Monthly Archives: November 2010

The power of play

Lynne Shallcross November 19, 2010

Pedra Ane clearly recalls the battle that played out in her office several years ago. It was orchestrated by a 7-year-old client who deftly maneuvered several plastic Army figures even as he worked through some of his toughest, most deep-seated issues.

Ane, a counselor and registered play therapist who runs a private practice in The Woodlands, Texas, says the boy had grown up in a violent household with his brother and mother. They eventually moved to his grandmother’s house, but initially, the chaos continued. “Each session, he would spend long periods of time setting up soldiers all over the playroom in well-considered, strategic places,” Ane says. “The play consisted of the children being kidnapped from the dollhouse and tortured by the ’bad guys.’ This play scene repeated each week for over a month. The details were replicated with precision.”

But over time, a new character emerged: a rescuer for the children. “This rescuer held the bad guys away from the children at risk of personal injury and was willing to kill the bad guys to protect the children,” Ane says.

As his play evolved, the boy’s trust in his grandmother’s ability to protect and care for him was also growing, says Ane, a member of the American Counseling Association who taught public school for 18 years and worked as a school counselor. “Through his acting out of scenes where the rescuer was consistently successful at keeping the children safe, the boy began to see the possibility that his grandmother could be, and had been, consistent in her protection of him. Through his play, he gave her many opportunities to leave or to fail, yet she was always valiant, and each mission was accomplished in her efforts to protect the children. Seeing her success played out with toys gave him a concrete example of her consistency and success.”

Experts say play therapy is often perfect for kids because the techniques provide children with a developmentally appropriate means to communicate while also enabling them to work through tough times at least partially on their own. “Play therapy is very important to use with children because they don’t have the vocabulary, nor do they have the abstract thought, to describe and process what has happened in their lives,” Ane says. “Using toys gives them the tools that they readily understand to work through the issues they’re struggling with.”

“Play therapy is a developmentally responsive approach to helping children,” says Charles Myers, an assistant professor of counseling at Northern Illinois University. “It has a long history of research supporting its effectiveness in addressing a wide variety of presenting concerns. Play is the natural language of children, and through play, they learn about themselves and the world around them.” The traditional age range for clients in play therapy is 3 to 12, Myers says, but there is an increasing trend to use it with adolescent, adult and geriatric populations as well.

“All counseling needs to be responsive to an individual’s developmental level,” says Myers, a member of ACA and a registered play therapist supervisor. “By its very nature, traditional talk therapy is abstract.” Children in the prime ages for play therapy are more concrete in their thinking and use symbols to communicate abstract feelings and experiences that they can’t convey through words. “Play bridges that gap,” Myers says.

Children first

As with talk therapies, there are a variety of play therapy approaches — about 15 in all. Myers uses child-centered play therapy (CCPT), which is based on Carl Rogers’ person-centered therapeutic approach. “As a CCPT play therapist, I believe children have an innate ability to grow in a positive direction,” Myers says. “I provide children with a range of toys that facilitate their full expression of emotions. Children use toys and their play to communicate their experiences, to try on new roles, to gain understanding of the world around them and to make traumatic experiences manageable.”

The child-therapist relationship is the element that encourages healing, Myers says. “When the play therapist creates a warm and accepting environment, the child feels safe and supported and is able to make those changes that lead to growth. The basic CCPT skills play therapists utilize include tracking, reflecting, returning responsibility, encouragement, self-esteem building and therapeutic limit setting. Through these skills, play therapists communicate their caring and understanding to the child and facilitate change.”

Jeff Cochran, coordinator of the University of Tennessee Mental Health Counseling Program, is also a believer in the child-centered approach. Along with his wife, Nancy Cochran, he provides play therapy for at-risk children at a large elementary school with a high poverty rate in Knoxville. He echoes Myers in saying that the client-counselor relationship is incredibly important in play therapy. “You provide a variety of toys that are all designed for child self-expression. … [but] you’re the best toy in the playroom. It’s the child’s relationship with you that’s going to be therapeutic or not.”

Play therapy can help in addressing a wide range of children’s issues, from adjusting to a divorce or overcoming separation anxiety to healing from traumatic events such as sexual abuse or a significant loss, says Cochran, a board member of the Counseling Association for Humanistic Education and Development, a division of ACA.

Ane uses a child-centered approach in which she follows the client’s lead. “I enter only as much as I’m invited to,” she says. “I reflect and I track what the client is doing. I don’t give judgments. I allow the child to play pretty freely with the toys. I am more of an observer, unless I am asked to join.”

Noting that some play therapists think it’s important never to ask their young clients questions, Ane says she asks questions for clarity. This allows her to ensure that her observations are accurate while reiterating to children that they are of value and that she respects their opinions, she says.

Terry Kottman, a registered play therapist supervisor, says she views play therapy broadly as any interaction that involves playful behavior, structured or unstructured play, storytelling, art techniques, games or sand tray strategies. Kottman developed the Adlerian approach to play therapy, which she describes as more directive and more focused on helping children gain insight into their own interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics than child-centered play therapy.

Kottman, director of the Encouragement Zone, a play therapy training center in Cedar Falls, Iowa, says play therapy is usually the best therapy approach to take with children between the ages of 3 and 9 because their abstract, verbal reasoning skills are not fully developed. “With kids 9 or 10 and older,” she says, “I think play therapy is helpful in situations in which the child might be developmentally delayed or immature, or in which the child has been ’parentified’ or, for whatever reason, is too tight and needs to experience what it is like to be a kid.”

A parentified child is one who has been forced to assume a parental role in the family, Kottman explains. For example, if the parents are mentally ill or abuse alcohol or other substances. “Parentified kids tend to not know how to play, tend to not know how to be kids or how to have fun,” says Kottman, an ACA member. She might ask children growing up in these circumstances to write their name in shaving cream on the table or to make a pile of shaving cream and smush it around. “Part of the purpose is to help them remember or learn how to be silly and liked and not always have to have burdens or responsibilities. It helps them learn how to relax and be a little carefree. It also lets them practice how to share power with a safe adult.”

Of course, play therapy advocates must also be careful not to assume that the therapeutic intervention is automatically going to be right for every child just because he or she falls into the proper age range, Ane says. She recalls one 7-year-old client who walked into the playroom and said, “Can’t we just talk?”

“Knowing your clients and what’s best for them is important,” Ane says. “Being versed in a lot of different therapeutic techniques gives you the ability to know what you need to do with a specific client.”

Therapy in action

To the left as you walk into Ane’s office is a collection of toy animals and a dollhouse with figurines. Also close by are role-play items such as fairy wings, magic wands, superhero capes and purses with play credit cards and money, which Ane has found to be “very important” during the recession. To the right are baby dolls, a medical kit, plastic food and an assortment of puppets. Toward the back are toys that are categorized as aggressive — a Nerf pistol, a silver pistol that makes noise, a rubber knife, a Lone Ranger mask and rope. Ane learned through several play therapy courses that the way in which the playroom is set up is important. For example, she says, a child should never have to pass over an aggressive toy to get to a nurturing toy.

Ane lets her young clients decide which toys they want to play with. Usually, she says, they spend a few sessions exploring the different options. If a child is resistant to playing, Ane might start by engaging the child in a card game of his or her choice. The nature of card games is more structured and rule-oriented and, therefore, less overwhelming to the child, she explains.

Given enough time, “They’ll find what they need to play with,” Ane says. “It’s fascinating. They really do choose what they need to be working on.” Sometimes, the “right” toy comes as a surprise to Ane. One of her clients came to therapy after his father died. Despite being very angry about this loss, the child passed over the guns, the ropes and even the medical kit in favor of the food items. Ane says the boy used the food items to show that his dad, who had lost his life to cancer, hadn’t received enough nourishment. “The dad, toward the end, was not able to eat,” she says. “[The boy] was using those food items to express his reality of how his father had passed away.”

Kottman incorporates play therapy into part of every session with most of her clients, including teens and adults. “I use puppets, figures, toys, etc., along with storytelling, art, active games, board games and sand tray play therapy with elementary-school-age kids, and storytelling, art, active games and sand tray play therapy with adolescent and adult clients,” says Kottman, the author of Play Therapy: Basics and Beyond, the second edition of which ACA is publishing this fall. “I also use play therapy techniques in my consultation with parents and teachers — and sometimes even a principal or two — and when I work with families.”

With younger elementary-age clients, Kottman starts with play therapy and switches to other modalities if the client isn’t responding or engaging, but “since I have a wide range of play materials, this has seldom been the case.” With older elementary-age clients, she gives the choice of playing or talking. Almost all of them want to incorporate some element of play, she says, whether sketching, fiddling with toys or doing something else.

With teen and adult clients, Kottman usually starts by asking them to talk about their situations. “If the talking isn’t moving us where we want to go, I always consider switching to play,” she says. She often suggests transitioning to sand tray play therapy, doing an art activity or playing an active game, which can assist these older clients in viewing things from another perspective, gaining a deeper understanding of their problem or making a shift in their thinking, feeling or behavior.

Kottman also tailors the intervention to the specific client. With kids who are physical, she might try something sports-related. With kids who are artistic or musical, she’ll look to art or music interventions. With one teenage client who had very low self-esteem, Kottman came up with the idea of making insecurity and security blankets. She had the client take a piece of fleece fabric and a fabric pen and write down all the things she told herself when she was feeling down (for example, “I’m stupid. I can’t do well at school”). Then the girl wrote a counterpoint list on a different piece of fabric (for example, “I rock at school”).

The exercise clicked for Kottman’s client. “She said, ’So I get to choose if I wrap myself in the security blanket or in the insecurity blanket?’” Exactly right, Kottman told her.

School play

When Nicole Anderson, a licensed professional counselor and child development specialist at an elementary school in Fairview, Ore., first meets with a student, she begins by creating a family tree with the child. “While I ask questions about who is in their family, the child will draw all the family members,” says Anderson, an ACA member who also runs a private practice outside of school hours and volunteers her time providing free therapy to children in foster care. “I don’t get too specific because I like to see who the child draws and does not draw. I ask the child to draw a picture of what the family does together — not using the words ’likes to do together.’ I want to see where family members are placed, what they are doing, how colorful or big each one is.”

Anderson also inquires about how the family interacts. “I ask what happens at home when something goes wrong. I try not to use the word ’punishment.’ Maybe just ’If your mom or dad asks you to do something and you don’t, what happens?’ I also ask about family routines: ’What is something that happens every day when you’re home?’ I also ask, ’If you could change the activity the family is doing, what would you be doing instead?’”

Another of Anderson’s favorite introductory techniques is a matching game that features about 40 cards with pictures on them. Anderson and the client turn the cards facedown, mix them up and try to find two matching cards. “It really helps me understand the child’s ability to recall and follow directions, [plus their] listening skills, impulse control and how they manage feelings if they win or lose,” she says. “It is usually the first game we play in my office together.” Anderson also plays Uno with clients but adds Ungame cards into the stack that feature feeling and situation questions. In addition, she makes comic strips of coping skills with the students.

Anderson employs play therapy not only in working with individual children at her school but also in leading groups. Some of her group play techniques include puppet shows, art work and “feelings to faces” pictures, in which students draw pictures to represent feelings that are more complex than happy, sad or mad. Group members then try to guess what the feeling is before the picture is put up on the wall. “The group stuff is so great because the kids start reflecting to each other things that are happening in group so I don’t have to as often,” Anderson says. “For example, ’Wow, Joe, your picture has hitting in it.’ Or if one of the kids is upset with the rules, ’Joe doesn’t like that he lost his turn, but he’ll get another one soon.’ Simple things like that. After a year or so, the kids start to figure out they are here because they have things in common. Some of those conversations are powerful for them.”

Anderson recalls one student with selective mutism who spoke only with family members and select peers. In an effort to work on speaking goals, Anderson used puppets and a puppet stage in a group setting with the student and two of her peers. “I put sheets of construction paper over part of the ’stage’ so that I could not see the student’s face behind the stage. Initially, the two peers came up with storylines and did most of the talking while encouraging the student to have her puppet talk. She had the puppet whisper into the other puppets’ ears, but within four months, she was actually using regular voice for puppet talk.”

The student was able to make one- to three-word statements and was eventually able to speak to Anderson during individual sessions. “By end of the year, we were able to put the masks away and the student was able to perform reading assessments with me. To that point, we had tapes of the student reading, but she had not read to an adult at school. This was a big deal and a great way to work through the anxiety of selective mutism.”

A new perspective

One unique benefit of play therapy shouldn’t come as a surprise. Namely, it’s fun, Kottman says. “Although counseling can be serious business, it doesn’t have to be,” she says. “By using play and play therapy techniques, the counselor invites the client into a relationship in which he or she can make changes in an unthreatening, nurturing environment.”

In addition, most people learn better through doing than through talking, Kottman says. Play therapy techniques offer clients opportunities to shift their perspectives, gain new reference points and practice new behaviors, she says.

The symbolic nature of playing through one’s issues is also a strength of the technique, Kottman says. “Because play therapy is rooted in metaphoric, symbolic communication, clients can explore their issues in an indirect way. This creates a situation in which resistance and defensiveness on the part of the client can often be prevented or eliminated.”

Kottman calls play therapy’s ability to shift how a client thinks about a problem and give it new context a “metaphoric switch.” For example, instead of one dollhouse, Kottman has two, which sometimes ushers in a breakthrough for young clients whose parents are getting divorced. Kottman explains that she has two dollhouses because kids often go back and forth between two homes. “The kids will say, ’Other kids live in two houses, too?’ It somehow gives [the idea] permission,” she says.

Ane also mentions how play therapy’s metaphoric aspect can help clients see things from a new perspective, often unlocking the door to progress. A recent client was playing with Ane’s dollhouse, but instead of filling it with people, he had substituted animals. It was evident the animals represented family members, Ane says, but it was initially unclear which animal corresponded to which family member.

“The animals were interacting as group or family members would,” she says. “The aggressive animal was acting within the expected realm of behaviors — yelling, threatening, refusing to give care. The boy stated, ’This one’s the mom. She’s like our mom.’ He sighed deeply and changed activities. After that session, he was able to talk about his family dynamic more directly.” That’s sometimes the way play therapy works best, Ane says. “It’s the vehicle for transferring more symbolic information into concrete information.”

At Anderson’s school, play therapy helps students work through their issues without feeling as if they’re in trouble. Initially, she says, some students view her as the “interviewer,” akin to human services personnel, police officers or caseworkers who come to their homes and speak with their family members. “After play begins, the child recognizes that I play by the rules, that I will play fairly and that they can lead the play. We gain trust faster than most talk therapies would dream of,” Anderson says. “I think in child therapy, we are the keeper with the child, meaning images and experiences might be shared that I now can keep with the child and I will not punish them for it. I will still treat them respectfully.”

Sometimes, play therapy can even override the status quo in the child’s outside world, says Cochran, who coauthored the recent book Child-Centered Play Therapy: A Practical Guide to Developing Therapeutic Relationships With Children with William Nordling and Nancy Cochran. “Children in play therapy can make progress even if the systems they live in don’t change as much as we’d like them to,” he says.

On occasion, the child’s progress even serves as a spur for the family to make positive changes so it can continue to accommodate the child’s new behavior, Cochran says. In other instances, the family doesn’t change, but the child still improves. “While I would never give up on helping the family, if it’s a situation such that the adults in the family can’t change as much as I’d like them to, it doesn’t mean the child can’t turn his life around and make progress through play therapy,” he says.

Benefits aside, counselors say play therapy also presents challenges. “The first hurdle to get over is really a beginning counselor’s hurdle — believing that therapy for a child can be child-led,” Cochran says. “Our natural inclination is to think children are natural learners, with the idea being that we need to teach them something, that it can’t come from them.” In some cases, however, the reality may be that people have tried to teach the child something, but something is standing in the way of the child’s success — something the child needs to work out for himself or herself, Cochran says. “Until [counselors] see it work,” he says, “it’s hard to get their mind around, ’I can really facilitate an environment where the child can lead and be responsible.’”

A second challenge, Cochran says, is articulating to parents how play therapy will help their child. First, listen to the parent, he advises, and then offer an anecdote about how the child might benefit from play therapy techniques. Myers adds that involving and educating parents or caregivers throughout the therapeutic process is an important ingredient in encouraging progress beyond the playroom.

At times, it can be a struggle to meet parents’ high expectations, Ane acknowledges. “The major challenge I face with play therapy is not necessarily with the children but with the adults in their lives who expect changes to come quicker or expect to be able to see something concrete instead of letting the child work at the child’s pace,” she says. “If I were working with an adult who had suffered a trauma, I don’t think anyone would expect that after three sessions the adult would be fine. But with children, people expect the results will be very quick.” Ane regularly reminds caregivers that children process things differently than adults do and that progress will take time.

Certain counselors will view the very nature of play therapy as a challenge, Cochran says. “Some counselors can look at play therapy and say, ’Well, if this is child-led, I can’t set goals, I can’t have a treatment plan and I can’t measure outcomes.’ And I would say, ’Yes, you can. And you really should.’” One way to accomplish this is by sitting down with the teacher or parents and setting up a few goals with a rating scale and a comment sheet, he says. The parents or teacher can provide regular feedback. Another option, he says, is to use a standard rating scale that measures a wide range of behavioral and emotional difficulties. The parents or teacher can also fill out the scale.

Getting started

Many of the counselors interviewed say the Association for Play Therapy (APT) is an excellent starting point for those interested in learning about and applying the play therapy technique in practice. APT’s website (a4pt.org) offers an e-learning center, credentialing information, approved centers of play therapy education and more.

APT is also a good place for counselors to look for conference and workshop trainings, as well as university course work in play therapy, Myers says. He adds that training should include learning not only about the play therapist’s functions and skills, but also about the nuances of the playroom and materials and the role of the parent in the process. “Counselors interested in using play in their practices need to seek training and supervision in play therapy as required in the ACA Code of Ethics,” Myers says. “In addition, counselors using play therapy need to have an understanding of the developmental stages and needs of childhood. It is important that counselors believe in the uniqueness of children, that they are not simply miniature adults, and that children are capable of positive self-growth.”

Anderson keeps a copy of Virginia Axline’s book Play Therapy on her bookshelf and references it often. But in addition to play therapy techniques, Anderson says a foundation in crisis intervention and abuse training is also important. “Kids don’t sugarcoat things, and if you get a disclosure, the child needs you to know what to do next,” she emphasizes.

Given the various play therapy approaches, Kottman says it’s important for counselors to take the same things into consideration when choosing an intervention for children as they would when choosing an intervention for adults. “People should think about their own beliefs about children, how children get into struggles and how children can change [when] thinking about the kind of play therapy they want to do,” she says.

Ane recommends budding counselors get as much training as they can while still in school by taking play therapy courses offered by their respective college or university. The benefit, she says, is that the training is semesters-long, as opposed to workshops, where the training is shorter and more sporadic. “Workshops are wonderful. They are phenomenal,” Ane says. “But it’s difficult to get a good foundation at workshops. Getting training three hours at a time can cause gaps in your education.”

Kottman reminds her fellow counselors that they don’t need every toy on the market to be an effective play therapist. It’s more important to get good training, get good supervision and remember to have fun, she says.

Ane urges counselors to respect the powerful opportunity to work with child clients. “Children are often not respected as autonomous human beings and typically don’t have the power to make decisions about their lives,” she says. “The playroom is their world. An hour in the playroom can give them the strength to make it through one more week. I feel very honored to go with children on that journey.”

Putting clients ahead of personal values

Lynne Shallcross November 18, 2010

This past summer, the counseling profession found itself at the center of two legal cases in which tensions between public universities and free speech and between the rights of the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender population and the beliefs of religiously conservative students continued to play out.

In July, a federal judge rejected a lawsuit brought by a counseling student at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) who claimed she was unfairly dismissed from the counseling program after refusing, on religious grounds, to counsel a homosexual client. In dismissing plaintiff Julea Ward’s claims that her religious and speech rights were violated, the judge held that the university was reasonable in its requirement that counseling students be able to serve homosexual clients.

Then in August, another federal judge ruled against an Augusta State University counseling student who sued the university in a scenario similar to that at EMU. The most recent case has not yet gone to trial, but the court declined to grant an injunction that would have blocked Augusta State from expelling counselor education student Jennifer Keeton, who refused to follow a remediation plan after she objected to counseling homosexual clients.

American Counseling Association Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan says the EMU case in particular, which went to trial, should be considered a milestone for counselor education and the counseling profession. “I think it’s one of the most important court cases in the past 25 years,” Kaplan says, “because it speaks directly to whether counselors can discriminate against clients on the basis of client characteristics. The lawsuit was a direct threat to the nondiscrimination clause within the ACA Code of Ethics that specifically says that counselors may not discriminate against clients on the basis of age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status/partnership, language preference, socioeconomic status or any basis proscribed by law.”

Ward, a conservative Christian admitted to EMU’s master’s program in counseling in 2006, was on her way to becoming a high school counselor. Shortly after beginning her practicum in 2009, she read the file of an assigned client and found he had previously been counseled about his same-sex relationship. Ward notified her supervisor that according to her religious beliefs, she would be unable to counsel the client and needed to refer. The supervisor canceled the counseling session and scheduled an informal review.

At the review, EMU faculty members explained to Ward that she was to abide by the university program, which adheres to the ACA Code of Ethics, meaning she and all other EMU counseling students are required to set aside their personal beliefs and values when working with clients. Given the choice of completing a remediation program, leaving the program or requesting a formal hearing, Ward chose the hearing. As a result of the formal hearing, Ward was dismissed from the program for violating the ACA Code of Ethics.

Ward sued with the backing of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), an organization of Christian lawyers that also assisted Keeton at Augusta State. Ward’s side maintained that in order to meet program requirements, Ward would have been forced to change her beliefs. It also asserted that the ethics code amounted to a speech code.

In opposition, EMU, with the support of ACA, held that Ward did not need to change her beliefs but, as a counselor, was required to respect the dignity and promote the welfare of the client while putting her own values aside. EMU’s legal team said a counseling referral should take place on the basis of the client’s needs and the competency — not the values — of the counselor.

A university’s right

In his ruling, Judge George Caram Steeh found fault with ADF’s argument on behalf of Ward. Contrary to the claims of the lawsuit, he maintained EMU did not violate Ward’s free speech rights, nor did it infringe on her religious freedom. Ward was free to express her views, he said, even in counseling classes and papers — and she did so, while still receiving superior grades.

In requiring students to work with all types of clients, the judge held that the university was enforcing a curricular requirement, which it has the right to do. The ACA Code of Ethics applies to students in the counseling program, he said, not to nonacademic student behaviors. “This is not a prohibition on a counselor making statements about their values and beliefs in a setting other than with a client,” Steeh wrote in the summary judgment. “This section is quite narrowly drawn to avoid imposing harm on clients.”

“The university had a rational basis for adopting the ACA Code of Ethics into its counseling program, not the least of which was the desire to offer an accredited program,” the judge noted. “Furthermore, the university had a rational basis for requiring its students to counsel clients without imposing their personal values. In the case of Ms. Ward, the university determined that she would never change her behavior and would consistently refuse to counsel clients on matters with which she was personally opposed due to her religious beliefs — including homosexual relationships. The university offered Ms. Ward the opportunity for a remediation plan, which she rejected. Her refusal to attempt learning to counsel all clients within their own value systems is a failure to complete an academic requirement of the program.”

EMU counseling professor Perry Francis says counselors should be proud of belonging to a profession that seeks to provide the best possible care to the greatest number of people. Still, Francis admits he’s left feeling less than ecstatic despite the judge siding with EMU. “To a certain extent, I’m disappointed that we could not work together to come to a mutually acceptable conclusion, that this had to evolve into a lawsuit, because nobody wins,” says Francis, who is also coordinator of the university’s counseling clinic. “The counseling profession gets a bad rap with a segment of the population that may not understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. The student is not opening herself up to looking at the world through her clients’ eyes and learning more effective ways of interacting with clients. So in that sense, I wouldn’t declare there are winners or losers. I would say it’s unfortunate that it came to this.”

Because of cases such as these, a perception is being fostered by some that counseling isn’t welcoming of people with strong religious beliefs, Francis says. That is simply untrue, he asserts. “We want people to have their values and their faith. But while we have these values, we have to learn to teach and help our students understand that our values, our faith systems and our actions are something we would set aside or compartmentalize so they don’t interfere with our ability to be present with our client. We try to understand what our clients’ contexts and systems are about, whether they come from a religious upbringing that is an integral part of their life or whether they don’t.”

“We’re not asking [students] not to be genuine,” Francis continues. “We’re asking them to not use their systems to judge or evaluate the person in front of them but to try and understand and work with that person from his or her worldview and system. We’re seeking to understand and work within the worldview of the client, regardless of what our worldview is.”

Francis predicts counseling departments will see more of these types of legal cases in the future. “The reason why is because I think people in general are becoming much more overt and up front about what they believe. And that’s fine, but I think what we’re hoping to do within counseling is say, ’OK, that’s part of who you are. How do you then work from a client’s point of view that may be different from your own?’”

The task for counselor educators, Francis says, is helping students navigate that road, which is where the trouble arose with Ward. “Ms. Ward is unable to or unwilling to acknowledge that there are people with whom she would work, given the proper supervision and training, and still be honorable to who she is as a person.”

The road ahead

Kaplan says the EMU ruling will be significant going forward because it upheld the ideals of the profession. “The case affirms what we have expected of students all along,” he says. “Counseling students need to become comfortable with the idea that they will be seeing people with very different value systems than the student holds. That is an inherent part of our code of ethics — that we value diverse populations.”

“One of the most basic implications of this case,” he continues, “is that it reaffirms the fact that our clients are more important than we are — that meeting our clients’ needs is more important than meeting our own needs.” Kaplan adds that the case supported the ACA Code of Ethics’ stand on discrimination, as well as highlighted the point that counselors refer on the basis of competency, not their own values.

Mary Hermann, associate professor and chair of the Department of Counselor Education at Virginia Commonwealth University and a former member of the ACA Ethics Committee, wrote an expert testimony for the EMU case. “To date,” Hermann says, “the judiciary is supporting the role of counselor educators as they work to help students learn to provide counseling services to a diverse clientele. As counselor educators, we are gatekeepers for the profession. We emphasize cultural competence in our training. Considering our ethical responsibilities set forth by ACA and the American School Counselor Association [a division of ACA], school counselor educators work to ensure that school counselors have the training and skills necessary to provide school counseling environments in which all students have equal access to school counseling services.”

Hermann, who coedited Ethical and Legal Issues in School Counseling, published by ASCA, also cites the ASCA position statement on “The Professional School Counselor and LGBTQ Youth,” which says school counselors “assist all students as they clarify feelings about their own sexual orientation/gender identity and the identity of others in a nonjudgmental manner.”

“The 2010 revision of the ASCA Ethical Standards further illustrates ASCA’s commitment to social justice and advocacy,” she says. “I believe that such a commitment indicates the direction of our profession.”

Barbara Herlihy, university research professor at the University of New Orleans, also contributed expert testimony in the EMU case and says counselor educators can feel encouraged by the judges’ rulings in both the EMU and Augusta State cases. She says the judges affirmed that educators have the right to define their curricula, that abiding by the ACA Code of Ethics is an appropriate curricular requirement and that counselor educators do not tolerate discrimination against any class of people.

“These cases underscore the importance of having sound, clear, written gatekeeping procedures that are disseminated to students in a student handbook, that provide students with due process and that include the opportunity to remediate any identified deficiencies,” says Herlihy, who was a member of the ACA Ethics Code Revision Task Force and a former chair of the ACA Ethics Committee. But Herlihy adds that counselor educators should also aim to head off problems before they start. “We have an additional obligation, in all fairness to students who invest considerable time, energy and money in pursuing their graduate degrees. We need to find ways to identify and remediate the kinds of problems that were at issue in these two cases before students reach their practicum.”

To view the judge’s summary judgment in the EMU case, visit emich.edu/aca_case/index.php.

ACA is planning to hold two education sessions about the EMU case at the ACA Annual Conference & Exposition in New Orleans in March. The first session, presented by EMU counseling faculty members, will focus on the implications of the case for counselor education. The second session will be presented by those who provided expert testimony on behalf of EMU and will focus on the case’s implications for the counseling profession. Dates, times and room locations for the sessions will be published in the Program Guide provided to all conference attendees and included on the conference section of the ACA website at counseling.org/conference. u

Lynne Shallcross is a senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at lshallcross@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Endangered innocence

Jonathan Rollins

Children who have a parent in jail or prison often learn the many nuances of the phrase "guilty by association" the hard way.

"These children have to deal with the stigma of having a parent in jail on many different fronts," says Marcy Douglass, assistant professor in the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel. "For instance, if something goes missing in their classroom at school, assumptions are often made."

But even those assumptions that steer clear of questioning the child’s character can do damage. "These kids don’t want people to label them, but even teachers can think of them in a certain way," says Danielle Schultz, a school counselor at Camp Curtin Elementary School in the Harrisburg (Pa.) School District. "People try to pigeonhole them as at-risk kids. That frustrates me because they also have so many positives and strengths."

In addition, policies and practices meant to punish criminal offenders often end up claiming their children as collateral damage, says Elisabeth Bennett, associate professor and chair of the Gonzaga University Department of Counselor Education. According to the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections, no official protocol exists for any jurisdiction or agency to ask whether prisoners have children, much less take steps to promote the welfare of these boys and girls. Bennett also cites a 2009 report from the Sentencing Project which found that more than half of state correctional facility inmates and nearly half of federal inmates with children had never had a personal visit with their children while in prison. In fact, rates of visitation had declined 28 percent between 1997 and 2007.

"Even though we now know more about how important clear attachments are for children, rates of visitation are dropping," says Bennett, explaining that geographic proximity is often a major barrier to visitation. "As a society, we tend to think that prisoners should have as miserable a time as possible, so they shouldn’t be allowed to see their children. Maybe the person deserves that, but the question is, does the child deserve it?"

Bennett, a member of the American Counseling Association, says it’s also common for children to assume a certain level of guilt for a parent’s incarceration. "The child often sees the parent’s crime, especially in cases of domestic abuse or drug use, and witnesses the parent being removed from the home [by law enforcement]. In many cases, the child feels responsible for getting things back to the way they were. The kid often feels a huge amount of guilt for what has happened, particularly in cases of sexual abuse. Regardless, as the child, you’re left to deal with the destruction once the parent is incarcerated."

Identifying the need

According to the Sentencing Project, an organization that promotes reforms in sentencing laws and alternatives to incarceration, an estimated 1.7 million children in the United States have an incarcerated parent. One in 15 black children, one in 42 Latina/o children and one in 111 white children have at least one parent in prison. The number of incarcerated fathers grew 76 percent between 1991 and 2007; the number of incarcerated mothers increased 122 percent during that period. Despite those numbers, "It’s not exactly a mainstream topic," says Bennett.

Schultz concurs. "It’s a population that nobody talks about but almost everyone has a connection to. It was kind of a taboo subject" when Shippensburg University and the Harrisburg School District partnered during the 2009-2010 school year to provide group counseling for children with an incarcerated parent.

Children who have an incarcerated parent are likely to experience financial upheaval, chronic ambiguity, stigmatization, a range of emotional symptoms and altered relationships at home, at school and with authority figures, Bennett says, making it imperative that these children are identified and receive proper counseling support.

"It’s not uncommon for the child to see the parent removed from the home and for the child to be placed with social services, but then nobody processes with the kiddo. It’s just not part of the protocol," says Bennett, who used to provide consulting for state services in Washington state. "Social workers are generally trained to secure services for the kids, not counsel them, so it’s not very common that counseling is included in the package. And if it is, it’s more of the triage variety. Social service agencies are often so overloaded with cases that there is no possible way for them to adequately assist every child as they would undoubtedly like."

Among counselors, school counselors are generally in the best position to consistently engage with these children, but identifying which children have an incarcerated parent can be a sensitive matter, Bennett says. "These kids don’t wear a badge that says, ’My father is in jail.’ A lot of kids out there aren’t speaking out about what’s happening at home, but they need us, so it’s really incumbent on counselors to be savvy and pay attention to behavioral shifts."

For example, she says, children who have an incarcerated parent — and particularly those children who witnessed their parent commit a crime — might experience nightmares, a lost sense of safety and increased levels of distress, anxiety, anger and fear. "Imagine that child sitting in school," Bennett says. "He can’t really be present because all kinds of other things are going on in his head."

According to Ann Adalist-Estrin, director of the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated, a child’s way of coping with parental incarceration is often misunderstood or misdiagnosed as depression, an anger management issue, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a behavioral problem, antisocial behavior or a learning disability.

Although it’s easy to see why these children might struggle in school, some kids attempt to cope with their circumstances by becoming high achievers instead, says Douglass, a member of ACA. "Some of these children do very, very well in school because they don’t want to add to their family’s struggles. In fact, a perfectionist streak can crop up."

But more commonly, she says, children with a parent in jail or prison are likely to exhibit emotional withdrawal, low self-esteem and acting out or antisocial behaviors. "There’s a certain trauma that starts with the actual arrest, particularly if the child is present at the time," she says.

Attachment issues are prevalent among these children, who are commonly forced to navigate a large number of transitions and changes upon their parent’s incarceration, Douglass says. This is a major reason that they often have difficulty relating to their teachers and peers, she adds.

"Children whose fathers go to prison commonly live with their mothers, but they are often set into poverty, and the mother may naturally be feeling angry and overwhelmed," Douglass says. "On the other hand, if it is the mother who is incarcerated, it is more likely that the child will be moved around and placed with an aunt or a grandmother. This might involve not only a physical move but a new school. In some cases, siblings may be split up. In other cases, the child may not know the relatives well. In many circumstances, it’s both a lack of the child’s physical needs and emotional needs being met."

"We used to assume that losing mom was worse for the child," Bennett adds, "but it really depends on whom the child’s attachment was with. Losing the rock, the connector, is the worst. The issue isn’t male or female or gender of the child. It’s about the attachment that was there and how it was disrupted."

Establishing group support within the schools

Given Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania’s rural location and the area’s relative lack of diversity, Douglass began looking for opportunities to expose her counseling students to different cultures and environments. That eventually led to a partnership with the Harrisburg School District and a plan to develop a program to help schoolchildren whose parents were incarcerated.

In 2009, Shippensburg funded a two-day training, led by Adalist-Estrin, for each of the school district’s counselors and social workers. The training focused on using group counseling to raise the self-esteem of children with incarcerated parents while also lessening their sense of isolation. Three counseling graduate students from Shippensburg — Schultz, Clare Kenny and Natasha Nayduch — were chosen to function as school counseling interns and facilitated pilot groups for children ages 6 to 12 who had an incarcerated parent. Groups at the three schools were kept separate by age and gender. Each of the interns had completed course work in group counseling, working with children and adolescents, multicultural counseling and clinical skills development.

One of the initial challenges was identifying children who qualified for the group. The counselors first approached schoolteachers for possible referrals. "The teachers were initially leery of the idea," Douglass says. "Some of them thought the topic was too sensitive and that it was nobody else’s business."

One of the keys was making the true function and purpose of the groups clear to school personnel, says Schultz, an ACA member who was hired by the Harrisburg School District as a counselor after her internship. "We met some resistance in the schools, but after we explained that we would be working on the kids’ self-esteem and resilience rather than focusing on the topic of incarceration itself, resistance lessened. I even had a parent who had been incarcerated call me because he was afraid the group was going to be about him. I said, ’No, it’s really about your daughter.’"

The counselors also sent out general surveys in which a question was embedded asking students whether they had a family member in prison. "It seemed like everyone did, so we had to change it to ’Do you have a parent in prison?’" says Schultz.

The school counselors also displayed copies of the book My Daddy Is in Jail by Janet Bender in their offices, leading several students to self-refer for the group. "Students would see the book and just start talking about it," Schultz says. Schultz runs anger management groups at her current school, and she says many of the boys in these groups have revealed they have a parent in prison without the question ever being raised.

After screening the students, the counselors sought consent from parents or caretakers to have their child participate in the groups. "I was nervous about approaching the parents, but once we explained the purpose of the group, they really understood what we were trying to do and wanted their child to be involved in the service," Schultz says. "They just didn’t want their child to receive a negative label."

Simply having groups dedicated to these students proved empowering for the participants. One student who was particularly embarrassed by his parent’s incarceration had been making up stories to explain the parent’s absence to others. "A lot of these kids had rather say their parent is in rehabilitation or in military service instead of saying their parent is incarcerated," Douglass says. "But once this student found out about the group, his response was, ’Wow! It’s not just me.’ That was a huge part of the therapeutic process for him."

The groups, which met once per week for six weeks, included activities designed to help the children express their feelings, build their self-esteem, improve their social skills and increase their ability to relate to one another. "Relationships are really, really difficult for these kids," Douglass says. "There’s a fear for them in getting attached." In addition, the groups addressed issues of grief and loss, "which is huge for these kids," Douglass says.

Although sessions didn’t focus on incarceration, the students were told they could meet with their counselor individually if they wanted to talk about the topic in more depth. "Some of the students were just so eager to have someone to talk to because the nonincarcerated parent isn’t necessarily interested in talking about the other parent," Douglass says, "and the kids don’t want to upset the parent who is still there for them."

A place to relate

Schultz ran three separate groups for third-graders (two for girls and one for boys) who had an incarcerated parent. "There was an overwhelming need — more than we could service," says Schultz, who hopes to put together a group for older students in the school where she now works.

"The kids really formed a tight-knit group with one another," she says. "They acted markedly different while in the group and felt a sense of belonging. We set mutual respect and trust as the tone for the group, and they really fell in line with that. Relatively quickly, they were able to feel part of a group and got mad if one of the group members didn’t show up. Those who didn’t show up heard about it from the others.

"They loved being able to relate to each other, and we saw so much growth take place. Early on, they couldn’t even compliment each other. They couldn’t think of anything nice to say about another person in the group except for maybe complimenting their clothes. But by the end, they were able to articulate things that were much bigger concepts than, ’I like your shirt.’ I also noticed that they stuck together afterward [when the groups had concluded] and were able to draw support from one another."

One activity that helped to build self-esteem was having group members trace their hands and then write something positive or unique about themselves for each finger. Another popular activity, especially among the boys, was Anger Can/Feelings Can. Group members would pick a slip of paper that included a fill-in-the-blank situation such as "Something that makes me angry is …" After answering, they would throw a ball to the other group members so they could take a turn answering the question. "Giving them an outlet to talk about their feelings was really powerful for them," Schultz says.

Despite not focusing specifically on a parent’s incarceration, the group exercises repeatedly gave the children permission to let their feelings about the situation emerge. For instance, Schultz says, during the Anger Can/Feelings Can activity, a student might pull a statement that read, "Something that makes me sad is …" and answer, "When I can’t see my dad."

Other activities from the curriculum the groups followed didn’t work as well. For instance, journal writing proved to be a turnoff. "Many of the children were already struggling in school or with their writing level," Douglass says. "They didn’t want to come to group and have to try to write something else. We didn’t want group to be another place where they felt bad about themselves, so we let them use their journals to draw in if they wanted."

At the same time, Schultz notes that at least one student who didn’t want to share anything out loud with the group was meticulous about recording his thoughts and feelings in the journal. Even so, she believes the ages and writing levels of group members should be taken into account when developing group activities. Having led these groups using someone else’s curriculum, Schultz and some of her colleagues want to develop their own curriculum incorporating what they have learned. On the basis of their experience, Schultz says the curriculum would place even more focus on feelings, self-esteem and resilience.

Over the course of the semester, the counselors used the Child Outcome Rating Scale and the Child Session Rating Scale to determine the experience of group members both immediately after the group session and throughout the week. In addition, teachers were asked to rate each child’s behavior (both before the program began and shortly after the final group session) using the Connors Behavioral Rating Scale. According to Douglass, the most significant findings that emerged were that the children who participated in the groups felt better both about school and about themselves. At the same time, the teachers rated the children as less oppositional while participating in the counseling groups.

The groups also proved popular with the children, with many of the kids in Schultz’s groups writing her letters, drawing her pictures and asking her if they could participate in a group again. "Of all the experiences I have had, running those groups was the most powerful," Schultz says. "It’s given me a special place in my heart for this issue."

What counselors can do

In what ways can counselors best help children whose parents are in jail or prison? "No. 1, just show them you can provide a safe place to come and talk about how they feel and what they are going through," Schultz says. "Just be open and let these kids know you will be nonjudgmental. Help them not to hold it all in and pretend nothing is wrong."

It’s also important to help this population of children and adolescents to rectify distorted thinking, she says. For instance, many think they are somehow to blame for their parent’s actions or, given their parent’s criminal behavior, believe they might be inherently "bad" themselves.

Bennett, who provides consulting services to schools concerning how best to help children of incarcerated parents and who has counseled many of these children personally, offers the following insights and tips to counselors.

  • "Simply ask what they need," she says. "The children don’t often get asked this during the course of their parent’s arrest, trial, sentencing and incarceration."
  • Instill hope about what they can do with their own lives rather than allowing them to assume (or assuming yourself) that their course has been predetermined by their parent’s history.
  • Provide group connections for kids to encourage universality. At the same time, she cautions, be careful not to allow these groups to evolve into "we hate the police" or "we hate the authorities" sessions.
  • Provide venues for kids to vent their emotions. "You can’t exactly normalize their experience," Bennett says, "but you can normalize their feelings. Tell them it’s OK to cry and feel the way they’re feeling rather than bucking up."
  • "Pump up these children’s sense of significance, power and competence so they will get their emotional needs met, not just their physical needs," she says.
  • Help these children to remove self-guilt and self-blame. "Release the burden from them," she says. "It wasn’t their fault. If they carry the responsibility for it, they will end up being angry with the world."
  • "Be a stable and available presence because these kids really need stable and available people in their lives." Bennett allows the kids with whom she works to text her outside of sessions.
  • Never dissuade a child from wanting to love and maintain a connection with his or her parent, regardless of what that parent has done. Also let the child know that it’s OK to have mixed emotions. "They can be mad at them and still love them at the same time," Bennett says. When children aren’t allowed access to a parent during the course of a trial, Bennett encourages them to write notes to let the parent know what they were feeling at the time. Even if notes can’t be exchanged with the parent, "The child can look back on the notes and say, ’This is my history, this is my resilient self,’ and use that the next time they need to draw strength," Bennett says.
  • Don’t make assumptions about how the child feels. "It’s not necessarily party time for the kid when a parent is finally released," Bennett says. "It’s not automatically a settled time, despite what we might think. For instance, kids often panic if they see their parent doing something wrong or returning to crime. Sometimes, the child may be scared of or opposed to reunifying in the first place. And in many instances, the child harbors conflicting emotions."
  • Adapt an advocacy role. Bennett encourages counselors to throw their weight behind policy changes that would support continuing relationships between prisoners and their children, including visitation, parenting classes and programs for reentry. "Counselors should also advocate for child services and toward child-centered case management," she says. "Right now, most states focus on the parent, and the child is subject to the progress of the parent — or the lack thereof."

Regardless of how a person feels about issues of crime and punishment, it’s important to "keep thinking of the children," Bennett says. "That’s really the heart of the matter."

Danielle Schultz created School Counselor Blog in January 2009 as a place for school counselors to share lesson plans, ideas and resources. Visit the blog at schcounselor.com.

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

Giving thanks

Richard Yep

Richard Yep

In the United States, we will celebrate Thanksgiving this year on Nov. 25. Traditionally, friends and family gather on this day to give thanks for things with which they have been blessed. Although copious amounts of food are often included in the festivities, the real focus is on acknowledging and appreciating the good things in life. It is ironic then, and an interesting juxtaposition, that the following day is known in the retail industry as Black Friday.

Yes, the day after Thanksgiving, the day after we express our appreciation for invaluable blessings such as family and friends, is the day when economists, politicians and titans of industry monitor merchandise sales to determine how profitable (or not) the Christmas buying season will be.

That’s right. Black Friday — the day when warm, fuzzy, special feelings from the previous day evaporate as people run down the store aisles and someone is bound to knock over an elderly woman in the name of grabbing an alpaca sweater offered at a significant discount. We live in interesting times.

But this month’s column is not about the marathon sales or the questionable behavior of some of those who choose to participate in Black Friday. Rather, I am focusing on what goes on the day before. I am thankful for many things: my family, my friends, my good health and a roof over my head.

On a professional level, I am appreciative of my fellow ACA staffers who have dedicated themselves to ensuring that our members know how special they are. I am also appreciative of the ACA leadership, being led this year by our president, Marcheta Evans. And I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my thanks for you, the members of ACA.

I am constantly in awe of what you do for so many families, couples and individuals. You go that extra mile even when you don’t have to, and you constantly look for ways to make this a better world for everyone. As the year comes to a close, I hope you will take time to reflect on what you have accomplished and the lives you have changed and then commit yourself to doing the same good work as we prepare to enter another new year.

Speaking of those in need, I would ask you to consider including the American Counseling Association Foundation in your financial contributions as the year comes to a close. The ACA Foundation, being chaired this year by Sam Gladding, has carefully looked at how to make the most of the resources it has available. By supporting graduate students, providing books to elementary school counselors and ensuring that the Counselors Care Fund continues to “live,” the ACA Foundation carries out its mission of counselors helping counselors.

It is amazing to think about how much the ACA Foundation has accomplished given the small percentage of ACA members who made contributions to it this past year. The Foundation provides important resources for professional counselors and counselor education students. Won’t you consider making a donation by going to acafoundation.org?

I am challenging the ACA membership to join me in making a gift to the ACA Foundation. It doesn’t matter how large or how small your donation — whatever you give will help the Foundation.

I also want to let you know about a very special pledge. An anonymous donor has pledged $2 for each person who makes a contribution between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15. Since every little bit helps, won’t you consider making a donation, especially knowing that whatever you give will be enhanced by our anonymous donor’s pledge?

My thanks to all of you for the good work you are doing.

As always, I hope you will contact me with any comments, questions or suggestions that you might have. Please contact me via e-mail at ryep@counseling.org or by phone at 800.347.6647 ext. 231.

Thanks and be well.

Making time for play

Marcheta Evans November 2, 2010

Knowing that this month’s cover story was going to address the important topic of therapeutic play from the perspective of counselor practitioners specially trained in play therapy, I wanted to look at play from a personal perspective and share how it has manifested itself in my life.

When I first considered the topic, I thought, “Isn’t all play therapeutic?” But after some time, I concluded that, no, it really isn’t. Having played numerous sports throughout my life, even into my adulthood with competitive tennis, I have seen the “ugly” side of play as well.

Personally, I have been so driven to win that, I am ashamed to say, even small children have fallen victim to my competitive spirit. I remember very vividly playing basketball with my nephews once and beating them badly. One of them turned to me and said, “Aunt Marcheta, do you always have to win?” I paused for a moment before turning to my nephew and responding, “Yes.” Of course, now being over 50, I realize that physically, my best days are behind me … but I still have a pretty good jump shot if I’m standing still (smile).

Anyway, back to the topic of play’s therapeutic qualities. I have learned the importance of play throughout my life. For me, play means the ability to walk away from the daily grind of work to experience a physical and mental release. There are very few things in life that I enjoy more than simply getting out and playing with my husband, children or friends. This is when a lot of laughter and fun occur.

Whether engaged in a physical game or even a board game, you can learn quite a bit about someone’s personality through play. During the holidays, I sometimes purchase puzzles for our family to complete. It is amazing to see how each family member responds to this challenge. One child will work and work until the task is done. Another becomes frustrated after a short period of time and walks away. I have the “drive-by” child who will walk up, put a puzzle piece in place and then quickly move on to something else. Yet another child won’t even try because the fear of possibly not being successful is too great. Despite all these differences in personalities, our time together at play is somehow bonding and quite rewarding.

One of my other great joys is attending our branch, region, division and national conferences. Yes, these are prime times to network and to secure those valuable continuing education units that we all need to stay relevant and current with our profession. But these are also times to get refreshed and to enjoy one another. As president of the American Counseling Association, I have been afforded the opportunity to attend several conferences this fall where I have truly enjoyed participating in yet another version of “therapeutic play.” To be given the chance to connect with individuals whom we may see only once a year, to catch up on what is happening in the lives of our friends and colleagues, is so gratifying.

If you have not attended any of your conferences recently, I strongly urge you to do so. It will bring a smile to your face and give you back that competitive edge. Attend one of the receptions or dances, and you’ll likely get a good opportunity to do the Electric Slide. This is where counselors laugh, play and dance the night away! So I’ll hope to see you this March at the Opening Party dance at the ACA Annual Conference in New Orleans.

On a more serious note, it is important to remember that even “fun” can be perilous if we are not protected. I recently had an opportunity to write a letter supporting the Protecting Student Athletes from Concussions Act. Congressional hearings are currently taking place regarding this legislation, which could help prevent play-related brain injuries among young athletes. No one supports the idea of play more than I do, but we must always be conscious of potential risks and dangers.

Before closing this column, I want to acknowledge the upcoming holiday season. As we prepare with our families, I encourage you to find some time for therapeutic play with each other. Be sure to let your family know how much you enjoy your time together, then let the laughter begin. Time is so precious, and we want our family members to know how important they are in our lives. There are times when we give so much to our students and clients that, at the end of the day, there is not much left. We are exhausted. But we must always remember to refresh ourselves by making time for play and embracing that special time with family. This is something we all know, but I just wanted to remind you to value the short time we have on this earth with our loved ones.

As I finish my first few months as president, I want to say how thankful I am for all of you who have taken the time to contact me. I received more than 50 e-mails about my column in August that focused on the lack of men in counseling. I will be following up with additional research on this important topic. So please stay tuned, and thank you for your continued support.