Monthly Archives: August 2008

Plugged in, turned on and wired up

Angela Kennedy August 15, 2008

How technology and the computer age are changing the counseling profession

First off, let’s all thank Al Gore — this Internet thing is genius! But in all seriousness, what recent invention has exerted as much influence on the way we live, learn, work and communicate as the World Wide Web and other computer-related technology? More and more counselors have come to accept, even if sometimes begrudgingly, that their profession is not immune to technology’s impact. Instead, they are actively looking for ways that technology can be of “help” to the helping professions. As such, new technologies are influencing how counseling is being accessed, delivered and taught.

Along with the good, there is always some bad, of course, and technology has produced, or at least served as the gateway to, numerous trouble spots, including cyberaffairs, web gambling and pornography addictions, online bullying and stalking, to name a few.

Counseling Today asked American Counseling Association members across professional spectrums to discuss the ways in which technology is affecting their professional lives, whether through use of the latest tech gadgets and educational tools or in changing the face of the client issues they treat.

Computer-mediated counseling

Computer-mediated counseling is any type of counseling that uses a computer for delivery of services, whether via e-mail, chat rooms, online support groups or video conferencing.

“It’s an emerging professional issue, although what I’ve found is that there isn’t a lot research that really examines this area of counseling,” says Kristopher Goodrich, a doctoral candidate in counselor education at Syracuse University who has studied the topic. “But it has some tremendous implications in terms of what we do and how we work with individuals.”

He notes some of the positive and negative aspects of this modality:

Pros

  • Access to clients in rural areas
  • Time flexibility; done at a client’s leisure without having to travel to a counselor’s office
  • Proved effective with cognitive behavioral therapy for depression and anxiety according to a study published in 2004 by Kate Cavanagh and David Shapiro in the Journal of Clinical Psychology

Cons

  • Limited research proving its effectiveness with other counseling approaches and issues
  • Possibility of counselor bias
  • Therapeutic alliance: Can a strong rapport be established with a client online?
  • Cost of technology/equipment

Another concern some have raised is that computer-mediated counseling could cause inadvertent violations of licensing laws if the client being treated online resides in a state different from that of the counselor.

Goodrich also notes that not nearly enough research has been done pertaining to multicultural issues with computer-mediated counseling. He has found only one related study that examined a non-Caucasian population. The study, which focused on the therapeutic alliance with male Asian American college students, showed that computer-mediated counseling resulted in a positive experience with this population.

Furthermore, Goodrich says, computer-mediated counseling is not suitable for addressing all client issues, but some research has shown it can be effective when treating anxiety disorders and depression and also in the areas of professional coaching and career counseling. “Computer-assisted counseling (using both computer-mediated and face-to-face counseling) has been proved to be more effective than counseling solely through the Internet,” he says. “If we are going to support this area of counseling, then we as educators really need to explore this area more and these issues. More research needs to be done, and we need to look at it from a scientific standpoint.”

Before counselors consider computer-mediated counseling, Goodrich advises that they take precautionary measures, including:

  • Encrypting conversations to ensure confidentiality
  • Performing risk assessments — know the contact information and locations of clients so these clients can be referred to local resources in cases of suicidal ideation or instances of other severe mental health risks
  • Being aware of a client’s access and basic computer knowledge
  • Knowing ethical codes for being a distance counselor (for more information, refer to the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics, Standard A.12., “Technology Applications” and the National Board for Certified Counselors webpage at nbcc.org/webethics2)
  • Being cognizant of legal issues
  • Acquiring proper licensure and credentials for distance counseling (For more information, contact NBCC at 336.547.0607 or nbcc.org. ReadyMinds, readyminds.com, is a provider of Distance Career Counseling along with the Center for Credentialing and Education, an affiliate of NBCC. ReadyMinds offers two opportunities for training and credentials for those wishing to use technology-assisted methodologies.)

Teachers’ aids

Many teachers and students now consider dusty chalkboards and blinding overhead projectors archaic in the classroom. And how many of today’s students even remember the days of microfiche and musty encyclopedias? Current college students no longer scribble away, frantically taking notes. They come to class with laptops and multitask — listening, typing, surfing the web, instant messaging and checking e-mail. Just as younger generations have developed new ways of learning, educators have been prompted to keep up with technology and embrace new ways of teaching.

Chad Royal, a private practitioner and counselor educator at North Carolina Central University, digitally records his class lectures and makes them available to students via podcasts. Podcasts are voice recordings, similar to a radio program, posted on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player, such as an iPod. Listening to a podcast does not require an iPod, however. Any free software capable of reading an MP3 file, including such programs as iTunes, Windows MediaPlayer, RealAudio Player and Quicktime, can play a podcast.

Aside from recording class lectures, Royal suggests other ways counselor educators can use podcasts in the classroom (while including a disclaimer that podcasts do not replace class attendance):

  • Providing simulated counseling sessions that demonstrate a particular counseling theory
  • Providing guest speakers’ lectures (which can be recycled and distributed easily)
  • Providing lectures for use with distance education courses
  • Providing assignment instructions
  • Providing advising instructions (instructions educators repeat every semester)

Royal also uses podcasts as a supervision tool. He digitally records students’ practicum and internship sessions rather than using standard audio or videocassette recordings. With podcasting, session recordings can be transferred electronically from intern to supervisor. Supervisors can review the sessions either on their portable device or a computer. If the podcast is transferred via course delivery system, such as Blackboard, the transfer is theoretically secured with password protection.

“For me as an instructor and supervisor, the quality of the recording is 10 times better,” he says. “You don’t have to spend hours with a microcassette recorder strapped to your ear trying to hear what’s on it. With the digital recording, it’s not only clearer, but it is also mobile, so I can take them wherever. I can even listen to them on my cell phone. It really has simplified my life.”

Royal openly admits that he has a love affair with his mobile phone, which plays MP3s and has Internet capabilities. “Going to the office, it’s all I need to take with me,” he says. “I can dictate progress notes, I can return calls and check e-mail. It’s less clutter. I’m not lugging around a briefcase anymore.” Royal also teaches online classes in the summer. With his mobile phone, he says, he is able to go on a family vacation and still teach class.

Other counselor educators have also discovered advantages in tapping into technology. “I never thought of myself as a techno-geek, yet my students say I am the most tech-savvy professor they have had — they add ‘especially for my age,’” says J. Barry Mascari, former president of the American Association of State Counseling Boards and a counselor educator at Kean University in Union, N.J.

He says implementing new tech tools has transformed the way he presents information to his students. “Technology certainly has helped classes. I have been developing a CD tool kit for my students in the Professional Orientation class that includes everything from the ACA Code of Ethics to licensure application forms to podcasts of shows that can enhance their learning,” he says. “The slides for each class are there along with journal or other articles for that day. One student said to me, ‘Thank you. This was so nice. No one has ever done anything like this in class for me before.’”

While incorporating technology into his teaching methods required more work on his part, at least initially, Mascari believes the effort was worth it because of the benefit to his students. When they walk into his class at the beginning of each semester, they have all the course materials on their own CD tool kit, which they can then access and review at any time. “The technology is there,” Mascari says, “so why not use it?”

MySpace or yours?

Adria E. Shipp, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is a former teacher and school counselor who has worked at the elementary through high school levels. In spite of some of the negative press surrounding online social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook, she believes counselors can use these services to connect with adolescent clients.

“The goal is to use MySpace as a counseling tool. MySpace doesn’t create problems, it reveals them,” she says. “It’s a really good tool to use to see how and discuss how young people are portraying themselves to the public.”

For instance, she explains, “Social skills can be observed, especially if a student has 975 online friends. You might need to talk about boundaries with that student. With that many friends, they are probably accepting friends that they don’t really know.”

Because they can see what students are saying in blogs and comments, as well as view photos being posted, counselors can present what they found online to students and open a dialogue about some of the questionable material. For school counselors who have set up personal profiles on MySpace or similar sites and been granted “friend” status by students, Shipp recommends occasionally looking at these students’ sites to see if any red flags need to be addressed, such as cyberbullying or alcohol/drug use. For private practitioners who have established profiles, she suggests mentioning the profile to clients and asking if they would like to share or view their profile together with the counselor. (For another perspective on counselors establishing online profiles, turn to Reader Viewpoint on page 44.)

“It’s a window into a student’s identity,” Shipp says. “What was pretty much invisible to adults can now be seen on (the students’) profiles. We can see how they want to be viewed by their friends, which many times is different than how they want to be viewed by adults.”

Shipp urges counselors to become familiar with social networking sites and to get comfortable talking to students about what they are posting online, because, on occasion, the posts may represent a cry for help. If the posts simply exhibit a lack of good judgment, the counselor can remind the student about the dangers of having inappropriate personal information accessible on the web. “We need to educate them on safety, not punish them,” she says. “Ask to see their page, but give them some time to clean it up. This forces them to look at their profile from an adult’s perspective.”

Shipp also says it’s important for counselors to help educate parents about MySpace and other online social networking sites. She gives parents the following advice concerning their children’s online profiles:

  • Make sure the child’s or teen’s profile and blog are set to “private,” a security setting that only allows “invited” friends to view the profile
  • Make sure the child or teen is only listing his or her home state on the profile rather than a specific location
  • Make sure the child or teen is posting his or her correct age
  • Tell the child or teen to accept only friends on their profile — no strangers
  • Tell the child or teen to keep personal information to a minimum

Additionally, she says parents should:

  • Inform children and teens that not all photos are appropriate for online use
  • Designate an open area in the house for the computer instead of letting kids keep a computer behind closed doors
  • Establish computer curfews, especially if parents go to bed earlier than their kids
  • Be familiar with “text speak” or e-mail/texting shorthand (see “Common ‘text speak’” on page 38)

Additional tips are available on MySpace under “Tips for Parents.”

“Parents know their children’s real-life friends,” Shipp says. “They should know their online friends as well. It can be dangerous for children and teenagers. We have to help kids make smart decisions.”

Shipp says a good way for parents to monitor a child’s MySpace account is to ask the child to help them create their own profiles. However, parents must lead by example and refrain from posting adult content if they are in fact linked to their child’s profile.

Professional profiles

As with parents, Shipp strongly urges counselors who create online profiles to keep them professional. “It can still be fun, but you have to refer back to our Code of Ethics . The same rules apply online and offline,” she says. “The research shows that students really like it if their counselors, teachers and professors have MySpace or Facebook profiles, but they are only receptive to it if the professional is representing themselves the same way online as offline.”

Jane Webber, a counselor educator at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., has her own Facebook profile and makes it available to her students and younger clients. “I work primarily with adolescents and young adults. They live and communicate in e-culture. To earn their respect and confidence, I need to appreciate and thrive in their culture,” she says. “Their social rules are different and impact how they relate. I have no theoretical or clinical reason not to e-mail or text message or respond to a Facebook invitation. I need to integrate technology into everything to be truly empathic and congruent with the e-world of teens.”

However, Webber adds, mental heath professionals should be careful not to come across as “too chummy” or try to be “cool.” And online profiles should not contain any information that wouldn’t be disclosed in a person-to-person session, she emphasizes. “It’s OK for us to be a little informal or geeky, but be aware of that slippery slope into ethical violations,” she says.

What is appropriate for counselors to share on their online profiles? Webber suggests the following:

  • Benign photos (nothing suggestive but something more personal than a professional head shot)
  • Favorite quotes
  • Favorite books or movies
  • A description of counseling services provided

If counselors are unsure of whether they should post certain types of content, Webber advises them to think about what their colleagues might say or criticize about their profile. Another good rule, she adds, is not to include personal information, phone numbers, addresses or information about family members or the counselor’s private life.

“You have to ask yourself, would you be embarrassed if your supervisor or grandmother saw your profile? It should be genuine, warm and friendly, but it also should have a feeling of boundaries and professionalism,” she says. “We have to balance accessibility with proper decorum.”

Angela Kennedy is a senior writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at akennedy@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Rolling out the wiki welcome mat

Jonathan Rollins

Wikipedia has its champions and its critics. But above all, the free online, user-generated “encyclopedia” has users. According to Wikipedia’s online entry about itself, “As of April 2008, Wikipedia attracts 683 million visitors annually reading over 10 million articles in 253 languages.” As of July 9, the English Wikipedia edition boasted more than 2,448,000 articles, many “written collaboratively by volunteers around the world.” Wikipedia, founded in 2001, ranks as one of the top 10 most-visited websites in the world.

“Wikipedia is 1,000 percent more accessible than an actual encyclopedia and about 90 percent as accurate,” says Tim Baker, succinctly explaining both the kudos and the criticism heaped on this Internet phenomenon. A school counselor in Levy County, Fla., and a recent doctoral graduate of counselor education from the University of Florida, Baker has been steadily developing a counseling-centric wiki — aptly named the Wiki of Counseling — since the summer of 2007. He began soliciting select manuscripts in January and hopes to make the site accessible to the public later this year.

“The aim in developing this new counseling-focused technology is to take advantage of the best features a wiki has to offer while working to overcome some of the problems that can come with that format,” he says. “I want to combine the flexibility of the Internet with the credibility of a traditional print source.”

Baker launched his project not because he thought it was fashionable but because he believed a genuine need existed. “The goal of the Wiki of Counseling is to develop a knowledge base, accessible to the public, of high-quality articles discussing counseling topics,” says Baker, a member of the American Counseling Association, the American School Counselor Association and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. “There’s a need for all populations that counselors serve to have credible information about counselors, and we need this information to be easy to understand and readily accessible — kind of a one-stop shop for counseling knowledge.”

Part of the impetus for creating the Wiki of Counseling is to establish a clearer public identity for the profession and to counter misconceptions and “junk science” proliferated elsewhere on the Internet, says Baker, who chaired the 2007-2008 ACA Cybertechnology Committee. “I’m concerned that the counseling profession is credited with both the good and the bad experiences people have with therapy because, from the public point of view, counseling is amorphous,” he says.

Baker points out that many of the opinions tossed around cyberspace — often on blogs or other public forums — lump professions such as psychiatry, psychology and counseling together, and don’t necessarily cast them in a favorable light, particularly when it comes to controversial topics such as psychotropic medications. Likewise, Baker notes that the Internet rarely mentions postmodern counseling paradigms as alternatives to medical intervention.

“I’m not saying that the world will end if we don’t, but whenever we (counselors) fail to tell our story, there’s always a chance that someone else will tell it for us, and I don’t think that’s good,” he says. “If we don’t communicate our values, who will communicate them for us? The Wiki of Counseling should represent the best that we have to offer.”

Safeguarding credibility

Accessibility, the very thing that makes Wikipedia so appealing, is also at the heart of most of the hand-wringing concerning the online reference site. Anyone with Internet access can contribute a topical entry or revise existing entries on Wikipedia. The problem for readers, of course, is judging whether the information being provided is credible. Wikipedia’s open-to-everyone format makes it impossible to ensure that each piece of information is accurate. Visitors to Wikipedia have to take something of a buyer-beware attitude instead of accepting each “fact” found on the site as gospel truth.

Baker realized early in the process how critical it would be to safeguard the credibility of the Wiki of Counseling site, not only so the public could access accurate information, but also to assure professional counselors that it was safe to contribute articles. In recruiting the first entries for the wiki, he learned prospective writers were concerned that their articles would be “vandalized.” Baker responded by developing protections absent from Wikipedia.

“The Wiki of Counseling introduces accountability through an integral mechanism for peer review,” he explains. “This mechanism requires all publications and revisions to be approved for publication by a volunteer editor whose professional identity has been verified. This will help prevent vandalism while maintaining professional standards of quality. It also will help reassure contributors that they will be appropriately recognized, giving authors credit for each manuscript published and acknowledging, in summary form, the service of editors and reviewers. There have definitely been questions because of the newness (of the concept), but because we have very strong validation of editors and accountability built in for what is written, I think the level of credibility will be much better.”

Any registered user of the Wiki of Counseling can write a manuscript for the site. To contribute manuscripts, however, users must provide a valid e-mail address, certify that their primary professional identity involves a counseling field and agree to adhere to the ACA Code of Ethics . When users are ready to submit a manuscript, they send it to a wiki editor of their choosing (Baker thought it was important to make the process transparent to potential contributors). Editors are registered users whose identities and professional credentials have been verified by Baker’s team. The editor then has the choice of publishing the manuscript directly to the wiki, publishing it after making minor changes to grammar and spelling, sending it to a third party for blind review or returning it to the author for more work. Eventually, Baker says, additional features will be implemented that allow ongoing revisions and additions to existing articles.

Initially, articles on the site will be alphabetized by title. But as the volume grows, articles will be organized according to the common core curricular experiences laid out in the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs’ 2001 Standards, as follows:

  • Professional identity
  • Social and cultural diversity
  • Human growth and development
  • Career development
  • Helping relationships
  • Group work
  • Assessment
  • Research and program evaluation

A multipurpose site

Baker hopes the Wiki of Counseling will become a trusted resource for the public to learn more about counseling and the counseling profession. He believes it’s just as likely, however, that the site will become a place for counselors to consolidate academic research, promote theory- and practice-based approaches and share knowledge among themselves.

“The Wiki of Counseling has the potential to be whatever its contributors want it to be. It’s really hard to predict what people will volunteer with their articles,” says Baker, adding that he won’t attempt to influence the wiki’s ultimate direction. “I wouldn’t be disappointed either way, whether it becomes more of a resource for the public or the counseling profession. I expect everything on there will be suitable to be read by the public regardless.”

Ana Spence-Baker, a National Certified Counselor and Tim’s wife, is most excited by the potential the Wiki of Counseling shows for bringing a wellspring of new counseling voices and ideas to the surface. “It is the future of publishing in the counseling field,” she says when asked to describe the technology. “There are people who are not well known in the profession who have plenty of knowledge and skills to share. There are also many counseling students with relevant knowledge and experience worth publishing. The wiki is the opportunity for those who usually would not publish their work to do so. … Many counseling students write very good documents while in school, but they are never submitted for publication because they do not want to go through the hassle of the submission process and they fear that because they are just beginning their training, others may not take them seriously. The wiki will allow counseling students to be participants in this sharing and collaboration, not just audience members.”

“The wiki will give all counseling students an opportunity to earn experience publishing articles and to learn more about the profession through those articles published by their peers and experienced professionals,” she continues. “The wiki will be accessible at no cost to all counseling professionals, allowing them to learn from each other and share their knowledge. Most journals, due to their limited space, would only allow a few articles to be published. However, the wiki will give everybody in the counseling field an opportunity to publish as long as their articles are professional and appropriate for the site.”

Spence-Baker, who has worked as a career counselor and a counselor in the crisis unit of a regional medical center, helped to test the Wiki of Counseling as Tim was developing the technology. Spence-Baker, also one of the site’s editors, will be in charge of verifying the credentials of other editors and ensuring that only those individuals with ties to the counseling field publish in the wiki.

“I share Tim’s interest in using technology in counseling and career development. Although I am not a counselor educator, I look forward to finding new ways that could help prepare counselors to serve clients,” she says. “The wiki will help counseling students to develop professionally in several areas, which will be a benefit not only for the profession, but also to their clients. Also, it will encourage students and professionals to not limit themselves to practicing the profession, but to contribute to the improvement of others in the field.”

Spence-Baker is also hopeful the Wiki of Counseling will help counseling professionals open their arms a little wider to potential uses for technology. “There is the misunderstanding that technology may make the counseling process nonpersonal,” she says. “However, many forget that in today’s world, some clients — mainly young clients — may respond better to treatment and the counseling process if technology is used in some way. Technology is also an important tool in preparing counselors across borders, sharing their knowledge and experience, as well as educating counselors in the areas of multiculturalism and social justice by keeping them in touch with counselors working with a variety of populations, including those from other countries. I believe the wiki could serve as a bridge to keep counselors from across the world in communication with each other. We should not see technology as the enemy but as an ally in serving our clients better.”

“I hope counselors overcome their fear and reservations about technology in the near future,” she says. “I also hope that the wiki makes some small contribution in opening the minds of counselors about the importance of using technology in the profession.”

The Wiki of Counseling is currently in a fully functional beta stage. Baker believes he will be ready to solicit a wider range of contributions from counselors in the near future and estimates that the site may be ready for public use after Thanksgiving. In the meantime, he is inviting the submission of short papers to the Wiki of Counseling. Suggested areas of focus include any topic in the broad categories of either “professional identity of counselors” or “helping relationships.” Submitted papers should explain the topic using language that can be understood by persons with no prior knowledge of counseling. For submission instructions and additional information, potential contributors should contact Tim Baker at tdbaker@ufl.edu.

In allowing a limited number of counselors to test the site thus far and in telling others of its development, Baker has been encouraged by the reaction. “Everybody recognizes that it’s a good thing, that at some level we can benefit from this,” Baker says. “We can’t lose from collaboration. I think the wiki may lead to new ideas in the counseling field, and that can’t be a bad thing.”

In their own words

August 3, 2008

The August issue of Counseling Today explores how computer-related technology and the World Wide Web has influenced, altered and enhanced the helping professions. CT asked several American Counseling Association members from across the professional spectrum to discuss the ways in which technology is affecting their professional lives. Here are their replies in a “web exclusive” supplement to the August cover feature.

Erin Mason
Assistant Professor, DePaul University
13 years in the profession

What tech tools do you find most helpful?

I’m constantly impressed with colleagues’ creativity regarding technology. Websites, podcasts, Webcast, listservs, hybrid courses, multi-media presentations, software, etc. assist in making the counseling world more accessible on a number of levels.
As a former school counselor I especially enjoyed technologies that allowed me to easily organize data and present to students and staff. The School Counseling Accountability and Task Analysis Program (SCAATAP) by Kim Holloway and Dave Dresser, SurveyMonkey.com, Excel and Tim Poynton’s EZAnalyze were daily tools in my school counseling practice and I regularly recommend them to others. Dr. Russell Sabella has a fantastic site devoted to technology for school counselors; SchoolCounselor.com is a must for staying current on software tips, presentation ideas, cyber safety and much, much more.

What do counselors need to know about technology to be “in touch” with certain segments of the population?

Counselors working with children and adolescents should be at least familiar with commonly used websites and communication tools such as MySpace, Facebook, instant messaging, blogging and texting. Technology in the younger generation goes way beyond email and evolves at exponential rates. Even if counselors don’t use such tools themselves, it is important to know the lingo so as to help clients. Most children and teens are happy to provide explanations to less tech-savvy adults!

What are some multicultural implications related to technology?

The main multicultural implications related to technology rest on economic disparity. Despite the pervasiveness of technology, there are many clients who do not have access to technological devices or services. Whether it is finding resources for schools projects, locating pertinent career or medical information, staying connected to overseas loved ones or dealing with a broken down car, inequities of technology continue.

Anything else you would like to add?

Being savvy is essential when it comes to technology. We are in the information age and technology permeates our daily lives as well as those of our clients. The real challenge is in keeping up; one can be savvy one day and an amateur the next.

Sally Gelardin
Counselor Educator, University of San Francisco
13 years in the profession

What tech tools do you find most helpful?

Open source web platforms, such as http://www.lifeworkps.com/sallyg (for setting up personal e-profile, e-communities, blogging, e-networking, hyperlinks, setting up and teaching eCDF curriculum), Mindjet MindManager, Wikis, Wikipedia, online dictionaries and online encyclopedias,

What are your thoughts about online counseling?

You have to be meticulous about confidentiality and building trust with client. Client needs to be able to be comfortable with online assessment tools and communicating by distance. Counselors need to be very specific in correspondence and must be able to “listen” to clients by reading what they write.

Anything else you would like to add?
Marilyn Harryman and I wrote an article for Jackie Allen’s upcoming book on 21st Century School Counseling (CAPs Press, will be published in 2008). Our chapter was on “Using Cybertools To Reach More Students.” It’s loaded with valuable information for counselor educators who teach K-12 school counselors.

Timothy Baker
School Counselor, Levy County, Florida
3 years in the profession

How has technology impacted your professional life?

Technology makes it possible for school counselors to act more autonomously. When school counselors are less reliant on administrative and clerical staff for day-to-day operations, they have much more freedom and flexibility to plan a developmental guidance program and to pursue school counseling duties. Effective use of technology lets school counselors interact directly with electronic information resources (for example, teacher gradebooks and students’ academic records) thus eliminating the need for a middle broker, freeing up guidance resources for high-priority tasks.

I think it would have been very difficult for me to have accomplished much counseling in the school setting had I not been able to access these information resources directly.

How important is it for counselors to be “tech savvy”?

School counselors who are savvy with the world-wide web are also more likely to locate community support resources that serve students and families. At other times, the ability to advocate for specific student populations, such as students with disabilities, may hinge on the counselor’s direct access to the language of state laws and administrative code, which often is available on-line. The ability to cite specific statutes and precedents is a tremendous asset to a school counselor who, while working within the system, envisions change.

How are counselors and/or counselor educators using technology to their advantage?

It varies… There seems to be a lot of emphasis on rote skill performance, with only a few individuals in the flock going on to apply the concepts in new and appropriate ways. When we talk about “counselors using technology to their advantage,” I suspect that most counselors are forced to use some technology applications that bring few actual benefits, such as filling out a form on a web site instead of having the option to mail in a paper form. For change to be accepted, there must be tangible benefits. Rather than know how many counselors are using e-mail or IM, for example, I would rather want to know how the cost-to-benefit ratio of technology is being perceived. Frankly, if our computer applications don’t do something we’ve always wanted and that we can’t live without, then we probably should quit using them and try something different.

What tech tools do you find most helpful (any specific programs or ways of communicating, teaching)?

I use spreadsheets for analysis of student performance data. Most of what I use are products from the Microsoft Office Professional suite, though that is largely because of the organization’s IT policy which emphasizes security and reliability at the cost of somewhat restricting availability to software alternatives.

Max Hines
Mental Health Consultant, Nursing Homes in Minneapolis-St. Paul areas
More than 30 years in the profession

How has technology impacted your professional life?

I have taught and learned through on line counseling courses. I use technology to consult regularly with other providers for my clients. My billings are completed electronically. I use the telephone to involve family members in clients’ therapy. There are examples of how technology enriches my professional life as a mental health counselor.

How important is it for counselors to be “tech savvy”?

It keeps me from becoming antiquated, both practically and symbolically. I find that younger clients connect with me better if they’re tech savvy and find that I am, too.

What are your thoughts about online counseling?

I think this can be a very useful supplement to in person sessions and can be a medium for meaningful sessions for persons unable to have in person sessions due to geographic distance, immobility, etc, especially if the client is someone who engages meaningfully through the written (email) or spoken (telephonic) word. Of course, confidentiality is an important issue. Secure email, scrambled (then unscrambled) messages, and land line telephones help address confidentiality. The ethical consideration involves addressing the best interests of the client, balancing the pros vs. the cons when considering online counseling sessions.

What client issues are counselors seeing that are a direct or indirect result of living in a technological age, and have you had any experience counseling clients struggling with those issues?

Over time, we are becoming more and more connected to one another through technology. At the same time, technology breaks down the contextual connections between us–creating a medium devoid of time, place, and shared experiences.
What do counselors need to know about technology to be “in touch” with certain segments of the population? It’s helpful if counselors are familiar with and conversant in the mediums in which their clients communicate.

Anything else you would like to add?

Live audio-video teleconferencing is available in most corporations. If we embrace live audio-video in our private lives, it’s a whole new world with possibilities for live counseling at a distance. This has much potential for counseling services becoming more available in rural and remote areas, as well as providing an alternative for clients who want to see a counselor with a specialty not available in their area.

Norm Dasenbrook and Bob Walsh
Private Practice in Chicago, ACA Private Practice Columnists
30 years in the profession

How has technology impacted your professional life?

Increased communication, billing, websites, advertising, information sharing and gathering for counselors and clients.

How important is it for counselors to be “tech savvy”?

Counseling is a profession where one can get by with little or no “tech savvy”. However, technology can enhance one’s practice and will be a necessity in the near future for electronic exchange of information.

How are counselors and/or counselor educators using technology to their advantage?

As mentioned above in terms of information, billing, advertising and marketing and networking with colleagues and professional counseling organizations.

What tech tools do you find most helpful?

Software such as Quicken, billing programs with electronic billing feature, listservs, etc.

What are your thoughts about online counseling?

While it is growing and will continue to grow…great for rural areas and clients who travel extensively, but we are not big fans. We prefer to see clients in a traditional office setting.

J. Barry Mascari,
Assistant Professor/Chair, Counselor Education Department
Project Director, NJ Center for the Advancement of School Counseling
28 years in the profession

How are counselors and/or counselor educators using technology to their advantage?

I think we are not quite there yet in terms of using technology to our advantage. I could envision a time when the professional disclosure and informed consent will be delivered in a video format so the prospective client can meet the counselor without scheduling the first session and if they like what they see, make an appointment. This will be part of the virtual marketplace that seems to be more predominant in services other than counseling. Again, if you go on the internet and shop for counselors now you will discover a lot of unlicensed people writing clever ads that the public do not see as deceptive. There are various types of predators on the Internet, not all just connected to child exploitation – some relate to counseling services. In the AASCB brochure we said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Unfortunately, people are vulnerable to exploitation.

Another area is the email – clients sending brief communications to counselors. Again, these are filled with pitfalls – they could become time consuming counseling sessions in a chat format so the counselor needs to set some clear boundaries.The pager is virtually dead, between cell phone and handheld communication devices – text, voicemail, phone calls all allow contact.

What tech tools do you find most helpful?

Actually email is great. Since I purchased a Blackberry I find myself texting more since you can chat without disrupting some events by sending a message quickly. SMS connects from a different server. In planning to do disaster response work my son reminded me that the SMS system may be operating, as it did on 9/11 when the phones were not working. The “why” is over my head but it makes having a multifunction device more important. I like the Blackberry, and maybe one day it may be an iPhone, because it was getting really difficult to carry around a cell, a Palm and the laptop for email communication; now, they are merged into one and the office is mobile. I can sit on a train and read and respond to email, find someone’s information in my address book, and Google (the new verb) something. I also have a GPS on the handheld – one more device so when I am lost going to some training I can find it.

What are your thoughts about online counseling?

I have some serious concerns about online counseling because in many ways it is the frontier without any real law enforcement in town. As a former president of AASCB I collected data that demonstrated many states are “thinking about regulating online counseling” but most currently have nothing currently in place. One of my early roles with AASCB was leading the SubCommission that developed the “Best Practices” for Internet counseling as a brochure for use by clients and counselors. I suspect there are some places in the country where exclusively online counseling might be necessary. I also think that online counseling needs to use a video camera since there are all kinds of identity problems, and we all know seeing the client face-to-face has benefits in terms of the human connection. A colleague and I have done some literature reviews and many of the studies are about client satisfaction or studies that used no comparison groups; we will keep looking. In the mean time I don’t think we can say for certain that when using Internet counseling there are specific evidence-based practices; as professionals we are in uncharted waters.

What are some multicultural implications related to technology?

One of my biggest concerns is the affordability of technology and the possibility of a technology gap. Until the $100 lap top project comes to a neighborhood near you. Many students, particularly new immigrants and their families, are left out of the Internet revolution. When I worked in a city district we used some grant funds to add extra computers to the public library so our students and parents could access the Internet for scholarship and college search. We probably need to reach out to parents to help them know where these facilities are available. Also, parents who are struggling with English now have another area of concern – what are their kids looking at or saying over the Internet?

Is there life after graduate school?

Gerald Corey August 1, 2008

Counseling Today asked Gerald “Jerry” Corey, professor emeritus of human services and counseling at California State University at Fullerton, to share some keys to help beginning counselors establish a strong foundation for their careers. Corey provided the following tips, adapted from his Education Session “Is There Life After Graduate School?” which he presented to graduate students and new professionals at the American Counseling Association Conference in Honolulu in March.

*****

One of the main points I try to leave students with is to have the courage to create a vision of the kind of personal and professional life they would like to have and then to work hard at making this actually happen. I encourage them to trust in themselves and not be derailed by any setback they may encounter, either academically or in their personal life.

Here are some other key points:

  • Never let discouragement get the best of you. You may experience setbacks and you may doubt in your own ability to become an effective counselor. However, do not let these negative thoughts get the best of you. Look at obstacles as challenges to be overcome and the building blocks you can use to get to where you want to be. You can ask others for support and encouragement when you feel like giving up.
  • Seek out at least one mentor. Take the initiative to talk with some of your professors and see how you can get involved in projects with them. You might be able to assist in their research projects, assist them in some way in their teaching or participate in writing a journal article. Ask them about professional conventions they might be attending. See if there is a way that you might present with them on a conference program.
  • Learn the art of networking. Build alliances with your peers and with students who have recently graduated from your program. Ask them for suggestions of how to get involved in a career.
  • Look for ways to get involved in volunteer work in the area of your interests. You might be able to link your volunteering efforts with a fieldwork placement in a school or agency setting. Many students have secured their first full-time positions in mental health through their volunteer work or their fieldwork placement. Even if you do not get a job as a result of your volunteering or placement, the chances are good that you will discover if a particular line of work is suitable for you.
  • Attend local, state, regional and national professional conferences. At most of these conferences, you will have opportunities to talk with people who are employing recent graduates. On your campus, the chances are that there is a career day where you can meet people who are hiring counselors in a community agency. Be sure to take advantage of this kind of resource on your campus.
  • Don’t interpret making mistakes as failure. Understand that your learning will be limited if you are not open to making mistakes. Do your best to learn from mistakes. Be open to talking about your perceived mistakes during your supervision sessions or with your professor or trusted peers.
  • Seek out a variety of self-exploration experiences, especially individual and group therapy, for these experiences can enable you to make significant changes in your life. Your own therapy can be your best teacher in learning how to effectively counsel clients. Remember that it is not the big changes that are necessarily significant. Instead, it is your willingness to take small steps that will lead to continued growth. Only you can change your own ways of thinking, feeling and doing.
  • Make the time to read books that will broaden your academic understanding and enrich you personally. Along with your reading, keep a personal journal. This will be a good way to keep track of what you are doing and where you are going.
  • Establish long-term goals and shorter-term goals, along with a timeline for accomplishing specific tasks. Learn time management and apply these skills to meeting your projects.
  • Reflect on ways that you can make a difference in the lives of others and what special talents you have that you can put to the service of others.
  • Learn to establish good professional boundaries with your clients, coworkers and administrators. In your profession, many demands may be made of you. What is important is to keep focused on your own priorities. It will be important to say “no” to requests at times if you are to keep from being spread too thin. If you are able to establish appropriate boundaries in your personal life, you are more likely to maintain appropriate boundaries as a professional.
  • Take care of yourself in all ways. If you do not learn and practice self-care, you will not last long in the counseling profession. If you find yourself saying you don’t have time to take care of yourself, then re-evaluate your priorities and determine the direction your behavior is taking you.

****

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTOnline

Career planning helps you reach your goals

Amy Reece Connelly

Q: I’m trying to develop a 10-year plan for my career. How do you suggest I approach this?

A: Stephen Covey devotees will recognize the following piece of advice: “Begin with the end in mind.” Covey holds that all things are created twice: first in the imagination and then later in reality. If you first identify your goals, it will be easier to make decisions related to the outcomes you seek.

Start with the goal. Let’s say your long-term goal is to be the director of an organization that provides counseling services. That’s a good start, but it’s pretty broad. When you add more detail to your goal, you can clarify your career path.

Define, define, define. Do you prefer nonprofits that specialize in counseling or those that provide a variety of services? Do you want to work in a publicly or privately funded agency? Do you like large organizations or smaller ones? Should this agency have national, regional or local center of control? Are you targeting a particular population? Where do you want to live? Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist? Do you want to work with many other professionals or only a few?

Peruse the classifieds. Most people look at advertisements as they’re embarking on a job search, but few recognize job advertisements as a career planning tool. Find ads for the positions you aspire to five or 10 years down the road. What qualifications define the “perfect candidate” at the organizations that match your personal goals? Use these as a template to define your career development plan.

Talk to people who have the job you’re striving to attain. What skills do professionals in your target job use every day? What new skills have they developed to become more effective in their roles? What were some of the good (and bad) decisions they made in their careers? What have they learned from those decisions? What advice do they have as you prepare for a similar position?

Consider your life roles. Your “worker” role does not exist in a vacuum. Other roles (child, student, leisurite, citizen, life partner, homemaker, parent, pensioner), as defined by Donald Super, will certainly influence — and be influenced — by your identification as a worker. To achieve work/life balance, you need to account for these additional roles in your career plan.

Develop your action plan. Identify your strengths as well as areas for continued development. What experiences will position you as a strong candidate for the role you’re seeking? How will you fit these developmental steps into your work and life over the time you have defined to achieve your goal? Is it possible to accomplish these objectives in the time allotted, or do you need to revise your thinking?

Differentiate. What will set you apart from other candidates whose academic credentials are similar to your own? What special skills or attributes do you possess that others lack? Is it technological expertise, fluency in a foreign language, an M.B.A. or the skills necessary to head a department? Have you been involved in fund-raising activities? Have you successfully written grant proposals? Do you have specialist knowledge in an area on which a new program could be developed? 

Review your plan regularly. Surprises come along from time to time that may alter your carefully crafted plans. Pay attention to emerging trends that could change your career path. Keep looking at those advertisements to make certain the path hasn’t moved.

Be ready to move to Plan B. Once in awhile, those inevitable surprises can provide a great opportunity that you never considered. While not every “great opportunity” is appropriate for your goals, sometimes a change in plans is warranted to pursue an unexpected chance of a lifetime. If you are cognizant of your work/life balance, you’ll be better able to identify when an opportunity merits alteration to your Master Plan.

Keep your résumé up to date. You may reach your goals ahead of schedule, or it may take you a little longer than anticipated. Your résumé is a concrete instrument that can help track your progress. Revisit it every six months or so (once a year at minimum).

Bear in mind, many people have enjoyed very interesting careers without creating a long-term plan. But if you appreciate (or crave) order, a career plan can help you manage both your short- and long-term prospects.

Amy Reece Connelly is the manager of ACA Career Services. E-mail questions to her at acacareers@counseling.org. Telephone consultation is available to ACA members by appointment.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org