Monthly Archives: January 2006

Romantic/sexual relationships

David Kaplan January 15, 2006

Editor’s note: American Counseling Association members received the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics bundled with the December 2005 issue of Counseling Today. Completed over a three-year period, this revision of the ethical code is the first in a decade and includes major updates in areas such as confidentiality, dual relationships, the use of technology in counseling, selecting interventions, record keeping, end-of-life issues and cultural sensitivity.

All ACA members are required to abide by the ACA Code of Ethics, and 22 state licensing boards use it as the basis for adjudicating complaints of ethical violations. As a service to members, Counseling Today is publishing a monthly column focused on new or updated aspects of the ACA Code of Ethics (the ethics code is also available online at www.counseling.org/ethics). ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan conducted the following interview with ACA Ethical Code Revision Task Force Chair Michael Kocet.

David Kaplan: Today we are going to be talking about changes around sexual or romantic relationships specifically as they relate to Standard A.5. in the new 2005 ACA Code of Ethics. To start off, my understanding from the new code is that sexual or romantic interactions between a counselor and a current client continue to be prohibited.

Michael Kocet: That is correct.

DK: However, some things that do change include increasing the number of intervening years that must pass in order to have a romantic/sexual relationship with a former client and a new prohibition on romantic/sexual relationships with the family members and romantic partners of clients.

MK: Correct.

DK: So let’s start at the beginning. Sexual or romantic interactions with clients continue to be prohibited?

MK: Absolutely. The 2005 ACA Code of Ethics continues to recognize the harm that can be impacted upon clients when they are sexually intimate with their counselor. The counseling relationship is one based on trust, so we must respect the power differential inherent in any counseling relationship regardless of the counselor’s theoretical orientation or perspective. Engaging in any type of sexual or intimate relationship with a current client is abuse of power. Clients come into counseling emotionally and psychologically vulnerable and in need of assistance, so a counselor trying to engage in such relationships would be trying to take advantage of that client and their vulnerabilities to meet their own needs. Relational/cultural theory frames this as striving for a “power with” instead of a “power over” relationship.

DK: So the reason that the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics continues to give no leeway and to ban all sexual or romantic interactions with clients is because we know that harm always occurs when that happens?

MK: Yes. Even if it appears on the surface that a client is open to a sexual/romantic relationship, there are always things that happen, and the client could later turn around and say that he or she wasn’t able to make a decision that was in their best interest at the time and therefore felt coerced.

DK: That relates to malpractice suits and the one exception that liability companies such as the ACA Insurance Trust make about sexual contact with a client. All liability insurance policies that I have seen provide a lawyer and defend a counselor if he or she is accused of sexual contact with a client. However, if the counselor is found guilty, the insurance company will not pay any monetary damages that are awarded and will also expect to be reimbursed by the counselor for all legal fees incurred in their defense. The fact that sexual contact is the only exclusion contained in a malpractice policy indicates how harmful sexual contact is to a client.

MK: This is an important piece for counselors to understand and it is important to plan healthy alternative ways to meet their emotional and romantic needs.

DK: As mentioned earlier, the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics increases the prohibition on sexual and romantic interactions with former clients. The old 1995 code stated that counselors were to avoid sexual intimacies with former clients within two years of termination. The revised 2005 code expands the time frame to five years. Why did the Ethical Code Revision Task Force decide to increase this prohibition to five years?

MK: While some may see the exact number of years delineated as arbitrary, the reason a ban on sexual/romantic relationships with former clients was increased to five years was that we wanted there to be a little more time for the counselor to be reflective and to give more time for closure of the counseling relationship. It is really important that enough time has passed for the power differential to be resolved. It is also important to recognize that counselors can decide to make the personal choice to never engage in romantic or sexual relationships with former clients even though the ACA Code of Ethics allows one to do so after a five-year waiting period.

DK: For the first time in its history, the ACA Code of Ethics (in Standard A.5.b.) now explicitly prohibits sexual or romantic relationships with the family members or romantic partners of clients. It will be interesting to hear how that came up in the revision discussions and what the thinking was behind that.

MK: The task force prohibited sexual or intimate relationships with family members because counselors engaging in such relationships with client’s relatives can have a harmful impact on clients. For example, if a counselor were to have an intimate or sexual relationship with a sibling or a former partner of a client, that could have a potential risk of emotionally harming the client. The main goal of counseling should be to focus on the best interests and welfare of the client. Counselors cannot know each and every relationship or relative of clients, but counselors should not knowingly engage in such relationships.

DK: Let me give you a scenario. Suppose a counselor is engaged to be married and finds out from looking at the wedding invitations that one of her long-term clients is a very close cousin of her fiancé. Does that mean that the counselor needs to call off her engagement?

MK: I talked to Rocco Cottone, Harriet Glosoff and Judy Miranti, three members of the Ethical Code Revision Task Force, about this scenario. We agreed that it is critical to determine how clients define what “family member” means to them. In a cultural context, “family” can be nonblood relationships such as godparents or neighbors. It is not culturally appropriate to make assumptions about a client’s worldview of who is and who is not a family member.

The key to this scenario is intention. In the case mentioned, neither the client nor the counselor was aware of this situation, and therefore the counselor would not break off her engagement or wedding plans. Rather, the counselor should discuss with the client the change in relationship between the counselor and client (to be cousin and cousin-in-law so to speak). The client may decide to maintain the counselor-client relationship, but the counselor is obligated to explore the potential risks and benefits to the change in relationship (i.e., seeing each other at family gatherings). Since informed consent is an ongoing process, there would be a need to readdress confidentiality if the client decides to stay with the counselor. All of these considerations seem to be part of demonstrating sound professional judgment.

Next month: An update on dual relationships

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

The legend versus the legacy

Angela Kennedy January 7, 2006

Since last fall, one of counseling’s living legends, Albert Ellis, has been engaged in a fervent battle with the board members of the Albert Ellis Institute, the not-for-profit organization he founded more than 50 years ago. During the past three months, the dispute has escalated into a mud-slinging campaign complete with name-calling, message board flaming and pending lawsuits — actions some may say are far from the teachings of rational emotive behavior therapy, which Ellis developed in 1955.

According to Michael Broader, former executive director of the Albert Ellis Institute, the spark that finally ignited this heated dispute took place in September 2005. That’s when independent auditors told the board Ellis had received “excess benefits” of more than $500,000 in 2004 and they were obligated to report this on the institute’s tax return.

The Internal Revenue Service defines excess benefits as compensation paid to an employee or consultant, in either cash or noncash benefits, at a level higher than reasonable market value. Both the recipient of the benefits and those who govern the nonprofit organization may be penalized. Broader, who is still one of the institute’s board members, stated the excess benefits resulted from the institute paying living, business and mounting medical expenses for the 92-year-old Ellis.

The Albert Ellis Institute hired attorney Daniel Kurtz, a leading expert in nonprofit law, for guidance. Kurtz suggested that the institute take immediate action to avoid putting its tax-exempt status in jeopardy and to steer clear of hefty IRS fines for both the institute’s leaders and Ellis. Kurtz also advised that Ellis be removed from all positions of responsibility in the institute. The board members convened Sept. 18, 2005 — without Ellis present — and voted 5-0, with one abstention, to officially remove Ellis from the institute’s board of directors.

“The excess was corrected by doing two things: by removing Dr. Ellis from the board and authorizing me to make a demand for the return of the excess,” Kurtz said. “That is the way it was reported for the tax filing in 2004. That is, it was reported that there was an excess benefit for that year, and we are seeking to correct it.” He noted that failure to take action would have been a huge risk for both the institute and Ellis. The institute has asked Ellis to return more than $400,000 to cover the excess. “His total compensation was well over $500,000,” Kurtz said, “because you have to also include the value of his housing.”

Ellis purchased a six-story Manhattan town home for the Albert Ellis Institute in 1959, and he currently resides in an apartment on the top floor. The estimated value of the property is said to be approximately $15 million.

“He gets free housing, and it’s prime real estate,” Kurtz said. “Estee Lauder used to live across the street. It’s not a run-down neighborhood. He also received a substantial amount (of money) in 2003, but he repaid most of that, if not all of that, although it was extended to him as a loan. (But) loans to people on nonprofit boards are illegal, so it shouldn’t have been extended to him at all. There were some serious legal problems that the institute faced — and still face — if it didn’t take action to correct the abuses.”

Being removed from his own institute was the last straw for Ellis. After nine months of negotiations between lawyers, he moved forward last November and filed three separate lawsuits against certain board and staff members. The first lawsuit alleges that the board members removed Ellis illegally and against the bylaws of the institute. The lawsuit called for his immediate reinstatement to the board. Ellis said he would have no problem being a voting board member and lawfully participating in any decision calling for his removal. The second lawsuit largely claims a “waste of assets,” which in essence accuses the board members of mismanaging the Albert Ellis Institute and spending monies to further their own interests rather than to benefit the institute. The third lawsuit alleges that the staff and board members failed to accommodate and provide better equipment for Ellis’ hearing impairment and that they terminated his services (Ellis’ well-known Friday Night Workshops) without just cause. The suit also includes charges of defamation, alleging people associated with the institute have told potential clients and fellow mental health professionals that Ellis is “losing it” or is “too old” to work.

Bob Juceam, the attorney representing Ellis in two of the three lawsuits, said the “dire emergency” to take immediate action on the excess benefits claim was completely unnecessary. He instead charges it was a veiled justification for exiling Ellis.

“There’s an allegation that he got an excess of benefit, and somehow they had to act promptly or they would lose their status. All of that is wholly untrue,” Juceam said. “The fact of the matter is that there was no emergency. No regulator, not the IRS or the New York state attorney general has come in to claim there has been an excess of benefit. Even on their theory — even if there was an excess of benefit — they recorded it on their books as a loan. The most that would happen is that Ellis would have to repay the loan with interest.” He noted that Ellis has offered to repay the debt.

“If you read the accounting report, it doesn’t say what they say it says,” according to Juceam. “The report says that if someone found it to be excessive, there could be these consequences. They have largely tried to defend themselves by saying it was an emergency and they had to do it. That is unadulterated balderdash. That argument is a fraud — it didn’t have to be that day and that way. What Al has objected to is that they alone have determined what is legal. It’s not the government deciding what is legal, it’s not a court — they have decided to determine for themselves what is legal in their view and act on it.”

Ellis’ lawyers have offered to work with the institute, the IRS and the accountants, but, according to Juceam, the institute has failed to agree to those meetings.

An unhealthy arrangement

Juceam said the only money that could be considered an excess benefit went to pay for Ellis’ around-the-clock nursing care. He explained that the board agreed to allot money to pay for Ellis’ medical care in July 2004. “The ones who created the benefit and voted for it are these guys (the board members),” Juceam said. “Ellis didn’t vote for it — he was in the hospital.”

The institute’s board members agreed to pay Ellis’ medical expenses when he was hospitalized with a serious infection in which doctors had to remove most of his intestinal tract. Later in the fall, according to Juceam, the board realized it might have bitten off more than it could chew, as Ellis’ around-the-clock nursing care climbed close to $500,000.

“When he got sick and had these needs at age 90-plus,” Juceam said, “I think there was big residue of sympathy because he had made so many contributions to the institute over the years. They thought that covering his nursing cost was sensible. I think at one point they were — in good faith — trying to figure out how to help out Al and take care of his nursing costs. But now, they want to keep control of these assets and run the institute their way, and they want to call it ’excessive.’ At some point, when they decided they should make a grab for the place, all of sudden they no longer talk about what they did and how they discussed it — all they want to talk about is that Al got this amount of money and the lawyer says its excessive and they are all going to get in trouble. These are not the shining white knights in armor coming to protect the institute from a ravenous evil Ellis, but that’s the story they want to spin.”

Ellis agreed. “They are very vicious, and they are deliberately doing (this) to make use of all the money I’ve saved over the years from my private practice and other things,” he said. Ellis said the institute promised to pay for his medical expenses for the rest of his life.

“This is not a story about greed by Ellis,” Juceam said. “He is a guy who until three years ago took $25,000 salaries. Others are making $100,000 to $150,000 salaries.” Juceam also noted that the royalties from every book written by Ellis go back to the institute.

There is also the question of how Ellis could be charged with receiving an excess of benefit when, according to the institute, Broader made more than $400,000 in 2004 working part time. Broader defended his earnings by claiming that he put in several 60-hour weeks at the Albert Ellis Institute meeting with lawyers and financial advisers and dealing with the “crisis” surrounding Ellis and the board members. He also said he greatly underreported the hours billed for his services in favor of the institute.

Juceam said he and Ellis have tried several times to meet and negotiate civilly on the issues outside of the courtroom, but as of presstime the two sides had been unable to reach a settlement. Kurtz, the institute’s lawyer, said that many proposals had been presented but Ellis’ demands were just too aggressive.

Said Kurtz: “He wanted millions of dollars, and we would not give it because a) the organization can’t afford to turn over most of its money to Dr. Ellis to take care of himself and b) as nice as that might be, it’s not legally recognized as an exempt function (of a nonprofit) to take care of a frail, ailing old man. That’s not charity in the way the law sees it. It’s not a charitable tax-exempt purpose to provide for Dr. Ellis’ old age. You and I could not set up a charity to take care of some old guy no matter how great and famous he is. The IRS would say that’s not a charity. You do that out of your personal resources; you don’t get a tax deduction for that. The law couldn’t be clearer. There is no wiggle room for this.”

Mounting hostility

Tension and animosity had been brewing for well over a year between Ellis and the institute. Negotiations for Ellis’ retirement and compensation package began in December 2004, only to stall after months of debate. The institute was left to pay Ellis’ $130,000 attorney fee for the unresolved issue. It has since stopped paying for Ellis’ legal representation.

And in July 2005, which was a very busy time for the institute because of trainings and fellowships, board members and institute staff received some negative feedback pertaining to Ellis’ presentations and lectures. “We were getting a lot of complaints,” Broader said. “He couldn’t hear people. He was getting intemperate and lashing out at people (during therapy sessions), and one of the things we are responsible to do as psychologists is protect the public. So I tried to talk to him about it to see if there were some ways we could do this differently and address these concerns. He didn’t want to talk about it and got very, very angry at the suggestion that anything be changed.”
The institute staff then suspended Ellis’ famous Friday Night Workshops because, according to Broader, they determined that the workshops “were just not working.” The board ratified the staff’s decision and informed Ellis he could no longer hold the popular public therapy workshops at the institute.

But what many board members feel was the true beginning of the end was the October 2004 employment termination of Debbie Joffe, who up until that time had been a Fellow at the institute and a close assistant to Ellis. “There was an ethical violation in one of her groups,” Broader said, “and we had to terminate her. Before that, Ellis and I had always had a very cordial relationship. We could no longer maintain Debbie’s work visa once she was let go and, at that point, Dr. Ellis married her.”

Joffe, an Australian citizen, strongly denies any ethical wrongdoing and maintains that rumors questioning the legitimacy and integrity of the nuptials are false. She scoffs at accusations that Ellis married her to allow her to stay in the country or that she is after his dwindling assets. She and Ellis both proclaim a deep affection for each other despite their 40-year-plus age difference and the fact that he is largely bedridden.

“That is one of the many complete lies (by board members). Debbie and I really love each other, and we have a great marriage. She isn’t at all interested in money — they are,” Ellis asserted, his voice painfully hoarse.

“My dedication now is being with Al and working with him,” Joffe said. “The money is irrelevant to me. The love between us is a very deep and profound love. It’s a magnificent relationship.”

In December 2005, Ellis and Joffe resumed the Friday Night Workshops in office space next door to the Albert Ellis Institute. They continue to be very well attended — often standing room only — and receive positive reviews, according to Ellis and Joffe. The husband and wife team maintain that the board’s reasons for canceling the workshops are simply excuses to further remove Ellis from his institute. “The workshops were and are going fine,” Joffe said. “Al is incredible. They were going brilliantly — they are going brilliantly. There was no rational justification of stopping them.”

“That’s one of their 20 to 30 lies. (The workshops) have been working very well for 40 years,” said Ellis, his comment punctuated by a coughing fit.

Joffe added, “He was recently in Anaheim, Calif., and gave eight official presentations and two spontaneous ones and received standing ovations. One of (the board’s) complaints is that he’s not hearing well enough, but he heard very well. I’m there to fill in the gaps, but he hardly even needed me in California, and we have the tapes to prove that.”

Joffe said the ongoing situation has proved to be one of the most difficult episodes of her life, but she finds resolve in watching her husband prevail under the stress. “This has been going on a year and a quarter,” she said, “and it has been astonishing and inspiring to me that, despite the difficulties, Al without fail practices what he preaches.” She said that through the use of rational emotive behavior therapy, Ellis, though saddened by the events, remains happy and does not harbor anger for the institute. “It’s inspiring to see the authenticity of this man,” she said. “He’s incredible.”

Cyberfighting

Both parties have resorted to pleading to the virtual masses and telling their sides of the story on the World Wide Web. Ellis has cut ties with the institute’s website (www.rebt.org) and claims a new home at www.albertellis.info as his official portal. His new site links to several essays Ellis has penned retorting comments and dispelling “lies” from the board. Meanwhile, the Albert Ellis Institute has posted statements on its website and distributed press releases across the Web in attempts to explain its actions.

Elsewhere in cyberspace, people are taking sides. There is even an online petition to have Ellis reinstated to the institute’s board. “The goal is to provide a vehicle for people to express their support for Dr. Ellis and their disapproval of the AEI board’s actions,” said Jim Byrne, the petition’s creator and an Ellis supporter in the United Kingdom. He noted that as of mid-January, the petition included more than 650 signatures from people around the world.

The institute is asking that people separate the Albert Ellis Institute — and its legacy — from Albert Ellis the man and counseling legend. Similar situations arise quite frequently at nonprofits, Kurtz said, referring to it as “founder’s syndrome.”

“It is when you have a founder, like Dr. Ellis, who fails to separate himself from the organization which he founded,” Kurtz said. “He confuses himself with the organization, and this is what it leads to. Part of being an effective leader of a charity or nonprofit is planning a transition, planning a succession, but this was never done here. You don’t wait until someone is 92 to decide there is going to be a second act. The reality is that if Dr. Ellis had planned that appropriately he probably would have been taken care of — if he would have had a regular 401(k) plan for God’s sake. If he wanted to own the Albert Ellis Institute, he should have set it up as a business.”

Juceam rebutted: “It is blatantly wrong in what they have paraded in the public press so far. Al Ellis has said in writing — it’s on the Net, it’s in court papers — that he doesn’t want a penny he can’t legally have. I’m hoping we can put this to bed in a way that meets everyone’s needs. It’s in the best interest of everyone to have this settled.”

Kurtz noted that depending on Ellis’ resources and his health, the dispute could go on for years. Ellis said he wants his supporters to know “the whole truth and nothing but the truth — to realize they have been lied to and I have been lied to, and to discount those lies and know the facts.”

All in all, the accusations, facts, lies, laws and blame seem to be more twisted and intertwined than a loaf of marble rye. As of presstime, however, both parties were engaged in discussions and were optimistic that a fair settlement could still be reached.

Counseling on the front lines

Jon Marshall

Editor’s note: The names of soldiers and Marines in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.

John Moore was flying home recently from California to Chicago. Next to him sat a 22-year-old Marine traveling to visit his family before being deployed to the Iraqi town of Ramadi. When the Marine learned that Moore was a counselor who worked with military personnel, he began sharing his feelings.

“He talked about his fears,” Moore said. “He had just got engaged, and he was worried about leaving his wife behind and about who would take care of his mother — his dad had just died.”

Moore, an American Counseling Association member, is accustomed to helping people with these kinds of concerns. Through both his private practice and the online classes about relationships he teaches for American Military University, U.S. troops tell him about family troubles and emotional wounds that have festered while serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other danger zones.

The soldiers share stories about snipers, land mines and car bombs. They also tell Moore how they’re afraid their spouses are cheating on them or how they’re riddled with guilt because of their own infidelity. They tell him about wanting to come out of the closet or about their pregnant girlfriend or about not knowing their own children after being gone for 15 months. They tell him about their anxiety, anger, helplessness, depression and financial fears.

When the approximately 300,000 U.S. service members deployed overseas finally head home, Moore worries, they won’t be ready for the emotional reality of their homecoming — and America won’t be equipped to support them. “If they don’t have a safe conduit to talk about it, it’s like a time bomb,” said Moore, who is 35.

Moore attempts to defuse that emotional explosiveness through his classes: “Addictions and Addictive Behaviors,” “Stress and Health” and “Interpersonal Communications,” better known to students as “Love 101.” He launched the eight-week-long Love 101 in 2002 to let soldiers, who try to prove how tough they are in combat, reveal vulnerabilities they would never share with their own units.

“The whole culture of the military is that you don’t talk about feelings or emotions,” said Moore, the author of Confusing Love With Obsession. “For people who feel alone, this is a conduit for them to communicate intimate things. By the second or third week, students start to share their feelings. By the end, it’s a crescendo of emotion.”

Battlefield stress

With a crew cut jutting across his forehead, piercing dark eyes and the wiry yet muscular build of a man who works out regularly, Moore looks ready to go into battle himself. In addition to teaching for American Military University, Moore is the chief counseling officer at Clear Counseling and a case manager at Alexian Brothers Bonaventure House in Chicago.

Every day Moore sifts through numerous e-mails, assignments and discussion board postings from students based in Iraq, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany and the United States.

“Trying to remain faithful to my wife has been very difficult,” writes Rob, a 24-year-old Army private from Kentucky who was shipped to Iraq for a year one month after getting married. “About four months after being deployed, I found myself having an affair with a woman who was recently divorced. I feel so much guilt about cheating on my wife, but a man has needs, and it is not easy being alone for all this time.”

Marital strains such as Rob’s only add to the danger of military life. A 2002 Department of Defense survey found that military personnel with high levels of stress are twice as likely to get sick or injured. “You can’t fight an enemy effectively if you’re worried your wife is sleeping with someone or if your kid is sick,” Moore said.

For instance Greg, an Army private from Chicago, was driving a truck in July 2003 near Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit when a roadside bomb exploded, destroying his right arm. Greg confided to Moore that he wasn’t thinking about safety before the bomb exploded. Instead, his mind was in turmoil: His wife had just told him she was unhappy with their relationship, and he had just learned his time in Iraq was being extended by 60 days.

This kind of emotional burden becomes even heavier when soldiers can’t talk about their relationships, Moore said. Once every couple of months, he said, one or two students divulge to the class that they are gay but are afraid to tell anyone in their units because they risk getting discharged.

“Being gay in the Navy is extremely hard,” David, a 24-year-old sailor from Florida, wrote for Moore’s class. “Combine that with having a partner for four years who you can’t contact while on deployment and you have a recipe for severe depression. I can’t even talk to the chaplain about the problem because I fear he will turn me in and I will get kicked out of the service.”

The trauma for gay military personnel only increases if they are injured and can’t reveal that the friend who is visiting them is really their partner. “They can’t share their support system,” Moore said. Private counselors play an important role for gay soldiers who fear, rightly or wrongly, that they will be outed if they instead tell a military or Department of Veterans Affairs counselor, Moore said.

A long way from home

Whether gay or straight, troops in the class talk the most about their distance from loved ones, Moore said. “If they’re used to hearing from their wife every other day, but now it’s once a month, it sends them out of their minds,” he said. “The Marines will tell me that it hurts more being away from their wife and kids than being shot at.”

Holidays such as Valentine’s Day can be especially difficult for soldiers overseas. “It’s just another reminder to them of what’s been lost,” Moore said. “It’s rough when it’s been their second or third Valentine’s away from home.”

The length of the Iraq deployments, which the Pentagon says can last for a year, makes staying in touch with children especially difficult. About half the students in Moore’s classes are parents, and they’re upset that they’ve missed their children’s birthdays, holidays and other milestones.

Moore knows all about the disruptions military life can bring. His father was in the Navy and served in Vietnam, and he had uncles in the Navy and Marines. Moore said his parents’ marriage collapsed as they bounced from Chicago to Texas to Florida. After they divorced, his mother moved to Chicago Heights and the family went on welfare. “I know what it’s like to stand in a soup line for food and get my Christmas gifts from the Salvation Army,” he said.

Shelley MacDermid, co-director of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, said that although all wars disrupt the lives of military families, the anxiety level during the Iraq war has increased as it drags on and deployments are repeatedly extended. “Desert Storm was quite a bit different because it was shorter and more of an air war,” she said. “From this war we have people coming back who have been on the ground in very ambiguous and risky situations for a long time.”

Every week Moore hears about this risk and bloodshed. “I get private e-mails from students who say their (class) assignments are going to be late because they just shot someone,” Moore said. “If you’ve just killed people or lost a limb, it’s impossible not to bring that into your relationships.”

The result can be severe mental health problems. A July 1, 2004, article in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that up to 17 percent of 1,709 soldiers surveyed as they were returning from Iraq suffered from major depression, generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD doesn’t only happen when you are attacked yourself, Moore said. “You can get PTSD from watching a buddy or a civilian get hurt or even hearing constant stories of violent experiences,” he said. “It’s compounded by being separated from family and loved ones.”
In extreme cases, the depression and PTSD lead to domestic violence. A 2000 study in the journal Military Medicine found that long deployments raise the likelihood of severe aggression against spouses. The danger of this aggression became tragically clear in the summer of 2002 when four soldiers — including three just back from Afghanistan — allegedly killed their wives at the Army base in Fort Bragg, N.C.

Although such severe cases are rare, many of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops who are based abroad will need social services or psychiatric help, Moore said. But a report last year by a Veterans Affairs task force found that the availability of quality VA care for suicidal or depressed veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is “haphazard and spotty.”

To improve care, the Department of Defense has started a “one-stop” program allowing military families with problems to go to a single place for help, said ACA Executive Director Richard Yep. According to a July 2005 article by Donna Miles of the American Forces Press Service, instead of going to different places to get medical care, counseling, financial assistance and deployment information, military families can now go to one of more than 400 family assistance centers around the country to obtain this help. “The federal government is finally realizing that more needs to be done for military families,” Yep said. “I’m pleasantly surprised that they’re trying to address these issues.”

But even if counseling is available, there’s no guarantee that troops will take advantage of it. “There are still a lot of military people who think that if you went to see a mental health professional, you’re not going to get promoted,” Yep said. “I think trying to overcome that stigma is an important thing. They have to realize that, like a cold, if you’re not feeling well, it’s good to get help.”

On the way home

Preparing to come home from a war zone sometimes only increases stress for military personnel. The troops returning home don’t know what they’re coming back to, and they might not be coming back in the same shape as when they left — either physically or mentally. “You leave and you’re a strong, strapping breadwinner for the family,” Yep said, “and you come back and you can’t do any of that stuff.”

Some soldiers turn to Moore’s class to share that stress. They tell him that as they get ready to return home, they often grow nervous about the changes they might face. If their marriages were troubled even before they left, their apprehension only increases. When they do finally walk in the door, some returning soldiers feel they can’t match the images that others have created of them. “You have to live up to expectations that your spouse has built you up to be — a hero — but in reality you’re tired and angry and possibly depressed,” Moore said.
A burst of sexual activity when couples reunite can relieve some of that tension, but after the initial excitement, depression often starts to sap their love live, Moore said. “Students say it’s difficult being home,” he said. “The adjustment is harder than they thought, because they’re no longer on a sense of mission.”

Even when the relationships last, the partners sometimes are as drained emotionally as the soldiers. “It’s almost more difficult for the spouse because they’ve had to live through constant anxiety and fear about the deployed person,” MacDermid said. “But if your relationship was strong when you left, you have a good basis to be strong when you get back.”

Moore hopes his classes help keep these relationships strong. “The good thing is that love is no longer a four-letter word for these soldiers,” he said. “They can talk about it now.”

Moore also hopes the counseling community will be ready to welcome his students home and then to help them heal their emotional wounds. “They are heroes for having to put up with this. Not just for getting shot at and risking their lives, but also for leaving their families,” he said. “They just want to come home.”

Until they come home, Moore said, he will keep counseling the troops as they serve abroad. For instance, he kept in touch with the young Marine who had sat next to him on the plane before being sent to Iraq. They traded e-mails until suddenly the messages stopped. Finally, Moore received a note from one of the Marine’s buddies. His friend, the note said, had died in combat.

10 Ways to Increase Your Marketability

Debbie Osborn, Ph.D.

The current economic market has made job hunting a vital set of skills for increasing numbers of people. But even in the best of economic times, it pays to understand what you can do to make yourself more appealing in the marketplace.

Current career trends suggest that an individual will change careers at least 7 times during a lifetime. This reality presents us with the opportunity to fulfill several of our aspirations. No longer do we have to choose only one road. Instead, we can visualize a broader map, and believe that we will likely come across those other roads somewhere down the line.

Increasing marketability is a sure way of being more prepared for a career change. The following are ten strategies for sharpening skills and increasing marketability:

  1. Visualize. Set aside some time to think about where you are in life, and where you want to be. Are you happy? What parts of your career excite you, and what frustrates you? Where do you want to be in five years? In ten? Give yourself permission to dream.
  2. Take Inventory. What activities are you currently doing, both on the job and in your leisure time? What skills do they require? How would you rate your skills? Which ones need improving? How could you sharpen them? Which skills do you enjoy using, and which skills do you wish you used more often?
  3. Update your resume. Regularly update your resume. Visiting a local career center or scanning current resume books can keep your resume looking polished. You also may want to have resumes that highlight different skills. For example, you might have one specifically for management positions, and another for advertising positions. Also, keep hard copies of your resume close at hand and give it out freely.
  4. Attend Workshops. Take advantage of workshops offered by your employer. Dare to go to a training that doesn’t “exactly fit” your job. For example, if your job requires computer skills, in addition to computer-related workshops, consider attending a workshop on leadership. If your organization doesn’t offer workshops, consider taking a course at a local community college.
  5. Cross-train. Make your current job more interesting and enhance your skills at the same time by varying your job responsibilities. Continuously hone your skills that are transferable to other positions, corporations, and even career fields. Always be quick to volunteer for opportunities to learn different skills.
  6. Join committees. Committees are a great way to network and to improve skills. Vary the committees on which you serve. Chair a committee. Choose to be on a committee that will challenge you intellectually, emotionally, skill-wise, etc. In other words, make a decision to grow.
  7. Do something different. Been doing the same thing for years? Maybe now is the time for change. Try something you’ve always wanted to do, but for whatever reason, haven’t yet. You’ll learn more about yourself, enhance skills, make contacts, and feel alive again.
  8. Make new contacts, strengthen the old.Networking is the main way people get interviews. View every opportunity as a networking one. The goal isn’t to determine, “What can this person do for me,” but finding out what you and the other person have to offer each other. Form and maintain relationships at work, through your family, in social organizations, and in your community. Remember, you will need to nurture relationships through staying in touch with your contacts, sending cards, be alert to interesting articles, and other “thinking of you” activities.
  9. Volunteer. Volunteering can expand your network and enhance skills. It’s also an easy way to try out some of your career aspirations. Considering a career change that will take you out of the corporate world and into the lives of kids? Try volunteering at your local school. There’s no career risk, just a chance to grow, learn about yourself and give back to your community.
  10. Create a Marketability Plan. Perhaps the most important suggestion is to create a marketability plan for yourself. Take a good, hard look at yourself. Ask yourself the tough questions. “If I were an employer, would I hire me?” Make a plan to increase your marketability. Which of these activities could you commit to trying in the next month? Set a goal and a time-line, and get started!

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Dr. Osborn is an Assistant Professor of counselor education and Career Counseling Track Coordinator for the Counselor Education Program at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Keeping Your Children Informed

Howard B. Smith, Ed.D., L.P.C.

Most parents want to protect their children, not just from physical dangers, but also from the emotional hurt and pain that life can bring. While we can accept the small hurts our children face most days – misunderstandings with classmates, losing a favorite toy – we tend to believe we’re doing our children a favor by sheltering them from difficulties in our own lives or from the bigger problems of the world in general.

The result, unfortunately, can be not a child who is protected, but one who is growing up with a faulty perception of marriage and family life, and a distorted picture of the real world that he or she will ultimately have to face.

The questions that all parents must face is how much to tell your children, as well as how and when to tell them. There aren’t always easy answers. But whether the issue is domestic unhappiness, family financial woes, the anxieties of international terrorism or any of the stresses that today’s families may be facing, it is important to honestly include your children in a developmentally appropriate way in the issues your family may be facing.

It helps to realize that children, even fairly young ones, are often more aware of problems than we usually suspect. They recognize when a parent is upset, extra tired, at home more than usual or acting in unusual ways. They overhear discussions of family unhappiness, economic problems, a job loss, or other problem issues.

Getting negative news in such bits and pieces often leaves children with a poor understanding of what the real problem is. The result can be an assumption by the child that it is something he or she did, or didn’t do, that is now making Mommy and Daddy so unhappy, angry or worried.

Parents can help their children develop in a healthy manner by letting them know that adult life is not all fun and games. While it’s not necessary to burden children with all the sordid details of problem relationships, bad work environments, or the loss of a job, don’t try to keep the kids uninformed when what is happening is having an impact on their lives.

Start by reassuring your child that he or she is not to blame for the problem. Simply saying, “We’re having some difficult times now, but it isn’t your fault,” both comforts and opens needed communication. Tell your child it’s okay to ask what’s wrong if he or she sees you upset, angry, crying, or looking worried. Children will feel reassured knowing they can ask questions, and less likely to blame themselves, if you are willing to include them and provide information.

The amount of information you actually share about your problems depends upon your child. Most children, especially younger ones, neither need nor want to know all the details of domestic strife or financial hardships. Share age-appropriate information that lets your child understand that he or she is included, that the problem isn’t his or her fault, and that the parents are doing their best to handle the issue.

You want to share such information at a time when you and your children can sit down together, without distractions. Provide an opportunity for your children to pay attention, ask questions, and understand what is happening. Reassure them as much as you can.

Your child’s school counselor can be a good source of information on how to share potentially troubling news with your children. As a counseling professional, he or she will treat your conversation confidentially. The school counselor can also offer advice on handling behavioral changes that often occur in children at times of troubling news, and he or she should be able to recommend books that can help in specific areas.

But whether your family situation concerns divorce, a job change, relocation or other major change, deciding how to communicate about it with your children should be one of your first – not last – priorities.

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Dr. Smith is the American Counseling Association’s Associate Executive Director for Professional Affairs. He also serves as the ACA representative to the American Red Cross Disaster Response team, providing counseling during emergency situations, including the 9/11 tragedies.