Category Archives: Cool Counseling

The 2015 Counselor Education Graduation Speech I Didn’t Give

This is the transcript of the 2015 Graduation Speech for Counselor Education I didn’t give. I should note, I wasn’t really invited to deliver a speech, but since I’m in Absarokee and can’t attend graduation, I’m pretending this is the speech I would have given. In other words, I’m making all this up.

The Speech

Graduation speeches are supposed to be lightly profound with a substantial dose of inspiration. Well . . . this one, not so much.

Seriously? Like you didn’t know this speech would be different?

After all, two years ago (or maybe three or four years ago for some of you who are extra special), you all enrolled in a graduate program in . . . COUNSELING. Basically, what I’m saying is that something in your rational brain snapped and you let an empathic, compassionate, impulse to help others for the rest of your life take over and start making your BIG life decisions for you. You know you did. And your family and friends know you did. I’m just naming the elephant in the room by saying it in public

I’m proud to say that I’m proud of you for that. And this is coming from someone who basically hates and avoids the word proud. That’s partly because pride is one of the seven deadly sins and it goeth before a fall and all that. I just thought you should know how hard it was for me to say that I’m proud of you . . . which makes me think in my head that I almost feel a little proud of myself, which I would never, of course, say out loud, which I’m not doing now because if there’s anything I certain of, I’m certain that you can’t hear my thoughts.

But what I am saying is that I’m glad you made the decision to forsake nearly all of the materialistic messages given to you, heretofore (I really like saying things like heretofore, especially during graduation speeches), by contemporary society. Just think, if everyone went down the evil road of materialism we wouldn’t even have graduate programs in counseling where people like you spend good money to learn how to listen well and help others, while not making very much bank. You know what I’m talking about.

My point is, you’re just DIFFERENT and unless your faculty forgot to tell you, you should know that by now. And my other point is: that’s why you should have known this would be YET ANOTHER LECTURE and not some sappy, emotionally inspiring speech. And the reason for this is that in the business you’ve chosen to practice . . . learning NEVER ENDS . . . and so I don’t want to give any of you the wrong impression that somehow graduating means you get to stop learning. You don’t. I’m here to tell you that.

This leads me to my lecture, the title of which is something like:

Everything I Should Have Taught You Over the Past Several Years,

But Because You All Talked Way Too Much In Class I Didn’t Have Time.

And I should mention that this lecture could take anywhere from a few minutes to several days. Please. There’s no need to thank me. You’ve earned this.

Let’s start with you taking notice of the imprecision I used in stating my lecture title. I said, “. . . something like.” This is our first and most important lesson for the day. When it comes to counseling humans, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we can be precise. This is why you chose to study with us touchy-feely-counseling types over here in the College of Education instead of running over with your calculators to psychology where you could be a scientist (at this point in the speech I’m making an enigmatic face that makes you wonder if I’m praising psychology as a science or making fun of psychology for just having lots of irrational cognitions about being a science). This is why you set collaborative goals in counseling and not unilateral goals.

As Salvadore Minuchin said a couple of decades ago at a workshop here in Missoula, “Don’t be too sure.” I like that message.

And now although I’m not too sure about whether what I’ve got planned next is a good idea, it’s something I feel compelled to teach you. After all, prior to this last year’s holiday party, when there was an opportunity for Karaoke and, in the humble way that you’ve come to know as characteristic of me, I sent you all an email explaining that I had co-invented Karaoke in 1973 in Mike Bevill’s basement and consequently was happy to provide everyone with Karaoke lessons, the response was COMPLETE EMAIL SILENCE. Consequently, how could I not conclude that either you (a) have debilitating Karaoke anxiety, or (b) have low Karaoke-esteem, or (c) are uninformed as to the benefits of Karaoke, or (d) all of the above, or (e) only a and b?

Hopefully you got the answer to that rhetorical question correct, because here comes the Karaoke lesson.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course, before I start, as I like to say in my classes and workshops, you can always pass on this experience and if you so choose, please do so by doing what many of my teenage clients do – ignoring me – which may or may not involve you placing your hands over your ears and humming or laying your head on your arm and snoring.

The first rule of Karaoke is, as the late Bill Glasser would have said—had he ever had the good sense to lecture on Karaoke—“Your goal should be within your personal control.”

This rule has several implications, but most importantly, it speaks to song and wardrobe selection. Specifically, you always want to select a Karaoke song that’s within your range and within your wardrobe. I cannot emphasize this enough. For example, although I very much like the song . . . “This Girl is on Fire” I tried singing it and it didn’t go well.

As you can infer from the photo below, choosing the wrong song can be embarrassing and beyond your control. Don’t do it . . . unless it’s part of your shame- attacking treatment plan.

Peg and John Singing at Pat's Wedding

So, obviously, pick a song that fits your voice and your gender stereotypes.

The second rule is all about song lyrics and so I’ve made up another rhyme to help you auditory learners remember. That is, “To function to the best of your ability, you should embrace your multicultural humility.”

What I’m saying here is that, as you know, many pop songs have lyrics that are racist, sexist, and sexually explicit. To maintain our multicultural sensitivity (and humility), it’s important to either (a) avoid songs with insensitive or sexualized lyrics (which is why I never sing Lady Gaga’s song that includes the line about her not bluffin’ with her muffin) or (b) change the lyrics on the spot (for “Say a Little Prayer for You” I like to substitute, “Do a little non-denominational mindfulness meditation for you.” It works fine, you just have to say the words very quickly) or (c) just mumble when the offending lyrics appear.

The third rule can also be captured with a nifty, easily memorized rhyme: “An alcoholic drink, will not help you think.” It also won’t improve your judgment or make you look more impressive to your audience. I hope what I’m saying here is clear. Just like when you’re providing professional counseling, when doing Karaoke, it’s best to be squeaky clean and sober. I should add, contrary to popular belief, drinking alcohol will NOT MAKE YOU A BETTER DANCER. Although the caveat to this is that if OTHERS are drinking alcohol during your performance, it might make them THINK you’re a better dancer.

The corollary to this rule is that evidence-based Karaoke-ers use dancing to optimize their performance. This probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, “Be solution-focused and go with your strengths!” If your voice is bad or the lyrics are bad or you’re so nervous you’ve lost your ability to read, DANCE BIG. I did this a few years ago when I planned a rap to the Simon and Garfunkle tune “Feeling Groovy” and it quickly became obvious that the audience mostly wanted to watch my radical rapping dance moves and so I just went with that. The fact that no one at that party will talk to me anymore is irrelevant. I think it’s mostly because I intimidated the heck out of them and so they’re afraid to approach me now. I should note that this is a particular cognition that my counselor and I decided I shouldn’t test . . . so I’m just going with it. Here’s a photo of that performance. Apparently all the video recordings were lost or burned.

John Rap

The fourth and final Karaoke rule is this: “A pill is not a skill . . . but Karaoke is a thrill.” What this means is that if you want to grow up to be a bad-ass Karaoke singer like me, then you have to practice, practice, and then practice some more . . . because as they say about counseling and counselors, all we ever do is practice.

There is no final performance.
There is no end to your learning.
And this is not my final goodbye to you.

I will be thinking of you all and wishing and hoping you the best success in whatever you choose to practice, knowing that I’ve had the excellent fortune and gift of time with you and that I’ve come to believe deeply in your ability, skill, compassion, and character.

One time when I was working with a dad and his son in counseling, the dad got right in his son’s face and delivered him a message that he would never forget. And so I want to end by sharing that message with you in hopes that you will hear it over-and-over in your brain:

“I will always be proud of you.”

Thanks for listening. Thanks for reading. Thanks for watching.

And thanks for being different.

P.S. I’m available for Karaoke tutoring and supervision and I can show you some hand movements, that, in particular, will blow your mind and insure an unforgettable Karaoke experience.

Advertisements

Secrets of the Miracle Question

This is a re-post from the American Counseling Association Blog.

You might want to sit down because this could take a while.

Developed in the 1970s by Insoo Kim Berg and Steven de Shazer, the miracle question has become a very popular therapy intervention. It’s standard fare for solution-focused therapists and has been written about extensively. In 2004, Linda Metcalf wrote a whole book about it and in 2010 Ryan Howes of Psychology Today declared it the #10 most “cool” intervention in psychotherapy.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the miracle question. Although I’ve used it with clients and found it helpful, I’ve never found it the least bit miraculous. It’s a good and clever question that helps clients focus on goals. But it’s no miracle.

My biggest problem with this intervention is the use of the word miracle. Miracles are, by definition, highly improbable, highly desirable, not explained by natural causes, and typically ascribed to divine intervention. Wow. That IS cool…

Using the word miracle to describe a common goal-setting question is excellent marketing. The only thing better might have been to call it the secret miracle question. But as I write this I hear the voice of Rich Watts in the back of my head muttering something about how everybody steals the work of Alfred Adler without giving him credit. Rich is President of the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology. My inner Rich Watts voice is noticing that the miracle question looks a lot like “The Question,” an intervention used and written about by Alfred Adler in the early 1900s. Adler’s version went: “How would your life be different if you no longer had this problem?” Again, good question, but no miracle. And hardly anyone (other than Rich Watts and his Adlerian buddies) ever mention The Question anymore.

If I dig a little deeper, what I find most problematic is that the word miracle leads counseling students and practitioners to adopt one or more of three false beliefs. They begin believing that the miracle question is: (a) a simple procedure, (b) easy to learn and implement, and (c) that it can result in a miracle. Sadly, none of these beliefs are true.

An example from popular literature might help. Think about how long it took Harry Potter to learn the Tarantallegra spell. In case you can’t recall, the Tarantallegra spell forces one’s opponent to dance. I don’t know long it took the fictional Harry Potter to learn the fictional Tarantallegra spell, but I’m certain that even in the fictional world created by J. K. Rowling it wasn’t during his first year at Hogwarts.

The miracle question name erroneously implies something quick and easy and miraculous is happening. Sort of like snapping your fingers and reciting that Tarantallegra incantation. You can try it that way, but it won’t work…because you won’t be manifesting an understanding of the incantation. I’ve seen novice counselors try the miracle question and the most common client response elicited is: “I don’t know.” This is because counseling miracles require sophisticated language and delivery skills, a solution-focused mindset, and education and experience.

The miracle question is all about sophisticated verbal behavior. We should recall that Berg and de Shazer were strongly influenced by the renowned hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson. This is one reason why, when done well, the miracle question resembles a hypnotic induction. Even de Shazer and his colleagues noted that it might take an entire therapy session to ask and explore the miracle question (see the book, More Than Miracles).

Although many published variants of the miracle question exist, below I’m including a detailed version, as described by Insoo Kim Berg and Yvonne Dolan in Tales of Solutions. As you read through this example, remember: The miracle question should be spoken slowly, there should be repeated pauses, and the therapist should deeply believe in the solution-focused principle that all clients already possess the inherent competence to produce positive changes in their lives. Here’s the question:

I am going to ask you a rather strange question [pause]. The strange question is this: [pause] After we talk, you will go back to your work (home, school) and you will do whatever you need to do the rest of today, such as taking care of the children, cooking dinner, watching TV, giving the children a bath, and so on. It will become time to go to bed. Everybody in your household is quiet and you are sleeping in peace. In the middle of the night, a miracle happens and the problem that prompted you to talk to me today is solved! But because this happens while you are sleeping, you have no way of knowing that there was an overnight miracle that solved the problem [pause]. So, when you wake up tomorrow morning, what might be the small change that will make you say to yourself, “Wow, something must have happened—the problem is gone!” (Berg & Dolan, 2001, p. 7, brackets in original)

If you’re by yourself, you might want to go back and read through the miracle question again. This time read it aloud. Think of a small problem of your own and freely insert a few references to it.

Technically, the miracle question is a projective or generative assessment tool and hypnotic induction strategy. This is because it asks clients to project themselves into the future and generate information or scenarios straight from their imaginations. Together, counselor and client create a virtual reality and then try to make it a real reality. This is where I agree with fans of the miracle question: That’s one cool intervention. It makes me want to dance.

Non-Drug Options for Dealing with Depression

Evidence supporting the efficacy of antidepressant medications continues to be weak. That doesn’t mean they never work; some individuals with depressive symptoms find them very helpful and that’s okay. But for many, antidepressant meds just don’t work very well . . . there are side effects and less than desirable antidepressant effects. This is why many people wonder: What are some of the best non-drug alternatives for treating symptoms of depression?

Here’s a short list that might be helpful.

1. Counseling or Psychotherapy: Going to a reputable and licensed mental-health professional who offers counseling or psychotherapy for depression can be very helpful. This may include individual, couple, or family therapy.

2. Vigorous aerobic exercise: Consider initiating and maintaining a regular cardiovascular or aerobic exercise schedule. This could involve a specific referral to a personal trainer and/or local fitness center (e.g., YMCA). In a recent small study of adolescents with clinical depression, 100% of the teens in the aerobic exercise group no longer met the diagnostic criteria for depression after receiving several months of exercise treatment.

3. Herbal remedies: Some individuals benefit from taking herbal supplements. In particular, there is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) and St. John’s Wort are effective in reducing depressive symptoms. It’s good to consult with a health-care provider if you’re pursuing this option.

4. Light therapy: Some people describe great benefits from light therapy. Specific information on light therapy boxes is available online and possibly through your physician.

5. Massage therapy: Research indicates some patients with depressive symptoms benefit from massage therapy. A referral to a licensed massage therapy professional is advised.

6. Bibliotherapy: Research indicates that some patients benefit from reading and working with self-help books or workbooks. The Feeling Good Handbook (Burns, 1999) and Mind over Mood (Greenberger and Padesky, 1995) are two self-help books used by many individuals.

7. Post-partum support: There is evidence suggesting that new mothers with depressive symptoms who are closely followed by a public-health nurse, midwife, or other professional experience fewer post-partum depressive symptoms. Additionally, new moms and all individuals suffering from depressive symptoms may benefit from any healthy and positive activities that increase social contact and social support.

8. Mild exercise and physical/social activities: Even if you’re not up to vigorous exercise, you should know that nearly any type of movement is an antidepressant. These activities could include, but not be limited to, yoga, walking, swimming, bowling, hiking, or whatever you can do! In the same exercise study mentioned above, 71% of the teenagers in the mild exercise group experienced a substantial reduction in their symptoms of depression.

9. Other meaningful activities: Never underestimate the healing power of meaningful activities. Activities could include (a) church or spiritual pursuits; (b) charity work; (c) animal caretaking (adopting a pet); and (d) many other activities that might be personally meaningful to you.

The preceding list is adapted from a tip-sheet in our book, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.” See: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=la_B0030LK6NM_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413432346&sr=1-9
Or: http://lp.wileypub.com/SommersFlanagan/

John and his sister working on their positive emotions.

Peg and John Singing at Pat's Wedding

 

How to Listen so Parents will Talk: Strategies for Influencing Parents — DVD filming with Alexander Street Press

This past week I was in Chicago to be filmed doing three 15 minute TED Talk like speeches for Alexander Street Press. The experience was both exciting and anxiety-provoking. . . as it’s rather challenging to deliver a 15 minute piece in a darkish studio to a camera on one take. Shannon Dermer of Governor’s State University was the smooth as silk facilitator who conducted 15 minute interviews after each speech. I was lucky enough to be filming on the same day as Paul Peluso of Florida Atlantic University. Although it was comforting to see that Paul was just as nervous as I was, it was not comforting watching him absolutely nail a perfect 10 of a presentation on Humor in Psychotherapy just a couple hours before it was my turn in front of the camera.

In the end, the filming went well, but of course during the live filming my imperfect memory led me to miss a few “lines” and so I’m posting here, a text version of the How to Listen so Parents will Talk THERAPY talk.Although my goal was to post an audio version, WordPress has thwarted that particular plan for now. . . sorry about that.

How to Talk so Parents will Listen: Strategies for Influencing Parents

When I talk with large groups about parenting, I like to begin with a survey. I ask: “How many of you ARE parents?” Of course, nearly everyone raises his or her hand. Then I ask a follow up: “How many of you WERE children.” At this question some participants laugh and a few raise their hands and others joke that they’re still immature.

“This reason I start with this survey is because if you’re a parent, you know that being a parent is an amazing and gratifying challenge. You also know that it’s 24-7; and you know it doesn’t end when your child turns 18. You’re a parent for life. And if you WERE a child, and all of you were, then you know how important it is to have a parent or caretaker who makes it perfectly clear that YOU ARE LOVED. But there’s more. If you were a child, then you also know how important it is to have a parent who not only loves you, but who is skillful . . . a parent who is dedicated to being the best parent possible.

Plain and simple: PARENTS NEED SKILLS FOR DEALING WITH THEIR CHILDREN IN THE 21ST CENTURY. And learning to be a better parent never stops.

Once upon a time I had a mom come consult with me about her five year old son. She said: “I have a strong-willed son.” My response was to acknowledge that lots of parents have strong-willed children. She said, “No, no, you don’t get it. I have a very strong-willed son, let me tell you about it. Just the other night, I asked him to go upstairs and clean his room and he put his hands on his hips and said, “NO.” So I said in response, “Yeah, yeah. He sounds very strong willed.” And she said, “Wait. There’s more. I asked him to clean his room a second time and he glared and me, and said “NO. YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?” Then she told me the real problem. The problem was that, in fact, she did want a piece of him at that particular point in time and so she grabbed him and hauled him up the stairs in a way that was inconsistent with the kind of parent she wanted to be.

This is one of the mysteries of parenting. How can you get so angry at a small child whom you love more than anything else in the world?

Parents are a unique population and deserve an approach to counseling that’s designed to address their particular needs. In this talk I’ll mostly be using stories to talk about
a. what parents want for their children
b. what parents need in counseling
c. and how professionals can be effective helpers.

Most parents want some version of the same thing: To raise healthy and happy children who are relatively well-adjusted. But what do parents need in counseling. WHAT WILL HELP THEM GET WHAT THEY WANT?

First, parents need empathic listening. They need this big time. Our American culture puts lots of social pressure on parents . . . It’s implied that parenting should be easy and all parents should want to spend 24-7 with their child in an altered state of parental bliss. But this isn’t reality and so we need empathy for the general scrutiny parents feel in the grocery store, at church, on the playground, and everywhere else.

But they also need listening and specific empathy: like in the situation where the mom wanted to tell me about her 5-year-old son. She had specific information to share and it was really important for me to take time to listen to her unique story about her son who, unfortunately, may have been watching too many Clint Eastwood movies.

Parents come to counseling or parent education feeling simultaneously insecure and indignant. They feel insecure because of the scrutiny they feel from their parents and in-laws and society, but they also feel indignant over the possibility that anyone might have the audacity to tell them how to parent their children. As professionals, we need to be ready to handle both sides of this complex equation.

Another thing parents have taught me over the years is to never start a parenting session by sharing educational information. You should always wait to offer educational advice, even when parents ask you directly for it. When they do ask, let them know that your ideas will be more helpful later once you get to know what’s happening in their family.

This leads us to the second crucial part of what parents need in counseling. They need collaboration. We can’t be experts who tell parents what to do, instead we have to recognize that parents are the experts in the room. They’re the experts on their children, on their family dynamics, and on themselves. If we don’t engage and collaborate with parents, very little of what we offer has any chance of being helpful.

Parents also need validation to counter their possible insecurity. We call this radical acceptance or validation and it involves explicitly and specifically giving parents positive feedback. We do this by affirming, “You sure seem to know your daughter well.” And by saying, “When I listen to how committed you are to helping your son be successful in life, I can’t help but think that he’s lucky to have you as a parent.”

And so we begin with empathic listening and we move to collaboration and we make sure that we offer radical acceptance or validation and we do all this so we can get to the main point: providing parents with specific parenting tips or guidance.

And there are literally TONS of specific parenting tips that professionals can offer parents. Most of the good ones include four basic principles:

First, getting a new attitude – because developing parenting skills requires a courageous attitude to try things out.

The second one involves making a new and improved plan. Because a courageous attitude combined with a poor plan won’t get you much.

Third is to get support when you need it. Parenting in isolation is almost always a bad idea.

Fourth, underlying all tips there should be the foundation of being consistently loving.

I’d like to tell two parenting stories to illustrate all of the preceding ideas.

This first story is about a parenting struggle I had. I share it for two reasons: One is that it’s a great example of the need for parents to make a new plan to handle an old problem. And two, often it’s good to self-disclose—but not too much—when working with parents.

When my youngest child was 5-years-old, she ALSO was a strong-willed child. I vividly recall one particular ugly scene on the porch. It was time for us to leave the house. But we lived in Montana and there was snow and my daughter needed to put her boots on. Funny thing, she was on a different schedule than I was. This created tension and anger in me. And so I got down into her face and I yelled GET YOUR BOOTS ON! And her eyes got big and she did. Later that evening I was talking with my wife and she saw the scene and she said to me, “I know John, that’s not the kind of parent you want to be.” And even though it’s not easy to take feedback from our romantic partners, she was right and so obviously so, that I had no argument” which led me to tell her, “I’m not going to yell at our daughter any more. I am, instead going to whisper, because I learned in a parenting book, that sometimes when you’re angry it’s more effective to whisper than it is to yell. That was my new plan. Of course, like new plans everywhere, it needed tweaking. But it didn’t take long for me to have an opportunity to test it because if there’s anything on the planet that’s predictable, it’s that we’ll all soon have another chance to manage our anger toward our children more constructively.

It was the next day or week and my daughter did not get her boots on and she was not on the same schedule as me and I got down in her face, once again, but I remembered the plan to whisper and I did my best to transform my anger from the historical yell to the contemporary whisper and what happened was that what came out was sort of like the exorcist and I said to my daughter: “GET YOUR BOOTS ON!”

Now. I wasn’t especially proud of that, but she got her boots on.

It was the beginning of a big change for me because I learned I could play the exorcist instead of yelling; then I learned to growl and then I learned to count to three and then I learned a cool technique called Grandma’s rule where you use the formula, WHEN YOU, THEN YOU to set a limit and build in a positive outcome. Like . . . “Honey, when you get your boots on, then you can have your cell phone back.” Very cool.

What I learned from this experience is that I could be more than a one-trick parenting pony. I became the kind of parent who, although far from perfect, was able to set limits that were in my daughter’s best interest.

And what I like the best about this particular story is that daughter is now 26 years-old and she still says the same thing she used to say to me when she was 15 . . . that is, “Dad, one thing I really love about you is you never yell.” What’s cool is that I did yell, but I worked on it, I made a new plan, and now she doesn’t even remember the yelling.

I’d like to finish with one last story about how much parents need people like you to have empathy, collaborate, validate, and offer concrete parenting ideas.

I was working with a 15-year-old boy. His mom was bringing him to counseling because he and his dad weren’t speaking anymore. I hadn’t met the dad, but one day, when I went to the boy’s IEP meeting at school the dad was there. I saw this as a chance to make a connection and get him to come to counseling.

I did a little chit-chatting and sat next to him in the group meeting. Then, at one point, I asked the boy a question: “If you got an A on a test, who would you show first?” He answered, “I’d show my dad, my mom, and my special ed teacher.” This inspired me to turn to his dad and say, “It’s obvious that you’re very important to your son and so I’d like to invite you to come join him and me in counseling.” Dad gave me a glare and pushed my shoulder and began a 2-minute rant about how the school had failed his son. Everyone was stunned and then he turned back to me and said, “I’ll come to counseling. I been to counseling before and I can do it again.”

At that point I wondered if I could take back my offer.

The day the dad drove to counseling he and his son weren’t speaking, so I met with them separately. The son was clear that he would never speak to the dad again, but the dad was open. When I asked if I could offer him some ideas, he said, “Well I tried MY best and that dog don’t hunt, so I can try something else.” I was wishing for subtitles.
I told the dad I wanted him to keep his high standards for his son, but to add three things. First, I asked, do you love your son? The dad said “Yes” and so I told him, “Okay then. I want you to tell him ‘I love you’ every day.” He said, “Usually I leave that to the wife, but I can do that.” Second, I said, “Everyday, I want you to touch your son in a kind and loving way.” He asked, “You mean like give him a hug?” I said, “that would be great” and he responded, “Usually I leave that to the wife too, but I’ll give it a shot.” Third, I said, “Once a week, you should do something fun with your son, but it has to be something that he thinks is fun.” He said back: “That’s no problem. We both like to go four-wheeling, so we’ll do that.”

And they left my office for an hour-long of what I imagine was a silent trip home.

The next afternoon, I got a call from the mom. She was ecstatic. She said, “I don’t know what you did or what you said, but they’re talking again.” And then she added, “This morning, when they were in the kitchen, I was in the other room and I thought I heard them hug and when I saw my son walking down the driveway to head to school, there were tears running down his cheeks.”

This was obviously a mom who was listening and watching very closely.

Things got much better for the 15-year-old after that. He didn’t get straight As, but he stopped getting straight Fs. And I learned two things: First, I learned just how much that boy needed to get reconnected with his father. And second, I learned that sometimes, no matter how gruff parents may seem, what they need is some clear and straightforward advice about how to reconnect with their son or daughter.

My final thoughts about this topic are very simple. I hope you’re inspired enough to acquire the knowledge and skills it takes to work effectively with parents. I know their children will deeply appreciate it.

Thanks for listening.

The book upon which the talk is based is available here on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=la_B0030LK6NM_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1402106002&sr=1-9 . . . and here on Wiley: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118012968.html

Tough Kids, Cool Counseling PowerPoints from SDMHCA May 1 Workshop

Attached to this post are the handouts from the May 1 “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” workshop in Spearfish, South Dakota.

It was a great day with about 85 wonderful, amazing, and exceptionally nice school and mental health counselors from throughout South Dakota.

This is the powerpoint:

SDMHCA Workshop 14 Part No Cartoons

And this is the supplementary handout:

SDMHCA TKCC Part II Supplement

I hope this information is helpful!

John SF

 

What You Missed in Cincinnati: Part II

While in Cincinnati, I ran short on time and we missed a chance to watch a video clip on “Generating Behavioral Alternatives.” And so as a substitute, I’m posting the verbatim script of the clip we were supposed to watch, and although we’ll miss out on discussing, the clip is fun on its own. Here it’s an excerpt from our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories book and placed in the context of “Problem-Solving Therapy.”

Generating Behavioral Alternatives With an Aggressive Adolescent

As noted previously, problem-solving therapy (PST) focuses on teaching clients steps for rational problem solving. In this case vignette, the therapist (John) is trying to engage a 15-year-old White male client in stage 2 (generating solutions) of the problem-solving model. At the beginning of the session, he client had reported that the night before, a male schoolmate had tried to rape his girlfriend. The client was angry and planning to “beat the s*** out” of his fellow student. During the session, John worked on helping the boy identify behavioral alternatives to retributive violence.

The transcript below begins 10 minutes into the session.

Boy: He’s gotta learn sometime.

JSF: I mean. I don’t know for sure what the absolute best thing to do to this guy is . . . but I think before you act, it’s important to think of all the different options you have.

Boy: I’ve been thinking a lot.

JSF: Well, tell me the other ones you’ve thought of and let’s write them down so we can look at the options together.

Boy: Kick the shit out of him.

JSF: Okay, I know 2 things, actually maybe 3, that you said. One is kick the [crap] out of him, the other one is to do nothing . . .

Boy: The other is to shove something up his a**.

JSF: And, okay—shove—which is kinda like kicking the s*** out of him. I mean to be violent toward him. [Notice John is using the client’s language.]

Boy: Yeah, Yeah.

JSF: So, what else?

Boy: I could nark on him.

JSF: Oh.

Boy: Tell the cops or something.

JSF: And I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do either. [Although John thinks this is a better option, he’s trying to remain neutral, which is important to the brainstorming process; if the client thinks John is trying to “reinforce” him for nonviolent or prosocial behaviors, he may resist brainstorming.]

Boy: That’s just stupid. [This response shows why it’s important to stay neutral.]

JSF: I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do . . . all I’m saying is that we should figure out, cause I know I think I have the same kind of impulse in your situation. Either, I wanna beat him up or kinda do the high and righteous thing, which is to ignore him. And I’m not sure. Maybe one of those is the right thing, but I don’t know. Now, we got three things—so you could nark on him. [John tries to show empathy and then encourages continuation of brainstorming.]

Boy: It’s not gonna happen though.

JSF: Yeah, but I don’t care if that’s gonna happen. So there’s nark, there’s ignore, there’s beat the s**. What else?

Boy: Um. Just talk to him, would be okay. Just go up to him and yeah . . . I think we need to have a little chit-chat. [The client is able to generate another potentially prosocial idea.]

JSF: Okay. Talk to him.

Boy: But that’s not gonna happen either. I don’t think I could talk to him without, like, him pissing me off and me kicking the s*** . . . [Again, the client is making it clear that he’s not interested in nonviolent options.]

JSF: So, it might be so tempting when you talk to him that you just end up beating the s*** out of him. [John goes back to reflective listening.]

Boy: Yeah. Yeah.

JSF: But all we’re doing is making a list. Okay. And you’re doing great. [This is positive reinforcement for the brainstorming process—not outcome.]

Boy: I could get someone to beat the s*** out of him.

JSF: Get somebody to beat him up. So, kind of indirect violence—you get him back physically—through physical pain. That’s kind of the approach.

Boy: [This section is censored.]

JSF: So you could [do another thing]. Okay.

Boy: Someone like . . .

JSF: Okay. We’re up to six options. [John is showing neutrality or using an extinction process by not showing any affective response to the client’s provocative maladaptive alternative that was censored for this book.]

Boy: That’s about it. . . .

JSF: So. So we got nark, we got ignore, we got beat the s*** out of him, we got talk to him, we got get somebody else to beat the shit out of him, and get some. . . . [Reading back the alternatives allows the client to hear what he has said.]

Boy: Um . . . couple of those are pretty unrealistic, but. [The client acknowledges he’s being unrealistic, but we don’t know which items he views as unrealistic and why. Exploring his evaluation of the options might be useful, but John is still working on brainstorming and relationship-building.]

JSF: We don’t have to be realistic. I’ve got another unrealistic one. I got another one . . . Kinda to start some shameful rumor about him, you know. [This is a verbally aggressive option which can be risky, but illustrates a new domain of behavioral alternatives.]

Boy: That’s a good idea.

JSF: I mean, it’s a nonviolent way to get some revenge.

Boy: Like he has a little dick or something.

JSF: Yeah, good, exactly. [John inadvertently provides positive reinforcement for an insulting idea rather than remaining neutral.]

Boy: Maybe I’ll do all these things.

JSF: Combination.

Boy: Yeah.

JSF: So we’ve got the shameful rumor option to add to our list.

Boy: That’s a good one. (Excerpted and adapted from J. Sommers-Flanagan & R. Sommers-Flanagan, 1999)

This case illustrates what can occur when therapists conduct PST and generate behavioral solutions with angry adolescents. Initially, the client appears to be blowing off steam and generating a spate of aggressive alternatives. This process, although not producing constructive alternatives, is important because the boy may be testing the therapist to see if he will react with judgment (during this brainstorming process it’s very important for therapists to remain positive and welcoming of all options, no matter how violent or absurd; using judgment can be perceived and experienced as a punishment, which can adversely affect the therapy relationship). As the boy produced various aggressive ideas, he appeared to calm down somewhat. Also, the behavioral alternatives are repeatedly read back to the client. This allows the boy to hear his ideas from a different perspective. Finally, toward the end, the therapist joins the boy in brainstorming and adds a marginally delinquent response. The therapist is modeling a less violent approach to revenge and hoping to get the boy to consider nonphysical alternatives. This approach is sometimes referred to as harm reduction because it helps clients consider less risky behaviors (Marlatt & Witkiewitz, 2010). Next steps in this problem-solving process include:

  • Decision making
  • Solution implementation and verification

As the counseling session proceeds, John employs a range of different techniques, including “reverse advocacy role playing” where John plays the client and the client plays the counselor and provides “reasons or arguments for [particular attitudes] being incorrect, maladaptive, or dysfunctional” (A. M. Nezu & C. M. Nezu, 2013).

What You Missed in Cincinnati

For me, the hardest thing about presenting professional workshops is time management. I want participants to comment, but how can I plan in advance for exactly how long their comments will be? Even worse, how can I accurately estimate the length of my own impromptu moments? It seems obvious that there’s a need for spontaneity. I don’t want to cut off potentially valuable comments from participants . . . and I don’t want to cut off my own creative musings either. Clearly, the clock is my workshop enemy.

For example, how could I know in advance that I would suddenly feel compelled to share a personal dream of mine with 85 of my new Cincinnati counselor friends? Never before had I shared with a workshop audience that 45 years-ago I dreamt I was Felix-the-Cat and then while crossing the road (as Felix), I got hit by a car . . . and died.

But then I woke up and have kept on living.

I like to think that particular disclosure is a perfectly normal thing to do when you’ve got a group of professional counselors to listen to you.

The point was to bust the myth that some teenage client have (and will talk about in counseling) that if they dream they die, it is prophetic and means they’ll die soon in real life also.

And beyond my personal dream disclosure, how would I know that one of the participants would have such passion that he would accept an invitation to come up to the microphone and share a physical relaxation technique that he uses with elementary school students.

These are just two samples of the sort of thing you missed because you weren’t in Cincinnati at the Schiff Center on the Xavier University campus yesterday.

But you also missed the start of the workshop where I decided on the spot that it was just the right time and place for me to open the workshop with a story of the most embarrassing moment in my life. It struck me as an awesome idea at the time . . . and it really was the most embarrassing moment of my life . . . until a few hours later when I shared my Felix-the-Cat dream.

There are always bigger mountains to climb.

You also missed meeting my incredibly gracious hosts from the Greater Cincinnati Counseling Association including, Butch Losey (who’s the most humble and understated guy who should be famous I’ve ever met), Kay Russ (who’s right up there with the most responsible person I’ve ever met), and Brent Richardson (who is as irreverent and insightful as ever), and Robert Wubbolding (who may be on his way to Casablanca to do a week long choice theory/reality therapy workshop by the time I post this and yet took eight hours out of his life to attend the workshop anyway).

So that’s just a little taste of what you missed in Cincinnati.

I’ll bet you wish you were there. I know I’m glad I was.