Monthly Archives: October 2015

Meet John Duggan: ACA’s new ‘answer man’

By Bethany Bray October 28, 2015

John Duggan spends the majority of his workdays talking counselors through the challenges that inevitably confront them in their jobs. From insurance paperwork to licensure issues, questions run the gamut, says Duggan, the American Counseling Association’s manager of professional development.

Duggan, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC), is just the person to have on the other end of the phone answering questions from ACA members. In addition to having more than a decade of professional experience from which to draw,

Duggan leads a session titled “The Business Side of Counseling” at ACA's Institute of Leadership Training in July 2015.

Duggan leads a session titled “The Business Side of Counseling” at ACA’s Institute of Leadership Training in July 2015.

he also possesses a natural love of helping others, communicating, mentoring and teaching, he says.

Duggan joined ACA this past summer, taking over for Rebecca Daniel-Burke, who retired June 30 after nearly eight years as ACA’s director of professional development.

In addition to answering member questions and giving guidance via phone consults, Duggan also produces ACA’s podcasts and webinars.

Duggan says his focus at ACA will always be on helping members with the everyday issues that pop up – the “nuts and bolts” of the counseling profession, as he calls them. These include questions ranging from when a counselor should refer a client out to another helping professional, to the regulations associated with establishing a private practice.

“There’s a lot you just never get taught in [graduate] school. I want to help people be ready,” he says. “Being in private practice is hard work.”

Duggan ran a private practice for more than 10 years in Silver Spring, Maryland. His particular areas of interest include the bipolar spectrum, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociation, spirituality, diversity, and multicultural and LGBTQ issues. He also has experience in providing pastoral care, managing clinical services in an agency setting and providing crisis services in a hospital setting.

He has been in the trenches, so to speak, and knows how the job of being a counselor can be isolating, he says.

Duggan experienced something of an unconventional journey to the counseling profession, but he says the skills he honed along the way are helping him in his new role at ACA.

Duggan started out as a writer and producer in television and radio, including documentary film work. From there, he moved into marketing and promotion for radio and TV stations.

In his mid-20s, he had an existential crisis, he says, which led him to leave the media industry and study to become a Catholic priest. Part of his training involved doing chaplaincy work on college campuses and advocacy work with immigrants and refugees through the Catholic Church.

It was this advocacy and social justice work that sparked Duggan’s interest in counseling, he says. After earning a master’s degree in theology, he again shifted course and enrolled in the master’s in counseling program at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.

Duggan_1

(Photos by Paul Sakuma)

Soon thereafter, he established a private practice and settled into counseling work, eventually becoming an approved counselor supervisor, an LPC and a national certified counselor.

Duggan says he’s always been interested in “helping people tell their own life story.” Whether it’s been through documentary films or his work as a chaplain and professional counselor, his goal has always been to “help people talk about things that are meaningful in their lives,” he says.

At ACA, Duggan’s past experience in television and radio lends itself to the production of webinars and podcasts, while his experience in private practice helps him answer member queries and phone calls.

He decided to apply for the ACA job last year, after calling to speak with Daniel-Burke about a question concerning private practice. He worked alongside Daniel-Burke for a few weeks before she retired, recording a couple of podcasts and working in the career center at ACA’s Annual Conference & Expo.

“Had you told me two years ago that I’d be sitting here [working at ACA], I would have said ‘Are you crazy?’” says Duggan, chuckling. However, when the opportunity presented itself, he came to realize that it was “the next right step” in his career, he says.

Duggan has scaled his own private practice down but continues to see a handful of clients during evening hours. He lives in Maryland with his husband and four cats.

 

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Have a professional query? Contact John Duggan at JDuggan@counseling.org or 800-347-6647, ext. 230

 

Learn more about Duggan in the ACA podcast “Counselors in Transition,” which he recorded with Rebecca Daniel-Burke this summer.

 

Duggan’s next webinar, a seven-part series on trauma, begins this month. See counseling.org/continuing-education/webinars for more information.

 

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Lynn Linde also joins ACA staff

Lynn Linde joined ACA headquarters this summer as senior director of the ACA Center for Counseling Practice, Policy and Research.

LindeLinde is well known at ACA, serving as the association’s president in 2009 – 2010. She has also served on the ACA Ethics Committee, chaired ACA’s School Counseling Task Force and represented ACA at numerous professional events, including a recent Capitol Hill briefing on the importance of school counselors.

Previously, she was director of clinical experiences at the school counseling program at Loyola University Maryland. Her past experience also includes serving as coordinator and director of school counseling programs for the state of Maryland.

 

Contact Linde in her new role at ACA at LLinde@counseling.org

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

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Nonprofit News: Getting quality clinical volunteers

By “Doc Warren” Corson III October 26, 2015

CT Online’s Nonprofit News column is written especially for counselors to help demystify many of the areas associated with successful nonprofit programming.

The lifeblood of many clinical nonprofits is their ability to attract and maintain a certain level of clinical volunteers. Although some programs rely on clinical volunteers more than others, all programs can benefit from this very talented group.

People Hands Holding Colorful Word VolunteerClinical volunteers can come in many forms, the largest being clinical interns. Other sources include retired clinicians, clinicians who are seeking to gain more experience and collect hours toward licensure, and those who have a paying job but feel unable to meet all of their professional goals and desires through their place of employment.

But how does a program attract talented individuals without the ability to pay? To gain some insight, I spoke with many clinical volunteers from several programs and culled from personal experience here at Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm. (Note: Special thanks to all who sent me their thoughts or sat down to be interviewed for this article.)

The key to recruiting clinical volunteers can be to offer an experience that is unique and creative. Think about what sets your program apart from all the others. What is the hook that brings in not only clients but also clinical professionals? What does your program possess that no other or few other programs can claim? Is the atmosphere atypical in a good way? Do you have a reputation for nurturing clinicians? Perhaps you offer training that isn’t available elsewhere in the area?

Most programs that successfully recruit clinical volunteers (or volunteers in general) have an atmosphere that calls to people, whether because of the type of clientele the program sees, the treatment setting, the popularity of the program or some other tangible offering. There needs to some sort of payoff for your clinical volunteers, especially considering that they will need to maintain their own professional liability insurance. So be sure to find a way to make things beneficial for all involved.

When interviewing clinical volunteers, I heard the following themes:

  • “The program really cares about the community. It’s not about money; it’s about the people they serve.”
  • “They allow me to be myself. No pretense, just me.”
  • “They encourage me to be a better clinician, get more training and try new techniques that I’ve read about but never tried before. They seem to have a supervisor that knows everything about the field, so I am able to go outside of my comfort zone knowing that if I should ever start to go too far, [he or she] will be there to put on the brakes and teach me where the line is.”
  • “Nurture. That’s why I come back. They nurture not only our clients but our staff as well.”
  • “I’ve always wanted to try program development but was not sure how to start. I interviewed as a potential volunteer, and he asked me what my passion was. I told him development but also said that I had never done it. … Soon I was helping to develop a new program and found I loved it.”
  • “My day job uses canned, cookie-cutter-type approaches to everything, and then I heard about this program that customizes every treatment plan to fit every client. This was such a great concept to me that I had to get involved.”
  • “I love the environment and setting of this program. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen or worked for before, and they do it with the clients that I love working with. It almost feels like they designed this program just for me.”

Of course, simply being able to attract clinical professionals is one thing; getting the ones you need and desire is another. As a clinical director or supervisor, there are many things you can try to recruit the right folks.

After establishing relationships with even a few key programs, you may find that your program will become flooded with potential volunteers. Be sure to properly vet applicants, getting a clear understanding of any time limitations or treatment preferences they may have. The clearer you are about your needs as a program, the better. You will always get some folks who blindly apply without reading a description, but most will make the time to customize their applications to meet programming needs.

Some ideas for getting the best clinical volunteers:

  • Offer free training opportunities.
  • Provide a unique experiential environment that nurtures clinicians as well as clients.
  • Build a solid program with a great reputation in the community. Success can indeed attract some of the best and brightest.
  • Network with other programs, colleges and training sites. Becoming a preferred site with any of these services can provide a large referral base.
  • Offer extensive general volunteer opportunities. Sometimes general volunteers will know or have ties to dynamic professionals who haven’t heard of your program otherwise.
  • If a program has a “known” clinical professional, have that person offer regular training or supervision to clinical volunteers. Based on the comments of those I interviewed, the chance to work with a known professional can at times be one of the strongest draws to volunteers.
  • Become a certifying agency for the President’s Volunteer Service Award program (http://www.presidentialserviceawards.gov/). By becoming a certifying agency, you have a built-in way of acknowledging the hard work of your volunteers at a minimal cost.
  • Hire from your volunteer roster when possible. Although you should never make promises that a volunteer will be hired when a position opens, it can be wonderful for morale when volunteers see that they are at least being considered for paid positions as they become available.

In my personal experience, once you have a known nonprofit program with an atmosphere and reputation for nurturing your people — be they clients, staff or volunteers — you will find yourself with an ever-growing list of volunteers who can help you continue to improve program offerings.

My current position has given me the opportunity to oversee an ever-expanding therapeutic gardening program, an overflowing art-based therapy program and a thriving graduate internship and clinical volunteer program, all of which allows us to provide a record amount of free services to the community. Our results are far from the norm. If you are not currently trying this, now is the time to consider it.

 

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Dr. Warren Corson III

Dr. Warren Corson III

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology Tutor: Bring your idea to life through crowdfunding

By Rob Reinhardt October 22, 2015

Have you ever conceived of a counseling tool that you wanted to share with others? Do you work at an agency or clinic that can’t fund a special project that you know would help clients? Maybe you’d like to provide a particular service but need a minimum number of participants to make it happen. Crowdfunding could be the answer — an answer that I believe counselors underutilize.

It’s a common desire in our field to generate more than one stream of income. Often this leads to publishing books, creating therapy tools or investigating other opportunities. Sometimes, however, counselors don’t follow through with great ideas because of the financial and business challenges Vector crowdfunding concept in flat styleinvolved. Although some ideas can be pursued with little upfront cost, others may require a substantial investment. In the traditional business world, a business plan for the idea would be required to attract investors or acquire a bank loan. Depending on the concept, it might even require development of a prototype or making other costly upfront investments.

There is an alternative. Crowdfunding is the process of raising money for a project in relatively small increments from a large number of people, typically through the Internet. It is being used successfully to raise money for ideas, personal expenses, artistic endeavors, start-up capital and more. In the case of a tangible product such as a book or game, crowdfunding is a form of presale, giving consumers the opportunity to order the product before it actually exists. The person or company with the idea can pay for the manufacture of the product with the funds being raised while also making a profit, thus raising capital for continued production.

Crowdfunding is not a new concept. In fact, it was used to facilitate the completion of the Statue of Liberty in 1884 (see http://1.usa.gov/1L7oqff). Crowdfunding has, however, experienced explosive growth recently due to the preponderance of Internet platforms promoting the concept. There are more than 500 crowdfunding websites in existence, and in 2013, over $5 billion was invested in projects on these platforms (see bit.ly/1L7oGuR). As I write this, Kickstarter has seen almost $2 billion pledged to nearly 100,000 successfully funded projects since it was launched (see kck.st/1L7p8cu). In fact, Kickstarter is the platform I used to successfully fund my own counseling tool, called Describe (describecards.com). Having made Describe a reality, I wanted to share what I learned with others so they might turn their ideas into realities as well.

Understanding the lingo

One of the most important decisions is choosing which crowdfunding platform to use for a project. This decision can affect all other aspects of the project, including pricing, shipping methods, bonus rewards and even the target funding amount. Understanding the following terms will help you weigh the differences between crowdfunding platforms.

  • Creator: The person creating the crowdfunding project. This is the person with the idea or product to fund or sell.
  • Backer or patron: Anyone who supports the crowdfunding project by pledging financially.
  • Funding goal: The dollar amount the creator is aiming to collect. Ideally, this goal amount will provide the creator with the funds to make the idea or product a reality and possibly make a small amount of profit for future needs. Setting an appropriate funding goal can make or break a project.
  • Rewards or perks: The thing(s) offered to backers in return for funds. In the case of something tangible, this is usually the product itself. In the case of an idea or concept, it might be some level of participation or membership. It is common, and even recommended, for different levels of rewards (or combination packages) to be offered to entice backers.
  • Stretch goals: Many projects offer additional rewards if the target funding goal is exceeded. These often involve improvements of some kind to the idea or concept being funded.
  • Platform fees: Crowdfunding platforms make their money by taking a percentage (typically 5-10 percent) of the funds raised for a project. This is separate from the credit card fees (3-5 percent) that are likely to be incurred.

Choosing a platform

With more than 500 crowdfunding platforms available, many catering to a specific niche, it is important that creators identify the one that best matches their project. It is also important to consider how well-known a platform is because that can have a significant effect on how many people see a project.

The go-to platforms to raise funds for a tangible product are Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Both are well-established, feature similar fees and allow creators to set their funding goals. In each case, money is collected from patrons only after the funding deadline is reached. There are differences between the two platforms, however.

  • Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform. Creators receive the pledged funds only if their full funding goals are reached. This provides a sense of urgency to each campaign. Indiegogo provides creators the option of collecting the pledged money even if they don’t reach their full funding goals. The platform’s normal fee of 4 percent increases to 9 percent in this situation, however. Still, this may allow creators to move forward with their projects with less money.
  • Kickstarter allows only creative projects that produce a specific product (book, game, movie, etc.). Indiegogo allows for a wider range of projects, including those that don’t produce something tangible.
  • Kickstarter is the most visited and well-known crowdfunding platform. Indiegogo generally attracts less attention, less traffic and fewer projects.

If fully committed to a project, regardless of whether it is fully funded, or if the item isn’t a tangible product, Indiegogo might be the best choice. In other situations, Kickstarter often is the better option. Patrons tend to be more motivated by the all-or-nothing model, especially when they think the project is worthy of spreading the word to family, friends and colleagues.

Although these two crowdfunding platforms are the best-known, there are other popular platforms of which to be aware.

  • GoFundMe provides a platform to raise funds without the promise of rewards to backers or patrons. Often used by individuals and families in need, this platform might also be useful for those wanting to raise smaller funding amounts for personal and small business projects.
  • RocketHub is similar to Indiegogo in that you can fund a variety of projects and receive the funding even if the goal isn’t met. An additional interesting twist is that RocketHub has partnered with A&E Network, and projects have a chance to be featured on A&E’s Project Startup (see bit.ly/1L7udSc).

To be clear, this article is focused on donation-based crowdfunding. Investment-based crowdfunding sites are a different breed, with patrons providing funding in exchange for an ownership interest in your company or product. If you’re willing to give up some ownership in exchange for funding, investment-based crowdfunding sites such as Crowdfunder should be considered.

Secrets to success

It’s important to note that not all crowdfunding efforts are successful.  Kickstarter reports that only about 37 percent of its projects have been fully funded (see kck.st/1L7vpot). There have also been situations in which a campaign was funded but ultimately failed because the creator did not plan properly for the financial and logistical challenges of following through with the idea. Failure might have meant that the creator actually lost money on the project or was unable to complete it.

Thankfully, a number of great online resources provide guidance for creating successful crowdfunding campaigns. What follows are the areas I focused on (based on the most commonly touted tips I could find) when creating my successful campaign for Describe.

  • A crowd: It takes a large number of people to reach funding goals. Statistics vary, but most estimates indicate that only around 5-10 percent of people who hear about a project actually pledge. Furthermore, a significant portion of those who pledge will be family members or friends of the project creator. It is imperative that you build an audience before launching a crowdfunding campaign. Depending on your funding goals, this may need to begin months before the official launch of the campaign. Because crowdfunding involves online platforms, the use of blogs and social media plays an important role in building your audience. This requires more than simply connecting to people through the technology; it involves gathering a core group of supporters who truly believe in the project.
  • A story: Backers want to support projects that they identify and connect with. They want to back not just an interesting idea but also the story behind that idea. They need to hear what backing this idea will provide to them and to others and what kind of feeling it will give them.
  • Value: People generally want to feel they are getting a good value when they purchase something. It is no different with crowdfunding projects, which means that reward levels need to be priced appropriately. Backers want to feel they are paying a fair price for something that will be of value to them. This might require conducting some market research and asking targeted questions that help you find the sweet spot for pricing. Other elements that typically increase a project’s perceived value include free shipping and allowing backers to have a say in some aspect of the final product.
  • Video: A good project video ties everything else together. Video is a great way to show off or talk about your idea while putting a face to it and a story behind it. It is one of the best ways to connect with potential backers and convey the other points discussed earlier.
  • Planning: All of the things in this list require planning, and it’s important to examine and think through the details of each one. The timing of the launch, the choice of platform, the determination of reward pricing and many other details will have an effect on the potential success of the campaign. Most campaigns that fail do so because of a lack of planning in some or all facets.

A number of other details can impact a crowdfunding campaign, including time of year, campaign length (30 days is generally recommended) and whether any similar/competing ideas or products are being funded at the same time. Stonemaier Games has an excellent collection of articles for continued reading (see bit.ly/KSStonemaier). You can see that I pulled all of these things together on the Kickstarter page for Describe (bit.ly/KSDescribe). It is important to note that a well-run crowdfunding campaign usually requires the time and effort of a full-time job while it is live. Proper planning can help ensure smooth operation during that time.

Perhaps now is the time for you to make one of your dream projects come to life through the power of crowdfunding.

 

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Rob Reinhardt, a licensed professional counselor supervisor, is a private practice and business consultant who helps counselors create and maintain efficient, successful private practices. Before becoming a professional counselor, he worked as a software developer and director of information technology. Contact him at rob@tameyourpractice.com.

Letters to the editorct@counseling.org

Can you relate?

By Kevin Glenn

I was given an assignment in a theories class during the last semester of my undergraduate studies. The assignment was to choose a counseling approach on the basis of agreeing with its theories and assumptions and then defend my rationale for using that approach in counseling. At the time, I was torn between Alfred Adler’s individual psychology and Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy, ultimately choosing the latter.

I have remained in touch with the teacher who gave me that assignment and recently asked him which theorist or therapy his students write about most frequently. He told me that more students turn in papers on Adlerian psychotherapy “by far” than any other therapy. He went on to explain that Two-docs_brandingmost of his students can relate to Adler more than any other of the theorists to whom they are exposed (which is a limited number in most bachelor’s programs).

We both speculated about why so many students might write about Adler and then later become primarily cognitive behavior therapists once they get into practice. For example, I have seen this occurrence among interns at my current place of employment. My former teacher and I concluded that the high demand for evidence-based practice was likely the primary reason for this theoretical “migration,” with limited exposure to alternative therapeutic approaches being a secondary reason.

Evidence-based practices, eclecticism and integration

The rise of evidence-based practices has shifted demand in their favor, while parity laws have turned demand into requirement. Most evidence-based practices come from cognitive- and behavior-based therapies.

Jonathan Shedler’s 2010 article, “The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy,” published in American Psychologist, offered techniques from psychodynamics that are evidence-based. In his 2005 article, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,” also published in American Psychologist, Martin Seligman and colleagues reported on the effectiveness of relationships in psychotherapy through his humanistic approach, positive psychology.

But many other approaches favorable to counselors still lack this evidence-based foundation. So what are counselors to do when the theoretical assumptions with which they agree from a specific therapeutic approach cannot meet the demands of evidence-based practice?

The most common solution is eclecticism and integration. These words are sometimes used to describe different approaches, but they are also used interchangeably in many circles, scholarly or otherwise, to describe essentially the same process: combining bits and pieces of various theories and techniques based on the risks and needs of each client. Although this approach has shown promise, authors such as Brent Slife, Frank Richardson, Robert Fancher, John Norcross, Larry Beutler and Arnold Lazarus, to name only a few, have pinpointed a series of difficulties yet to be overcome in the eclectic/integrative movement. There are several obstacles, but the two most common are the lack of a guiding theory to direct and inform interventions and, on the other end, too much theory to be practical.

A manageable alternative

A viable alternative for bridging the gaps between various theories and evidence-based practices comes from a phenomenological theory known as ontological hermeneutics, which is an interpretive approach that seeks to understand what it means to be a human and to have experiences. It emerged as a viable theory long before Sigmund Freud conducted his first psychoanalytic session. As context, ontological hermeneutics was in its germinal stages before the first shots on Fort Sumter were fired to open up the Civil War. Since then, many psychotherapists, as far back as the revered philosopher and psychologist William James, have utilized elements of this theory in their practice.

But what does a 160-plus-year-old theory have to offer counselors operating under the banner of evidence-based practice in the 21st century? In a single statement: a comprehensive yet manageable theory of human nature that is advantageous to therapist conceptualization and intervention.

Unlike many mainstream psychotherapeutic approaches that maintain an individual perspective when working with clients, ontological hermeneutics conceptualizes from a relational perspective. Relationships present endless possibilities for relating to others (e.g., nonchalantly, compassionately, sarcastically) and being in the world (e.g., happy, depressed, engaged, aloof). This informs therapists that clients’ psychological ills are not occurring solely within, or because of, the individual. Rather, they emerge from clients’ relationships with, and patterns of relating to, others. In other words, a client may not be depressed because of faulty information processing and distorted thinking, but rather because the client has developed various patterns of relating to others that are not conducive to healthy relationships, therefore affecting the client in adverse ways.

The difference here, according to ontological hermeneutics, is that the client did not develop these maladaptive patterns of relating on his or her own, or as the sole result of internal cognitive or affective processes. These patterns were cocreated simultaneously by the client and the other people with whom the client is in relationship. There are endless possibilities for relating to others, however, and choosing to relate to others differently can improve well-being. And because all parties equally coconstitute a relationship, its very nature begins to change as soon as one participant (i.e., the client) chooses a different possible pattern of relating. It follows, then, that the crux of what hermeneutic theory is saying is that relationships heal, especially ones characterized by compassion.

Although there is no research supporting the efficacy of ontological hermeneutics, there are anecdotal experiences from counselors who have seen therapeutic gains through its application with clients. I am one of those counselors. Additionally, Seligman’s famous study from 1995, “The Effectiveness of Psychotherapy,” determined that psychotherapy in general, regardless of modality, is very effective. With that said, counselors attracted to theories such as existentialism, Adlerian, Gordon Allport’s trait theory or ontological hermeneutics can still maintain an overall evidence-based therapeutic practice because of eclecticism/integration.

A theory by another name

The greatest strength of ontological hermeneutic theory is its conceptualization prowess without being too theoretically laden. Much of what draws counselors to Adlerian, existential, logotherapy, humanistic and client-centered approaches, and even to a certain degree cognitive- and behavior-based therapies, can be found within ontological hermeneutics. Its theoretically sound tenets of what causes and ameliorates human suffering make it ideally situated to serve as a grounding theory in an eclectic/integrative approach.

Using ontological hermeneutics as a guiding theory that informs counselors how to incorporate and utilize evidence-based interventions can become a very specific eclectic approach. Some of us hermeneuts have started referring to this kind of approach as relational and compassionate psychotherapy (RCP).

If someone asked me what RCP is, I would respond by saying: “It is an eclectic approach that uses a well-accepted, comprehensive theory of human nature to inform how I intervene with evidence-based interventions. It greatly resembles relational and dialogical counseling and is characterized by compassion and empathy. Additionally, it is a continuation of previous efforts to utilize hermeneutic theory in psychotherapy.”

Knowing that healing takes place within relationships characterized by compassion is what guides the counselor’s selection of interventions. For example, it is common for the clients I work with to believe that other people do not like them. Instead of challenging their cognitive distortion from an individual perspective, I probe for more information about the nature of their relationships. Typically, these clients and I discover together that they spend a far-too-significant amount of time talking about themselves in their conversations. This opens me up to challenge their cognitive distortion from a relational perspective.

In cases such as these, I challenge the clients to stop personalizing their conversations with others too much. I then encourage them to utilize the GIVE skill, an interpersonal skill from dialectical behavior therapy that helps clients improve relationships by showing interest in and validating others (GIVE stands for gentle, interested, validate and easy manner). The assumption is that by devoting some attention and interest to others, clients learn to be more compassionate, leading to improved relationships and, in turn, a healthy support system. This ultimately creates new possibilities for being in the world, which is what ameliorates symptoms.

A three-step intervention

Hermeneutic counseling, or what some of us are referring to as RCP, is a very simple process that many seasoned counselors will find familiar. In its most basic form, the process has three steps.

1) Focus on the interrelatedness between the counselor and the client.

2) Maintain an attitude of openness.

3) Find ways to offer suggestions and new possibilities for the client to heal.

Although extremely similar to our basic core counseling skills, there are some subtle differences that enhance RCP. When counselors focus on their interrelatedness with clients, they are focusing on their relationship and rapport. However, there are some variations. Mainstream approaches therapeutically utilize rapport as a foot in the door, or a hook, with the client when intervening. With RCP, that rapport is not a means to an end; it is the end in and of itself. It is meant to be meaningful to both the client and the counselor.

The rationale for this is that relationships characterized by compassion are the healing factor (what we refer to in the clinical literature as the curative factor) for human suffering. As the counselor models compassion, the client emulates that model in his or her own life. In turn, this will improve the client’s relationships with family members and friends, enhancing the client’s support system.

All counselors already maintain an attitude of openness to their clients. RCP tenets attempt to develop this notion further by taking it from a level of understanding and empathy to a level of meaning and mattering. In other words, a counselor following this three-step model allows what the client says to matter and even change what the counselor thinks and believes when it is appropriate.

For example, I recently worked with a client who believed that her peers at our day-school program were making fun of her. However, her teacher was not observing any bullying, and the client wouldn’t give me any specific examples. She simply alluded to the way her peers were looking at her while laughing.

Instead of resorting to reframing her cognitive distortions, I allowed what she was saying to matter to me and took it to be true. Although this may sound like distorted logic, RCP posits that the client’s perspective, and the meaning that the client draws from that perspective, is equally important to my own. By demonstrating that degree of humility and providing this client’s perspective equal say in her therapy, I sent the message that I trusted and validated her. In doing so, I also reinforced for her that therapy offered a safe environment to be who she truly is and to continue exploring her experiences so that the possibility for transformation would increase. About three weeks later, staff uncovered some notes my client had been passing over the course of a month and a half, the contents of which contained ample bullying from her classmates.

The step of uncovering ways to intervene and offering suggestions that might lead the client to heal also carries similarities to basic counseling skills. However, RCP has its own variations.

The biggest difference is that RCP counselors offer suggestions and interventions from a place of deeper humility. RCP counselors accept that the suggestions and interventions we offer may not work for particular clients. We also accept that our understanding of what is going on with the client may not be complete (unlike what mainstream conceptualizations may suggest).

When counselors following this three-step model offer suggestions, they understand that they are merely providing counsel, and they respect that the client may opt to disregard that counsel of legitimate accord, not necessarily because the client is resistant. In such cases, the RCP counselor reverts back to Steps 1 and 2 to continue dialoguing with the client until greater understanding of the issues can be achieved and a more applicable intervention realized.

Relationships heal

Counseling does not have to be a complicated, mechanized process that risks confusing clients and building the kind of resistance that shuts clients down. Instead, counseling can be very concrete, simple and compassionate. It is not necessary for counselors to subscribe to ontological hermeneutics and RCP to implement the three steps discussed above or the tenets that accompany them. Clients will appreciate any counselor, utilizing any therapy, who adheres to this model.

In a 2007 article, “Taking Relationships Seriously in Psychotherapy: Radical Relationality,” Brent Slife and Bradford Wiggins reminded us that there is “nothing radical about the notion that ‘relationships heal.’” Terms such as rapport and therapeutic alliance have been bedrock principles of the field for decades now. It only makes sense that a relational theory whose interventions are based on ideals such as relationships, compassion and healing would come to the forefront of the minds of counselors who agree with these notions of how to relate
to clients.

 

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Kevin Glenn is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and a theoretical counselor. Contact him at klg65@gmx.com.

Letters to the editorct@counseling.org

Stuck in the middle

By Ann M. Ordway and Ruth O. Moore October 21, 2015

Licensed professional counselors are increasingly becoming involved in court proceedings relative to their work with families involved in high-conflict divorce, separation and custody litigation. Counseling professionals can serve in a variety of roles when working with families embroiled in divorce litigation. For example, a counselor might develop a therapeutic relationship with an individual family member, a couple or the entire family unit. These roles are typically kept distinctly separate. However, when working with high-conflict families, such roles can become easily blurred. Thus, Child-Custody_brandingcounselors can be unexpectedly swept into litigation because of misinformation, hidden agendas, the expansion of what started as a fairly simple role or even a lack of knowledge about court terminology and procedures (such as not recognizing when counselors are required to release information to the court and when they are not).

Counselors must be proactive and engage in cautious practice when interacting with high-conflict families and with court professionals. We offer counselors 10 simple guidelines to follow.

1) Be aware of ulterior motives. There is no question that individuals going through separation or divorce appropriately turn to counselors for support and guidance to get through one of life’s most challenging psychosocial events. But the possibility also exists that attorneys will refer clients to counseling for other reasons. For example, if a couple is involved in custody litigation, an attorney might refer a client to a counselor to document the client’s version of events or to set the stage for later seeking an opinion from the counselor about the client’s mental health status or ability to function as a parent. There may also be times when attorneys direct clients to bring their children to counseling in hopes of later soliciting a supporting opinion from the counselor regarding the individual’s abilities as a parent.

A counselor needs to be clear at the onset of the therapeutic relationship about why the client is there, what the client expects, what the counselor can and cannot do and whether the referral is from the client’s attorney for a specific reason. It is critical for the counselor to also know who the identified client is.

Counselors can certainly work with clients to enhance their coping skills and to effect change. If a client has a history of substance abuse, for example, proactive and voluntary involvement in counseling can demonstrate that client’s interest in and willingness to tackle a problem before being ordered to do so by a judge. Participation in counseling can also indicate effort and bolster a court’s impression that the client’s problem is under control.

However, it is important that counselors not be used to perpetuate a false impression for court purposes. Counselors cannot control the sincerity of a client’s motive, but we do not want to be complacent in a ruse to gain an advantage in court.

2) Know your role and avoid dual relationships/multiple roles. A counselor in a therapeutic role provides support for clients and empowers them to build on their existing strengths and make positive changes. In contrast, an evaluator gathers information from multiple angles and sources for the express purpose of rendering a report and recommendations to the court.

Counselors can certainly opine about the condition and progress of the client. However, counselors should not opine about the condition, progress or functionality of individuals they have not met or for whom they have limited information.

Sometimes the client, or an attorney, will ask the treating counselor to offer an opinion about specific issues such as parental fitness, abuse or domestic violence. The counselor must offer recommendations and opinions that are consistent with the counselor’s role and competency. For example, it might be fine to say that the client presents with symptoms consistent with someone who has been a victim of domestic violence. But if the counselor’s information is limited only to what the client has told the counselor, it would not be prudent to comment on the propensity of the client’s partner toward violence. Similarly, it would not be prudent to repeat the client’s statements as fact if the counselor was not present for the described events.

3) Be familiar with ethical codes, legal statutes and best practices. The 2014 ACA Code of Ethics specifically addresses issues such as informed consent and confidentiality, dual relationships, multiple roles and identifying the client. When in doubt about a situation, counselors need to always consult the ACA Code of Ethics and avail themselves of the ethical consultations made available through the American Counseling Association (call 800.347.6647 ext. 314 or email ethics@counseling.org).

It is also in the best interest of counselors to be familiar with their state laws and regulations. Some state laws include nuances that more clearly define when confidentiality must be broken, such as in cases of child abuse and neglect.

Counselors must also refrain from offering legal advice to clients, while at the same time remaining aware of laws in their jurisdictions so they can avoid guiding clients down the wrong path. Counselors should refer clients to attorneys when legal advice is needed and in the client’s best interest. One counselor encountered serious legal problems and a licensing board complaint when she suggested that a client, whom the counselor believed to be a victim of domestic violence, take the children and relocate to another country where the client’s family lived. States have specific laws regarding the removal of children from the jurisdiction. Removal of children without the permission of the court or consent from the other parent can result in criminal charges against the removing parent and a loss of custody.

4) Obtain consent and document all contact. Counselors should obtain copies of any documentation regarding custody and visitation when a separation or divorce is involved. Counselors need to ask for the most current copy of the court order and document that the copy is represented to be the most current copy. A counselor’s informed consent document should outline the expectation that all modified and updated court orders will be provided as they occur.

When there is no official documentation, counselors must keep detailed records about what they were told and by whom. Counselors working with children in divorce situations should seek consent and input from both parents whenever possible. When this is not possible, the reasons should be documented. Sometimes a court order will grant one parent sole custody of the children or sole decision-making authority. Other times one parent may state that the other parent isn’t involved because of estrangement or death. Client records need to reflect what the presenting parent has told the counselor so that the counselor will have a reasonable basis for proceeding if another parent surfaces and objects.

5) Offer support, not re-entrenchment. From a humanistic perspective, the therapeutic alliance is built upon support and unconditional positive regard for the client. However, in cases of high-conflict separation or divorce, there can be a fine line between the position that the client is 100 percent right and the estranged spouse is 100 percent wrong.

It can be difficult for two people to settle the economic and custody-based differences in their legal case when one person is cemented into a faulty belief system of entitlement or stuck in a position rooted in principle. Settlements result from the art of compromise, and positions based on principles can be expensive. In other words, clients are sometimes so concerned with winning a point that they lose sight of the big picture and end up jeopardizing more important elements of the case. Counselors sometimes do their clients a disservice by being so supportive of the client’s position that the client cannot move forward realistically through a legal system that is often more concrete in the application of the law.

6) Maintain neutrality where appropriate. This guideline pertains mostly to counselors working with children. It is easy to become invested in the parent whom the counselor sees or talks to most frequently. Hearing only one side of the story can absolutely affect the counselor’s view of the child’s experience, especially when the child has limited verbal or cognitive abilities, is not emotionally insightful or is not detail oriented.

Counselors should start with the understanding that children generally fare much better in divorce situations when they are not caught in the middle. Counselors serve the child well by supporting his or her relationship with both parents, unless there is a clear risk of harm to the child. Counselors can refer family members in need of support to other professionals to avoid conflicts of interest.

7) Do not offer an opinion of someone you have never met. It isn’t uncommon for a lawyer to ask a child’s counselor to render an opinion and recommendations regarding custody of the child or for a client’s counselor to opine regarding parental fitness and ability. However, the counselor should stick exclusively to what the counselor knows.

It is OK to speak about the counselor’s own client — with the client’s permission — to include what that client has reported, the consistency of words and affect, and impressions regarding that client. It is not wise, however, to offer comment on a parent whom the counselor has never met. Such comments would be based exclusively on what the parent who is a client has reported to the counselor. It is acceptable to state, “The client reported that her husband hit her,” but it is not advisable for the counselor to state, “Mr. Jones is an abusive man who is violent in his relationships. He should not be trusted to have custody of his son.”

8) Do not assume you can avoid court involvement. Some counselors think they can avoid court involvement by adding one or two phrases to their informed consent documents stating that they refuse to participate in court proceedings. Although there might be an argument that the client agreed to waive any right to call the counselor as a witness, a subpoena can trump that agreement. In other words, if an attorney subpoenas a counselor, the counselor will likely have to appear for a deposition or for a hearing.

The counselor can seek to have the subpoena quashed and should not release any clinical information until it is determined that the subpoena is valid and will be upheld. Best practices suggest that the counselor obtain consent from the counselor’s own client or an authorization to release information. However, even without that consent or waiver, the counselor may have to provide records or even testify.

Avoiding court begins the moment the client walks in the door. Informed consent and documentation are essential. Counselors should be trained in courtroom dynamics, testimony and legal and ethical issues even when it is the counselor’s preference to not go to court. Such measures, including ongoing communication with the client, can decrease the likelihood of having to participate in court proceedings.

9) Consult with your state licensing board, malpractice insurance carrier or attorney when necessary. If subpoenaed, consulting with an attorney before releasing records or providing testimony is wise. It is helpful for any counselor whose practice involves working with high-conflict families to have an attorney available for prompt consultation if necessary.

An attorney can review documents and guide the counselor regarding the process for balancing ethical responsibility and court involvement. Sometimes subpoenas can be quashed or suppressed. Some counselors make the mistake of responding to a threatening letter from legal counsel suggesting that the counselor must immediately make all records available. An attorney will know if the request or demand is valid in the counselor’s jurisdiction and can guide the counselor away from any ethical pitfalls associated with an incorrect response or the premature release of confidential records. Under no circumstance, however, should a subpoena simply be ignored.

10) Choose your words carefully. Wording can be everything. When asked for a report or an opinion, the counselor should confine his or her response to that which the counselor knows. Counselors should avoid supposition and assumption. It is acceptable to say, “My client stated …,” but it is not acceptable to respond as if the counselor was present or witnessed the event unless that is the case.

Simple wording can make a difference in how the counselor’s opinions or recommendations are received. When asked a question by an attorney, the counselor should listen to the question, think about it and then offer an answer that is responsive without providing more information than was requested.

Credibility is critical, and it is the counselor’s reputation (as well as the best interests of the client) on the line when the counselor renders an opinion or makes recommendations. The counselor must be able to support recommendations and opinions with facts, best practices and empirical evidence.

Conclusion

Counseling high-conflict families going through separation or divorce can present a slippery slope. The work is extremely important for the family unit and its individual members because they are dealing with an extremely challenging life event. However, cases involving the courts are stressful in even the simplest of cases. Many counselors prefer to maintain a supportive role and do not wish to do forensic (court-related) work. However, they can easily be maneuvered into the role of witness regardless of their efforts to avoid that position.

The guidelines provided in this article do not represent an exhaustive list of the professional and ethical responsibilities of counselors involved with high-conflict divorce cases. However, following these guidelines can help counselors maintain credibility, be more mindful of potential legal and ethical obligations and provide the client or family with needed emotional support. The guidelines should also remind counselors of the importance of receiving training for work with this population.

 

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Knowledge Share articles are developed from sessions presented at American Counseling Association conferences.

Ann M. Ordway has been an attorney for 25 years and practiced in family court for many years before entering the counseling profession. She is completing her doctorate in counselor education and supervision through Walden University. She is a distance clinical professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Populations at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Contact her at aordway@lamar.edu.

Ruth O. Moore is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor who is a distance clinical professor at Lamar University. She has extensive experience in expert witness testimony and has published and presented widely on court process in child abuse and child custody cases. Contact her at rmoore@lamar.edu.

Letters to the editorct@counseling.org