Monthly Archives: November 2015

From the president: How do you want to live?

By Thelma Duffey November 30, 2015

Thelma Duffey, ACA's 64th president

Thelma Duffey, ACA’s 64th president

I went to the funeral of my dear friend’s mother today. Mary was in her 90s and quite the lady. I had met Mary several years ago when she dropped by my house on an errand. That day my sweet Bailey, our family collie and big ol’ boy, wouldn’t leave her side. Laughing, Mary said, “That dog sure does like me!”

We used to call Bailey “the reception committee” because he knew no strangers, welcoming anyone who came over with a hopeful “smile” for attention. It was no surprise, then, that he was so solicitous of Mary. But as I listened to the priest describe Mary’s life at the service this morning, I realized Bailey may have had his own sort of “Spidey sense” and knew just how special she was.

Mary had a bright smile, twinkling eyes and a funny sense of humor. She loved to laugh, and she loved people and life. But Mary also had faced her share of adversity. She lost two of her grandsons when they were young to unexpected illnesses, and she was also a widow. She knew the blessings of life, but she also knew loss, as we all do when we’ve lived long enough.

When I was in high school, one of my favorite pastimes was riding my bike with my then-boyfriend and eventual husband. Sometimes we’d ride to the beach, or we’d ride to a neighboring town in the part of our world that we called “the Valley.” While on those rides, we’d visit with some of the older folks in our families. It was always great to visit with Wawa and Uncle Bob and others who would greet us with a good story to tell. A few years later, when I was asked to select a placement in a volunteer organization, I chose to visit people living in area nursing homes. Sometimes we’d play bingo. Other times I’d sit on the floor cross-legged, by the feet of interesting people who had so much to share. I don’t remember ever leaving without feeling a strong sense of fulfillment and connection. We can learn so much from people who live long, full lives.

Many years ago when I was in graduate school, I took a weekend seminar on spirituality and counseling. One of the points that truly resonated with me was that we “die as we’ve lived.” The professor explained that whatever we carry in our hearts while living will likely be what we carry with us as our final days approach.  His question to us was, “How do you want to live?” The message was to live with awareness and intentionality. I took that lesson to heart.

Some of us want to live with a grateful heart and a sense of humor. Others want to live with a spunky spirit or a work ethic that makes a difference in others’ lives. During times of transition, we may invest in navigating these changes graciously and productively. Similarly, times of transition and growth offer opportunities for reflection and intentional action.

We each have our own aspirations of how we want to live, and as a profession, we hold these aspirations as well. As the counseling profession experiences its own times of transition, my wish is that we will reach our goals of receiving the same consideration and commensurate compensation as any other mental health professionals and that we will achieve license portability as we do the good work of counseling. And my hope is that during this process, we will remember and connect with the core qualities that make us the great profession we are.

Wishing you all my best,

Thelma Duffey

 

 

CEO’s Message: Your amazing work and my deepest appreciation

By Richard Yep

Richard Yep, ACA CEO

Richard Yep, ACA CEO

As we close out 2015, many of us are taking stock of the year. It seems like only yesterday that we were worrying about what the dreaded Y2K bug might do to our computers as we entered the year 2000. Some readers will remember the warnings of what dangers lurked as we crossed the threshold into the 21st century.

To realize that we are now into the second decade of the “new millennium” boggles the mind. Thanks to the accelerated advancements of technology and big data, many of us are working smarter. At times it seems that our “phones” have gone way beyond what we remember seeing in Dick Tracy comics (you millennials will have to Google who Dick Tracy was). In addition, the realm of health care cures and prevention has made quantum leaps in a relatively short period of time.

At the same time, technology, health care, an improving global economy and all sorts of new gadgets only seem to accentuate the great divide between the fortunate and the impoverished. The statistics are striking. Consider the following realities, in this day and age, in the United States alone:

  • In 2012, 46.5 million people were living in poverty.
  • The poverty rate included 15 percent of all Americans and 21.8 percent of children under age 18.
  • Children represent more than one-third of the people living in poverty and deep poverty.
  • Families headed by a single adult are more likely to be headed by women, and these female-headed households are at greater risk of poverty.
  • More than 40 percent of the 15.5 million children living in poverty live in what is defined as “extreme poverty.”

We all know of the effects that these realities have on the mental and physical well-being of our most vulnerable populations. I reference these statistics not to sadden us but rather to express gratitude for the work of professional counselors. Why? Because without your work with clients, students and communities, I believe that these atrocious statistics would be even worse.

The work ahead for the counseling profession is a heavy lift but one I know you will all face with commitment, passion and dedication. Your efforts are key to making the United States and, in fact, the entire world a better place. You don’t always hear that from others, but I wanted to make sure that you heard it from me. During my tenure spanning more than 25 years at the American Counseling Association, I have been in awe of your efforts. I know your work can sometimes be a thankless job, but I also understand that you don’t do it for the accolades or tributes.

The counseling profession is alive and well. It continues to grow and develop. I realize that you don’t always agree with one another about the path to professionalism, but I have never doubted the resolve you each possess to do what is right for your clients and students. Likewise, I have never doubted your integrity and willingness to find a better path for those with whom you work. I hope that the resources, opportunities, advocacy and services that ACA provides are valued and helpful in the amazing work that you do.

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 ryep@counseling.org. You can also follow me on Twitter: @Richyep.

Be well.

 

 

Nonprofit News: Easy ways to lose clients and your reputation

By “Doc Warren” Corson III

Nonprofit News covers issues that are of interest to counselor clinicians working in a nonprofit setting. This month’s column focuses on several common mistakes that can have a deep impact on your program.

No matter how talented the clinician or staff, mistakes will indeed occur from time to time. The key is to address those mistakes and make needed changes before it takes a toll on your program.

 

Focus on the money first and foremost.

All counseling programs, whether they are for-profit or nonprofit, need to make sure their bills get paid. Some programs have their finances taken care of via large grants, endowments and other sources, but most of us need to find the proper balance between providing free services and collecting enough revenue to survive and prosper. There is no shame in having a healthy bottom line. There is shame, however, in making clients feel like they are little more than a meal ticket.

Recently, I found myself feeling ill. I went to a local urgent care program that is part of a large nonprofit. I have been there many times, and the turnover at this location appears to be very high. I have rarely, if ever, seen the same folks working there twice.

When I got there, they gave me my paperwork to fill out, collected my insurance information again and made sure that I paid my copay before allowing me to sit and wait for nearly an hour to be called. No one ever asked me why I was there, what was wrong or if I was OK to wait. I have no idea how they did their triage, if they did it at all.

Finally, I got in to see a doctor. He did ask me why I was there, although any eye contact was lacking, and he seemed more focused on filling out paperwork. I’ve been told that a very large local clinical program behaves in much the same way.

A simple tweak of this system would involve having the staff start out by asking patients why they are there before having them complete insurance-related paperwork and make their payment. A simple smile, some type of eye contact and acknowledgment of patients could go far here. Some sign of compassion wouldn’t be too much to ask for either.

Ignore the client.

While I was in with the doctor, he seemed to ignore me and my symptoms but was ever so quick to break out his prescription pad. He proceeded to write out four scripts, two of which my primary doctor had advised me never to take because of other health issues (which were included in my chart). When I reminded the doctor of the possibility of these prescriptions leading to a stroke or heart attack if I took them, he responded by saying, “Let’s see what happens.” He then proceeded to ignore my objections and rationale and walked out of the room. When the pharmacist contacted him about this issue, he refused to make any changes and advised the pharmacist that I should simply monitor my Frustration Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Storm Clouds and Sky.symptoms. The pharmacist and I agreed that these scripts would go unfilled.

As a consultant and researcher, I have interviewed countless clients who shared similar stories. Some reported having been misdiagnosed and incorrectly medicated, possibly for years. (They developed this belief after eventually going to another professional who made massive changes to both their diagnosis and treatment. The actual extent or likelihood of misdiagnosis is unknown).

Whether you are a medical profession or a clinical professional, Rule No. 1 should be LISTEN TO YOUR CLIENT. They may not always be correct, but failing to listen to them could result in great harm or, at the very least, malpractice.

The fix is easy: See your clients as equals, see them as humans and act in kind. We all have bad days, but remember that you have two ears. Use them.

Treat clients poorly.

As a former client advocate, one of the most common complaints I heard was that clients felt they had been treated poorly. Common examples included being ignored, being talked down to, being sworn at, being ridiculed, and being judged or otherwise condemned. There are times when clients simply misunderstand a comment, but often their concerns are more than valid.

Sam (names and identifying information for individuals mentioned in this article have been changed, although permission to use their stories has been granted) recalled his last experience with therapy. “My last therapist barely said a word to me and spent most of our work together asking me about my childhood,” Sam recalled. “I told him that I was here to talk about issues at work, but we never got there the whole time we worked together. When I finally confronted him on this, he replied, ‘Who’s the licensed social worker? You or me?’ before going right back to the stuff that I was tired of talking about. Hey, my childhood was great. I mean, there were issues like anyone else, but I’m fine. I was looking for suggestions on how to communicate better with my new boss. I have no idea why he needed to know how long I was breast-fed and if I ever wet the bed or hated my parents. … I left shortly after.”

Sue recalled an experience with a therapist who used some art-based therapy techniques in her general therapy. “She had me bring in artwork based on homework she gave me the session before,” Sue said. “She would look at it like I was on trial or something. Several times she told me my work was too dark or evil and proof that I was terribly disturbed. Sometimes our sessions included me following her orders to destroy my artwork in front of her as a way to ‘release the demons’ in me. I worked so hard on some of those. I was crying, not from the release she promised, but from feeling that I must really be evil and that I had no artistic talent.”

Clinicians need to remember that they are not only supposed to work within the scope of their training but also to set treatment goals with their clients and to demystify the experience as much as possible. It can be very helpful to look into childhood issues that may be impacting the present, and the use of art-based therapy is very beneficial to many, but treatment needs to reflect the needs of the client and not the preferences of the clinician. I have no idea how shaming or damning a client could be considered beneficial.

Fail to return calls or make clients wait excessive amounts of time at appointments.

Brian called for treatment for issues related to grief and loss. He left a voice mail after hours and was called back the following morning by a staff member. He sounded surprised that a clinical staff member was the one calling him. He discussed some of his issues, told us his preferred day and times to meet, and was given a session with one of our clinicians. He asked how long he should be prepared to wait for his session to start. We advised him that his appointment should start on time or within a few minutes. He seemed skeptical.

He was called in for his first session on time, give or take a minute or two. This seemed to shock him. “My last counselor took days or weeks to return calls, if they did at all,” Brian said. “It was not uncommon to wait an hour or more after I was scheduled to see her. I stopped going after awhile because it took me all afternoon.”

It is important to remember that your client’s time is an important as yours. At the offices I direct (www.docwarren.org and www.pillwillop.org), we strive to return every call within 24 hours and to meet with our clients when they are scheduled. Should we fail, which we do on occasion, we tell our clients that we know that their time is as valuable as ours is and, because of that, we will be waiving the entire fee for their session (this doesn’t include sessions that start 5-10 minutes late but anything substantial).

There are other easy ways to lose clients and reputations, but those noted here appear to be among the most common. Thankfully, the solutions to these problems are easy as well. A little attention to detail can be the difference between a successful program and one that may fail. Remember the golden rule: Treat your clients as you would want to be treated. If you do that, you should go far.

 

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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.

Business practices for the beginning counselor

By Bryan G. Stare November 24, 2015

In my CACREP-accredited master’s and doctoral programs in community and clinical mental health counseling, I received a thorough education in many areas but little instruction on how to establish a private practice. Foundational legal and ethical concepts are introduced to students in the classroom, Goldfishand clinical experience is offered in practicum and internship, but students who choose to enter private practice after earning their counselor license must continue learning on an independent basis. Literature on the subject is scarce. Although some how-to books include a chapter on practical and business matters, they are mostly dated, and little has been written on the topic in professional journals.

I wanted to know more about how to establish and maintain a private practice, so I decided to ask some practicing clinicians. I began by compiling a list of topics and considered some professionals whom I respect. I wanted to discuss matters with people who “have what I want,” both professionally and personally, so I completed my list of interview topics and determined whom I would interview.

I chose three graduates from my doctoral counseling program at the University of North Texas. All three counselors see clients in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and have been working in private practice for at least 10 years. Counselor One sees children, adolescents and adults. Counselor Two manages her own intensive outpatient program specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. Counselor Three works full time with adolescents in a suburban public school but also sees individuals, couples and families in private practice, where he shares office suites with other independent private practitioners.

The interview topics I choose included building a referral base, thinking about caseload considerations, scheduling and variety, maximizing income, minimizing overhead, practicing self-care, billing and collections, and developing partnerships. Some of these topics had been written about previously in the literature. Other topics included subjects I had not found addressed in the professional literature.

Please note that the information in this article presents merely the experiences and opinions of the counselors I interviewed. It is not meant to suggest that these are automatically the “right” steps to follow when entering and setting up a private practice.

Marketing

I began with a discussion of marketing, specifically what has and has not worked in the past for interviewees. All three interviewees agreed that their best referral sources came from establishing working relationships with psychiatrists, primary care physicians and medical doctors.

Counselor One’s marketing efforts focused mainly on her relationships with primary care physicians and psychiatrists and on using her website as a resource. She reported reaching out to doctors and bringing lunch to offices regularly to begin and maintain relationships. She cited the significance of beginning with just one doctor who refers regularly. She also tried sending out letters to a new area, but that proved fruitless because she received no new referrals. Instead, Counselor One emphasized the importance of face-to-face contact and tokens of appreciation. She also reported that the online Psychology Today referral service brought her approximately one to two clients a months, making it a worthwhile investment.

Counselor Two also has a website but cited primary care physicians as her primary referral source. She talks to about 10 of these professionals on a regular basis. She wasn’t a proponent of advertising through online referral services such as Psychology Today or Blue Cross because she said they wouldn’t designate her as an eating disorder specialist. This resulted in many people contacting her for generalized services that she was not in a position to provide.

Counselor Three reported relying on his reputation as his main marketing tool, although he also cited his website and reaching out to primary care physicians and psychiatrists. He said the most important thing in his career has been the reputation he has built for himself through community service and volunteer work. This focus has provided him with many clients through word of mouth. When clients come to him from a primary care physician or psychiatrist he isn’t familiar with, he reaches out to that professional to establish a working relationship, both for the good of the client and to build a foundation for possible future work together. He reported solid relationships with four psychiatrists and many more primary
care physicians.

Counselor Three also cited location as being key to his marketing through the years. He chose a suburban area where he had identified the need for counseling services after conducting research via the Internet and driving around and scouting locations physically.

Regarding specialty, Counselor One and Counselor Three recommended that counselors advertise their services with a happy medium between specialty and general counseling. They cited the importance of variety, both for financial and personal interest reasons, but they also mentioned competency, ethical reasons and personal reasons for choosing a specialty. Counselor Two expressed the importance of choosing and sticking with a specific area of practice in the interest of competency. She also pointed out that clients are quite savvy in choosing a specialist.

Best business practices

Our next topic of discussion involved best business practices, an area that we broke down into particular subjects of interest.

Mentorship

All three counselors discussed receiving some form of guidance or mentorship upon starting out. Counselor One reported having a mentor from whom she learned a great deal while working in her first private practice setting. Counselor Two cited learning from other professionals in private practice. Counselor Three described accumulating significant knowledge from the collegial relationships he had first established during his time in the doctoral program. He reported asking these individuals what had worked for them. He recalled consulting regularly with two colleagues who were already in private practice about what he should expect.

Income and overhead

When asked what had been most helpful in maximizing income and minimizing overhead, Counselor One recommended being realistic when starting a private practice and taking into account how much time a practice will take to build. She suggested having other forms of income when starting out and not buying everything for the practice at once. She reported that it took about a year for her practice to become her primary source of income. She acknowledged that accepting insurance might have expedited that process but also said it could have made her practice less lucrative and more of a hassle.

Similarly, Counselor Two recommended not buying everything for a practice at once or anything that is not absolutely needed for the business. She also cited the importance of building a referral base through outstanding service.

Counselor Three cited the importance of building his reputation through word of mouth. He reported performing a great deal of volunteer work in the community, including in schools, which led to a consulting position that turned into a full-time position. He also emphasized the importance of developing a strong network of people within his practice who are competent and trustworthy.

All three counselors reported sharing office space or rent with other practitioners at some point in their careers. Two counselors reported providing supervision services, and two reported sharing a practice with others.

Caseload

Counselor One described her caseload as consisting of 20-23 clients per week, with approximately 40 percent of the clients being children, 30 percent adolescents and 30 percent adults. She sees mostly individual clients and small groups and also supervises a few interns. She reported working on a sliding scale fee when she started out, but she no longer does this. She estimated her average annual income at $90,000-$100,000. Play therapy is her primary source of client-generated income.

Counselor Two sees approximately 35 clients per week in addition to one group. She also supervises a few interns. She reported her estimated income as $2,000 on a good week and $800 on a bad week (and recalled her income being even more variable when she accepted insurance). Her primary clientele is made up of individuals with eating disorders.

Counselor Three reported seeing approximately eight to 12 clients per week on alternating weeks outside of his full-time job with an independent school district. In his private practice, approximately 75 percent of his clients are couples and families, whereas the remaining clients are individuals. He reported his estimated average annual income as $60,000 from the school and $500-$750 weekly from clinical work. He sees a variety of clientele in his private practice rather than specializing in one specific area.

Administrative duties

All three counselors reported similar practices related to most administrative details. All three receive payment at the time of service. None of the counselors employs an office manager or bookkeeper, but two of them have used billing software such as EZClaim and Therapist Helper.

Counselor One reported enforcing a no-show policy by charging a reduced fee of $60. Counselor Two acknowledged not enforcing her no-show policy because she found it created resentment among clients. At the same time, she stated that nonattendance has rarely been an issue with her clients.

Client insurance

None of the counselors I interviewed currently accept insurance. All three accepted insurance at some point in the past but said that it caused too many inconveniences and was generally more trouble than it was worth. Counselor Two was particularly outspoken about not accepting insurance, describing her experience as “horrible” and stating that “firing” her insurance company was the best decision she had made in private practice. The overall consensus seemed to be to avoid accepting insurance if that scenario could be financially feasible for the private practitioner.

Words of wisdom

To close my interviews, I chose to focus on words of advice, including asking what the counselors might do differently if given the opportunity to start over.

Counselor One stated that she would meet with a financial planner and an accountant to better her understanding of taxes and tax breaks. Counselor Two said she would follow her same path — specifically, taking the necessary time to build a practice, asking other professionals what they had done and working hard. Counselor Three responded that he would hire a consultant, accountant and financial planner or marketing person at the outset to help him better prepare.

I also asked the three counselors to share the best practical advice they had received upon graduating regarding working in private practice. Counselor One said that no one had given her any practical advice about entering private practice. Instead, she recalled her husband being her biggest encourager and even buying her office furniture. She advised me that building rapport is everything in private practice and that the business side of counseling is about selling yourself.

Counselor One also provided some recommendations. For example, she advised against hiring office staff to handle phone calls. She believes it is important for private practitioners to do this themselves to keep things personal, to ensure clients are treated well and to not come across like a used-car salesman. She also warned against carrying clients who are not putting in the work. “It’s not worth it,” she told me. If clients don’t seem to want services, her opinion is that the best thing to do is let them go. Likewise, she advised me to watch out for practice groups because some may look to take advantage of private practitioners. According to this counselor, warning signs include taking more than 40 percent of collections and having clauses stating that former employees cannot work solo within a 50-mile radius upon leaving the group and cannot take clients to new locations. She also emphasized that it is vital for counselors to know with whom they are going into business. Counselors should research and know these individuals well before making any commitment, she said. She closed by citing her faith as the thing that has sustained her most, stating how important it has been for her in gaining acceptance and feeling grounded.

Counselor Two advised against working with insurance companies. She cited numerous examples of insurance companies creating problems for her private practice, including micromanagement, bureaucratic mazes, inaccurate advertising of her specialty and nonpayment for services. She also recalled that when everyone discouraged her from working in private practice, she found it all the more enticing.

Counselor Three said that the best advice he received was to work hard, to work ethically, to have faith, to be humble and to communicate well. He said that it is good for private practitioners to be generalists but that it is also wise to have a few specialties. He also recommended that aspiring (and established) private practitioners consider attending local conferences and workshops to network.

Where I plan to go from here

As I consider my literature review and the interviews I conducted, many things come to mind. First of all, I am glad that I have begun to consider my options. All of my interviewees said that now is the perfect time for me to begin reaching out to the public arena, networking and finding out how my colleagues and professors have established themselves.

These interviews have also spurred my curiosity to ask the same questions of other counselors. The process has left me with the desire to continue expanding my knowledge, experience and personal brand. As a way to repay what has so freely been given to me, I also plan to go forward
and always be willing to share what I know with others.

 

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Bryan G. Stare is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas. Contact him at bryan.stare@unt.edu.

Letters to the editor:  ct@counseling.org

ACA Conference to feature keynotes by Jeremy Richman, Silken Laumann

By Bethany Bray

Both of the keynote speakers for the upcoming American Counseling Association 2016 Conference & Expo in Montréal, being held in partnership with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, have risen above the heartbreak and hardship that life has dealt them.

Jeremy Richman, a scientist and the father of a child who died in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, will provide the opening keynote on Friday, April 1.

Silken Laumann, a three-time Olympic medalist in women’s rowing for Canada, will give the keynote on Saturday, April 2, and sign copies of her 2014 memoir, Unsinkable.

 

Jeremy Richman

For Jeremy Richman, introducing himself is now a two-step process: He is both a scientist who specializes in neuropsychopharmacology and the father of a murdered child. He gained his second Richman_resizetitle — a title no parent would want — after his 6-year-old daughter, Avielle Rose, lost her life in one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. A total of 20 first-graders and six adult staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a mass shooter on Dec. 14, 2012.

Richman works in neuropsychopharmacology, or the study of how chemicals, including drugs, affect the brain and human behavior. He has spent many years in laboratories conducting drug discovery and disease research, including while working on his doctorate at the University of Arizona. Richman’s wife, Jennifer Hensel, is an infectious disease specialist and medical writer.

As they faced Avielle’s death, Richman says, their science training kicked in and led them to pursue the “why” of the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Three days after their daughter was killed, the couple started the Avielle Foundation with a goal of using brain health research to prevent violence.

“What we do as scientists is ask the ‘why,’” Richman says. “The brain is just another organ. It can be healthy or it can be unhealthy, just like the lungs, the heart, the kidneys, the liver. We just need to study it. Unfortunately, brain science is the least explored of all our sciences, bar none. We know more about the bottom of the ocean and the surface of Mars than we do [about] what’s between our ears.”

“When you don’t understand something, when it remains invisible, we build a lot of fear and trepidation about it,” Richman continues. “As a result, all things that we call mental come with a lot of baggage that we call stigma.”

Richman would like to replace the term mental health with brain health. Labels, stigma and a lot of baggage accompany the former term, he says. Offering an example, he points out that a doctor would never call someone a broken arm, but medical professionals routinely label patients as depressed.

“When you move away from that [labels], it’s a matter of chemistry and character,” he says. “It gives people hope — something they can understand, something tangible and something they can hold on to. You aren’t a cold any more than you’re bipolar.”

One of the goals of the Avielle Foundation, Richman says, is to better understand the risk factors for violence and how behavior is related to the functioning of the brain. To that end, he views behavioral health, including talk therapy, and science research as “two sides of the same coin.”

“We really want to bridge the biochemical and behavioral sciences,” he says. “When it comes to the brain, they’re really the same.”

As an example, he points to someone who is disenfranchised from society and contemplates violence. “What is the difference between [that person’s] brain and the everyday citizen’s brain? Those are the pieces of the puzzle we need to fill in,” Richman says.

Humans’ behavior is related to the proper functioning of the brain, Richman contends. When people change their perspective to see the brain as “just another organ” that needs to be kept healthy, there is less stigma and fear associated with getting help, he says.

“And therein lies our charge. We think that was a big fault in what happened in our case [in Newtown], and that’s what happens on our street corners and in our homes where children or adults are sad enough to hurt themselves or others,” he says. “The more visible we can make [brain health], the easier [the counselors’] job is and the more effectively they’ll be able to get help to people who need it.” The first step is “getting people comfortable about talking about brain health at all,” he asserts.

One byproduct of the school shooting at Sandy Hook has been the creation of an atmosphere in which people in the community are comfortable with and open about discussing mental health, according to Richman. In casual conversations with friends or neighbors, it isn’t uncommon for people in the community to reference something their therapist said recently or a topic they’ve been working on in therapy, he says.

And why shouldn’t it be that way, Richman asks. Why can’t people be just as comfortable talking about a diagnosis that they received in therapy as when a doctor diagnoses them with high cholesterol and prescribes a statin drug?

Says ACA President Thelma Duffey, “When we were exploring options for keynote speakers, and in light of this year’s [ACA] initiatives on anti-bullying and interpersonal violence, Jeremy Richman’s focus on brain health and the relationship between violence and compassion really resonated for me. At a time when their world was torn apart in the most unimaginable of ways, they [Richman and his wife, Jennifer] directed their grief, training and resources to a cause that could make a difference to each and every one of us. … His passion for destigmatizing mental illness, his commitment to exploring the ‘whys’ of violence and his dedication to promoting education and information is truly relevant to our work as counselors. We are so fortunate that Dr. Richman will be our conference keynote. To suffer this kind of loss and to then redirect one’s energy to a mission of preventing violence and fostering compassion is pretty incredible.”

 

Silken Laumann

“I believe everyone has a superpower,” Silken Laumann says. “My superpower is my imagination, and I’m always able to imagine what I want to create in my life and how I want an outcome to unfold. … One thing Olympic athletes are really good at is envisioning what they want.”

Silken Laumann photo by Beth Hayhurst Photography.

Silken Laumann photo by Beth Hayhurst Photography.

Laumann is no stranger to fighting against the odds to reach a goal. An elite rower and three-time Olympic medalist, she represented Canada for 13 years in international competitions.

In May 1992, just 10 weeks before the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Laumann was seriously injured during training when her sculling boat (also called a shell) was involved in a collision with another boat. The accident shattered one of her legs. Although she was the reigning world champion in women’s single scull rowing, it appeared the accident would force her to miss the Olympics.

But thanks to an iron will and her willingness to endure multiple surgeries and countless hours of rehabilitation, Laumann was able to recover and compete again at a very high level, winning a bronze medal in single sculls for Canada that summer (she had previously won a bronze medal in double sculls at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and would go on to win a silver medal in single sculls at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta). She was also chosen to carry Canada’s flag during the closing ceremonies of the 1992 games.

Laumann’s 1992 comeback and Olympic triumph is a well-known story throughout Canada. But it wasn’t until much later, 15 years after retiring from professional competition, that Laumann shared her full story in her 2014 memoir, Unsinkable.

Having grown up in an abusive home, Laumann dealt with anxiety and depression — struggles that to many people on the outside seemed to conflict with her persona as an Olympic champion. “There are some people who have a hard time getting their head around it, even after my book has come out,” she says.

After 10 years of counseling, Laumann has come to terms with the darker parts of her story. “Unsinkable was the story that lay inside me. … I had a moment of clarity where I realized I needed to get help [and start counseling],” she says. “I realized that if I didn’t begin to work on myself, I was going to repeat some of the things that I didn’t want to repeat [from her childhood] with my own children.”

It is hard for anyone to accept that they need help, Laumann says, but it is especially difficult for someone who is supposed to be invincible — someone who is associated with strength and overcoming obstacles. “I had the feeling that I was alone. ‘How could I be feeling bad when my life is so great?’ I came to realize that these are very common things people tell themselves,” Laumann says.

At the ACA Conference & Expo, Laumann is looking forward to encouraging and connecting with an audience of counselors — a profession for which she voices a great deal of gratitude — while also sharing a client’s perspective.

“I’ve been there,” she says. “I say this with a lot of respect for other survivors who have worse stories, but I think I’ve been to some pretty dark places and experienced some things that children shouldn’t have to experience, and I’ve come out the other end. … A lot of times counselors are working with people to maximize their potential. That’s really what counseling did for me. It opened up my life and gave me, for the first time in my life, true freedom of choice because I wasn’t being limited by my old belief systems and by past trauma.”

Laumann says she wrote Unsinkable because she felt compelled to be authentic — authentic to herself and for others who might be struggling with some of the same issues.

“To share [one’s] story is very liberating. It gives us the extra courage to get the help we need. Even just the sharing [itself] is healing,” she says. “I needed to share because I suspected there were other people out there who were struggling the same way I’ve struggled, and that hearing from someone they respected about her journey was going to be helpful.”

Duffey says she’s looking forward to hearing Laumann speak, describing the Olympian as inspirational, honest and “amazingly resilient.” Laumann’s story “is a story of incredible determination and strength, with a message that dreams can be big and doable and that even in adversity, we can reach immeasurable heights,” Duffey says.

Laumann is married with four children, including a stepdaughter, Kilee, who is profoundly autistic. In addition to participating in author events and speaking engagements, Laumann engages in a significant amount of advocacy work, including fundraising for autism causes with her husband, David Patchell-Evans.

In 1998, Laumann was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. But what makes her most proud, she says, is when people approach her at public events and tell her that her story has inspired them to get help or make changes in their own life.

“It took a lot of courage and energy for me to put that book out there,” she says. “Those kinds of comments are what I’m most proud of. Whatever I shared gave someone else that little bit of a lift they needed to decide to take that first step.”

 

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Find out more about Jeremy Richman and the Avielle Foundation at aviellefoundation.org.

To learn more about Silken Laumann and her advocacy work, visit SilkenLaumann.com.

Attendees of the ACA 2016 Conference & Expo in Montréal will be able to meet both keynote speakers. Laumann will be signing copies of her memoir Unsinkable at the conference.

The full conference, being held in partnership with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, will take place March 31-April 3. Pre-conference Learning Institutes will take place March 30-31. See counseling.org/conference for session and registration information. Register by Dec. 15 to secure the super-saver rate.

 

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

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal, Montréal

Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, Montréal