Tag Archives: Counselor Educators Audience

Counselor Educators Audience

Judge throws out counseling student’s suit against Augusta State

By Heather Rudow June 28, 2012

(Photo: Flickr/Sir Mildred Pierce)

A federal district court in Georgia dismissed a case from a former Augusta State University counseling student, ruling that school officials did not violate the First Amendment when asking her to complete remedial training in response to her statements about counseling homosexual clients.

Jennifer Keeton sued the university in 2010 after being told by faculty that, unless she completed a remediation plan, which included attending diversity workshops and reading articles about counseling GLBTQ students, she would have to leave the program, Student Press Law Center reports.

Keeton was ordered to participate in remedial training based on comments she made about homosexuality in and out of the classroom, including suggesting that she would use reparation therapy when counseling.

Though originally agreeing to the plan Keeton withdrew her consent, citing her religious beliefs.

“I really want to stay in the program,” she wrote to faculty in an email, “but I don’t want to have to attend all the events about what I think is not moral behavior, and then write reflections on them that don’t meet your standards because I haven’t changed my views or beliefs… My biblical views won’t change.”

The American Counseling Association opposes the use of reparative therapy for homosexual clients.

“From the American Counseling Association’s perspective this is very much the right decision, says ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan on the judge’s ruling. “It supports the ACA Code of Ethics as well as CACREP guidelines.”

The decision supported the role of the ACA Code of Ethics, cited by ASU, as the professional standard that governs how counselors should approach and work with clients and avoid using their personal beliefs in an influential manner.

The case echoes an earlier ruling in a case involving an Eastern Michigan University (EMU) counseling student, who claimed she was unfairly dismissed from the counseling program after refusing, on religious grounds, to counsel a homosexual client. The judge in the case rejected the lawsuit, holding that EMU was reasonable in its requirement that counseling students be able to serve homosexual clients and dismissing that her religious and speech rights were violated.

However, Kaplan says, lawmakers are retaliating by passing conscience clauses, legislation which seeks to ensure that professional therapists – including licensed professional counselors – won’t lose their licenses for denying services on religious grounds. The latest state to do so is Arizona, which recently enacted Senate Bill 1365.  ACA wrote to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer urging her to veto the legislation, but she signed the bill into law this last May.

“What Arizona lawmakers don’t seem to grasp is that counseling is about the client and their needs, not the counselors’,” says Scott Barstow, director of public policy and legislation for ACA. “There are lots of different religious beliefs out there, and yours or mine isn’t the only valid one.”

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Universities of Malta, Maryland enhance students’ transcultural competencies through joint degree program

Heather Rudow June 1, 2012

The importance of developing culturally competent counselors has never been greater. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected because of technology, economic and business initiatives, pop culture and professional opportunities, cultures are less and less segregated. The likelihood of daily encounters with individuals from other countries or with different ethnic backgrounds is high, meaning counselors no longer can depend on having shared cultural experiences with their clients.

A joint Masters of Arts degree program in transcultural counseling between the University of Malta and the University of Maryland is aiming to prepare the next generation of counselors by teaching students how to work successfully in a variety of contexts, free from cultural biases.

The joint transcultural counseling program is the brainchild of Dione Mifsud, head of the psychology department at the University of Malta, a member of the American Counseling Association and current president of the International Association for Counselling (IAC), and Courtland Lee, a professor of counselor education and school counseling at the University of Maryland and a past president of both ACA and the IAC.

“I had … in mind for sometime that we would have a program with an international flavor,” Mifsud says. His idea took further shape after meeting Lee at an international counseling conference in Malta in 2008. Mifsud then proposed the idea to Lee at the ACA Annual Conference in Charlotte, N.C., in 2009.

The University of Malta had other international joint degree programs in place, Mifsud says, but nothing in the counseling field. Mifsud and Lee began working on a proposal for a joint master’s degree in transcultural counseling between the University of Maryland and the University of Malta, and the program was officially formalized in July 2011.

The first cohort of 14 students — hailing from Malta, Finland, Germany, China and the United States — began in the fall of 2011. When they graduate, they will receive degrees in counseling from both universities.

“What we told them we expect,” Lee says, “is that they will have the transcultural competencies to be world counselors, that they’ll be able to go to any country and adapt their worldview to the cultural context of that country and be good counselors.”

Generally speaking, Mifsud says, transcultural counseling focuses on the bridging of different ethnic cultures. That is not the only thing the program is trying to accomplish, however. “We’d like our counselors to be able to deal with not just ethnic realities, but daily [differences between cultures],” he says. “Each client brings a different culture with him.”

The 18-month joint master’s program is based out of the University of Malta in Valletta and is taught by professors from the United States, Malta and the United Kingdom. Mifsud believes the variety in the teachers’ cultural backgrounds enhances the transcultural element of the program.

The course provides students with training in counseling while also allowing them to “assimilate a broader view of the sociocultural context surrounding counseling,” according to the University of Maryland’s website describing the program.

Students must complete course work, a practicum (done in the country of the student’s choosing) and a final paper. The aim of the program, as described by the University of Maryland website, is to provide the students with “a wider exchange of cultural viewpoints and experiences surrounding contemporary counseling theory and practice.”

There is also something of a political aspect to the program, Mifsud acknowledges. Upon completing the program, he hopes graduates will be able to think transculturally and potentially influence political organizations such as the United Nations and organizations with social justice missions to operate in ways that will positively enhance all cultures.

Mifsud has an idea why more students are choosing to focus on transcultural counseling. “It has to do with counseling becoming a global phenomenon, and also an increased focus on international issues [in society in general], not just in counseling,” he says.

Lee agrees, adding that social justice and transculturalism have become hot topics in modern society and are increasingly relevant for counseling students.

The program dovetails the prevalence of internationalism in the world and in counseling by having the students complete their internships in unique, transcultural settings, from schools to organizations that house immigrants to jails.

Anabel Mifsud (no relation to Dione), research officer and administrator for counseling programs at the University of Malta, explains that it is important for counseling students to intern in settings such as jails because “[prisoners] are marginalized and quite different from the general population, and there are many foreigners there as well.”

Anabel believes transcultural counseling will continue to become more relevant over time. “I think increasingly we are living in a transcultural environment,” she says. “People are moving from one place to another, and we’re seeing a large influx of immigrants, especially in Malta.”

The diverse student cohort in the program in Malta further enhances the ideals being taught in the classroom, Anabel says. “The transcultural element is manifested through these students coming from different countries,” she says.

Student Anders Granberg, a member of ACA, is but one example of the culturally diverse backgrounds found within the program. He is from Finland but has also lived extensively in Hong Kong.

He says studying with students from other countries has helped him learn in ways he would not have otherwise. “They bring their own flavor from wherever they’re from,” Granberg says, “[which affects] how they react to counseling and different aspects of counseling.”

Granberg’s own transcultural background, as well as the growing multiculturalism he has witnessed throughout the world, inspired him to study transcultural counseling. “It interests me a lot and was one of the reasons I got into counseling in general,” Granberg says. “People cross into different cultures all the time and don’t always understand what’s going on. That’s something I understand [in relation to] my own life, and I want to help others with that as a counselor.”

So far, his favorite course has been “Multicultural Counseling,” which was taught by Lee. “It allowed us to reflect on our own cultural elements, and not just our ethnicities, but our genders and other abstract things,” Granberg says.

As Lee explains, “It is basically a modified course that I’ve been teaching in the U.S. for the last 30 years. When you teach a multicultural course in the United States, there is always a focus on race and ethnicity, but that is not the case when teaching the course internationally. [For example], there is a focus on religion [in the class here] because that is a big issue here in Malta. We talked about culture in a much broader, more global sense.”

Student Suelle Micallef Marmara, who is from Malta, says Lee’s class and the other courses she has taken have already altered her worldview. “I’m becoming more transculturally aware, and I’m noticing more conflicts between other cultures and when people don’t integrate with other cultures,” she says.

Marmara believes the transcultural counseling program will prepare her to stay much more open-minded with her clients as she becomes a licensed professional counselor. “It will help me be more aware, be less prejudiced and put less space between [myself] and a [client], which ultimately helps [me] become a better counselor,” she says.

Wenjiao Zhang, a student from China, agrees. “This program changed my views in many ways, [including] how I see perspectives in general,” she says. “For example, I didn’t see how local healing practices could be used as part of counseling practices … but now my eyes are open.”

Victoria Garcia, a student from the United States, says one of the most effective aspects of the program for her is that she is studying abroad for it. “I don’t think it would be as beneficial if it was in the United States,” she says. “And now I’ve made friends from all over the world that I’ll keep in touch with as I continue on this journey to become a counselor.”

Garcia says the program has encouraged her to further develop her views, both transculturally and introspectively. For example, she has come to understand that she struggles to identify with her own ethnic culture, but her courses are helping her to reconcile this aspect of her life. Getting to know one’s self better will only serve to enhance one’s competencies as a counselor, Garcia says.

Garcia is grateful to be experiencing the program, not only because she will graduate with two degrees, but because the program is offering knowledge that she believes will be key to the evolution of the counseling profession.

“I think it’s important to be culturally competent and globally literate,” Garcia says. “I’m not saying you have to be an expert in every culture, but if you don’t understand a little bit where somebody’s coming from, it’s hard to connect.”

 Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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A loss like no other

Lynne Shallcross

Imagine this scenario: You are a counselor, and you have two clients. They are the same age and same gender, and both experienced the death of a partner at roughly the same period in life. So, you can reasonably expect that both will have similar reactions to that parallel loss and both will benefit from similar counseling techniques to deal with the residual grief, right? Not likely.

In fact, says Vincent Viglione, an adjunct professor of counseling at Kean University and Montclair State University in New Jersey, one of the most important things for counselors to understand about grief and loss is that although the experience of loss is universal, every individual’s grief process is unique. “We as counselors recognize that certain client responses are not necessarily pathological,” says Viglione, who is doing his doctoral dissertation on adult sibling grief and continuing bonds at Montclair State. “As such, we attempt to normalize our client’s feelings. In doing so, however, we must preserve the idea that their circumstance is unique to them. Normalizing, then, is never saying, ‘You’re just like everyone else.’”

Keren Humphrey, a retired professor of counseling at Texas A&M University-Commerce, agrees about the unique nature of each person’s grief experience, not only because of her work with clients but also because of her own experience with grief and loss. “In the last two years, I have experienced a number of significant losses, including breast cancer with a double mastectomy, my husband’s extended illness and death, [and] my mother’s decline from Alzheimer’s and her death only a month after my husband’s death,” says Humphrey, whose book, Counseling Strategies for Loss and Grief, was published by the American Counseling Association in 2009. “These experiences have certainly reiterated my view that each person’s experience of loss and grief is unique. The meanings I attach to my losses and my ways of grieving are specific to me.”

Understanding that notion of uniqueness and applying it in session as a counselor means there is no one “right” approach to grief-related counseling work, Humphrey asserts. Rather, to work effectively with these clients, practitioners must be capable of drawing from a variety of counseling skills and techniques and tailoring a therapeutic approach that is custom fit to the client’s specific personality, situation and needs.

A good starting point for counselors is to take the role of “witness” and realize that the client is the expert, Humphrey says. “It’s a time for you to shut up and facilitate the client in telling [his or her] story. We too often in counseling jump too quickly into reflecting feelings and attending and worrying about the next thing we’re going to say to the client. That interferes with [clients] telling their story. Back off of those automatic responses and just allow clients to tell their story of loss.”

A loss is the absence of something we deem meaningful, Humphrey explains, while grief is our response to that sense of loss. People normally associate loss with the death of a family member or close friend, but it can also be inclusive of the loss of a house, a relationship, a job or any number of other things. Sometimes, says Anne Ober, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development at Walsh University, it can even be the loss of a particular feeling. For instance, Ober points out that after 9/11, even people who weren’t directly affected by the terrorist attacks might have felt a loss of the sense of security they had presumed previously.

Elizabeth Doughty Horn, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling at Idaho State University, says grief can also stem from the loss of expectations that weren’t met. From the outside, to those observers who aren’t experiencing the loss personally, the loss might not appear particularly significant — for example, a high school student failing to make the cheerleading squad. Many of the losses people experience are disenfranchised, Horn says, meaning they aren’t recognized or appreciated as losses by society. Hallmark doesn’t make cards for disenfranchised losses, she notes.

In some instances, only certain aspects of loss get recognized, while other often more complicated aspects go overlooked. Consider a person recently diagnosed with cancer. “Once someone has been diagnosed with cancer, his or her identity is often linked with the disease,” says Horn, a member of ACA who has researched, published articles, taught classes and presented at conferences on the topic of grief and loss. “The bulk of their day-to-day life is spent focused on cancer — scheduling, getting to and from doctor appointments, reassuring well-wishers, letting people know about their illness, processing their own emotions as well as their family’s. Obviously, people acknowledge grief and loss associated with getting cancer, but they may not view it in terms of the loss of self.”

Many times in cases of disenfranchised loss, clients themselves don’t recognize the issue as one deserving of feelings of grief. They come to a counselor saying, “I shouldn’t be so upset about this,” Horn says. One of the most helpful things counselors can do is to acknowledge the extent of the losses clients have experienced and assist them in connecting the way they are feeling with those losses.

Even in situations in which loss is generally recognized by society at large, counselors say it is common for clients to come into counseling feeling unsure about why they are struggling. “It happens so often,” Horn says. “People come in and recognize there has been a major change, but they’re not seeing it in terms of grief. They might say, ‘I know I lost my job, but I have a new job, so why am I still focused on the job I lost a year ago?’”

Society often emphasizes getting over things and moving on, Horn says, but in many situations of loss, the process of “getting over it” doesn’t happen quickly, if ever. One of the newer trends in grief and loss counseling is the rejection of the idea of “closure” as a completed process, Horn says, especially as it relates to death. But many times, she says, clients either think they should be “over” something already or they don’t even recognize that their pain stems from an issue of grief and loss.

“I believe that once counselors begin to view transitions in terms of grief and loss,” Horn says, “they really won’t have to look for these issues in their clients. Rather, they will see an aspect of them in almost every client issue. I’m not suggesting that everything in life is grief and loss — how depressing — but there can be an element of these in much of day-to-day life in varying extremes.”

Viglione, an ACA member who runs a private practice in Denville, N.J., agrees. “For every client that I see, I find an element of loss in what they’re presenting if I look closely enough.”

Stepping away from the stages

Counselors say one of the more significant changes in the area of grief and loss counseling in recent years has been the move away from using Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief model. Ober, a member of ACA who has researched, counseled and taught on the topic of grief, points out that Kübler-Ross herself said her stages were misapplied and that she originally designed them to be used with individuals coming to terms with their own death. Although Kübler-Ross’ work was very beneficial and started a larger societal conversation about death and dying, Ober says applying the stages to clients going through grief and loss isn’t very helpful and in some cases can even be harmful.

The problem is that the stages model doesn’t fit everyone’s experience, Horn says, especially in light of how each person’s reaction to loss is unique. Humphrey agrees, saying the model suggests that everyone experiences grief the same way. “That just simply is not true,” Humphrey says. “It does not respect the differences among people in terms of personality, social-cultural influences and that kind of thing. We need models that allow us to focus on uniqueness of people. It also ignores process. Instead, we need to understand that clients are in a process of adapting, renewing and reviewing. They’re in a process, not in a stage.”

Horn says research conducted on how the stages were used in therapy has shown that counselors were doing harm to some clients by trying to shoehorn them into stages. For example, if a client wasn’t having the particular experience the counselor thought he should be having according to the stage model, the client may have tried specifically to have that experience, she explains. “And that’s when people get into trouble — when they’re not following their own natural process, when they try to do something that doesn’t fit into who they are,” Horn says.

The stages also gave the impression that if clients went all the way through each of the stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — they would encounter an end point to their grief, Horn says. “But grief is an ongoing process of adaptation,” she says. “The idea of closure is no longer seen as being possible for most people. Rather, it’s ‘How do I adapt or integrate this loss into who I am and into everyday life?’”

Humphrey again emphasizes that the trend in grief and loss counseling in the past decade or two has been toward realizing there is no one-size-fits-all model or therapeutic approach to helping clients. “Instead, the counselor helps clients focus on useful material and implements therapeutic strategies appropriate to the uniqueness of a given client,” she says. “For example, I would use nondirective methods with a client who is uncomfortable with more directive approaches. I might use narrative therapy strategies to help a client explore cultural influences and later use solution-focused or behavior-based strategies for specific problems or to increase awareness of personal strengths for the same client. I might use cinematherapy to highlight multiple issues, but not with people who hate movies. It is important that counseling professionals remember that effective grief counseling is not about the counselor’s specialty. … Rather, it is about selecting and adapting various therapeutic approaches to the particular needs, preferences, personal history, grieving style and multiple contexts of a given client. Using only one approach with every client is ineffective and, worse, very disrespectful.”

Go with what’s natural

The main goal in working with clients who have experienced a loss is to help them experience and express their grief in the style that is most natural to them, Horn says. That might mean encouraging clients to disregard outside influences or the internal “shoulds,” she says. For instance, a person who has just experienced the death of a loved one might get the message from his church that the death was “meant to be” and that it is time to let the person go. “Maybe that ends up making the client feel they should be happier this has happened or that they shouldn’t be feeling so sad,” Horn says. When clients refer to what family members, their religious community or some other outside influence thinks, Horn suggests counselors raise clients’ awareness of this and ask what they are experiencing.

Helping clients find their natural grieving style starts with listening to them and supporting what they say they’re thinking or feeling. “A client might say, ‘I’m really sad, but I haven’t cried and I feel guilty for not crying. I’m more focused on the logistical details of what led up to the person’s death,’” Horn says. “So we try to help foster that rather than putting pressure on them to cry or telling them that they’re in denial.”

In fact, Horn says, one of the newer models some counselors are using in loss and grief work, the adaptive grieving styles model from Terry Martin and Kenneth Doka, recognizes that certain clients will be more affective in their grieving style, some will be more cognitive and others will find themselves along the continuum in between. Understanding that different grieving styles exist and encouraging clients to grieve in the way that’s most natural to them is key, Horn says. For instance, grief groups are often helpful to affective grievers, who might want to share and cry with others, she says. On the other hand, cognitive grievers might want to focus on problem-solving associated with the loss and could find talking about the loss repeatedly with a group to be overwhelming.

“Counselors use this model to help better conceptualize and work with clients,” Horn says. “They educate clients about the uniqueness of grief and help them to identify their personal style, [which is] usually blended, with one more prominent than the other [affective versus cognitive]. This helps to normalize their natural style and helps to remove some of the perceived pressures to grieve in a particular way. Counselors can then use techniques that complement a client’s predominant style, allowing them to experience and express [their grief] more naturally.”

Horn also mentions Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut’s dual-process model as potentially beneficial because it focuses on different aspects of the loss. It looks at both loss-oriented stressors, which deal with thoughts and feelings related directly to the loss, and restoration-oriented stressors, which refer in part to the life roles that have been changed after the loss. The model suggests that people experiencing a loss will oscillate between the two, Horn says.

Ober’s take on the dual-process model is that people need to move between the emotional impact of the loss and the day-to-day logistical impact of the loss. For example, a recent widower might have an intense emotional response in which he cries and talks about his deceased wife, but he may also have to figure out how to cook because she previously prepared all of their meals. “What this theory suggests is that it’s healthy for the person to move between those two [responses] and have a balance,” Ober says. “People who are able to do both fare better in the long run than people who focus on one or the other research shows.”

Meaning-making, which Robert Neimeyer, Thomas Attig and Michael White have researched, is another potentially helpful concept, Ober says. It provides a way of helping clients determine what the loss means to them in their life and their life story, she says, and has similarities to narrative therapy. However, Ober says, counselors need to let clients guide them before using this technique. Clients need to indicate on their own in some way that they are trying to make sense of why the loss happened and what it means to them. “That won’t be the case for everyone,” Ober says. “You shouldn’t apply it unless your client is really at that place.”

Ober also points to continuing bonds theory as potentially helpful. The theory is in contrast to Sigmund Freud’s idea that a person needs to cut ties with whomever has died and focus instead on the here and now. The continuing bonds theory suggests that a person who has lost a loved one can still have a nonphysical relationship and some sort of communication with the deceased person. Letter writing, putting up photos at home, returning to a special place that was important to the deceased person and celebrating the deceased person’s birthday or death anniversary are a few examples of ways to continue the bond, Ober says.

Viglione recommends William Worden’s tasks of grief approach as another potential tool for helping grieving clients. The tasks take clients through accepting the reality of the loss, working through the pain of the grief, adjusting to the new environment and reinvesting in life.

A life story that continues

Humphrey says helping clients to explore and tell their story of loss is important, as is helping them create a new story of who they are today. “Sometimes people can be stuck with their old story, looking at the past as if time stops,” Humphrey says. “They’re living physically in the present and the world is moving on, but they’re stuck. That brings them into counseling. What you’re trying to do as a counselor is help them create a narrative that builds onto their old story by taking into account their losses.”

“Creating a post-loss story of one’s life involves making sense of the losses; dealing with disrupted beliefs, assumptions and expectations; and developing revised but enduring bonds with the loss object,” she continues. “Many clients respond positively to simply introducing the notion of building or creating a post-loss story, so it becomes an ongoing theme in treatment. Thematic genograms, therapeutic writing, objections of connection, loss timelines, decisional balance, client-generated metaphors and wisdom letters are particularly useful strategies here.”

The difference between primary and secondary losses is an important distinction for counselors to make, Humphrey says, and one that can help guide the course of treatment. For example, in a scenario in which a client’s spouse has died, the primary loss is the spouse. The secondary losses might include companionship, a sexual partner and expectation of a future together. “The secondary losses are really the guts of the loss, and that’s where the focus of counseling should always be,” Humphrey says. “When you focus on the secondary losses, it helps you understand what the client sees as meaningful and what should be addressed in counseling.”

“Counseling professionals focus on secondary losses because this reveals the unique meanings, influences, individualized adaptive processes, client strengths and potential problematic issues that constitute client grieving,” Humphrey continues. “I ask a lot of open-ended questions that invite exploration and that recognize the client as the expert on their grief. ‘What does that mean to you? Tell me what works and doesn’t work for you. What feelings/thoughts/behaviors go with this or that? What should I know about you that will help us understand your experience? Tell me the story.’ Their responses provide clues to potential issues and direction for therapy.”

Jane Newman, an ACA member who runs a private practice in Portland, Ore., says one of the first steps she takes with grieving clients is to validate their loss and express empathy for the difficulties they are experiencing. Counselors have to be sure never to minimize or diminish a client’s loss in any way, she cautions.

After validating their loss and pain, Newman says she asks clients, “Now what?” In her current caseload, Newman has a male client recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is a respected scientist who has been forced to sideline his career because of the cancer. “He’s mad and unhappy because within weeks, his whole identity changed,” says Newman, who previously worked as a hospice counselor and in a cancer center as a bereavement counselor. “As a scientist, he doesn’t operate much on a feeling level. He’s mad because he’s not productive right now. I need to honor that and talk to him about how that must feel and not try to take any of those feelings away. And then the [conversation] is, ‘So, now this is part of your life too. This is a new phase of your life. Let’s talk about what you think you might want from this part of your life.’ I want to help him identify those things so that he can get closer to making this part of his life productive, even if that means having some wonderful conversations with his family. I wouldn’t say, ‘How do you make the most of it?’ I would say, ‘Let’s talk about what you might want from this part of your life.’”

Newman says part of a counselor’s role in working with clients who are experiencing loss and grief is to illuminate the strengths and support systems they might be overlooking. Ask how they have coped with stressors in the past and what has helped them get through hard times before, she says.

When grief and loss hit close to home

Of course, counselors aren’t immune to experiencing loss and grief in their own lives. Dealing with that reality goes hand-in-hand with all types of counselor self-care, Horn says. “We need to be acknowledging our own grief and loss and allow ourselves to have that unique experience and expression,” she says. “We tend to feel that we’re above it all or should be immune to losses. We also tend to believe that as counselors, we’re supposed to be so together and that with all of our coping skills, we’re not supposed to hurt.” These misguided beliefs can lead counselors to discount their own grief and loss, Horn says, even as they carefully guide clients to do otherwise.

One of the best things counselors can do is to raise awareness of their own loss histories and their thoughts surrounding grief and loss, Ober says. Ober uses an exercise from Humphrey’s book, Counseling Strategies for Loss and Grief, to help her counseling students become more mindful of their personal experiences of loss and grief, which in turn will lead them to better assist future clients. The exercise involves the counselors-in-training making a timeline of grief and loss through their lives by detailing specific losses. Ober then asks the students to write about what it was like to complete the exercise, including if anything bothered them while exploring past losses or whether they identified something that provided them with encouragement and hope during tough times.

The exercise is one that these counselors-in-training might choose to repeat with future clients. But the main objective, Ober says, is to get the students to build their personal awareness of grief and loss, which can help them avoid countertransference with future clients and become knowledgeable of their own cultural backgrounds and biases related to grief and loss. For instance, she says, students might learn that their families had specific rules related to grief and loss, such as not talking about the deceased person or not crying about the loss. “We can’t impose those [rules] on clients,” Ober says.

Ober suggests that practicing counselors seek supervision or consultation with other professionals so they can talk through what’s going on with their clients and in their own lives. This process can help counselors become aware of how losses might be affecting them and their work, Ober says.

Most people deal with loss in an effective way, Humphrey says. However, if counselors are feeling “stuck,” Humphrey says they should consider seeking counseling for themselves, just as they would recommend that clients do.

Getting prepared to address grief

Because there are no CACREP standards that deal specifically with grief and loss, Horn says it’s rare that graduate counseling programs require a course on the topic. “It’s really criminal to a certain extent that we do not require students to learn about grief and loss when every client we see will likely present with some element of grief and loss,” she says. “More likely than not, counselors are graduating without having taken formal training on grief and loss. There is preliminary research showing that having some type of formal education on death and dying or grief and loss does reduce anxiety around working with these issues.” For the very reason that it might not have been part of their training, Horn urges counselors to educate themselves on the topic by going to workshops, reading current literature and taking continuing education classes on the topic.

Counselors need to educate themselves not only on how to work with clients experiencing grief and loss but also how to identify it in the first place, Horn says. “Almost every client we see is going to have an element of grief and loss within their story. [When counselors] don’t have the lenses of being able to identify aspects of their story as being grief and loss, I think we miss a larger picture with that client.”

Humphrey recommends that counselors who are just starting out stay theoretically grounded so they will be ready and able to integrate any number of theories into grief work depending on the client’s particular needs. Meanwhile, Humphrey urges more experienced counselors to keep current with work in the field because the thinking concerning how best to address grief and loss has changed through the years.

The advice Newman offers to counselors, regardless of experience level, is to remember that work with grief and loss issues remains tied to the fundamentals of counseling. “It’s not about what I have to say to them, it’s about what they have to say to me. It’s really listening, being as present as you can be with that person, not judging, not thinking I’m the expert,” she says. “It’s giving that respect that [clients] have the expertise for what they’re going through.”

In combination with that expertise, it’s trusting that clients also possess the strength and resilience to carry on, Newman says. “Doing this work gave me so much faith in the human spirit,” she says. “I was face-to-face with people who had to find the strength to get themselves through probably the hardest times of their lives, and I don’t think I’ve met the person yet who curled up in a ball and didn’t do that. There’s sadness attached to it, but it’s inspiring the way that people find their way through. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit. People find strength that they didn’t know they had, and that is inspiring. We’re survivors and we are resilient. And at times, when it looks like it’s the worst time ever, it is the worst time ever — but when you feel that pain, then you begin to find your way through it.”

To contact the individuals interviewed in this article, email:

Interesting in reading more? Click here to read our online exclusive, “Helping military children navigate through grief,” which highlights an organization cofounded by an ACA member that offers camps for kids who have lost a loved one in military service, among other programs.

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

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

Countering Fear and Inertia in the Job Search: A Call to Action for Counseling Students, Counselors, and Counselor Educators

Elaine J. Casquarelli May 30, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/US Department of Labor)

The economic crisis of 2008 is still with us. Jobs for mental health and school counselors have been – and continue to be – cut. We hear about the possibility of more terminations to come in the media. Among the rumors of downsizing are some that indicate the trend will soon reverse, but graduating students need jobs now. It is indeed a scary time for professional counselors to be looking for work in their chosen profession. There is hope, however. It is the perfect time for students, counseling professionals, and counselor educators to be working together to strengthen our professional community and create opportunities to do what we do best – provide a forum or our students and clients to heal their pain and suffering.

I have a particular lens through which I enter this conversation. I am a doctoral student in Counseling and Counselor Education who also has the privilege of working with counseling students as a career advisor and coach. In my work, I am confronted with students’ fear every day. Their fear and anxiety are pervasive. Students are afraid there won’t be jobs. They are anxious about competing with their friends and colleagues for the few positions that do exist. They fear they don’t have enough experience. They worry they won’t do well in an interview. If they live in New York, they fear that they will not be able to get a job in which they will be able to earn licensure, or even worse, that they will not be able to find work at all. Some have responded by giving into their fears, and inertia has set in. The fear and anxiety, coupled with the rigor of the last semester of studies, also keeps students from seeking services that will help them find post-graduate counseling positions. Often, the situation feels hopeless.

I contend the situation is not hopeless, but it does necessitate a communal response within the counseling profession. Fostering hope and realization of vocational opportunities requires a clear vision, a willingness to confront our own fears and anxieties, and an unwavering commitment to work together as students, counselors, and counselor educators to promote the wellness of our profession – and ultimately of our students and clients. After all, we have defined our work as, “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals” (American Counseling Association, 2010). Further, as counselors, we are often tasked with being the holders of hope when our students and clients cannot find hope in their own lives. So, let us commit to the task at hand.

Counseling Students

As a counseling student, you are being initiated into a vocation that includes great responsibilities, difficult challenges, awe-inspiring transformations, and the privilege of walking with others through their struggles and successes. Continually, I am inspired by the compassion, caring, and determination of counseling students in my program. Many come to this profession with a natural desire to help others experience growth, success, meaning, and healing in their lives. I do not think our program is unique in this regard. We spend a lot of time learning to help others move through their struggles and, many times, connect with and feel their pain and suffering. The obstacles our clients face are many, including violence, neglect, and personal and systemic discrimination. Our task is to promote wellness as we invite them to face their concerns, doubts, and insecurities. Regardless of our theoretical perspectives, most of us do this by some combination of (1) promoting insight, (2) eliciting alterations in thoughts, behaviors, and/or emotions, (3) providing access to resources, (4) nurturing connections to supportive communities, and (5) advocating for our students/clients. As counselors in development, we must do what we ask of our clients/students.

In seeking a professional position, we are in essence asking an agency, school, or organization to pay us for the privilege of helping students and clients face their fears and overcome the obstacles life has placed before them. If we are to be bold and courageous enough to walk this walk with students and clients, we must also be courageous enough to do so ourselves. That means, we need to become aware of our own fears and the way they are impacting our lives; challenge and move through the thoughts and emotions that keep us stuck in inertia; seek out the resources available to us through our departments, colleges, universities and communities; nurture supportive connections to the local, regional and/or national counseling communities as well as our personal communities of support; and engage in advocacy on behalf of ourselves and our profession.

Professional Counselors

Most counselors I have been privileged enough to meet enjoy the opportunity to connect with students and promote mentoring relationships. In the past, building such relationships may have felt like a meaningful activity; however, the current economy has rendered mentorship absolutely necessary to the success of students and new professionals, and to the continued vibrancy of the counseling vocation. As professional elders, we have a responsibility take the initiative to cultivate relationships with those who are new to the field and help them navigate their own developing occupational identity, skills, and endeavors.

Mentorship can occur in a variety of venues. We can connect with students through our participation in local, regional, or national counseling organizations. It is often suggested that students attend organizational meetings to connect with counselors. Some students excel at meeting and interacting with others in social and professional settings; however, some students can feel intimidated or anxious about doing so. Therefore, when students do attend organizational meetings it is incumbent upon us to take the initiative to reach out to them, inquire about their interests, foster a professional relationship, and introduce them to other professionals with similar interests. We are often quick to recommend that students take on leadership positions and it is a wonderful treat when they do. Yet, it is important to cultivate relationships with students even when they don’t take on such positions. We have a plethora of professional gifts to offer students, so let us share enthusiastically and unabashedly.

We can also assist students by actively creating job opportunities for them. That is quite a bold statement to make in our current economic state of affairs, isn’t it?  Yet it is possible, particularly for those of us who are mental health counselors in private/group practice.  Let me explain. I’ll begin by recognizing that private practice is not the best setting for some graduating students. Therefore, it will be important for students to consult with their faculty, supervisors, and site hosts to determine the best setting for their own development. However, private practice is a very viable option for some graduating students provided that there is appropriate support for them as they develop their counseling skills. This is where we come in. I encourage those of us in private practice settings to provide invitations and opportunities for new graduates to join the practice and then offer the appropriate supervision and clinical support for their work to continue to flourish. In some states, that means that we need to earn a supervision credential. In other states, it means that we have to incorporate our practice as an LLC with the central mission and activity of providing mental health counseling. It can be helpful to engage in conversations with private practice counselors across state lines to determine the most effective ways to support the growth of new counselors in private practice while simultaneously supporting the wellness of their clients.

Counselor Educators

Again and always, mentorship and advocacy are the primary tasks. Just as counselors are being called to mentor students through attendance and participation in professional organizations, so must we. Counselor educators can require that students attend meetings of local counseling organizations. We can then teach students how to connect with other professionals by attending the meetings ourselves and introducing them to members who have similar interests. It is also essential to teach students about the importance of nurturing community connections within the counseling profession during their first semester of academic training. That will give master’s students the most time to meet other counselors in the field, learn about the mental health needs and services in their communities, and gain a better grasp of the professional requirements of their work. In the end of this process, graduating students will be better informed about the needs of their students and clients and more knowledgeable about the upcoming clinical, administrative, and systemic demands of their work.

We must continue to engage in both legislative and educational advocacy initiatives that result in the creation of more jobs for graduating students. We can do this by engaging in organized efforts to meet with our legislators and by selecting research topics that provide implications for policy development. For example, we might design a research project that investigates the impact of employing fewer school counselors in our K-12 schools. Participation in the development and nurturance of collaborative relationships among students, counselors, and counselor educators can constitute a ripe topic for research. We can only help students and strengthen our professional community by gaining a better understanding of the ways in which collaboration and mentorship impact occupational wellness and competence. We can investigate, articulate, and integrate into training the best practices or competencies for keeping our own occupational fears at bay so that we can indeed be the holders of hope for our clients.

Working Together

We all – students, counselors, and counselor educators alike – need to get out of our comfort zones, walk with or through our fears, connect with one another, and promote wellness in our profession. A commitment to doing so can serve to transform fear into a strong community of learning, practice, research, and advocacy. So let us take a collective deep, centering breath and move forward together in hope and courage.

The wise words of poet Audre Lorde can guide us during this critical time in our professional growth. She wrote the poem in the singular and I have changed her words to the plural, but the message remains the same:

When we dare to be powerful,
To use our strength in service of our vision,
Then it becomes less and less important whether we are afraid.

Elaine Casquarelli is a counselor specializing in career development, LGB concerns and spiritual issues in counseling.  She is currently a doctoral student in Counseling and Counselor Education at the Warner School of Eduction, University of Rochester, and works as a career advisor for graduate students enrolled in counseling and education programs at her institution.  She can be contacted at Elaine.Casquarelli@Warner.Rochester.edu.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Using a wider lens to conceptualize client problems

Heather Rudow April 18, 2012

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

One of the pillars of the counseling is empowering clients to achieve the goals they have set themselves. But over time, counselors have also placed greater focus on international issues and social justice counseling.

Manivong J. Ratts, president of Counselors for Social Justice, a division of the American Counseling Association, calls social justice the “fifth force” in counseling. According to Ratts, social justice recognizes that client problems cannot be understood solely through an intrapsychic lens.

“Social justice counseling calls on counselors to use a wider lens to conceptualize client problems by viewing clients in [the] context of their environment,” says Ratts. “When counselors are able to see clients in [the] context of their environment, they begin to see how larger social, political and economic forces influence client development. Moreover, counselors begin to see how oppressive conditions such as poverty, racism and homophobia negatively contribute to human development issues.”

One way that counselors can broaden their lenses, he says, is by getting involved with organizations that have social justice goals or missions. CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere Inc.) is one such nonprofit organization.

Founded in 1945 with the aim of fighting global poverty and focusing on poor women across the world, CARE often helps people who have gone through traumatic events that have seriously impacted their mental health. Richard Perera, CARE’s communications coordinator, says it is important for organizations such as CARE to provide psychosocial support systems for people who have experienced natural disasters, famine, violence, sexual assaults or poverty or have been displaced from their homes by war. He explains this “can mean direct counseling, but can also mean working through the community.”

For example, says Perera, in emergency camps for Somali refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, CARE provides training to the adult members of the camps so they can provide others with healthy ways of coping with traumatic experiences. Additionally, the knowledge they acquire helps them understand why some of the child refugees might misbehave.

“They don’t [think], ‘Oh, this kid is acting out because they’ve been through a traumatic experience.’ They [typically] just think they’re being bad,” Perera says. “Kids can be resilient, but they need a routine, and they need an environment where they can play and learn.”

Perera says CARE’s top priority is providing the people they help with a place where they feel safe and emotionally supported. He believes this is why the organization resonates with counseling professionals and the reason counselors might consider getting involved with the nonprofit’s endeavors.

“If there comes a time when the U.S. takes a stand [for or against an international issue],” he says, “counselors can be advocates for an enlightened foreign policy.”

One of CARE’s latest aims is supporting President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 request for the International Affairs Budget, which helps alleviate poverty, global hunger and famine, HIV/AIDS and maternal mortality. It also enables the United States to respond to humanitarian crises.

“I think of it as an investment,” Perera says of the International Affairs Budget. It doesn’t cost much in comparison to the rest of the budget, he says, and keeping children mentally, physically and emotionally stable in unstable countries helps the entire world to stay safe in the long run.

Ratts says it is important for counselors to take action and support organizations such as CARE as well as the president’s request for the International Affairs Budget because events that occur overseas also have an impact on the United States.

“Poverty is a global phenomenon that permeates all parts of the world,” he says. “More importantly, counselors need to understand that poverty is a global issue that affects us all. We cannot focus solely on local-level initiatives because we don’t live in a vacuum. The growth of technology has helped society to understand that we live in an increasingly global society where international politics can affect us at the local level. For this reason, counselor involvement in such initiatives as CARE to address global poverty is critical because it leads to quality schools, health care and employment. … Social justice-oriented organizations are important in helping to address equity issues that impact our world. These organizations help promote awareness of social injustices and serve as a way to systematically address the social ills of society. I think it is important that counselors be involved with at least one organization that addresses a social issue they are passionate about. Imagine how much better this world would be if all 50,000 members of ACA joined one organization similar to CARE. … As a collective, we would make this world more just and humane.”

In his view, Ratts doesn’t believe that counselor education programs have adequately equipped counselors with necessary social advocacy skills in part because counselor educators are not adequately equipped themselves.

“For the most part, counselor educators are not trained in community engagement and systems-level work,” he says. “Most have been trained under a paradigm that promotes the medical model and intrapsychic ways of helping. This problem is akin to the early days of the multicultural counseling movement when counselor educators were attempting to train graduate counseling students on becoming multiculturally competent but not having the training themselves. Unfortunately, the lack of social justice competence among counselor educators is setting a stage for future students to fail and for clients to leave counseling believing they are the problem when, in fact, their problems may be a result of larger oppressive conditions. “

Developing international and social justice competence would not only enhance the counseling profession, Ratts says, but also help make the world a better place for all citizens.

“Social justice must begin with us,” Ratts says. “Counselors need to develop competence as social justice advocates before they engage in advocacy interventions at the local, state, national and international levels. Counselors, even well-intentioned ones, can do more harm than good when they seek to help others but are not equipped to deal with the complexities of the world. Counselors need to first be multiculturally competent if they seek to address social justice issues. Cultural competence allows counselors to address sociopolitical issues in a culturally appropriate manner. Counselors also need to be cognizant of domestic and global politics. Understanding domestic and global politics can help counselors develop a better sense of whether individual counseling or environmental-level advocacy is needed. Counselors need to allow a community, whether it be domestic or international, to teach them what is needed. Oftentimes, we see counselors coming into a community thinking they know what is best for the community. We see this in higher education settings where well-intentioned faculty develop service-learning opportunities for their students but fail to take the diligence and time needed to truly understand the community. When this occurs, student learning occurs at the expense of the community.”

For more information about CARE’s mission and latest endeavors, visit its website.

For more information about Counselors for Social Justice, visit its website.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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