Monthly Archives: March 2009

Counseling in a time of economic upheaval

Jonathan Rollins March 15, 2009

The numbers keep rolling in, and they all point to the same conclusion: The economy is down, and feelings of fear, panic and disillusionment are way, way up.

  • A report released by ComPsych in October found that 92 percent of respondents are losing sleep over economic worries.
  • A December “financial crisis” study by global market information group TNS found that one-third of Americans fear losing their jobs, and 11 percent fear losing their homes; only 18 percent of respondents still believe the economic crisis will have “no direct effect” on their personal situation.
  • In comparison with October 2007, calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline rose 18 percent in October 2008 (after the stock market took a major dive). Various reports have also noted that calls to suicide hotlines have increased dramatically since the onset of the recession.
  • In its sixth annual State of the Dream report released on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the advocacy group United for a Fair Economy stated: “While the general population has been in recession for one year, people of color have been in recession for five years. By definition, a long-term recession is a depression.”
  • In a USA Today article published in early February, an Illinois psychologist was quoted as saying she had never in her 22 years of practice witnessed the level of anxiety and depression now being exhibited by clients. She went on to state that the “mental health fallout (from current economic woes) has been far worse than after 9/11.”

The question for counselors, of course, is what role they can play in helping clients, even as counselors deal with their own anxieties over the potential economic fallout. Eight American Counseling Association members agreed to talk about the impact the economy is having on them and their clients. They didn’t pass themselves off as “experts” with neat and tidy solutions to their clients’ problems; rather, they honestly recounted the struggles they are facing and the strategies they are using to try and make a difference in clients’ lives during these uncertain times.

Although each presented a unique perspective on how to approach the economic crisis, they all agreed that counselors have a very important role to fill and that the profession must do a better job of making the public aware of exactly how counselors can be of service. Two areas in particular received repeated mention when these ACA members talked about ways that counselors can provide the most assistance: client career issues (not just limited to finding a new job) and helping clients cope with anxiety and stress.

Coincidentally, in January, Yahoo! HotJobs named counseling and career counseling as two of its “10 Hot Professions for 2009,” primarily because of the way the economy is affecting people. Yahoo! predicted counselors and career counselors would be in high demand for their expertise in helping people to reengineer their careers, rebuild their self-esteem and self-confidence and improve their mental health.

Nina K. Flowers
Promoting client strengths, imagery and networking

Nina K. Flowers has a client who originally came in for counseling because her boyfriend was not being good to her. The client recently told Flowers, who is counseling her pro bono, that she was down to her last $800, had lost her job and didn’t have insurance. She also revealed she was now planning to move in with that same boyfriend. “We’ve talked a lot about how that’s unhealthy emotionally, but she’s too desperate to do anything else,” says Flowers, who owns Counseling Solutions Inc., a private practice in Lansdowne, Va.

While all her clients aren’t in such desperate straits, Flowers is seeing more people who are either dealing with job loss or stressed out at the thought of losing their job. “They’re in a panic state because they feel threatened by the possibility of layoffs,” she says. “They’re living in that horrible anxiety of not knowing. … I’m kind of a perpetual optimist. I tell my clients, ‘Let’s not worry about something until it actually happens, then we’ll handle it. Let’s work with what we’ve got.'”

But Flowers doesn’t simply try to convert clients to a “don’t worry, be happy” philosophy. “I help clients search for their strengths and skills that can be transferred to jobs outside of their current or last career,” she says. “I also recommend the local career center and explain how it can best be used — abilities and interests surveys, exploring career handbooks, etc.” Clients who attended college should also be reminded that they can take advantage of career resources at their schools long after they graduate, she adds.

“I also explain what stress is and how it can affect their lives,” Flowers says. “I teach them to understand their symptoms of stress and to react to those symptoms quickly. I teach imagery and other relaxation techniques to help them calm things down on an immediate level.”

In one of her imagery exercises, she guides clients through a field of flowers and to the edge of a pond. She then instructs them to put their fear of losing a job (or another anxiety) into a bag. They then place the bag on a lily pad and watch it float away on the pond. “I tell them, ‘For now, let’s just let that worry go.’ When they’ve got a lot of worries on their plate, I always put them in the bag to give the client a break from their anxieties for a couple of minutes. They seem relieved, at least for a little while.” Some of her male clients are resistant to imagery exercises, Flowers admits, but women are usually receptive and find the techniques useful.

Flowers also focuses on getting clients stabilized in their lives so they won’t take their problems to work and increase their likelihood of being fired. “As counselors, we sometimes have to ask, are the client’s problems circumstantial, or is it something that they’re doing? I don’t think you can resolve the here and now unless you show them how the past has affected their life,” she says. In these instances, she helps clients explore their inner child and how that child can be soothed and reined in. This process, Flowers says, empowers clients to tell their child, “We are now adults. We can stop making decisions like a child and stop acting like a child.”

Flowers, who purchased her private practice in 2005 and does not take insurance, admits that the economic downturn has affected her business. “I never had too much trouble getting clients before,” she says, “but now, with the economic problems, people are saying, ‘Oh, you’re not in my insurance plan?’ … I use imagery and other relaxation techniques to cope with the stress of slow client times. I also go to lunch when possible with one of three colleagues, and we share concerns, ideas and encouragement.” Flowers highly recommends this practice for all counselors, but particularly for private practitioners. “Our business is not easy, even when economic pressures aren’t there,” she says. “We are so isolated when we’re in private practice. I find getting away with others really helpful.”

Flowers also advises counselors to consider branching out beyond their counseling silos, both for the health of their businesses and for their own mental and emotional health. Flowers is one of only two counselors who belong to the chamber of commerce in the county where she practices. “And there are a lot of counselors in our area,” she notes. She actively participates in one of the chamber’s “lead share” groups, in which members from various professions help one another with referrals. While Flowers picks up new business this way, she finds the lead share group equally valuable for another reason. “It gives me another aspect of life that I don’t get when I just hang out with other counselors,” she says. “I find that group really helpful to me emotionally.”

Flowers also networks with doctors to build her business. “I go door-to-door in medical buildings, leaving my business cards, chocolate prescription bars and chocolate Band-Aids for the staffs. At Thanksgiving, I have a basket professionally made for the doctors who refer to me, and I add one or two new doctors each year. … I also met a doctor at a chamber breakfast whom I called for a one-on-one meeting. He now gives me the most leads among all the doctors.”

Chris Tuell
Examining the impact on identity and families

From Chris Tuell’s viewpoint, counselors should take an ecological approach when examining the impact the economy is having on clients. “That means looking at the various systems within that person’s life,” he says. “How does this situation with the economy affect the person’s belief system, culture, family, job and so on?”

Tuell gets a glimpse of these various elements in his work at Family Service of the Cincinnati Area, an agency founded in 1879 that provides a variety of services, including clinical counseling. In addition to running groups and seeing clients, he serves as director of the organization’s EARN (Employee Assistance Resource Network) program. Tuell identifies two areas in particular where the economy is taking a dramatic toll: jobs/careers and family units.

Tuell has visited a number of companies that are downsizing and asking employee assistance programs (EAPs) to provide help. “Many of these people have been at their companies for years,” he says, “so it’s like a family to them. It’s a major loss in their lives.” But, Tuell points out, even as growing numbers of employees are losing their jobs or feeling burdened by the stress of job insecurity, many companies are looking to eliminate EAPs in hopes of saving a little money in the short run.

Given the current realities, counselors searching for effective avenues to help clients don’t need to look very far, Tuell says. “This economic climate gives us the chance to revisit the roots of our field — career counseling,” he says. This is particularly important right now, he notes, because so many people’s identities are wrapped up in their work, and when they lose their jobs, they oftentimes feel a corresponding loss of control and purpose in their lives.

These issues of identity and meaning commonly spill over into family life as well, Tuell says. “For some families, the way their system is structured at home, the male might see himself as the breadwinner. Without a job, his identity is now in jeopardy. He might translate that as being a failure.”

And, of course, Tuell says, even in the best of times, financial issues are one of the chief reasons behind marital discord. “The state of the economy today is going to make that issue even larger,” he says. “Some couples certainly see the economic realities as the final straw in their relationship.”

One challenge for counselors trying to help clients deal with stresses and problems related to the economy, Tuell says, is coming up with a plan that makes people feel they are still moving forward despite their circumstances. “Clients facing economic struggles can become stagnant and defeated,” he emphasizes.

Counselors also need to be aware of the influence that process addictions (including gambling, surfing the Internet, shopping or sexual activity) and substance abuse can have in exacerbating clients’ conditions and making them unproductive. “It’s easy to escape into that (addiction) and alter one’s mood instead of connecting with the real world,” says Tuell, an adjunct professor in addiction studies at the University of Cincinnati. “As counselors, we need to help them with better ways of coping and get them to talk about what they are going through.” One effective coping technique involves prompting clients to stay in contact with their support system of family and friends, he says.

Counselors should also let clients know they are not alone in the challenges they are facing and validate what is happening to them, Tuell says. “We also need to encourage clients to be aware that change can be good. This might open up opportunities for new things. Some people come out of challenges stronger than they were before. Giving a sense of hope to clients is essential.”

Of course, providing this sense of hope is even tougher during tough economic times. “People are seeking treatment, but the economy influences their attendance and ability to pay,” says Tuell, who adds that some clients can no longer afford their copays or are spreading their counseling appointments out instead of attending weekly sessions. Other clients are struggling to pay for gas or transportation to get to the agency’s offices. “And as an agency, the challenge for us is to provide services with less money or to find funding in this economy,” he says.

Still, the agency is doing what it can to reach those feeling the economic crunch in their day-to-day existence. For example, one of the agency’s programs provides employee assistance-type services, including anger management, assertiveness training and résumé writing, to low-income workers. Another program offers in-home clinical counseling to low-income clients who can’t afford or don’t have reliable transportation. “It’s a different model than 10 years ago, when everybody came into the office,” Tuell says.

In fact, Tuell is a proponent of counselors and other helping professionals getting out of their offices, especially in economically difficult times, to provide outreach and education — and to learn how to better meet the needs of people. “If we’re working in our silos, we’re not really seeing some of the things that can augment the services we’re providing,” he says. “Getting out into the community as counselors is a good thing.”

Patty Katzfey
Reclaiming counseling’s career focus

Patty Katzfey graduated in December with a master’s degree in community counseling (career emphasis) from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. While recent graduates in all career fields are concerned by the limited opportunities in the current job market, Katzfey remains excited by the possibilities.

“Personally, I feel like the economic situation is going to create real opportunities for counselors who understand what is happening and how to serve different populations,” says Katzfey, who will be working part time in the career center at Washington University as well as with a private group. “I think it’s an important time for counselors to do some self-reflection and see how we can be more instrumental in helping people find promise and empowerment and renewal.”

Katzfey, who also has a master’s in business administration, owned her own business and worked in the corporate world before deciding to become a counselor. “For me, moving into career counseling is a really natural transition,” she says. “It’s a way for me to link my experiences to help people who are experiencing some type of career transition and trying to redefine themselves.” As a self-described “corporate wife,” Katzfey had to modify her career path each time she and her husband moved. “That experience alone was so impactful to me,” she says. “It made me think a lot about career stuff — moving away from family, having children and how that affected my adaptability and career. I know from my own experience that career transition is an emotional and fearful period.”

Based on her experiences, Katzfey believes she has a good understanding of what people who have lost jobs or are facing job insecurity in this economy are going through. “I have some idea of how people are responding emotionally to change, and that includes feelings of fear and grief,” she says. “Counselors really have to assess how that sense of grief and concern is affecting clients. If we don’t, I think people will just spin their wheels. It may be that anxiety and depression are there. Let’s put that on the table and deal with it, and then lift that fog and look at the opportunities clients still have.”

Katzfey also believes counselors need to step up and let people know what a valuable resource the counseling profession can be during tough economic times. “I’m running into people all the time who have concerns about their careers and the economy,” she says. “They’re very uneasy, and they don’t know where to reach out. Counselors have to get out in the community and educate people about what we do and how we can help — how we can be facilitators and help clients draw out their strengths.”

The emergence of career coaches has muddied the waters a bit for clients who have both employment and emotional needs in times of economic stress, Katzfey says. “I think people are fearful and just want to get their résumé out and get back on track instead of dealing with what’s really going on in their lives,” she says. “Clients come with more stuff in those sessions than coaches can address. I think a good counselor will say, ‘Where do you want to start?’ and let the client drive the process.”

Likewise, Katzfey says, counselors have to be careful not to overstep their bounds during these tough economic times. “Counselors need to understand their capabilities in serving clients with career issues — the ethics of trying to provide services when they may not have the professional background,” she says. “We don’t want to turn any business away, and there is sometimes that feeling that we can do everything, even when we really can’t.” She urges counselors who aren’t genuinely qualified to handle career issues to refer clients or to partner with others in working with those clients.

While the economic crisis and rampant job loss are currently major sources of fear, Katzfey believes those conditions may eventually serve as motivation to many clients who feel stuck. “Given the circumstances, I think people are going to be more ready for change and ready to put themselves out there a little more.”

Maddie Blomgren
Adapting in private practice

When Maddie Blomgren started the Anger and Relationship Institute in Princeton, N.J., in 2002, she decided not to take insurance from clients. Her private practice filled such a strong niche — providing counseling specifically for anger and relationship issues — that she never second-guessed her decision until the economy went into a tailspin.

“This is the first time I’ve really had to worry about filling slots since I started,” she says. “In fact, it’s the first time I’ve been without a waiting list. My clients have lost jobs and been downsized, some have lost homes, some have moved because it’s a very expensive area to live in and, of course, some clients have finished their therapy. New inquiries are more likely to go elsewhere to avoid the cost of ‘out-of-network’ fees.

“In our area, the agencies are getting many, many more calls from clients than normal. Private practitioners, we’re all hurting. Even people who take insurance are biting their nails. I’m in a building with all therapists, and we’ve lost many of them.”

Blomgren is 64 and says she was considering scaling back her practice even before the economy got bad. Now she’s thinking about subletting and says she will likely move into a home office within the next year.

In the meantime, she’s taking steps to ease the financial burden on her existing clients and looking for creative ways to draw in new clients. “I have formed cost-effective (therapy) groups, given a reduced fare to clients who are willing to be seen during ‘off hours’ and gone to every-other-week appointments with some weekly clients,” she says.

Upon opening her practice, Blomgren did a lot of public speaking to help build her name recognition and client base. Now, because of the economic downturn, she plans to ramp up her speaking efforts again. She is also advertising again, attempting to have a presence at health fairs and actively contacting women’s organizations and nonprofits to market her practice.

Blomgren is also offering free, nondiagnostic anger and depression screenings. “I’ve done this before, but now I’m really pushing it and advertising it,” she says. “If I can get people to come through the door and start talking with me about their anger, I usually get a pretty good response, and they often become regular clients.”

Blomgren says the economy is having a dramatic effect on many of her clients — and not just related to their ability to pay for counseling. “Clients who are in recovery are slipping,” she says. “Anger that they had been doing pretty well with is suddenly flaring, and it’s very economically related. Normally, they’ll come in and tell me their economic circumstances, so the subject is already out there. I’m doing a lot of anxiety work — anxiety and anger being married, of course.”

To help clients better handle their anxieties related to the economy, Blomgren gives them two CDs that contain relaxation techniques. She also offers hypnotherapy to help certain clients enter a state of deeper relaxation. In addition, she conducts groups for clients with financial stresses, both to reduce their fee for therapy and to help them normalize their struggles.

Blomgren also talks with clients about what they can do outside of therapy to relieve their economic anxieties. “I’m not a financial counselor,” she says, “but I will recommend books on saving and managing money for clients.”

Given the current state of the economy, counselors are facing their own economic pressures and anxieties, Blomgren says, which might mean making some tough ethical decisions along the way. For example, counselors might be tempted to retain clients who aren’t progressing under their care rather than referring them to another helping professional. “But ethically,” she says, “we can’t just keep someone on to pay the bills.”

Sandra Lopez-Baez
Connecting counseling programs and the community

Stories of people watching their stock portfolios take a nosedive or their retirement savings almost completely disappear have proliferated ever since it became clear the United States was in a recession. There is no question the downward spiraling economy has delivered a stiff punch to the gut of America’s middle class. But harder to find is coverage of what is happening to those people who were living on the edge financially even before the economy took a tumble. It’s probably safe to assume, however, that these individuals are now even more likely to fall through the cracks as funding for social service programs grows tighter and the number of people requiring assistance grows larger.

“At a time like this, there is more demand for counseling, both personal and career. But social services and education are among the first things to get cut,” says Sandra Lopez-Baez, an associate professor and coordinator of the mental health counseling program at the University of Virginia and the Counselors for Social Justice representative to the ACA Governing Council. “Our (counseling) programs have to rise to the occasion and look for creative ways to fund free clinics and training centers to ensure that these services remain available.”

Without these free or low-cost resources, Lopez-Baez worries that the barriers to access services will be too great for those most in need. “In these economic conditions, people will wait until their problems are much more serious before coming to counseling,” she observes. “When they come for services, they are really, really hurting. The current economic conditions increase levels of stress and make people more reactive. The focus goes to short-term rather than long-term planning. People are more depressed, more negative, less productive. You see more despair. That doesn’t make for good mental health.”

Lopez-Baez challenges counseling programs to meet the needs of those who might otherwise fall through the cracks, especially during tough economic times. She believes taking up that challenge will have the reciprocal benefit of grooming the next generation of counselors to champion social justice issues within the profession.

“Counseling programs can look at themselves as community resources, especially for the underserved,” she says. “And in doing so, we should be looking at counseling interns as resources — hidden resources who can help meet needs and fill the gap during this crunch. Doing this awakens in the students a consciousness and awareness for the community and helps them to view themselves not just as students, but as tremendous resources. Activism involves getting the students worried about these underserved populations.”

Lopez-Baez is also a proponent of incorporating service learning projects into counseling courses so students can give something back to communities even as they learn to be better counselors.

Counseling programs can also examine partnership opportunities with community groups, Lopez-Baez says. For example, in her community of Charlottesville, a consortium of churches has joined together to help the homeless during the winter. Each church takes in individuals for several days or a week at a time. Among the services being offered is crisis counseling, provided by supervised interns. “We need to recognize and cultivate the link between our counseling programs and the community,” she says.

Lopez-Baez teaches students (and encourages other counselors) not to dismiss what they can do to help underserved populations, even if the surroundings are imperfect or they are unlikely to see the client again. “As I get to know the client, what I’m trying to assess is what do you need most?” she says. “Can I do a quick career assessment even in the homeless shelter at a church? Connecting them to other community resources is also invaluable, and if it’s a little more personal, that’s even better. For example, ‘You know what? I know Cindy over at the women’s center …”

Barbara LoFrisco
Starting out in a tough climate

Barbara LoFrisco, a registered mental health counselor intern and a registered marriage and family therapy intern, went into private practice in Tampa, Fla., last April. She rents space at the agency where she interned and still volunteers there to get practicum hours.

She’s lost almost half of her clients since before Christmas. At first, she assumed they were simply busy with the holidays and would return after the new year. “But I have received calls from a few clients saying they can no longer afford counseling,” she says.

LoFrisco, who was a software engineer in corporate America for 20 years before deciding to become a counselor, says she probably still would have gone into private practice even if she had seen the economic storm clouds looming. She remains optimistic she will be able to make her practice viable. “I am somewhat concerned, but I’m also pretty new at this, and people have told me that it takes a year and a half to two years to show a profit. I had been in the black the last couple of months (before the holidays).”

In January, LoFrisco updated the front page of her website (counselorbarb.com) with a box that reads: “Can’t afford counseling?” She then lists several bullet points to entice potential clients, including:

  • Having trouble in your relationship? Call and ask about the relationship skills group I am forming this March.
  • Untreated mental conditions and/or stress can lengthen treatment time, costing you more money in the long run.
  • Improving and maintaining your mental health is an investment in yourself that will pay off for the rest of your life.
  • Therapy can help you deal with the additional stress you may feel due to the poor economy.

LoFrisco also offers free initial consultations to clients and is trying to be sensitive to the financial pressures they are facing. “I’m giving clients more tools up front so that they can see progress quicker,” she says. “I also encourage my clients to participate in homework assignments so they can take the therapy home with them and pay less in session. I’m also in the process of putting together the couples communication skills group, which will teach a lot of what I would cover in the individual sessions but for much less money.”

At the same time, LoFrisco is careful not to assume that all clients want or need to talk about economic pressures. “I’ve been waiting for clients to bring it up,” she says. “I don’t want to put something in their heads that isn’t there already. I want to be focused on what they think is important. But if we were having a conversation about stressors, I would probably bring it up in that context.”

But make no mistake, she says, the economy has become an important topic for many clients. “For some, the goal of what they wanted in life has changed because of the economy,” she says. “I have noticed that couples are staying together because of economic reasons, so the focus of individual counseling becomes ‘How do I manage my stress in a bad situation?’ instead of ‘Should I stay in this relationship?’ The counseling becomes ‘What kind of coping mechanisms can you help me with?’ In some instances, that may be a good thing because they have to live through their problems and work them out. Otherwise, they may have been giving up on their marriage too soon.”

One of the ways LoFrisco believes she can help clients is to use a cognitive approach to confront irrational thinking about the economy. “You can’t change the economy,” she says, “but you can change the way you’re thinking about it.” Clients also benefit from being reminded of general coping and stress management skills that are free or low cost, she says, such as taking a walk or calling a friend.

Economic pressures, job loss or job insecurity may also cause clients to question the meaning of their life, LoFrisco says. In these instances, she finds it beneficial to ask clients about their spiritual beliefs and to draw on those strengths. In the absence of strong spiritual beliefs, she might introduce clients to logotherapy and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. “It just depends on who the client is and how they process things,” she says.

As bleak as the economy is right now, LoFrisco can also see an upside. “For one, couples are going to need to rely less on distracting themselves with shopping, vacations and fancy dinners and gain more depth and strength in their relationships. Two, when we overconsume, we lose our appreciation for things. If we have to cut back on our spending for a while, when things loosen up again, those dinners out and other indulgences we now take for granted will regain their specialness.”

Donna Howland
Struggling to help women find work

Donna Howland serves as a combination mental health and career counselor for the Lifespan agency’s Women in Transition Services program in Rochester, N.Y. “We help women who are widowed, divorced, separated, have been caring for a family member or are single mothers on social services to get back into the workforce and become self-sufficient,” she explains. “And the economy is affecting us greatly.”

First, economic conditions are driving more clients to the Women in Transition program, which does not charge for its services. In many instances, Howland says, clients’ financial burdens have placed increased stress on relationships, leading to more separations and divorces. In other cases, women who had marginal jobs have lost them in the tightening economy or ex-husbands have stopped paying child support. Each circumstance brings women to Howland’s program for help reentering the workforce or finding a better-paying job.

Second, while economic conditions have increased the program’s client load, they have also decreased the number of available jobs. “As the jobs become more scarce, it’s getting harder to place people,” Howland says, “but given the economy, our clients are desperate to find work faster. We used to be able to move women through the program and hook them up with at least an entry-level job in six months. Now we’re seeing people who are making their second trip through our series of classes — and these are women who have a skill set. They just can’t find a job. We’ve been seeing more of that in the last year.”

Third, Howland says staff members are spending a lot more time and effort finding funding for the program. The economy has tightened state budgets and dried up much of the grant money that was previously available. In addition to providing services such as résumé preparation, interview training and job market information, Women in Transition used to obtain items such as used computers, new glasses and even clothes to help clients in their job search. “But we can’t provide any of those extras anymore,” Howland says.

Despite the program’s focus on job search assistance, Howland is doing less career work with clients these days. Instead, she’s often helping them access social services so they can ensure basic needs such as food and heat are met. In addition, Howland finds it necessary to dedicate more time to caring for clients’ emotional and mental health needs, which are being brought to the surface by economic hardship. She is leading classes on topics such as self-esteem, resiliency and stress reduction. “And I’m always available to do one-on-one counseling work as the program’s mental health counselor,” she says.

Many of the program’s clients were already living close to the edge even before the economic downturn. Current conditions only add to their challenges. “A lot of our clients have several strikes against them as far as getting employed again — their age, their need for child care, their financial situation,” says Howland, who adds that the program’s average client is in her mid-40s to early 50s. “Many of our clients have a bachelor’s degree, and they want to know why they’re sending out 20 résumés a week without any response. I’ve had clients get on the phone with me and scream. You just listen to them, let them vent and try to encourage them, but the longer it takes them to find a job, the harder it is to keep them moving. And in this economy, it’s definitely harder than it was before.”

Howland says she is aware of some clients who have chosen to either remain in or return to domestic violence situations. “They say, ‘It’s just too hard to survive out here on my own.'”

But Women in Transition keeps plugging away with a variety of services. It provides spreadsheets to connect clients with all the area’s major employers, temp agencies, educational institutions and even thrift shops. “We have been doing a lot more outreach to try to set up affiliations with employers, reaching out into the community to make more contacts, informing them of the program and seeking additional considerations for our clients,” Howland says. “We are contacting libraries, schools, churches and other places to make sure information regarding our program is available for potential clients. And we have increased our workshops to include financial management, credit counseling and stress management in addition to the job search and résumé help.”

Dianne Joyce
Staying afloat by practicing diversification

“If I were just doing private practice, I think I would have to fold,” says Dianne Joyce, a Licensed Professional Counselor in St. Louis who also has her doctorate in psychology. Fortunately for Joyce, she doesn’t have all her eggs in one basket during these tough economic times. In addition to her private general counseling practice, she works as a corporate trainer, providing education on numerous psychological issues, including conflict management. She is also employed as a psychologist/counselor by a group of doctors who perform bariatric (weight loss) surgery. In this capacity, she conducts pre-surgical psychological evaluations of patients.

“Having these other outlets has worked really well for me,” she says. “These areas may be sliding too because of the economy, but they’re not gone. It seems that when client jobs go, counseling is, unfortunately, often one of the first things they drop. In light of the present financial situation, many see counseling as a voluntary, luxury-type service that they are unable to afford. However, given the current work and associated financial crisis, anxiety and depression are likely on the upsweep, so let’s hope people find a way to get the help they need.”

Joyce says 95 percent of the bariatric patients she sees are experiencing anxiety and sleep problems, and most blame those problems on concerns over finances, dwindling 401(k) plans and job security. In many cases, Joyce says, those concerns are causing depression. “That becomes the primary focus for some of these sessions — let’s get the anxiety under control first.”

In counseling clients who bring up concerns about the economy, Joyce is emphasizing stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing “so their bodies don’t run away with them.” She also tries to help clients reframe their thinking, telling them that choosing to be nervous and depressed over the economy will not solve anything and pointing out that the portion of the brain that focuses on problems (or potential problems) is different from the part that deals with solutions. Joyce also attempts to get clients to draw on their strengths and past history of resiliency. “I remind them that they’ve gone through other hard times in their life,” she says. “I encourage them to look at this as one more challenge. … You have to stay focused on what you do have and not on what you don’t have; on what you haven’t had to give up versus what you have given up.”

Counselors can also make financially strapped clients aware of resources in the community, including where they can go to get low-cost medications and free food, or even provide listings of consignment shops for clothing, Joyce says.

Although many clients assume they can no longer afford counseling and call in to cancel their appointments, or simply fail to show up at all, Joyce says many counselors will do what they can to continue seeing clients, even if it means offering reduced fee or pro bono sessions. She is currently doing more sliding scale fees herself. Joyce realizes, however, that counselors will have to make some tough decisions if the economy keeps struggling. “You never want to say to a client that ‘I only value you to the extent that you can pay me,’ but it is a balancing act,” she says. “There are only so many (pro bono or reduced fee clients) you can take.”

Counselors should also take a step back and make sure they are practicing what they preach, using the same techniques they are recommending to clients to help deal with anxieties related to the economic crisis, Joyce says. She believes the economic climate will force some counselors to leave private practice and look for lower-paying jobs in agencies or elsewhere. Other counselors, she adds, will likely have to make sacrifices to remain in the field as well. “Even as counselors,” she says, “we have to learn to deal with our own disappointments. Some of us might have to settle for doing this on the side or even taking another job for a little while.”

Joyce says she is fortunate to have a husband with a good job, so the slowdown in her business isn’t affecting her the way it might others. In fact, after four years of balancing the three different parts of her counseling practice, she has come to regard the slowdown as something of a personal blessing in disguise. “It’s forcing me to take a break that my body was telling me I needed but that I wasn’t listening to,” she says.

Jonathan Rollins is the editor-in-chief of Counseling Today. Contact him at jrollins@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Counselor Career Stories: Dancing, movement and counseling in the inner city

Rebecca Daniel-Burke March 14, 2009

During a coffee break at the American Association of State Counseling Boards Conference in Tucson, Ariz., in January, I greeted the very fit-looking woman sitting beside me. As we talked, I learned that she lived in a counseling world of dance. Afterward, as I considered our conversation, I realized I wanted to tell her story.

So, meet Robyne Davis. She possesses a wealth of information on a topic that I knew very little about. Some of her experiences may prove helpful to you as you navigate the terrain of your career path.

Rebecca Daniel-Burke:Tell me about your current counseling position.

Robyne Davis: I work at SAIL (School for Arts in Learning) in Washington, D.C., just three blocks from the White House. It is a charter school for kids K-7. Seventy-five percent of the students are from low-income families, and half have learning disabilities. I am the school counselor. I work in a traditional way as a Licensed Professional Counselor, and I work in a less-traditional way with dance/movement therapy. I mix general counseling with mindfulness, honoring the body/mind connection.

RDB:Is there a specific certification for your specialty?

RD:Yes, I am an ADTR. Entry into the profession of dance/movement therapy is at the master’s level. The title Dance Therapist Registered (DTR) is granted to entry-level dance/movement therapists who have a master’s degree, which includes 700 hours of supervised clinical internship. The advanced level of registry, Academy of Dance Therapist Registered (ADTR), is awarded only after DTRs have completed 3,640 hours of supervised clinical work in an agency, institution or special school, with additional supervision from an ADTR.

RDB:An ADTR and an LPC. That is very impressive.

RD:Thank you. We have really worked hard to help LPCs and the public understand what is required to become an ADTR.

RDB:Give me an example of how you begin working with a child at SAIL.

RD:I do a lot of “Here & Now” work focusing on movement. Some of the children might have boundary issues, for example, and might be bothering other students. I might use something like a hula hoop — have a child stand in the middle and move his or her body without touching other students who are also in hula hoops.

I might be working with a child with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). I can see the excess energy in their body. I may stand beside them and move in a way similar to the child. If their movements are too rapid, I might begin to move more slowly, helping them to breathe and slow their movements.

RDB:How do you provide an assessment?

RD:I use an assessment tool called LMA.

RDB:What is that?

RD:Laban Movement Analysis is a system for understanding, observing, describing and notating all forms of movement. It was devised by Rudolf Laban. LMA draws on Laban’s theories of effort and shape to describe, interpret and document human movement.

RDB:It is far more scientific than I thought. How might you help a child who is using a self-soothing behavior such as sitting and rocking rapidly?

RD:I would sit beside them and move in a way similar to their movements, and then I might begin to slow. Then I might begin to rock from side to side as opposed to back and forth. I would lift my head and try to slowly move out of that closed position. They feel a different pattern in their body at that time. Some call this neuro-mirroring, a way of making a connection on an unconscious level.

RDB:How did your passion for movement and dance evolve?

RD:As a child, I studied ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance. I used to think people were born with different smarts. I had body smarts. I even did clogging, salsa and swing. I was always very kinesthetically oriented.

RDB:What did you study when you attended college?

RD:I have a B.A. in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Then I got a master’s in dance/movement therapy from Goucher College in Maryland.

RDB:What were your first professional jobs?

RD:I worked with at-risk youth in a community counseling center in Chicago, with young people at a homeless shelter and at an inpatient psychiatric hospital.

RDB:What lessons did you learn in those environments?

RD:I learned that when you stir up profound feelings, there can be very intense reactions. I was a little too trusting in the beginning. I had to learn to consider safety, particularly when working in the inpatient psychiatric setting.

RDB:Safety can never be minimized. Now let me ask you a question about your early years. Did someone see something special in you early on?

RD:Yes, my mother. She is a pianist. She believed in exposing us to the arts. She took us to concerts, museums and recitals. Even if a parent has little money, in D.C., all of the museums are free. It is a wonderful family outing to go to a museum and expose children to that world.

RDB:Do you have a theoretical hero, a theorist who inspires you?

RD:(Carl) Jung is my theoretical hero. He opened me to the symbolism within the unconscious. Nonverbal behaviors are symbols; they communicate so much. Jung went to a deep level with his work on the unconscious and symbolism. It never ceases to amaze me.

RDB:You work full time in a very challenging environment. How do you take care of yourself?

RD:I dance whenever I can. In this culture, we celebrate things with dance. At a wedding, at the inauguration, the first dance is very important to us as a culture. So I celebrate life by dancing whenever I can.

I have two children in first and third grades. I have a lot of fun with them playing outside. My husband and I always try to set time aside for ourselves as a couple. We enjoy going out to museums, dance recitals, plays, etc. I fill myself back up when I feel drained. I do yoga, attend dance classes and just go outside for a walk.

RDB:Is there anything else you want our readers to know about your story?

RD:I am constantly amazed at where our journey takes us. I am honored to be a part of the journey of others. Doors open when we least expect it. Even when doors close, sometimes windows open that help us see what we need to see. I am where I need to be today. This is where my journey has taken me, and it has made all the difference.

*****

To learn more about dance/movement therapy, visit the American Dance Therapy Association website at adta.org/.

*****

The American Counseling Association values the opportunity to honor the career paths of working counselors with Counselor Career Stories. The hope is that the lessons these counselors share each month will be helpful to working counselors and students alike as they seek employment and career fulfillment. For additional assistance with career and employment issues, visit the ACA Career Center at counseling.org/CareerCenter/, where current online job listings and state and federal employment lists can also be viewed.

Rebecca Daniel-Burkeis the director of the ACA Career Center. Contact her at RdanielBurke@counseling.org if you have questions, feedback or suggestions for future columns.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Riding out the economic storm

Robert J. Walsh and Norman C. Dasenbrook

Q: It appears that the economy is not going to pull out of this downturn anytime in the near future. What impact will a poor economy have on professional counselors in private practice?

A: Just like trying to predict the stock market, no one knows for certain what will happen. There is no crystal ball to determine when things are going to improve, and it could get worse before it gets better. However, professional counselors in private practice may not feel the impact as much as other professionals. Our personal practices have seen little or no significant downturn in the past 12 months.

The December issue of Psychotherapy Finances reported that of 74 respondents to a questionnaire about the effect of the economy, 43 percent indicated that “their income was trending lower.” However, 62 percent indicated that they were seeing the same number of clients or more. There was little or no increase in self-pay clients. That is one of the reasons we have long advocated in this column to partner with insurance and managed care companies to increase your payer mix.

So, it would appear that the majority of professional counselors in private practice are indeed riding the storm out rather than heading for the exits. While now may be the time to closely investigate office expenses, it may also be the time to increase marketing. (This is similar to the advice you sometimes hear about investing in the stock market: When stocks are down, it may represent a prime buying opportunity!)

Possible ideas for expanding your marketing efforts include giving speeches and workshops, creating a newsletter, getting or updating a website, forming a Listserv, networking with colleagues, sending letters and brochures to referral sources, hiring a part-time office manager, reviewing all print material, joining division and state professional organizations, joining web-based counseling referral sites, personally visiting present and prospective referral sources, applying for paneling to additional insurance and managed health care companies, getting on the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (through AETNA) or forming a support group. Sometimes we need to head toward the roar.

*****

Q: You previously listed Impact Publishers as a place to get prepared presentations and seminar materials. However, when I go to the website, it seems that they exclusively publish books. In addition, you listed American Guidance Services. The information I have found on them is for addressing school problems with children. Can you provide any more direction in finding the materials you referenced?

A: One of the best ways to build your practice, get your name into the community and market your counseling specialty is to use public speaking. A great way to start is by presenting seminars or workshops. Counselors can develop presentations fitted to their particular niche. These presentations can be of almost any length, from one-hour seminars provided to community groups to classes for schools, churches or even doctors offices that run for several weeks.

There are also many excellent prepared programs such as the six-week S.T.E.P. (Systematic Training in Effective Parenting) or T.I.M.E. (Training in Marriage Enrichment) programs. Following is a list of seminars, books and programs that can be helpful in building your practice. Because you can offer these seminars or programs for free or very little cost, they are also a service to your community. We’ve found that many attendees will want to follow up with private counseling, so have your appointment book at the ready to schedule them. “The 8-Step Method for Starting or Expanding a Private Practice” is available on the “Private Practice Pointers” section of the American Counseling Association website at counseling.org (see “Starting a Private Practice”) and in The Complete Guide to Private Practice for Licensed Mental Health Professionals (counseling-privatepractice.com/).

  • The Parent’s Handbook (impactpublishers.com/books/tph.html)
  • Training in Marriage Enrichment Kit (cmtipress.com/time.htm)
  • Calming the Family Storm (impactpublishers.com/books/Calming_the_Family_Storm.html)
  • Parent Group Handbook for Calming the Family Storm (impactpublishers.com/books/Parent_Group_Handbook-CFS.html)
  • Anger Management Video Program (impactpublishers.com/books/Anger_Management_DVD.html)
  • Loving Choices Workbook (impactpublishers.com/books/lcw.html)
  • “Rebuilding” Divorce Seminars (rebuilding.org/rebuilding-locations.htm)
  • A Manual for Assertiveness Training (impactpublishers.com/books/mat.html)
  • Master Your Panic and Take Back Your Life (impactpublishers.com/books/myp3.html)
  • Sex, Drugs, Gambling and Chocolate: A Workbook for Overcoming Addictions (impactpublishers.com/books/sdgc2.html)
  • The Stress Owner’s Manual (impactpublishers.com/books/som2.html)
  • Cool Cats, Calm Kids: Relaxation and Stress Management for Young People (impactpublishers.com/books/cc.html)
  • Materials from the William Glasser Institute (wglasser.com/index.php?option=com_jbook&Itemid=90&catid=28)
  • John Gray (Mars and Venus) materials (marsvenus.com/xcart/product.php?productid=155)

Find the important new ACA bulletin “Transfer Plan — Counselor Incapacitation or Termination of Practice” in the “Private Practice Pointers” section of the ACA website.

We will be presenting “Advanced Private Practice Toolbox: Nuts and Bolts Ideas for Increasing Referrals, Working With Managed Care and Other Tools” at the ACA Annual Conference & Exposition, cosponsored by the North Carolina Counseling Association, on March 20. We will also be presenting a 60-minute Education Session titled “Considering Starting a Private Practice? For Licensed Counselors in Agencies, Schools and Counselor Educators.”

We will once again be in the exhibit hall at the Walsh and Dasenbrook Consulting booth with copies of our book, The Complete Guide to Private Practice for Licensed Mental Health Professionals.

For the first time at the ACA Conference, we will be offering free practice consultations. Contact Rebecca Daniel-Burke of ACA at RDanielBurke@counseling.org for more information. Stop by and say hi!

A valuable new resource is now available: The Professional Counselor’s Desk Reference (Springer Publishing), edited by Irmo Marini and Mark Stebnicki. The book features chapters by 95 leading experts in professional counseling, including many ACA leaders and members. Be sure to check out Chapters 5 and 8, coauthored by yours truly.

ACA members can e-mail their questions to Robert J. Walsh and Norman C. Dasenbrook at walshgasp@aol.com and access a series of “Private Practice Pointers” on the ACA website at counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Hidden in plain sight

Jenny Christenson

According to a 2007 study by Howard B. Moss, Chiung M. Chen and Hsiao-ye Yi that appeared in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, less than 10 percent of the 18 million alcoholics living in the United States fit the “falling down drunk” stereotype. In fact, says Sarah Allen Benton, a mental health counselor in a counseling center at a college in Boston, the majority of alcoholics go to work every day, hold highly responsible and visible positions — including as teachers, lawyers and doctors — and have families.

“A high-functioning alcoholic (HFA) is an alcoholic who is able to maintain his or her outside life, such as a job, home, family and friendships, all while drinking alcoholically,” explains Benton, the author of the new book Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Professional Views and Personal Insights. But those outward evidences of success come with a high price. Because HFAs are often overachievers, society doesn’t necessarily view them as being “true” alcoholics and, as a result, they are at higher risk of not getting the help they genuinely need. Another reason HFAs don’t “get caught” or identified as alcoholics, Benton says, is because they tend to live very compartmentalized lives. “The people they drink with are different from those they work with and from their family,” she says, adding that HFAs often live the drinking portion of their life outside of what they consider their life morals to be.

Regardless of outside appearances, Benton says, internally, HFAs are suffering, and the consequences of their alcoholism are all too real.

Kelly Aissen, a substance abuse therapist at Shands Vista Florida Recovery Center, agrees. “Examples of the internal consequences that can go on for decades include, but are not limited to, the inability to communicate well, low self-esteem, inability to reach potential and comorbid depression and/or anxiety,” says Aissen, a member of the American Counseling Association. “Many people with active addictions are sensitive and are suffering internally even as their families and associates remain unaware of the severity of their addictions.”

HFA characteristics

Benton says HFAs possess specific personality traits that allow them to pursue other endeavors even while drinking. These characteristics include the drive to succeed externally, motivated in part by an internal belief that if they are successful professionally, it proves that they are not alcoholics. In fact, Benton says, HFAs often rationalize along the lines of, “If my drinking is such a problem, why is my career going so well?” Another common characteristic exhibited by HFAs is an almost obsessive focus on getting tasks done. “A lot of these traits can be part of a family’s culture, passed down through a family,” says Benton, who leads an alcohol skills training program that helps college-age problem drinkers. “It’s sort of like the perfect storm: Genetics and certain personality characteristics must all come together to consider a person an HFA.”

Because of their personal achievements, HFAs are often in denial that they have a problem requiring treatment, Benton says. Colleagues and loved ones are also less likely to recognize the role that alcohol is playing in an HFA’s struggles. When HFAs do seek help, Benton says, “They oftentimes will not come into counseling for anything to do with alcohol. Instead, they’re coming in because they are having marital problems or problems with work or school. There’s not a whole lot of leverage people can use against HFAs for intervention initially because they are holding things together.” Only over time do many HFAs start to see a connection between their drinking and other problem areas in their life, she says.

HFAs often “slide through the cracks of the health care system,” Benton says, because they are not always diagnosable under the criteria set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For example, she says, alcohol withdrawal is one component of the diagnosis for alcohol dependence. “Many HFAs are neither daily drinkers nor physically addicted to alcohol,” she says, “but are instead psychologically addicted to alcohol and, therefore, do not fit the diagnostic criteria.”

Benton believes it is more accurate to diagnose an HFA according to the guidelines provided by the Alcoholics Anonymous book Alcoholics Anonymous (commonly referred to as the Big Book.) As described by Benton, the diagnostic criteria have three parts:

  1. When an individual has one drink, he or she then experiences a craving to have more and cannot predict what his or her alcohol intake will be.
  2. An individual obsesses about the next time he or she will be able to drink alcohol.
  3. An individual, while drunk, behaves in ways that are not characteristic of him or her and continues to repeat these behaviors and patterns even when he or she consciously no longer wants to.

Working with HFAs

Working with HFAs can also be different from working with other alcoholics, Benton says. For example, she says, the outlooks of the two groups may vary dramatically. Those who fit the stereotype for alcoholics are more likely to have already hit rock bottom, to have lost a great deal in their lives and to feel a sense of desperation, Benton says. As a result, they are typically more open to participating in recovery programs. HFAs, on the other hand, are experiencing success in other areas of their life, “So when someone says, ’Your way isn’t working,’ they are resistant to that,” Benton says. “A counselor has to peel away the layers of the person to the point where they are open to change.”

For HFAs, the potential repercussions of continuing their lifestyle are many. Their work performance eventually may begin to suffer, and they may start experiencing difficulties in their relationships, says Jack Culbreth, an associate professor of counseling at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors representative to the ACA Governing Council.

“The brain, cognition and memory are also affected by drinking,” says Benton. While their overachieving personas may enable them to continue doing just enough to get by, she says, HFAs often experience “blackouts” after drinking, during which time they walk around and do things they have no recollection of later, including driving drunk or breaking other laws. Because of their connections, social status or appearance, HFAs are often treated more leniently than other alcoholics under those circumstances, Benton says.

Counselors can choose from a variety of techniques when treating HFAs. Many times, Benton says, HFAs come into a counselor’s office believing they can control their drinking. In these cases, she says, presenting them with moderation goals is sometimes helpful. “See if they can maintain adherence to goals that they keep records of. Maybe even set up a contract with them,” she says. “HFAs like this type of challenge.” Benton adds that it takes a willingness to explore the HFA’s life — particularly his or her “drinking life” — to open up the therapeutic relationship. “It’s really important to have clients get honest with themselves in a nonjudgmental way,” she says. “Develop rapport, because it is a collaborative effort to get control of their drinking.”

Culbreth recommends that counselors use a technique called motivational interviewing to address “where the client wants to go and what their goals are. Motivational interviewing is relatively new, having been developed in the past 10 to 15 years. It basically says rather than forcing clients to accept whatever you proclaim is the problem and treatment, the counselor tries to align with the clients and understand what they want to do. In a session, you can get them to acknowledge there is some sort of a problem going on. They might not say they are an alcoholic, but they may say they’ve had difficulty with drinking and say they want to do something about it to make other parts of their life better. So you work from that angle.”

Aissen says counselors can “help break the denial clients experience by helping them look at their internal consequences. How has alcoholism affected family and working relationships or their relationships with themselves? Allow for a safe place to acknowledge and experience any guilt and shame they may have around their addiction. Surrendering themselves to this disease provides room to heal and to be in recovery. Clients, through the surrender process, realize their addiction is not something they can make go away, even though they’ve often succeeded in many other ways.”

One of the major challenges in counseling HFAs is removing the illusion of control that they have, says Aissen. This illusion can cause HFAs to suffer unnecessarily — sometime for decades — before seeking help, she adds. HFAs also have certain enabling factors that other addicts may not have, such as financial stability, family support, low levels of accountability or unstructured work environments. “People without financial concerns can afford their alcohol, therefore providing another justification for it not being problematic,” she says. And while having family support can be a very positive thing, for HFAs, it often comes in the form of people who are willing to cover up for them or otherwise excuse their behavior. Aissen stresses the importance of educating clients, their friends and family members to the fact that the HFA lifestyle isn’t an indication that they are somehow “healthier” than other addicts or alcoholics; it simply means they are at greater risk of suffering with the disease of alcoholism longer.

Recovery programs

Benton is a proponent of the 12-step recovery program for HFAs. “Based on my research and interviews for my book, the 12-step model has been found to help the most individuals recover,” she says. “Part of its effectiveness is that it really promotes change. It promotes having some type of spiritual awakening, and that in itself is a change. It can be seeing the world just a little bit differently, and that can mean behaving differently than you did when you were an alcoholic. If you don’t change the person you were when you were drinking, then you won’t stop drinking.” Benton, herself an HFA who has been in recovery for five years, says she found the 12-step program to be a personally transformative and healing experience. She has created a website (highfunctioningalcoholic.com) detailing her professional and personal insights to assist HFAs.

Benton says the spiritual aspect of 12-step programs is especially important because spirituality can be instrumental in recovery from both medical and psychological conditions.

At the same time, Aissen says, many people have a misconception that 12-step programs are religious in nature. “Persons of all faiths, or not ascribing to any faith, can benefit from 12-step programs,” she says.

Adds Culbreth, “The 12-step program by itself is not generally considered a theory or model of treatment. It is a system of support for people that have an addiction. What I want to do as a professional is to help every client to get better. And it may be that 12-step programs are a way to do this, along with counseling. But it doesn’t necessarily take the place of counseling.”

Benton, who did a practicum at the Benson/Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine and has attended multiple professional trainings there, is also an advocate of using meditation exercises with HFAs. “Dr. Herbert Benson was a leader in the field of mind-body awareness,” she says. “He advocated the power of meditation in healing not just addictions, but in healing chronic medical conditions.”

Other recovery programs for alcoholism include Smart Recovery, an abstinence-based program that features cognitive behavioral therapy work. “The idea is that you graduate, and then you go back for tune-ups,” Benton says. There are also moderation programs, which seek to help clients control, rather than abstain from, drinking. Benton says approximately one-third of the people who go into moderation programs realize they are alcoholics and end up entering an abstinence program. Another program is called Women for Sobriety, founded by Jean Kirkpatrick, who saw a need for a recovery program aimed more exclusively at females. A program that clients do on their own, without having support group meetings, is called Rational Recovery. To increase the likelihood of successful recovery, Benton believes HFA clients should be in a recovery program of their choice while simultaneously participating in therapy.

Overall, Culbreth says, the prognosis for recovery is excellent for HFAs if they follow the 12-step program. However, he cautions, “The reality is that this is a very difficult program, and even those who follow the 12-step program are at risk for relapse. But if the HFA can get past their obsession with professional success, they have the opportunity for success over alcoholism as much as anyone else. Their opportunity for success may be even higher because they haven’t lost everything.”
Jenny Christenson is a former staff writer for Counseling Today.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Celebrating special people

Richard Yep March 1, 2009

Richard Yep

Living in the Washington, D.C., area, you have the opportunity to “be there” during history-making moments, such as when I gathered with about 1.5 million other people on the National Mall to witness the swearing in of the 44th president of the United States, BarackObama. The peaceful transition of the presidency is a site to behold. I certainly wish President Obama all the best. Regardless of outcome, he will be recognized based on what he accomplishes.

I also know there are many people who work every day to help individuals attain a better and more fulfilling life. Despite their accomplishments, these people really remain the unsung “heroes” and “sheroes” of our society.

When more than 3,000 attendees gather from March 19-23 at the ACA Annual Conference & Exposition (counseling.org/conference), we will acknowledge the accomplishments of several individuals, both for actions performed recently and for a lifelong body of work.

But what about those who don’t get awards or certificates of appreciation yet still continue to fight the battle against poverty, injustice, discrimination and abuse?

For example, there is Joelle, a mental health professional in Northern Virginia who sees the “good” in her clients and embodies what a true advocate is all about. She is tireless in her efforts to ensure that those in need are able to access the services and benefits provided through government agencies. She sees beyond people’s outer layer, whether they are homeless, in trouble with the law, facing the loss of coping skills or in need of mental health services.

Then there is Joan Collison, the wife of ACA’s 36th president, Brooke Collison. For as long as I have known Joan (and for many years before that, I’m sure), she has been tireless in her efforts to eradicate racism and discrimination in her community. Her life’s work was not something that she “had” to do. Rather, she pursued it because it was the “right” thing to do. So I was not surprised when Brooke shared that for her 75th birthday, rather than giving her a material gift, Joan asked that people do something nice for someone else and then tell her about it in a message. What a fabulous request. Rather than benefiting one person, this “present” benefited three (Joan, the individual providing the help and the beneficiary of that help).

I also want to tell you about a woman who has been dedicated to the counseling profession for nearly 40 years. She has attended almost every ACA Annual Conference since the early 1970s and has befriended many ACA members (and staff) all along the way. And all of these attributes describe someone who is not even a professional counselor!

Jean Gaskins has been a dedicated ACA staff member for the last 38 years. Last month, Jean announced her retirement. We have wished her well despite the fact that we will miss her laughter in our hallways. She was also the only person who routinely got to greet the executive director by saying, “Hey, baby.” Coming from anyone else, it just doesn’t fit.

These are just a few examples of amazing women who embody what being a compassionate and caring member of our society is all about. Feel free to e-mail me an example of someone who has similarly impacted your life or community. Let’s all celebrate those who want to improve our world and the human condition.

I hope to see you in Charlotte, N.C., at the ACA Annual Conference later this month. Please contact me with any comments, questions or suggestions that you might have via e-mail at ryep@counseling.org or by phone at 800.347.6647 ext. 231.

Thanks and be well.