Category Archives: Personal Reflections

To Tweet or Not to Tweet: The Question of Quitting Twitter

Photo, courtesy of @rksf2/twitter

Last week, I tweeted that I was quitting Twitter, “For obvious reasons.” In response, several of my Twitter friends (you know who you are AND I appreciate YOU) noted that staying on Twitter and having a positive voice might be a better option than retreating to a location under Zuckerman’s umbrella. Hmm. Point taken. And so instead of completely quitting Twitter, this past week I put myself in Twitter time-out.

Over the past couple years, I’ve come to mostly like Twitter. There’s lots of aversive stuff, but following selected news outlets, researchers, a few Twitter-friends, and various renowned individuals helps with cutting edge news and perspective; it also contributes to me feeling “in the loop.”

Problems with Twitter, however, are legion. There’s an odd plethora of so-called mindfulness practitioners engaging in self-promotion. That’s ironic, but my understanding (and experience) is that Twitter is very much about self-promotion. That’s probably why the former guy (TFG) used it so prolifically. But only so many voices can fit into a Twitter feed, which leads to INTERMITTENT YELLING IN HOPE THAT SOMEONE WILL HEAR YOUR TWITTER-VOICE. Even TFG did lots of ALL CAPS. There may be no better means for getting your perspective “out there.” Whether the perspective is worthy of public viewing, that’s harder to discern.

Part of my current conundrum stems from the fact that I have a small sense of a small “Twitter community.” I enjoy liking and being liked by them. I can find cutting edge suicide-related research straight from several academics. But, along with the benefits, two days prior to the Musk takeover, my Twitter feed became suspiciously littered with so-called republican politicians. I saw despicable Unamerican, divisive posts from Marsha Blackburn, Marco Rubio, Kevin McCarthy, Lauren Boebert, Jim Jordan, and others whose names I’m conveniently suppressing. It was a line-up of political partisan trash the likes of which couldn’t have been better designed to push my buttons.

Of course, as someone close to me accurately observed (I’m paraphrasing now), perhaps rather than living in my own partisan echo-chamber, I should be more open to hearing messages from the “other side.” Not surprisingly, my buttons were pushed, yet again.

Maybe it’s already obvious to everyone else, but MY biggest problem with Twitter (and mainstream media and other social media and political debates and any opinion other than my own) is more about me than anything else. My inability to self-regulate and manage my own emotional buttons make the best case for exiting Twitter. If I can’t read antivaxxer Twitter posts without feeling the need to slap them upside the head with a rolled-up copy of the latest edition of the New England Journal of Medicine or bash them in the face with David Quammen’s “Breathless,” then maybe it’s time to stop tweeting. On the other hand, if I can recognize that all Twitter disagreements end the same way—with elevated animosity and mutual disgust—and instead, focus on being the most positive voice I can be, then maybe Musk won’t dysregulate me into quitting something I enjoy.

This past week without Twitter has been fine. I found plenty of alternative ways to agitate myself (haha). But I didn’t feel any Tweet-generated-angst. I also was out of the news loop. My wife had to tell me Lula won the Brazilian election. Woot-woot! If I’d been Twittering, I’d have known right away. I also missed following my daughter’s non-profit, social justice Upper Seven Law firm. Her tweets are awesome and she—along with other people in the habit of consciousness-raising and justice give me hope.

Here’s my new plan. I’m returning to Twitter this week, with adjusted expectations, and will closely monitor myself. Can I be a positive voice? Can I accept the reality that some people (and Bots and Trolls) are purposely spreading misinformation (without feeling agitated and unhappy)? Can I accept that I’m mostly powerlessness and irrelevant in the fight against racist, sexist, ableist, and classist forces seeking to inhibit growth in the lower and middle class, while sowing fear and hate? Can I add my voice (and Tweets) to the social media soup and stay mostly positive, while managing my expectations and NOT FEELING THE URGE TO YELL?

We shall see.  

Advocating for Children’s Mental Health

Hi All,

This letter is primarily directed to Montana residents, although concerned out-of-state individuals may also participate or use this information to advocate for children’s mental health in your state or province.

As many of you may know, Montana State Superintendent of Schools Elsie Arntzen has recommended the elimination of the state requirement that Montana Public Schools have a required minimum number of 1 school counselor for every 400 students. Obviously, this number is already too high; the national recommendation is for 1 school counselor for every 250 students. During this time of urgent student mental health needs, we need more school counselors, not fewer.

I just wrote and sent my letter to the Montana Board of Public Education in support of retaining the school counselor to student ratio in Montana Public Schools. Please join me. Email your letter to support retaining (or increasing) the current school counselor to student ratio to: bpe@mt.gov.

The public comment period ends on November 4th, so please launch your emails soon!

If you’re not sure what to write, but you believe school counselors are important for supporting student mental health, then just write something simple like, “Please support Montana students and their mental health by retaining or increasing the current school counselor to student ratio in Montana Schools.”

If you want to write something longer, the Montana School Counselor Association has provided the following bullet points to guide public comment.

  • Keep your talking points clear and concise. Make sure to state that you are in support of keeping the school counselor to student ratio 
  • It’s ok to provide a few talking points, less may be more. If you’re not sure what to write, you could simply send a statement asking them to retain the School Counselor to Student ratio 
  • Professional and polite messages are received better
  • Provide examples as to why the ratio is important. Share your experiences within your school (maintain confidentiality), about your program, the multiple hats that you wear, any changes you have experienced over recent years, data that supports increased student needs, etc 
  • We acknowledge that there is a shortage of school counselors in Montana. Eliminating the ratio will not solve the shortage of school counselors, but could exacerbate the shortage, especially when tough budget decisions need to be made
  • Students could miss out on the proactive and responsive services our communities have come to expect from us including A) attendance and graduation rates, B) school climate and bullying prevention, C) social and emotional learning, and D) students having a professionally trained safe person to talk with

Thanks for considering this and for doing all you can to support children’s mental health and well-being.

Sincerely,

John Sommers-Flanagan

The World Premier of “The Wright Stuff on Happiness”

On Sunday, November 6 from 6pm to 7:30pm on the 4th floor of the Missoula Public Library (the recent winner of the International Library of the Year award) Dylan Wright and I will co-host the brief and fantastic world premier of “The Wright Stuff on Happiness.”

You may be wondering, “What is The Wright Stuff on Happiness?”

The Wright Stuff on Happiness is a new Missoula Community Access Television show featuring Dylan Wright discussing, interviewing, and pontificating on individual, family, and community happiness. The Wright Stuff on Happiness is a program of Families First Learning Lab and is one of the initiatives of the Montana Happiness Project, L.L.C. (specifically, the Happy Media initiative).

At the World Premier, Dylan and I will introduce the show and Dylan will present a short series of video clips of never-before viewed footage. And then, we will engage the group with a never-before hybrid version of “Name That Tune” and Pub Trivia wherein Dylan and I sing songs and participants work in teams to win prizes by identifying the song title and artist.

Although the World Premier is a fundraiser for Families First Learning Lab and the Happy Media Initiative, you can also attend to learn and participate in the highly acclaimed and world renowned Name That Tune trivia competition.

Here’s the fancy flyer. I hope to see you there!

My Birthday Wishes

This Cannon Beach photo is compliments of my sister, Gayle Klein

When I was the executive director of Families First Missoula, one of my favorite topics was “Wishes and Goals.” The point—especially salient for parents experiencing separation and divorce—was that wishes are things outside our control that we pray and wish for, while goals should always be within our circle of control.

Given that today (October 18) is my birthday, wishes are in order. And given that I’m temporarily giving into my impulse to wish, my wishes will be palpably outside my control.

In honor of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, I am officially awarding myself three wishes.

Wish #1: Create equity, social justice, and Adlerian Gemeinschaftsgefühl. For anyone not familiar with Gemeinschaftsgefühl, it refers to developing empathy, a community orientation, and compassion for and interest in working with others for the common good. Technically—and I would argue this point with the Genie—this wish includes two sub-wishes:

Wish 1a: End racism. Not much explanation needed here. Yes, we have cultural and ethnic differences, but that’s mostly a good thing. Differences should be celebrated or embraced or, at least tolerated. We should approach others who are different from us with an attitude of kindness, curiosity, and compassion.

Wish 1b: End poverty. At Chelsea’s graduation from Harvard Medical School, I remember listening to the famous guy who had a plan to end poverty. Maybe it was Jeffery Sachs. His ideas were fabulous, but we keep drifting the wrong direction. Why it is that trickle-down economics never works to do anything but create greater income disparity, but the American electorate continues to believe in the myth that “republicans are better on economic issues?” Not true. Never been true. Which brings me to my second wish.

Wish #2: Promote truth-telling in politics and the media. Although wishing to end racism and poverty is unrealistic, my second wish might be even more unrealistic. . . which is why I’m asking for your help here. We need to stop tolerating lies and misleading statements in the media. Sadly, even National Public Radio and National Public Television can’t stay on point and represent truth. Just yesterday we heard interviews on NPR and PBS wherein an interviewee was allowed to make statements about republicans being better on economic issues. And then a professional journalist/commentator (who used to unfairly rail against Hilary Clinton) paid far too much positive attention to DJT’s continued whining, complaining, and bidding for attention. Seriously? Why can’t the media JUST STOP REPEATING his lies and abusive comments??

Would you join me this year in becoming more diligent about holding people responsible to the truth? Election deniers should get no oxygen to spread their deceit. Covid deniers and antivaxxers should pay their own medical expenses. Yes, I know we live in a post-modern world and I know that means much is subjective. But have anti-vaxxers even bothered to read things like David Quammen’s Spillover? I just did as a part of a book club, and I’m clearer than ever on the long and dedicated history of medical scientists, epidemiologists, and virologists at trying to keep us safe from the next Zoonotic disease outbreak. After a detailed description of the influenza virus, Quammen wrote: “Having absorbed this simple paragraph, you understand more about influenza than 99.9 percent of the people on Earth. Pat yourself on the back and get a flu shot in November. [Rita and I are scheduled for ours on Nov. 3, in Bozeman, where we hope to bump into David Q.]

Wish #3: Out of respect for the several hundred pre-teens and teens I’ve worked with in counseling, I’m compelled to spend my third wish as balm to my unmet power and control fantasies. . . you know, it’s the only and best wish #3: “I hereby declare my 3rd birthday wish as a wish for unlimited wishes.”  

I hope you all have a great and glorious October. And thanks to everyone for the fantastic birthday wishes.  

Eight Secrets About How to Talk with Parents Who Spank Their Children

IMHO, usually parents spank their children for one (or more) of several reasons.

  • They have come to believe that spanking “works.”
  • They have been told or educated about reasons for spanking, such as the old “spare the rod, spoil the child” message.
  • They experienced spanking themselves and have concluded, “I got spanked and I turned out okay.”
  • They are unaware of other discipline strategies they can use to get positive results, without hitting their children.

Each of these reasons are myths or the results of misinformation. If I wanted to get into a debate with parents who spank their children, I could easily win the argument based on logical and scientific reasoning. But, ironically, in winning the argument, I would lose the debate . . . principally because most parents who spank aren’t open to logical argument about whether or not spanking is a good thing. Instead of winning the debate, I’d be rupturing my relationship with the parents.

Over the years, I’ve learned to avoid rational argument and scientific evidence, and tell parents about these 7 “secrets” instead:

  1. Acknowledge that parents and child development researchers agree on one point: Spanking is usually effective at stopping or suppressing misbehavior in the moment.
  2. If you have spanked your child in the past, you are not a bad person; you’re just a parent who’s trying to make a positive difference.
  3. Most parents who spank their children have mixed feelings about hitting their child before, during, and after the spanking.
  4. I’ve never met a parent who wants to spank their children more; nearly all parents are looking for ways to spank their children less
  5. Even though it’s hard for some parents to believe, from the scientific perspective, spanking is linked to far too many negative outcomes to justify its use. In particular, spanking has adverse effects on mental health, emotional well-being, and child, adolescent and adult behaviors. The science on this is very one-sided in that there’s lots of science indicating spanking has negative long-term effects and very little evidence linking spanking to anything positive in the long run.
  6. If you want to spank less, you’ll need to identify, practice, and implement alternative discipline strategies. . . and that will be hard; it will take time, energy, and patience.
  7. It might help to think about learning to spank less as a sacrifice you make because you love your children. No doubt, learning and practicing alternatives to spanking won’t be the first or last sacrifice you make to be a parent. But, using alternatives to spanking might be the most long-lasting contribution you can make to your child’s future well-being and success.
  8. Medical and scientific organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and nearly every professional group on the planet, advise against using corporal punishment (including no spanking). However—and this is incredibly important—the recommendations are NOT anti-discipline. In fact, mainstream scientific views are consistent with parents as leaders, authority figures who set limits and deliver natural and logical consequences to help children learn what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. Children need their parents to set limits, because children (including teenagers) are not very good at setting healthy limits for themselves.

As my former doctoral students would attest, I’m passionate about teaching parents not to spank their children. I’m also passionate about teaching parents how to use constructive and educational approaches to discipline.

For more on this topic, check out my recent article for The Good Men Project: https://goodmenproject.com/families/how-to-discipline-children-better-without-spanking-kpkn/

Eye Contact, Influencers, and Self-Care CBT

While searching for updated guidance on cross-cultural eye contact in counseling and psychotherapy (for the 7th edition revision of Clinical Interviewing), I came across a young therapist with over 1 million YouTube subscribers. She was perky, articulate, and very impressive in her delivery of almost-true information about the meaning of eye contact in counseling (from about 5 years ago). There were so many public comments on her video . . . I couldn’t possibly read or track them all. Sadly, although she waxed eloquent about trauma and eye contact, she never once mentioned culture, or how the meaning of eye contact varies based on cultural, familial, and individual factors. Part of my takeaway was her retelling a version of a John Wayne-esq sort of message wherein we should all strive to look the other person in the eye. Ugh. I’m sad we have so many perky, articulate influencers who share information that’s NOT inclusive or deep or particularly accurate. Oh well.

Curious, and TBH, perhaps a bit jealous of this therapist’s YouTube fame, I clicked on her most recent video. I discovered her in tears, describing how she needs a break, and detailing a range of symptoms that fit pretty well with major depressive disorder. Oh my. This time I felt sad for her and her life because it must have turned into a runaway train of influencer-related opportunities and demands. My jealousy of her particular type of fame evaporated.

Many therapists—including me—aren’t as good at practicing as we are preaching. Every day I try to get better and fail a little and succeed a little. Life is a marathon. Small changes can make their way into our lives and become bigger changes.

Because of our Clinical Interviewing revision, I’m saying “No” to presentation opportunities more often than usual. That’s a good thing. Setting limits and taking care of business at home is essential. However, in about one month, I’ve set aside a week for a gamut of presentations and appearances. These presentations and appearances all include some content related to positive psychology, positive coping, and how we can all live better lives in the face of challenging work. Here they are:

  1. On Friday, November 4 at 8:30am, I’ll be doing an opening keynote address for the Montana CBT conference. The keynote is titled, “Exploring the Potential of Evidence-Based Happiness.” The whole conference looks great (12.75 CEs available). I’ve also got a break-out session from 1:15pm to 3:15pm, titled, “Using a Strengths-Based Approach to Suicide Assessment and Treatment in Your Counseling Practice.” You can register for the two-day Montana CBT conference here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/montana-cbt-conference-registration-367811452957Helena
  2. On Monday, November 7 at 11am in Missoula I’ll be presenting for the University of Montana Molli Program. Although in-person seats are sold-out, people can still register to attend online. https://www.missoulaevents.net/11/07/2022/the-art-science-and-practice-of-meaningful-happiness/ The presentation title is: The Art, Science, and Practice of Meaningful Happiness. Molli is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UM – which focuses on educational offerings for folks 50+ years-old.
  3. On Wednesday, November 9 from 12:30-4:30pm I’ll be doing a Strengths-Based suicide assessment and treatment workshop for Bitterroot Connect in Hamilton, MT. https://sites.google.com/starckcounseling.com/adrianna-starck-counseling/bitterroot-valley-connect

In closing, I’m posting something everyone needs, an 11-second video featuring one of our new piglets, Alfalfa, doing her “lay down” trick.

Be well . . .

John S-F

Welcome to Enterprise, Oregon

I’m in Enterprise, Oregon today and tomorrow morning. I got here Sunday evening after a winding ride through forests and mountains. Yes, I’m in Eastern Oregon. Even I, having attended Mount Hood Community College and Oregon State University, had no idea there were forests and mountains in Enterprise.

The scenes are seriously amazing, but the people at the Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness-where I’m doing a series of presentations on suicide assessment and prevention-are no less amazing. I’ve been VERY pleasantly surprised at the quality, competence, and kindness of the staff and community.

Just in case you’re interested, below I’m posting ppts for my three different presentations. They overlap, but are somewhat distinct.

Here’s the one-hour intro:

Here’s the two-hour session for clinicians and staff:

Here’s the upcoming 90 minute session for the community:

And here’s a view!

Informed Consent in Counseling and Psychotherapy: Problems and Potential

A quick review of recent informed consent research leads me to think that informed consent should be a perfect blend of evidence-based information about the benefits, risks, and process of psychotherapy. Like all good hypnotic inductions, informed consent, has the potential to stir positive expectations or activate fear. But when I look at all that we’re supposed to include in informed consents I wonder, does anyone really read them? Informed consent could have significant effects on treatment process and outcome. But only if clients actually read the written document.

The alternative or a complementary strategy is a good oral description of informed consent. Again, as someone trained in hypnosis and sensitive to positive placebo effects, I’m inclined to use informed consent to set positive expectations. I think that’s appropriate, but it’s also easy for us, as practitioners, to become too enthusiastic and unrealistic about what we have to offer. The truth is that no matter how much passion I may have for a particular intervention, if there’s absolutely no scientific evidence to support my niche passion, and there is evidence to support other approaches, then I could come across like someone promoting ivermectin for treating COVID-19. If you think about the people who promote ivermectin, it’s likely they’re either (a) uninformed/misinformed and/or (b) profit-driven. To the extent that all professional helpers or healers aim to be honest and ethical in our informed consent processes, we should strive to NOT be uninformed/misinformed and to NOT be too profit-driven. I say “too profit-driven” because obviously, most clinical practitioners would like to make a profit. All this information about being balanced in our informed consent highlights how much we need to read and understand scientific research related to our practice and how much we need to check our enthusiasm for particular approaches, while remaining realistic, despite potential financial incentives. 

Informed Consent: Who Reads Them? Who Listens?

If informed consents are difficult to read and comprehend, they may be completely irrelevant. On the other hand, in their obtuseness, they may function like the confusion technique in hypnosis and psychotherapy. Although the confusion technique is pretty amazing and I’ll probably write more about it at some point, it’s inappropriate and unethical to use the confusion technique in the context of informed consent.

In medical and some therapy settings, informed consent often feels sterile. If you’re like me, you quickly sign the HIPAA and informed consent forms, without taking much time to read and digest their contents. The process becomes perfunctory. 

I recall a particularly memorable pre-surgery informed consent experience. After hearing a couple of low probability frightening outcomes and experiencing the sense of nausea welling up in my stomach, I stopped listening. I even recall saying to myself, “I can choose to not listen to this.” It was an act of intentional dissociation. I knew I needed the surgery; hearing the gory details of possible bad outcomes only increased my anxiety. Here’s a journal article quote supporting my decision to stop listening, “Risk warnings might cause negative expectations and subsequent nocebo effects (i.e., negative expectations cause negative outcomes) in participants” (Stirling et al., 2022, no page number)

Informed consent flies under the radar when clients or patients stop listening. Informed consent also flies under the radar because many people don’t bother reading them. In our theories textbook we have nice examples of how therapists can write a welcoming and fantastic informed consent that cordially invites clients to counseling. Do these informed consents get read? Maybe. Sometimes.

Informed consent has the potential to be powerful. To fulfill this potential, we need to contemplate on big (and long) question: “How can we best and most efficiently inform prospective clients about psychotherapy and maintain a balanced, conversational style that will maximize client absorption of what we’re saying, while appropriately speaking to the positive potential of our treatment and articulate possible risks without activating client fears or negative expectations?”

Here’s an abbreviated guide: Provide essential information. Use common language. Be balanced.

For example:

“Most people who come to counseling have positive responses and after counseling, they’re glad came. A small number of people who come to counseling have negative experiences. If you begin to have negative experiences, we should talk directly about those. Sometimes in life, confronting old patterns and talking about emotionally painful memories will make you feel bad, sad, or worse, but these negative feelings should be temporary. Getting through negative or difficult emotions can open us up to positive emotions. My main message to you is this: No matter what you’re experiencing in counseling, it’s good and important for you to share your thoughts, feelings, and reactions with me so we can make the adjustments needed to maximize your benefits and minimize your pain.”

I could go on and on about informed consent, but that might reveal too much of my nerdiness. These are my reflections for today. Tomorrow may be different. I just thought I should inform you in advance that consistency may not be my forte.

Five Buck Friday Consults: Tips on Presenting to an Organization that Works with Parents

Albert Ellis used to offer “Five Buck Friday” night presentations in New York. What a cool idea. People would show up and he would teach them Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

I do lots of presentations. I like to think I do lots of presentations because I’m good at doing presentations, but I also know I’m not a perfect presenter and need to be consistently open to feedback and new learning. Anyway, lately I’ve been doing more consultations with young professionals on how to do presentations. This humbling new “gig” is related to our work on the Montana Happiness Project (click here for to see the MHP website: https://montanahappinessproject.com/). Our MHP vision is: “To help create a world where people listen to and value one another while also living lives that are personally meaningful and saturated with eudaimonic happiness.” To help move toward our vision, Rita and I are doing more training of young professionals who want to help infuse more positivity and happiness into the challenges of life.

The young professionals are amazing. Sometimes I wonder when they sleep. Today, as part of supervising and consulting one of our amazing presenters, I responded to some specific questions he posed in an email.

This is my free blog-version of Ellis’s Five Buck Friday consultation.

Dear John

The staff of this organization works directly with parents. Some things they struggle with are listed below:

  1. The staff struggles with self-regulation
  2. The staff would like to be able to be curious (and not activated) when a parent is yelling at their kid, etc.

I’m glad you got this information. One key to a great presentation is to dovetail the process and content to meet the group’s specific goals.

Issues 1 and 2 are great topics to focus on in a staff training/presentation. Self-regulation is almost always adversely affected when there are surprise triggers. Although break-out groups would be good for discussing staff triggers, because the director said the staff doesn’t like break-out groups, you could do live polling on the staffs’ “buttons” or triggers. The goal would be for staff to become very familiar with personal triggers so they can develop a plan for their “best possible responses” to their triggers, and then practice their best possible responses with imagery and rehearsals or role plays. You can’t be curious (Item 2) unless you’re READY for the trigger and have a plan for what your curiosity will look like.

The other issue is that sometimes the staff will need to enforce behavioral limits. When presenting, you are the parent/role model; when working with parents, the staff members are the parent/role model figures. They need to be clear on inappropriate parental behaviors and have a plan for setting and enforcing limits will help them (and possibly the parents) with self-regulation. As I sometimes say about nightmares and tantrums, it helps when the adult “looks forward” to the dreaded incident/trigger. I know that sounds weird, but the incident is inevitable anyway and when it occurs, it provides an unparalleled opportunity to try out the new plan.

In the context of Family Based Services, the staff could use help with:

  1. How to engage when parents don’t want to be there.
  2. Going to be transitioning to going back into the homes of clients – this could be hard on clients and counselors.

Using a positive or meaningful frame for parents who are “involuntary” or un-enthused about therapy is essential. Below I’ve listed and described some positive framing ideas and a couple strategies that might help.

  • Thank the parent for being there.
  • If the parent appears negative or reluctant, thank them even more sincerely and with empathy by acknowledging the reality in the room (e.g., “I REALLY appreciate you being here especially because I can see you don’t feel like being here.” – Obviously tweak that wording and all other wordings to fit your own style.)
  • Identify at least one positive reason why the parent showed up (e.g., “You must really love your son/daughter to get yourself here to work with me even when you don’t feel like it.” Or, “Lots of parents don’t follow through on the commitment to show up for these sessions. I really appreciate you showing up. It tells me how committed you are to doing the right thing and being here to do the work.”)
  • Bring gifts. Find out the parents’ favorite non-alcoholic drinks and bring them along. Find out their favorite salty snack and bring it along. Hardly anything calms irritability better than sincere positive gestures that include food😊.
  • Listen, listen, and listen to the parent’s perspective and complaints and paraphrase the heck out of them before moving on to issues of substance.
  • Before, during, and after you share these ideas in your presentation, be sure to be prompting the group to add to the list, while acknowledging how much insight there is in the room.
  • Consider helping the staff to establish a positive family-based therapy dynamics checklist to think about before doing family sessions.

I hope this info is helpful!

JSF

To Complain or Not to Complain: Reflections on Publishing in Academic Journals

This is one wide-ranging perspective

I like to THINK of myself as not being a complainer, but in reality, I do my share of complaining. One of my personal goals is to complain less and thereby avoid becoming a whining old curmudgeon. That’s a tall order because for me, there are always a few particular moments and experiences when it just feels VERY GRATIFYING to let the complaints fly.

Today, I’m offering some small complaints about the process of publishing in academic journals. I’m limiting my complaining and keeping a positive tone because too much complaining would be inconsistent with my anti-curmudgeon goal AND inconsistent with my topic: publishing happiness research.

Over the past year, I’ve started working on three different happiness manuscripts. We (my research team and I) submitted the first one (Manuscript 1) to a good journal, waited 3+ months and got a rejection. The rejection was understandable, but the reviews were IMHO uninspiring and uninformed. The reviewers critiqued parts of the manuscript that were absolutely solid, raised questions about non-issues, and completely missed the biggest flaw (of which I am very familiar, because I analyzed the data). In response, because reviews should nearly always be two-way, I provided a bit of congenial feedback to Editor 1. Editor 1 responded quickly and we had a cordial and constructive email discussion.

Manuscript 1 is now out to a second unnamed journal. We’re closing in on four months and so after recovering from my CACREP virtual site visit hangover (more minor complaining here in the midst of my major complaint) and using my congenial colleague voice, I emailed Editor 2. Again, I got a speedy and pleasant response. As it turns out, academic journal editors are generally lonely people who field so many hostile emails, that they’re very chatty when they get something nice. The editor of journal 2 shared a few frustrations. I responded with commiseration, and Editor 2 let me know we should hear about our manuscript’s status by the end of the week. Just in case you’re a lonely and frustrated academic journal editor and want to steal away this manuscript and publish it before Friday, I’ve pasted the abstract below. My Email is john.sf@mso.umt.edu.   

Effects of a Brief Workshop on Counseling Student Wellness in the Age of COVID-19

Abstract

Counselors-in-training (CITs) often experience stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Teaching counseling students wellness and positive psychology skills, particularly in the age of COVID-19, may help CITs cultivate greater well-being. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a brief happiness-oriented workshop on CIT well-being. Forty-five CITs participated in either a 2.5 hour online experiential evidence-based happiness workshop or control condition. Eight wellness-oriented self-report questionnaires were administered pre-and post-intervention. Compared with the control group, CITs who attended the online workshop reported significant reductions in depressive symptoms. At six-month follow-up, workshop participants were reported using several of the interventions (i.e., gratitude, savoring, and three good things) with themselves and in their work. Despite methodological limitations, this study provides initial evidence that a brief, online happiness workshop has promise for helping CITs cope with the emotional burdens of graduate school and COVID-19.

Manuscript 2 is based on one of my recent doctoral student’s dissertations. It’s a solid quantitative, quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design with interesting and positive outcomes. We submitted it to a journal, waited 3 months, and then were informed that they liked the manuscript, but that it wasn’t a good fit for their journal. Being that I’ve become pretty chummy with various journal editors, I emailed the Editor using my happy voice, while also noting that it didn’t seem quite right that we waited 3 months to hear the manuscript wasn’t a good fit. We didn’t even get reviews. . . other than the editor’s mildly positive feedback. Editor 3 got right back to me and essentially agreed with my concerns and shared frustrations about journal editor and editorial board transitions. Just in case you’re tracking the pattern, it appears that academic journal editors are super into professional email exchanges. After getting Manuscript 2 rejected, I decided to start pre-emailing journal editors to check to see if the topic is a good fit for their journals. The responses have been fast and helpful. If by chance, you’re a fancy journal editor who’s feeling frustrated and wants a colleague like me for some email chats, you could increase your chances of hearing from me if you contact me and offer to publish Manuscript 2 . . . and so here’s the abstract.

Effects of a Multi-Component Positive Psychology Course on College Student Mental Health and Well-Being During COVID-19

Abstract

Even before COVID-19, college student mental health was an escalating problem. As a supplement to traditional counseling, positive psychology (aka happiness) courses have shown promise for improving college student well-being. We evaluated a unique, four-component positive psychology course on student mental health and wellness outcomes. Using a quantitative, quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design, we compared the effects of the happiness course (n = 38) with an alternative class control condition (n = 41), on eight different mental health and well-being measures. Participants who completed the happiness course reported significantly higher positive affect, increased hope, better physical health, and greater perceived friendship support. In a post-hoc analysis of six happiness class participants who scored as severely depressed at pretest, all six had substantial reductions in self-reported depressive symptoms at posttest. Multicomponent positive psychology courses are a promising supplementary strategy for addressing college student mental health.

I know you’re probably wondering now, about Manuscript 3, which is under construction. The bottom line for Manuscript 3 is that it’s fabulous. Of course, because I haven’t submitted it anywhere yet, I’m the only reviewer offering feedback at this time. Manuscript 3 is the sort of manuscript that, I’m sure, a number of journals and journal editors will get in a bidding war over.

In the end, complaining is mostly unhealthy. Complaining can be like noxious weeds, with the negativity taking root, and spreading into areas where we should be staying positive and grateful. Too much complaining contributes to a sour disposition and outlook. On the positive side, complaining offers an opportunity for emotional ventilation, and can recruit interpersonal commiseration, both of which feel good. But IMHO the biggest potential benefit from complaining comes from social feedback. When people hear you complain, they can provide perspective. And yes, we all need perspective.

Happy Wednesday to everyone! May your complaints be minor and your perspective be multidimensional.

JSF