Monthly Archives: June 2014

Painter and Nawojchik take top honors in graduate student essay competitions

June 30, 2014

Everett Painter of the University of Tennessee and Claire Nawojchik of the University of Virginia were chosen as the grand prize winners in respective graduate student essay competitions.

Painter submitted the top essay in the ACA Foundation’s Graduate Student Essay Competition supported by Gerald and Marianne Corey and Allen and Mary Bradford Ivey. The competition was open to any counseling student taking one or more graduate courses at an accredited college or university.

Nawojchik penned the top-ranked essay for the Ross Trust Graduate Student Essay Competition for Future School Counselors. The competition was open to counseling graduate students working toward a career in school counseling at the elementary, middle or high school level.

As the grand prize winners, Painter and Nawojchik each received a $1,000 scholarship grant, free registration to the ACA 2014 Conference & Expo and a $250 ACA eGift certificate.

Each competition also identified the top runners-up essays. Those essays can be read here, below Painter and Nawojchik’s essays, and on the Student Awards page on the ACA website at


Everett Painter, University of Tennessee

Grand prize winner, ACA Foundation’s Graduate Student Essay Competition


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?

The role of the counselor as an agent of personal and social change, the compulsory need for continued self-awareness and lifelong learning, and the privilege of assisting others in managing the challenges of life are all aspects I welcome regarding our work. But perhaps the most important is a steadfast sense of curiosity. The cultivation of this quality in pursuit of addressing human needs propelled me into the world of counseling.

The need for curiosity permeates our experience. As clinicians, we are faced with a multitude of ill-defined concerns. Curiosity promotes the therapeutic condition of viewing our clients without judgment as we invite them to tell us their stories and empathically place ourselves in their shoes. It helps us soften our approach while we build rapport and establish collaborative relationships. As we work to navigate issues without clear-cut solutions, it is this quality that allows for constant revision of our understanding regarding change and appropriate avenues of practice. Resting just outside our keen skills and knowledge of theories and systems, it is curiosity that helps us maintain genuine vitality. It ensures we never stop striving to do our best work.

As counselor educators, curiosity allows us to take a step back and challenge our students to express their own ideas, opinions and gifts. Such a position removes the “expert and receiver of information” quality from the classroom while establishing a true community of learning where we gain as much from our students as they do from us. Curiosity encourages inquiry and reflection. From a practical standpoint, it helps to keep our approaches fresh by seeking creative methods. Finally, in line with our values of cultural awareness and advocacy, it is incumbent on us to inspire and motivate a sense of curiosity in the students we teach. For it is with this sense we come to develop an appreciation of multiple perspectives.

As counseling researchers, curiosity drives us to continually ask “what if” questions while we develop and test hypotheses. Finding and addressing gaps in our knowledge base is increased. In the course of conducting research, curiosity helps us step beyond our own personal beliefs, biases and assumptions, thereby allowing for new ideas and possibilities to emerge. Likewise, it helps us persist as we seek insights to challenging questions.

While curiosity may be seen as an intrinsic personal quality, I would argue this dimension is an inherently embedded and necessary part of our profession. It allows us to continually address and update our assumptions regarding human behavior. Personal growth is afforded because we never stop learning about others and ourselves. Ultimately, it enhances the level of empowerment we may offer. The quality of intellectual curiosity also acts as an umbrella, arching over so many of the aforementioned aspects of our work, shielding them and allowing us to weather the turbulence of uncertainty we so often encounter.




Claire Nawojchik, University of Virginia

Grand prize winner, Ross Trust Graduate Student Essay for Future School Counselors


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?

9:30 a.m. I am a 6-year-old boy whose mother abandoned me. I have been humiliated, injured and ignored. I don’t talk much.

10:00 a.m. I am a 10-year-old girl with few friends. I am ashamed of my weight, and sometimes I hate myself. I act tough at school and push people around so that they are too afraid to make fun of me.

11:00 a.m. I am a mother of three girls who are new to the school. I don’t trust a lot of people, and I feel like everyone is judging me and my children. But I need help. I had my first child when I was 14. I work two jobs. My children need school supplies, coats and gloves. I pretend it doesn’t embarrass me to ask.


The longer I work as a school counseling intern, and the closer I get to my goal of becoming a professional school counselor, the more I am moved by the transformative power of empathy. Over the course of one day on the job, I am able to interact with many different people, immerse myself in their realities and feel what they are feeling. I was attracted to the school counseling profession in part because I am drawn to other people’s stories. I want to know what experiences shaped who they are now, how they grew up, who cares for them, what they dream about and what they want to become. I want to know people well enough that I can help them realize potential they never knew they had.

I have learned that the only way to empower someone to change is to first meet them where they are, listen to them and genuinely care about them. I appreciate that the counseling profession challenges me to find out who I am, be authentic and confront my own biases and weaknesses, all while immersing myself into the alternate realities of others’ lives. I need to be empathetic enough to see the world through other individuals’ eyes; to understand their motivations, fears and perceptions of the world; to accept them wholly, unconditionally and nonjudgmentally. But I also need to never lose sight of my own identity. I know that if I lost myself in the fear, apathy, sadness and pessimism of every student that I talk to, then I too would be stuck, and I would lose the ability to empower them.

I pursued the school counseling profession because I want to help people succeed. School counseling allows me to interact with students face-to-face and provide them with the resources, emotional support and motivation they need to continue to improve, adapt and grow without me. Counseling is powerful enough that the students I meet with will always carry what they gained from our therapeutic relationship within themselves. That power — to empower others through empathy — is the reason I came to the counseling profession and the reason that I will stay a school counselor for as long as I am able.



Runner Up

Brad Carmichael, Old Dominion University


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?

Throughout my journey to become a counselor I have been inspired by three characteristics of the profession. The first characteristic is the emphasis on taking a strengths-based approach with clients. This approach limits the power differential between counselor and client and focuses on what the client is bringing to the therapeutic relationship rather than what they may be lacking. Remaining attentive to strengths rather than deficits allows clients to naturally progress towards their goals of achieving more mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual fulfillment. In my studies I have learned that focusing on wellness rather than pathology lays the foundation for helping clients with what they want to become rather than what an outsider’s clinical judgment says they should become.


The second characteristic of counseling is the focus on development through the lifespan. Every client is at a different point in his or her life. Accordingly, clients carry with them all of the insights from the past and questions for the future. They are always learning and reflecting; as such they are naturally encountering difficult thoughts and emotions. Given this, one would be hard pressed not to conceptualize clients as at various points in development. The human condition is not a static existence; it is constantly moving and changing. This understanding has been essential to my journey, because it has allowed me to see clients as taking me along for the ride as opposed to stopping by a therapeutic repair shop to be fine-tuned. Focusing on client growth throughout a lifespan will continue to be an important characteristic of the profession as I too continue in my development.


The third characteristic of counseling that has shaped my journey is a sense of multicultural awareness. Maintaining multicultural sensitivity allows counselors to see a client for his or her strengths as they are identified within his or her respective culture(s) and not what he or she is lacking based on the standards of a different culture. When clients come to counseling they are coming in with richly diverse beliefs, traditions, and experiences that have shaped the lens through which they see the world. These factors can help promote resiliency and wellness throughout the counseling process. As a developing counselor, I have come to learn that ignoring or minimizing these factors of a client’s identity would be equivalent to robbing them of the very means by which they cope with everyday stressors.


Maintaining a strengths-based approach, conceptualizing clients developmentally, and fostering multicultural awareness have had a profound impact on my professional and personal development. As I move forward in my academic training I will embrace these characteristics that have inspired me to pursue a career as a professional counselor.




Runner Up

Erin Wenzel, Antioch University Seattle


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?

The counseling profession creates a space unlike any other in our society. This space is inherently understood and honored by counselors, yet is nearly intangible in its fragile and amorphous nature. But for the counselor’s compassion and skill, the space would evaporate like a thin mist in the sun. It is the space to bear witness. Counseling creates a moment in time when social illusions need not apply; when facades and shields may be temporarily set aside; when a client may speak their own truth and share a reality that would wilt without an unguarded, accepting witness.


Our clients hold realities that are often unacceptable in a culture that expects politeness, smiles and niceties in the face of suffering, and a suppression of undesirable truths. Who will bear witness to the stories of incest survivors, if not counselors? Who will sit and honor shame and regret? Who will bear witness to the actualities of abuse, cruelty, poverty, oppression and pain, if not counselors? This profession creates a space for truth that need not be covered over, prettied up, dulled down, or remade. Counseling replaces social mores with curiosity, excitement, forgiveness and an unlimited number of opportunities for expanding into one’s potential, bursting through the need to play nice. This work gives room for the existence of dangerous, ugly, profound, and enlivening truths that would never see daylight without the heart of a witness.


The opportunity that counseling creates for raw humanity is the characteristic that drew me to this work. I am honored to sit with clients who allow me to be the first witness to their story. I watch as healing takes place not from hearing answers, but from feeling seen. Clients bring a vulnerability to this work that amazes me each and every time. Sharing their worlds with us requires a trust and strength that we are privileged to sit beside, and they take this risk for the mere chance that perhaps we will be the witness that they have not yet found. They hope that just maybe, we are compassionate enough, open enough, and expansive enough to hold their world in our mind, even for a brief moment.


As I transition into the counseling profession, I am invigorated by the opportunity to be an observer to the parts of our world that we can so easily pretend are not there. I am moved by the opportunity to see people—real, mammalian, angelic, earth and sweat and soul people. For one hour, I get to sit with a genuine human being who is offering their truth to this little space that we have made together. When I close the door at the end of the day, heading back into the realm of my own facades and social roles, I close a door on a sacred world, allowed possible only through the devoted work of the many witnesses who have lovingly built this profession, this hallowed space.




Runner Up

Julia Olson, Regis University


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?

As both a visual artist and aspiring counselor, I enjoy integrating creativity with my desire to help other people. My journey down this path came into being roughly ten years ago. I was a young student at a liberal arts school in Chicago when I began to experience a new kind of shocking reality. I had an outspoken British art professor who cursed a lot and introduced me to the radical works of several performance artists. Among many of these inspirational creators was my favorite feminist artist, Cuban-born Ana Mendieta, who used her body to imprint her silhouette out in the natural world. I fell into a deep love of performance art and its beautifully enigmatic and ephemeral qualities, but also its creative ability to question unhelpful social constructions and transcend perception. In short, this type of art opened my eyes to a richer understanding of the world, which I believe had therapeutic parallels to my own sense of wellbeing.


Creativity holds a special place in my heart, and therefore several creative characteristics of the counseling profession have profoundly shaped my quest to become a counselor. For me, these creative characteristics involve important counseling practices, including the need to remain open-minded and flexible within our counseling relationships. For example, creative thinking often involves acknowledging that there are multiple ways of being in this world and that there is rarely a one-size-fits-all answer in a field that embraces cultural sensitivity, vast areas of “gray,” and the dynamic and often ambiguous qualities of experience.


Moreover, because creative thinking honors experience as elusive and ever changing, it fosters a collaborative and curious orientation with clients. It reminds us that we are in fact not the experts on the content of our clients’ lives, but merely skilled in guiding them through the therapeutic process. On the same note, creative thinking imagines multiple avenues for exploration and is therefore what gives us our ability to work with our “third eye” to help our clients discover solutions that are meaningful to them.

Above all, creativity in counseling is expansive. It has the power to expand the borders of the counseling room by inviting clients to engage with the larger world. This happens when counselors use their imaginations to dream up new ways of helping clients to connect not just with counseling, but also with other aspects of life and with other people. Reflecting on my time in college, I realize that it was not necessarily my isolated relationship with the arts that moved me towards a more meaningful path. Rather, it was that relationship’s ability to inspire and facilitate my new experiences in the world.


I believe the counselor’s role is similar to the role artwork has played in my life: to help deepen and make meaningful one’s journey in the world. For this reason, it is the creative aspects of counseling – flexibility, openness to cultural differences, collaborative curiosity, and expansive concern with meaning-making –that have most animated my quest to become a counselor.




Runner Up

Tanya Willson, Barry University


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?

Sitting at the kitchen table, a tear rolls down a young woman’s nose and onto her lined notebook paper. I encourage her to write down something she has control over. She chokes up and tells me “nothing.” As a direct care worker at a rural residential treatment center for teens, I know I am beyond my pay scale and professional scope. I yearn to help her see her situation differently, but I know I do not have the knowledge or skills, having only completed a bachelor’s degree. This moment solidifies for me my desire to become a therapist.


My search for a graduate degree program that fit my goals proved to be more daunting than I had anticipated. I knew I wanted to counsel and facilitate change for people who were suffering, but as I looked into programs for social work and psychology, the courses did not seem to have anything to do with understanding a person as an individual and assisting with change. While learning about social trends and participating in research to uncover cognitive patterns sounded interesting, I could not see how those courses of study would help me become an effective psychotherapist.


Eventually, through searching all the graduate programs within a university’s education department, I clicked onto a counseling program webpage. The course titles intrigued me: counseling skills, group counseling, and multicultural issues. I felt a resonance as I read the course descriptions – the knowledge I would gain in this program would help me learn the skills and become the type of person who could help others improve their lives. Before I started my master’s degree, I saw that the focus of counseling was dedicated to the growth of individuals and families, rather than simply studying people.


As I have studied counseling, practiced as a counselor, and now study to become a counselor educator, I have felt that resonance grow with my professional identity. Counseling uniquely encourages practitioners to stand by the side of their clients, rather than convey expert guidance. While at times this characteristic of the profession has been difficult for me to fully adopt within myself, my pursuit of it has generated rich personal and professional growth.


Today if I could sit at that kitchen table again, I would know what to say to that young woman as she cried. As a counselor, I would be with her in that moment. I would not need to diagnose her, tell her how her feelings relate to her family of origin, society’s expectations of her, or tell her how to change her feelings, although I have the knowledge to do those things. Being a counselor means using that knowledge to foster a relationship where she has the ability to achieve her own wellness.




Runner Up

Sara Pomerantz, University of Vermont


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?

I came into existence at about the same time the American Mental Health Counselors Association began its grassroots movement toward becoming a professionally recognized organization, and in many ways our identities overlap. The principles that underpin the counseling profession that have most inspired my pursuit of this work include: the wellness and strengths-based focus; the conceptualization of the individual from the ecological perspective; and the strong propensity toward advocacy and social justice. These characteristics both draw me in, and inspire me to continue on this journey towards my own personal and professional congruency.


Raised in a small town nestled in the green mountains of Vermont, my life has always been oriented toward wellness and the integration of body, mind and spirit. I developed mindfulness at an early age as my senses became attuned with the natural world–the sound of the brook rushing over rocks, the wind whistling over the mountain and stirring the treetops, the stillness of a silent mid-winter’s snow. I learned to find equanimity not only by falling into rhythm with the natural world, but also through the solidarity I experienced as a member of my local community.


One need not look further than the natural world to appreciate the interconnectedness of all living things—how the roots, trunk, limbs and leaves of the tree work together to sustain its life, and yet how impacted the tree is by external factors, such as wind, whether, exposure and erosion. Similarly, individuals live among spheres of influence. Therefor, in order to holistically address the multifaceted human experience, a counselor must be able to work at multiple levels. This requires that we adjust our individually focused micro lens to encompass the larger socio-cultural landscape.


The third characteristic that motivates me toward this profession involves the counselor’s ability to promote social justice and advocacy. Born into unearned privilege in a rural community marked by disparate socio-economic discrepancy, this is perhaps the most salient reason why I chose to become a counselor. As a member of the board of directors for Hannah’s House, our local, non-profit counseling center, named in honor of my friend who lost her life to mental illness, I am able to begin to challenge some of the systemic factors that impact access to care.


The area I live in is unique because while counselors from outside our community often choose not to commute to our area, counselors living within the community struggle with the ethical challenges inherent to working and living in a small town. Taking these contextual considerations into account, I am grateful for the training I am receiving from the University of Vermont’s counseling program, and I am eager for the day I open my door for practice. Like water flowing over a path carved by time, I like to think that I am not only influenced by each of the aforementioned factors, but that I am also a reciprocal agent of change, able to carve and shape the future of this profession.




Runner Up

Danielle A Sheppard, Argosy University


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?

Advocacy is a major characteristic that shaped my quest to become a counselor. Experiencing many life challenges, allowed me to understand how important advocacy can be in today’s society. Having a bachelors in Political Science and pursuing a master’s in mental health counseling, allows me the opportunity to work in versatile areas such as advocacy and mental health.


Advocacy pertains to three levels in the counseling profession: advocating for the clients, ourselves, and advocating for the profession. As a student, I continued to learn the importance of advocating for clients. While pursuing my master’s degree, I was homeless for 16 months. During my time of being homeless, I experienced the lack of support, lack of education of where to go for help, and the lack of skilled helping professionals; the same that other people experienced, rather homeless or not. I experienced these same challenges after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The mental and emotional abuse I endured from other mental health professionals, case managers, and other helping professionals was very painful and embarrassing all at the same time. Many individuals who I was homeless with expressed his/her concerns to me and mentioned that these are the reasons they do not seek professional help. I found it very difficult to advocate for my clients at times because I was experiencing the same treatment as they were experiencing.


Advocacy on the clients level can allow counselors to bring forth some of these issues that many counselors are not aware of in this profession. Advocacy can address other issues that pertain to clients, such as un- representation of certain populations, lack of skills and knowledge of how to work with clients from different backgrounds, and clients lack of knowledge of his/her rights when seeking help from counseling professionals.


Advocating for ourselves is probably one of the hardest things any counseling professional has to do. As a student, there are several areas of concerns that I would like to address, but do not know how to bring them to the right person’s attention. As a neophyte to counseling, students need adequate training and skills to help them become better counselors. During this time of our professional growth, we are learning how to juggle school, work, internship, home life, and other things that fit into this category. Burnout can happen very easily and quickly in this profession if we do not take care of ourselves. The need for observant and supportive clinical supervisors are critical in assisting us in addressing self-care and any other issues that we may have that can affect our training and learning experience.


Advocating for the counseling profession allows counseling professionals the opportunity to make aware areas that may not get any representation, such as a lack of organized agencies and facilities for counseling professionals and student interns. Advocating brings awareness to limited help, treatment, and care because of federal funding, misrepresentation of federal money, and the lack thereof; and making known the importance of the counseling profession in today’s society.




Runner Up

Laura Preston, Campbell University


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?

Presence. The act of being present with someone. Listening with your with whole self.


It’s like oxygen….giving a life breathe to the one who is sharing their story.


It was early March 1958 in the very northern part of New York State. The temperature was frigid. The family farm was located many miles outside a very small rural farm town. The fire started in the middle of the night. One child awoke and tried to wake the others. Taking a younger brother (the only one she could awaken) with her, she walked more than a mile in the frigid winter ice, snow and wind to alert the firemen. The fire ravaged the home and the family (13 children, 2 parents). Both parents perished in the fire along with a 19 year son, a 12 year old daughter, a 10 year old daughter, a 9 year old son and a six year old daughter. The others would start a journey mired with grief. Only one would survive physically, emotionally and spiritually. The other physical survivors fought the memories and demons of that night alone, without counseling, finally succumbing to the tragedy through suicide and/or addiction. The physical and emotional survivor was resilient due in part to the lifeline offered by a compassionate listener.


Tragedy continues to impact families every day. Tragedy comes in many forms, often accompanied by the co-contributor called loss. Together tragedy and loss can cause damage that will impact families for generations. The counselor who can be present with an individual offers a life breathe not only to the potential survivor of the tragedy and loss situation, but offers a life breathe to future generations.


This is the particular characteristic of the counseling profession that most shaped my quest to become a counselor. It is personal. The family farm that perished in March 1958 was my grandparents homestead. The counselors who have impacted the generations that followed the fire tragedy were present and compassionate professionals who understood that the ability to listen, be empathetic and present were the lifeline that reached through a generation to produce the healthy individual that I am.


Be present. Offer that essential lifeline to the generations.




Runner Up

Mary Feamster, Appalachian State University



Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?

As a child, I adored school. It wasn’t just that I loved to learn, but that I had a place where I felt safe and supported. My home life was unstable and painful, but I found solace with a few key adults who served as my foundation, ‘counseling’ me until I could support myself and find my own way. Those individuals inspired me to pursue a life of service to others; in hopes of returning the kindnesses and guidance that I had been given. I now realize that they embodied the same characteristics that draw me to the school counseling profession: unwavering support, compassion, and creative problem-solving.


Counselors are unique from many other professionals in that we seek to support clients in their darkest hours. We are not trained as EMTs or surgeons, yet we have the ability to change or even save lives by giving our clients unwavering support in times of crisis. Because I have struggled and turned to others for support in my own life, I find that I feel especially compassionate toward others facing difficult life circumstances or decisions. This shaped my quest to help others, and ultimately helped me decide to pursue school counseling. I am drawn to the opportunities within the school counseling profession to support students in their times of need.


Another trait that draws me to this profession is the emphasis on emotional openness and generosity. Compassion is not often billed as a professional necessity, but for counselors, it is. We listen and reflect the most raw, powerful, and painful emotions, sometimes exhausting ourselves in the process. We must bring our authentic, genuine selves to each relationship; whether with a distraught child or a hardened teenager. The compassion of other caring, helping people has made a huge impact on my life, and I take pride in the emphasis the school counseling profession places on compassion and authenticity.


As a lifelong learner with a restless mind, I delight in the creative problem solving required of counselors on a daily basis. Counselors cannot be repetitive or shell out the same advice to client after client. We respect that each individual is unique, and we must participate in continuing education and development to constantly update the toolbox of strategies we have for collaboration and creative problem solving with clients. This need for constant learning and improving ensures a high quality of care for clients and means that the profession is always evolving, expanding, and changing for the better


I am comforted knowing that I am choosing to enter a profession, however difficult it may be at times, that includes the rewards of providing unwavering support, compassion, and creative problem-solving to clients. I am inspired by the counselors, counselor educators, and fellow students around me who already embody these traits on a daily basis. Finally, I look forward to joining this profession and practicing support, compassion, and problem-solving in my own work.




Runner Up

MaryBeth Yeaman, Purdue University


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?
Implementing positive movement and change within a school culture, as well as in the surrounding community is a characteristic of school counseling that has always stimulated my interest.
School counseling is a multidimensional career that touches the lives of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members on a daily basis. Interacting with such a diverse population as those connected to a school culture allows the school counselor to model behaviors and actions that motivate constructive change in what may be problematic situations. Forging a connection with the student themselves is rewarding for both the counselor and the student.
The school counselor’s consistent and direct interaction with the students allows them to be known by someone interested in their unique story. As simple as it sounds, the mere fact that the school counselor takes the time to make the students feel welcomed and connected in their school may be the difference between a good day and a bad day for the student. It is beneficial as well, for a school counselor to facilitate connections with community members that may act as guides for students, as well as offering opportunities outside the educational walls for the benefit of students needing assistance or motivation on their educational journey.
Well-trained school counselors can be supports for teachers overwhelmed by the struggles of trying to meet the needs of all their students, while staying mindful of the ever-changing regulations of curriculum standards. Building a trusting relationship with teachers, as well as administrators, allows for greater impact regarding any programs or initiatives that the school counselor may implement. School counselors continually work to maintain relationships that augment the stability and respect shared among the adults within a school culture, thus allowing for greater receptiveness and accessibility regarding the implementation of the school counselors’ assessed needs initiatives.
Supporting and educating parents is another role that a school counselor must actively provide. A student’s home environment either creates a resiliency within the student to keep them moving forward or an obstacle that blocks their progress. Assisting parents in the acquisition of knowledge pertaining to increasing their student’s academic success, as well as helping them understand the unmet educational requirements for continued success is an important aspect of the school counselor’s responsibilities. Informed parents displaying an invested attitude can better prepare and assist their children on their educational journey.
This brings me to the reason I am pursuing a degree in school counseling and the most important part of a school counselor’s job, advocating for their students’ best interest. Forging and maintaining connections with all the various adults that, directly or indirectly, affect the environment that a student exists in, is a necessity to create positive movement and change for the student. School counselors help to build a better present and future for the students through these connections.




Runner Up

Danielle Sheppard, Northeastern Illinois University


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?
One of the students at my internship site told me that every morning on the bus ride to school there is an elderly White woman who clutches her purse when she sees him and sucks in her breath “as if she believes I’m going to steal her breath or something.” The student believes the woman reacts to him this way because he is Black. I am sad, angry and appalled that this is his experience every morning. His story serves as a jolting reminder that folks everywhere are experiencing all kinds of instances where people judge them without knowing a thing about them. And it hurts.


I told the young man that I was sorry he went through that. He shrugged his shoulders and said that “it’s alright.” I could tell it really wasn’t though. And it’s not. We as a society are enduring a volatile era of change that centers on new discussions about the impact of racism, sexism, homophobia, able-ism, immigration, etc. on our society as a whole and within local communities, families and among individuals. And these larger societal forces are inevitably spilling into classrooms, the work place, and people’s homes — making safe, non judgmental environments like counseling can provide, all the more critical.


It is the characteristic of being non-judgmental, of checking my personal biases so that I can truly listen, and truly “seeing” another person that drew me to the counseling field. Growing up in extreme poverty as a small child and being surrounded by people who often dealt with the stress of poverty in unhealthy and unsafe ways started me off on a path that might have lead to continued harmful cycles if it were not for the intervention of supportive social services like counseling. Being in counseling allowed me to finally understand what it felt like to be seen for who I am and not be judged. My life’s mission is to ensure this same environment for others. The characteristic of non-judgment got me where I am; it will be what keeps me in the field for rest of my career.


Being non-judgmental is the foundation of the counseling field. It is our “true North,” should we lose our direction at any time. Though it is not always possible to be completely free of judgment—we counselors are human after all— the fact that it is what we strive for, that it is our intention so that we may truly help people, makes the counseling field miraculous and something I’m honored to be a part of.


There is enough pressure, hate, and hurtful messages like the one my student described from the outside world. Sometimes even friends and family members are not able to “see” their loved one without an agenda—even if it is a well-meaning one.


So folks come to us counselors for support, for solace and because they know that the only true agenda we have is to ask “How are you doing?” And from there, we listen.




Runner Up

Miranda Pool, Vanderbilt University


Which particular characteristics of the counseling profession shaped your quest to become a counselor?
Squeeze. Smoosh. Inhale. Exhale. The purple Play-Doh ball leaves tiny crumbs on the dark smooth surface of the table as the girl’s small hands work its form into a lumpy person. An outside observer may see a nine-year-old child and a supervising adult playing casually in a classroom on a Monday afternoon, but I know better. A cursory glance doesn’t reveal what I see and feel: the increasingly calm breaths from the little girl across from me as her hands mold the dough, the way the purple shapes help her tell the stories she can’t articulate with words, the weight that is lifted from her tiny shoulders as flashes of a smile – complete with pink-banded braces – creep across her often serious face. To me, this silent communication – a connection without the need for explicit or formulaic tactics – is counseling in its purest form.


The adaptability and space to shape counseling around what individual clients need is what speaks to me most about this profession. To be an excellent counselor, my responsibilities are to establish safe and supportive relationships with my clients through listening to their stories and accepting them as they are, to understand the ways in which they will most effectively communicate and connect, and to collaboratively use these identified modalities to help them work toward growth and healing.


Where this becomes inexpressibly, urgently, and exuberantly inspiring for me is in my work as a school counselor for children with special needs. Before entering this field I, like many, envisioned counseling as two people sitting in comfortable chairs discussing feelings: a largely verbal experience. While this may work for some, how do you adapt when your client is a six-year-old with ADHD and high sensory input needs who has trouble sitting still, a middle-school student who has language processing deficits that make spoken language challenging to understand and express, or a non-verbal eighteen-year-old who uses a wheelchair and has limited manual mobility? The emotional needs of all these individuals are just as important as those of a “typical” client; they need just as much support regarding a parents’ divorce, a loss, or anxiety. The task – and the expression of love that shaped my quest to become a counselor – is how to support these clients when the sit-and-talk approach simply does not fit.


I was drawn to the counseling profession because it allows me to focus on my clients as individuals and adapt my techniques accordingly. If drawing pictures of her worries helps a little girl who is unable to communicate her feelings effectively, we spend our session surrounded by crayons. If simply stretching on a yoga mat helps a child with ADHD and anxiety finds calm during her mother’s cancer diagnosis, we create a tranquil atmosphere that allows her to breathe. And if sculpting clay helps an anxious student with a learning disability, we sit together on quiet Monday afternoons and create lumpy worlds out of purple Play-Doh.




Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook:

Getting involved, staying informed, saying thanks

By Richard Yep


Richard Yep

July is when we welcome a new cadre of volunteer leaders to ACA at the national, division, region and branch levels. To all who have chosen to commit themselves to this path, I congratulate you and look forward to the contributions you will make to the counseling profession.

As many of you know, ACA continues to grow. For the fiscal year that just concluded (June 30), we experienced increases in membership in 11 of 12 months. Our 37 percent growth in membership over the past seven years is indicative of a healthy, thriving counseling profession. Though our work is far from over in terms of advocating for professional counselors, I want to personally thank all of you who consider yourself part of the ACA family.

Another benefit of a growing membership is that there are now more people who want to participate in volunteer leadership, committees, task forces and other positions within the association. If you have an interest in volunteering, regardless of how much or how little time you can devote, feel free to contact ACA Director of Leadership Services Holly Clubb via email at

We begin this new fiscal year with Robert L. Smith as our ACA president. While some who serve as ACA president have 10 or 20 years invested in the profession, Robert will begin his term having spent four decades in ACA, and a number of those years have included stints in leadership. Given his amount of experience in the profession and his active participation in ACA, Robert will be able to take advantage of what he has observed over many years as he and the Governing Council face various professional issues. The staff and I wish Robert well as he begins his journey as our new ACA president.

For those of you who may not have time to volunteer but still need the latest resources and information from ACA, I call your attention to the new ACA Toolkit that will be emailed to all members at the start of each month. In each issue, you will find an easy way to pick up continuing education and receive other valuable information — all in one place. We heard what you wanted, and we are making a concerted effort to show that your requests have been heard.

I feel that much has been accomplished recently in terms of what ACA provides its members. I appreciate the efforts of the ACA volunteer leadership who help to drive what we do on staff. The leadership provides ideas, direction and strategic thinking about issues that are, or will be, facing our members.

As a point of personal privilege, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the work of the ACA staff. Please join me in thanking them. We are a very diverse group that includes both those who are just starting their careers and those who have been with the organization for nearly 40 years. Working with such a talented, multigenerational and diverse group is a privilege. I learn something from them each and every day. When you see a new feature of membership or a resource from ACA that helps you in your practice, I want you to know that the dedicated staff of our organization was key to its introduction and implementation. As noted, I am very thankful for all they do, and I hope you are as well.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts. Feel free to call me at 800.347.6647 ext. 231 or email me at You can also follow me on Twitter: @RichYep.

Be well.


From the president

By Robert L. Smith


Robert L. Smith
ACA President 2014-2015

It is an honor to serve as the 63rd president of the American Counseling Association, to listen to and advocate for all involved within the counseling profession. For many years, I have been an advocate of ACA, its divisions, regions and branches, having served in a number of leadership roles. My work experiences include counselor in private practice, school counselor, counselor in a university counseling center, professor/counselor educator, department chair and Ph.D. program coordinator. However, those experiences are not enough; I will be depending on your help, your creativity, your ideas, your communication and your goodwill to make us better and to continue to move the counseling profession forward.

This being my first column for Counseling Today, I need to self-disclose. Over the years, I have religiously read the From the President columns with interest. The columns are well written, with each president speaking from his or her heart. Therefore, when I started writing, I tried to think of one particular column, or even several, that jumped out at me. To my chagrin, I could not remember any that were life changers. So, I have no illusions that anything I write here will be life changing.

During the past year and a half, I have been communicating with and listening to a significant number of ACA members, a number of current or former leaders and many practicing counselors and counselor educators. Many of these individuals have asked, “What’s your theme? Your goal? What do you want to accomplish anyway?”

My gut tells me the answer is to maintain good health, stay sane, enjoy focusing on solutions and continue to work hard. Well, I know you want more than that, so here is my overall focus and way of being: “Intentional Collaboration, Communication and Empowerment.”

Those words are indicative of a belief that we can progress with solutions to the many challenges we are facing by focusing on intentional collaboration, communication and empowerment. Some of the perennial challenges we face include:

  • Recognition of counselor training, licensure and certification that would allow for fair and equal treatment by TRICARE, insurance providers, insurance panels, the Department of Veterans Affairs, schools, hospitals, the military, business and the wide range of mental health servers
  • Maintaining counselor identity, unity and inclusivity that would allow ACA and its divisions, regions and branches to work together with common goals and purpose, so that all can thrive
  • Systematically advocating for social justice for all individuals, groups of individuals and entities that have not had a voice, and thus allowing for fair treatment for all humans wherever they reside

Another question I am often asked is, “What’s your style? How do you work? How do you approach issues?” I see myself as solution focused. This does not mean shying away from discussing or confronting problems. What it means is that I have a point at which I say, “OK, it’s now time to use our best thinking and available resources to find solutions.”

Three words come to mind when presented with a challenge. My style or approach is to consider issues using the following process:

  • Contemplation: Involves reflectively and thoughtfully considering the situation, looking at all angles and thinking about all aspects of the situation.
  • Systems: Involves thinking systemically, considering the effects of all actions, taking a broad view of the situation and all of its elements and realizing that all entities consist of a group of interacting, interrelated, interdependent parts.
  • Equifinality: Involves realizing there might be a wide range of solutions to get us where we want to go and understanding the ability of a system to arrive at or produce the same result using different means or following different paths.

I am afraid I have gotten too professorial with the above. Forgive me for that. Please realize that I have 30-plus years of teaching planted in me.

Before I close, I’d like to mention a brief but meaningful discussion I had awhile back with a wise elder statesman in our profession. My question to him was, “How do we reach greater unity within ACA itself? That is, divisions, regions, branches and ACA working together.”

He leaned over to me and said “Bob” (they used to call me Bob in the old days before I decided that Robert sounded better, particularly with my last name) “have ACA work with these entities to set a common goal, with a set of projects that will benefit them all.” I like that and believe it is good advice.

In closing, I’d like to say that this past year as president-elect of ACA has already been rewarding and invigorating. ACA is a terrific professional association with an outstanding CEO and staff. I owe many thanks to our magnificent president, now immediate past president, Cirecie A. West-Olatunji. Her leadership, professionalism and international presence have been phenomenal. She is a true friend, leader and colleague for whom I have the utmost respect. Our work together exemplifies the importance of collaboration.


Robert L. Smith


Remember: Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals.



Promoting understanding of PTSD

By Bethany Bray June 27, 2014


Image via

If there’s one thing Hallie Sheade wishes people knew about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s that the disorder is actually the human body’s natural reaction to trauma.

“PTSD is a very normal response to a very abnormal experience,” says Sheade, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) who runs an equine-assisted therapy program in Texas. “There’s nothing wrong with [people with PTSD]. This is how we would expect somebody to react to a traumatic event.”

About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults ages 18- 54 (or approximately 5.2 million people) present with PTSD during the course of a given year. Prevalence is higher among women and deployed military personnel.

June is PTSD Awareness Month, and the National Center for PTSD has spent the past four weeks focusing on spreading public awareness and promoting understanding of the disorder.

Congress has designated Friday, June 27, as nationwide PTSD Awareness Day.

According to the National Center for PTSD, it is normal to have post-trauma stress reactions such as upsetting memories of the event, increased jumpiness or trouble sleeping. A person should seek help if these symptoms get worse or do not go away over time.

PTSD is a complicated, multifaceted disorder that affects not only those who suffer from it, but also those close to them.

The good news is that counselors are well-trained to help, says Carlos Zalaquett, a counseling professor at the University of South Florida who has counseled people affected by trauma, including victims of violence and political unrest in his native Chile, for three decades.

A variety of evidence-based treatments have been shown to help those with PTSD, says Zalaquett, from trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

“I feel that we’ll see more and more veterans who need help and support for PTSD. As counselors, we need to be prepared to help them,” says Sheade.

Sheade, a registered play therapist and national certified counselor, often uses horses in her treatment of clients, from children to veterans of the Vietnam War, regardless of whether they have PTSD.

Numerous relationship and trust issues are common in those with PTSD, says Sheade. Through equine-assisted therapy, the horse — a gentle and nonjudgmental companion — can help these clients take a first step in connecting with others again.

In addition to social anxiety and trouble with relationships, those with PTSD can develop depression, substance abuse, sleep disorders and panic attacks, according to Sheade and Zalaquett.

Sometimes, the effects of trauma are so deeply rooted or long-lasting that a client doesn’t even realize it is the foundation for other problems such as sleep disorders, says Zalaquett, a member of ACA.

PTSD in children is often misdiagnosed because their struggles to pay attention and with acting out are labeled as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), says Sheade, an American Counseling Association member who is working on a doctoral dissertation concerning veterans, PTSD and equine-assisted therapy at the University of North Texas.

In the case of military veterans, PTSD is often compounded by a host of other issues, from the stigma the military culture attaches to seeking help for mental health issues to the adjustment of returning from deployment overseas, which can create unanticipated challenges in relationships with a spouse or children.

Those who have served in the military often feel like others don’t understand them – or understand the challenges they face returning to civilian life — or want them to just “get over it,” says Sheade.

In her experience, Sheade often sees veterans with PTSD who try to self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs.

The first step, says Sheade, is to get the veteran to acknowledge that he or she has a problem. From there, Sheade tries to move the client toward realizing that PTSD is a normal response to trauma and that with treatment, he or she can move beyond it.

“[I try to] help them understand that and feel a sense of hope … help them accept their experience and that there’s nothing wrong with them,” she says.

For many veterans, the thought of seeking help and going to therapy carries a negative stigma. They are also more likely to have trouble trusting civilian counselors, who can be unfamiliar with military culture, Sheade says.

“Especially if they’re active duty, there’s a lot of worry about going to see a counselor and how that could affect their military career going forward,” she says. “There’s still such a need for veterans to find services that are acceptable to them — services that they can afford [and that offer] quality care.”

However, counselors shouldn’t assume that every military client will have PTSD, says Zalaquett. Although PTSD is more prevalent among veterans, the majority of service members will not develop the disorder.

Proper assessment and diagnosis is key, Zalaquett stresses. It is also important to understand that not everyone who experiences trauma — whether service member or civilian — will develop PTSD.

“Make sure treatment [for PTSD] is really needed,” says Zalaquett. “Treating for the sake of treatment, without a clear need, has been shown to do more harm than good in some cases. … For a while, we tried to intervene very early to prevent PTSD in those exposed [to trauma]. It turns out that in some cases, this immediate intervention caused more PTSD than no intervention [would have].”

In cases of PTSD, counselors should use therapies that play to the client’s strengths, skills and interests, Zalaquett says.

“Evidence-based therapy is important, but a counselor needs to tailor therapy to the uniqueness of a client also,” he says. “… I have the utmost respect for and I value what the person brings with him or her [to a session]. We use what’s there to build a potential solution.”




For more information


American Counseling Association practice brief on PTSD (written by Zalaquett):


ACA podcast on counseling military families:


Information and resources from the National Center for PTSD:


The National Center for PTSD’s page on changes made to PTSD diagnostic criteria in the fifth edition (2013) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5):


The National Center for PTSD’s “About Face” awareness campaign:


Washington Post article: Roughly half of veterans diagnosed with PTSD last year after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan received treatment:




Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at


Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook:



Lessons on becoming a therapeutic care receiver

By Linda Bowen Wasicsko, as told by M. Mark Wasicsko June 26, 2014


My wife Linda Bowen Wasicsko began this article before her death, and I have finally finished it. It is based on a series of workshops we developed and delivered together on caregiving and care receiving. It details her personal journey to become what she called a “therapeutic care receiver.” I believe this is a much-needed viewpoint, both in our profession and our society, because little is written about this perspective.


I have primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) that, over the course of 30 years, has slowly drained me of many physical abilities. However, as reparation of sorts, MS has taught me, among its bountiful lessons, how to be a therapeutic care receiver.

This article shares what my life, career and professional training as a counselor taught me about being a good care receiver. I offer it to my fellow counselors who are in the midst of dealing with the challenges of receiving care, as well as to my temporarily abled colleagues who, when their turn comes, will also want to be good care receivers.

Caregiving and care receiving

The literature, as well as our practice, is replete with information about caregiving. Being a caregiver, while fraught with challenges and generally undervalued by our society, is seen as noble, selfless and altruistic and, as many caregiving survivors attest, can provide some of the most rewarding and growth-producing experiences life can offer. But this isn’t the case for care receiving. Information regarding the care receiver’s viewpoint, let alone how to be good at it, is much harder to come by. Moreover, it should be no surprise to learn that the transformation from being a dispenser of empathy as a counselor to the target of others’ sympathies comes with ample challenges and stressors. But it is also accompanied by generous opportunities for growth.

As my MS progressed — slowly erasing my sight, my ability to walk and swallow, and then my practice — I became increasingly dependent on others for my care. I discovered, however, that my education and counseling experience gave me tools to stay engaged and positive and also to become the kind of care receiver who can still provide benefit to loved ones and caregivers.

Evolving to the point of becoming a therapeutic care receiver entailed being in a good place within myself about the inevitability of where I was heading. This was a corequisite for figuring out how to intentionally and continuously establish and maintain healthful and mutually sustaining relationships with my caregiver(s), family members and the public. Interestingly, becoming the care receiver I wanted to be, especially after having to cease my practice due to my increasing limitations, proved as challenging to me (and sometimes more challenging) as working with my most demanding clients.

If you can’t get out of it, get into it

Most of us chose counseling careers in order to help people grow and increase their level of happiness. There can hardly be a more satisfying feeling than when this happens. For people whose core dispositions and professional identity revolve around helping others, being on the receiving end of the stick is a difficult and painful pill to swallow. As I could perform fewer of my activities of daily living and had to rely on others for more and more of my care, I realized I could either rail against what is and slip into despair or find my worth and identity in new ways. I knew I had to learn to accept increasing amounts of care from others with grace and gratitude.

An old Chinese proverb says, “You cannot fully live until you come to grips with the fact that you will surely die.” Progressive degenerative diseases provide lessons in this fact that most people can temporarily ignore. For me, accepting the undeniable fact that both time and abilities have an expiration date ultimately led to a peaceful and hopeful view. This was not hope for a cure but the hope that comes from looking forward rather than backward; from taking stock of the good and positive things in life and never looking back at or regretting the things I no longer have or can no longer do. When my sight blurred, I found my listening became keener. When I could no longer walk, first a scooter and then a wheelchair served as my legs. When I developed dysphasia and could no longer eat by mouth, I relished in conversations that wafted across a dinner table surrounded by family and friends. And when my progressive disease required me to surrender the profession I loved, I found that being mindful, looking outside of myself and staying in the moment permitted me to experience great contentment.

Lessons from Buddhist monks

One of the toughest and most constant challenges I faced was dealing with the feeling of being a burden to others. I learned that Buddhist monks eat only food prepared for them by others. This is not so that they can spend their time in more “monkly” pursuits such as meditation or practicing compassion and humility. Rather, it is to provide people with the growth-enhancing privilege of taking care of others.

This made me realize that people deserve the opportunity to help others so they can experience the same emotional and spiritual benefits that counselors experience through our practice. I learned that permitting others to provide care for me can be a gift to them if done within a therapeutic relationship.

Be grateful for what you have

In our work, we encounter many people who are pining away their lives and wishing for things they do not have or once had but lost. Regrets weigh heavily not only on the soul but also on the ability to grow and be happy.

It is not uncommon for people with infirmities to become trapped in vicious cycles of loss and grief. As abilities erode, it is easy to lament or obsess over one loss only to find that, in the interim, the next ability has slipped away too. Moving forward in positive and therapeutic ways entails engaging in some grieving and then adapting to the changes by taking stock of what abilities remain and focusing on them.


When she was no longer able to run and play with her grandchildren, Linda instead gave them rides on her wheelchair.

Fortunately for me, a silver lining revealed itself from behind each dark cloud. When I could no longer run and play with my grandchildren, I could plop them on my lap and give them a ride on my scooter or wheelchair. They had a special grandmother who played with them in ways that many others couldn’t. When I could no longer schedule clients, people seemed to magically appear who needed an ear to listen to them and a mirror in which to reflect.

Don’t wait, do it now

Another major lesson was not to postpone important things. It is difficult to overcome the deeply ingrained hope that with time or by ignoring problems, things will get better on their own. With a large number of the bumps and bruises experienced throughout my life, that is exactly what happened. Sometimes life can be remarkably self-healing.

As incontinence began seeping into my daily existence, I caught myself avoiding going out because I feared not finding a restroom in time. I experienced the “boiling frog syndrome” in which the decrease in my social interactions was so gradual that I was unaware of the creep of undesirable consequences. I was slowly warming to a life — separated from family and friends, devoid of social events and most other life joys — that was the exact opposite of what I wanted. Risking the embarrassment of losing bladder control and strapping on Depends involved a difficult and agonizing decision and transition. Body transcendence, I realized, was much easier to understand as part of my academic preparation than it was to live with. To decouple my self-worth from my diminishing control of bodily functions required a lot of positive self-talk and external focus, as well as the gentle support and encouragement of others.

A second example occurred a few years later as I moved into the paraplegic stage. Here again, I found my old desire to “wait for things to heal themselves” was strong. In addition to dealing with the loss of my ability to walk, I worried about people feeling sorry for me or that I would become one of the invisible handicapped who are no longer the recipients of direct eye contact, only sideways glances. Luckily, I discovered that I could still be myself, albeit with mechanical help, and that friends and strangers alike could still see me.

To help counteract a developing agoraphobic mindset, I started using a scooter and later an electric wheelchair for shopping and visiting friends. To my pleasant surprise, I found that it opened new lines of communication with people I encountered. One day, while cruising through a department store, a preschooler slipped away from his mother’s grasp and ran up to me grinning. He was completely fascinated with my means of travel.

“Wow, that is a neat car!” he said. “Why do you get to ride it?”

“Because my legs don’t work well,” I explained.

“Oh, I hope my legs don’t work someday so I can ride one too!”

This led to a wonderful conversation and impromptu counseling session with the little fellow’s mother about the challenges of raising preschoolers. Ironically, I found that my challenge with mobility proved a catalyst for me to do storefront counseling.

Start a gratefulness project

When confronted with mounting challenges, it is hard to avoid slipping into a despairing, woe-is-me mindset. Positive psychology posits, however, that we can increase our general level of happiness with a few simple practices each day:

  • Count your blessings rather than your sorrows.
  • Always express gratitude.
  • Keep in mind that many others have it worse than you.

I started each day by mentally listing things to look forward to and ended with a review of the day’s positive happenings. I became mindful to notice and acknowledge all the good, kind and helpful things that happened during my day and made an extra effort to express my gratitude for each event to the person(s) involved.

The third leg of my positive psych stool involved avoiding the pity-party mentality. I did this by reminding myself of the good and positive people in my life and remembering that others have to make it with far fewer resources than I possess.

Give the gift of listening

Some people are always surrounded by friends and family, while other people are avoided like the plague. The shunned tend to be egocentric and negative, spending much of their time miserating — my back hurts, I haven’t had a bowel movement in days, no one ever listens to me.

Those embraced by others tend to ask questions, show interest and focus most of their attention not on their own difficulties but on the lives and issues of others. Intuitively, they employ the skills we were taught to use with our clients — the same active-listening skills I used to be a therapeutic care receiver. I would ask people about their day, their issues and their problems. I added value to these relationships by using my skills to help them gain perspective, just as I had in the past with my clients.

The personal gains were significant too. I continued contributing to the well-being of others and received better care in return. Also, I always knew more about what was going on in people’s lives than anyone else!

Insist that the load be shared

For me, the toughest things about needing care were the loss of privacy and the resulting dependence on others for the most intimate activities of daily living. Losing control of basic bodily functions triggered tremendous modesty and self-consciousness issues. The unintended but inevitable consequence of this was to become overly dependent on a single caregiver. How many people do you want dressing you, changing your Depends or feeding you through a tube? However, to be a therapeutic care receiver (and for the sake of the primary caregiver), I had to permit and even encourage numerous others to provide this care.

Two strategies helped me deal with these issues:

1) Engaging the caregivers in meaningful conversations about their lives while they were dealing with my most intimate activities — in essence, supplying them with a counselor’s ear as they provided me with personal care.

2) Seeing my challenges as teaching tools through which others might learn.

Even my granddaughter, then 7 years old, could be a care provider. She took great pride and pleasure in feeding me my liquid lunch of Ensure. If she had her way, I would have been fed hourly throughout her visits.

I want you to stay, but you need to go now

There is a good reason why flight attendants say, “Always put on your oxygen mask before helping others.” If the plane loses cabin pressure and you fall into unconsciousness, you can be of no help to others.

Caregiving is the same way. For the sake of both parties, caregivers need to maintain their health — physical, emotional, spiritual — if they are to provide care and not succumb to the negative side effects that are all too common. Caregivers, especially if they are family members and loved ones, need to be given permission or even prodded to take the time needed to attend to their own health.

Caregivers can feel guilt that they are not having to endure the same trials and tribulations that a loved one is going through. They may also experience guilt when they need respite time to recharge themselves, feeling — at least temporarily — “unresponsible.”

My primary caregiver (my husband) was like that. As the therapeutic care receiver, I had to insist that he have a regular and predictable routine. He needed to know of and look forward to times of being away and taking care of himself, just as much as I needed to know of and look forward to his return. This is one of those life paradoxes: Pushing caregivers away to take the necessary time to recharge themselves allows them to return and provide better care. It also builds a more therapeutic relationship.

A last lecture

Through his excellent book and video The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch attempts to help his family through the trials of his impending death and the aftermath. While knowing there is no way around the pain, grief and hardships that accompany the loss of a loved one, he sets in motion a series of actions that can potentially facilitate the process. This serves two beneficial purposes. First, it helps survivors through an anticipatory grief process by gradually helping them move beyond denial and to an acceptance of the inevitable. Second, it can help relieve some of the stresses on survivors to make too many decisions on very weighty topics.

One of the most convenient and practical ways the therapeutic care receiver does this is by making as many estate decisions as possible and openly talking about them with loved ones. On my list: a living will that included potential organ donations; a “do not resuscitate” order; and funeral wishes not to have a formal ceremony (I never liked being the center of attention in life, so I sure wouldn’t want it when dead!). I requested cremation with my ashes spread in the mountains of my birth. Rather than flowers or cards, I asked people to spend a few moments with loved ones or commit an act of kindness in my memory. I also gave instructions for what to do with my personal belongings.

I tried to communicate these wishes explicitly and often enough without seeming morbid or intentionally bringing people down. The personal benefit of helping my family work through these issues helped me to gain acceptance and peace as well.

On becoming a therapeutic care receiver

When I first decided to apply the skills I had acquired through helping others to myself, I realized the kind of care receiving I wanted couldn’t be a one-way street. Good care receiving, like most therapeutic practice, involves a system of engaging in mutually beneficial relationships in which all parties are concerned with and have responsibilities for the well-being of the others. The ability of all participants in the enterprise to thrive rather than merely survive is just as much the responsibility of the care receiver as the caregiver.

My journey to becoming a therapeutic care receiver provided so many unimagined benefits:

  • It allowed me to maintain my dignity.
  • It fulfilled my need for a helping purpose.
  • It facilitated my body and ego transcendence.
  • Of most importance to me, it permitted me to be an active, value-adding participant in the lives of the people I loved most.

To my fellow counselors, I offer you these thoughts and insights for when your turn comes, as it does for us all. Becoming a therapeutic care receiver may provide you with the most challenging client you will ever encounter, but the benefits are better than gold.


Epilogue by Mark Wasicsko and family

Linda died at home in the arms of loved ones. We believe one of the reasons she stayed as long as she did, way beyond what medical science predicted, was because she wanted to provide us with as much anticipatory grief counseling as possible. Even as she struggled with ever-increasing physical and medical challenges, she remained positive, upbeat and “other centered.” Through the way she lived her life, she taught us much about dignity, patience and compassion. And she did the same for a large and extended family of daughters, grandchildren, friends and clients. Her family and friends can attest to her success at being a therapeutic care receiver. She lived a beautiful life.

Having the privilege of being beside her through her struggles taught us that happiness is all about the people in our lives and focusing on the positives. It’s about doing what you can, not wishing you had more or regretting what was or might have been. One of the greatest lessons Linda taught us is that “living happily ever after” is done one day — and even one moment — at a time.
As she was so fond of saying, “Happiness is a choice, so why not choose to be happy?”



American Counseling Association member M. Mark Wasicsko is professor and Bank of Kentucky Endowed Chair in Education at Northern Kentucky University. Contact him at


Letters to the editor: