Category Archives: Counseling and Psychotherapy Theory and Practice

Happiness Lecture 10 — Social PPT Video

Hi All,

This is a video that accompanies COUNSELING 195 – The Art and Science of Happiness. Due to social distancing, I’m putting my lectures online, and the Moodle shell at the University of Montana rejected the file for being too large, so I’m trying this.

The audio is wonky, but the video focuses on components of the social dimension of well-being and happiness.

Be safe. Be well. Be distant, but stay connected!

John

 

Free Video Links for Online Teaching

JSF Travel

This past week I’ve been grateful for the many professionals and organizations (including my publisher, John Wiley & Sons) who are providing free guidance and materials to help with the transition from face-to-face teaching to online instruction. In an effort to contribute back in a small way, I’m posting 10 counseling- and psychotherapy-related videos that can be integrated into online teaching. These videos are free and posted on my YouTube channel. The links are all below with a brief description of the video content.

Some of these videos are rough cuts and all of them are far from perfect demonstrations; that’s partly the point. Although many of the videos show reasonably good counseling skills and interesting assessment processes and therapeutic interventions, none of the videos are scripted, and so there’s plenty of room for review, analysis, critique, and discussion. You can show them as efforts to do CBT, SFBT, Motivational Interviewing, administration of a mental status examination, etc., and prompt students to describe how they would do these sessions even better.

These videos are meant to stimulate learning. In an ideal world, I would include a list of discussion questions, but I’ll leave that to you. If you like, please feel free to use these videos for educational purposes. Here’s the annotated list with video links:

  1. Counseling demonstrations with a 12-year-old.
    1. Opening a counseling session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHHrMC8t6vY
    2. The three-step emotional change trick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITWhMYANC5c
    3. John SF demonstrates the What’s Good About You? informal assessment technique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUhmLQUg_g8
    4. Closing a session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpuH80tf2jM
  2. Demo of assessment for anger management with a solution-focused spin with a 20-year-old client: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noE2wMMNLY4
  3. Demo of motivational interviewing with a 30-year-old client: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtN7kEk0Sv4
  4. Demo of the affect bridge technique with an 18-year-old: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEtiGuc914E
  5. Demo of CBT for social anxiety with a graduate student: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfVeeGJHFjA
  6. Demo of an MSE with a 20-year-old: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adwOxj1o7po
  7. A lecture vignette of a demonstration of psychoanalytic ego defense mechanisms: https://studio.youtube.com/video/E818UlgHMXY/edit
  8. The University of Montana Department of Counseling does a spoof video of The Office: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM8-I8_1CqQ

Good luck with the transition to online teaching and stay healthy!

John S-F

Happiness Homework: Savor Now, Feel Better Later

Captain America

We all know how to savor chocolate or wine or the cheesecake that tastes like you’ve made it to heaven. When it comes to gustatory experiences, savoring is natural.

Funny thing, savoring successes, beautiful scenery, a poem you hear on the radio, and other potentially positive life experiences often (but not always) feels less natural. That’s too bad, because researchers have repeatedly found that taking a moment to savor the moment in the midst of a busy day can increase happiness and decrease depression. We should try to remember to savor more often.

For this week the plan is for you to pick one savoring assignment from a menu of research-based savoring activities (below). Each of these activities has research support; doing any of them might make you feel significantly more happiness or less depression. Here are your options:

  • Engage in mutual reminiscence. Mutual reminiscence happens when you get together with someone and intentionally pull up and talk about fun, positive, or meaningful memories. I was with my dad last week and did a bit of this and it was nice. Now I have memories of us remembering our shared positive memories.
  • Make a list of positive memories. After making the list, transport yourself to reminisce on one of the memories. You can do this one by yourself. Retrieve the memory. Play it back in your mind. Explore it. Feel it. Let your brain elaborate on the details.
  • Celebrate good news longer than you would. This is easy. You need to track/observe for a positive message or news in your life that feels good. Then, let your mind linger on it. Notice how you feel. What parts of the news are especially meaningful and pleasant to you? Extend and celebrate the good news.
  • Notice and observe beauty. This activity is mostly visual, but you can listen for beautiful sounds too. Let yourself see color, patterns, and nuanced beauty in nature or in art. Linger with that visual and let its pleasant effects be in your eyes, brain, and body. Notice and feel those sensations and thoughts.

As usual, write a short report to Dan and me about your experiences and put it in the appropriate Moodle bin. This report doesn’t need to be long—unless writing it is a pleasant experience for you—in which case, you can linger and write longer.

Happiness Homework: Week 4 — Thought Monitoring

Goldilocks and Bears

Active Learning Assignment 6 – Thought Monitoring

Humans are thinking beings. You can try arguing the opposite, but that would require thinking.

Sometime around 1637, René Descartes said it this way,

“Cogito, ergo sum.”

The English translation,

“I think, therefore I am.”

Cool stuff.

After several decades of studying psychological theory, I’m finally ready to make my own fancy Cartesian philosophical statement about human thinking. It’s less succinct than Descartes, because, well, I’m not Descartes. Here we go. First, in Latin (because even though I only typed the words into the Google Latin translator, using Latin makes me sound smarter).

“Cogito ergo sum ego possit cogitare et in tempore angustiae triumphi.”

Now, in English.

“I think therefore I am able to think myself into trouble or triumph.”

Inevitably, the more we think, the more we’re able to create personal misery. Alternatively, as we know all too well from political or romantic or employment or online relationships, we humans are also quite capable of rationalizing behaviors and describing ourselves in ways that makes us feel and sound better than we are in reality. We easily and naturally think our way toward trouble and triumph.

One popular contemporary term that speaks to miserable and unhelpful thinking is “overthinking.” Overthinking refers to excessive analysis around actions or decision-making. Overthinking is usually considered a less-than-optimal style that sometimes leads to paralysis by analysis.

Unfortunately, although life is better when we avoid overthinking, “underthinking” (although it hasn’t caught on), is equally bad. Underthinking results in impulsive and thoughtless behaviors and decisions.

As if life wasn’t already hard enough, like Goldilocks, now we have to avoid overthinking and underthinking, and find just the right amount of thinking.

All this brings us to our current happiness assignment.

  1. Using the six-column model demonstrated in class (on Feb 4), track the relationships between your situational triggers, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. One or two examples is sufficient.
  2. Write one paragraph about anything you learned about how your thoughts and behaviors affect your emotions (for the better or for the worse).
  3. Come to the lab on Thursday (Feb 6) ready to discuss anything you may have discovered about how your thoughts and behaviors affect your emotions.

Just in case you need it, here’s a longer description of how to do the six-column technique: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/02/18/how-to-use-the-six-column-cbt-technique/

Good luck and may the happiness be with you.

Four Questions to Help Keep Your Focus on the Positive

Brain Image

Everyone agrees that the human brain is amazing. Perhaps the most amazing quality of human brains is the ability to shift focus. In an instant and at will, you can shift your focus from a current life conundrum, to the big toe on your left foot, to your dreams for the future, and to a memory from 1st grade. You can explore all these things—at least superficially—and then move on to the meaning of existence and the possibility of life on Mars all in less than one minute. In fact, as you were reading this, I’ll bet you were able to touch on all those thoughts.

Although shifting attention can feel random, it’s a power that most of us should learn to use more intentionally.

We’re using several methods for helping students intentionally harness their attentional focus in the Art and Science of Happiness course at the University of Montana. One method involves homework. Another method involves in-class and happiness lab activities. A third method (and the one featured here), is intentional and regular use of self-reflection. To accomplish this, we ask students to answer four reflection questions every two weeks.

Here are the questions, along with a small sampling of anonymized student responses:

  1. Over the past two weeks, what lecture content stood out to you as most important to you in your life?
  • “The sleep lecture and what you can do to sleep better, and what causes nightmares and night terrors”
  • “Happiness doesn’t have to ALWAYS be present in order to be happy.”
  • “I really enjoyed the lecture about the three steps to cure nightmares.”
  1. Over the past two weeks, what classroom or lab activities do you recall as most important to you in your life?
  • “All of them have been influential . . . and hope to continue these assignments into the future.”
  • “Having a happy song playing at the beginning of class is such a great way to start class.”
  • “The hand-pushing activity about how we should go into a situation with a plan.”
  1. Over the past two weeks, what positive changes have you noticed in yourself or in your life?
  • “After doing the 3 good things activity at night I felt relaxed and in a better mood.”
  • “I’m working on my sleep schedule which has felt good.”
  • “I found the sleeping tips to be really helpful in my own life and help me to improve my sleep.”
  1. Over the past two weeks, what activities, interactions, or thoughts have you experienced (outside of class) that were especially meaningful to you?
  • “Finding something inspirational.”
  • “More positive outlook on life.”
  • “I experienced being able to change my thoughts on a negative day by looking at three good things and able to remember that even on bad days there are still good things to remember.”

As I look over the students’ responses to these questions and the homework assignments, I feel like I’m catching some positive psychology contagion. I’m grateful to be able to teach this course and inspired by the students’ efforts to apply positive psychology principles to their lives.

Happiness Homework — Week 3: University of Montana

Stone Smirk

This week we’ve only got one active learning assignment (see below). That’s probably because there’s a Moodle quiz later in the week and, of course, there are things for students to watch and listen to, like these:

  1. Listen: Science vs. Podcast – All Aboard the Snooze Cruise https://gimletmedia.com/shows/science-vs/o2hx57
  2. WATCH: Hacking your brain for happiness by James Doty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4TJEA_ZRys
  3. Listen: The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast, Episode: Teens and Depression — https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/teens-depression/id1170841304?i=1000383659996

And here’s the active learning homework for the week!

Active Learning Assignment 5 – Your Favorite Relaxation Method

As you likely recall from the Thursday, January 23 lecture, in 1975, Herbert Benson of Harvard University published a book titled, The Relaxation Response. Benson wrote that for humans to achieve the relaxation response, they needed four components:

  1. A quiet place.
  2. A comfortable position.
  3. A mental device.
  4. A passive attitude.

For this assignment, your job is to identify and practice your favorite relaxation method. The good news is that you don’t really need a quiet place and a comfortable position (although they help, they’re not essential). But you do need a mental device and a passive attitude.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, for some people, the act of trying to relax creates anxiety. This is a puzzling paradox. Why would trying to relax trigger anxiety?

The intent to relax can trigger anxiety in several different ways. For some, if you try to relax, you can also trigger worries about not being able to relax. This is a relatively natural byproduct of self-consciousness. If this is the case for you, take it slowly. Self-awareness can trigger self-consciousness and self-consciousness can trigger anxiety . . . but time and practice can overcome these obstacles.

For others, a history of trauma or physical discomfort can be activated. This is similar to self-consciousness because the turning of your attention to your body inevitably makes you more aware of your body and this awareness can draw you into old, emotionally or physically painful memories. If this is the case for you, again, take it slowly. Also, manage your expectations, and get support as needed. Support could come in the form of specific comforting and soothing cues (even physical cues), an outside support person, or a professional counselor or psychotherapist.

Trauma and anxiety are common human challenges. Although trauma and anxiety can be terribly emotionally disturbing and disruptive, the core treatment for these problems usually involves one or more forms of exposure and can be traced back to Mary Cover Jones. You can read more about Mary Cover Jones and her amazing work on my blog: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2018/06/04/the-secret-self-regulation-cure-seriously-this-time/

Okay, that’s enough of my jibber-jabbering. Here’s your assignment:

  1. Try integrating your favorite relaxation method (no drugs please) into your daily life. You can do it for a minute here and there, or 20 minutes all at once.
  2. Write me a paragraph or two about how it went. Include reflections on (a) what helped you relax more? and (b) what got into the way of you relaxing (obstacles)?
  3. Write me a paragraph about how you might try to do more relaxing in the future—including how you will deal with those pesky obstacles.

Thanks for reading and have a fantastic Sunday.

 

 

 

Happiness Homework: Week 2 — University of Montana

Peg and John Singing at Pat's Wedding

Yesterday the happiness class focused on the context of happiness and happiness habits. On my powerpoint slides, I managed to reverse the numerator and denominator of Bono’s happiness equation, resulting in my abject humiliation in front of the class. This led to my personally disclosing my most humiliating experience ever, thereby demonstrating how contextual experiences in the here-and-now can trigger memories that can then either magnify or minimize an experience of happiness or unhappiness in the moment. I’ll spare you the details of my historical humiliations, and instead, direct you toward this week’s happiness homework assignments.

By now, students have read chapters one and two in Tim Bono’s book, “When Likes Aren’t Enough: A crash course in the science of happiness.” Additionally, they listened to a Hidden Brain podcast on Creatures of Habit: https://www.npr.org/transcripts/787160734, and watched a short Forest Bathing video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0MEFNyLPag

The two take-home assignments of the week are described below:

Active Learning Assignment 3 – Three Happy Places

More often than we might think, our environment, setting, or context directly influences our mood and sense of well-being. This is most obvious when we’re in settings or environments that we find aversive.

To start this assignment, reflect briefly on environments, settings, or contexts that you find aversive. For example, some people find cloudy days, rain, smoky skies (or rooms), or particular temperatures aversive or uncomfortable. Other people might find churches, gyms, or libraries aversive.

Now, consider the opposite: What environments, settings, or contexts do you find pleasurable, comforting, or energizing? As you may have noticed in the short “Forest bathing” video, there’s evidence that, in general, more time in the outdoors is linked to increased feelings of well-being. For this assignment, don’t worry about what “should” be your happy place. . . but if the outdoors is a happy place for you, be sure to include it.

After reading and reflecting on the above, write a few words (short answers) in response to the following prompts:

  1. List three settings that usually trigger negativity or discomfort in you.
  2. List three settings that usually trigger happiness and wellbeing in you (and be specific). These are your happy places
  3. What can you do to prepare for or cope with challenging settings that usually cause you discomfort? (Other than avoiding them)
  4. What can you do to increase the frequency of time you spend in environments that contribute to your feelings of wellness?
  5. What can you do to create places or spaces in your mind that you can use (anywhere and anytime) to increase your sense of comfort and wellness in the moment?

Active Learning Assignment 4 – Three Good Things

Perhaps the most basic and well-known evidence-based happiness assignment is Martin Seligman’s Three Good Things activity.

Here’s Seligman’s description: Write down, for one week, before you go to sleep, three things that went well for you during the day, and then reflect on why they went well.

Just in case you want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, here’s a one-minute video of Seligman describing the activity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOGAp9dw8Ac

For this assignment, you should do the Three Good Things activity for a week, as prescribed by Seligman. Dan and I don’t need to see all 21 good things from your whole week, but we would like you to share the following with us:

  1. Three ESPECIALLY good things from the week (think of these of as your Good Things Highlights). We’re very excited to hear about these.
  2. The most common (summarized) explanations for why these 21 good things happened. We’re very interested in what’s happening (or what you’re doing) to create the good things in your day-to-day lives.