Category Archives: Personal Reflections

My Cache of Unprofessional Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories Videos

In a surprising turn of events, this semester, I’ve decided to make a series of unprofessional theories videos to accompany my counseling and psychotherapy theories course (and text). When I say surprising, I mean surprising in that I’m surprised about feeling open to spontaneously video recording myself and making it available via YouTube. Could it be that as I grow older, I care less about how I look and sound, and care more about showing myself openly to others as an imperfect being who’s just trying to offer up something that might be educational? Alternatively, maybe I just caught the narcissistically-leaning, reality television, constantly-make-videos-of-myself, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok, virus that’s infecting so many people. We may never know.

And I say unprofessional because I’m filming these all by myself, not using a script, and making side comments and using props that might involve embarrassing myself as I talk about counseling and psychotherapy theories. One form of these unprofessional videos includes me doing “dramatic readings” and commentary from the works of Freud, Adler, and other original theories thinkers and writers. Although I intended these readings to be dramatic, I can see how they also might just be dull.

With my explanations and caveats out of the way, here are the offerings, thus far, for this semester.

Week 1 – An Intro to Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories

Hypnosis for Warts: A Story – https://youtu.be/9FR4PyTcsKw

Psychotherapy Math – https://youtu.be/ZqMW0SNekY0

Week 2 – Psychoanalytic Approaches

Freud Dramatic Reading – https://youtu.be/L-fkveRk7B0

Week 3 – Individual Psychology and Adlerian Therapy

Adler Dramatic Reading, Take 1 – https://youtu.be/_sVysgm1UiY

Adler Dramatic Reading, Take 2 – https://youtu.be/xCQd6i_CWAI

Week 4 – Existential Theory and Therapy . . . coming soon!

Although this post focuses on my unprofessional videos, that doesn’t mean I’ve completely stopped behaving professionally. For example, recently, I was a guest on the podcast, “A New Angle” hosted by Justin Angle and Bryce Ward (both of the University of Montana College of Business). In this podcast, we talk about COVID, suicide in Montana, happiness, and why the College of Business supports the teaching “Essential” interpersonal and psychological skills. It’s a pretty cool (and professional) podcast, even if I do say so myself. You can find “A New Angle” on Apple Podcasts at:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/i-i-happiness-with-john-sommers-flanagan/id1336642173

Or at: anewanglepodcast.com

I hope you’re all having a great run-up to the weekend.

Understanding Suicide – A Video/Podcast Interview with Paula Fontenelle

The word suicide, all by itself and regardless of context, can elicit anxiety, grief, anger, and other raw emotions. One of my goals as a mental health professional, is to advocate for open discussions of suicide. Why? Because I want to actively role model how facing, embracing, and discussing suicide directly can shrink the threatening nature of the word—and also shrink the anxiety, grief, and anger that people feel when they hear the word.

Just yesterday, Paula Fontenelle, author of “Understanding Suicide” (see Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Suicide-Living-loss-prevention/dp/1691504831), posted a podcast and video of her and I discussing suicide. As always, when I look at and listen to myself, I feel a bit shy about sharing this. The mirror (or video recording) is never as flattering as I wish it to be. However, I love that Paula is so dedicated to this topic and that she was willing to have me as a guest on the 1st anniversary and 40th episode of her show.

You can access a video of the show here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDmY8kgf6Zc

You can access the audio (podcast) of the show here: https://bit.ly/3muZ2eD

If you want to know more about Paula and her interests and expertise, you can link to her in all of the methods listed below:

WebsitePodcast | YouTube | LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram

Thanks for reading, listening, and watching. I wish you all the best this weekend and beyond!

John

Counseling Theories — Week One — Hypnosis for Warts

Theories III Photo

Being holed up in our passive solar Absarokee house made an interesting venue for blasting off this semester’s University of Montana Counseling Theories class. I’m mentioning passive solar not to brag (although Rita did design an awesome set-up for keeping us warm in the winter and cool in the summer using south-facing windows and thermal mass), but to give you a glimpse of our temperature-related passivity: we have no working parts (as in air conditioning). And I’m mentioning holed up because we’re in a stage 1 air pollution alert from California smoke and consequently weren’t able to use our usual manual air conditioning system (opening up the windows in the night to cool off the house). Our need to keep the windows shut created a warmer than typical room temperature and, based on my post-lecture assessment of the armpits of my bright yellow shirt, yesterday just might have been my sweatiest class since 1988, when I was teaching at the University of Portland, and started sweating so much during an Intro Psych class that my glasses fogged up. In case you didn’t already know this about me, I’m an excellent sweater. You haven’t seen sweat until you’ve seen my sweat. Top-notch. The sort of sweating most people only dream about. I’d rate myself a sweating 10.

Aside from my sweating—which I’m guessing you’ve had enough of at this point—the students were pretty darn fantastic. Attendance was virtually perfect, which, given that everything was virtual, exceeded my expectations.

Speaking of expectations, because I’m teaching online via Zoom, one thing I’m adding to the course are a few pre-recorded videos. Yesterday’s pre-recorded video featured me telling my famous “Hypnosis for Warts” story. My goal with the pre-recorded video—aside from letting my students see me and my yellow shirt in a less sweaty condition—was to break up the powerpoints. I could have told the story live, but instead, I clicked out of the powerpoints, told my students we were going to watch a video, and then showed a video of myself . . . telling a story I could have been telling live. I thought I was hilarious. However, mostly, the sea of 55 Hollywood Squares faces just stared into the sea of virtual reality, and so I couldn’t see whether the students appreciated my pre-recorded video of myself teaching strategy. I know I’ve got too many “seas” in that preceding sentence, but redundancy happens. Really, it does. I’m totally serious about redundancy.

Back to expectations . . .

One of Michael Lambert’s four common factors in counseling and psychotherapy is expectancy. He estimated that, in general, expectation accounts for about 15% of the variation in treatment outcomes. But, of course, treatment outcomes are always contextual and always variable and always unique, and so, as in the case of “Hypnosis for Warts,” sometimes the outcome may be a product of a different combination or proportion of therapeutic ingredients. If you watch the video, consider these questions:

  • What do you think “happened” in the counseling office with the 11-year-old boy to cause his eight warts to disappear?
  • Do you think the therapeutic ingredients that helped the boy get rid of his warts were limited to Lambert’s extratherapeutic factors, relationship factors, technical factors, and expectancy factors (his four big common factors) . . . or might something else completely different have been operating?
  • What proportion of factors do you suppose contributed to the positive outcome? For example, might there have been 50% expectancy, instead of 15%?

Here’s the video link to the Wart story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FR4PyTcsKw

That’s about all I’ve got to share for today. However, if you happen to know of some nice 1-5 minute theories-related video clips that I can share with my students, please pass them on. I’d be especially interested if you happen to have video clips of me, but relevant videos of other people would be nice too. Haha. Just joking. Please DON’T send video clips of me. My students and I—we already have far too much of the JSF video scene.

Be well,

John SF

Suicide Education Resources . . . and Why is it so Easy to Experience Imposter Syndrome?

100 Days: What Happens Next?

Elephants

For many, watching a sweaty Donald Trump give himself high praise for being able to pass a cognitive test that awards points for accurately identifying a picture of an elephant is oddly reassuring. Liberals, #NeverTrumpers, and other hopeful humans have had difficulty covering their glee. Mocking Trump’s person-woman-man-camera-TV buffoonery and how it illustrates his diminished or diminishing mental capacity is gratifying.

Speaking of buffoonery—because it’s more pleasant than what I’ll speak of next—a former student of mine sent me his proposal for a new cognitive test. He calls it the Idaho Cognitive Assessment (IdCA). Here’s what he wrote:

Listen, I’ve been making up five item memory tests for myself lately, and I ace them every time. For example, I’ll list off the names of my three kids, Monica, and our dog, and when I try to remember them a minute later, it’s easy for me. It’s not easy for everyone, but it’s easy for me. I even give myself extra points if I get them in order.

The IdCA is a fabulous and perfect parallel to the Donald Trump Cognitive Assessment (DtCA).  Using his clever spontaneity, Trump made up the DtCA on the spot while being filmed by a person, a woman, a man, a camera, and a TV. Just for the record, although the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) isn’t especially difficult, it’s harder than the IdCA and the DtCA. But because Trump lies about everything we still don’t really know if could identify an elephant, remember five items, or pass the MoCA.

What I wish (and, I suspect, many others) is that Donald Trump was only a sweaty buffoon making a comedic cameo on Fox News. But, sadly, he’s more than a sweaty buffoon; he’s a dangerous sweaty buffoon, serial liar, and incompetent leader who’s putting the future of the United States and planet Earth at risk. What I fear is that while gloating over his buffoonery, we’ll forget that Trump is also an evil genius.

Trump is a once-in-a-century antisocial demagogue. If you don’t know what that means, check out my Slate article or this blog post: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2018/11/05/my-closing-argument-take-a-breath-check-your-moral-compass-and-vote-for-checks-and-balances-in-government/.

Trump has a particularly unsavory personality type. Documentation of this personality type goes back to Aristotle’s student, Theophrastus (371 – 287 B.C.), who wrote:

The Unscrupulous Man will go and borrow more money from a creditor he has never paid . . . . When marketing he reminds the butcher of some service he has rendered him and, standing near the scales, throws in some meat, if he can, and a soup-bone. If he succeeds, so much the better; if not, he will snatch a piece of tripe and go off laughing (from Widiger, Corbitt, & Millon, p. 63).

About 2000 years later, the famous American physician, Benjamin Rush, picked up on Theophrastus’s theme, becoming intrigued with what was briefly called moral insanity. In cases of moral insanity, individuals are capable of clear and lucid thought, but repeatedly engage in irresponsible, immoral, and destructive behaviors without experiencing guilt or shameless. These shameless criminals act boldly, but without moral compass, believing that only they could possibly divine the true and correct way forward. In an apt description of Trump’s everyday behavior, Rush wrote: “Persons thus diseased cannot speak the truth upon any subject” (1812, p. 124).

Although predicting the future is always inexact, Trump’s personality type provides a reasonable foundation. That being the case, my personality-based predictions for Trump’s future behaviors are below—along with ways in which we, as U.S. citizens interested in the continuation of a democratic republic—can respond.

  1. Trump will tell more and bigger lies. As threats to his presidency and risks of defeat loom, Trump’s lies will grow in size and frequency. The good news is that Trump’s lies will grow more obvious, and hopefully the American public and media can leverage them to further grow opposition.
  2. Trump will continue to show poor judgment, principally because he’s the only one who living in his personal decision-making echo chamber. Trump’s logic and gut are impaired. His decisions will continue to often be wrong and dangerous. The good news about Trump’s poor judgment is that if the media can pounce on his upcoming egregiously bad decisions, the public may continue to grow in their distrust of him.
  3. Trump will deflect responsibility. Trump’s moral philosophy includes complete opposition to taking responsibility for mistakes. This pattern will continue. As in the past, he’ll blame others (e.g., Obama, Biden, Clinton) for things they’ve never done. In many cases, his deflecting responsibility will include abject projection (Crooked Hillary was clearly a projection by Crooked Donald). Trump’s tendency to project his own criminal behavior onto others can provide leads to what he’s doing. Also, and this is critical, EVERYTHING Trump does needs to be framed as the responsibility of every individual member of the GOP, until and unless they split from him.
  4. To compensate for his slagging physical and intellectual abilities, Trump will become increasingly desperate to look strong. The bad news is that Trump posturing may translate into more tear gas, more fomenting of foreign conflict, and more steps toward martial law. The good news is that he cannot stop himself from looking and acting pathetic . . . and as organizations like the Lincoln Project target Trump’s weakness and pathetic efforts to appear competent, they’re proving their exceptional media savvy.
  5. Trump will stoke division and inflame hatred. This is a common Trumpian strategy. The good news is that many Americans are aware of this strategy and can compensate with unification. The other good news is that if polls continue downward, Trump won’t be able to resist stoking division within his own ranks.
  6. Trump will continue to seek profit and praise to assuage his battered ego. Again, the more desperate his follows this path, the more likely he is to make mistakes, and the more opportunities there are to catch him, red-handed, in criminal activity.
  7. Trump will continue in his role as influence-peddler in chief. Trump will use money, power, legal intimidation, and any leverage he can find to recruit and embolden followers. The details of how he accomplishes this and the psychological vulnerability of ForeverTrumpers is grist for another mill, but count on it to continue, and count on it to continue to seem completely irrational.

I know there’s nothing much new here. But the point is that now and into the future we need to maintain a planned and proactive attack on Trump’s competence, with unwavering focus on catching him and holding him accountable for the many lies, mistakes, and criminal activities he will be engaging in for the next 100 days. We know Trump is an immensely narcissistic compulsive liar who lacks basic self-awareness and seems unable to muster up empathy or compassion for anyone other than his loyal, criminal, and sycophantic followers—even when those followers happen to have deep links to pedophilia or the Russian mob. However, we also know that these traits were in place four years ago, and he was elected anyway. That’s why, right now, as we enter the home-stretch, we all need to be focused like a laser on deconstructing his genius while simultaneously, exposing his weaknesses, his criminal activities, and every manifestation of his pathetic buffoonery . . . as he makes his way down the slippery metaphoric ramp toward November 3, 2020.

Trump on Ramp

To Mask or Not to Mask: Making America Rational Again

Make America Rational Again

About 4 years ago, I made a MARA hat. MARA stands for “Make America Rational Again.” My hat was in honor of the late Albert Ellis, a famous psychologist who relentlessly advocated for rational thinking. Given that some folks are doubting Covid-19, while others are passionately accusing health officials of infringing on their God-given liberties, I’m thinking my MARA hat from the last presidential election is still in style.

Way back when I was a full-time therapist working mostly with teenagers, I developed a method for talking with my teen-clients about their freedoms. When they complained about their parents infringing on their rights—those damn parents were pronouncing unreasonable curfews, alcohol prohibitions, and other silly mandates—I’d say something like this:

“Really, you only have three choices. You can do whatever your parents think you should do. That’s option #1. Or, you can do the opposite of what your parents think you should do. That’s option #2. Those are easy options. You don’t even have to think.”

Hoping to pique the teen’s interest, I’d pause and to let my profound comments linger. Sometimes I got stony silence, or an eye-roll. But usually curiosity won out, and my client would ask:

“What’s the third choice?”

“The third choice is for you to make an independent decision. But that’s way harder. You probably don’t want to go there.”

Actually, most of my teenage clients DID want to go there. They wanted to learn, grow, develop, and become capable of effective decision-making. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case today. All too often, Americans are basing their decision-making on poor information. For example, when people are gathering the 411 on whether they should mask-up in public settings, to where do they turn? The rational choice would be medical professionals and virologists. But instead, people are turning to Facebook, Twitter, and even worse, Fox News, where misinformation from Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity is offered up with nary a shred of journalistic ethics or integrity (for a fun and fabulous SNL Parody with Kate McKinnon as Laura Ingraham, check out this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XezLiezWN0E).

A related question that’s especially pressing right now is this: “How should we respond to coronavirus deniers and rabid anti-maskers?” Speaking for myself, I’ve been struggling to find the right words. Saying what I’m thinking—which usually starts with “WTF!? Have you been listening to Tucker Carlson instead of Dr. Fauci?”—seems too offensive and unhelpful. Instead, I’m making a commitment to letting go of the outrage, putting my 2016 campaign hat back on, and making myself rational again. Instead of being angry, my plan is to retreat to rationality. I’ll say things like this: “Hey, I’m curious, have you read the latest article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled, “Observational study of hydroxychloroquine in hospitalized patients with Covid-19?” or, “What are your thoughts about the chilblain-like lesions doctors are finding on patients with Covid-19?” or “According to the CDC and Dr. Fauci and the American Medical Association, the cloth face coverings—although imperfect—statistically reduce the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus.”

I invite you to join me in gathering good data for our personal and social decision-making. Together, we can Make America Rational Again.

A Glorious Moment

Pumpkins at birth

One nice thing about having my own blog is I get to post whatever I want. Sometimes that means I suffer from my own bad judgment. But not today.

Today, I’m posting a link to a fresh, new article in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. The article is titled, “Our False Promise of Justice.” Not only is this article timely and compelling; not only is it well-reasoned and compassionate; not only is it balanced and beautiful prose; it’s also written by Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, my youngest daughter, who happens to be an attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and a pretty fantastic person. Okay, so now I’m just bragging.

Despite my bragging, the preceding information is all true. At least IMHO.

If you read it and like it, please do me the favor of sharing this article with your friends and on social media.

Here’s the link: https://democracyjournal.org/magazine/our-false-promise-of-justice/

 

2020 Dreams from My Mother

Mom in Chair

By most estimates, moms have had it rough this year. Day care centers are closed and moms are working from home; at the same time they’re homeschooling, keeping their children from watching porn on the internet, and sanitizing everything. And then there’s that former reality television star who perpetually gets himself in the news, rambling in front of cameras about treating the novel coronavirus with disinfectants in the body. In an optimal world, mothers would get celebrated way more than once a year. In a decent world, they’d be able to protect their children from exposure to Donald Trump.

Looking back 50 years or so, my own mother—she’s in a care facility now—was a mysteriously effective role model. She was more submissive than dominant, never hit me or raised her voice, didn’t directly boss anyone around, but indirectly gave my sisters and me VERY CLEAR guidance on what behaviors were expected in our home, and out in the world.

Rarely did my mother explicitly tell us how to behave. But once, when an African American family moved into our all-white neighborhood, she proactively, quietly, and firmly sat my sisters and me down and told us we would always treat them with respect. We did. When my mom got serious, we never questioned her authority.

One time, she was driving and a car squealed past us in a no-passing zone. She sighed, glanced over at me, and said, “I’ll be very disappointed if you ever drive like that.” For the next 5 decades, including my teen years, my friends and family have ridiculed me for my slow, conservative driving. I watch my speedometer, stop at yellow lights, and slow down at uncontrolled intersections. My mother said it once, I remembered what she said, and I still don’t want to disappoint her.

Without a stern word, my mother taught us to love our neighbors (even when they were annoying), showed us how to treat everyone with kindness and respect (even when they didn’t deserve it), and modeled how we could be generous with our time and energy by focusing on the needs and interests of others.

Once, when the family was out watching Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a sex scene started. Immediately, my mom elbowed my dad, and I was ushered from the theater. My mom didn’t want me to see or hear things that might lead me down the wrong path. She would cover my eyes and ears (literally) to stop me from being exposed to negative influences.

All this leads me to wonder how my mother would handle the disastrous role-model-in-chief. Mr. Trump is a mother’s nightmare, spewing out perverted values on a daily basis.

My mother’s first strategy would be to not let me hear whatever terrible ideas Trump gets out of his brain and into his mouth. She would have blocked me from watching news pieces about Mr. Trump’s playboy models, paid off porn stars, shitholes, Pocahontas, pussy-grabbing, gold star families, and references to women as pigs.

As much as my mother would have hated Mr. Trump’s sexist and racist words, she would be even more apoplectic about his poor character. If we saw or heard Mr. Trump counterattacking his critics, she would have sat us down, and talked about how an eye for an eye will leave us all blind.

If my mother caught us reading Trump’s tweets, she would have gathered us around the kitchen table for a spelling lesson. She would explain, “there’s no such word as unpresidented,” the phrase “twitter massages” makes no sense, “smocking guns” is just wrong, “the Prince of Whales” is from Wales, and journalists cannot win the “Noble prize.” She would never allow us to utter the word covfefe in our house.

My mother would be deeply offended by Mr. Trump’s incessant lying. If she were parenting us right now, every day she’d find a way to show us how we should admit our mistakes, take personal responsibility, and resist the temptation to blame others. She would talk about truth-telling. She would explain that Mr. Trump being President is a tragic mistake and that we should all work very hard to make sure this tragic mistake ends, so this malevolent man cannot continue to abuse women, minorities, and the American people.

But, for parents like my mother, Mr. Trump offers small advantages. As a teaching device, horrendous role models work quite well. In the end, and with one sentence, my mother would steal away all of Trump’s past and future influence. She would say, “I’ll be very disappointed if you ever act like that man.”

And we wouldn’t.

 

Happy Habits for Hard Times: Your Best Possible Self

Burned Tree

They say that failure is good for the soul, or maybe they say it’s good for developing character. I don’t know who “they” are, but they forgot to say that failure is good for learning. I think that’s the best thing.

My favorite football season of all time was my senior year in high school, when my team when 0 – 10. That’s right. We lost every game, and we lost most of them very badly. The next year, my team, Mount Hood Community College, went 10 – 0. It was great; almost as good as the year before.

I don’t LOVE failure, because I’m not that weird. But I do like failure. I like it because of the learning that comes along with failure.

Today, Episode 5 of the Happy Habits series goes live. You can click on it below. The topic is: Your Best Possible self. Keep in mind that only by failing and improving ourselves can we begin to approach the best possible version of ourselves.

Onward!

Other People Matter, And You Matter Too

Bill-Withers-GettyImages-71302174

As I type here on my blog, I can hear Rita playing Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game in the background. Joni is singing to me:

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time

I’m reminded of how repetitive life can be and am catapulted backward and forward in time.

Back in the spring of 1976, at Mount Hood Community College, I signed up for Basic Piano, but never made it very far, and dropped the class. I still feel sad for that.

Somehow, someone (I’m not sure if it was Andy Stokes or a guy named Bo from the baseball team), taught me to play a few chords from Bill Wither’s Lean on Me. Every once in a while, I feel the impulse to circle back and play those chords, and pretend I can sign.

This morning I’m circling back again, to those few chords, to Lean on Me, and to the Happy Habits series Rita and I are producing with the University of Montana. And so here’s my tribute to Bill Withers, the past, the future, and the present: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0Nju66rif4&feature=youtu.be

And here’s the link to the video and written material that Rita and I produced for UM: https://coehs.umt.edu/happy_habits_series_2020/hhs_module_four.php

Have a fabulous Friday and weekend.