Tag Archives: theories

Can Male Therapists Do Feminist Therapy with Male Clients? You Decide — A Feminist Case Example

Fishing Big Davis

The 3rd edition of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice will be available very soon. Just in case you’re longing to see the cover as much as I am, there’s a link to the new edition on Amazon. Although I’m betting your longing is much smaller than my longing, here’s the link anyway: https://www.amazon.com/Counseling-Psychotherapy-Theories-Context-Practice/dp/1119279127/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

To celebrate this forthcoming epic publication (it’s not really epic, but some days it felt like a long poem), I’m posting a case presentation from the feminist chapter. Honestly, I don’t know who gets to decide what’s epic or what’s feminist therapy. That being the case, you can decide on both points. Or you can decide you’ve had enough of JSF for today.

Here we go.

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In an interesting twist, we’re featuring a case with a male therapist and male client in the feminist chapter to illustrate how working within a feminist model can work for boys and men. This case focuses on a 16-year-old male’s struggle with emotional expression. John SF is the therapist.

Josh was a White, 16-year-old heterosexual sophomore in high school. He had never met his biological father and lived in a middle-class neighborhood with his mother and three younger sisters. His mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Josh’s main loves were consistent with his gender identity. They included basketball, cars, girls, and sarcasm. He very much disliked school.

Josh and I met for therapy for several years. At the beginning of one of our sessions Josh handed me a packet of photos.

“Hey, what’s this about?” I asked.

He responded with a half-mumble about a recent awards ceremony. I thought I discerned pride in that mumble. I looked through the pictures while he told me about each one. There was one in particular that he gently lifted from my hands. It was a picture of him in a line-up with five other people. He carefully pointed out that he was standing next to the Lieutenant Governor of Oregon. I teased him because there were no pictures of him and the actual governor.

“What’s the deal?” I asked. “Wouldn’t the Guv pose with you?” Josh rolled his eyes and signaled for me to move on to the next photo.

The Problem List and Problem Formulation

Unlike CBT, feminist therapy doesn’t involve collaboratively generating a concrete problem list and formulating problems as if the problems resided in the client. Instead, because problems and problem-formulation are inseparable, we can’t talk about the problems without also talking about cultural factors creating and contributing to the problems.

If client issues are discussed as problems, they’re likely discussed as situational challenges. In Josh’s case, his mother initially had brought him to therapy for anger management. Anger was consistently a regular focus in Josh’s therapy. Like many 16-year-old boys immersed in the dominant U.S. culture, Josh’s emotional life was highly constricted. He was living by Pollack’s boy code (2000) and unable or unwilling to risk feeling anything other than anger and irritation. From the feminist worldview, this wasn’t Josh’s problem; his issues around anger stemmed from him living in a culture that kept him in an emotional straitjacket.

Josh’s issues (and case formulation from a feminist perspective) looked like this:

  1. Learning to deal more effectively with sadness, grief, and anger within the context of a repressive emotional environment.
  2. Coming to an understanding that his beliefs and views of emotional expression were not in his best interest, but instead, foisted upon him by toxic cultural attitudes about how boys and men should experience and express emotion.
  3. Developing trust and confidence in himself—despite not having a father figure or a mother who could provide him and his sisters with a consistently safe and stable home environment.
  4. Learning to talk about what he really feels inside and pursue his life passions whatever they might be instead of reflexively pursuing culturally “manly” activities.
  5. Expanding Josh’s limited emotional vocabulary through consciousness-raising.

Interventions

Feminist therapists are technically eclectic; they use a wide range of interventions imbedded in an egalitarian and mutually empathic relationship:

  1. Encouraging Josh to speak freely and openly about his life experiences.
  2. Empathic listening with intermittent focusing on more tender emotions, depending on how much of this Josh was willing or able to tolerate.
  3. Therapist self-disclosure and modeling.

As Josh and I looked at photos together, I responded with interest and enthusiasm. Because interpersonal connection is a core part of therapy, I didn’t rush him to move on to our therapy agenda. Instead, I shifted back and forth between saying, “Cool” or “What’s going on there?” to making sarcastic wisecracks like “Why exactly did the government let you into the capital building?” Sarcasm was used to express interest and affection indirectly, mirroring Josh’s humor and style. After seeing most of the photos I asked, “Who’s the person standing next to you?” I could tell from his response that I had asked a good question.

“Oh, yeah, her. Her name is Sharice; her mentor was getting the same award as my mentor. I danced with her. She’s a good dancer.”

We talked about dancing and what it was like for him to feel attracted to her. We were ten minutes into therapy and both of us had completely ignored the fact that we hadn’t been able to see each other for five weeks. Finally, I decided to break the avoidance pattern. I asked “So…how are you doing with all that’s been going on?”

He looked toward me, glancing downward.

“I’m doing okay, I guess.”

Because this was a young man who had been socialized to keep his emotions tightly wrapped, I probed, but gently.

“I understand it’s been pretty wild times?”

He looked up, eyes fixed on some invisible spot on the ceiling. I recognized this strategy—a surefire way avoid crying in public. An upward gaze constricts the tear ducts; tears cannot flow.

He looked back down and said, “I’ve been busy. My mom’s been in the hospital for about a month.”

“I heard she had a pretty hard time.”

He grunted and then, in a quiet growly voice, the words, “Let-me-tell-you-about-it” seeped out from behind his teeth. Silence followed. I cautiously probed a bit more by sharing more of what I knew.

“I talked with your mom yesterday. She told me that she got pretty caught up in some housing project.” This statement lit a fire in Josh and he plunged into the story.

“You won’t believe what she did. It was so f*ing stupid. Some punk developer is gonna build three houses. Three houses at the end of our street. This is no big deal. She just f*ing freaked out. She chained herself up to a tractor to stop them from building a house. Then she called the f*ing senator and road department and I don’t know who in hell else she called. She was totally nuts. So I told her she had a choice. I told her that she could go back home or I’d call the police and have her committed. She wasn’t taking care of my sisters. She was being a shit for a mom. So I just gave her a choice.”

I nodded and said, “You must be practicing to be a parent. That’s the kind of choice parents give their kids.”

His voice grew louder: “I gave her the choice five times. Five f*ing times! She tried to buy a Mercedes and a Volvo over the phone. So I called the cops. And the woman asked ME what to do. I’m f***ing 16 years old and they f *ing ask me what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I told ‘em to come get her. They finally sent some really big cops over to take her away.”

“Then what happened?”

“My mom was still acting nuts and my sisters were crying. So I just picked them up and held them and they took her away. We sat and they cried and we snuggled a while. And then I drove us home. I don’t have my license, but I can drive. My mom is still pissed at me about that, but I don’t give a shit!”

While listening to Josh, I formed an image of him in my mind. I saw an awkward 16-year-old boy “snuggling” his sobbing sisters, as the cops take their mother away. The girls were 9 and 6 and 4 years old—the same sisters he had complained about in previous therapy sessions.

Talking with teenage boys about emotional issues is tricky. Too much empathy and they retreat. No empathy and you’re teaching the wrong lesson. Throughout Josh’s storytelling, I used sarcasm, empathy, and emotional exploration, like, “What was that like for you to gather up your sisters and take care of them?” I suspected that if I asked too much about feelings or forced him to go too deep too fast, I would lose my “coolness rating” and there would be a relationship rupture.

Much of the session focused on empathy for Josh’s anger. Josh ranted and I listened. He was immensely angry and disappointed and hurt about his mother’s behavior. But I wanted to find a way to let Josh know that it’s okay, even a positive thing, for boys and men to feel and express more tender feelings.

About halfway through our session, I asked:

“So Josh,” I said, “When was the last time you cried?”

After a short pause he spoke with extreme deliberation, “I… don’t… cry… I… just… get… pissed.”

Josh expressed this masculine emotional principle very efficiently and then offered more about his socially coerced, but internalized emotional philosophy.

“Crying doesn’t do any good. It doesn’t change anything. It’s just stupid.”

“I know, I know” I said. “The whole idea of crying sounds pretty stupid to you. It’s not like crying will change your mom and make her better.”

“Nothing will ever change her.”

I renewed my pursuit of when he last cried. He insisted that was so long ago that he couldn’t recall, but we both knew that several years ago, after an especially hard week with his mother, he had sat on my couch and sobbed himself to sleep. Instead of bringing that up, I asked him what might make him cry now. Would he cry if his girlfriend broke up with him… if he lost his cell phone… if one of his sisters got cancer… if he didn’t graduate high school? Josh fended off my questions about tears by repeating his resolve to get “pissed” about everything that might make him feel sad. But the question about one of his sister’s getting cancer stumped him. He admitted, “Yeah, I might cry about that…” while quickly adding, “…but I’d do it alone!”

I responded, “Right. Absolutely. Some things might be worth crying about… even though it wouldn’t change things… but you’d want to do the crying alone.”

We talked indirectly and intellectually about sadness and tears, trying to model that we can talk about it—once removed—and if he cried someday, it would be perfectly okay, there would be no need to feel ashamed.

Toward the end of the session, I decided to lighten things up by teasing Josh about his social insensitivity. I said, “I can’t believe that we’ve talked this whole hour and you never asked a single thing about me.”

Josh grinned. He knew therapy was all about him and not about me. He probably thought I was playing some sort of therapy game with him. He was a good sport and played along.

“Okay. So what am I supposed to ask?”

I acted offended, saying, “After all those questions I asked you, at least you should ask me when I last cried.”

“God you don’t know when to drop things. Okay. So when did you cry?”

I said, “I think it was yesterday.”

Our eyes met. He looked surprised. I continued, “Yeah. I feel sad sometimes. It can be about really hard stories I hear in here or it can be about my own life. Even though it doesn’t change anything, it can feel better to let my sadness out.”

It was time for the session to end. We both stood and I said, “We have to stop for today, but we can talk more about this or whatever you want to talk about next time.”

 

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Existential Spirituality

Bikes Snow 2

An impromtu word search of the existential theory chapter for the 3rd edition of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice revealed 17 appearances of the word “spirituality.” That’s nice. Seventeen is a prime number. Seventeen is also one of my favorite spiritual numbers. Back in 2nd grade in Sunday school in a synagogue in Portland, my teacher asked us to guess a number from 1 to 20. The winner had the honor of taking a special Bible story book home for the week. My guess was a perfect 17. I got the book for the week. Obviously, the number 17 is a spiritual force in my life.

More important is the sublime integration of spirituality into existential theory. Or not. It seems to go one way or another. Either existential theorists are deeply spiritual/religious or they’re atheist/agnostic. There is no middle ground. Or maybe there is? [More on this conundrum below]

What follows are several short excerpts from the Existential Theory chapter. These excerpts culminate with the short section on Existential Spirituality.

Soren Kierkegaard

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) lived nearly his entire life in Copenhagen. Kierkegaard was devoutly religious. He was shaken when he discovered, at age 22, that his father had not only cursed God, but also seduced his mother prior to marriage. Subsequently, Kierkegaard’s writings focused primarily on religious faith and the meaning of Christianity. Eventually he concluded that religious faith was irrational and attainable only via a subjective experiential “leap of faith.” For Kierkegaard, virtuous traits such as responsibility, honesty, and commitment are subjective choices—often in response to a subjective religious conversion. Kierkegaard did not describe himself as an existentialist, but his work is a precursor to the existential philosophical movement, which formally began some 70 years following his death.

Friedrich Nietzsche

In contrast to Kierkegaard who began from a position of religious faith, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) had negative feelings about Christianity. It was he who, in his book Thus Spake Zarathustra, wrote, “God is dead.” Although he may have been referring to societal emptiness, he also claimed that religion used fear and resentment to pressure individuals into moral behavior. Instead of following a religion, he believed, individuals should channel their passions into creative, joyful activities. Irvin Yalom offers a fascinating view of Nietzsche’s psychological suffering in a historical fiction piece titled When Nietzsche Wept. In this novel, Yalom (1992) weaves existential principles into a fictional therapeutic encounter between Breuer, Freud, and Nietzsche.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche represent an interesting paradox or dialectic in existential thinking. A dialectic is a process where learning is stimulated from the integration of opposites. On the one hand, some existentialists embrace deep religious faith, whereas others are staunchly atheistic. Still others claim an agnostic middle ground. These differences in fundamental beliefs represent a wide sweep of human intellectual diversity and provide for fascinating philosophical exploration. You will glimpse existential dialectics intermittently in this chapter.

Four Existential Ways of Being

There are four primary existential ways of being-in-the-world. They include:

  1. Umwelt: Being-with-nature or the physical world.
  2. Mitwelt: Being-with-others or the social world.
  3. Eigenwelt: Being-with-oneself or the world of the self.
  4. Uberwelt: Being-with-the-spiritual or over world.

Boss (1963), Binswanger (1963), and May et al. (1958) described the first three of these existential ways of being. van Deurzen (1988) added the fourth.

These dimensions of existence are ubiquitous and simultaneous. Some people focus more on one dimension than others or shift from one to another depending on particular intentions or situations. For example, while on a hike up the Stillwater gorge in Montana, it’s easy to experience being-with-nature as water powerfully cascades around you. However, depending on other factors, this experience can take people inward toward eigenwelt, toward an uberwelt spiritual experience, or stimulate a deep mitwelt (albeit a nonverbal one). In most cases, the direction your being-ness moves within a given situation is likely a combination of several factors, such as: awareness, anxiety, previous experiences, intention, and/or your spiritual predisposition.

The Daimonic

According to Rollo May, “The daimonic is any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person” (1969, p. 123). Historically, Daimon possession was used to explain psychotic episodes and is popularly referred to as demonic possession. However, May repeatedly emphasized that daimonic and demonic are not the same concept: “I never use the word demonic, except to say that this is not what I mean” (May, 1982, p. 11).

The daimonic is an elemental force, energy, or urge residing within all persons that functions as the source of constructive and destructive impulses. May wrote, “The daimonic is the urge in every being to affirm itself, assert itself, perpetuate and increase itself .… [The reverse side] of the same affirmation is what empowers our creativity” (May, 1969, p. 123).

Similar to C. G. Jung, May considered harnessing and integrating the daimonic as a central psychotherapy task. He viewed psychotherapy as an activity that plumbs the depths of an individual’s most basic impulses … the purpose of which is to acknowledge, embrace, and integrate every bit of being and energy into the whole person. May commented specifically about the danger of leaving the daimonic unintegrated:

If the daimonic urge is integrated into the personality (which is, to my mind, the purpose of psychotherapy) it results in creativity, that is, it is constructive. If the daimonic is not integrated, it can take over the total personality, as it does in violent rage or collective paranoia in time of war or compulsive sex or oppressive behavior. Destructive activity is then the result. (May, 1982, p. 11)

The goal is to integrate natural daimonic urges and energies in ways that maximize constructive and creative behavior.

Existential Spirituality

A spiritual-oriented client was engaging in guided imagery with an existential therapist. The client “discovered” a locked door in the basement of his “self.”

“What’s behind the door?” the therapist asked.

“It’s darkness,” he said. With shivers of fear, he added, “There’s dread. It’s the dread of being unacceptable. . . of being unacceptable to God. Even worse, it’s my dread of being unforgiveable.”

“Shall we go in?” asked the therapist.

Silence followed.

The therapist noticed his client’s reluctance and said, “Let’s wait a moment and breathe. I’m wondering if you can even get in the door. I’m wondering if you want to get in. There’s no rush. We know where the door is. We can wait. Or we can create a key and try to get in. Or we can leave the door shut. But first let’s wait here and breathe before deciding anything.”

For two minutes, client and therapist sat breathing together. The paralyzing fear diminished and the client said, “I have a key. Let’s look inside.”

“Yes. Let’s look inside.”

The key opened the lock. The door creaked open. In the dreaded darkness, there was light. A dialogue with the dread and unforgiveable ensued and the client found a broad sense of love and acceptance. There were tears of relief. His spiritual load was lightened. His basement demons were exorcised.

In this chapter we’ve discussed the deep and profound quality of existential psychotherapy. Schneider (2010) called it the “Rediscovery of Awe.” Frankl and Wong referred to it as the pursuit of meaning. In existential therapy, meaning and awe are individualized, as is spirituality. There’s great potential in combining the existential and the spiritual in psychotherapy, but clients should be forewarned and informed: combining the spiritual and existential isn’t about formulaic or surface explanations; it requires a commitment to go deep and explore doubts, uncertainties, and core vulnerabilities.

Here’s a link to the new Theories 3rd edition cover: https://www.amazon.com/Counseling-Psychotherapy-Theories-Context-Practice/dp/1119279127/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Constructivism vs. Social Constructionism: What’s the Difference?

This is an excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 11 of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice (2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2012). Despite the heavily intellectual content, I hope you’ll get the joke at the end.

Without question, the best way to begin a chapter on constructive theory and therapy is with a story.

Once upon a time a man and a woman met in the forest. Both being academic philosophers well-steeped in epistemology, they approached each another warily. The woman spoke first, asking, “Can you see me?”

The man responded quickly: “I don’t know,” he said. “I have a plethora of neurons firing back in my occipital lobe and, yes, I perceive an image of a woman and I can see your mouth was moving precisely as I was experiencing auditory input. Therefore, although I’m not completely certain you exist out there in reality—and I’m not completely certain there even is a reality—I can say without a doubt that you exist . . . at least within the physiology of my mind.”

Silence followed.

Then, the man spoke again,

“Can you hear me?” he asked.

This time the woman responded immediately. “I’m not completely certain about the nature of hearing and the auditory process, but I can say that in this lived moment of my experience I’m in a conversation with you and because my knowledge and my reality is based on interactive discourse, whether you really exist or not is less important than the fact that I find myself, in this moment, discovering more about myself, the nature of the world, and my knowledge of all things.”

There are two main branches of constructive theory. These branches are similar in that both perspectives hold firmly to the postmodern idea that knowledge and reality is subjective. Constructivists, as represented by the man in the forest, believe knowledge and reality are constructed within individuals. In contrast, social constructionists, as represented by the woman in the forest, believe knowledge and reality are constructed through discourse or conversation. Constructivists focus on what’s happening within the minds or brains of individuals; social constructionists focus on what’s happening between people as they join together to create realities.

Guterman (2006) described these two perspectives:

Although both constructivism and social constructionism endorse a subjectivist view of knowledge, the former emphasizes individuals’ biological and cognitive processes, whereas the latter places knowledge in the domain of social interchange. (p. 13)

In this chapter, we de-emphasize distinctions between constructivist and social constructionist perspectives. Mostly, we lump them together as constructive theories and therapies and emphasize the fascinating intervention strategies developed within these paradigms. This might be upsetting to staunch constructivists or radical social constructionists, but we take this risk with full confidence in our personal safety. That’s because most constructive types are nonviolent thinkers who very much like talking and writing. Consequently, within our socially or individually constructed realities we’ve concluded that we’re in no danger of harm from disgruntled constructive theorists or therapists.

Supplementary Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories Readings

Over the past four years I’ve written over 40 blog posts linked to teaching and learning the theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. While procrastinating on another project, I decided to organize these blog posts by topic. If you follow the links below, they’ll take you to blog posts relevant to specific theories. Included in some of these are a few links to short (and free) theories-based video examples. If you teach a theories course, you could select some of these links to assign students outside readings or you could peruse them yourself to stimulate a few lecture ideas.

Please note that if you use our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice textbook, there’s a bit of redundancy with the textbook’s content. However, if you don’t use the text, the material will be new to you and your students.

Chapter 1 – Opening and Overview

A Plan for Maximizing Positive Counseling and Psychotherapy Outcomes: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/09/07/a-plan-for-maximizing-positive-counseling-and-psychotherapy-outcomes/

Teaching Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories: Reflections on Week 1: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/08/29/teaching-counseling-and-psychotherapy-theories-reflections-on-week-1/

Reformulating Clinical Depression: The Social-Psycho-Bio Model: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2013/09/03/reformulating-clinical-depression-the-social-psycho-bio-model/

Chapter 2 – Psychoanalytic Approaches

Attachment-Informed Psychotherapy: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/08/12/attachment-informed-psychotherapy/

Chapter 3 – Adlerian Approaches: Individual Psychology

The Three-Step Emotional Change Trick: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/09/23/the-three-step-emotional-change-trick/

A Parenting Homework Assignment on Natural and Logical Consequences: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2011/11/30/a-parenting-homework-assignment-on-natural-and-logical-consequences/

More Than Praise — Other Ways Parents Can Be Positive With Their Children: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/08/16/more-than-praise-other-ways-parents-can-be-positive-with-their-children/

Chapter 4 – Existential Approaches

Reflections on Listening to Irvin Yalom at the ACA Conference: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/03/25/reflections-on-listening-to-irvin-yalom-at-the-aca-conference/

A Short Existential Case Example from Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories . . .: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/08/25/a-short-existential-case-example-from-counseling-and-psychotherapy-theories/

Chapter 5 – Person-Centered Approaches

Reflections on Magic: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2011/11/28/reflections-on-magic/

Listening as Meditation on Psychotherapy.net: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/02/25/listening-as-meditation-on-psychotherapy-net/

An Interview with Natalie Rogers (Daughter of Carl Rogers) about Person-Centered Therapy: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/08/04/an-interview-with-natalie-rogers-daughter-of-carl-rogers-about-person-centered-therapy/

Why Therapists Should Never Say, “I know how you feel”: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2013/05/30/why-therapists-should-never-say-i-know-how-you-feel/

Carl Rogers and Brain-Science do an Empathy Smackdown in Chapter 3: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/07/09/carl-rogers-and-brain-science-do-an-empathy-smackdown-in-chapter-3/

Chapter 6 – Gestalt Approaches

Go Go Gestalt: The Theories Video Shoot, Part I: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/04/24/go-go-gestalt-the-theories-video-shoot-part-i-2/

Chapter 7 – Behavioral Approaches

A Black Friday Tribute to Mary Cover Jones and her Evidence-Based Cookies: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2011/11/25/a-black-friday-tribute-to-mary-cover-jones-and-her-evidence-based-cookies/

Behavioral Activation Therapy: Let’s Just Skip the Cognitions: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/06/30/behavioral-activation-therapy-lets-just-skip-the-cognitions/

Imaginal or In Vivo Exposure and Desensitization: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/05/19/imaginal-or-in-vivo-exposure-and-desensitization-2/

A New Look at Time-Out for Kids and Parents: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/08/04/a-new-look-at-time-out-for-kids-and-parents/

Information on Using Time-Out — Part II: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/08/05/information-on-using-time-out-part-ii/

Talking with Parents about Positive Reinforcement: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/09/06/talking-with-parents-about-positive-reinforcement/

Backward Behavior Modification: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/12/02/backward-behavior-modification/

Chapter 8 – Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches

Positive Thinking is Not (Necessarily) Rational Thinking: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2011/12/06/positive-thinking-is-not-necessarily-rational-thinking/

How to Use the Six Column CBT Technique: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/02/18/how-to-use-the-six-column-cbt-technique/

A Quick Look at the Collaborative Cognitive Therapy Process: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/09/30/a-quick-look-at-the-collaborative-cognitive-therapy-process/

Tomorrow’s Election and Confirmation Bias: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/11/05/tomorrows-election-and-confirmation-bias/

Confirmation Bias on My Way to Spearfish, South Dakota: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/04/30/confirmation-bias-on-my-way-to-spearfish-south-dakota/

Chapter 9 – Choice Theory and Reality Therapy

The Seven Magic Words for Parents: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/12/23/the-seven-magic-words-for-parents/

Give Information and then Back-Off: A Choice Theory Parenting Assignment: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/07/09/give-information-and-then-back-off-a-choice-theory-parenting-assignment/

How Parents Can Use Problem-Solving Power: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/10/23/how-parents-can-use-problem-solving-power/

Chapter 10 – Feminist Approaches

Opening Thoughts on Feminism: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/04/03/opening-thoughts-on-feminism-3/

The Girl Code by Ashley Marallo: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/12/03/the-girl-code-by-ashley-marallo/

A Guest Essay on the Girl Code and Feminism: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/12/07/a-guest-essay-on-the-girl-code-and-feminism/

Feminist Culture in Music: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2013/11/18/feminist-culture-in-music/

Chapter 11 – Constructive (Solution-Based and Narrative) Approaches

Is Solution-Focused Therapy as Powerfully Effective as Solution-Focused Therapists Would Have Us Believe?: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/07/01/is-solution-focused-therapy-as-powerfully-effective-as-solution-focused-therapists-would-have-us-believe-2/

Secrets of the Miracle Question: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/03/04/secrets-of-the-miracle-question/

The Love Reframe: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2013/04/07/the-love-reframe/

Chapter 12 – Family Systems Approaches

None posted on this topic. Obviously, I need help here.

Chapter 13 – Multicultural Approaches

Four Good Ideas about Multicultural Counseling and Psychotherapy—In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/01/16/four-good-ideas-about-multicultural-counseling-and-psychotherapy-in-honor-of-martin-luther-king-jr/

Good Ideas about Multicultural Counseling and Psychotherapy – Part II: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/01/22/good-ideas-about-multicultural-counseling-and-psychotherapy-part-ii/

Cultural Adaptations in the DSM-5: Insert Foot in Mouth Here: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/07/08/cultural-adaptations-in-the-dsm-5-insert-foot-in-mouth-here/

Psychic Communications . . . and Cultural Differences in Mental Status: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2013/01/02/psychic-communications-and-cultural-differences-in-mental-status/

A White Male Psychologist Reflects on White Privilege: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/09/14/a-white-male-psychologist-reflects-on-white-privilege/

Chapter 14 – Integrative Approaches

None on this chapter either.

Teaching Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories: Reflections on Week 1

Teaching Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories – Week 1

This past Monday evening in Missoula, Montana I met with my 80+ counseling and psychotherapy theories students for our first 3-hour class of the semester. Some student might have thought they’d get out early on the first day of the semester . . . but such was not the case. We had a nice evening together (my opinion). Although it was smoky outside (too many forest fires nearby) in the classroom the air was clear and the thinking sharp. Every year it feels humbling when I meet a new group of students in the fall and recognize their dedication and intelligence, not to mention the compassion for and interest in helping others that’s an intrinsic requirement of taking a class that’s all about counseling and psychotherapy theories and practice.

This group was especially generous – laughing heartily at my stories and gently confronting me when I misspoke and suggested I might spontaneously lie to protect my client’s confidentiality. One of my favorite moments was when, as we were talking about strategies for protecting client confidentiality in a public situation where someone might ask, “How do you know ______?” Several students shared excellent strategies (far better than my ‘spontaneous lying’ idea). One in particular said, “I just don’t respond to the question and make some comment like ‘Oh yeah, you know she’s really good at soccer’ and then hardly anyone follows that up by asking me how I know that person a second time.” Somewhat surprisingly, I was able to use that particular line several times later in class whenever students asked me questions I couldn’t answer. You should try it. Here’s how it works: Somebody asks you something you can’t or don’t want to answer, just say, “Hey, you know she’s really good at soccer.” It’s pretty much guaranteed you won’t have to answer the question.

As a method of providing a little extra intellectual stimulation, below I’m including two activities that go along with the content of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice. Have fun and good luck in your personal quest for better understanding of yourself and others . . . a particular quest that never really ends.

Activity 1: Creating and Testing Personal Hypotheses

One of our graduate students told us his “personal theory” of why some people become good cooks and other people develop poor cooking skills. He said:

I’m a bad cook because my mom was a good cook. I never had any reason to learn to cook because my mom did it all for us. But my girlfriend is a really good cook. I think that’s because her mom was a bad cook and so she had more reason to learn to cook for herself.

Although you can probably see a number of flaws with the reasoning underlying this “theory,” most of us carry these sorts of ideas around with us all the time. Let’s briefly analyze and test our student’s theory and then move on to identifying some of yours.

First, we should ask: Is this student’s statement really a theory? The answer is “No.” The reason this isn’t a theory is because it’s too narrow and not very elaborate. Theories don’t just predict behavior, they also provide detailed explanations for why particular behaviors occur.

As described in the text, a theory involves a gathering together and organizing of knowledge about a particular object or phenomenon. Also, theories are used to generate hypotheses about human thinking, emotions, and behavior.  Although our student has developed an interesting hypothesis about one factor that contributed to why he and his girlfriend have poor and good cooking skills, he really doesn’t have an overarching theory for generating the hypothesis . . . but he could develop one. Perhaps his bigger theory is about how individuals compensate for their caregivers strengths and weaknesses. He would need to work on describing, explaining, and predicting how this process works, but his idea has potential.

Theorists work both deductively (from the theory to the hypothesis) and inductively (from the specific hypothesis or observation to the bigger theory). Our student appears to be operating inductively. He observed himself and he observed his girlfriend and he developed an interesting hypothesis.

It’s possible and reasonable for people to systematically test their personal theories or hypotheses. Most likely, if we asked our student to test his hypothesis, he would do so in a biased way. He would likely notice when his hypothesis is true and ignore or completely overlook evidence opposing his hypothesis. Social psychology has shown that humans just seem to operate that way . . . we look for evidence to support our ideas and ignore evidence that contradicts our ideas (see Snyder & Swann, 1978).

With all this in mind, take a few minutes to write down some of your personal hypotheses about human behavior. Pick anything that you tend to think is true about humans (e.g., women have greater pain tolerance than men; individuals from larger families have better social skills; pet owners have trouble relating to people) and describe it below.

Hypothesis 1:

 

Hypothesis 2:

 

Hypothesis 3:

 

After you’ve established a few hypotheses, think about whether they might fit together into an overarching theory—or are they just a few random and unconnected ideas about human behavior? Then, either way, think about how you might test the validity of your hypotheses. Also, think about how you could or would avoid being systematically biased toward validating your own hypotheses?

Activity #2: A Psychological Assessment Critique

Years ago, Rita had a cartoon on her office door that had two guys in their scientific lab coats in conversation. One of the guys was asking the other one something like: “Would you like me to come up with evidence to destroy this scientific argument or evidence to support it?”

The big point of the cartoon is that even science is subjective. Because science is subjective, it’s important to be able to criticize research in general and or own research in particular. For this activity, we’d like you to list five shortcomings or problems with measuring counseling and psychotherapy outcomes. For example, let’s pretend you’ve just conducted 10 sessions of therapy with a client. You’re interested in measuring your effectiveness and so you had your client complete a self-report questionnaire on depression at the beginning and again at the end of the therapy. Using a seven-point Likert scale, the client rated him/herself on 20 depression symptoms. If you used this scale or questionnaire, what might be the shortcomings or problems associated with this measurement system?

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

At the end of this blog I’ve listed what I think are five of the most common problems with self-report outcomes measures. When you’re finished listing your five ideas, check out and compare your five ideas with my five ideas.

What are the Most Common Measurement Problems when Using Self-Report Measures in Therapy Outcomes Studies?

John’s Answers

  1. How do we know participants are giving us honest feedback about their feelings, beliefs, and response to the intervention? (Sometimes people lie, other times they deceive themselves, other times they automatically or intentionally respond in a socially desirable manner).
  2. How do we know participants are motivated to answer surveys, questionnaires, or interview questions with due diligence? (This variability in participant motivation can translate into a hasty response set or compulsive over-reflection on each item). It also results in a less than 100% response rate when surveys are administered.
  3. How do we know if participants are capable of defining or understanding what’s helpful for them? (Respondents may not have clear ways to distinguish whether what they received was helpful or they may not understand the question or they may misinterpret the question; even if they can make internal, individual distinctions of what’s helpful, how can we know how that compares with another person’s internal and individual standard for helpfulness)?
  4. How can we ever know if one person’s rating of a “5” on a 1-7 Likert (pronounced lick-ert) is ever really equivalent to someone else’s rating of a “5”? (For example, one of us has an issue with ever giving anyone or anything a perfect “7” or worthless “1” when completing seven-point Likert-type questionnaires and so his (or her) responses may not be comparable to people who don’t have such issues).
  5. Given that mood is highly variable and yet powerfully influential, how can we be sure that we’re not measuring, at least in part, something related to the respondent’s current mood, instead of current attitude or anything close to a behavioral inclination?