Tag Archives: therapy

How to Use the Six Column CBT Technique

A Description of the Six Column CBT Technique

In contrast to popular belief, CBT requires counselors to be warm and compassionate. Also, the focus of CBT is on experiential psychoeducation. Aaron Beck emphasized collaborative empiricism. Never forget that term. Collaborative empiricism is the bedrock of good CBT. It emphasizes the process of counselors and clients working together to test the accuracy and usefulness of specific thoughts and behaviors. As a therapeutic process, collaborative empiricism is also central to Person-Centered and Motivational Interviewing approaches. Remember: We want the client to have a central role in determining the usefulness and dysfunctionality of his or her cognitions and behaviors.

The six column technique is simply a procedure that helps clients and counselors organize, explore, and discover how situations, thoughts/beliefs, emotions, behaviors, and emotional/interpersonal/psychological outcomes are inter-related. This is my own particular version of the six column technique. It’s derived from the work of Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis, Judith Beck, and other cognitive behavioral therapists. You can see a short clip of me using this technique at: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118402537.html

Here’s a description of the six columns:

Column #1: The Situation

BE THINKING ABOUT LINKING EMOTIONS TO SPECIFIC SITUATIONS

It may be that you’ll begin with whatever emotional distress the client is experiencing or reporting. Or you may begin with thoughts and beliefs that are clearly linked to specific client emotions and behaviors. Or you may begin with the situation or “trigger” for the cognitions and subsequent emotions.

Here’s an example of a situation as reported by a client:

“My in laws are staying in my home     .”

“They’re messy and lazy and I have to pick up after them”

Column #2: Automatic Thoughts and Automatic Behaviors

HELP CLIENTS SEE THAT AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS ARE OFTEN THE BRIDGE BETWEEN SITUATIONS AND EMOTIONS

Here are some examples of the automatic thoughts the clients thinks when she faces the previously described situation:

“They’re old enough to pick up after themselves.”

“Sometimes I stand in front of the television they’re watching to block their view as I pick their stuff up.”

Sometimes if “she” says she’ll do the dishes, I say, “No thanks. I want them to get done in the next two weeks.”

REMEMBER THAT AN EXPLORATION OF YOUR CLIENTS AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIORS OFTEN WILL SHED LIGHT ON DEEPER CORE BELIEFS ABOUT THE SELF, THE WORLD, AND THE FUTURE.

Column #3: Emotions and Sensations

SOMETIMES IT IS VERY NATURAL TO START HERE BECAUSE YOUR CLIENT’S EMOTIONS AND SENSATIONS MAY BE A WAY THAT THE MIND AND BODY ARE VOICING HIS OR HER DISTRESS (or you may find the best entry point into the six column technique is somewhere else)

Here are the ratings and descriptions the client provided for column #3:

Anger = 75 (on a 0-100 scale with 0 = totally mellow and 100 = explosive distress)

Discomfort = 75

EMOTIONS AND SENSATIONS MAY BE WHAT IS MOST TROUBLING TO CLIENTS AND THAT’S WHY THEY’RE TYPICALLY RE-EXAMINED IN COLUMN #6: NEW OUTCOMES

Column #4: Helpful Thoughts

HELPFUL THOUGHTS ARE ALSO SOMETIMES REFERRED TO AS “COOL THOUGHTS.” THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE WHEN WORKING WITH ANGER AND AGGRESSION BECAUSE COOL THOUGHTS HELP CALM OR COOL OFF THE ANGER AND REDUCE THE POTENTIAL FOR AGGRESSION.

Here are some thoughts that the client identified as helpful. Helpful thoughts are often seen as adaptive or more accurate or more “rational” (which is an Albert Ellis term).

“This is important for my husband.”

“I can see this as a challenge for me to become more direct and assertive.”

“They mean well.”

A WAY OF ASKING ABOUT HELPFUL THOUGHTS IS TO JUST ASK DIRECTLY: WHAT ARE SOME THOUGHTS OR BELIEFS THAT YOU THINK WOULD BE HELPFUL TO YOU IN THIS SITUATION? YOU MAY NEED TO HELP CLIENTS WITH THIS BY PROVIDING EXAMPLES . . . BUT NOT BY TELLING THEM WHAT THEY SHOULD THINK. ENCOURAGE THEM TO FIND THEIR OWN WORDS.

Column #5: Helpful Behaviors

SIMILAR TO THE PRECEDING COLUMN, WE CAN THINK OF BEHAVIORS AS “HOT” OR “COOL” BEHAVIORS. HOT BEHAVIORS MAKE THE SITUATION AND/OR EMOTIONS WORSE; COOL BEHAVIORS MAKE THE SITUATION AND/OR EMOTIONS BETTER.

Here are some behaviors the clients said she thought might be helpful:

“I could sit down and talk with them about picking up their messes at a regular time.”

“I could ask my husband to talk with them.”

“I could go to a Yoga class two nights a week.”

WHEN IT COMES TO BOTH HELPFUL THOUGHTS AND HELPFUL BEHAVIORS, IT’S USEFUL TO THINK OF THEM AS OCCURRING (A) BEFORE, (B) DURING, OR (c) AFTER THE SITUATION ARISES. SOME BEHAVIORS (E.G., GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP) HELP THE SITUATION AS A PROACTIVE OR PREVENTATIVE ACTION. OTHER BEHAVIORS (E.G., DEEP BREATHING) MAY BE CRUCIAL DURING THE SITUATION. STILL OTHER BEHAVIORS (E.G., VENTING TO A FRIEND OR PROVIDING SELF-REINFORCEMENT) MAY BE HELPFUL AFTER THE SITUATION IS OVER.

Column #6: New Outcomes

AFTER IMPLEMENTING THE HELPFUL COGNITIONS AND HELPFUL BEHAVIORS, IT’S A GOOD IDEA TO RE-EVALUATE THE CLIENT’S EMOTIONS AND SENSATIONS (OR DISTRESS).

In this case, the client provided the following ratings:

Anger = 40

Discomfort = 40

ONE OF THE GOALS OF CBT IS TO REDUCE DISTRESS AND REDUCE SYMPTOMS AND MAKE LIFE A LITTLE BETTER. YOU MAY NOT CREATE VAST IMPROVEMENTS, BUT IMPROVEMENTS ARE IMPROVEMENTS. THIS IS ALSO JUST THE BEGINNING OF CBT (OR WHATEVER APPROACH YOU’RE USING) BECAUSE THE WHOLE POINT IS THAT LIFE IS AN EXPERIMENT AND THAT WE COLLABORATIVELY AND INTERACTIVELY ARE HELPING CLIENTS TRY OUT NEW THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIORS THAT MAY (OR MAY NOT) LEAD TO IMPROVEMENT. AND IF THE IMPROVEMENT ISN’T OPTIMAL . . . THE CBT WAY IS TO GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING AND REWORK THE PROCESS TO SEE IF FURTHER IMPROVEMENTS CAN OCCUR.

CBT Tips

Here are a few tips on how to integrate CBT in your work.

Some counselors or mental health professionals resist using CBT and complain that it’s too sterile or too educational or not focused enough on feelings. Basically, I think this is a cop-out similar to CBT folks who say that person-centered therapy is ineffective. My belief (and I think it’s rational and so it must be (smiley face) is that when mental health professionals don’t understand how to implement a particular approach, they blame the approach rather than admitting their lack of knowledge or skill. Instead, I encourage you to try this six column CBT model, but use it with whatever other model you prefer. In other words, you can be a person-centered CBT person or an existential CBT person . . . especially if you just use this six column technique as a means for exploring and understanding different dimensions of your client’s personal experience.

Goal-setting is essential to counseling. From the CBT perspective, goal-setting is initiated by generating a problem list. However, your IR clients may not have a problem listJ. That’s why you may need to use your excellent active listening skills to help your clients focus in on a distressing emotion. Then you can begin with the distressing or disturbing emotion and build the six columns from there.

Good CBT involves adopting an experimental mindset (never forget collaborative empiricism). All you’re doing is helping your client look at his/her daily experiences and identify patterns. It helps to organize the client’s experience into Situation, Automatic Thoughts/Behaviors, Emotions and Sensations, Helpful (Cool) Thoughts, Helpful (Cool) Behaviors, and New Outcomes. You can explore these common dimensions of human experience collaboratively.

It’s very important to know and remember that giving behavioral assignments can be disastrous. This is part of why a good CBT counselor is better than a technician. If you’re brainstorming possible helpful behaviors, your client (and you) may zero in on a behavior that, if enacted, has a strong possibility of a negative outcome. New behaviors expose clients to risk. The risk may be worth it; but there also may be too much risk.

Avoid asking questions like: “Have you thought about talking directly to your in-laws?” This sort of question implies that your client should talk directly to the in-laws. It’s better to step back and brainstorm behavioral options with your client. Then, emphasize that behavioral goals must always be in the client’s control. Then, after your nice list of behavioral options has been generated, you can look at the different options and engage in “consequential thinking.” In other words, you ask your client to explore the possibilities of what is likely to happen if: “You (the client) directly confront the in-laws about their messy behaviors? “ (See sample six column worksheet).

There are many ways you can get to your client’s underlying core beliefs or cognitive dynamics. For example, you could ask: “What stops you from telling them to pick up after themselves?” The client might respond with a different emotion and new content (e.g., I’m afraid of getting into a conflict). You can pursue this further: “What is it about being in conflict makes it scary?” She might say, “I’m afraid my husband will side with them and leave me.” As a consequence, this conflict is viewed as something she needs to manage independently and gets at a deeper schema: “I must keep the peace and deal with everything or bad things (e.g., abandonment) will happen.” There are two problems with this: (a) If she overfunctions she feels angry and acts passive-aggressively; and (b) there may be truth to this schema/belief. This is why we can’t just push her into being assertive. We must always keep the corrective emotional experience rule in mind. New behavioral opportunities need to be free from the likelihood of re-traumatization.

January is an Excellent Month to Attend Workshops in Cincinnati

Just in case you’re planning to be in or around the Cincinnati area this weekend, the Greater Cincinnati Counseling Association (GCCA) is offering a day and a half of workshops starting on Friday afternoon, January 10 and two workshops with one of my favorite workshop presenters on Saturday, January 11. Here’s the info:

On Friday, January 10, there are two Ethics workshops to choose from:

2:00-5:15

School Counselor Ethics: Case

Discussions and Current Trends

Tanya Ficklin

Or

2:00-5:15

Ethical and Professional Issues:

Therapeutic Alliance Building and

Ethical Considerations When

Working with Children and

Families

Barbara Mahaffey

On Saturday, January 11, I’m doing two separate ½ day workshops:

Tough Kids, Cool Counseling

John Sommers-Flanagan

Saturday 8:45-12:00

Therapy with adolescents can be immensely frustrating or splendidly gratifying. The truth of this statement is so obvious that the supportive reference, at least according to many adolescents is, “Duh!” In this workshop participants will sharpen their therapy skills by viewing and discussing video clips from actual sessions and participating in live demonstrations. Over 20 specific cognitive, emotional, and constructive therapy techniques will be illustrated and/or demonstrated. Examples include acknowledging reality, informal assessment, the affect bridge, therapist spontaneity, early interpretations, asset flooding, externalizing language, and more. Countertransference and multicultural issues will be highlighted.

Suicide Assessment Interviewing

Saturday 1:00-4:15

John Sommers-Flanagan

Freud once said, “By words one person can make another blissfully happy or drive him to despair.” Ironically, traditional adolescent suicide assessment and intervention procedures overemphasize a pathology-based biomedical model that orients adolescents toward despair. In this workshop suicidal crises are reformulated as normal expressions of human suffering and a specific, positive, and practical approach to adolescent suicide assessment interviewing is described. This contemporary adolescent suicide assessment model has a constructive focus, addresses diversity issues, and integrates differential activation theory and Jobes’s approach to Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality. Specific suicide intervention procedures will be described and reformulated.

You can register for these workshops by phone by calling: 513-688-0092

 

Strategies for Working Effectively with Challenging Clients

Working with clients who are reluctant or resistant to counseling can be very challenging . . . unless you use skills to help minimize resistance and maximize cooperation. The following is adapted from Chapter 12: Challenging Clients and Demanding Situations of the forthcoming 5th edition of Clinical Interviewing. Remember, these skills have to come from a foundation of therapist genuineness.

Using Emotional Validation, Radical Acceptance, Reframing, and Genuine Feedback

Clients sometimes begin interviews with expressions of hostility, anger, or resentment. If this is handled well, these clients may eventually open up and cooperate. The key is to refrain from lecturing, scolding, or retaliating when clients express hostility. Speaking from the consultation-liaison psychiatry perspective, Knesper (2007) noted: “Chastising and blaming the difficult patient for misbehavior seems only to make matters worse” (p. 246).

Instead, empathy, emotional validation, and concession are more effective responses. We often coach graduate students on how to use concession when power struggles emerge, especially when they’re working with adolescent clients (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2007b). For example, if a young client opens a session with, “I’m not talking and you can’t make me,” we recommend responding with complete concession of power and control: “You’re absolutely right. I can’t make you talk, and I definitely can’t make you talk about anything you don’t want to talk about.” This statement validates the client’s need for power and control and concedes an initial victory in what the client might be viewing as a struggle for power.

Empathy and Emotional Validation

Empathic, emotionally validating statements are also important. If clients express anger at meeting with you, a reflection of feeling and/or feeling validation response can let them know you hear their emotional message loud and clear. In some cases, as in the following example, therapists might go beyond empathy and emotional validation and actually join clients with a parallel emotional response:

  • “Of course you feel angry about being here.”
  • “I don’t blame you for feeling pissed about having to see me.”
  • “I hear you saying you don’t trust me, which is totally normal. After all, I’m a stranger, and you shouldn’t trust me until you get to know me.”
  • “It pretty much sucks to have a judge require you to meet with me.”
  • “I know we’re being forced to meet, but we’re not being forced to have a bad time together.”

Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is a dialectical behavior therapy principle and technique based on person-centered theory (Linehan, 1993). It involves consciously accepting and actively welcoming any and all client comments—even odd, disturbing, or blatantly provocative comments (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2007a). For example, we’ve had experiences where clients begin their sessions with angry statements about the evils of psychology or counseling:

Opening Client Volley: I don’t need no stupid-ass counseling. I’m only here because my wife is forcing me. This counseling shit is worthless. It’s for pansy-ass wimps like you who need to sit around and talk rather than doing any real work.

Radical Acceptance Return: Wow. Thanks for being so honest about what you’re thinking. Lots of people really hate psychologists but they just sit here and pretend to cooperate. So I really appreciate you telling me exactly what you’re thinking.

Radical acceptance can be combined with reframing to communicate a deeper understanding about why clients have come for therapy. Our favorite version of this is the “Love reframe” (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Barr, 2005).

Client: This is total bullshit. I don’t need counseling. The judge required this. Otherwise, I can’t see my daughter for unsupervised visitation. So let’s just get this over with.

Therapist: I hear you saying this is bullshit. You must really love your daughter . . . to come here even when you think it’s a worthless waste of your time.

Client: (Softening) Yeah. I do love my daughter.

The magic of the love reframe is that clients nearly always agree with the positive observation about loving someone, which turns the interview toward a more pleasant focus.

Genuine Feedback

Often, when working with angry or hostile clients, there’s no better approach than reflecting and validating feelings . . . pausing . . . and then following with honest feedback and a solution-focused question.

“I hear you saying you hate the idea of talking with me, and I don’t blame you for that. I’d hate to be forced to talk to a stranger about my personal life too. But can I be honest with you for a minute? [Client nods in assent]. You know, you’re in legal trouble. I’d like to try to be helpful—even just a little. We’re stuck meeting together. We can either sit and stare at each other and have a miserable hour or we can talk about how you might dig yourself out of this legal hole you’re in. I can go either way. What do you think . . . if we had a good meeting today, what would we accomplish?”

Think about how you can incorporate, empathy, emotional validation, concession, radical acceptance, and genuine feedback into your clinical practice. For more on this, check out the 5th edition of Clinical Interviewing.

Why Therapists Should Never Say, “I know how you feel”

The following excerpt is adapted from the fifth edition of the text, Clinical Interviewing (John Wiley & Sons, 6th edition forthcoming in October).

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

Many writers have tried operationalizing Carl Rogers’s core conditions. However, efforts to transform person-centered therapy core conditions into specific behavioral skills always seem to fall short. As Natalie Rogers (J. Sommers-Flanagan, 2007) emphasized, trying to translate the core conditions into concrete behaviors is usually a sign that the writer or therapist simply doesn’t understand person-centered principles.

This lack of understanding occurs principally because core Rogerian attitudes are attitudes, not behaviors. This is a basic conceptual principle that has proven difficult to understand—perhaps especially for behaviorists. The point Rogers was making then (in the 1950s), and that still holds today, is that therapists should enter the consulting room with (a) deep belief in the potential of the client; (b) sincere desire to be open, honest, and authentic; (c) palpable respect for the individual self of the client; and (d) a gentle focus on the client’s inner thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Further complicating this process is the fact that the therapist must rely primarily on indirectly communicating these attitudes because efforts to directly communicate trust, congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathic understanding is nearly always contradictory to each of the attitudes.

A counselor educator friend of ours, Kurt Kraus, articulated why trying to directly communicate understanding is problematic. He wrote:

When a supervisee errantly says, “I know how you feel” in response to a client’s disclosure, I twitch and contort. I believe that one of the great gifts of multicultural awareness is for me accepting the limitations to the felt-experience of empathy. I can only imagine how another feels, and sometimes the reach of my experience is so short as to only approximate what another feels. This is a good thing to learn. I’ll upright myself in my chair and say, “I used to think that I knew how others felt too. May I teach you a lesson that has served me well?” (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2012) (p. 146)

Kraus’s lesson is an excellent one for all of us. The phrases, “I know how you feel” and “I understand” should be stricken from the vocabulary of counselors and psychotherapists.

Musings About Online Counseling

As Rita and I updated the Clinical Interviewing text, we did a little web-searching for online counseling resources and the excerpt below includes our musings on this very interesting topic.

From Clinical Interviewing, 4th ed, updated, SF & SF, 2012

http://www.amazon.com/John-Sommers-Flanagan/e/B0030LK6NM/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

Online Counseling: Ethics and Reality

As a part of reviewing information for this chapter, we perused Internet therapy options available to potential consumers. Previous publications suggested a possible plethora of Internet counseling and psychotherapy providers with questionable professional credentials (Heinlen, Welfel, Richmond, & O’Donnell, 2003; Shaw & Shaw, 2006). Although we hoped that Internet service provision standards had improved, we weren’t overly impressed with our results. Generally, we found that most providers may have more expertise in business and marketing than they do in professional clinical work. Affixed on this foundation of business and marketing, we found two distinct approaches: the more ethical and the less ethical.

The Less Ethical Approach

Many providers offer online services but don’t acknowledge having specific credentials (e.g., a license) typically associated with clinical expertise. For example, practitioners with bachelor’s degrees (or less) made statements like the following:

“I am a counselor, life coach, and spiritual teacher with over 20 years of experience. I have studied the fields of counseling, psychology, personal growth, relationships, communications, business, computer programming and technology, languages, spirituality, metaphysics and energetic bodywork! In addition to my training, a [sic] 18-year relationship with my second husband has deepened my capacity to help others with relationship issues.”

This sort of enthusiastic introduction was typically followed by an equally enthusiastic statement about the breadth of services offered:

“My online counseling services specialties include, but are not limited to: anxiety/panic, self-esteem, highly sensitive people, couples counseling, relationship advice, life and career coaching, emotional intelligence, personal growth, affairs, guilt issues, work and career, trust issues, abuse/boundary issues, communication skills, conflict resolution, grief and loss, emotional numbness, spiritual development, stress management, blame, court-ordered counseling, codependency, problem resolution, jealousy, codependency and attachment, anger and depression, food and body, and developing peace of mind.”

Curiously, we found that the broad range of claims on websites such as these did not move us toward developing or experiencing peace of mind.

The More Ethical Approach

There were also websites that included professional, licensed providers. For example, one website listed and described eight licensed practitioners with backgrounds in professional counseling, social work, and psychology. These professionals offered webcam therapy, text therapy, e-mail therapy, and telephone therapy.

Prices included:

  • E-mail therapy: $25 per online counselor reply
  • Unlimited e-mail therapy: $200 per month
  • Chat therapy: $45 per 50-minute session
  • Telephone therapy: $80 per 50-minute session
  • Webcam therapy: $80 per 50-minute session

The more ethical professional Internet services also tended to include information related to theoretical orientation. For example, a “postmodern” approach was described as involving: “Staying positive . . . focused on the here and now . . . offering solutions that meet your needs . . . a collaborative and respectful environment . . . quick results . . .”

How to Choose an Internet Services Provider

The National Directory of Online Counselors now exists to help consumers choose an online provider. They state:

“We have personally verified the credentials and the websites of each therapist listed in the National Directory of Online Counselors. Feel assured that the therapists listed are state board licensed, have a Master’s Degree or Doctoral Degree in a mental health discipline, and have online counseling experience.”

The listed therapists and websites are set up and ready to handle secure communication, and offer various services such as eMail Sessions, Chat Sessions, and Telephone Sessions. All work conducted by the professional licensed therapists meet[s] strict confidentiality standards overseen by their professional state board.

Both of these distinct approaches to online therapy emphasize that help is only a mouse click away.

Two Sample Mental Status Examination Reports

JSF Dance Party

This is a photo of me checking my mental status.

Generally, mental status examinations (MSEs) can have a more neurological focus or a more psychiatric focus. The following two fictional reports are samples of psychiatric-oriented MSEs. These sample reports can be helpful if you’re learning to conduct Mental Status Examinations and write MSE reports. They’re excerpted from the text, Clinical Interviewing (6th edition; 2017, John Wiley & Sons). Clinical Interviewing has a chapter devoted to the MSE, as well as chapters on suicide assessment interviewing and diagnostic interviewing (and many others chapter on other important topics). You can take a look at the book (and some darn good reviews) on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1119215587/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

If you’d like to see a short video-clip MSE example, you can go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lu50uciF5Y

Sample Mental Status Examination Reports

A good report is brief, clear, concise, and addresses the areas below:

1.  Appearance

2.  Behavior/psychomotor activity

3.  Attitude toward examiner (interviewer)

4.  Affect and mood

5.  Speech and thought

6.  Perceptual disturbances

7.  Orientation and consciousness

8.  Memory and intelligence

9.  Reliability, judgment, and insight

The following reports are provided as samples.

Mental Status Report 1

Gary Sparrow, a 48-year-old white male, was disheveled and unkempt on presentation to the hospital emergency room. He was wearing dirty khaki pants, an unbuttoned golf shirt, and white shoes and appeared slightly younger than his stated age. During the interview, he was agitated and restless, frequently changing seats. He was impatient and sometimes rude in his interactions with this examiner. Mr. Sparrow reported that today was the best day of his life, because he had decided to join the professional golf circuit. His affect was labile, but appropriate to the content of his speech (i.e., he became tearful when reporting he had “bogeyed number 15”). His speech was loud, pressured, and overelaborative. He exhibited loosening of associations and flight of ideas; he intermittently and unpredictably shifted the topic of conversation from golf, to the mating habits of geese, to the likelihood of extraterrestrial life. Mr. Sparrow described grandiose delusions regarding his sexual and athletic performance. He reported auditory hallucinations (God had told him to quit his job and become a professional golfer) and was preoccupied with his athletic and sexual accomplishments. He was oriented to time and place, but claimed he was the illegitimate son of Jack Nicklaus. He denied suicidal and homicidal ideation. He refused to participate in intellectual- or memory-related portions of the examination. Mr. Sparrow was unreliable and exhibited poor judgment. Insight was absent.

Mental Status Report 2

Ms. Rosa Jackson, a 67-year-old African American female, was evaluated during routine rounds at the Cedar Springs Nursing Home. She was about 5’ tall, wore a floral print summer dress, held tight to a matching purse, and appeared approximately her stated age. Her grooming was adequate and she was cooperative with the examination. She reported her mood as “desperate” because she had recently misplaced her glasses. Her affect was characterized by intermittent anxiety, generally associated with having misplaced items or with difficulty answering the examiner’s questions. Her speech was slow, halting, and soft. She repeatedly became concerned with her personal items, clothing, and general appearance, wondering where her scarf “ran off to” and occasionally inquiring as to whether her appearance was acceptable (e.g., “Do I look okay? You know, I have lots of visitors coming by later.”). Ms. Jackson was oriented to person and place, but indicated the date as January 9, 1981 (today is July 8, 2009). She was unable to calculate serial sevens and after recalling zero of three items, became briefly anxious and concerned, stating “Oh my, I guess you pulled another one over me, didn’t you, sonny?” She quickly recovered her pleasant style, stating “And you’re such a gem for coming to visit me again.” Her proverb interpretations were concrete. Judgment, reliability, and insight were significantly impaired.

 

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Help Children Deal with Frustration and Become more Persistent

Carolyn Webster-Stratton from the University of Washington has developed an incredible evidence based approach designed to “promote children’s social competence, emotional regulation and problem solving skills and reduce their behavior problems.” This approach is titled “The Incredible Years.” More information is at the website:  http://www.incredibleyears.com/About/about.asp

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Below is a short excerpt from our “How to Talk so Parents will Listen” book that focuses on one small dimension of Dr. Webster-Stratton’s program. Our book is at: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1342904983&sr=1-5&keywords=how+to+listen+so+parents+will+talk+and+talk+so+parents+will+listen

Persistence Coaching

A part of the “Incredible Years” parent training curriculum includes a unit on what Webster-Stratton (2007) refers to as persistence coaching. Persistence coaching is especially designed for children with attention difficulties and provides an excellent example of intense and passionate social reinforcement. Webster-Stratton (2007) describes the procedure:

During persistence coaching, the parent is commenting on the child’s attention to the task. A parent might say to his child who is working with blocks, “You are really concentrating on building that tower; you are really staying patient; you are trying again and are really focusing on getting it as high as you can; you are staying so calm; you are focused; there, you did it all by yourself.” With this persistence coaching, the child begins to be aware of his internal state when he or she is calm, focused, and persisting with an activity. (pp. 317–318; italics in original)

This example by Webster-Stratton not only illustrates focused and passionate attention as a behavioral reinforcer, it also includes components of mirroring, solution-focused strategies, and character feedback. After getting intensive attention and specific feedback for persisting on a tower-building task, children are more likely to overcome negative beliefs about themselves and to begin seeing themselves as persistent and capable.

Some parents will say their child hates positive comments and prematurely conclude that these approaches are destined to backfire and be ineffective, perhaps even detrimental. This will be most likely when children display oppositional tendencies and/or have very negative internal beliefs about themselves. As if it were constantly Opposite Day, it will seem to parents as if praise is punishment and punishment is praise when they’re trying to work with their children. Webster-Stratton (2007) comments on this phenomenon:

Children with conduct problems usually get less praise and encouragement from adults than other children. When they do get praise, they are likely to reject it because of their oppositional responses. For some children, this oppositional response to praise and encouragement is actually a bid to get more attention and to keep the adult focusing on them longer. Parents can help these children by giving the praise frequently and then ignoring the protests that follow. Over time with consistent encouragement, the children will become more comfortable with this positive view of themselves. (p. 312) 

Our general policy is to closely watch for backward behavior modification and to counter it by teaching parents how to pay attention to positive behavior, ignore negative behavior, and administer passionate and surprise rewards and boring consequences. We’re sometimes surprised (and rewarded) by how quickly parents see that they’re inadvertently and destructively celebrating Opposite Day, when a regular day would suffice. (See Parent Homework Assignment 9-1.)

Flaws in the Satanic Golden Rule

summer-13-long-shadow

Nearly always I learn tons of good stuff from my adolescent clients. A few years ago I learned what “Macking” meant. When I asked my 16-year-old Latino client if it meant having sex (I gently employed a slang word while posing my question), his head shot up and he made eye contact with me for the first time ever and quickly corrected me with a look of shock and disgust. “Macking means . . . like flirting,” he said. And as he continued shaking his head, he said, “Geeze. You’re crazy man.”

The next half hour of counseling was our best half hour ever.

I’m not advocating using the F-word or being an obtuse adult . . . just pointing out how much there is to learn from teenagers.

More recently I learned about the Satanic Golden Rule. A 17-year-old girl told me that it goes like this: “Do unto others as they did unto you.”

Now that’s pretty darn interesting.

Ever since learning about the Satanic Golden Rule I’ve been able to use it productively when counseling teenagers. The Satanic Golden Rule is all about the immensely tempting revenge impulse we all sometimes feel and experience. It’s easy (and often gratifying) to give in to the powerful temptation to strike back at others whom you think have offended you. Whether it’s a gloomy and nasty grocery cashier or someone who’s consistently arrogant and self-righteous, it’s harder to take the high road and to treat others in ways we would like to be treated than it is to stoop to their level to give them a taste of their own medicine.

There are many flaws with the Satanic Golden Rule . . . but my favorite and the most useful for making a good point in counseling is the fact that, by definition, if you practice the Satanic Golden Rule, you’re giving your personal control over to other people. It’s like letting someone else steer your emotional ship. And to most my teenage clients this is a very aversive idea.

After talking about the Satanic Golden Rule many teenage clients are more interested in talking about how they can become leaders. . . leaders who are in control of their own emotions and who proactively treat others with respect.

An excellent side effect of all this is that it also inspires me to try harder to be proactively respectful, which helps me be and become a better captain of my own emotional ship.