Monthly Archives: June 2017

CEO’s message: Starting the ‘new’ year by pledging more services and resources

Richard Yep June 30, 2017

Richard Yep, ACA CEO

Happy New Year! At ACA, we begin our program year July 1. That means many new volunteers are beginning their work, projects are being launched and we are welcoming a new president. It is also nice to look back over the past 12 months to take stock of all that was accomplished on behalf of the counseling profession.

We concluded June with an amazing (and first-ever) Illuminate conference that explored counseling LGBTQ clients across the adult life span. This conference was sold out several weeks before we launched, and the networking, education sessions and resources exchanged during the event will certainly benefit many clients, students and professionals for years to come. I think that Illuminate certainly fulfilled the vision of our immediate past president, Catherine Roland, who came up with the idea that led to this event and its companion guide of information-packed resources.

As noted, we now welcome Catherine’s successor, Gerard Lawson, as our 66th president. I have had the opportunity to work with Gerard in his role as a division leader, task force member and representative on the ACA Governing Council. I know that he will continue the excellence in leadership that ACA members have come to expect from their president. The staff and I wish Gerard all the best as he begins his term.

We also want ACA members to know that despite the prior 12 months of successes, we have so much more planned for the coming year. We have listened to what our members say is important to practicing counselors, counselor educators, supervisors and graduate students. As a result, we will be rolling out a variety of high-quality professional development resources and information. You will have access to printed materials, online resources and a broad array of new webinars to keep you up to date in your practice while you earn valuable CE credits.

In addition, you have indicated that you want us to continue advocating for the profession with public policymakers at the state and national levels, as well as with decision-makers in the area of managed care. To address those desires, we have doubled our Government Affairs staff over the past few years and also added outside legislative counsel. Given the current political climate, it is clear that ACA must advocate for and develop its grass-roots activity to an even higher level — and that is where we hope you will participate. Our Government Affairs blog includes regular updates, and I was pleased to see that we had thousands of messages sent to elected officials last year by ACA members who understand that some public policy decisions have the potential to decimate services for clients and students. I encourage you to get involved by visiting the ACA Government Affairs page on our website at

Looking ahead, the great profession of counseling is faced with both opportunities and challenges. The staff and I pledge to work to ensure even more opportunities for professional counselors, while doing what we can to ward off the challenges inflicted by those outside of the profession. ACA is committed to supporting and enhancing the counseling profession. But we will be able to do this only with your input and suggestions. We need you to let us know when we do something right and when we miss the mark. One of my goals for the coming year is that on June 30, 2018, you will feel that ACA “had your back” as you look back over the preceding 12 months.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts. Feel free to contact me at 800-347-6647 ext. 231 or via email at You can also follow me on Twitter: @Richyep.

Be well.



From the president: 10 miles behind me, 10,000 more to go …

Gerard Lawson

Gerard Lawson, ACA’s 66th president

Over the past several weeks, as I was getting closer to taking office as president of the American Counseling Association, a line from a James Taylor song kept rolling through my head (see the headline to this column). Actually, I think two things were on my mind. The first was that being ACA president involves a lot of traveling. So, as much traveling as I have done already, I know much more is on the horizon. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to travel to meet with members in branches and divisions, to participate in the outreach that ACA is doing internationally and to learn about counseling in other parts of the world.

That is the other way that the line from the song “Sweet Baby James” resonates with me these days. I have been a counselor for a couple of decades now. I have seen a lot and learned so much from the clients, colleagues and students with whom I have worked. I am proud of the things that I have accomplished and am excited to be following in the footsteps of such talented leaders. And having said that, I am struck frequently these days by how much I still have to learn. Every day it seems I am reacquainted with the importance of the work we do and the difference counselors make in our communities and our world.

There is no doubt that counselors influence, and are influenced by, the world around us. The cover story of this issue of Counseling Today looks at pop culture and counseling. As counselors, we frequently look to the world around us to help provide our clients perspective through the arts. Whether it is through literature or music, or movies or television, there are stories all around us that may provide our clients with a new way of seeing their struggles or understanding their path.

Sometimes I give a talk about the hero’s journey, which mythologist Joseph Campbell described as the structure that we use to tell stories and create myths and legends. Those stories always begin with an unassuming girl or boy (think of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, or Luke or Rey in Star Wars, or Harry Potter), and every time their journey starts with a call to adventure. Along the way, they have to overcome tests and challenges, and they meet fellow travelers who support them in overcoming those obstacles. Even though I may not know exactly what my client is experiencing, popular culture allows me access to their stories in ways that can be incredibly helpful.

My wife is a classically trained musician, and she has a T-shirt that reads, “Art is meant to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” We talk about counseling being both art and science, but the art in what we do seems so important. We comfort our clients through difficult times and support them as they take on life’s challenges. In addition, counselors are actively engaged in advocacy and social justice in our communities. When policymakers or communities get too comfortable to help those in need, counselors are there to disturb that comfort. The work that counselors do is thought-provoking, beautiful and life-changing, and the world would be a poorer place in its absence.

So, the next time that you want to sit back and watch TV, or go to the movies, or listen to some music, maybe you are actually doing research for a future client. And when you get a certain song stuck in your head, maybe it is your experience with popular culture sending you a message about the journey ahead of you. Whatever the case, I hope that our paths will cross as our journeys unfold.



An eight-step process for implementing social justice and advocacy interventions

By Jonnie Seay Lane June 29, 2017

Viewing the landscape of today’s society, it is clear that multicultural and social justice issues have never been more visible. Although prejudice, racism and inequality have always plagued our nation, society is no longer keeping secret or turning its cheek to the omnipresent consequences of privilege and marginalization. Everyone is affected and everyone has a duty to respond, but nobody more so than those “working the fields.”

Gone are the days of counseling in a silo. Our clients live in the real world. And in the real world, our clients suffer privilege and marginalization. Counseling and counselors would be well-advised to prepare for the spectrum of cultural issues that we may encounter in session. In other words, we need to enhance our multicultural competence. Not only is it written into the ACA Code of Ethics, but it also just makes common sense. If we want to continue to work with, for and on behalf of our clients, we need to ebb and flow with the tide, and this is the tide.

If you are a counselor, you might think that you already possess a good deal of cultural competence, but let me unveil three common statements that can lead to a false sense of cultural competence.

1) “I took a class in my master’s program, and it covered a lot of material. I know the multicultural theories and models. I must be culturally competent.”

2) “I have three black friends, and my neighbor is from India. I know how to talk to people of color, and I know their cultural norms. I must be culturally competent.”

3) “I don’t stereotype. I don’t judge others. I must be culturally competent.”

I must confess that, as a white counselor, I’ve found those words bouncing around in my own head from time to time. I used them to strengthen my belief that I was a culturally competent counselor. That belief made me feel good about myself — even if it wasn’t true. Those statements assuaged the guilt I felt knowing that I actually wasn’t as competent as I should be. I used those statements as excuses to avoid growing and sharpening my counseling skills because it was an area that challenged me and even scared me a bit.

Admitting that those three statements, even if factual, did not make me a culturally competent counselor was scary. It meant admitting that I wasn’t as great as I thought I was and that I might not be serving my clients to the best of my abilities. It also meant that I had to do something about it. And change is scary.

But change can be motivating and liberating too. Becoming a better counselor is exciting. Learning new things is exciting. Instead of leaning away from multicultural counseling, I leaned in.


A plan of action

I’m currently a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University, where I have the honor of being under the tutelage of some of the foremost experts in the field. My adviser, Sylvia Nassar, was one of the co-authors of the Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies (MSJCC), which were endorsed by the American Counseling Association and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development in 2015 and released in 2016. She put together a task force of students to continue work on dissemination of the MSJCC. The door opened, and I walked through. I made it my mission to become an expert in multicultural counseling, starting with the MSJCC. Yes, me, the white girl.

As a member of the task force, I facilitated and co-facilitated presentations on the MSJCC at local, state and regional conferences following a variety of formats (e.g., roundtable discussion, PechaKucha presentation, information session and workshop). What became clear to me was that attendees were thirsty to take what they were given and implement it into practice. But something was missing.

As great as our presentations might have been at providing information and inspiring motivation, they lacked a practical approach to next steps. Attendees left excited and motivated. However, without an action plan, excitement and motivation eventually dissipate. With that in mind, I created an eight-step process to implementing the MSJCC.

The eight steps are a basic foundation for enhancing multicultural competence. Implementing them requires understanding of the model and its specific parts. The steps reference sections of the model and particular competencies that are prescribed within. All this to say, the steps are meant to be used after training on multicultural counseling, and the MSJCC model in particular, has been completed. A link to the MSJCC can be found here.

The model is composed of 117 specific competencies that serve as markers of cultural competence. The counseling competencies are embedded in four distinct domains: counselor self-awareness, client worldview, counseling relationship, and counseling and advocacy interventions. The last domain, counseling and advocacy interventions, is composed of six layers and aligns with Urie Bronfenbrenner’s theory of socioecological layers. Those layers are intrapersonal, interpersonal, community, institutional, public policy and global.

The suggested steps were created to be used when considering multicultural enhancement in terms of the socioecological layers. It is in these layers where the action component of the MSJCC is more heavily emphasized. And that is the goal of the steps — to promote action.

I believe the eight steps below provide a starting point for becoming more culturally competent. Use of this eight-step process will result in a singular action. Thus, it serves to make the abstract concrete and to propel movement. Although it is only a starting point, every great ending has to start somewhere.


Steps for implementing social justice and advocacy interventions

Step One: Identify the need(s) of your client or population.

Step Two: Decide in which layer(s) your client’s or population’s needs are represented (e.g., a client seeking assistance for solving communicating issues with a co-worker has needs in the interpersonal layer).

Step Three: Review the interventions from the appropriate layer in the model and ask yourself the following questions:

  • In what ways are my client’s or population’s needs being (or not being) met?
  • Which interventions in this layer relate to my client’s or population’s current problem areas?
  • How am I doing as a counselor with each intervention?

Step Four: Communicate your thoughts with others (co-workers, supervisors, collateral sources and, most importantly, your client). Gain insight and perspective from their understanding of the nature, intensity, diagnosis and prognosis of the problem.

Step Five: Decide where effort devoted to a specific intervention will adequately address the need(s) identified in Step One.

Step Six: Develop a strategy for implementing the intervention. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who takes ownership of the intervention?
  • What is my role in this intervention?
  • Who else is involved in this intervention?
  • Who or where do I need to elicit assistance from?
  • What are the potential outcomes (pros/cons) of implementing this intervention?
  • What will I need to do to prepare for the outcome of implementing this intervention?
  • What is the timeline for implementing this strategy?

Step Seven: Evaluate the outcome.

  • Did you achieve what you hoped you would?
  • Talk with your client(s). What is his or her perspective in terms of advocacy and social justice?
  • If you have a formal multicultural counseling assessment or questionnaire, employ that before and after implementation.

Step Eight: Make adjustments where necessary or create a “maintenance plan” for this intervention. Ask the following questions:

  • How will I ensure that this competency remains as is?
  • How often will I go back and evaluate the state of this intervention?

Applying a practical approach to enhance multicultural competence reaps benefits for all counselors, regardless of current expertise in the area. This eight-step approach can be helpful for newer counselors who struggle with identifying first steps. It can also be helpful for seasoned clinicians who have a strong foundational skillset but are not familiar with the particular nuances provided by the MSJCC.

Initially, employing these steps will require caution, intentionality and pragmatism. However, as with learning any new counseling skill, frequent and successful use will shape the counselor’s confidence and ease of application. As use of the steps increase, the need to refer to them will decrease, ability will be attained and multicultural competence will be elevated.




Jonnie Seay Lane is a licensed substance abuse counselor and licensed professional counselor. She works as the qualified professional substance abuse liaison to the Wake County Department of Social Services in Raleigh, North Carolina. Currently, she is pursuing her doctoral degree at North Carolina State University, where she is studying multicultural counseling competence in her dissertation research. Contact her at




Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.



Through the child welfare kaleidoscope

By Sheri Pickover and Heather Brown June 27, 2017

The amazing feature about kaleidoscopes is the endless, ever-changing scenes and complex patterns they reveal to anyone who takes the time to look. The gentlest of rotations invites a new and oftentimes completely different perspective on the same set of colorful shapes.

Working with children, adults and families involved in the child welfare system is not so different. A vast array of interplaying events, reactions, concerns and characteristics make up a mosaic of factors that drive a counselor’s assessments and interventions. Any counselor who has worked with one or 100 cases involved in foster care understands how complex and overwhelming it can be to help this population. However, in using the metaphor of looking through a kaleidoscope, we are reminded of how one gentle turn of our focus can change our perspective of the case at hand in a way that will continuously drive more attuned, meaningful interventions. Knowing that the myriad shapes exist before, during and after our treatment with these clients, we can more easily remain open both to seeing and making sense of our clients, the child welfare system and its players, as well as our own experiences of these cases.

Given that each turn of the kaleidoscope brings a new feature into view, we have some idea of the shapes that are there: neglect or abuse, histories of mental illness and substance abuse, court involvement, grief and loss, trauma and attachment. One element might stand out from the others at different times during treatment, but all are present in the kaleidoscope, and we should always acknowledge them throughout the course of treatment even when they don’t dominate our view.

In this article, which is based on our book Therapeutic Interventions for Families and Children in the Child Welfare System, we will provide an overview of six perspectives, or “turns of the kaleidoscope,” to take with these cases. These perspectives focus on specific considerations and guided structure to drive effective intervention and counter burnout when working with this population.

First turn of the kaleidoscope: Client worldview

When a client is involved in the child welfare system, instead of beginning treatment with assessment, start with a curiosity about the client’s worldview (whether that client is a child or an adult) and a desire to understand that worldview better. This process builds empathy for the client and reminds counselors to evaluate possible motivations for the presenting behavior concerns. What is it like to be a child in foster care? What is it like to have your child removed from your care? What it is like to care for a child you don’t know in your home?

Many factors influence the worldviews of children in foster care:

  • Exposure to traumatic events such as being removed from their homes and the abuse or neglect that prompted removal
  • Shame and guilt related to blaming themselves for the removal
  • Their attachment style with their family members
  • Grief from multiple losses (home, school, friends, neighborhood)
  • A sense of constant chaos and a fear of what will happen next that is beyond their control

Children in foster care wonder if they will ever be safe, and if a child has experienced frequent foster home place disruptions, this fear only intensifies.

Birthparents’ worldviews begin with the helplessness and hopelessness that humans feel at losing their children. Grief and loss are compounded by judgment from family, friends, court personnel, therapists and case managers. The reason for removal, such as ongoing substance abuse, their own history of trauma or attachment issues, possible mental illness, poverty or a lack of educational opportunities, is further complicated when their family enters the child welfare system. Often viewed as resistant or unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions, these birthparents often feel alone and angry and use their energy to defend themselves against the onslaught of judgment.

Ironically, foster parents’ worldviews may also begin with helplessness. Although they receive training and support, sometimes it is not enough to counteract the effects of caring for a child in their home who is angry, traumatized, grieving and filled with anxiety. In fact, the experience of foster parents can be similar to that of the child’s birthparents in that they are quickly judged and required to abdicate control in their home to the child welfare rules and a series of child welfare workers. Foster parents are also asked to love a child and then let that child go, so they struggle with attachment, grief and loss issues on a constant basis.

Second turn: Counselor worldview

As counselors, what we see in others is often influenced by our own family histories, personal values and clinical experiences. These issues rise up early in the child welfare system, where counselors are often novice professionals just starting out, and they are given clients with chronic treatment issues who have often seen myriad other professionals.

Meanwhile, the pressure from the systems and individuals involved is often overwhelming. Counselors often feel responsible to “fix the kid” or “fix the family,” and this pressure can lead to countertransference, ethical violations and burnout. These children and families often exist in chaos, and counselors can easily be pulled into that chaos by a system that expects miracles but provides minimal support. The child welfare kaleidoscope can become a series of fast-approaching shapes, constantly spinning with what appears to be little direction, or it can become stuck, making it difficult to move or view another shape.

Counselors must always be on guard against the creeping sense of helplessness and the compassion fatigue that can occur when working with this population. Counselors must also combat the countertransference that can force the kaleidoscope to become stuck on one shape or color. Seeking qualified supervision with professionals who are experienced with this population can make a world of difference. Making self-care practices a necessity rather than a commodity will help protect counselors against compassion fatigue.

When working with this population, counselors can be pulled toward feeling pity or overwhelming sympathy for these clients. On the other side of the coin, they can find themselves judging or feeling angry with these clients, either for how the adults behave toward their children or how the children seem ungrateful toward the adults. These are all ineffective responses, both for the counselors and for their clients.

Using the metaphor of a bridge, remember that to stand in empathy is to stand on the rickety, scary bridge over raging waters to allow ourselves to feel what our clients feel. Either side of the bridge — pity or judgment — feels “safer,” but they both lead to ineffective therapy and further harm to the client. Closely evaluating your own personal values before beginning this work and knowing the child welfare laws in your state will provide necessary support to curate an empathic, realistic perspective on your cases.

Working with children in foster care also can be a minefield of ethical issues. Confidentiality can be complicated depending on the referral source and the child’s legal status. For example, the birthparent of a temporary ward of the court still possesses legal rights and must be consulted over treatment issues. At the same time, the child is placed in foster care, and foster parents need to be made aware of important issues that might impact the child in their home. The court might subpoena therapy files, and caseworkers also require treatment updates and recommendations. Each of these possible breaches is relevant to informed consent with this population.

The issue of mandated reporting can also become a prominent part of treatment. Children may disclose abuse in the birth home, foster home or both. Managing the ongoing relationships with birthparents and foster parents when required to report suspected abuse or neglect requires counselors to be honest, forthright and empathetic at all times.

Finally, facing clients with complicated trauma, grief and attachment histories can become demoralizing for counselors because they rarely see the type of progress that allows for professional satisfaction. The potential for experiencing vicarious or secondary trauma responses is also high. Counselors working with this population should engage emotional support from peers, supervisors and even their own counseling. These actions can help heal emotional wounds, keep the work in perspective and prevent the type of burnout that ends up hurting rather than helping clients and counselors alike.

Third turn: Assessment

Assessments with clients involved in child welfare must be understood as living documents of sorts. After all, anything captured at one particular time can be expected to shift because of the unstable nature of so much that influences the client’s life in profound ways. Counselors should obtain ongoing strategic updates on the child’s behavior, emotional status and the status of the relationship with the birthparent, then adjust goals accordingly. For example, try to find out when a placement transition or court-ordered change in permanency status takes place, when the client experiences an additional loss or traumatic exposure, or when the client newly acknowledges a past traumatic exposure.

Counter to the tendency of many counselors to see the concerns of each case first, this population greatly benefits from intentionally identifying their strengths during the assessment process. Children and adults who are involved in the child welfare system often possess amazing resilience, creative coping skills, abundant humor, deep love and extraordinary courage.

Beyond just accounting for strengths, effective assessment looks around the kaleidoscope, gaining information on all aspects of clients’ lives, not just the current presenting problem. Clients in the child welfare system often get viewed through one shape in the kaleidoscope — their behavior. As a result, trauma, grief and attachment concerns often get lost in the desire to stop the current behavior and the pressure felt to “fix the child” or “fix the parent.”

Assessment of the child begins by listening and watching: listening to a child’s stories, listening to the reports of both the foster parents and the birthparents, and watching how the child plays and interacts with you, other siblings and adults. Attachment style will be evident by whether the child seems angry or withdrawn from adults, or whether the child clings and appears fearful. The child’s response to trauma will be evident through sleeping patterns, the way the child eats and the level of fearfulness the child exhibits at home and at school. Educational information and potential medical concerns also may be highly relevant to interventions.

In addition, the amount and type of losses the child has endured and the child’s grieving process matter greatly. Taking session time to normalize the child’s reaction to removal from the home and any subsequent placements can have a significant impact on the child’s adjustment efforts. Finally, after examining and prioritizing behavior problems and building an understanding of what is driving them, work with the families to create a realistic and achievable plan that focuses on one or two concerns at a time. Using this approach, the counselor can keep the many parts of the client’s kaleidoscope in mind while knowing that trying to work on everything at once would be ineffective.

One common challenge in working with this population is the tendency to turn therapy into nonstop crisis intervention sessions, responding to the complaints of foster parents or case managers rather than holding steady to the set treatment plan. Although crisis management is necessary at times, learn to determine what is truly a crisis (e.g., suicidal ideations, homicidal ideations, an immediate risk of removal) and what qualifies as an ongoing complaint (e.g., trouble in school, acting out in the foster home). Holding focus on just two or three shapes at a time prevents therapy from turning into a nonstop process of confronting the child.

Fourth turn: Treatment

Beginning treatment for any primary concerns with this population must focus on giving the child and family space to feel safe and comfortable. For example, get on the child’s eye level, allow the child to move freely throughout the room, and be clear and open about what therapy is and is not. Because treatment is often specific to the needs of the child, be sure to research and seek training in specific interventions related to trauma, attachment, grief and loss, or behavior issues. The following brief case studies illustrate an intervention for each treatment issue listed above.

Trauma: A 15-year-old girl came into care for the second time in her life because of allegations of sexual abuse by multiple family members. She barely was eating or sleeping and kept her body and hair covered with multiple layers of clothing at all times. The counselor took time to connect with her in simple ways that she could handle — drawing, listening to a song she liked, smelling a favorite hand lotion, updating her on the status of her many siblings and naming how much had changed since she had come into care and how normal it would be to feel overwhelmed. Creating this routine of predictable, soothing interactions built a sense of psychological safety in the therapy space. From there, the counselor helped her learn how to lower her arousal enough to open up about her inner world. This allowed her to begin the long and life-changing intensive trauma treatment process that had previously been inaccessible to her.

Attachment: The counselor used a metal Slinky as a transitional object with a 7-year-old boy who refused to enter the counseling room. The counselor brought out the Slinky, and the boy played with it as he ran around the waiting room, not responding to verbal prompts or directions. When he stopped, he and the counselor would go and walk the Slinky up and down the stairs. After three sessions, the counselor stated that to play with the Slinky, the boy had to enter the counseling room. He was able to enter for a short time in the first week and stayed for the entire session from that point forward.

Grief and loss: An 11-year-old girl had witnessed her mother die of breast cancer in her home. The child had limited verbal skills and would draw pictures of herself jumping rope with her mother in the sky. Using her art, the counselor encouraged her to draw herself as she currently felt. She drew herself crying with her mother in the sky. As treatment progressed, she could draw herself smiling as she jumped rope, and this action was identified as showing her mother that she was coping. The counselor arranged to have the pictures sent to her mother in a balloon so that her mother could see she was starting to cope.

Behavior modification: A 10-year-old boy acted out constantly and did not respond to normal punishment. The counselor created a “caught being good” plan. The child received a star for every positive behavior and a check for every unwanted behavior. To earn his reinforcing reward — an allowance — he had to be good only one more time than he was bad. The counselor encouraged the foster parent to set the child up to win the reward, so he gained stars for stopping in the middle of acting out or for flushing the toilet. He received lots of verbal praise for the stars and no verbal response for the checks.

Fifth turn: Engaging adults

Perhaps the greatest challenge for counselors working with children in foster care is finding a way to also work with the myriad adults involved in the system. These adults include birthparents and any involved relatives, foster parents, caseworkers, casework supervisors, attorneys, educators and medical professionals, to name a few.

It’s easy to become stuck in silo thinking, focusing only on the therapeutic process in your sessions and becoming frustrated when others do not support or engage in the treatment. During this turn of the kaleidoscope, counselors can remember to picture the colors and shapes of all the other involved adults, including these adults’ own histories of trauma and their own feelings of helplessness and frustration. This will help counselors keep empathy at the forefront of all interactions, thereby avoiding blame and patterns of disempowering, ineffective interactions.

Reframe engagement as something the counselor is responsible for rather than it being the responsibility of the other adults in the child’s life. In other words, counselors need to take on the mindset that it’s our job to work with them, not their job to work with us. That way, if they don’t engage or respond to our efforts, it becomes our responsibility to try different engagement interventions. Trying different approaches might engage an adult who otherwise would not work with the counselor.

For example, focus on asking birthparents and foster parents for help with treatment. Identify the birthparent as the expert on her or his child. Even if you do not use the advice or data the parent gives you, the act of asking is often enough to engage the parent.

Another engagement technique involves remembering to praise something about the child and attribute the behavior to the parent. For example, “Your child has such good manners. It’s clear you spent time teaching him.”

Finally, remember to validate foster parents and birthparents whenever possible: “I wonder if you feel judged and belittled by having all these other adults tell you how to raise your child” or “People expect you to just deal with serious problems and don’t listen to your expertise.”

If collaboration with other professionals proves difficult, remember to empathize with their frustration over the many cases they have and the stress of their workload. Attempt to find compromises, such as shifting your schedule or using encrypted email to keep information flowing. Collaboration helps children in foster care in many ways. For example, it keeps these children from having to repeat stories over and over again. It also guards against having their needs fall through the cracks because everyone assumes that someone else is getting a task accomplished. Collaboration also sends a message to these children that they matter and that the adults in charge of their lives are making decisions together.

Final turn: Self-care

We already touched on this topic under the “counselor’s worldview,” but it bears repeating. Self-care cannot be viewed as a luxury when working with this population. It is a necessary set of supports and adaptive coping skills. Self-care is subjective, not prescriptive, so it should involve whatever works for the counselor.

At bare minimum, counselors should seek peer and professional supervision with others who have experience working within child welfare so that counselors can both vent and get validated. Remember that by nature, these cases are heavy with deep psychological wounding that will bring out countertransference one way or another. Building awareness and tending to your own reactions rather than trying to fight or minimize them will only make you a better counselor and person.

Professional development support, training and consultation around specific troubling cases or treatment concerns, such as sexual abuse reenactment, severe posttraumatic stress disorder or deep attachment insecurities, can make a significant difference in supporting feelings of competency and utilizing best practices for the challenges these cases will present. Give yourself permission to notice any signs of depression, anxiety, grief and secondary or vicarious trauma in yourself, and then seek professional support.

It’s also important and helpful to remember that working with clients with complicated trauma and attachment histories can become disheartening because the counselor rarely sees the type of progress that allows for professional satisfaction. Find ways to keep the work in perspective and balance work-life demands. Take time to seek joy and pleasure in life to prevent the type of burnout that ends up hurting rather than helping clients.




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

Sheri Pickover, a licensed professional counselor, is an associate professor and director of the counseling clinic in the University of Detroit Mercy’s counseling program. She has been a counselor educator for 13 years and worked in the child welfare system for 20 years as a therapist, case manager, foster home licenser and clinical supervisor. She currently teaches courses in trauma, human development, assessment and practicum. Contact her at or

Heather Brown is a licensed professional counselor and art therapist in private practice in Detroit. She has more than 15 years of experience working with youth (both in and adopted out of the child welfare system), parents and professionals as a program developer, therapist, trainer and supervisor. Contact her at or

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Nonprofit News: Becoming the leader you always wanted

By “Doc Warren” Corson III June 26, 2017

It is unlikely that you have always been in a leadership role unless you were born into millions of dollars (and even then, working your way up should have been part of the plan). If you were like me, you worked in just about every position before taking the helm.

I was a volunteer, a janitor, a mentor, a case manager, a mental health worker, an intern and several other positions before I became a lead, a supervisor or a director. In those roles, I witnessed many different types of leadership, running the gamut from totally incompetent to ill-informed to sheer brilliance. Everyone who was in a position of leadership over me inspired me to do my best to lead by example, even when they did little more than show me how not to act.


Know the job you are overseeing

Whether you are the boss or a consultant, it is very important to know and understand the jobs you are overseeing. This doesn’t mean that you need to know all the passwords, program languages, software, etc. Rather, it means possessing a good understanding of how they work, how long and how hard the tasks are, and the many facets involved in doing the job well.

Once you have that understanding, your leadership skills can and often will enable you to find ways to make the process a bit easier while ensuring the same (or even better) quality. It also helps with face validity — in this case meaning that folks can see, from simply watching you, that you know what you’re doing and what needs to be done. This can improve employees’ morale and overall outlook.


Remember what it felt like when you weren’t in control

As you climb the ladder, remember how it felt when you were at or near the bottom of an organization. How did your bosses address you? How did it make you feel? Were you able to give input, be productive, make decisions and feel vital? Would you have preferred to have been treated differently? In what way? Do what you can to give those who report to you the treatment you wanted yourself.


Empower and encourage those on your team

Remember your training in industrial psychology. A happy employee is a good and productive employee. Empower those on your team as much as possible to make some level of decisions. Encourage them to think for themselves while staying within the bounds that you set. You just may find that the bottom rungs of the ladder have more insight into your organization’s problems than do those with unobstructed views.


Give everyone a voice and an ear

If the size and scope of your nonprofit program make it realistic, have all-staff meetings whenever possible. Set the stage to welcome thoughts, concerns and ideas from all staff, not just clinical staff. Pose concerns and challenges to your workers and allow them to brainstorm. Most important, LISTEN.

I once worked at a charity that had all-staff meetings periodically. The boss would pose challenges and allow for input. She did seem to give much more weight to those in higher positions and higher educational levels, however. Once, the janitor gave his thoughts on a problem, and the boss quickly dismissed it. I waited a few minutes, started talking and used a few big words to explain “my” thoughts on solving the problem. The boss loved it and immediately implemented it. But it was the janitor’s plan exactly! I had simply dressed it up with professional buzzwords.

Once the boss announced the implementation of the idea, I publically thanked the janitor for his idea. The boss corrected me and said my idea was much better. I explained that I had simply dressed the janitor’s plan in “important buzzwords” and said that we should never get caught up with big words, big job titles or big education: A good idea was a good idea. After she refused to acknowledge him as the creator, I apologized to him for the agency’s lack of vision. (On a separate note, I do not recommend doing this because it could have led to me being found to be insubordinate.)


Provide leadership by example

Remember the old maxim that good bosses will never ask an employee to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves. There may be exceptions, but these exceptions should be based on skillsets and not because certain tasks are deemed “beneath” them. For instance, I will never perform open-heart surgery, climb to the top of a tower to fix a transmission line or take on other tasks I am not qualified to perform, but I will get my hands dirty. If it needs to be done and we are understaffed, I will take out the trash, fix a broken pipe, work in a trench or even build an office, complete with running the electrical, insulation, sheetrock and framing.

When things get tough, it can motivate folks to see those in positions of power working directly alongside them. But again, stay within your competencies. I wouldn’t have engaged in any of the jobs mentioned above had I lacked basic knowledge and skills in those areas.


Maintain an open-door policy

When employees and volunteers feel welcome to interact with you, work gets done. Even though you are busy, establish an atmosphere that calls for inclusion and fellowship. Invite folks in to talk when you can, solicit their opinions and make sincere small talk.


Be prepared to get dirty

As stated earlier, be prepared to go outside your job description. Years ago, in addition to taking part in nonclinical projects, I organized an ice cream social for our staff and volunteers. Our senior staff set up the event, served the ice cream and then cleaned up afterward. This was a small way of showing our staff and volunteers that we cared about them, valued them and wanted to treat them. Although some of our senior staff refused to take part, the majority played a role. Those who did noted a marked increase in positive interactions with other staff members.


Be real

One of my pet peeves is when senior staff members pretend that they are always the boss, even in the real world. If their garbage cans need emptying, their toner gets low or they need something from the supply cabinet, they call someone in to do it for them. I’m pretty sure that most if not all of them have had to take out the trash at home or go to the pantry to get some supplies. If you’re going to be a leader, be real. If you want self-sufficiency from your staff, show some in your own life.




Life can be hard, and leadership is not easy, especially when you are working on a shoestring budget. But a few commonsense techniques can do much to shape your nonprofit program. Make the decision to be the leader you always wanted.






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. ( and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm ( Contact him at Additional resources related to nonprofit design, documentation and related information can be found at









Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.