tentative quality of empathy very well: “Empathy should always be offered with humility and held lightly, ready to be corrected” (p. 147)

From a psychoanalytic perspective, it’s possible to show empathy not only for what clients are saying, but also for their defensive style (e.g., if they’re using defense mechanisms such as rationalization or denial, show empathy for those):

Client: “I don’t know why my dad wants us to come to therapy now. We’ve never been able to communicate. It doesn’t even bother me any more. I’ve accepted it. I wish he would.”

Therapist: “Coming into therapy now doesn’t make much sense to you. Maybe you had feelings about your lack of communication with your dad before, but it sounds like you feel pretty numb about the whole situation now.”

Client: “Yeah, I guess so. I think I’m letting go of my relationships with my parents. Really, I don’t let it bother me.”

Therapist: “Maybe one of the ways you protect yourself from feeling anything is to distance yourself from your parents. Otherwise, it could still bother you, I suppose.”

Client: “Yeah. I guess if I let myself get close to my parents again, my dad’s pathetic inability to communicate would bug me again.”

This client still has feelings about her father’s poor communication. One of the functions of accurate empathy is to facilitate the exploration of feelings or emotions (Greenberg, Watson, Elliot, & Bohart, 2001). By staying with the client’s feelings instead of projecting her own feelings onto the client, the therapist is more likely to facilitate emotional exploration.

A second way in which Carkhuff’s (1987) empathy question is simplistic is that it treats empathy as if it had to do only with accurately reflecting client feelings. Although accurate feeling reflection is an important part of empathy, as Rogers (1961) and others have discussed, empathy also involves thinking and experiencing with clients (Akhtar, 2007). Additionally, Rogers’s use of empathy with clients frequently focused less on emotions and more on meaning. Recall that in his original definition, Rogers wrote that empathy involved: “. . . being sensitive, moment by moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person. . .” (p. 142). And so empathic understanding is not simple, it involves feeling with, thinking with, sensing felt meanings, and reflecting all this and more back to the client with a humility that acknowledges deep respect for the validity of the client’s own experiences.

More to come on this tomorrow in “Exploring Empathy” Part II.

References

Akhtar, S. (Ed.). (2007). Listening to others: Developmental and clinical aspects of empathy and attunement Lanham, MD, US: Jason Aronson.

Carkhuff, R. R. (1987). The art of helping (6th ed.). Amherst, MA: Human Resource Development Press.

Clark, A. J. (2010). Empathy: An integral model in the counseling process. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88, 348-356.

Greenberg, L. S., Watson, J. C., Elliot, R., & Bohart, A. C. (2001). Empathy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38(4), 380-384.

Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Stocks, E. L., Lishner, D. A., Waits, B. L., & Downum, E. M. (2011). I’m embarrassed for you: The effect of valuing and perspective taking on empathic embarrassment and empathic concern. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(1), 1-26. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00699.x

 

What I’m Writing Today: CI5 Chapter 5

With a February 1 deadline looming, I’m in all out writing and editing mode. Today’s topic: Congruence. Below is an excerpt from the draft of the upcoming 5th edition of Clinical Interviewing. I gotta say, Congruence and Carl Rogers—good stuff—way better than any NFL playoff games:). I know, Empathy would be a little better, but you can’t always get what you want.

Here’s a glimpse of the opening of chapter 5: Evidence-Based Relationships in the Clinical Interview

In 1957, Carl Rogers made a bold declaration that has profoundly shaped research and practice in counseling and psychotherapy. He hypothesized in a Journal of Consulting Psychology article that no techniques or methods were needed, that diagnostic knowledge was “for the most part, a colossal waste of time” (1957, p. 102), and that all that was necessary and sufficient for therapeutic change to occur was a certain type of relationship between therapist and client.

Although we could go back further in time and note that Freud (of course) had originally discussed the potential value of therapeutic relationships, Rogers’s revolutionary statements refocused the profession. Until Rogers, therapy was primarily about theoretically-based methods, techniques, and interventions. After Rogers {{365 Rogers 1961; 690 Rogers 1957; 363 Rogers 1942;}}, we began thinking and talking about the possibility that it might be the relationship between client and therapist—not necessarily the methods and techniques employed—that produced therapeutic change.

For years, a great debate has fulminated within the counseling and psychotherapy disciplines {{499 Wampold 2001;}}. Norcross and Lambert (2011) refer to this debate as “The culture wars in psychotherapy” (p. 3). They describe it as a polarization or dichotomy captured by the question: “Do treatments cure disorders or do relationships heal people?” (p. 3). As academics and professional organizations have engaged in this debate, typically there has been little room for moderation and common sense. There have been assertions about the “rape” of psychotherapy as well as strong criticisms of practitioners who blithely ignore important empirical research {{4453 Baker,Timothy B. 2008; 5969 Fox, Ronald E. 1995;}}. The heat of this controversy continues, in part, because we live in a world with limited health care dollars . . . and the fight to determine which forms of therapy are included as “valid” and therefore reimbursable will likely continue.

But the focus of this chapter is about a part of the controversy that’s really no longer a controversy at all. In the past two decades excellent research and research reviews have settled at least one dimension of the argument. Evidence now overwhelming shows that therapy relationships do contribute to positive outcomes across all forms of therapy and setting {{2241 Goldfried 2007; 285 Sommers-Flanagan 2007; 4074 Norcross 2011;}}. The question is no longer a matter of whether the relationship in counseling and psychotherapy matters, but how much it matters.

This chapter focuses on what has come to be known as “evidence-based therapy relationships” {{5958 Norcross 2011;}}. Although organized around specific theories and supporting research, the chapter also provides clinical examples for how the theories and evidence translate into specific evidence-based relationship facilitating behaviors that occur in the clinical interview.

Carl Rogers’s Core Conditions

Carl Rogers (1942) believed that the necessary and sufficient therapeutic relationship consisted of three core conditions: (a) congruence, (b) unconditional positive regard, and (c) empathic understanding. In his words:

Thus, the relationship which I have found helpful is characterized by a sort of transparency on my part, in which my real feelings are evident; by an acceptance of this other person as a separate person with value in his own right; and by a deep empathic understanding which enables me to see his private world through his eyes. When these conditions are achieved, I become a companion to my client, accompanying him in the frightening search for himself, which he now feels free to undertake. (Rogers, 1961, p. 34)

Congruence

Congruence means that a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors match. Based on person-centered theory and therapy, congruence is less a skill and more an experience. Congruent therapists are described as genuine, authentic, and comfortable with themselves. Congruence includes spontaneity and honesty; it’s usually associated with the clinical skill of immediacy and involves some degree of self-disclosure (see Chapter 4).

Congruence is complex and has been described as “abstract and elusive” {{5961 Kolden, Gregory G. 2011;}} (p. 187). The ability to be congruent includes an internal dimension that involves clients being in touch with their inner feelings or real self plus an external or expressive dimension that involves therapists’ being able to articulate their internal experiences in ways that clients can understand. The following excerpt from Rogers’s work illustrates these internal and external dimensions of experiencing and expressing congruence:

We tend to express the outer edges of our feelings. That leaves us protected and makes the other person unsafe. We say, “This and this (which you did) hurt me.” We do not say, “This and this weakness of mine made me be hurt when you did this and this.”

To find this inward edge of my feelings, I need only ask myself, “Why?” When I find myself bored, angry, tense, hurt, at a loss, or worried, I ask myself, “Why?” Then, instead of “You bore me,” or “this makes me mad,” I find the “why” in me which makes it so. That is always more personal and positive, and much safer to express. Instead of “You bore me,” I find, “I want to hear more personally from you,” or, “You tell me what happened, but I want to hear also what it all meant to you.” (pp. 390-391)

Rogers also emphasized that congruent expression is important even if it consists of attitudes, thoughts, or feelings that don’t, on the surface, appear conducive to a good relationship. He’s suggesting that it’s acceptable—and even good—to speak about things that are difficult to talk about. However, as you can see from the preceding example, Rogers expected therapists to look inward and transform their negative feelings into more positive external expressions of congruence.

Guidelines for Using Congruence

When discussing congruence, students often wonder how this concept is manifest. Common questions include:

  • Does congruence mean I say what I’m really thinking in the session?
  • If I feel sexually attracted to a client, should I be “congruent” and share my feelings?
  • If I feel like touching a client, should I go ahead and touch?
  • What if I don’t like something a client does? Am I being incongruent if I don’t express my dislike?

These are important questions. Watson, Greenberg, & Lietaer {{4387 Greenberg,Leslie S. 1998;}} provided one way for determining the appropriateness of therapist transparency or congruence. They wrote: “. . . it is not necessary to share every aspect of [your] experience but only those that [you] feel would be facilitative of [your] clients’ work” (p. 9). This is a good initial guideline: Would the disclosure be facilitative? In fact, sometimes, too much self-disclosure—even in the service of congruence or authenticity—can muddy the assessment or therapeutic focus. Perhaps the key point is to maintain balance; the old psychoanalytic model of therapist as a blank screen can foster distrust, reluctance, and resistance, while too much self-disclosure can distort and degrade the therapeutic focus {{2454 Farber 2006;}}.

Rogers also suggested limits on congruence. He directly stated that therapy wasn’t a time for clinicians to talk about their own feelings:

Certainly the aim is not for the therapist to express or talk about his own feelings, but primarily that he should not be deceiving the client as to himself. At times he may need to talk about some of his own feelings (either to the client, or to a colleague or superior) if they are standing in the way. (pp. 133–134) {{760 Rogers 1958;}}

Let’s say you’re working with a client and you feel the impulse to congruently self-disclose in the moment. If you’re not sure your comment will be facilitative or whether it will keep the focus on the client (where the therapy focus belongs), then you shouldn’t disclose. Additionally, you should discuss ongoing struggles with self-disclosure with your peers or supervisors because by so doing, you’ll deepen your learning about how best to be congruent with clients.

Since the 1960s, feminist therapists have strongly advocated congruence or authenticity in interviewer-client relations. Brody {{331 Brody 1984;}} described the range of responses that an authentic therapist might use:

To be involved, to use myself as a variable in the process, entails using, from time to time, mimicry, provocation, joking, annoyance, analogies, or brief lectures. It also means utilizing my own and others’ physical behavior, sensations, emotional states, and reactions to me and others, and sharing a variety of intuitive responses. This is being authentic. (p. 17)

Brody is advocating many sophisticated and advanced therapeutic strategies; but keep in mind that she’s an experienced clinician. Authentic or congruent approaches to interviewing are best if combined with good clinical judgment, which is obtained, in part, through clinical experience.

Psychic Communications . . . and Cultural Differences in Mental Status

You may or may not have noticed that I haven’t posted anything on this blog in the past 10 days or so. This is because I’ve been experimenting with my telepathic (psychic) communication abilities. As it turns out, my telepathy skills aren’t as refined as I wish they were and so instead of any specific communications from me, receivers have only experienced warm and fuzzy positive sensations. And so if you experienced anything positive like that over the past ten days, it probably means I was thinking of you and trying to psychically send you some pleasant holiday wishes.

Below please find another installment in my intermittent Mental Status Examination series. This posting includes an activity you can use yourself or with a class to facilitate a discussion (with yourself or among class members) about cultural differences in mental status.

Happy New Year! and Happy Mental Statusing!!

Cultural Differences in Mental Status

Part One: Cultural norms must be considered when evaluating mental status. In the following Table, read through the MSE category, the MSE observation, and then contemplate the “invalid conclusion” along with the “explanation.” The purpose of this activity is to illustrate how cultural background and context can affect the meaning of specific client symptoms.

Category Observation Invalid Conclusion Explanation
Appearance Numerous tattoos and piercings Antisocial tendencies Comes from region or area or subculture where tattoos and piercings are the norm
Behavior/psychomotor activity Eyes downcast Depressive symptom Culturally appropriate eye-contact
Attitude toward examiner Uncooperative and hostile Oppositional-defiant or personality disorder Has had abusive experiences from dominant culture
Affect and mood No affect linked to son’s death Inappropriately constricted affect Expression of emotion about death is unaccepted in client’s culture
Speech and thought Fragmented and nearly incoherent speech Possible psychosis Speaks English as third language and is under extreme stress
Perceptual disturbances Reports visions Psychotic symptom Visions are consistent with Native culture
Orientation and consciousness Inability to recall three objects or do serial sevens Attention deficit or intoxication Misunderstands questions due to language problem
Memory and intelligence Cannot recall past presidents Memory impairment Immigrant status
Reliability, judgment, and insight Lies about personal history Poor reliability Does not trust White interviewer from dominant culture

Part Two: For each category addressed in a traditional MSE, try to think of cultures that would behave very differently but still be within “normal” parameters for their cultural or racial group. Examples include differences in cultural manifestations of grief, stress, humiliation, or trauma. In addition, persons from minority cultures who have recently been displaced may display confusion, fear, distrust, or resistance that is entirely appropriate to their situation.

Work with a partner to generate possible MSE observations, in addition to those listed in Part One of this Multicultural Highlight and using the Table below, that might lead you to an inappropriate and invalid conclusion regarding client mental status.

Category Observation Invalid Conclusion Explanation
       
       
       

This Table is adapted from the text, Clinical Interviewing, by John and Rita Sommers-Flanagan: http://www.amazon.com/Clinical-Interviewing-2012-2013-John-Sommers-Flanagan/dp/1118390113/ref=la_B0030LK6NM_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357167677&sr=1-1

 

Another Sample Mental Status Examination Report

Mental Status Examination (MSE) reports can be more or less detailed. More detailed reports are necessary when patients or clients exhibit a complex array of psychiatric symptoms, affect, and behavior. Less detailed reports are more common when the situation is less complex and the patient or client displays affect and behaviors that are generally within what might be considered a broad range of normal.

In most cases MSEs are imbedded within a clinical or psychiatric interview. As a consequence, as an evaluator, sometimes you may obtain more information about certain areas of functioning than others. This may or may not be intentional and it may or may not be reflected in your report. For example, in the example below, the purpose of the interview was to screen an individual for advanced placement in a Job Corps setting. Because Job Corps is a social and vocational setting, you may notice the MSE report writer emphasizes social functioning. You may also notice that the writer is EXPLICITLY clearly giving the client a “clean” mental status.

Keep in mind that like all MSE reports, this report is designed as a relatively objective appraisal of mental functioning. Nevertheless, subjective judgment and inference is always a part of MSEs and MSE reports.

MSE Sample Report: Example of Positive Functioning

Lucia Rodriguez, a 24-year-old Latino female, was open, pleasant, and cooperative during our meeting. She was well-groomed and looked somewhat younger than her stated age. She was fully oriented and alert. Her speech was clear, coherent, and of normal rate and volume. Her affect was euthymic and stable. She rated her mood as an “8” on a 0-10 scale, with 0 being completely down and depressed and 10 being as happy as possible. She further indicated that she is typically in a “positive mood.” Lucia has no current obsessional thoughts or psychotic symptoms. She has no significant mental health history. Her intellectual ability is probably at least in the above average range. She completed serial sevens and other concentration tasks without difficulty. Her cognitive skills, including memory and abstract thinking were intact. Her responses to questions pertaining to social judgment were positive and well-developed. Overall she appeared forthright and reliable. Her insight and judgment were good.