Category Archives: Tough Kids Cool Counseling

What’s Good About West Virginia?

The easy and short answer to the “What’s Good About West Virginia?” question is: Chris Schimmel, Ed Jacobs, and Sherry Cormier. The harder and longer answer is harder and longer and consequently won’t be answered here.

This post includes two educational content-pieces related to my presentation today at the Morgantown Art Museum, but that we don’t have time to cover.

What’s Good About You?

            [This excerpt is adapted from our Tough Kids, Cool Counseling book]

About 25 years ago, in collaboration with a colleague of ours, Dudley Dana, Ph.D., we began using a relationship-building assessment procedure that can provide a rich interpersonal interaction between young clients and counselors.  The procedure is called “What’s good about you?” It’s designed primarily as an informal assessment of self-esteem. Depending on the age of the child with whom you’re working, you can introduce it as a game with specific rules:

I want to play a game with you. Here’s how it works. I’m going to ask you the same question 10 times. The only rule is that you can’t use the same answer twice. So, I’ll ask you the same question 10 times, but you have to give me 10 different answers.

When playing this game all you need to do is get out a tablet or clipboard with paper and then ask your client, “What’s good about you?” Your client may moan and complain about this game.  You can empathize, but encourage full participation.  This assessment activity should be done at a point in counseling when you know your clients well enough to provide a few genuine positive statements in case they can’t come up with anything good to say about themselves.

After your client responds to the question say, “Thank you” and smile and write down whatever was said, while repeating the statement out loud. If your client says, “I don’t know” write that response down too, but add with a smile, “I’ll write that down, but you can only use that answer once.”

The “What’s good about you?” game will provide you (and perhaps your clients) with interesting insights into client self-perceptions and self-esteem. For example, some youth have difficulty clearly staking claim to a positive talent, skill, or personal attribute. They sometimes identify possessions like, “I have a nice computer” or “I have some good friends” instead of taking personal ownership of an attribute such as, “I’m a great skate-boarder,” or “My friendly personality helps me make friends.” Similarly, they may describe a role they have (e.g., “I’m a good son”), rather than identifying personal attributes that make them good at the particular role (e.g., “I’m thoughtful and very responsible and so I am a good son”). Obviously, the ability to clearly state one’s positive personal attributes may be evidence of higher or more intact self-esteem.

You can also gather interpersonal assessment data also through the “What’s good about you?” procedure. For example, we’ve had some assertive or aggressive children request or even insist that they be allowed to switch roles and ask us the “What’s good about you?” questions. We always happily comply with these requests because they:

  • provide us with a modeling opportunity,
  • provide clients with an empowerment experience, and
  • are a sign of engagement.

Additionally, the way young clients respond to this interpersonal request can be revealing.  For instance, youth who meet the diagnostic criteria for conduct disorder (or who are angry with adults) sometimes ridicule or mock the procedure, while most other children and adolescents cooperate and seem to enjoy the process. See Box 2.1 for an interesting example of using this procedure with a multicultural client.

The What’s Good About You Activity in a Multicultural Context

While implementing the What’s Good About You activity with an Japanese American teen, I (John) recently had the opportunity to directly experience multiple and contextual levels of identity in a Japanese American teenage client. Specifically, when asked to respond with 10 different answers to the question, “What’s good about you?” the 15-year-old boy responded with a direct and assertive refusal. He said, “I’m not comfortable with that. We don’t talk like that in our family?” Upon hearing his refusal, I immediately accepted his position and fortunately, he was willing to share his perspective with me. He made it clear that making positive statements about oneself was inappropriate, not only in his family, but also within his Japanese culture. Interestingly, he noted that his Japanese mother and White father were both especially encouraging of him to raise his self-esteem and wanted him to be able to say positive things about himself. However, he tended to find their efforts demeaning in the sense that he felt they were worried about him and his self-esteem—which just made him even less willing to say positive things about himself (after all, if they really thought he was so wonderful, why then, did they need to keep telling him that as if he needed it). At the same time, he also expressed an interest in being able to display more confidence in social situations—similar to his White American friends. This situation illustrates how tensions can arise between cultural identity, familial context, social context, and personal or individual distress and how it is the counselor’s responsibility to negotiate these various tensions, without judgment, in partnership with the client or student.

Here’s a link to the video of me doing “What’s good about you?” with  a 16-year-old girl. The audio isn’t great, but the process is very interesting: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=4GtfO-rBIIg

The Three-Step Emotional Change Trick

For a description and video demo of the Three-Step Emotional Change Trick, go here: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2017/03/12/revisiting-the-3-step-emotional-change-trick-including-a-video-example/

Advertisements

The Extra California Association for School Psychologists Handout

This morning I’m in Orange County, CA on my way to Chicago from Missoula and, naturally, feeling a little emotionally dysregulated. I never used to like the term emotional dysregulation much, but now I think it’s pretty good. Among other things, relational disruptions, travel, and trauma can all produce a mix of emotions that might be aptly described as emotional dysregulation. Recently, I’ve had an experience where I find my response is relatively equal and shifting parts of excitement and anxiety. It’s not a terrible experience; I know there’s positive excitement in there somewhere. But sometimes it gets overshadowed by the anxiety.

Back to Orange County. The link below takes all the CASP participants (and other interested parties) to the “long form” of the presentation for today, which is quite surprisingly titled, “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling.”

 

CASP Extra Handout

Upcoming Workshops: L.A., Chicago, Morgantown, and Greensburg (outside Pittsburg)

Rainbow 2017

October is almost always a big month for counseling and psychology conferences and workshops. This October is no exception. I’m posting my October workshop presentation schedule here, just in case you want to say hello and possible collect some continuing education credit.

On Thursday, October 5, I’ll be in Orange County for the California Association for School Psychologists conference. Here’s a link: https://event.casponline.org/#intro

On Sunday, October 8, I’ll be in Chicago for the Association of Counselor Educators and Supervisors to present on the Mental Status Examination with Thom Field of the City University of Seattle.

On Thursday, October 12, I’ll be in Morgantown, WV for an afternoon workshop with counseling and psychology students from West Virginia University.

On Friday, October 13, I’ll be in Greensburg, PA (just outside Pittsburgh) for an all-day workshop sponsored by Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The link: https://www.iup.edu/counseling/centers/upcoming-workshops-and-events/

Today is the first day of Autumn . . . I hope this signals the end of hurricanes, floods, fires, and other challenges so many people are facing.

 

The Fantastic Road to MBI in Bozeman

The RoadHenry James once wrote that you should never begin a letter with an apology. Oh well. Rules are made to be broken.

That’s not really true. Rules aren’t made to be broken. Yes, they get broken. But rules are made to be followed. Whoever said they’re made to be broken was clearly wanting to break the rules and engaging in some clever rationalizing to justify breaking them.

Which leads me to my apology.

I want to express my sincere apologies to the 200+ participants in my “Strategies for Dealing with Challenging Parents and Students” day-long workshop at the Montana Behavioral Initiative (MBI) in Bozeman. After you all left, I was in the SUB Ballroom A at MSU, packing up my computer, when suddenly I was hit with the realization that I’d gone 15 minutes overtime. Very embarrassing.

Even though I knew (all day) that the workshop ended at 4:15pm, I just kept on talking until 4:30, when, in that particular moment, I thought I was ending right on time.

I’m still embarrassed. Mostly I’m embarrassed because I hate it when presenters go overtime and so I try very hard to end on time or a few minutes early.

My best explanation, which may be a convenient after-the-fact rationalization, is that I was having such a nice time with you all that my unconscious just decided (on its own and without consultation with my conscious brain), that we should spend a little more time together.

Or . . . maybe rules are just made to be broken.

At the bottom, I’ve inserted links to the ppt slides from the workshop and a link to the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast.

As I said in closing yesterday. You are all fantastic and I am immensely grateful for the work you do with Montana students.

https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/ [Please like the podcast on Facebook]

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2 [Please rate on iTunes]

http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

 

Challenging Parents and Students MBI Handout

Why Children Misbehave — The Adlerian Perspective

Mud

Alfred Adler believed that all human behavior is purposeful. People don’t act randomly, they engage in behaviors designed to help them accomplish specific goals. Adler believed that although individuals may not be perfectly aware of the link between their behaviors and their goals, the link is there nonetheless.

In this excerpt from our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories text, we describe the four goals of children’s misbehavior. Rudolph Dreikurs, one of Adler’s protégés, developed this theory of children’s misbehavior. Over the years, Dreikurs’s ideas have been extremely useful to many parents and parenting educators. It’s also useful to consider these ideas when trying to understand adult behaviors.

Here’s the excerpt:

Why Children Misbehave

Adler’s followers applied his principles to everyday situations. Rudolph Dreikurs posited that children are motivated to grow and develop. They’re naturally oriented toward feeling useful and a sense of belonging. However, when children don’t feel useful and don’t feel they belong—less positive goals take over. In his book The Challenge of Parenthood, Dreikurs (1948) identified the four main psychological goals of children’s misbehavior:

  1. To get attention.
  2. To get power or control.
  3. To get revenge.
  4. To display inadequacy.

Children’s behavior isn’t random. Children want what they want. When we discuss this concept in parenting classes, parents respond with nods of insight. Suddenly they understand that their children have goals toward which they’re striving. When children misbehave in pursuit of psychological goals, parents and caregivers often have emotional reactions.

The boy who’s “bouncing off the walls” is truly experiencing, from his perspective, an attention deficit. Perhaps by running around the house at full speed he’ll get the attention he craves. At least, doing so has worked in the past. His caregiver feels annoyed and gives him attention for misbehavior.

The girl who refuses to get out of bed for school in the morning may be striving for power. She feels bossed around or like she doesn’t belong; her best alternative is to grab power whenever she can. In response, her parents might feel angry and activated—as if they’re in a power struggle with someone who’s not pulling punches.

The boy who slaps his little sister may be seeking revenge. Everybody talks about how cute his sister is, and he’s sick of being ignored, so he takes matters into his own hands. His parents feel scared and threatened; they don’t know if their baby girl is safe.

There’s also the child who has given up. Maybe she wanted attention before, or revenge, or power, but no longer. Now she’s displaying her inadequacy. This isn’t because she IS inadequate, but because she doesn’t feel able to face the Adlerian tasks of life (discussed later). This child is acting out learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975). Her parent or caregiver probably feels anxiety and despair as well. Or, as is often the case, they may pamper her, reinforcing her behavior patterns and self-image of inadequacy and dependence.

Dreikurs’s goals of misbehavior are psychological. Children who misbehave may also be acting on biological needs. Therefore, the first thing for parents to check is whether their child is hungry, tired, sick, or in physical discomfort. After checking these essentials, parents should move on to evaluating the psychological purpose of their child’s behavior.

For more information on this, see Tip Sheet #4 on johnsommersflanagan.com: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/tip-sheets/

 

Passing Personal Notes to Ohio School Psychologists

Davis Letter to SantaLast week I had the honor and privilege to spend a day with a group of about 340 mostly school psychologists in Columbus, Ohio. Talk about amazing. Were they nicer than last month’s group in Rock Hill, South Carolina? I don’t know. Both groups were awesome. I’ll keep the details secret just so everyone will wonder why gatherings in Rock Hill and Columbus are or will be inevitably fantastic.

I received a few emails in follow-up to the so-called “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” workshop in Columbus. I’ll be framing one of the emails for my wall, but there was another one that asked for my feedback on a particularly challenging therapeutic conundrum. That email reminded me of a technique that Rita and I first wrote about in 1995, but hasn’t been posted here. So I dug up an excerpt of it from the second edition of our “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” book and am inserting it below. Here’s a link to that book on Amazon, but you can get it other places too:   https://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly/dp/1556202741/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1494088480&sr=1-1&keywords=tough+kids+cool+counseling

The excerpt follows . . . and it’s followed by a link to an “Extra SCASP Handout” with more detailed info about the SCASP and Columbus Workshop techniques.

Passing Personal Notes

            A simple method for re-engaging an angry or “checked out” child/adolescent in counseling is the note-passing technique (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 1995). This technique is used when a young client suddenly appears sullen, angry, or quiet and nonresponsive. In some cases, counselors may have clues as to why the client has become quiet. However, in other cases the young client’s silence may be a complete mystery. Whatever the case, note passing is used to communicate to clients through an alternative format, to reduce pressure on young clients to be verbally productive, to express empathy for an emotional state, and to surprise the client (and thereby modify affect) by being supportive and affectionate rather than critical in response to the client’s silence. When counselors have a positive response to client silence it can be conceptualized as a corrective emotional experience (Alexander & French, 1946).

Children, teenagers, and even some college students are notorious for passing notes in class. Most often the notes are brief and focus on gossip or on whatever is bothering the note writer at the moment. Generally speaking, among teenagers, passing notes is cool.

To utilize this technique all you need is a notebook and pencil or pen. When your client is quiet and perhaps angry or sullen and efforts to interact verbally result in continued withdrawal and silence, simply pick up the notebook and begin writing. This activity may attract the youth’s attention. Your client may assume you’re writing something negative about them. One 12-year-old boy immediately questioned: “Are you writing a note to the group home?” as he expected he would be reprimanded for becoming silent in therapy. I (John) responded: “Nope, I’m just writing a note to you.”

When using this technique, hold the notebook so your client cannot see the content of your note; part of the effect of this technique rests on your client’s surprise at receiving a personal note and on surprise at the content of the note. Of course, the note should be individualized and personal (see Box 4.1 for a sample note).

Box 4.1

Note-Passing Sample

Hey Tonya:

What’s up?  Seems like you might be kind of upset today, but I might be wrong.  I hope I didn’t do something to bug you or make you mad.  If I did, be sure to let me know when you feel like it, okay?  I know that counseling can be kind of dumb or seem like a waste of time or even make people mad sometimes.  I hope we can find ways to make this be a good thing for you.  Thanks for coming—even when you might not feel like it.  So, how are you feeling, anyway?  Do you think it is a little too warm in this office?  That’s a cool sweater you’re wearing.

Your Very Own Counselor,

Rita S-F

P.S. Write back if you want to.

[End of Box 4.1]

            We recommend writing the personal note with a person-centered flavor (Rogers, 1961). Additionally, it’s useful to include a humorous or light closing and an interest in hearing back from your client. Finally, write only what your clients will feel comfortable taking home (e.g., critical comments about teachers or family members, even if such comments are in the service of empathy and emotional validation, may have negative repercussions).

Most of our young clients respond positively to this procedure. Often they act surprised when told: “I wrote you a note.” One client asked to take it into the bathroom to read. Other clients have asked: “Can I keep it?”  Our response to these requests is usually something like, “Of course. I wrote it to you.” Another client refused the note during the session, but accepted it later from her mother (i.e., it was sealed and given to the mother to deliver at home). Sometimes young clients have initiated a note-writing exchange after receiving a note from one of us. On the other hand, we’ve had some young clients rip the note to shreds or toss it in the trash which is perfectly acceptable from our perspective because we view these more aggressive responses as a non-violent and perhaps useful anger expression.

Personal notes can reopen communication, possibly because the activity moves young people out of a negative mood state; it’s hard for clients to maintain a negative mood state when they’re also experiencing surprise or pleasure (Mosak, 1985). Research suggests that it’s common for young people who behave aggressively to anticipate hostility or overt coercion from others during times of stress or threat (Dodge, Lochman, Harnish, Bates, & Pettit, 1997; Dodge & Somberg, 1987). This anticipatory tendency has been labeled the misattribution of hostility.  For youth who anticipate hostility, a nonjudgmental, funny, or caring note can be quite a surprise. Also, many young people we see in therapy have never received a personal handwritten note from an adult (especially from an adult male). Overall, a sincere and nonthreatening effort by a counselor to enhance emotional intimacy and establish a personal connection usually does not go unnoticed.

SCASP Extra Handout