Category Archives: Cool Counseling

NASP 2018 in Chicago

John and Ry and Photo

NASP in Chicago was delightful and inspiring. As usual, I got to see and chat with John Murphy, author of Solution-Focused Counseling in Schools, and all around good guy. Less usual was running into Montana School Psychologists Julie Parker and Andy Mogan on East Wacker, before I even made it to the hotel. Julie wanted to tell me a cool story about the new UM President, Seth Bodnar, which I enjoyed very much. It was great to start my NASP time seeing Montana folks, even though they were looking at a building not to be named.

What makes meetings like NASP, ACA, and APA so nice is that it’s a gathering of who are deeply dedicated to making the world a better place. In particular, NASP members are in the front lines of working with special needs children. School psychologists are people with big hearts and big brains who help students across the globe get a little closer to reaching their potential. What’s not to like about School Psychologists?

As for my NASP time, for the fourth consecutive year I was invited to do a 3-hour workshop. There were about 130 attendees, nearly all of whom were engaged, engaging, insightful, and inspiring. I can’t say enough about these professionals who WANT to make a positive difference in the world.

One quick side note: The latest school shooting (in Florida this time) occurred on the day of the workshop. What’s troubling me today (2 days later) is that there’s too much focus on mental health issues among shooters as a potential causal factor. As Dr. Allen Frances pointed out on his Twitter post, if mental health problems were causing school shootings, then school shootings should be at similar levels across all different countries. https://twitter.com/AllenFrancesMD?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

They’re not. Not. Even. Close. Mental health, although an important issue for us to address for different reasons, is not the right focus. For me, blaming school shootings on mental health problems is a cruel distraction. It’s cruel because it places responsibility on an oppressed and dis-empowered group. It’s a distraction, because it shifts the focus away from guns. Whether or not you believe in gun rights should be separate from making up alternative realities where an oppressed group with little voice gets blamed for school shootings.

Okay. Thankfully, my side note and venting are over.

To close, I’d like to offer the NASP participants another copy of the workshop handout, plus, a supplementary handout from CASP last year. If you’re a school psychologist and find these handouts, please feel free to share them with your friends and colleagues.

Workshop Handout John SF NASP18

CASP Extra Handout

For those of you who have chosen school psychology as your professional path, please accept my sincere thank-you for your service.

 

Advertisements

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: john.sf@mso.umt.edu

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. https://www.nasponline.org/professional-development/nasp-2018-annual-convention

 

 

 

Building Better Counselors

JSF Dance Party

This is a link to a hot off the presses article in Counseling Today. The focus is all about how professional counselors (and all psychotherapists) can be BOTH evidence-based AND relationally oriented. My co-author, Kindle Lewis, is one of our fantastic doctoral students in the Department of Counselor Education at the University of Montana. And . . . by the way. . . the University of Montana is NOW the NEW best college destination on the planet. Ask me why:).

Here’s the link: http://ct.counseling.org/2017/11/building-better-counselors/

What’s Good About West Virginia?

The easy and short answer to the “What’s Good About West Virginia?” question is: Chris Schimmel, Ed Jacobs, and Sherry Cormier. The harder and longer answer is harder and longer and consequently won’t be answered here.

This post includes two educational content-pieces related to my presentation today at the Morgantown Art Museum, but that we don’t have time to cover.

What’s Good About You?

            [This excerpt is adapted from our Tough Kids, Cool Counseling book]

About 25 years ago, in collaboration with a colleague of ours, Dudley Dana, Ph.D., we began using a relationship-building assessment procedure that can provide a rich interpersonal interaction between young clients and counselors.  The procedure is called “What’s good about you?” It’s designed primarily as an informal assessment of self-esteem. Depending on the age of the child with whom you’re working, you can introduce it as a game with specific rules:

I want to play a game with you. Here’s how it works. I’m going to ask you the same question 10 times. The only rule is that you can’t use the same answer twice. So, I’ll ask you the same question 10 times, but you have to give me 10 different answers.

When playing this game all you need to do is get out a tablet or clipboard with paper and then ask your client, “What’s good about you?” Your client may moan and complain about this game.  You can empathize, but encourage full participation.  This assessment activity should be done at a point in counseling when you know your clients well enough to provide a few genuine positive statements in case they can’t come up with anything good to say about themselves.

After your client responds to the question say, “Thank you” and smile and write down whatever was said, while repeating the statement out loud. If your client says, “I don’t know” write that response down too, but add with a smile, “I’ll write that down, but you can only use that answer once.”

The “What’s good about you?” game will provide you (and perhaps your clients) with interesting insights into client self-perceptions and self-esteem. For example, some youth have difficulty clearly staking claim to a positive talent, skill, or personal attribute. They sometimes identify possessions like, “I have a nice computer” or “I have some good friends” instead of taking personal ownership of an attribute such as, “I’m a great skate-boarder,” or “My friendly personality helps me make friends.” Similarly, they may describe a role they have (e.g., “I’m a good son”), rather than identifying personal attributes that make them good at the particular role (e.g., “I’m thoughtful and very responsible and so I am a good son”). Obviously, the ability to clearly state one’s positive personal attributes may be evidence of higher or more intact self-esteem.

You can also gather interpersonal assessment data also through the “What’s good about you?” procedure. For example, we’ve had some assertive or aggressive children request or even insist that they be allowed to switch roles and ask us the “What’s good about you?” questions. We always happily comply with these requests because they:

  • provide us with a modeling opportunity,
  • provide clients with an empowerment experience, and
  • are a sign of engagement.

Additionally, the way young clients respond to this interpersonal request can be revealing.  For instance, youth who meet the diagnostic criteria for conduct disorder (or who are angry with adults) sometimes ridicule or mock the procedure, while most other children and adolescents cooperate and seem to enjoy the process. See Box 2.1 for an interesting example of using this procedure with a multicultural client.

The What’s Good About You Activity in a Multicultural Context

While implementing the What’s Good About You activity with an Japanese American teen, I (John) recently had the opportunity to directly experience multiple and contextual levels of identity in a Japanese American teenage client. Specifically, when asked to respond with 10 different answers to the question, “What’s good about you?” the 15-year-old boy responded with a direct and assertive refusal. He said, “I’m not comfortable with that. We don’t talk like that in our family?” Upon hearing his refusal, I immediately accepted his position and fortunately, he was willing to share his perspective with me. He made it clear that making positive statements about oneself was inappropriate, not only in his family, but also within his Japanese culture. Interestingly, he noted that his Japanese mother and White father were both especially encouraging of him to raise his self-esteem and wanted him to be able to say positive things about himself. However, he tended to find their efforts demeaning in the sense that he felt they were worried about him and his self-esteem—which just made him even less willing to say positive things about himself (after all, if they really thought he was so wonderful, why then, did they need to keep telling him that as if he needed it). At the same time, he also expressed an interest in being able to display more confidence in social situations—similar to his White American friends. This situation illustrates how tensions can arise between cultural identity, familial context, social context, and personal or individual distress and how it is the counselor’s responsibility to negotiate these various tensions, without judgment, in partnership with the client or student.

Here’s a link to the video of me doing “What’s good about you?” with  a 16-year-old girl. The audio isn’t great, but the process is very interesting: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=4GtfO-rBIIg

The Three-Step Emotional Change Trick

For a description and video demo of the Three-Step Emotional Change Trick, go here: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2017/03/12/revisiting-the-3-step-emotional-change-trick-including-a-video-example/

Upcoming Workshops: L.A., Chicago, Morgantown, and Greensburg (outside Pittsburg)

Rainbow 2017

October is almost always a big month for counseling and psychology conferences and workshops. This October is no exception. I’m posting my October workshop presentation schedule here, just in case you want to say hello and possible collect some continuing education credit.

On Thursday, October 5, I’ll be in Orange County for the California Association for School Psychologists conference. Here’s a link: https://event.casponline.org/#intro

On Sunday, October 8, I’ll be in Chicago for the Association of Counselor Educators and Supervisors to present on the Mental Status Examination with Thom Field of the City University of Seattle.

On Thursday, October 12, I’ll be in Morgantown, WV for an afternoon workshop with counseling and psychology students from West Virginia University.

On Friday, October 13, I’ll be in Greensburg, PA (just outside Pittsburgh) for an all-day workshop sponsored by Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The link: https://www.iup.edu/counseling/centers/upcoming-workshops-and-events/

Today is the first day of Autumn . . . I hope this signals the end of hurricanes, floods, fires, and other challenges so many people are facing.

 

Passing Personal Notes to Ohio School Psychologists

Davis Letter to SantaLast week I had the honor and privilege to spend a day with a group of about 340 mostly school psychologists in Columbus, Ohio. Talk about amazing. Were they nicer than last month’s group in Rock Hill, South Carolina? I don’t know. Both groups were awesome. I’ll keep the details secret just so everyone will wonder why gatherings in Rock Hill and Columbus are or will be inevitably fantastic.

I received a few emails in follow-up to the so-called “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” workshop in Columbus. I’ll be framing one of the emails for my wall, but there was another one that asked for my feedback on a particularly challenging therapeutic conundrum. That email reminded me of a technique that Rita and I first wrote about in 1995, but hasn’t been posted here. So I dug up an excerpt of it from the second edition of our “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” book and am inserting it below. Here’s a link to that book on Amazon, but you can get it other places too:   https://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly/dp/1556202741/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1494088480&sr=1-1&keywords=tough+kids+cool+counseling

The excerpt follows . . . and it’s followed by a link to an “Extra SCASP Handout” with more detailed info about the SCASP and Columbus Workshop techniques.

Passing Personal Notes

            A simple method for re-engaging an angry or “checked out” child/adolescent in counseling is the note-passing technique (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 1995). This technique is used when a young client suddenly appears sullen, angry, or quiet and nonresponsive. In some cases, counselors may have clues as to why the client has become quiet. However, in other cases the young client’s silence may be a complete mystery. Whatever the case, note passing is used to communicate to clients through an alternative format, to reduce pressure on young clients to be verbally productive, to express empathy for an emotional state, and to surprise the client (and thereby modify affect) by being supportive and affectionate rather than critical in response to the client’s silence. When counselors have a positive response to client silence it can be conceptualized as a corrective emotional experience (Alexander & French, 1946).

Children, teenagers, and even some college students are notorious for passing notes in class. Most often the notes are brief and focus on gossip or on whatever is bothering the note writer at the moment. Generally speaking, among teenagers, passing notes is cool.

To utilize this technique all you need is a notebook and pencil or pen. When your client is quiet and perhaps angry or sullen and efforts to interact verbally result in continued withdrawal and silence, simply pick up the notebook and begin writing. This activity may attract the youth’s attention. Your client may assume you’re writing something negative about them. One 12-year-old boy immediately questioned: “Are you writing a note to the group home?” as he expected he would be reprimanded for becoming silent in therapy. I (John) responded: “Nope, I’m just writing a note to you.”

When using this technique, hold the notebook so your client cannot see the content of your note; part of the effect of this technique rests on your client’s surprise at receiving a personal note and on surprise at the content of the note. Of course, the note should be individualized and personal (see Box 4.1 for a sample note).

Box 4.1

Note-Passing Sample

Hey Tonya:

What’s up?  Seems like you might be kind of upset today, but I might be wrong.  I hope I didn’t do something to bug you or make you mad.  If I did, be sure to let me know when you feel like it, okay?  I know that counseling can be kind of dumb or seem like a waste of time or even make people mad sometimes.  I hope we can find ways to make this be a good thing for you.  Thanks for coming—even when you might not feel like it.  So, how are you feeling, anyway?  Do you think it is a little too warm in this office?  That’s a cool sweater you’re wearing.

Your Very Own Counselor,

Rita S-F

P.S. Write back if you want to.

[End of Box 4.1]

            We recommend writing the personal note with a person-centered flavor (Rogers, 1961). Additionally, it’s useful to include a humorous or light closing and an interest in hearing back from your client. Finally, write only what your clients will feel comfortable taking home (e.g., critical comments about teachers or family members, even if such comments are in the service of empathy and emotional validation, may have negative repercussions).

Most of our young clients respond positively to this procedure. Often they act surprised when told: “I wrote you a note.” One client asked to take it into the bathroom to read. Other clients have asked: “Can I keep it?”  Our response to these requests is usually something like, “Of course. I wrote it to you.” Another client refused the note during the session, but accepted it later from her mother (i.e., it was sealed and given to the mother to deliver at home). Sometimes young clients have initiated a note-writing exchange after receiving a note from one of us. On the other hand, we’ve had some young clients rip the note to shreds or toss it in the trash which is perfectly acceptable from our perspective because we view these more aggressive responses as a non-violent and perhaps useful anger expression.

Personal notes can reopen communication, possibly because the activity moves young people out of a negative mood state; it’s hard for clients to maintain a negative mood state when they’re also experiencing surprise or pleasure (Mosak, 1985). Research suggests that it’s common for young people who behave aggressively to anticipate hostility or overt coercion from others during times of stress or threat (Dodge, Lochman, Harnish, Bates, & Pettit, 1997; Dodge & Somberg, 1987). This anticipatory tendency has been labeled the misattribution of hostility.  For youth who anticipate hostility, a nonjudgmental, funny, or caring note can be quite a surprise. Also, many young people we see in therapy have never received a personal handwritten note from an adult (especially from an adult male). Overall, a sincere and nonthreatening effort by a counselor to enhance emotional intimacy and establish a personal connection usually does not go unnoticed.

SCASP Extra Handout

Handouts from South Carolina

This past Thursday I had the honor of offering a full-day workshop on “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” to the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists. For anyone who has misplaced their handout or who wants additional content, I’m including two handouts in this post.

The first handout includes all the powerpoint slides (except the cartoons and empowered storytelling).

SCASP 2017 for Handout  

The second handout includes additional content corresponding (mostly) to the content in the powerpoint slides.

SCASP Extra Handout

For more information, you can check out our Tough Kids, Cool Counseling book, published by the American Counseling Association, https://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly/dp/1556202741/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491153299&sr=1-10&keywords=sommers-flanagan:

Tough Kids Image

Or you can check out our book on working effectively with parents: https://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491153770&sr=1-4&keywords=sommers-flanagan