Tag Archives: Counseling

Evidence-Based Relationship Factors in Counseling and Psychotherapy

The medical model of psychotherapy . . . has led us to accept a view of clients as inert and passive objects on whom we operate and whom we medicate. Gene V. Glass, in The Great Psychotherapy Debate, 2001, p. ix

John and Max Seattle

In a 1957 publication in the Journal of Consulting Psychology, Carl Rogers boldly declared:

  1. No psychotherapy techniques or methods are needed to achieve psychotherapeutic change.
  2. Diagnostic knowledge is “for the most part, a colossal waste of time” (1957, p. 102).

Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on what Rogers was saying.

**PAUSE HERE FOR SERIOUS REFLECTION**

If diagnosis is a waste of time and therapy techniques are unnecessary, then what can counselors or therapists do to produce positive outcomes? Here’s what Rogers said:

All that is necessary and sufficient for change to occur in psychotherapy is a certain type of relationship between psychotherapist and client.

Rogers’s revolutionary statements refocused counseling and psychotherapy. Until Rogers, therapy was primarily about theoretically based methods, techniques, and interventions. After Rogers, writers and practitioners began debating whether the relationship between client and therapist—not the methods and techniques employed—might be producing positive therapy outcomes.

This debate continues today. Wampold (2001) has called it “the great psychotherapy debate.” This debate has been boiled down to a dichotomy captured by the question: “Do treatments cure disorders or do relationships heal people?” (Norcross & Lambert, p. 3).

Keep in mind that like lots of things on planet Earth, the techniques vs. relationship debate promotes a false dichotomy. IMHO, most “rational” professionals understand that therapy relationships and techniques are BOTH important to positive outcomes. Seriously, how could it be otherwise?

But there is a positive outcome from this debate. Various researchers around the world started focusing on how to define specific relationship factors that contribute to counseling outcomes. Previously, these relationship factors were lumped into a category called “common factors.” Common factors were viewed as the main reason why all therapy approaches tend to produce approximately equal positive outcomes.

Flowing from research on common factors, one of the most fascinating and important movements in counseling and psychotherapy is now called, “Evidence-based relationships” (Norcross, 2011). As it turns out, there’s a large body of existing and accumulating research to help us clearly identify what’s relationally therapeutic.

In the attached link, you’ll find the powerpoint slides that Kim Parrow and I developed for a supervisor training yesterday, at the University of Montana. Our goal was to describe, demonstrate, and discuss 10 specific and observable relationship factors that contribute to positive counseling outcomes. We call them Evidence-Based Relationship Factors (EBRFs). They include:

  1. Congruence
  2. Unconditional positive regard
  3. Empathic understanding
  4. WA1: Emotional bond
  5. WA2: Goal consensus – Focus on strengths
  6. WA3: Task collaboration
  7. Rupture and repair
  8. Countertransference (management)
  9. Progress monitoring (feedback)
  10. Culture and Cultural Humility

The link at the bottom of this post will take you to our powerpoint slides. Also, for more information, you can always check out various theories textbooks, including Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice (from which this blog was adapted). https://www.amazon.com/Counseling-Psychotherapy-Theories-Practice-Resource/dp/1119084202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504292029&sr=8-1&keywords=counseling+and+psychotherapy+theories+in+context+and+practice

EBRFs for Supervisors 2017 FIN

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Counseling Theories Lab Activities

With Wubbolding

Hi All.

Below I’m pasting links to a variety of lab activities that I’ve used in teaching Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories. Although I’ve got a textbook that I’d love you to use: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1119084202.html, this post is about free stuff that I’m happy to share to help make your theories teaching experiences more practical and more fun.

Here are the activities:

This is a short guide to conducting an Adlerian Family Constellation Interview: Chapter 3 Family Constellation Interview and Earliest Memories

This is a short guide for doing and debriefing a person-centered interview: Chapter 5 Person Centered Activity

Dreamwork can be enlightening. This guide helps students explore each other’s dreams: Chapter 6 Jungian and Gestalt Dream Work

This handout helps your students practice conducting a behavioral or cognitively oriented symptom interview. Chapter 7 Analyzing Symptoms Interview

This isn’t really an activity, just a sample Ellis ABCDE form. Chapter 8 Ellis ABCDE

These two handouts provide tips for doing a CBT Six Column intervention, as well as a sample Six Column form, filled out using an angry teen example. Chapter 8 Six Column CBT Tips  and Chapter 8 Six Columns Youth Anger Example

Here’s a video clip (just a snippet) of me doing a CBT example:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ8hNDHoyDU

This is an interview activity to give students and role-play clients a taste of solution-focused interviewing: Chapter 11 Solution-Focused Activity

I hope these materials are helpful for you. As always, if you have feedback to share, you can share it on this blogsite or via email: johnsf@mso.umt.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the Yellow Grows into Gold and Happy Breaks Out

Lower Grove Creek 7 14 17This morning the clock said 3:51am. My lungs felt refreshed. Then a memory from last night bubbled up. You know how they do.

Rita and I discovered mold in our garden. It was yellow and green and it shared its spores with my lungs before we recognized or best option: retreat inside to formulate our battle plan in response  to the attack of the multicolored mold.

Google was waiting. All the postings were about White mold or Black mold, or even yellow dog-vomit mold. Nothing fit our mold. I read with great and trepidiacal interest of a U.K. man who died from inhaling compost mold; my lungs were burning. Not good.

But sleep came.

Then 3:51am came.

And then the thoughts came.

At 3:52am it seemed odd that I could hear my pulse in my ear on the pillow. It seemed fast. That U.K. man had a rapid pulse. I could either choose to lift my head and take my pulse and while waiting for the digital clock to move to the next minute, or I could look at my fit bit. But my fit bit is charging. But I decide, anyway, to roll over and grab it and attach it to my wrist and look at the pulse rate. It flashes, 113. Not good. I check again, 112. Not good. Not normal. I compulsively check again, 111. The fit bit is probably still adjusting, now it’s 109. Stop checking, the voice in my head says. Let it be. Let it settle. Thirty seconds later, it’s 55. I am normal again.

At 3:54am, I find another troubling thought. Today is July 14, 2017. My Theories text revision is due in 31 days. I have five more chapters to revise. That’s six days per chapter. Plus references. Plus table of contents and preface and . . . . Not good. I’m a bad author.

At 4:12am, I’m up, turning on the computer. I’m a bad author and a bad husband and a bad father and a bad friend. All I do is write meaningless drivel that maybe 12 people a year will read and then immediately forget. Forgettable, I am. Even my own students can’t answer my pop theories quiz questions when they drop by my office. I wonder why they don’t stop in so much anymore.

Good thing I’m revising CBT today. God and Albert Ellis know, I sure as Hell need it.

One of today’s content areas is called, Thinking in Shades of Gray. It’s a description of a cognitive technique to help people get out of destructive, irrational, and maladaptive black-white (aka polarized) thinking. It’s boring. Of course it’s boring. Shades of gray? It’s a technique to help with depressive thoughts. I can hear the Albert Ellis voice in my head. WTF? You work with depressed people and you teach them how to think in shades of gray. What the Holy Hell are YOU thinking?

Later this morning, as I ride through Lower Grove Creek with yellow flowers and the Beartooth Mountains looming, I stop for a photo. There are no cars, no deer, and not even a trace of fungal spores. Just me and my breath and my bike and the yellow flowers and shades of gray, black, and white rising above. Why are there no colors in the shades of gray activity? There’s more to our thinking (and our client’s) thinking than black, white, and gray. Today, with the wind in my face and Tippet Rise to my starboard, I want to be an art therapist. “Let’s put a little yellow there,” I say. And the yellow grows into gold and happy breaks out.

But sooner or later, you and I know. We. Know. The yellow will catch dust and lose its sparkle and turn to mold, until a future morning at 3:51am, when a red seed of awareness gets planted among the anxiety bushes and purple flowers bloom, replacing the moldy browned-up yellow, and then we will remember. We have been here before. And it was wondrous and terrible and everything in between.

At that point, it’s not a bad idea to find your fit bit, take your pulse, and embrace the ever disintegrating now that is morning. You have your next 31 days and I have mine. Let’s meet somewhere in the middle and celebrate the next disintegrating now with all the passion and monotony we can muster. You know we can. We’ve done it before.

Three Pounds of Theoretical Elegance in 888 Words

Rita and Driftwood 2017

As you may or may not recall, we have several new features in our forthcoming Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice (3rd ed.) text. Here’s a draft of what we’ve tentatively titled a “Brain Box” from Chapter One.

Brain Box 1.1

Three Pounds of Theoretical Elegance

John Sommers-Flanagan

This Brain Box is a brief, oversimplified, description of the brain. I apologize, in advance, to you and to brains everywhere for this oversimplification and likely misrepresentation. The problem is that even if I took a whole chapter or a whole book to describe these three pounds of elegance, it would still be an oversimplification. Such is the nature of the human brain.

You may already be familiar with the concepts described here. If so, it’s a review. You may be less familiar; then, it’s an introduction. For more information on neuroscience and therapy, we recommend Neuroscience for counselors and therapists: Integrating the sciences of mind and brain by Chad Luke.

Brain Structure: The human brain has indentations, folds, and fissures. It’s slick and slimy. Put simply, it’s not a pretty sight. But the brain’s form maximizes its function. One example: If you could lay out and spread its surface area onto a table, it would be about the size of two pages of a newspaper. The folds and fissures allow more surface area to fit within the human skull.

Scientists describe the brain as having four lobes: The frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal (see Figure 1.2). The fissures or sulci of the brain demarcate the four lobes. At the bottom of the brain is the brainstem and cerebellum.

Each lobe is generally associated with different brain functions. I say generally because brains are specific and systemic. Although individuals have similar brain structures, individual brains are more unique than a fingerprint on a snowflake.

The frontal lobe is primarily associated with complex thought processes such as planning, reasoning, and decision-making (much, but not all, of what psychoanalysts refer to as ego functions). The frontal lobe also appears involved in expressive language and contains the motor cortex.

The parietal lobe includes the somatosensory cortex. This surface area involves sensory processing (including pain and touch). It also includes spatial or visual orientation.

The temporal lobes are located symmetrically on each side of the brain (just above the ears). They’re involved in auditory perception and processing. They contain the hippocampus and are involved in memory formation and storage.

The occipital lobe is located in the back of the brain and is the primary visual processing center.

I’m using all four lobes right now to type, read, edit, re-think, re-type, re-read, shift my position, and recall various relevant and irrelevant experiences. The idea that we only use 10% of our brains is a silly myth. They even busted it on the Mythbusters television show.

The brain includes two hemispheres. They’re separated by the longitudinal fissure and communicate with each other primarily via the corpus callosum. The hemispheres are nearly mirror images of each other in size and shape. However, their neurotransmitter quantities and receptor subtypes are quite different. The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body and is primarily involved in spatial, musical, and artistic/creative functions. In contrast, the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body, and is involved in language, logical thinking, and linear analysis. There are exceptions to these general descriptions and these exceptions are larger in brains of individuals who are left-handed. Woo-hoo for lefties.

The limbic system is located deep within the brain. It has several structures involved in memory and emotional experiencing. These include, but are not limited to the: amygdala, basal ganglia, cingulate gyrus, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and thalamus. The limbic system and its structural components are currently very popular; they’re like the Beyoncé of brain science.

Neurons and Neurotransmitters: Communication within the brain is electrical and chemical (aka electrochemical = supercool).

Neurons are nerve cells (aka brain cells) that communicate with one another. There are many neuron types. Of particular relevance to counseling and psychotherapy are mirror neurons. Mirror neurons fire when you engage in specific actions (e.g., when waving hello) and the same neurons fire as you observe others engaging in the same actions. These neurons are central to empathy and vicarious learning, but many other brain structures and systems are also involved in these complex behaviors (see Chapter 5).

Neurotransmitters are chemicals packed into synaptic vesicles. They’re released from an axon (a part of a neuron that sends neural transmissions), travel through the synaptic cleft (the space between neurons), and into a connecting dendrite (a part of a neuron that receives neural transmissions), with some “leftover” vesicles re-absorbed into the original axon (referred to as “reuptake,” as in serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors).

There are somewhere between 30 and 100 (or more) neurotransmitters (NTs) in the brain, divided into three categories: (a) Small molecule NTs (e.g., acetylcholine, dopamine, GABA, Glutamate, histamine, noradrenaline, norepinephrine, serotonin, etc.); (b) neuropeptides (e.g., endorphins, oxytocin, etc.); and (c) “other” (e.g., adenosine, endocannadinoids, nitric oxide, etc.). Neurotransmitters are classified as excitatory or inhibitory or both. For example, norepinephrine is an excitatory neurotransmitter, dopamine is both excitatory and inhibitory, and serotonin is inhibitory. Although several chemical imbalance hypotheses regarding the etiology of mental disorders have been promoted (e.g., “low” serotonin at the synaptic cleft causes depression), when it comes to the brain, I caution you against enthusiastic acceptance of any simplistic explanations. A significant portion of the scientific community consider the dopamine and serotonin hypotheses to be mostly mythical (see Breggin, 2016; Edwards, Bacanu, Bigdeli, Moscati, & Kendler, 2016; Moncrieff, 2008, 2015).

Figure 1.2: A Look at the Brain — If the image was here, you would see it. In its absence, use your brain to imagine it. Yes. It’s beautiful. In the real textbook, we’ll have a real image of a brain and not my snarky suggestion that you use more than 10% of your brain to imagine a brain.

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/

 

Psychoanalytic Endings

JSF Travel

Psychoanalytic therapists have a penchant for drama. They speak of psychotherapy termination as metaphorical death; they see sexual objects everywhere. The rest of us are, rather disappointingly, seeing trees and rocks and designer boots, while the psychoanalysts get to see, well, you know what they get to see.

You say you dreamt of rocks? What sort of rocks? Might they have been egg-shaped? Or perhaps you saw the sandy bottom of a river covered with little fishes? Could it have been a salmon hatch? Perhaps all this represents your unconscious longing for fertility. But what if you don’t really wish for more children; instead you’re pining for the unmitigated proliferation of all your excellent ideas? Like maybe you’re fantasizing an NPR interview where you get to talk on and on about obstruction of justice. Or just a cameo where you get to comment on who’s really the grand-stander.

Or maybe, yesterday, you just gazed a little too much at the Stillwater River, and so you dreamt of rocks and little fish?

Better yet, maybe both are true.

But I digress.

Like all chapters in our theories textbook, the psychoanalytic chapter has to end. But it doesn’t want to. It wants to drone on and on because it has so many important points to make. One of those points involves closing the chapter with a few fascinating historical comments about Freud. But some people contend that having “Concluding Comments” and a “Chapter Summary” is redundant. But other people don’t think so. If you’ve gotten this far and are still with me, you be the judge. Are the following “Concluding Comments” worthwhile?

Concluding Comments

Anyone whose collected works fill 24 volumes is likely to have—as we psychoanalytically informed mental health professionals like to say—“achievement issues.” Dr. Freud might even accept this interpretation. He sort of said it himself, “A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success” (E. E. Jones, 1953, p. 5).

Judging him based on his own theoretical perspective, Freud suffered from some Oedipus conflicts, and these were, in part, manifest in his intense striving for recognition. It may have been his penchant for stature that caused him to invent and then recant his seduction theory.

In 1937, 2 years before Janet’s death, Edouard Pichon, Pierre Janet’s son-in-law, wrote to Freud, asking him to visit with Janet. Freud responded:

No, I will not see Janet. I could not refrain from reproaching him with having behaved unfairly to psychoanalysis and also to me personally and never having corrected it. He was stupid enough to say that the idea of sexual aetiology for the neuroses could only arise in the atmosphere of a town like Vienna. Then when the libel was spread by French writers that I had listened to his lectures and stolen his ideas he could with a word have put an end to such talk, since actually I never saw him or heard his name in the Charcot time: he has never spoken this word. You can get an idea of his scientific level from his utterance that the unconscious is une facon de parler. No I will not see him. I thought at first of sparing him the impoliteness by the excuse that I am not well or that I can no longer talk French and he certainly can’t understand a word of German. But I have decided against that. There is no reason for making any sacrifice for him. Honesty the only possible thing; rudeness quite in order. (Jones, 1961, pp. 633–634)

There was no special reconciliation for Freud. Toward the end of his life he suffered from many medical and psychological problems. His addiction to tobacco led to cancer and jaw surgery and considerable physical pain. In September 1939, he asked a fellow physician and friend, Max Schur, to assist in his suicide. Freud asked, “Schur, you remember our ‘contract’ not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense” (Gay, 2006, p. 651). After Schur responded, Freud replied, “I thank you” and followed this with, “Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it’s right, then make an end of it” (p. 651). Although Anna was initially against the plan, Schur argued otherwise and on 2 consecutive September days, he administered enough morphine to finally result in Freud’s death on September 23, 1939.

Freud’s legacy is often linked to negativity or pessimism. There are good reasons for this; Freud focused on issues like the death instinct and primitive instinctual impulses, impulses that we have little awareness of or control over. But he was sometimes hopeful. One of his more optimistic statements is carved in a memorial to him in Vienna which reads,

The voice of reason is small, but very persistent.

**************

Let me know your vote. I’m sure, just like the vote for who’s the real grand-stander, it won’t be particularly close.

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