My Favorite Imaginary Group Therapy Session

This is an excerpt from our soon-to-be-published Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice (second edition, 2012, John Wiley & Sons). It is, of course, like most theories textbooks, packed with subtle and less subtle humor. We even recently had a senior in college tell us that it was the first textbook he actually read cover-to-cover. Now if that’s not an endorsement of just how riveting a textbook can be . . .

The following excerpt is from the last chapter (Chapter 14).

A Concluding Image: Group Therapy with Some Amazing Clients

After reading and writing about so many great therapy minds, one of us (you can guess which one) had the following daydream: Imagine many of the historical and contemporary therapy masters gathered together in one location. They form a circle and begin a discussion. Old friends and rivals are reunited. Freud appears and shakes hands with Jean Baker, Miller who has brought quite a number of impressive-looking women with her. Fritz Perls tries to kiss some of their hands. Adler brings his wife. Carl Rogers signs a book for Prochaska. New friends are made, old rivalries rejuvenated. Insoo Kim Berg smiles quietly off to one side. Jung notes to himself that she must be an introvert. What might happen in this circumstance? What might happen in An Encounter Group for the Major Players?

After some initial mingling, the group process begins:

Rogers: I wonder where we might want to start.

Raissa Adler: Here’s where I’m starting. I’m not taking the minutes for this meeting. I did that back in 1912 for the Free Psychoanalytic Society, so I’ve put in my time. It’s someone else’s turn, and I nominate a male, any male. Women have been taking notes in meetings for so long it’s ridiculous. The problem with women’s psyches has more to do with oppression than repression.

Feminists: [Including Jean Baker Miller, Judith Jordan, Espin, Lillian Comas-Diaz, and Laura Brown—all of whom subversively snuck into the group] You go woman! We’re with you.

Freud: That’s it. Say whatever comes to mind.

Ellis: If you want to think that taking notes is oppression, that’s up to you, but as far as I can tell, you’re oppressing yourself with a bunch of damn crazy, irrational thinking.

Beck: You know Al, we’ve been through this before, but what I think you mean is that Raissa’s thinking that taking notes is oppression could be maladaptive, but not irrational.

Glasser: Raissa can choose to take notes or choose not to take notes. She can also choose to think she’s oppressed or choose not to think she’s oppressed. Personally, Raissa, I recommend that you read my book, Choice Theory. I want you to read it, and I think it will help you, but of course, whether you read it or not, that’s completely your choice.

F. Perls: Be here now, Raissa. Act out those feelings. Be the pen. Talk to the paper.

L. Perls: Fritz, she can be the pen without your assistance. If by chance she finds herself, that’s beautiful.

Ellis: She won’t find a goddamn thing in this group of love-slobs without a flashlight.

Skinner: Uh. Albert. I’ve been wanting to mention to you that if you could just keep quiet when people in here say inappropriate things, we might have a chance at extinguishing that particular behavior.

Ellis: Well, Burris, did you have an irrational thought that someone might actually care about your opinion before you engaged in that speaking behavior, or was it just a function of its consequences?

V. Satir: Albert, if you could just get up on that chair and talk down to Burris, I think you could get in touch with your placating style.

Skinner (Whispering to Ellis): Seriously man. Just ignore her. I’m talking about a complete extinction schedule. Just like I’m ignoring you – except for when you sit quietly and listen to me like you’re doing now.

Rollo May: Freedom and dignity are the essence of being. There’s far too much freedom, with very little dignity in this room.

I. K. Berg: If a miracle happened and we all got out of this group without anyone getting murdered, what would that look like?

A. Adler: My God, I just remembered an earlier memory. No wonder I felt so inferior.

Freud: I hate that word. I just want to be recognized for my contributions. It would make my mother proud.

Rogers: It’s like if only I can make my mother happy. And getting recognized, being remembered, that’s one big way you can have that experience.

Ellis: Siggy, my man. Let me just say this. That crap about being recognized and making your mother proud is the most f—ing ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life. What’s the big deal if everybody forgets you? What’s the terrible, awful, very bad thing that will happen? I mean, think logically about this. You’ll be dead and it won’t make a white rat’s ass difference if people remember you or not.

Feminists: That’s right. I can’t believe we’re agreeing with Albert Ellis. White males can afford to play with such big ideas. Immortality. Do you have a clue about the legacy you’ve actually left? There have been decades of girls and women with destroyed self-esteems. Do you recognize that they litter your road to “greatness”?

Mahoney: I can see Freud as great and I can see feminism as great. Even this lived moment in our genetic epistemology exudes the potential for greatness. We are not a passive repository of sensory experience, but instead, we’re co-constructing this reality right now.

Prochaska: This entire group seems to me to be in precontemplation.

D. W. Sue: Yeah, well, I might consider change if we could construct in a minority voice or two? Most of what I’ve heard thus far is the construction of a very narrow, White reality. Culture is primary, and we need to include color if we’re to meet the needs of everyone, including Raissa, who happens to have a strong Russian ethnocultural identity.

Raissa Adler: [Slowly stands and walks over and embraces D. W. Sue.]

Rogers: What I’m seeing and what I’m hearing, if I’m getting this right, is affection and appreciation. Two people who have, now and again, felt marginalized are able to connect more deeply with each other right now in this moment than with anyone else.

M. White: Actually, Carl, I think I’d just call this a sparkling moment.

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A Bill of Rights for Children of Divorce

There are lots of different “Bills of Rights” for children and parents of divorce available online. I’m re-posting this one that Rita and I originally published in November, 2000, in Counseling Today, a publication of the American Counseling Association. It’s a slight revision and has been on this blog for a while, but here it is in honor of all the kiddos out there who end up with the challenge of transitioning between two homes. Feel free to share or use as you wish.

A Bill of Rights for Children of Divorce

By John and Rita Sommers-Flanagan

I am a child of divorce.  I hold these truths to be self-evident:

I have the right to be free from parent conflicts and hostilities.  When you badmouth each other in front of me, it tears me apart inside.  Don’t put me in the middle or try to play me against my other parent. And don’t burden me with your relationship problems, they’re yours, not mine.

I have the right to develop a relationship with both my parents.  I love you both.  I know you will sometimes be jealous about that, but you need to deal with it because you are the adult and I am the child.

I have a right to information about things that will affect my life.  If you’re planning on getting a divorce, I have a right to know, as soon as is reasonable.  Likewise, if you’re planning to move, get remarried, or any other major life change, I have a right to know about it.

Just as I have a right to basic information about my life, I also have a right to be protected from inappropriate information.  This means you shouldn’t tell me about sexual exploits or similar misbehavior by my other parent.  You also should not apologize to me – for my other parent – because this implies a derogatory judgment of my other parent.  If you apologize to me, apologize for yourself.

I have a right to my own personal space in each of my homes.  This doesn’t mean I can’t share a room with my brother or sister, but it does mean that I need space and time of my own.  I also need some special personal items in my own space . . . and this just might include a picture of my other parent . . . don’t freak out about it.

I have a right to physical safety and adequate supervision.  I know you may be very upset about your divorce, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect my needs for safety and supervision.  I don’t want to be home alone all the time while you’re out dating someone new.

I have a right to spend time with both parents, without interference.  My right to spend time with each of you shouldn’t be dependent upon how much money one of you has paid the other.  That makes me feel cheap, like something you might buy in a store.

I have a right to financial and emotional support from both my parents, regardless of how much time I spend with either of you.  This doesn’t mean I expect twice as much as other kids get, it just means that you should stop worrying about what I got from my other parent and focus on what you’re providing me.

I have a right to firm limits and boundaries and reasonable expectations.  Just because I’m a child of divorce doesn’t mean I can’t handle chores, homework, or other normal childhood responsibilities.  On the other hand, keep in mind that even though I may have a little sister or brother (or step-sister or step-brother), I’m not the designated babysitter.

I have a right to your patience.  I didn’t choose to go through a divorce; I didn’t choose to have my biological parents live in two different homes, move away, date different people, and in general, turn my world upside down.  Therefore, more than most children, my life has been beyond my control.  This means I will need your help and support to work through my control issues. You also need to give me time to get comfortable with your new romantic interests. You’re my parent and you should handle my discipline and not hand it over to some new person who I don’t even trust yet.

Finally, I have a right to be a child.  I shouldn’t have to be your spy, your special confidant, or your mother.  Just because you hate to talk to each other, I shouldn’t have to be your personal message courier.  I exist because you created me.  Therefore, I have a right to be more than a child of divorce.  I have a right to be a child whose parents love me more than they’ve come to hate each other.

 

For more information on the Children’s perspective on separation and divorce, check out our book, Don’t Divorce Us!: Kids’ advice to divorcing parents. It sells from $0.81 on Amazon and is available in Turkish:)

 

 

 

A Short Divorce Education Story

It’s a sunny Saturday morning. I was hoping for rain; six hour Saturday classes on divorce and shared parenting are much easier when it’s raining.

Parents begin to arrive. I offer food, but no one eats.  A few people slip into the kitchen and fill their cups with coffee or tea.

Soon, I’m sitting, knee to knee in a circle with ten other men and women.  No one really wants to be here, including me. About half the parents have been mandated by the Court to take this class on divorce and shared parenting. The other half felt compelled to come to deal with a difficult divorce situation.

On the far end of the circle, a big burly man in his mid-thirties stares into space.  He looks angry. We mutually avoid eye contact. Class is about to start and so I’m compulsively making small talk. My chatter includes the local men and women sports teams, the short and long-term weather forecast, and other conflict avoidant topics.  I make a point to NOT bring up religion, politics, or recent changes in child custody law.

We begin with ground rules and introductions. Everyone agrees to confidentiality, to mutual respect, cooperative participation, and to be open to new ideas. As introductions proceed around the circle we eventually come around to the burly man. I notice dread building up in me for what I suspect will be an outpouring of anger and resentment. Instead, when he begins speaking his face contorts. Then he puts his head in his hands and quietly starts to cry.

The room is still. He finally manages to talk. His speech is slow and his words like water. We’re submerged in the ache he feels from missing his son and daughter. Three other parents are wiping their eyes. Only fifteen minutes have passed and these parents are already deeply into their emotional pain. There are no more involuntary participants in this class now; everyone in the room is just a parent—a sad, frustrated, and angry parent missing their children and hating part-time parenting.

In the end, the class that wouldn’t eat, orders pizza together. The participants have bonded; they’ve discovered a common passion. They all love their children and want to be better parents.

Amazingly, the 10 parents agree to put their own pain and misery aside when communicating with their children’s other parent. They commit to keeping their children out of parent-to-parent conflicts. They express their willingness to try to accept and listen to their children’s anger, instead of stamping on it like a smoldering fire. They all realize that nothing will magically make their lives easier. But they resolve on a sunny Saturday afternoon to work as hard as they can to leave behind their dysfunctional anger and frustration. They resolve to become not only more loving parents, but also more skillful parents, parents who are ready to put their children’s best interests first and to treat their children’s other parent with the respect they wish for themselves.

Good Ideas about Multicultural Counseling and Psychotherapy – Part II

Three More Ideas About Multicultural Counseling

4.  Developing your Self-Awareness is Central

Both the American Counseling Association and the American Psychological Association place self-awareness of the therapist as a central factor in developing multicultural competency. This is a great, but tricky idea. It’s tricky because of the nature of awareness is such that it’s all too easy for us to remain unaware to very significant multicultural issues. If you’re interested in exploring your multicultural awareness further, you should check out the Implicit Association Test at: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.

I have a friend who often claimed: “I’m not insensitive, I’m just oblivious!” Of course this was offered in humor, but obliviousness—especially if you’re aware of it—is no good excuse for being insensitive to diversity issues. I’m also reminded of the insensitive and oblivious response of many White Montana students to multicultural discussions. It’s not unusual for some of them to say things like, “I just haven’t had much contact with people from other cultures because we don’t have many minorities in Montana.” When I hear this I try not to gasp aloud as I, or a Native or First Nations Person points out that, in fact, 6.8% of Montana’s population is Native American and that several people IN THE ROOM are Native American.

The initial splash of multicultural awareness is often accompanied by an emotional response . . . and occasionally a bit or a bundle of defensiveness.

5.  As you Work Towards Multicultural Competence, Remember the Concept of Multicultural Humility

Although it’s standard procedure in the counseling and psychotherapy literature to refer to multicultural competence, one major problem with the term multicultural competence is that it implies that there’s an endpoint in the multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skill acquisition process. For this reason, I prefer the terms multicultural humility or multicultural sensitivity.

Similar to awareness, I think humility is central to good multicultural work. Unfortunately, within the dominant cultural media-based messages humility is typically viewed as being weak and confidence, swagger, and even arrogance is seen as more desirable. Thomas Merton (quoted in part I of this blog series) has a quotation that speaks to the tendency for entire countries to engage in self-superiority. He wrote:

“The greatest sin of the European-Russian-American complex which we call the West (and this sin has spread its own way to China) is not only greed and cruelty, not only moral dishonesty and infidelity to the truth, but above all its unmitigated arrogance toward the rest of the human race.”

It’s crucial for multicultural counselor and psychotherapists to move beyond thinking in terms of competence and tolerance (both of which speak to Merton’s ideas of arrogance). Instead, we need to embrace our fallibilities and humility and approach cultural and individual differences with what Marcia Linehan might call radical acceptance and what Carl Rogers would have referred to as unconditional positive regard.

6.  Keep Making Efforts to Understand a Collectivist Cultural Perspective.

In collectivist cultures, values and norms are shared. The self and the personality are defined in terms of group memberships, and the group needs and values are more central than those of the individual. Some people with collectivist perspectives avoid the whole idea of the concept of self or self-esteem or self-image. Instead, Collectivists tend to evaluate themselves based on attaining group goals.

For lots of us folks who have been deeply involved in American individualism, the idea of collectivism can feel odd and repeatedly difficult to grasp. This is where exposure, discussion, and real listening to others becomes so important. Rather than trample on the idea of collectivist being, we need to persistently take extra steps to maintain awareness of this concept that can be so slippery for individualists to grasp.

To close this blog, in 1975 Robert Hogan wrote,

A central theme in Western European history for about 800 years has been the decline of the medieval synthesis or, alternatively, the emergence of individualism. Two hundred years ago individualism was a moral and religious ideal capable of legitimizing revolutions and inspiriting sober and thoughtful minds. Sometimes in the last century, however, social thinkers began to regard individualism in more ambivalent terms, even in some cases as a possible indicator of social decay. (p. 533)

This is interesting stuff, even if it’s sometimes difficult to completely and consistently understand.

Four Good Ideas about Multicultural Counseling and Psychotherapy—In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

1. Don’t think about multiculturalism as being about tolerance. Instead, approach other cultures with an attitude of “what can I learn?”

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1974) wrote about his deep regrets for the ways religious missionaries contributed to cultural genocide. He wondered:

“What would the world be like if different cultures had encountered each other with questions instead of answers? What if the questions went something like these?”

What can you tell me about yourselves?

  • What would you like to know about us?
  • What can you teach me about the Creator?

This same idea forms the foundation of affirmative therapy for GLBTQ clients. Because they’re so used to and sensitive to negative judgments, we should approach GLBTQ clients not only with openness, but with a positive and affirming attitude. When I really think about it, it doesn’t make much sense to approach clients who may be different from us with anything other than a positive and affirming attitude?

 2.  Try to Understand the Implications of White Privilege

As a White male I sometimes have difficulty stretching my neck far enough to be able to see all the White privilege I carry around in my invisible knapsack (see Peggy McIntosh’s 1998 article for more on the Invisible Knapsack). White privilege is defined as the unearned assets associated with being an upper or middle class member of a dominant culture. Although White privilege is often hard to see (because unearned assets are invisible), Prochaska and Norcross provide three darn good examples in the 2010 edition of their psychotherapy theories text. They wrote:

  • · “White privilege is when you can get pregnant at age 17 and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, even as Black and Latino families with similar challenges are regularly typified as irresponsible and pathological.”
  • · “White privilege is when you are a gun enthusiast and do not make people immediately scared of you.”
  • · “White privilege is when you can develop a painkiller addiction, having obtained your drug of choice illegally, go on to beat that addiction, and everyone praises you for being so strong, while being an ethnic minority who did the same thing is routinely labeled a drug addict who probably winds up in jail.” (p. 408)

3.  When Counseling, Make Cultural Adaptations

Not long ago it was reported that 50% of diverse clients dropped out of therapy after only one session (S. Sue, 1977). This suggests that it only took one therapy session to convince half of all diverse clients not to return for session number two. This is not very impressive.

To address this and other issues, counselors and psychologists now talk about making cultural adaptations so the therapy experience is more appealing to clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. Several cultural adaptations have proven at least somewhat helpful. Two of the most significant are: (a) Language Matching (Surprise! Clients tend to benefit more when they can do therapy in their native languageJ); and (b) explicit incorporation of cultural content/values into the intervention (Griner & Smith, 2006).

 4. Remember that multicultural counseling is like qualitative research; you may not generalize.

This is one of the puzzling paradoxes associated with multicultural counseling. Of course we should learn as much as we can about other cultures—but, because skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities, and other client characteristics all exist within unique individuals, groups, and communities it’s inappropriate to make assumptions about clients based on knowledge about any of these factors. Just as you would never generalize your findings from eight clients in a phenomenological-qualitative study, you shouldn’t use your knowledge of any “categories” to make generalizations about the person or people in your office.

Related to this, S. Sue and Zane (2009) commented on how, when it comes to multicultural knowledge, a little bit does not go a long ways (and often a large amount of knowledge won’t take you very far either). They wrote:

“. . . cultural knowledge and techniques generated by this knowledge are frequently applied in inappropriate ways. The problem is especially apparent when therapists and others act on insufficient knowledge or overgeneralize what they have learned about culturally dissimilar groups.” (p. 5)

Working cross-culturally or interculturally is both a challenge and a privilege. This is part one of a three-part blog about how we can meet this challenge and honor clients who have diverse characteristics. Thanks for being interested enough in this topic to read this and stretch your multicultural competence.

Happy New Year . . .

Non-Drug Options for Dealing with Depression

                               “When it comes to treating depressive symptoms, there’s no better                     medicine than healthy and loving relationships”

 The following options can be very effective for relieving depression symptoms. Although antidepressant medications are also an option, because they’re so widely marketed only non-drug alternatives are listed and described here.

  1. Psychotherapy – Going to a reputable and licensed mental health professional who offers counseling or psychotherapy for depression can be very helpful. This may include family, couple, or group counseling or therapy.
  2. Vigorous Aerobic Exercise – Consider initiating and maintaining a regular cardiovascular or aerobic exercise schedule. This could involve a referral to a personal trainer and/or local fitness center (e.g., YMCA).
  3. Herbal Remedies – Some individuals benefit from taking herbal supplements. For example, there is evidence that Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish oil) can reduce depressive symptoms. It’s good to consult with a health care provider if you’re pursuing this option.
  4. Light Therapy – Some people describe great benefits from light therapy. Information on light therapy boxes is available online and possibly through your physician.
  5. Massage Therapy – Research indicates that massage therapy can relieve depressive symptoms. A referral to a licensed massage therapy professional is advised.
  6. Bibliotherapy – Research indicates that some people benefit from reading and working with self-help books or workbooks. The Feeling Good Handbook (Burns, 1999) and Mind over Mood (Greenberger and Padesky, 1995) are two popular self-help books.
  7. Mild Exercise and Physical/Social Activities – Even if you’re not up to vigorous exercise, you should know that nearly any type of movement has antidepressant effects. These activities could include, but not be limited to yoga, walking, swimming, bowling, hiking, or whatever you can do!
  8. Relationship Enhancement – As suggested by the opening quotation, the most potent medicine available for addressing depressive symptoms is a healthy and loving relationship. You can work on improving relationships in many ways, especially by developing effective communication skills, engaging in mutually enjoyable activities, and making a commitment to behaving in ways that support both your own mental health and that of your partner.
  9. Other Meaningful Activities – Never underestimate the healing power of meaningful activities. Activities could include (a) church or spiritual pursuits; (b) charity work; (c) animal caretaking (adopting a pet); and (d) other activities that might be personally meaningful to you.

 For information about this tip sheet, contact John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D. at johnsf44@gmail.com

26 Years with Rita

Today, on our 26th anniversary, we started with a run in Greenwich, CT, followed by massages in Eastchester, NY (thanks Chelsea!), and then found a fabulous Indian restaurant with a buffet lunch. It seemed only right to top all that off with a trip to the Goodwill, but somehow we ended up at the Goodwill store in the Bronx, which was a little frightening. . . if only for the traffic. I parked with one tire on the sidewalk while we scored a children’s book, a clear glass mug, and a 5 pound sweet potato from a street vendor. This particular day was a metaphor for the 26 years; no formal gifts purchased, but an entertaining and sometimes unpredictable adventure . . . which turns out to be the best gift of all.

Author, Speaker, University of Montana Professor