Tag Archives: Montana

Savoring and Gratitude in Billings with Montana School Counselors

Several months ago, Renee’ Parker Schoening, executive director of the Montana School Counselor Association, all-around master-organizer, and unstoppable inspirational force, asked me if I could provide a closing keynote speech for the MSCA spring conference that was evidence-based, uplifting, and funny. Channeling my internal family systems (IFS) inner scientist and entertainer selves (while ignoring my own good judgment), I quickly said, “Yes. Sure. Of course, I can do that.”

This exchange is an example of saying yes to ambitiously unattainable ideas, and then needing to find people to help me accomplish whatever it is I’ve agreed to do. In honor of my disdain for pithy, rhyming, oversimplification (think of trite things like, ugh, “fight or flight”), I’ve decided to enhance my influencer legacy by delivering profound wisdom using pithy, rhyming, oversimplifications.  In the case of today’s description of last week’s questionably unattainable commitment to providing an evidence-based, uplifting, and funny closing keynote speech, I’m saying (and you may want to write this down), “If you’re running out of steam, it helps to have a good team.”  

For the potential MSCA debacle, I asked two talented graduate students in Counseling at the University of Montana to help me create closing keynote magic. I suspect, because I’m a faculty member and technically one of their supervisors, the grad students may have experienced my “ask” as an offer they couldn’t refuse. Regardless of (or despite) their internal lamentations, they accepted the offer they couldn’t refuse . . . and planning started happening.

Turns out that Lillian Martz, one of the grad students, has a history of competitive Karaoke. She’s a current doc student, former M.A. student, and former school counselor. In honor of her expertise, I may or may not have suggested we infuse Karaoke into our keynote. You know how it is. With three people together generating bad ideas, it’s hard to discern where the blame belongs. Anyhow, Lillian agreed, later noting in an email that she felt “regret” for having made said agreement. But it was too late to back out; she selected a song, transforming it into a school counseling narrative (apparently that’s what competitive Karaoke people do), and suggested that the other grad student and I provide choreography.

Turns out the other grad student, Dylan Wright, has a strong theatre background, having worked a couple decades for Missoula Children’s Theatre, which is my way of saying Dylan thought him and me teaming to supply choreography for Lillian’s crooning was a fabulous idea, which is my way of admitting to, once again, saying yes to something that I might have had the good judgment to decline. All I remember is hearing Rita’s voice in the back of my brain saying, “Don’t hurt yourself.”

Dylan’s presence on our “closing keynote” team is why, somehow, we decided to weave in a brief improv experience. As many of you already know, I co-invented Karaoke, along with Mike Bevill, Neil Balholm, and Greg Hopkins, back in Mike’s basement back in 1974, and so saying yes to a Karaoke performance felt right. But, I’ve never done improv. Dylan was all-in on the improv, down with the Karaoke, and loved my terrible idea that we should open the keynote by spontaneously breaking into inappropriate songs.

Lest you worry, we did have content. Our main themes were savoring and gratitude, both being evidence-based practices popular in the positive psychology movement.

One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that it’s not unusual to end up receiving the gift you’re trying to give others. What I mean is that, at the conclusion of our phrenetic, non-traditional keynote speech, I experienced big doses of savoring and gratitude. Lillian and Dylan were marvelous planners and co-presenters and Renee’ was moved to tears by the video Dylan and Lillian created for the ending. Thanks to being on a great team and thanks to presenting to a generous and amazing audience of nothing-less-than-fantastic Montana school counselors, my savoring and gratitude cup were full all weekend.

Although there may be concrete evidence of the magnificence of this event in the form of video clips and photos, I’ll leave you with two short testimonials.

So much FOMO. I can’t make out any of the audio, but the visuals are very impressive. At one point it seems as though they become Zumba instructors. – UM faculty member, watching via social media video clips

I feel like I’m in a fever dream! – UM M.A. student

Unveiling the NEW Montana Happiness Project Website

ontana

The Montana Happiness Project (MHP) is rolling along.

After having our first “train-the-trainer” retreat at Boulder Hot Springs this summer, several of our retreat “graduates” are out doing amazing things. . . like offering a class through Blackfeet Community College, teaching happiness activities to youth in Frenchtown, filming a happiness-based television show through Missoula Community Access Television, and more. Although our focus is primarily Montana, we believe in building eudaimonic happiness skills and attitudes everywhere.

If you don’t know what eudaimonic happiness is or you want to learn more about the MHP, we have a brand-new website. The website includes a few videos, information about our mission, vision, and values, a calendar of upcoming events, and other resources.

If you have the time and inclination, we’d love to have you check it out the website and offer feedback. The website is in early phases—and so your feedback can be especially formative.  

Here’s the URL:  https://montanahappinessproject.com/

What’s Happening at the Montana Happiness Project: The 2021 Annual Report

Montana Happiness Project – 2021 – Year End Report

Despite global exhaustion from wave after wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and despite immense national and local loss and suffering, amazing examples of resilience continue. At the Montana Happiness Project, we believe in facing, validating, and working through individual and collective pain and suffering. We believe everyone needs time and space to be with, and gain insight from, their emotions. This is one side of the truth of living.

On the other side is the need to stay strong, positive, and resilient. Although it’s human nature and therapeutic for individuals and communities to be with their emotions, we also benefit from focusing on strengths, positivity, gratitude, and kindness. In an ideal world, we do both. We take time to be with our painful emotions and learn from them. We also intentionally turn toward wellness and happiness. This is part of the balance that facilitates well-lived lives.

The year 2021 remained challenging for many Montanans. This brief Year-End Report describes activities associated with the smaller and larger ways in which the Montana Happiness Project made efforts to nurture wellness within our Montana communities. To summarize our activities, we’ve organized this report into several sections: (a) Happiness Funding, (b) Bimonthly Activities, (c) 2022 Goals and Organizing Principles, (d) Outcomes, and (d) Gratitude.

*******

Just in case you don’t want to read the whole 7 page report, I’ve pasted the Executive Summary below.

Executive Summary

In our first complete year of operations, the Montana Happiness Project, L.L.C. provided substantial contributions to wellness awareness and happiness promotion throughout the state of Montana and beyond. Highlights of 2021 include: (a) reaching well over 1,000 Montanans with high-quality educational presentations on suicide prevention and happiness promotion; (b) offering seminars, classes, and trainings viewed by over 50,000 professionals around the globe; (c) delivery of a 2½ day retreat for 15 professionals committed to implementing a strengths-based approach to suicide assessment, treatment, and prevention in Montana; (d) data collection and continued scientific research on the effectiveness of strengths-based suicide assessment and treatment workshops for professionals, happiness classes, and happiness workshops; (e) initiation of collaborative programming with the University of Montana, Families First Learning Labs, and other community organizations.

If you’d like to read the whole report, send me an email (john.sf@mso.umt.edu) or message me here and I’ll get one out to you.

Have a great day.

John

For a Win-Win-Win on Giving Tuesday – Support College Student Mental Health

After facing an overwhelming number of choices on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, now we’re faced with another litany of excellent choices for Giving Tuesday. There are so many wonderful charities to support. You can’t go wrong with supporting food banks, shelters, and other organizations that push back against poverty. You also can’t go wrong supporting children, minorities, education, and the environment . . . these are all huge needs.

Along with the preceding charity types, this year Rita and I are wholeheartedly supporting college student mental health. We’ve seen the struggles firsthand and we believe college students can benefit from greater access to mental health services. Specifically, we’re supporting a University of Montana Foundation project called “The University of Montana Mental Health and Happiness Fund.” We see the University of Montana Mental Health and Happiness Fund as a win-win-win. Here’s why.

The first win is that the funds will go to provide more hours of mental health counseling for college students. Unfortunately, more than ever before, college students are stressed and experiencing mental health struggles. These struggles can include suicidal thoughts and behaviors. As far as age groups vulnerable to death by suicide, the college student age group is among the highest (along with older males). Supporting college student mental health can literally save lives and help college students graduate and become significant contributors to their communities. Currently, Counseling Services at the University of Montana needs more counselors to meet increased needs.

The second win is about “workforce development.” In Montana, and around the nation, we need a continuous flow of competent and capable mental health professionals. That’s why the first priority of the University of Montana Mental Health and Happiness Fund is to support a ½ time Counseling Intern for UM’s Counseling Services department. Funding an intern means that the intern gains valuable experience and supervision and can then go out and contribute to mental health in the community. If we receive more funds than expected, we will either fund a second ½ time counseling intern or we will fund happiness promotion projects at UM and within the Western Montana area.

The third win is basic economics. College students contribute to local economies. When they graduate, college students also create capital. College students become entrepreneurs, scientists, grant writers, community leaders, parents, and grandparents. In all these roles, college graduates will do better and be better if they have better mental health.  

Our 2021 fundraising goal is $45,000. We’ve already raised over $22,000. Please help us reach our goal so we can contribute to positive mental health and happiness at the University of Montana.

If you’re interested in joining Rita and me in supporting the University of Montana Mental Health and Happiness fund here are the instructions.

  1. Click on this Link for Support
  2. As you complete the donation form, about halfway down the page, you will see “Designation Choice.” Choose “Other.”
  3. In the Additional Comments/Info Section – type/write University of Montana Mental Health and Happiness Fund

Thanks for considering college student mental health for this Giving Tuesday!

Who Wants a Two-Day Professional Workshop on Strengths-Based Suicide Assessment and Treatment?

I’ve got a friend who writes to me in acronyms. TBH is “To be honest.” LMK is “Let me know.” IMHO is “In my humble opinion.” FYI is “For your information.” YSKAT is “You should know about this.”

When I read my friend’s emails, there are always more letters than words, if YKWIM (you know what I mean).

This leads me to my PP (promotional point).

TBH signing up for a two-day SBSASTW (strengths-based suicide assessment and treatment workshop) isn’t everyone’s COT (cup of tea). TAI (think about it). That’s like 13 hours of suicide-related content. If you TAI, it CBYD (could bring you down).

That’s why, we will weave some PDC (pretty damn cool) EBHIs (evidence-based happiness interventions) into our 13 hours. This will be the MFE (most fun ever) two days of suicide training on November 19 and 20. YCBOI (you can bet on it).

But IMHO, woohoo. Really YSKAT. IMHO signing up for a two-day strengths-based suicide assessment and treatment workshop is TRTTD (the right thing to do).

YAMBWing (You also may be wondering), when John writes “we” is he going with the singular “we” or is he indicating there will be other presenters. TBH, John doesn’t know, but he’s hoping to recruit some of the amazing participants from this summer MHP (Montana Happiness Project) retreat to join in on the FUN (fricken unbelievably nice).

OK. I’ve had it with all these letters. And so, if you want to sign up, check out “Session three” on this link: https://www.familiesfirstmt.org/umworkshops.html

If that doesn’t help, send me an email (john.sf@mso.umt.edu) and I’ll see if I can help you figure out how to sign up. Just LMK. The session is also Zoomable.

Montana Conference on Suicide Prevention — My Powerpoints

Good morning. I’m listening to Dr. David Jobes talk about innovations in approaching suicide assessment and treatment. I’m struck by the breadth and depth of his knowledge . . . and also discouraged by him acknowledging how difficult it is to change people’s mindsets regarding suicidality and its treatment. At this point we ALREADY have many effective psychosocial treatments, but disappointingly, the media and public knowledge still leans toward profiling hospitalization and the potential of medication (both of which show very mixed results).

I’ll stop with my rant here and post my ppts. Thanks for reading . . . and be sure to get the word out on innovations in suicide assessment and treatment (aka psychosocial treatments).

Tomorrow – Another Suicide Prevention Conference with Free CEUs

The second of two consecutive suicide prevention conferences with free CEUs is tomorrow! Just in case you didn’t know, this conference, the Montana Conference on Suicide Prevention, has two full hours of David Jobes–the creator of CAMS–in the afternoon. How often do you get to listen to Dr. Jobes for two hours, for free, and get CEUs? Not often, I suspect.

Here’s the conference link. Go to the bottom to find the registration button: https://www.montanacosp.org/

In related news, I just got an email from the Association for Humanistic Counseling about an upcoming all-day conference on Strengths-Based Suicide Assessment and Treatment (with me presenting!). The date is: 9.24.21. This one has a small fee for CEUs . . . but it’s cheaper if you become an AHC member. Here’s the registration link for that one: https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg?oeidk=a07eibjc7x5afb40bd4&oseq=&c=&ch=

Have a great evening and I hope to “see” you tomorrow at the Montana conference.

Sign Up Now for the University of Montana’s Short Summer Happiness Course

Dan Salois is teaching an abbreviated version of the Montana Happiness Class this summer. The course starts in ONE WEEK!

Dan is a doctoral student in the Department of Counseling and a great instructor. The course is noncredit, offered through our campus continuing education unit, and all online . . . so you can get a boost of happiness from the convenience of home.

Here’s the course description:

Over the past 20 years, research on happiness has flourished. Due to the natural interest that most Americans have for happiness, research findings (and unfounded rumors) have been distributed worldwide. Every day, happiness is promoted via online blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, Twitter posts, Instagram videos, TikTok, and through many other media and social media venues. Ironically, instead of increases in national happiness, most epidemiological research indicates that all across the U.S., children, adolescents, adults, and seniors are experiencing less happiness, more depression, and higher suicide rates. To help sort out scientific reality from unsubstantiated rumors, in this course, we will describe, discuss, and experience the art and science of happiness. We will define happiness, do some short readings, try out research experiments in class, engage in happiness lab assignments, and measure our own happiness and well-being. Overall, we will focus on how happiness and well-being are manifest in the physical, cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, spiritual/cultural, behavioral, and contextual dimensions of our lives.

The course meets online July 12 – 30, Tuesday and Thursday, 11:00 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. Course fee is $90, which translates to about $10 per instructional hour. . . and a pretty good deal for a dose of happiness.

To register, click on the following link.

What’s Happening in Happiness Class?

We start every happiness class with music.

As many of you know, the class generated a pretty cool song playlist. Typically, I select a song from the playlist, download it into my powerpoint, and start the music at 12:55pm. I say typically in that optimistic—see the glass half-full—sort of way, because, in reality, sometimes I struggle to get the music video to play, other times I start it a bit late (and begin to hear my Zooming students query, “What’s happening? Where’s the music?”), and still other times I go rogue and pick an off-list song that I happen to think fits the topic perfectly.

Last week, before we explored spirituality and forgiveness, I couldn’t resist playing “Heart of the Matter” by Don Henley . . . and now I can’t stop the tune and lyrics in my head . . . “Forgiveness, forgiveness, even if, even if, you don’t love me anymore.” For your immediate listening pleasure, here’s the Henley music link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rxni_Icyjj8&list=RDRxni_Icyjj8&start_radio=1&t=213

Usually I consider it best practice to keep my camera and microphone off during the opening music. You can imagine why. Holding on to the small shreds of respect that I’ve not yet squandered seems like good judgment, because if I let go, things might look like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0Nju66rif4&feature=youtu.be

After the opening music I burst into the Zoom scene with energetic and pithy commentary designed to get everyone focused in on our topic of the day. Then, after a few orienting announcements, I send students into Zoom break-out rooms where they ask and answer the questions: “What do you remember from our last class” and “What about our last class seemed important to you and your life?”

My sense—based on our immediate debriefing after the break-out rooms—is that some students are finding joy in their five-minute one-on-one Q & A time. However, recently I heard from a few students that they particularly dislike the Zoom break-out experience. This leads me to a conundrum (why are there so many conundrums?). Should I continue with the opening class break-out rooms, or should I find another pedagogical strategy? Please enlighten me on whether you think I should continue with the break-out rooms or find a suitable alternative.

Following the break-out rooms and debriefing, I (sometimes accompanied by Rita), launch into lecture content. We talked about spirituality for three class meetings, and have also hit gratitude, kindness, cognitive methods for dealing with pesky negative thoughts, and much more. In order to not completely bore anyone, I shift in and out of the powerpoint slides, inserting side commentaries, forcing students to imagine their part of research studies, and facilitating experiential activities. My favorite two activities (so far) were having students engage in an on-camera Gestalt two-chair with themselves (the visuals were hilarious) . . . and having everyone shout out the word “fail” over and over again for 60 seconds. The “fail” activity is based on research on deconstructing particular words so they lose their power over us, and begin just sounding like funny sounds. The best part of that activity was having students report back that when they yelled “fail” repeatedly into their computers, their roommates thought they were having serious existential meltdowns.

Class usually closes with a large group discussion, during which I’m humbled by the depth and breadth of student commentary. On occasion, I’ve pushed quieter students to comment, and in every case, they’ve delivered. I’d share some examples, but the student comments are theirs to share. Let me just say, on their behalf, it’s good to listen to students.

Class ends with a flurry of good-byes, as well as expressions of gratitude and affection.

Although I’m not completely certain students are feeling the joy, I can say with confidence that I am. I’m loving the experience and deeply appreciating how often my students are making the Zoom version of happiness class . . . magical.   

Learning to Work Effectively with Parents

In anticipation of my upcoming workshop, I’m posting this short excerpt from our book: How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.

Theory into Practice: The Three Attitudes in Action

In the following example, Cassandra is discussing her son’s “strong-willed” behaviors with a parenting professional.

Case: “Wanna Piece of Me?”

Cassandra: My son is so stubborn. Everything is fine one minute, but if I ask him to do something, he goes ballistic. And then I can’t get him to do anything.

Consultant: Some kids seem built to focus on getting what they want. It sounds like your boy is very strong-willed. [A simple initial reflection using common language is used to quickly formulate the problem in a way that empathically resonates with the parent’s experience.]

Cassandra: He’s way beyond strong-willed. The other day I asked him to go upstairs and clean his room and he said “No!” [The mom wants the consultant to know that her son is not your ordinary strong-willed boy.]

Consultant: He just refused? What happened then? [The consultant shows appropriate interest and curiosity, which honors the parent’s perspective and helps build the collaborative relationship.]

Cassandra: I asked him again and then, while standing at the bottom of the stairs, he put his hands on his hips and yelled, “I said no! You wanna piece of me??!”

Consultant: Wow. You’re right. He is in the advanced class on how to be strong-willed. What did you do next? [The consultant accepts and validates the parent’s perception of having an exceptionally strong-willed child and continues with collaborative curiosity.]

Cassandra: I carried him upstairs and spanked his butt because, at that point, I did want a piece of him! [Mom discloses becoming angry and acting on her anger.]

Consultant: It’s funny how often when our kids challenge our authority so directly, like your son did, it really does make us want a piece of them. [The consultant is universalizing, validating, and accepting the mom’s anger as normal, but does not use the word anger.]

Cassandra: It sure gets me! [Mom acknowledges that her son can really get to her, but there’s still no mention of anger.]

Consultant: I know my next question is a cliché counseling question, but I can’t help but wonder how you feel about what happened in that situation. [This is a gentle and self-effacing effort to have the parent focus on herself and perhaps reflect on her behavior.]

Cassandra: I believe he got what he deserved. [Mom does not explore her feelings or question her behavior, but instead, shows a defensive side; this suggests the consultant may have been premature in trying to get the mom to critique her own behavior.]

Consultant: It sounds like you were pretty mad. You were thinking something like, “He’s being defiant and so I’m giving him what he deserves.” [The consultant provides a corrective empathic response and uses radical acceptance; there is no effort to judge or question whether the son “deserved” physical punishment, which might be a good question, but would be premature and would likely close down exploration; the consultant also uses the personal pronoun I when reflecting the mom’s perspective, which is an example of the Rogerian technique of “walking within.”]

Cassandra: Yes, I did. But I’m also here because I need to find other ways of dealing with him. I can’t keep hauling him up the stairs and spanking him forever. It’s unacceptable for him to be disrespectful to me, but I need other options. [Mom responds to radical acceptance and empathy by opening up and expressing her interest in exploring alternatives; Miller and Rollnick (2002) might classify the therapist’s strategy as a “coming alongside” response.]

Consultant: That’s a great reason for you to be here. Of course, he shouldn’t be disrespectful to you. You don’t deserve that. But I hear you saying that you want options beyond spanking and that’s exactly one of the things we can talk about today. [The consultant accepts and validates the mom’s perspective—both her reason for seeking a consultation and the fact that she doesn’t deserve disrespect; resonating with parents about their hurt over being disrespected can be very powerful.]

Cassandra: Thank you. It feels good to talk about this, but I do need other ideas for how to handle my wonderful little monster. [Mom expresses appreciation for the validation and continues to show interest in change.]

As noted previously, parents who come for professional help are often very ambivalent about their parenting behaviors. Although they feel insecure and want to do a better job, if parenting consultants  are initially judgmental, parents can quickly become defensive and may sometimes make rather absurd declarations like, “This is a free country! I can parent any way I want!”

In Cassandra’s case, she needed to establish her right to be respected by her child (or at least not disrespected). Consequently, until the consultant demonstrated respect or unconditional positive regard or radical acceptance for Cassandra in the session, collaboration could not begin.

Another underlying principle in this example is that premature educational interventions can carry an inherently judgmental message. They convey, “I see you’re doing something wrong and, as an authority, I know what you should do instead.” Providing an educational intervention too early with parents violates the attitudes of empathy, radical acceptance, and collaboration. Even though parents usually say that educational information is exactly what they want, unless they first receive empathy and acceptance and perceive an attitude of collaboration, they will often resist the educational message.

To summarize, in Cassandra’s case, theory translates into practice in the following ways:

  • Nonjudgmental listening and empathy increase parent openness and parent–clinician collaboration.
  • Radical acceptance of undesirable parenting behaviors or attitudes strengthens the working relationship.
  • Premature efforts to provide educational information violate the core attitudes of empathy, radical acceptance, and collaboration and therefore are likely to increase defensiveness.
  • Without an adequate collaborative relationship built on empathy and acceptance, direct educational interventions with parents will be less effective.

Want to learn more? You can still sign up for the online (Zoom) 2-day professional workshop through the Families First Learning Lab: https://www.familiesfirstmt.org/umworkshops.html