Category Archives: Therapy with Adolescents

A Sneak Peek at Our Upcoming Suicide Assessment and Treatment Book with the American Counseling Association

Spring Sunrise and Hay

Rita and I are spending chunks of our social distancing time writing. In particular, we’ve signed a contract to write a professional book with American Counseling Association Publications on suicide assessment and treatment planning. We’ll be weaving a wellness and strength-oriented focus into strategies for assessing and treating suicidality.

Today, I’m working on Chapter 6, titled: The Cognitive Dimension. We open the chapter with a nice Aaron Beck quotation, and then discuss key cognitive issues to address with clients who are suicidal. These issues include: (a) hopelessness, (b) problem-solving impairments, (c) maladaptive thinking, and (d) negative core beliefs.

Then we shift to specific interventions that can be used to address the preceding cognitive issues. In the following excerpt, we focus on collaborative problem solving and illustrate the collaborative problem-solving process using a case example. As always, feel free to offer feedback on this draft content.

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Collaborative Problem-Solving

Though not a suicide-specific intervention, problem-solving therapy is an evidence-based approach to counseling and psychotherapy (Nezu, Nezu, & D’Zurilla, 2013). Components of problem-solving are useful for assessing and intervening with clients who are suicidal. As Reinecke (2006) noted, “From a problem-solving perspective, suicide reflects a breakdown in adaptive, rational problem solving. The suicidal individual is not able to generate, evaluate, and implement effective solutions and anticipates that his or her attempts will prove fruitless” (p. 240).

Extended Case Example: Sophia – Problem-Solving

In Chapter 5 we emphasized that clinicians should initially focus on and show empathy for clients’ excruciating distress and suicidal thoughts. However, there often comes a moment when a pivot toward the positive can occur. Questions that help with this pivot include:

  • What helps, even a tiny bit?
  • When you’ve felt bad in the past, what helped the most?
  • How have you been able to cope with your suicidal thoughts?

In response to these questions, clients who are suicidal often display symptoms of hopelessness, mental constriction, problems with information processing, or selective memory retrieval. Statements like, “I’ve tried everything,” “Nothing helps,” and “I can’t remember ever feeling good,” represent cognitive impairments. Even though your clients may think they’ve tried everything, the truth is that no one could possibly try everything. Similarly, although it’s possible that “nothing” your client does helps very much, it’s doubtful that all their efforts to feel better have been equally ineffective. These statements indicate black-white or polarized thinking, as well as hopelessness and memory impairments (Beck et al., 1979; Reinecke, 2006; Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2018).

Pivoting to the Positive

Picking up from where we left off in Chapter 5, after exploring the distress linked to Sophia’s suicide ideation in the emotional dimension, the counselor (John) pivots to asking about the positive (“What helps?”) and then proceeds into a problem-solving assessment and intervention strategy. One clearly identified trigger for Sophia’s suicidal thinking is her parent’s fighting. She cannot directly do anything about their fights, but she can potentially do other things to shield herself from the downward cognitive and emotional spiral that parental fighting activates in her.

John: Let’s say your parents are fighting and you’re feeling suicidal. You’re in your room by yourself. What could you do that’s helpful in that moment? [The intent is to shift Sophia into active problem-solving.]

Sophia: I have a cat. His name is Douglas. Sometimes he makes me feel better. He’s diabetic, so I don’t think he’ll live much longer, but he’s comforting right now.

John: Nice. My memory’s not perfect, so is it okay with you if I write a list of all the things that help a little bit? Douglas helps you be in a better mood. What else is helpful?

Sophia: I like music. Blasting music makes me feel better. And I play the guitar, so sometimes that helps. And volleyball is a comfort, but I can’t play volleyball in my room.

John: Yeah. Great. Let me jot those down: music, guitar, volleyball, and being with your cat. And volleyball, but not in your room! I guess you can think about volleyball, right? And how about friends? Do you have friends who are positive supports in your life?

Although the fact that Douglas the cat has diabetes includes a depressive tone, the good news is that Sophia immediately engages in problem-solving. She’s able to identify Douglas and other things that help her feel better.

Throughout problem-solving, regularly repeating positive coping strategies back to the client is important. In this case, John summarizes Sophia’s positive ideas, and then asks about friends and social support—a very important dimension in overall suicide safety planning.

Sophia: Yeah, but we’re all busy. My friend Liz and I hang out quite a bit. I can walk into her house, and it will feel like my house. But we’re both in volleyball, so we’re both really busy. But our season will end soon. Hopefully that will help.

John: Ok, the list of things that seem to help, especially when you’re in a hard place with your parents fighting: Douglas the cat, music, guitar, and volleyball, and friends. Anything else to add?

Sophia:  I don’t think so.

Often, the next step in collaborative problem-solving is to ask clients for permission to add to the list, thus turning the process into a shared brain-storming session. At no time during the brainstorming should you criticize any client-generated alternatives, even if they’re dangerous or destructive. In contrast, clients will sometimes criticize your ideas. When clients criticize, just agree with a statement like, “Yeah, you’re probably right, but we’re just brainstorming. We can rank and rate these as good or bad ideas later.”

Overall, the goal is to use brainstorming to assess for and intervene with mental constriction. During brainstorming, Sophia and John generated 13 things Sophia could do to make herself feel better. Sophia’s ability to brainstorm in session is a positive indicator of her responsiveness to treatment.

 

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

Apple Core, Baltimore, Who’s Your Friend? #NASP2020

 

Camden

I’m in Baltimore this week for the annual meeting of the National Association of School Psychologists. Although I’m not a school psychologist, I’ve been invited the past 5+ years to offer workshops on “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling.” I’ve also had the good fortune of being invited to present professional workshops for state school psychology associations in California, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington.

I’ve worked many different professional groups (clinical psychologists, mental health counselors, school counselors, teachers, childcare workers, and more). All of these groups are amazing, but every time I work with a group of school psychologists, I walk away thinking that maybe school psychologist are my favorite professional group of all.

Notice I said “maybe.” I don’t want to start an inter-disciplinary competition for my official endorsement.

NASP in Baltimore was typical NASP. An intense group of very smart people who are dedicated to the psychological and intellectual well-being of K-12 students everywhere. They swarm the exhibition hall looking for resources and at my workshop they asked incredibly good questions and made insightful comments.

To be honest (not a bad policy), maybe the fact that I got a standing ovation from 300+ school psychology attendees in Columbus, Ohio (after 6.5 hours of presenting) is part of the reason I love school psychologists. For minor league professionals like me, that’s about as good as it gets . . . and that was pretty fantastic.

The links that follow include my presentation powerpoints and handouts for my workshop sessions in Baltimore. If you were there, thanks for your commitment to improving the lives of children and teenagers. If not, I hope to see you next time around.

NASP Workshop I 2020 for Handout

NASP Workshop II Advanced 2020 for Handout

NASP 2020 Extra Handout Introductory

NASP 2020 Extra Handout Advanced

By the way, the next big gig is March 1 in Richmond, Virginia with the Virginia School Counselor Association . . . which is just another chance to spend some time with another fabulous group of very cool people.

 

Upcoming Webinars (without Spiderman)

Spiderman II

As a Marvel Comics fan since 1963, I’ve always felt uncomfortable doing webinars without mentioning Spiderman. Now that I’m on record for my Spiderman-influenced childhood, I feel my comfort-level returning to normal.

Somehow, in the next month or so, I’ve gotten myself involved in a plethora of webinars, as long as you define “plethora” as five.

Although it’s sticky business, the purpose of this blog post is to gently promote said webinars. You might be interested. I think they’re mostly free, or accessible through a particular professional association (e.g., WSASP).

Here’s the line-up (starting tomorrow!), along with webinar titles and links.

  1. Wednesday, March 13 – 2pm EDT (12pm MDT):

Transforming Therapeutic Relationships into Evidence-Based Practice: Practical Skills for Challenging Therapy Situations

Sponsored by TherapySites. To register, go to:    https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2888908924358696194?source=Association

Many counselors and psychotherapists deeply believe in the therapeutic power of relationships, but feel mandated to practice using empirically-supported technical procedures. In this presentation, John will illustrate how relational approaches to counseling are also specific treatment methods.

Specifically, in this webinar, Dr. Sommers-Flanagan will be discussing:

– 9 different evidence-based relationship factors with practical examples of how to use these factors in challenging situations

– Using self-disclosure effectively and how to respond to difficult questions

– Recognizing relational ruptures and make repairs

– How to respond to clients who are not cooperating with the counseling process

– What to say when clients have suicidal thoughts and feel hopeless

All participants will have access to a handout describing and illustrating how to use evidence-based relationship factors to enhance counseling and psychotherapy practice.

  1. Friday, March 15, 2019, from 1pm-4pm PDT (12pm to 3pm MDT):

Tough Kids, Cool Counseling: Part I, Assessment and Engagement

Sponsored by the Washington State Association of School Psychologists (WSASP). To participate, you’ll need to be a WSASP member. https://www.wsasp.org/event-3158525?CalendarViewType=1&SelectedDate=3/12/2019

Counseling adolescent students can be immensely frustrating or splendidly gratifying. To address this challenge, participants in this workshop will refine their skills for managing resistance and implementing specific brief counseling techniques. Using video clips, live demonstrations, and other learning activities, the workshop presents four essential principles and 10 assessment and engagement strategies for influencing “tough students.” Group discussion, breakout skill-building, and other learning activities will be integrated.

  1. Thursday, April 4, 2019, from 12pm to 1pm (somewhere, TBA).

Adlerian Psychology and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Sponsored by Adler University. To participate, go to: https://www.adler.edu/page/community-engagement/center-for-adlerian-practice-and-scholarship/calendar/upcoming-events

Most Adlerian theorists view Individual Psychology as the foundation for modern cognitive-behavior therapy. But most modern cognitive-behavior therapists rarely credit Adler or know much about his theory. In this webinar, John Sommers-Flanagan, author of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice (Wiley, 2018) will present two short case vignettes, while engaging in a lively debate with himself over the similarities and distinctions of Adlerian therapy and CBT.

  1. Thursday, April 18, 2019 – 1pm EDT (11am MDT): “Breathing New Life into Your Dead, White Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories Course”

Sponsored by WileyPlus. To register, go to:  https://www.wileyplus.com/wiley-webinar-series/

Teaching traditional counseling and psychotherapy theories courses can feel dull and boring. In this webinar session, John Sommers-Flanagan will share pedagogical strategies for integrating culture into theory, and engaging students with here-now activities that bring the dusty old theories to life. This webinar will include specific recommendations for how to integrate culture and feminist ideas into traditional theories. Learning activities will be demonstrated, including: (a) early intercultural memories; (b) sex, feminism, and psychoanalytic defense mechanisms; (c) empowered narrative storytelling; and (d) spiritual and behavioral forms of relaxation. Handouts for each activity will be available on https://johnsommersflanagan.com/.

  1. Friday, April 19, 2019, from 1pm-4pm PDT (12pm to 3pm MDT):

Tough Kids, Cool Counseling: Part II, Specific Counseling Techniques and Strategies

Sponsored by the Washington State Association of School Psychologists (WSASP). To participate, you’ll need to be a WSASP member. https://www.wsasp.org/event-3158525?CalendarViewType=1&SelectedDate=3/12/2019

In this advanced workshop, participants will learn 10 (or more) specific counseling techniques designed to promote positive change in middle and high school students. Using video clips, live demonstrations, and role-playing practice, participants will refine their skills for implementing change strategies with students. Techniques include problem solving, empowered storytelling, cognitive storytelling, cognitive–behavioral therapy for anger management, the three-step emotional change trick, early interpretations, and the fool-in-the-ring. Diversity-sensitive approaches will be highlighted.

In closing, I randomly selected the words of Spiderman (from 1966, #36, p. 20). “You’ll have to make it a solo the rest of the way down, Lootie! This is where I get off!”

Wow! I never realized Spiderman was a quotation machine or that he used so many exclamation points!

Have a great week!

John

 

 

#NASP2019 Extra Handout

20150313_141701

Hello NASP Workshop Participants (and other interested people). Below I’ve pasted an “extra” document to go along with the workshops you attended today in Atlanta. As always, I’m amazed and humbled by the dedication of all School Psychologists to the well-being of your students. I hope you know how important your work is to the students. They don’t often say “Hey. Thanks for working with me!” But, I’m confident that you’re making a crucial difference in the lives of many students across the U.S. And so, on behalf of students everywhere, let me say: Thanks for being a fabulous School Psychologist!

Here’s the extra handout: NASP 2019 Extra Handout

How to Make a Collaborative Plan for Terminating Counseling without Ever Using the Word Termination

Stone Smirk

Not long ago I noticed some of my excellent and well-intended supervisees talking with their clients about “termination.” They would say things like, “We need to prepare for termination” or “Let’s talk about termination today.” When this happened, I’d get nervous, squirm a bit, and eventually find a way to tell my supervisees that, although we use the word termination all the time when talking with each other ABOUT counseling, we shouldn’t use it when talking with clients DURING counseling.

Instead of saying termination, it’s preferable to talk about final sessions, or the ending of counseling, or to use normal and jargon-free words that speak to the reality that all good things—including counseling—must end. Sometimes the number of counseling sessions possible is dictated in advance by employee assistance program guidelines or insurance companies; other times, clients and counselors have more freedom to work together as long as the work is helpful or productive. Either way, ongoing conversations linking goals to progress is a part of an evidence-based approach to counseling and psychotherapy. Effective counselors connect the “ending” of counseling with the goals that were, in the beginning of counseling, collaboratively identified (and then possibly modified as needed).

Although you should use your own words, statements like some of the following can help you talk with clients or students about termination without using the word termination.

  • “Let’s talk about how our counseling is going and whether we’re making progress toward your goals”
  • “How do you feel about our counseling together?”
  • “I’d love to talk about what I can do differently to keep helping you move forward toward your goals.”

Speaking of termination—and now I’m speaking to you and not my clients—below you’ll find a Termination Checklist that you might find helpful as you talk with your students about preparing for termination. As will everything, this checklist is imperfect, but it’s a good start to help all of us address the ending of counseling, before counseling actually ends.

Termination Checklist

[Adapted from Sommers-Flanagan, J., and Sommers-Flanagan, R., (2007).
Tough Kids, Cool Counseling: User-Friendly Approaches with Challenging Youth.
Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association]

This is a guide to help you think about termination—even though some of the details will be different for you and your client(s).

_____ 1. At the outset and throughout counseling, identify progress in the movement toward termination (e.g., “Before our meeting today, I noticed we have 4 more sessions left,” or “You are doing so well at home, at school, and with your friends. . . let’s talk about how much longer you’ll want or need to come for counseling”).

_____ 2. Reminisce about early sessions or the first time you and your client met. For example: “I remember something you said when we first met, you said: ‘there’s no way in hell I’m gonna talk with you about anything important.’ Remember that? I have it right here in my notes. You weren’t exactly excited about coming for counseling.”

_____ 3. Identify and describe positive behaviors, attitude, and/or emotional changes. This is part of the process of providing feedback regarding problem resolution and goal attainment: “I’ve noticed something about you that has changed. Do you mind if I share what I’ve noticed?” [Client gives permission]. It used to be that you wouldn’t let adults get close to you. And you wouldn’t accept compliments from adults. Now, from what you and your parents tell me and from how you act in here, it’s obvious that you give adults a chance. You don’t automatically push adults away from you. I think that’s a good thing.”

_____ 4. You should acknowledge, in advance, that the end of counseling is coming up, but there’s a possibility you’ll see each other in the future. “Our next session will be our last session. I guess there’s a chance we might see each other sometime, at the mall or somewhere. If we do see each other, I hope it’s okay for me to say hello. But I want you to know that I’ll wait for you to say hello first. And of course, if we see each other in public, I’ll never say anything about you having been in counseling.”

_____ 5. Identify a positive personal attribute that you noticed during counseling. This should be a personal characteristic separate from your client’s goals: “From the beginning of our time together, I’ve always enjoyed your sense of humor. You’re really creative and really funny, but you can be serious too. Thanks for letting me see both those sides. It took courage for you to get serious and tell me how you’ve been feeling about your mom.”

_____ 6. If there’s unfinished business (and there always will be) provide encouragement for continued work and personal growth: “Of course, your life isn’t perfect, but I have confidence that you’ll keep working on communicating well with your sister and those other things we’ve been talking about.” You may want to say that even though your client doesn’t “need” counseling, choosing to come back for counseling in the future might be helpful: “You know some people come to counseling to work on big problems; other people come because they find counseling helps them be a better person; and other people just like counseling. You might decide you want start up again for any of these reasons.”

_____ 7. Provide opportunities for feedback to you: “I’d like to hear from you. What did you think was most helpful about coming to counseling? What did you think was least helpful?” You can add to this any genuine statements about things you wish you’d done differently. For example, if your client got angry at you for misunderstanding something and this was processed earlier, you might say: “And of course I wish I had heard you correctly and understood you the first time around on that [issue], but I’m glad we were able to talk through it and keep working together.”

_____ 8. If it’s possible, let the client know that he or she may return for counseling in the future: “I hope you know you can come back for a meeting sometime in the future if you want or need to.”

_____ 9. Make a statement about your hope for the client’s positive future: “I’ll be thinking of you and hoping that things work out for the best. Of course, like I said in the beginning, I’m hoping you get what you want out of life, just as long as it’s legal and healthy.”

_____ 10. As needed, listen to and discuss how your client is feeling about ending counseling. Don’t make this into a big deal, but offer opportunities for the client to say “I can hardly wait for the end of this counseling crap” or “I wish we could keep meeting.” Whatever your client is feeling about termination warrants respectful listening.

_____ 11. Consider a parting gift. Although I don’t routinely recommend this with adults, with young clients you might give a meaningful gift at the end of counseling. It could be anything from a painted rock to a blank notebook for writing or a written card. The point is to give a gift that’s not especially expensive, but that might hold meaning for your client in the future.

For more information on termination with youth, go to: https://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly-ebook/dp/B00QYU630Q/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1550512844&sr=1-7&keywords=sommers-flanagan

Your Life is Now: Trapper Creek Reflections

John Sommers-Flanagan

The Road

Note: This is a re-post. I had a chance to drive to Trapper this past week with one of our doc students and I was reminded of the powerful life experiences that happen at Trapper Creek Job Corps.

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Sometimes on Thursday or Fridays I drive from Missoula to Trapper Creek Job Corps. Then I drive back the same day. It’s a 140 mile round trip. Sometimes I have interns with me. The company makes the miles go by more quickly. Sometimes the interns are very nervous sitting next to me for the whole drive and consequently compete to see who gets the back seat. This makes me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t quiz them about theories of counseling and psychotherapy as we drive there together. Although I wonder about this . . . I haven’t changed my behavior. Maybe this means I’m trying to scare them all into the…

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