Tag Archives: Counselors Audience

Counselors Audience

Not content to ‘ride off into the sunset’

Lynne Shallcross April 1, 2012

When Hilda Davis Carroll turned 60, she was between counseling positions following a layoff. As she watched the sun rise on the morning of her birthday, she thought to herself, “OK, I’m 60. Where do I go from here, and what am I going to do with the rest of my life?”

The answer for Carroll, a member of the American Counseling Association, was to open a private practice in her hometown of Nashville, Tenn. Not so long ago, that choice would have struck many as surprising because 60 generally signaled the point to start ramping down a career and making preparations to settle into a quiet retired life. But as Carroll reached that milestone age, she found herself happily anticipating at least 20 more years of work. As a member of the baby boomer generation, Carroll isn’t unique in choosing to rev up her career instead of slow down.

Nancy Roth, a counselor at Philadelphia FIGHT (Field Initiating Group for HIV Trials), says baby boomers are thinking differently about aging than previous generations. “Boomers were the generation that said, ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30.’ As they age, they’re now the ones saying 60 is the new 50 and 50 is the new 40. Older generations were OK to say, ‘Now I’m hitting a certain age, and I’m content to retire or ride off into the sunset.’ Boomers are saying, ‘OK, now I’ve hit this great age, and I’m going to reinvent myself.’ They’re seeking more. They’re not just content with what [the norm] was before.” Roth, a member of ACA, is among that contingent, noting that she reinvented herself at age 50 by going back to school to study counseling.

It is important for counselors to take notice of this attitude shift because of the sheer number of potential clients who are baby boomers, Carroll says. She also points out that baby boomers represent the largest population in U.S. history to be reaching retirement age. As boomers age and look to make meaning of their remaining years, Carroll believes counselors can assist in multiple ways. This includes offering understanding that boomers might feel a little disoriented or overwhelmed and might even confront some level of grief when thinking about the reality that they have less time ahead of them than behind them to live.

Aside from simply being a very large generation, these counselors say baby boomers possess some general characteristics that set them apart from both previous and ensuing generations. “Baby boomers are accustomed to challenging authority,” Carroll says. “Baby boomers are accustomed to things changing because we make them change. Counselors can utilize that for helping boomers push the limits of what might be expected of retirement. Tap into that strength and resilience that carried them through the tumult of the ’60s, societal changes in the ’70s and the [financial] collapse in the ’80s. [Tap] into boomers’ history of being able to make change and change themselves.”

Roth agrees. “It’s not surprising that a generation that was challenging all those social norms would also be challenging the received wisdom about what it means to grow older,” she says. “From clinical experience, I would say that boomers tend to be more confident that they can change — that they can change themselves or can change the world — than I see in the generation that came before or the generations that came after.”

On the basis of her observations, Carroll says clients in younger generations can at times be more concerned both with how they’ll be perceived and with social standards. Boomers are less concerned with those things, which can be a strength, she says, because it allows them more room to focus on how they will make a difference, find fulfillment and leave a legacy.

Catherine Roland, professor and director of the doctoral program in counselor education at Montclair State University in New Jersey, says the baby boomer generation is not particularly accustomed to depending on others for help. For that reason, she says, it’s imperative that counselors treat these clients with the utmost respect and ask them how the counselor might assist them rather than telling them what to do. That independence can also make baby boomers reluctant to go to counseling in the first place, but once they take that step, Roland says they tend to be very committed to the process, from keeping their appointments to writing entries in their journals or following through with other treatment exercises.

Although no one particularly likes to think about aging, it’s something everyone goes through, so it is imperative that counselors examine the process so they can better assist clients, says Roland, the Association for Adult Development and Aging’s representative to the ACA Governing Council and a past president of the ACA division. Aging decreases or takes away some abilities and activities, such as the ability to run perhaps, but Roland points out that it also restores or gives us new perspective on other abilities, such as being able to bask in the glory of being a fast walker at an older age.

Squeezed in the middle

Baby boomers are sometimes referred to as the “sandwich generation” because many find themselves caring for their aging parents, while simultaneously still trying to provide support for adult children, some of whom have returned home to live with them. With clients who are in this situation and feeling overwhelmed, Roland, who also runs a private practice, conducts a family overview and asks if anyone else in the family can assist in any part of the caregiving. Considering the independent streak many baby boomers possess, Roland will often hear these clients exclaim, “My sister doesn’t want to help, so the heck with it. I’ll do it myself.” But there comes a time to ask for help, which is sometimes the advice that Roland offers her clients.

With baby boomers who are experiencing these pressures, Roth often first urges them to take care of themselves, then shifts attention to taking care of parents and children. Carroll also emphasizes a primary focus on self-care and echoes Roland in asking these clients whether another family member can provide some level of assistance. If not, she suggests resources such as AARP and the client’s area Council on Aging as possible starting points for finding professional respite care.

At times, Roland has even suggested that clients consider assisted living for their parents. As heartbreaking as that decision can be to make, she says it is sometimes the one that most benefits everyone involved. If the situation grows too dire otherwise, she says, both the aging parents and their baby boomer children can find themselves vulnerable to accidents, higher health-related costs and stress-related issues. “Having that conversation is one of the most difficult situations to talk about as a counselor,” Roland acknowledges.

Counselors should also prepare themselves to address some amount of anticipatory grief among baby boomer clients, Carroll says. She explains that these clients are likely to experience grief associated with watching their parents age and lose vitality, while also dealing with anxiety related to anticipating that the same scenario will play out for them in the future.

Issues concerning romance may also surface during counseling sessions with baby boomers, Carroll says. Whether these clients are navigating their relationships with longtime partners or seeking new relationships after the death of a spouse or a divorce, questions surrounding how to find a mate or how to stay attractive to a mate are common, she says. Carroll, who writes a blog, says one of her recent posts was titled “KY Jelly and People of a Certain Age.” “We’re grown-ups,” she says. “We can talk about sex.” Baby boomers weren’t accustomed to thinking about sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS in their younger years, but now it’s imperative that counselors discuss those topics with them, Carroll says.

Roland says it isn’t uncommon to see baby boomers enter counseling after their relationship of 25 or 30 years has ended, often because their partner decided to leave. “It’s a tremendous loss and blow to the ego,” she says. Counselors can offer help to these clients by carefully processing what happened and the history of the relationship, she says. Through the review process, Roland says, clients often see that the breakup wasn’t altogether surprising. Sometimes, in fact, they discover that they were equally unhappy in the relationship and can identify many ways that it might be freeing to move on without the other person.

Of course, aging is not something that people always want to face or embrace, Carroll says. She points to the lucrative markets for plastic surgery and drugs such as Viagra as proof of the pushback against aging. Carroll admits it’s a struggle even in her own life. “One minute I’m glad to be 62,” she says, “and the next minute, I am in jeans and three-inch heels pushing age out of my mind. How do we manage and balance those?”

But Carroll tells her clients that the grief sometimes attached to getting older won’t disappear with a facelift. Even as they prepare for the future, she advises them not to agonize over what might happen and what things will change with age. Her advice to clients: Rein those thoughts in, breathe and stay present in the moment.

Although the economy’s recent struggles have presented challenges for each generation, the timing has been particularly bad for baby boomers. Many were or are approaching the point where they expected to retire, Roth says, but instead they have found that their house is under water or their retirement account isn’t what they expected. “That forces people to make decisions they hadn’t planned on making,” including possibly learning new skills and seeking a new career, Roth says. In other instances, boomers have adult children and aging parents depending on them financially, adding another hurdle to their ability to retire.

In these situations, counselors can evaluate and work on coping skills with clients, Roth says. “How do you manage your feelings? How do you cope in positive ways so that you’re not turning to drugs, alcohol, overeating or some less helpful way of coping? Can we increase your frustration tolerance? Can we help you regulate your mood, even though things aren’t going the way you want them to, so that you can continue to find joy even though your life isn’t the way you had planned? In many ways, that’s a lot of what we do with clients because we just can’t control everything.”

When baby boomers are able to fully retire, they’re often quite surprised to discover that they feel somewhat isolated and that their sense of self-worth was tied to the work that they did, Roth says. Counselors can minimize the difficulty of this transition for clients by discussing with them what they will do with this new free time, how they might choose to continue to use their skills and how they plan to stay connected to the world, she says.

Roland agrees that the time after retirement can be unsettling for some people. “Everyone doesn’t have three children and eight grandchildren who all live close by,” she says. “Many times they regret retiring or feel sad. It’s a tremendous loss of identity. One of the things you need to say [to them] is that it’s not about retirement — it’s the absence of the everyday position. That’s why there’s a loss of identity.”

Roth encourages clients who are struggling with their identity in retirement to look at the good things that have occurred since they retired. She also suggests these clients consider volunteering their time and skills or, if finances are still a concern, pursuing a part-time job.

Roland says it’s also important to remind clients that when it comes to aging, there are many positives worth focusing on. For example, she says, there is power in growing older and not caring as much about what people think of you. If you’re retired, there is no boss to report to or tiptoe around. Financially, you’re likely to be better off in retirement or preretirement than you were in your younger years. “Every year that you live, you become wiser for yourself in your life than you were the year before,” Roland says. “You’re just more savvy.”

Effective interventions

Boomers are a great group of clients with which to use strengths-based interventions, Roth says. “They may be at a time in life where they’re feeling uncertain, but they come to the table being able to say they’ve done X, Y and Z in the past,” she says.

Many of the HIV/AIDS clients with whom Roth works at Philadelphia FIGHT are baby boomers who have lived on the streets or in poverty and are not well educated. Still, Roth says, they are a group with enormous capacities and strengths. Their past experiences have taught them significant coping skills, and they’re consistently able to learn more, she says. “Even when we’re working with very challenged individuals, they have enormous strengths that we can build on,” Roth says. “I have found that to be less true of some of the younger people I’ve worked with.”

Roth also finds a psychodynamic approach effective. “It’s helpful for people who are at that middle-age point to be able to look back on their lives and look at patterns that have developed and how those help or hinder them moving forward,” she says. A structural family approach is also helpful for those boomers who find themselves active participants in the sandwich generation, she adds.

Life review is another appropriate intervention for baby boomers, according to Roland, with the concept being to have clients identify the positive things in their past. For example, if a client was an avid runner, Roland might ask her to talk about her experiences as a runner. “It’s important for them to understand the successes they’ve had,” she says. “When something is taken away from us, we tend to forget the good that we’ve done. I want them to remember their great accomplishments.”

With most baby boomers, Roland uses a combination of client-centered and cognitive-behavioral techniques. “They don’t want to sit and nod,” she says. “They want to know, ‘If these are the issues, give me some things I can do.’ Their eyes light up when they get homework. [Counseling] has to be action-oriented, not analysis.”

Spirituality is another factor that can help boomers face the challenges of aging and being part of the sandwich generation, Carroll adds.

To provide better services to baby boomer clients, counselors should take workshops focused on working with older adults, Roland says. “If you were trained awhile back, you might not have had human growth and development classes,” she says. “So … go back and take some new classes.” Counselors also might want to consider getting a gerontology certificate from a university or visiting a hospice for older adults, Roland says.

To strengthen their knowledge base further, Carroll recommends that counselors read the AARP The Magazine and listen carefully to the people they know who are boomers to learn about them. In addition, she urges counselors to join AADA and attend its conferences and participate in other workshops focused on the topic of counseling baby boomers.

Because baby boomers have some unique characteristics, these counselors offer a few recommendations for working with this population:

  • Don’t stereotype, Carroll says. Do be open to who is in front of you.
  • Check your personal temperature concerning how you deal with older adults, Roland says. If you have a problem in your family and you really don’t like being around Aunt Tilly, then don’t work with older adults right now, she says.
  • Don’t assume that baby boomers are planning on retiring, moving to a retirement community and disengaging from life in the greater world, Roth says.
  • Don’t assume that because a client is of a certain age, he or she does not still desire a romantic relationship, Carroll says.
  • Make sure your office is accessible, comfortable and possibly brighter than you would keep it for other clients, Roland says.
  • Allow clients to grieve in their own way about their aging process and everything they’re experiencing, Carroll says.
  • Don’t assume that baby boomers don’t have an additional chapter left to write in their lives or that they can’t take on something new and challenging, Roth says.
  • Offer concrete support, Carroll says. It’s good to listen, but also provide specific means of help, including resources in the community.
  • Find out what medications clients are on and help with medication management, Carroll says. Don’t rush these clients, Roland says. You may be the only person an older client is speaking to that day for any length of time.
  • Be aware of what you bring to the equation as a counselor, Carroll says. Pushing clients too hard or not pushing them hard enough might be reflective of the counselor’s own feelings rather than what the client needs.

Looking ahead, Carroll predicts that the sensibility around aging will evolve as baby boomers continue to age. “It will be change in a positive way because the boomers are the people who gave us the Internet, civil rights, women’s rights,” Carroll says. “That same energy will be poured into aging.”

To contact the individuals interviewed in this article, email:

Hilda Davis Carroll at hrdaviscarroll@aol.com

Catherine Roland at rolandc@mail.montclair.edu

Nancy Roth at nlroth77@gmail.com

 

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

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org


Bringing work home

Lynne Shallcross

It’s Monday of a three-day holiday weekend, and I’m sitting on my couch at home, staring at my laptop, trying to write a story about how work affects life. Ironic? Certainly. And as for you, Counseling Today reader, you’re likely skimming this story after a long day of work with clients or students, looking for ways to improve yourself as a counseling professional even as you simultaneously stir a pot on the stove for dinner. Regardless of how we might feel about it, the line between work and our lives outside of work is getting harder and harder to distinguish.

According to the Center for American Progress, 86 percent of men and 67 percent of women in the United States work more than 40 hours per week. A recent story from The Fiscal Times points to studies suggesting that the “extra work is negatively affecting our health, family lives and effectiveness at work.” One such study published in 2008 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine indicated that anxiety and depression are increased among people who work the most overtime. A 2007 study from the American Psychological Association showed that 74 percent of employees regard their work as a significant source of stress, while 20 percent admitted to missing work due to stress.

But even when we’re home, we remain more connected to work than ever before. In 2008, research from the Pew Research Center found that 22 percent of employees are expected to respond to work email even when they’re not at work, half of all employees check work email over the weekend and a third check work email while on vacation. With the economic downturn resulting in fewer employees shouldering more of the workload at many companies, it stands to reason that those percentages have only grown during the past four years.

New research published earlier this year in the journal PLoS ONE by the Public Library of Science again indicated that working extended hours could substantially increase a person’s risk of depression. Those putting in an average of at least 11 hours per day at work were two and a half times more likely to experience depression than those who put in seven- or eight-hour workdays. Researchers took into account factors including job strain, support in the workplace, alcohol use, smoking and chronic physical diseases, but the connection between depression and lengthy workdays held up.

Over the course of our lifetime, we spend most of our waking hours at work, points out David Blustein, a professor in the Department of Counseling, Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College. The only thing that competes with work in terms of time spent is sleeping, he adds. Although many studies focus on the negative side of work, Blustein says at its best, work provides people with a sense of self-determination and a means of social connection. It can also serve as a source of fulfillment or compensation for problems people might be experiencing in other areas of their lives, such as a failing relationship, he says. And, of course, stripped to its most basic function, work is the means by which people support themselves financially.

Charles P. Chen, a professor in the counseling psychology program at the University of Toronto, adds that work also assists in creating personal identity. When two people meet for the first time, Chen says, they often start the conversation by asking what the other does for a living. What we do in our careers often gives others a sense of who we are as people, he points out.

“Work is essential in our lives, both in terms of the time that it occupies as well as the psychological meaning to us,” says Blustein, a member of the American Counseling Association, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Career Development Association, which is a division of ACA, and an NCDA fellow. “In many ways, people locate significant parts of their identities in their work lives.” Work provides us with a source of intellectual stimulation, he says, as well as an arena for expressing our interests and values in a context in which we can be rewarded and affirmed.

Understanding clients’ complex connections to their work lives is essential for counselors, says Blustein, adding that vocation is not only part of the counseling profession’s foundation but also central to clients’ identities and mental health. “Work is one of the main theaters of life, and it is a place where we manifest both our dreams and disappointments,” he says.

A different kind of calling

Imagine this scenario. An angry caller is on the other end of the phone. He is yelling at you about the mortgage he’s having trouble paying and the government loan modification program he was told he qualifies for. He is audibly angry and likely scared of losing his home, so he curses at you and calls you a few unsavory names. But listening to this caller — and others like him — is your job. You can’t correct him, you can’t ask him to stop cursing and you can’t hang up on him. All you can do is try to help him — in polite a manner as possible.

Sound stressful? It is, says Melissa Sanderlin, an employee assistance provider who works with, among other clients, employees of a mortgage call center in Monroe, La., when they are referred to her practice through their insurance. “[The callers] are irritated, stressed and they take it out on the person answering the call,” Sanderlin says.

Not surprisingly, the day-in, day-out routine of fielding these high-stress phone calls can take a toll on the call center employees. “[The employees are] often dealing with anger issues, depression and anxiety,” says Sanderlin, a member of ACA. “If they were completely healthy, they might not have those issues, but the work environment definitely makes it worse. They might be functioning on a pretty normal level until they go work there.”

The mortgage callers aren’t the only ones who ramp up the anxiety levels of some of Sanderlin’s clients. Managers who aren’t always trained very well in people skills sometimes add fuel to the fire, she says. Some of her clients report that their managers aren’t always professional and appropriate, sometimes even berating call center employees in front of their co-workers. Recently, a client came to Sanderlin and said the criticism she was receiving from her manager at work was having a negative impact on her home life, her relationship with her husband and her interactions with her children. “It stays on her mind constantly,” Sanderlin says. “She thinks about it all the way home, she thinks about it at home and it wakes her up in the middle of the night. These are common complaints” among Sanderlin’s clients from the call center.

Changing managers was not an option for this particular client, so she and Sanderlin worked together on improving her coping skills and finding a way for her to stop taking the interactions personally. Sanderlin takes a similar course with clients who come to her because of the stress they feel interacting with the mortgage callers. She works with these clients on separating their self-worth from what they experience on the job, on developing anger management skills and on establishing or maintaining a healthy lifestyle consisting of exercise, proper eating habits and adequate sleep. Sanderlin also focuses on relaxation skills with these clients, some of whom have reported experiencing panic attacks when pulling into the parking lot at work.

Creating a boundary between work and home is important as well, Sanderlin says. To avoid bringing the stress of work home with them, she advises her clients to consider options such as playing music, making a phone call to a friend or family member, or even taking a different route home so they have to think about where they’re going instead of constantly replaying in their mind what happened at work. Even visualizing closing the office door or car door and leaving the day behind can help separate work from home, she says.

Blaise Morrison, a vocational rehabilitation counselor and mental health counselor for an agency in Bowling Green, Ohio, says a good first step when engaging on the topic of how work impacts life is to assess the relationship between the client and his or her job. Similar to a relationship between two people, Morrison says the worker and the place of employment both have certain needs, and if those needs aren’t being met, the relationship becomes dysfunctional.

When the job isn’t meeting the client’s needs — be they financial needs or the need to fully utilize his or her skills — the work situation can become stressful, Morrison says. “It decreases self-confidence, decreases their view of their own competency, brings on frustration and distress, and they might bring that home with them,” says Morrison, a member of ACA. “So, the counselor can look at the situation and see if the client’s needs are being met. If they’re not, this will be a barrier in the client’s mental health.”

If clients’ needs are not being met at work, Morrison says counselors can help these clients to better understand their expectations of a job, gain insight into their interests and then evaluate their skills to see if they might be better suited for a different position.

With clients who think they are in a dead-end job or otherwise feel their current work doesn’t meet their needs, Christopher Adams, an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Fitchburg State University, says he would have a discussion to determine whether they think it is important to explore other options. Among clients who want more out of their careers — whether money, responsibility, prestige or challenge — he would assist them in exploring available options as well as factors that influence their ability to change jobs. In some situations, he says, clients might wish to remain in their current jobs while simultaneously pursuing alternative avenues outside of work for making extra money, being stimulated intellectually or otherwise finding fulfillment.

Many of Sanderlin’s call center clients aren’t planning to make a career out of working there, so she collaborates with them to identify goals and develop a plan for career change. Envisioning a way out often helps these clients to feel less trapped, she says, which can contribute to reducing their stress levels. “Get them to remember what they were passionate about to begin with or to learn a new passion,” Sanderlin says. “Clients will realize they have things that they’re interested in that they could make a career out of. So, when they go back to work [at the call center], they feel like they have an end to work toward.”

Work, balance and relationships

Among the most difficult work-related circumstances for clients is when they are unemployed or underemployed, Blustein says, because they are not using the full extent of their skills and abilities at work. “In a nutshell, when people lose work or lose the opportunity to work in a job that is consistent with their talents and training, they are likely to experience a sense of loss of meaning, access to relational resources and access to the means to survive,” he says. “Considerable research has documented the impact of job loss on mental health, and the data underscore these points.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Morrison says when clients are using their skills and competencies in the workplace and their job correlates with their vocational interests, balance is often achieved and there is a positive effect on relationships outside of work. “If a job helps clients to personally grow, helps them to explore themselves more and provides positive challenges, it provides the client with a positive, reaffirming career identity, meaning the client is fully aware of their competencies, skills and vocational interests,” he says. “To have that self-awareness in vocation also allows them to have greater self-awareness in other parts of their life, greater clarity [regarding] what they expect of relationships and healthier boundaries.”

Adams, a member of ACA, says that another positive outcome of clients finding fulfillment in their jobs is that the feeling can spill over into life outside of work. From the other direction, if people are struggling with relationship problems or feelings of loss or loneliness outside of work, Blustein says developing relationships at work and deriving meaning from work can help them to compensate.

But just as they do at home, interpersonal conflicts can crop up at work. However, unlike situations in which clients choose a romantic partner or a friend, it’s rare to get the opportunity to pick one’s co-workers. People with different communication styles, work ethics and personalities get put together, which naturally leads to moments of friction. When tensions flare between co-workers or bosses and subordinates, Sanderlin talks with her clients about empathy and encourages them to consider that perhaps the other person is dealing with problems of his or her own.

Other times, Sanderlin says, clients have come to her because they formerly dated a co-worker and, after the relationship went sour, began having difficulties seeing and interacting with that person at work. In such cases, Sanderlin says, the solution often involves helping clients to process the relationship and its ending so they can grieve the loss and once again be around their former dating partner without negative feelings bubbling up.

Balancing life with work inherently involves sacrifices, Adams says, and getting clients to grasp that concept can play a role in reducing their stress. Adams tries to help his clients be realistic and accept that a fixed amount of time exists in their schedules each week, which naturally means that they can’t do absolutely everything for everyone. “Sometimes people try to fight that, thinking, ‘If I only worked harder, I could squeeze more time into the week.’ It creates stress because they feel they should be able to do more,” he says.

Adams encourages clients to think about their values and what is most important to them. “They might say, ‘I’m going to have to accept the fact that I won’t see my kids do this or that because my career is important,’” he says. “If they make the decision to want to spend more time around family, that might mean they won’t get paid a super high salary or they may be limited in terms of the jobs they can take. I help them understand the reality and then understand that there is a sacrifice involved in any decision. Once they understand and accept that, I’ve found that clients aren’t always happy about it, but there is less stress instead of them feeling like they should be able to do everything.”

“I often try to talk to them about having a fixed amount of physical and mental energy as well as time,” Adams continues. “I also try to explain to them that if they put 100 percent of their energy or time into work, they won’t have any left over for other parts of their lives [such as] family. In my experience, it’s not uncommon for clients to experience a sense of loss when they finally accept this. I think to some degree it is difficult for clients to accept this, given the American mindset that ‘I can do it all as long as I just work hard enough.’”

But clients can benefit from learning to accept that they can’t be everything to everyone, Adams says. “Sometimes people expect themselves to be the best spouse, the best parent and the best worker,” he says. “If, for example, being a good parent and spouse is important, then maybe it’s OK not to be 100 percent at work.”

A stressed-out workforce

The nature of work means that stress can crop up at any given time, but new research published in the journal Occupational Medicine indicates that work-related stress is drastically increased during a recession and that stress leads to an accompanying rise in employee absenteeism. After looking at tens of thousands of civil servants in Northern Ireland, researchers found that as many as 25 percent of workers struggled with stress on the job during an economic downturn.

A recent study from the University of Hawaii also shows that work stress is contagious, suggesting that we soak up the emotions of our co-workers and that stress can make its way around the office like a common cold. Stress can also spread to loved ones at home, Chen says, explaining that when people feel overloaded and stressed at work, they are more likely to bring that stress home with them. For example, he says, when a family member asks how our day was, just the tone in our voice can carry negativity. “So that stress can have a detrimental impact in other aspects of life,” says Chen, a member of ACA and NCDA.

Depression and anxiety are not uncommon in the workplace, Adams notes. In fact, 2010 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put 9 percent of adult Americans in the category of clinically depressed, and the most recent data cited by the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that slightly more than 18 percent of U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and depression can lead to a host of effects at work, Adams says, including decreased productivity, restlessness and feelings of being overwhelmed, low energy levels, compromised immune systems and detrimental impacts on relationships with co-workers.

Morrison agrees, adding that depression and anxiety can impede concentration, organization and the acceptance of constructive criticism. And, he says, a stressful atmosphere at work only worsens the impact of depression and anxiety.

“I don’t know that I can say that counselors view work as causing depression or anxiety,” Adams says. “These problems seem more complex than stemming from one cause. However, we do know that stress can contribute to depression and anxiety, and some research indicates that work stress may contribute to these. On the other hand, some people truly enjoy their work and find it to serve as an outlet for stress. For example, if things aren’t going well at home, they may be able to focus on their work in order to cope. As such, work may serve to buffer some people from stress.”

What can clients do to manage the stress? “I think they need to consider several things,” Adams says. “First, how much do they enjoy their work and how much stress does it cause? Second, what can they do to manage their work stress — can they delegate responsibilities, take on less work? Last, I always try to get clients to step back and put things in perspective. At the end of the day, work is often a means to an end for many people — it provides a way of supporting oneself and family. Consequently, clients may not need to get so worked up or overstressed by work, particularly if other parts of their lives are more important to them. Of course, they need to balance that with the demands of the job.”

It appears that partners at home also play a role in how we handle work stress. Researchers at Florida State University looked at more than 400 working couples in blue- and white-collar jobs and found that strong partner support led to a variety of positive effects, including a 33 percent greater likelihood of positive relationships with co-workers, a 30 percent lower likelihood of experiencing guilt associated with home or family neglect, a 30 percent lower likelihood of being critical of others at home, a 25 percent higher rate of concentration at work and a 20 percent higher level of job satisfaction.

Among workers struggling with depression, a recent Tufts University study points toward the effectiveness of counseling. The researchers anonymously surveyed 79 Maine state government employees diagnosed with depression. During a two-month period, those workers took part in a program offering telephone sessions with a counselor. Sessions included work coaching, coordination of care with the patients’ doctors and cognitive-behavior therapy strategies. The outcome of the phone counseling program included improved depressive symptoms, increased productivity and fewer missed workdays.

Workaholics and bullies

Not all clients can blame being overworked on a hard-driving boss or the daily demands of the job. Some clients resist unplugging from their jobs because they’re “workaholics.” Workaholism can take root for any number of different psychological reasons, Chen says. For example, in some instances, clients are avoiding issues at home, he says. In other cases, clients have perfectionist tendencies and push themselves unnecessarily. Others think that working excessively is the only way they can prove their value to their bosses, Chen says. And still another cause, he says, is when people are externally driven by the rewards they experience from working.

Chen suggests that counselors explore those feelings and motivations with clients. For example, if clients insist that they have to work to a certain level to be a top performer, Chen might analyze the situation with them to see if that perception meets reality. In some cases, it’s possible that they would remain top performers even if they worked a little less.

“It’s not uncommon for people to use work as a way of sublimating other things,” Adams says. “An example might be a person who has an unsatisfying relationship with a partner. He might not want to admit that [because] it might be culturally unacceptable to get a divorce. So he might channel [those feelings] through work. Being a hard worker is more socially acceptable.” These individuals not only spend more time at work to avoid going home, but might also dive into work again upon returning home, which allows them to erect a socially acceptable wall between themselves and their partners, Adams observes.

When engaging with workaholic clients, Morrison advises counselors to proceed at the clients’ pace but to assist them in understanding what they’re trying to avoid or make up for by working more. “Help clients gain insight into their own behaviors. Help them understand what they are substituting work for,” he says. “And then the counselor’s role is to help them develop healthier coping mechanisms.” Morrison acknowledges, however, that sometimes workaholic behavior truly represents an effort to make ends meet financially.

Blustein echoes that sentiment: “It can also reflect the reality that many people are afraid of losing their jobs and are working harder than ever to become indispensable to their organizations.” For that reason, he says, the optimal solution for each client will be nuanced and unique.

Another workplace issue gaining prominence is bullying. “Workplace bullying is a major crisis, and it’s now getting the attention it deserves in research and counseling practice,” Blustein says. Workplace bullying usually comes in the form of verbal abuse in which a co-worker or superior yells at a colleague or focuses only on that person’s faults. “It’s an adult version of childhood and adolescent bullying,” Blustein says. “I think it’s always existed. We’re just now giving it a name.”

The dynamics involved in workplace bullying can make it even more difficult to resolve than schoolyard bullying, Blustein says. If the bully is your boss, he points out, financial considerations and legitimate concerns about finding another job are likely to restrict the worker’s ability to retreat from the situation. “Unlike other parts of life where we can often walk away from bullies, in the workplace, we are often forced to engage with bullies indefinitely, and often with little recourse,” he says.

Blustein says counselors can assist bullied clients by helping them set boundaries and limits and learn to be assertive with their workplace bullies. Counselors can also help clients by exploring company policies that address workplace bullying and the potential consequences, which might mean contacting human resources, Blustein says. The counselor might also explore alternative job possibilities with clients, he says.

Morrison sees the effects of workplace bullying among many of his clients, who must have a mental health disability to be eligible for his agency’s services. Many times, he says, his clients are taken advantage of professionally by their co-workers or supervisors because these clients have difficulty being assertive or expressing their needs. As a counselor, Morrison sees his role as assisting these clients with communication and assertiveness training, teaching them about healthy boundaries and perhaps engaging with them in role-plays so they can try out their new skills.

A question of values

Helping clients reach the proper work–life balance is a difficult challenge but well worth the effort, Blustein says. “Clients can talk with their families about how the work–life balance is working for them,” he says. “They should find ways of setting limits on the ways in which work creeps into their lives. For example, with all of the new technology like smartphones, iPads, etc., it is increasingly hard for people to fully orient themselves to their home lives. At the same time, life issues may creep into our work lives, which will require careful planning and the development of clear boundaries, except of course in emergency situations, when our need to care for our families needs to take precedence.”

Self-care is a key element in making life and work run in sync, counselors say. “Self-care is critical, although it’s often easier said than done,” Adams says. “I try to help clients understand the effects that work and life stress can have on them mentally and physically — [for example], increased health problems and marital stress — and try to encourage them to consider what they want. In some ways, it’s a discussion of their values. Some clients really value their careers and are willing to sacrifice their health and time with family, friends, etc. Others aren’t willing to accept this and understand that they need to set boundaries and take time to care for themselves.”

The more stressed people get at work, the less they tend to take care of themselves, according to Sanderlin. They stop participating in activities they enjoy, stop interacting with friends and family, stop eating properly and start sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia, among other indicators, she says. Counselors should talk with these clients about how to turn those things around and return to a healthier, happier lifestyle, she says.

In terms of counseling theories to help clients manage the intertwining of life and work, counselors say there are a variety of directions to go, depending on the individual’s unique circumstances. Adams draws from psychodynamic and family systems approaches, especially if he thinks it’s important to explore the underlying factors influencing a client’s career and life choices. “I may also draw from cognitive and behavioral approaches if clients need help with certain issues [such as] developing stress management skills,” he says.

Morrison uses cognitive behavior techniques as well as some existential techniques to help clients develop an idea of their life roles, life goals and perceived purpose in life. Sanderlin most commonly uses rational emotive behavior therapy techniques and relaxation techniques with her clients.

Regardless of the approach, Blustein cautions counselors to affirm their clients’ experiences at work. “There has been a tendency in years past to understand work problems as unresolved family issues or long-standing problems with authority or the like,” he says. “I think those perspectives invalidate clients’ lived experiences at work. So affirm and validate their experiences at work. Don’t interpret them as something else.”

Every counselor needs to understand how work and life intersect, Morrison says. “Employment is a huge part of a person’s identity,” he adds. “To neglect or avoid that would be missing a huge part of their life and missing a big piece of the puzzle when you’re talking about mental health rehabilitation and successful outcomes.”

Sanderlin agrees. “It goes back to feelings of self-worth,” she says. “People relate what they do or how well they do it to how good of a person they are.”

To contact the individuals interviewed in this article, email:

Christopher Adams at cadams15@fitchburgstate.edu

David Blustein at david.blustein@bc.edu

Charles P. Chen at cp.chen@utoronto.ca

Blaise Morrison at blsmorrison@gmail.com

Melissa Sanderlin at melissasanderlin@gmail.com

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

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

The school counselor’s external office

Richard O’Connell March 25, 2012

Author’s note: Although this article is written mainly for school counselors, its basic concept and the strategies it contains are easily adaptable to other counseling fields.

When the paperwork begins to mount and the phone calls never seem to stop, school counselors often wonder, “When am I going to get the chance to see the kids? What about all those failing students I need to encourage? What about all those follow-up requests from parents?”

The next thought jumps to that initial dream that all school counselors have: “I love kids. I want to get to know them, and I really want to help them. But all I do is make endless schedule changes, fill out forms, keep logs and file. And when they finally get done, it’s time to begin scheduling for next year.”

As a school counselor, do you wish to:

  • Increase your contact with students?
  • Increase your faculty contacts?
  • Increase your efficiency, while decreasing your workload?
  • Increase your knowledge and awareness of students on the basis of their physical appearance?
  • Improve the guidance public relations effort in your school?
  • Strengthen your students’ realization that you really care about them?
  • Deliver more service to your students in a more efficient manner?

If so, try this simple practice. Stand in a central place such as the entrance to school, outside your office or in a main corridor each day for the half-hour before school begins and greet both students and staff.

Initially, it will take both courage and self-discipline to get to your self-appointed post each day. Yes, courage in putting yourself out front to be observed by the whole school community. It will be something new, and there will be those who see you as attention-seeking, self-promoting and possibly even as someone who does not know his or her place in the hierarchy of school beings. The courage part comes when you assume a piece of hallway turf even as staff question why you are there. It takes even more courage to reach out and begin to greet your students and fellow faculty members with a “Good morning.”

Over the years, I have come to value this practice, so I make the time in a very busy day to achieve this goal. After awhile, even those who criticized you will wonder why you are not at your post if you happen to be absent.

The hard part is simply to begin this practice. The rewards will be well worth the initial discomfort. The advantage of this practice is that, eventually, both faculty and students will know you are there to help answer questions, to give advice, to share small talk or just to say hello.

This practice also affords the counselor daily opportunities to assess student affect. This is valuable because the more we familiarize ourselves with our students, the easier it is to pick up on the subtle changes in behavior or appearance that can indicate a student is troubled.

A few examples from my experience will suffice.

  • When a normally upbeat youngster changes into a withdrawn or sad individual, you have an external warning.
  • When you see students arriving late, there is a problem.
  • When you see a student couple coming to school each day and forming a new relationship, this is valuable information.
  • When one member of the couple suddenly “disappears,” this can be equally significant information. There have been cases in which students were depressed or even suicidal after going through a breakup, and the counselor assessed the situation in the hallway.
  • When a student breaks a leg, you have immediate knowledge of the situation and can take action to assist the student, such as finding someone to carry the student’s books or notifying a teacher that it might be better for the student to come to class a little late to avoid overcrowded hallways.

All the visual clues you pick up firsthand can feed back into your interactions with parents and students during the normal course of the day. What’s more, this information is immediate; you won’t have to wait until someone comes to your office to fill you in.

A case in point: One morning a student approached me. I gently gave him a hello tap on the chest. He immediately flinched in pain. I inquired, “Are you all right?”

“I’m all right, but I just had my chest pierced for a ring.” I have since given that practice up, but his mother was astounded that I had such private information.

It is amazing how much of your work can be done in the hallway. By nature of our profession, we are constantly requesting students to follow up and fulfill their obligations. In the hallway, we can ask students the status of forms that need to be returned. We can remind them to live up to expectations. We can remind them that assignments are due. We can recognize and praise them for their achievements. We can ask them if they have delivered messages to their parents.

It is difficult to interview all of your students who might be doing poorly after a review of their report cards or progress reports. But standing in the hallway affords casual opportunities to see many of these students and to give them a bit of encouragement or advice. For most students, a friendly hello will suffice. For those who need a reminder (for example, to hand in an assignment, to speak to a teacher, to help another student, to be on time for class), just your presence may trigger a response.

By the way, a friendly hello from you in the morning might serve as a welcome postscript to a horrific family experience the night before. Above all, your very presence in the hallway and your effort to greet students with a kind hello is a statement to the students that you care about them. I am sure this message is conveyed in other ways throughout the day, but your presence in the hallway only increases the opportunities to reach more kids.

Regarding the faculty, they are on the run for the most part. Your presence in their path along the way to their classrooms gives them easy access to discuss a student, to request a conference or to fill you in on a particular problem. These exchanges are often made more difficult (and more time consuming) if a formal meeting has to be scheduled. Even substitute teachers appreciate having someone to turn to in trying to negotiate the intricacies of an unfamiliar school. This accessibility has tangential benefits, including helping to establish good rapport with staff. For counselors to function effectively in any school, we need the cooperation and support of our staff to assist our students.

Regarding the school administration, they appreciate the backup in the hallway. I have never been asked to function as a “monitor.” Rather, administrators appreciate the “reach out” efforts of counselors who are not closeted in their cubbyholes, “secreted away” from the main flow of the school. Your presence in the hallway will also reach “across the street” to central administration. The public relations aspect of the school counselor’s external office is obvious.

During the course of the year, many parents will also cross your path: PTA members, parents with staff appointments, new parents visiting the school and so on. On each occasion, your presence serves as a reminder that there are counselors in their child’s school who reach out, increasing the likelihood that the counseling department is spoken of favorably in their private conversations.

In summary, the school counselor’s external office delivers more service to students. It makes the counselor more accessible. It establishes a rapport with staff and conveys a sense of care and concern to students. It establishes an atmosphere of involvement and helps to break down barriers. It also maximizes the use of our time, so much so that I stand at my “post” whenever I can shake free during my busy day. And in addition to all these attributes, it has become for me a great deal of fun.

Richard O’Connell is a past recipient of the New York State Counselor of the Year Award. This article appears in slightly different form as an addendum to his book The Secrets to Being a Great School Counselor (available at thesecretstobeingagreatschoolcounselor.com). Contact him at docroc16@msn.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

What the future holds for the counseling profession

Compiled by Lynne Shallcross March 1, 2012

The future might be anyone’s guess, but David Pearce Snyder has spent his career making calculated predictions about what looms ahead. Snyder, a Bethesda, Md.-based consulting futurist who says he consults on the long-term future of anyone and anything, has a few ideas about what’s in store for the counseling profession throughout the next decade.

Snyder, who is also a contributing editor to The Futurist, the bimonthly magazine of the World Future Society, predicts that by 2020, everyone will be chatting with — not just through — their computers. The significance for counselors, he says, is that computers will be loaded with software enabling the machines to answer their owners’ questions — including questions that people today often go to see a counselor to discuss.

Instead of a live counselor being the first stop for someone with mental health, career, relationship or other issues, Snyder believes that person will initially ask the personal avatar “counselor” on his or her computer for feedback and advice. The personal avatar counselor will be stocked full of good health information, so it will offer constructive and helpful advice, according to Snyder. If the artificial counselor assesses that the person has a problem beyond the scope of assistance the computer can offer, it will recommend that the person see a real counselor. “The artificial counselor becomes the first line of defense,” Snyder says.

On the surface, that prediction sounds disturbing, as if advancing technology might threaten to make the counseling profession obsolete. But Snyder contends that artificial counselors will become crucial to the profession because there simply won’t be enough human counselors to meet the growing demand as the world becomes more complex and everyday life is filled with increasingly challenging problems and decisions. “More people will need help in making decisions about their lives,” he says. “Therefore, I believe the function of counseling will become increasingly important.”

As someone outside the profession, Snyder has an interesting perspective on the future of counseling. For an “inside” perspective, Counseling Today also approached a number of leaders in the field and asked them to share their thoughts (in their own words) on the next decade of counseling. As the American Counseling Association celebrates its 60th year as an organization, these counselors offer projections concerning the trends, issues, challenges and successes that might await the profession in the relatively near future.


Bradley T. Erford
is past president of the American Counseling Association and a professor at Loyola University Maryland. Contact him at berford@loyola.edu.

As I look into my clouded crystal ball to predict the direction of the counseling profession over the next decade, I realize that even though the profession of counseling is more than 100 years old and ACA is celebrating its 60th birthday, counseling as a profession is just coming into its own in terms of parity and respect among peer professions, legislators and the public. We have achieved licensure in every state, but there are over 40 different titles for professional counselor licensees and trainees. How can we expect the public to understand who counselors are and what counselors do when we do not even agree on what to call ourselves?

Developing a unified profession and helping promote a core identity as a counselor first and specialty area second is the preeminent professional challenge of the next decade. To address this challenge, accreditation of counselor education programs and credentialing/licensing of counselors will become even more important. Imagine how easy it would be to advocate for the counseling profession and protect the public if every counselor education program in the United States was accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs; imagine if every graduating counselor attained the credentials of National Certified Counselor and state licensure that was recognized and portable within all U.S. states and territories; imagine if every state licensure board required its licensees to graduate from a CACREP-accredited program and attain the same supervision, experience and examination requirements. Such goals of standardization would simplify immensely our task of protecting the public, advocating for the counseling profession and solidifying a unified professional identity.

Perhaps the biggest threat to professional unity comes from within. Like many of you, I have worked with children, adolescents and their families in schools, provided mental health services to youths and families in private practice, and educated and trained the next generation of counselors in my current work in the university. While each of these positions was referred to by a different title (school counselor, licensed professional counselor, counselor educator), first and foremost I have always been a professional counselor! I happened to work in various settings performing various roles, but at my core, I have always been a professional counselor. Some divisive individuals currently stand opposed to the unity of the profession to which we have dedicated ourselves. These individuals place their political and personal agendas above the common interest of the counseling profession under the guise of counseling specializations. When we go to legislators to advocate for the counseling profession, we must speak with a single voice in order for that voice to be clearly heard and present a single vision for our goals to become realized. Other professionals, such as physicians, dentists, social workers and psychologists, realized this simple truth long ago and have become strong, respected advocates for their professions and the public.

Counseling has gone global. Governments around the world have recognized the importance of mental health and wellness. As a result, numerous counseling organizations have sprung up in nations around the globe looking for guidance related to accreditation, credentialing and organization-building. CACREP is helping to fill the accreditation need by introducing the International Registry of Counsellor Education Programs, which promotes high professional standards sensitive to the cultural and economic realities of international counseling. NBCC International is currently providing support to more than two dozen countries developing credentialing processes and in need of organizational support. At ACA, we are developing ways to encourage and make affordable international membership, and some international members have proposed development of an organizational affiliate or division focused on international counseling. We all share the goal of helping counselors in other countries build a strong, vibrant profession — and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes we have made in the United States.

Finally, as professional counselors, we need to firm up the scientific foundations of counseling effectiveness. There are over 400 published counseling theories, but the outcome literature only supports use of a small fraction of these helping approaches and only for limited developmental and clinical applications. Counseling researchers and journal editorial boards need to substantially increase efforts to validate counseling practices and assess counseling outcomes. It is far easier to advocate for the counseling profession with legislators and public policy administrators when armed with overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness of our services. ACA’s new Center for Research and Public Policy was created to focus our efforts on achieving this goal.

Barbara Herlihy is a university research professor in the counselor education program at the University of New Orleans, chair of ACA’s International Committee and chair of the ACA Foundation. Contact her at bherlihy@uno.edu.

Technology is changing our world at an astonishing pace. When I stepped into the 21st century just a few years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that my phone would keep me connected to the world in thousands of ways, limited only by my number of “apps.” Next year, I’ll probably laugh that I thought a smartphone was innovative. That said, my predictions about the future start with the truth of a cliché — technology truly has transformed our planet into a global village. We cannot be unaware of the disparities in power and privilege that exist between and among peoples. Therefore, it seems likely that the social justice movement in the counseling profession will continue to gain strength and will become increasingly international in focus.

How will these changes impact counseling theory? In our upcoming book, Counseling as a Profession: Our Past, Present and Possible Future, Sam Gladding, Courtland Lee and I suggest that our profession will need to move away from existing theories that focus on individuals, couples and families and instead embrace systemic theories that address social ills and foster healing on a global level. Of existing theories, the multicultural and feminist approaches seem to hold the greatest potential for addressing these goals and may see increased acceptance and practice.

Most predictions about counseling theory have taken a narrower focus on the deep entrenchment in our society of the medical model and managed care, as well as our growing dependence on psychotropic medications. Thus, predictions are that brief-term, evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral approaches will dominate the future of mental health care. We believe that if counselors acquiesce to this status quo, we will contribute to the demise of our profession by rendering ourselves superfluous in a field already crowded with practitioners of the medical model. If, however, we can unite behind our identity as a profession that is uniquely strengths-based, holistic and grounded in the wellness model, we have the potential to turn the tide.

Another societal trend worth noting is that, due to advances in medical technology, people are living longer and our aging population is growing. In the future, we will need theories that respond to the needs of elders by addressing spiritual dimensions of living and existential issues such as isolation, meaning and death. But really, who knows what the future will bring for counseling theory? An unforeseen, entirely new paradigm may emerge that challenges all of our current assumptions.

Kurt L. Kraus is the facilitator of the “20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling” initiative and a professor in the Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. Contact him at klkrau@ship.edu.

Likely, the next 10 years for the profession will surprise us. Predictions, especially about society in our tumultuous era, are probably best left to futurists who carefully analyze trends and foreseeable forces. Luckily though, actual change will come shaped by collective thinking, the complex evaluation of our profession’s purpose and efficacy, the goodness of fit between our achievements and the challenges the profession will find itself tasked to fulfill and, not least, the degree to which our current and emerging leaders and the visionaries of our profession nurture our own development, unity and growth.

I envision in a simile of identity development that our profession is reaching its early adulthood. The challenges encountered and overcome of our individuation — our adolescence perhaps — have given way to autonomy, recognition and professional fidelity, demonstrated in part by licensure across the nation, a burgeoning national and international counseling workforce, and our clearer and solidifying professional sense of self. Turf, semantic impasses and separatist ideologies of our adolescence wane. Our vision is emerging. We have authored a common definition of counseling and defined guiding principles [as part of the 20/20 initiative], and we begin these next years with ample room and welcome for a grand diversity of practitioners, specializations and missions.

Global politics and economies; technological advances and their consequences; the jeopardy of nationalism and other rampant isms; worry about the Earth’s finite resources and adapting to a warmer planet; the coming of age of generations with beautifully different goals and priorities than [were held by] their parents and grandparents — all will inevitably influence what we do this decade. We as a profession will be propelled in new directions by genomic discoveries and the neurosciences. An expanding embrace of world medicine and health practices coupled with redefinition of health care and service delivery in America will shape us. We, too, are a potent force as we adapt to local and world change. I believe that our profession will be vital in global efforts to raise the quality of life and in providing mental health care to serve our 7.5 billion neighbors by 2022 (U.N. projection). I think our profession will directly influence the emergence of new archetypes for what constitutes education, careers, families, societies, healthy human development across the life span, empathy, philanthropy and happiness.

What will tomorrow’s arrival offer and require of our profession? Our development as a unified profession has been courageous, motivated by compassion and fairness and guided by science and ethics. I am confident we are poised and ready to welcome the next 10 years and beyond. I’ve always been fond of surprises.

S. Kent Butler is an associate professor at the University of Central Florida and president of the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development. Contact him at skbutler@ucf.edu.

Technology, technology, technology. Excuse me … did I remember to add technology? And we counselors, counselor educators and all concerned professionals involved in the counseling world had better get ready for the transition. I know that I went kicking and screaming into even owning a BlackBerry many years ago, and now I can’t seem to get away from my iPhone. As we journey more into the world of Skype, Facebook and other social media, we counselors have to learn to keep up with the Joneses as it were. Those of us who buck the system will be left behind. We have to meet our clients where they are, and it seems they want to be deeper into the 21st century. Think of the host of problems all of these new technologies will bring to the counseling office. We definitely need to be prepared!

How will these continually evolving trends affect us? How must counseling theories be adapted or even newly created to ensure that our clients’ needs are being met? With this new, innovative, oft-confusing technology comes new ethical concerns, new ways to reach out to our clients and definitely new issues that may need to have culturally sensitive and social justice-minded individuals ensuring that our clients are presented with the very best. Our personal best! Best “evidenced-based” practices have to be at the forefront of our discussions and research. Counselor education programs need to be able to ensure that their curriculums follow a pedagogy that embraces online counseling and supervision. These programs need to start really accepting online counseling programs, which are often seen as foes (come to think of it, I’m still kind of kicking and screaming even as I type this). Traditional programs need to acknowledge the next wave and find ways to attract students who are looking to the future.

We cannot allow ourselves to fall behind on this newfangled phenomenon. Seriously consider the challenges our profession is facing today. We are currently in a battle to define our profession (i.e., “20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling”). Technology will definitely be front and center within this fight. As we head to Washington and deal with the bureaucrats on the Hill, I am sure that how the world is evolving will be on their agenda. Definitions and portability issues aside, we need our two-minute elevator talking points for how we see ourselves technologically in this ever-changing society as well — and you surely don’t want to lose out in this battle to social workers, psychologists and coaches.

I’m game! Are you? Email me. Heck, FaceTime me … I will pull out my iPhone and chat with you for a minute.

Allen E. Ivey is a distinguished university professor (emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Contact him at allenivey@gmail.com.

There likely will be many new ideas to inform our research, theory and practice, but neuroscience will be at the forefront of what happens to us in the next 10 years.

Counseling changes the brain. The major conceptual, theoretical and practical breakthrough will be the recognition and incorporation of neuroscience into our counseling practice and research. Counseling colleagues are already applying neuroscience principles as they conduct both counseling and research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In interviewing practice, I constantly maintain awareness of the client’s attentional patterns and what likely is occurring in the brain. Relationship and empathic understanding have become even more important. Research demonstrates that high points of client/counselor empathy show in parallel movements on an fMRI.

Wellness and positive psychology will become more central. I’ve always taken a positive approach to the field, but I understand better [now] why and how a strength-based approach builds new neural networks and reinforces positive emotions (associated primarily with the frontal cortex). This even increases the size of the seat of memory, the hippocampus. The positive wellness approach combats and can overcome our protective but also negative emotions of sad, mad and fear.

It is fascinating to discover new scientific foundations for what we counselors have been doing since the beginning. But neuroscience adds to and clarifies what works and makes a difference for our clients. I behave much the same in my own interviewing, but now I am much better at knowing what I am doing and what is likely to happen with the client as a result of the relationship and my interventions.

Biological foundations and curriculum change: CACREP has set the foundation with their new standard that emphasizes bringing biological foundations into our training. At the moment, our field still operates from a “theory of choice” framework, which tends to focus on remediation and a problem-focused approach. Neuroscience leads us more to a positive, preventive approach. For social justice advocates, there is now substantial research that shows that poverty, abuse and oppression lead to less gray matter in the brain, less effectiveness in schools and a lifetime of continuing negative patterns.

On the positive side, wellness assessment and developmental life planning will become central. Less time is likely to be given to abstract theorizing. Stress management will become even more important [because] it provides us with ways to prevent damaging cortisol from entering the brain. It is clear that exercise, nutrition and meditation now are required areas of expertise for all counselors and therapists.

Casey A. Barrio Minton is an associate professor and counseling program coordinator at the University of North Texas and president of Chi Sigma Iota International. Contact her at casey.barrio@unt.edu.

I expect the counseling profession will continue its journey from adolescence to adulthood as we join together to respond to three major demands over the next decade.

  • Accountability: Our educational, governmental and human service institutions have entered the age of accountability. We know we have an ethical responsibility to provide our publics with the most effective and efficient services possible. Unfortunately, we sometimes remain silent as others define evidence-based services for professional counselors or limit us to externally defined types of services or numbers of sessions. In the next decade, I believe we will continue to realize the vital role of rigorous, socially valid research and intentional advocacy regarding professional counseling. As we do so, we will emerge with a stronger understanding of what works in professional counseling practice and education and, in turn, a more meaningful integration of evidence-based practices across counseling settings.
  • Understanding: We have long sought to identify indicators of mental health, and our profession is founded upon a well-developed understanding of holistic wellness. In the next decade, I expect we will develop a more sophisticated understanding of complex connections [between] mental health and a variety of factors such as neurobiology, spirituality, environment and culture. As we understand these influences, our approaches to counseling — including research regarding evidence-based practice and engagement in interdisciplinary cooperation — will need to evolve accordingly.
  • Identity: Demands for greater accountability and enhanced understanding will provide an opportunity for professional counselors to realize our potential as agents of optimal growth and wellness. To respond effectively, we will need to continue to cultivate a collective professional identity regarding who we are, what we do and where, when, why and how we serve. Such solidarity will help us to move forward in our efforts regarding licensure portability, expectation for accreditation, public awareness and advocacy, and interdisciplinary participation.

Manivong J. Ratts is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology at Seattle University and president of Counselors for Social Justice. Contact him at vong@seattleu.edu.

The future of the counseling profession has the potential to be bright. As we consider the profession’s future, it is important that we continue to integrate the needs of the oppressed into emerging counseling theories, training paradigms and clinical practices. We need multiculturalism and social justice to become integral to everything that we do as helping professionals. Both multiculturalism and social justice need to become generic “forces” in the field if we are serious about addressing the issues of culturally diverse clients. To this end, we need to discard old ways of thinking and not become complacent by settling for the status quo of [what is comfortable].

Unfortunately, we have become too comfortable with the social order of things in counseling. We have developed what I refer to as an “additive approach” to helping that does not fully address the needs of culturally diverse clients. An additive approach to counseling is when we integrate multicultural and social justice into predominant counseling theories and ways of practicing without changing the core structure of an existing theory or practice. On the surface, it seems as if we have continued to evolve with the changing needs of society. However, the central tenets of the theory or practice remain the same. This is problematic because we continue to promote paradigms and practices that do not fully address the issues of culturally diverse clients.

A sense of urgency is needed because the consequences are dire. For instance, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are struggling in America’s school system because school staff are ill equipped to respond to a culture of anti-gay sentiment on school campuses. Youth of color and the poor are receiving a K-12 education that our legislators would not want for their own children, yet they (youth of color and the poor) are expected to compete for the same resources (college admissions, jobs, health care, etc.) upon graduation. Predominant counseling theories and practices are not addressing these issues.

The viability of the profession is dependent on our ability to take risks and think differently. We need to stop recreating existing models and practices. For this to occur, we need to admit students into counselor training programs and hire faculty who are unafraid of standing up to the status quo. We need people who will “walk the talk” rather than people who “talk the walk.” We need people who will make us uncomfortable. We need people who identify as social change agents within the profession.

Don W. Locke is president of ACA and dean of the School of Education at Mississippi College. Contact him at locke@mc.edu.

Don W. LockeThe next decade will be exciting for the profession of counseling as we try to maintain the momentum of the past and face the unknown future. In my opinion, we have a variety of needs, challenges and opportunities. There is the two-pronged effort to secure professional unity (as counselors with areas of specialization continue to expand) and to meet the increasing pressure for portability of professional licensure between states. A new challenge is the increased use of technology, cybercounseling and virtual reality. An area of opportunity is the specialization and clinical training that will be provided at the doctoral level for practicing licensed counselors.

If we are to sustain the progress made with implementation of accreditation, licensure and credentialing, it will be necessary to ensure that professional counselors do not splinter by specialization into competitive groups and become adversaries for licensure, payment or clients. The next decade must be one of professional unity and a focus on license portability.

The possibilities presented to professional counselors by the use of technology are, to me, mind-staggering. I cannot envision where we will be in a year, much less a decade from now. There must be the development of ethical guidelines related to the use of technology, accelerated training for current students and annual professional development opportunities for practicing counselors. The prospect of using virtual reality during practicum and internships is already being explored. I have also been contacted by an ACA member who wants to form an interest group concerning the prospect of using virtual reality in therapeutic situations, especially as it pertains to the treatment of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) and phobia. I am sure there are additional virtual applications being proposed for a variety of situations. The counseling profession must move quickly to be prepared for the technology-oriented future facing our clients and us.

More professionals will be pursuing the Doctorate of Professional Counseling (DPC). It is anticipated that the programs of study chosen by DPC candidates will provide them with opportunities to select areas of additional training so they can better serve specific client needs. I anticipate that this counselor training model, which recently became available and that prepares candidates for licensure at the master’s level and then specialization at the doctoral level, will expand significantly during the next decade.

Professional counseling has become respected as a viable mental health provider. The next decade will determine if that level of respect is maintained.

Thelma Duffey is president-elect of the American Counseling Association, a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the founding president of the Association for Creativity in Counseling. She also works in private practice in San Antonio. Contact her at thelma.duffey@utsa.edu.

School bullying has long been a difficult experience for children. In fact, some of the more painful childhood memories reported by some adults involve being made fun of, left out or otherwise bullied by their peers. Bullies sneer, mock, intimidate and often involve others to normalize their actions. And today, children have an even greater burden to manage: Internet bullying. People no longer have to look their victim in the eye when bullying. They can simply post a hurtful message, mean-spirited blog or compromising photo. Unfortunately, we know the consequences of bullying. And we know that bullying doesn’t end in childhood.

The experiences of hurt and humiliation are very real societal concerns regardless of age. I can see counseling in the next decade increasing its focus on relational development: supporting realistic self-examination/care and finding innovative ways to promote genuine concern for one’s impact on others. The hope would be that an increased focus on relational competencies could have a productive ripple effect [over] time.

On a practical level, I believe the economy is a significant stressor for many people who find themselves in a Catch-22 situation. They experience stress, seek out services and then have a hard time paying for them — leading to more stress. Exploring creative ways to provide innovative, meaningful and cost-efficient counseling services is becoming increasingly important. A hybrid of face-to-face and online counseling could be one possibility.

As to where the profession heads in the coming decade, the brain will be an emerging area of interest. There is a plethora of information currently available on the neuroplasticity of the brain. I see this as exciting, cutting-edge work that could have a tremendous impact on our profession on so many levels. Still, this work is relatively new and ripe for investigation. I believe rigorous research that examines creative, innovative ways of regulating the brain to perform more optimally would be a wonderful next step in the profession of counseling. In the next decade, we may see important work related to addressing common counseling concerns such as depression, anxiety and addiction through brain regulation.

As far as emerging counseling theories, I see relational-cultural theory (RCT) as particularly relevant because it supports the counseling profession’s focus on wellness and mental health, particularly when conceptualizing people’s life experiences and their responses to these experiences. Using the language of connection, disconnection, development and context, I believe RCT has much to offer the counseling professional in the next decade.

Thomas Sweeney is a professor emeritus of counselor education at Ohio University and executive director of Chi Sigma Iota. He is also a past president of ACA. Contact him at tjsweeney@csi-net.org.

I believe our society is showing clear signs of embracing a more holistic, wellness perspective on well-being. This is being embraced not so much on a philosophical but [an] economic basis. It has always made more sense (no pun intended) to prevent illness, accidents and lifestyle disasters. Increasingly, government, business and industry are aware that life stress, physical inactivity and poor environmental conditions are creating huge repercussions in health care costs. Prevention is smart business, and happy, healthy workers and citizens even more so.

In addition, education is increasingly seen as an economic necessity. Some say that we are no longer world leaders in education. Our economy is suffering as a consequence. The global economy requires us to have competent, flexible workers who adapt to the changes driven by circumstances beyond our borders.

Professional counselors’ competencies in career, group and wellness counseling are unique to their core preparation. Integral to these skills are knowledge and competencies suited to a diverse and culturally rich global society. There will be even greater need for our interpersonal, group and multicultural competencies to help facilitate change in all work and social settings.

In addition, we are currently witnessing a revolution in how we can help those we serve. School counselors are now introducing children to biofeedback computer-based software programs. Such programs help children reduce their test anxiety, learn more effectively and experience self-efficacy with fun-based exercises that translate into classroom, social and learning benefits.

We are also on the cusp of a revolution in delivery of services that never seemed possible before counselor credentialing. While in its infancy in counselor education, neurofeedback for use with children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and adults with anxiety and depression disorders has already begun. Licensed professional counselors are providing such services, sometimes even collaborating with physicians to help reduce and, in some cases, eliminate dependence upon drugs to regulate the body’s and brain’s imperfections.

The major trends in society will not be what drive the future of counseling practice, however. It will be determined more by how professional counselors educate others as to who we are and how we contribute to the realization of a healthy society by fostering wellness and human dignity. [To paraphrase what a U.S. government mental health director] told us in 1990, if you are a “group of groups,” I do not need to listen to you. If you are as one group, now that I have to hear!

Summer M. Reiner is an assistant professor of counselor education and the school counseling coordinator at the College at Brockport. She also chairs the ACA Ethics Appeal Panel. Contact her at sreiner@brockport.edu.

As a profession, I think we are beginning to thrive. Recently, we achieved licensure in all 50 states and gained recognition by the [Department of Veterans Affairs]. There are 598 CACREP-accredited counseling programs and over 48,000 counselors certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors. ACA has over 49,000 members and is still growing. I believe that society has begun to recognize the value of our approach with our emphasis on wellness, strengths and life span development and our rich clinical training. To support our momentum as a profession, we need to address the needs of our clients. Recently, our attention has shifted to disaster mental health and to working with the returning veterans. If I were to predict four additional issues that I believe we will need to be prepared to address, they would include:

  • Life balance: I think that technology is changing the way we live as well as our expectations about the world. The availability of the Internet and smartphones keep us plugged in at all hours. Many of us are multitasking — for example, texting one person, while visiting with another — and working around the clock. How many of us check our email before bed and upon waking?
  • Patience: Instant access to information and entertainment may fuel the need for instant gratification. I would predict that goal setting, career and life planning, and relationships will all be impacted.
  • Health-related decision-making: Given our technological abilities — for example, keeping people alive on machines, analyzing genetic information — I think clients may experience personal dilemmas. Making decisions about the life and death of a loved one, such as “pulling the plug,” can have a lasting emotional impact. A relatively new health option, genetic screening, may allow individuals to identify predispositions for health conditions, longevity and abilities. Individuals may then make life-altering decisions based on their “knowledge” of a predestined life experience. Given the permanency of the decisions, individuals may experience significant emotional distress.
  • Aging: We have known for some time that the baby boomers would eventually reach retirement age. Boomers are clearly a large group and have normalized the idea of seeking counseling for improving wellness. I believe they will expect to address their many age-related transitions through the counseling process. Ironically, ACA continues to pursue achieving Medicare recognition when few counselors are fully prepared to provide such services. NBCC and CACREP eliminated their emphases on geriatric counseling, and less than 2 percent of ACA members are members of the Association for Adult Development and Aging [a division of ACA].

Samuel T. Gladding is a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling at Wake Forest University and a past president of ACA. Contact him at stg@wfu.edu.

I think the profession of counseling will be more of a leader than a follower in the decade ahead. Counseling will lead in its emphasis on continuously refining itself as a profession and fulfilling its mission accordingly. The 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling initiative, started in 2005, has transformed the profession from one where there was much internal squabbling and disagreement to one where there is more agreement, uniformity and pride in what counseling is and what counselors do.

Besides being a leading helping profession, counseling will be a leader in the next 10 years in its emphasis on wellness, creativity and career development theory and practice. These are all hot topics in society today. An emphasis on wellness is here to stay as Americans realize its importance. The counseling profession has some of the best minds in the country writing, researching and implementing practices in the wellness area. The wellness wheel created by Jane Myers, Tom Sweeney and Mel Witmer is one example of a concrete instrument being developed in counseling that has potential for a huge impact, both inside and outside the profession.

In the creativity realm, I continue to be impressed by the Association for Creativity in Counseling and the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, edited by Thelma Duffey. ACC and those associated with it are into originality and transformation as related to counseling issues. The Journal of Counseling & Development, edited by Skip Niles, is also showcasing articles that deal with macro issues counselors need to be aware of and innovatively tackle.

Finally, because of the economy, career development and theory — one of the pillars on which counseling is based — will become stronger. Career issues are international, and solid career counseling is intentional wherever it is delivered. I think Mark Savickas’ narrative counseling approach is going to grow in popularity. Like existential and Gestalt theories, the narrative approach deals with meaning, mattering and the integration of persons.

Jill D. Duba is an associate professor and coordinator of the clinical mental health counseling and marriage and family therapy programs at Western Kentucky University. She also chairs the ACA Professional Standards Committee. Contact her at jillduba.sauerheber@wku.edu.

Counseling will be significantly impacted by the emerging relationship counselors have with the health care reimbursement system. Managed care promises several advantages. Clients will be assured that they get what they pay for, unnecessary long-term therapy will be eliminated and professional counselors will be paid for services rendered. But what are clients paying for? At what point does managed care begin to mandate what counselors do and how they are thus trained?

My family systems class recently asked me why professional counselors do not engage in co-therapy and why reflecting teams are not employing these techniques in practice, especially since they appear to be highly effective modalities. First, I explained that co-therapy and reflecting teams are not seen as cost-effective. Second, treatment plans must adhere to an outline provided by the managed care system. What professional counselors know and have studied to work is frequently usurped by what “Managed Care Knows Best.” Finally, professional counselors who depend on payment from managed care will have restricted opportunities to empower and help others if they simply document the use of preventative, holistic health and wellness approaches. Managed care may eventually determine counselor identity, the nature of the profession and certainly how counselors are trained and practice.

I believe the growth of the profession is dependent on the growth of the people it serves. Are people getting healthier? Are we getting closer to convincing people that seeking counseling for adjustment-related issues — before they are in crisis — is an illustration of “mental health”? Do the systems that our clients are a part of contribute to the individual health of their members? Are professional counselors seeking more knowledge and skills for helping people develop coping mechanisms, positive support systems and healthy mental lifestyles than [knowledge and skills] about identifying pathology, providing symptom relief and diagnosing? Do professional counselors know what clients need in order to maintain a healthy mental lifestyle within their cultural/family context? If these ideas are essential to counselor identity, we must focus on how to document effectiveness and maintain our core values.

In terms of theories, incorporating systemic, wellness-based theories in practice is crucial. We must conduct studies using wellness-based theories to document what works to help all populations maintain mental “health.” It is time to begin applying these theoretical models within a systemic context rather than using them as backdrops for long-winded and recycled conversations about where we are headed.

Mark Pope is professor and chair of the Division of Counseling and Family Therapy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He is also a past president of ACA. Contact him at pope@umsl.edu.

As the U.S. and other countries experience another capitalist cycle downturn, human services will continue to be the target for drastic budgetary cuts. The good news is this: It will get better (again), but more slowly because of the depth of the recession.

In the long term, counseling has great potential, greater than many of the other mental health professions. We are the youngest of all the mental health professions and, yet, we have overtaken them all. We continue to grow faster than other mental health professions (projections for the next decade include counselors: 18 percent [782,200], social workers: 16 percent [745,400] and psychologists: 12 percent [190,000]; see the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 edition). And because of our economic position — lower cost and yet high-quality services — we will continue to grow faster.

With the increasing move toward 60-hour master’s programs, I see a longer-term trend toward increasing professionalization of counselors. And with counselors achieving licensure now in all 50 states, we can and are moving strongly forward to inclusion in all nationwide programs (for example, TRICARE). We are truly ripening as a profession, with even greater potential for the future.

Finally, newer theories, interventions and models that address outcome quality in shorter-term interventions will increase, such as solution-focused therapy, eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and other cognitive behavior theories.

J. Barry Mascari is an associate professor and chair of the Counselor Education Department at Kean University. He is also the American Association of State Counseling Boards’ delegate to the 20/20 initiative. Contact him at jmascari@kean.edu.

Four issues will continue emerging:

1) The profession must decide whether we succumb to what medicine did by moving to practice specialties or remain as broad generalists. People come with multiple problems, and counselors address multiple issues, so specialists would change our profession.

2) Trauma-informed counseling will require ruling out or treating trauma as the primary cause that keeps clients stuck despite many attempts at counseling. Counselors will be required to learn specific evidence-based treatments (EMDR), as well as other neurobiological treatments that will emerge (Brainspotting), to help people break the “recovery logjam” not resolved by talk therapy alone.

3) Addictions-informed treatment recognizes that many people have “use” issues and coexisting disorders that contribute to the self-medication cycle and will benefit from neurobiological techniques as well.

4) Finally, the struggle over using evidence-based techniques (difficult to replicate in noncontrolled client settings) or focusing on the therapeutic alliance and common factors will continue. Some mixture will evolve.

All counselors will need to develop a tool kit loaded with strategies and skills to be employed depending on the client’s needs. These will be less theory-based and more about effectively resolving client problems. Counselors will become a major force in the provision of mental health services.

As far as emerging counseling theories, I believe we are entering the posttheoretical era where older comprehensive “theories” will be presented for historical background in counselor training. My wife (Jane Webber) and I are writing about the posttheoretical era, where the current overemphasis on theories robs time from skill-building.

Although attempts to create a transtheoretical approach met with limited success, it seems that most new ideas look like a slimmed-down [version of Arnold] Lazarus’ multimodal approach. Clients bring multiple issues requiring multiple strategies, which means taking evidence-informed or other effective techniques and applying them to specific client problems. Brief solution-focused and motivational interviewing [approaches] moved in that direction, combining the therapeutic alliance and common factors (taken from Carl Rogers’ work) with strategies framed into a logical treatment model. In light of these changes, counselor educators will be challenged to create teachable models in a way that students understand.

Also, the pendulum of religious fundamentalism swings back as people discover that faith cannot always explain everything and seek to create their own meaning and understanding. A revival of existential thought (Western Buddhism) may re-emerge in counseling.

Deborah Stokes is the director and owner of the Better Brain Center in Alexandria, Va. She is a licensed professional counselor and board certified in neurofeedback. Contact her at dstokes@TheBetterBrainCenter.com.

I believe that over the next decade we will see counselors expand their skill set to keep abreast of the emerging science on the brain and how brain disorders affect behavior, mood, academic performance and interpersonal relationships. We will see, for instance, counselors acquiring training on how to interpret objective measures of brain function such as SPECT and quantitative EEG. These measures will be used to provide input during, for example, marriage counseling, academic counseling and career counseling.

We will see more counselors learning innovative methods of changing brain function, including the neuromodulation methods such as neurofeedback. I also believe that, while psychodynamic approaches will always be important to explore genetic or family-of-origin factors (the loaded gun), there will be a shift toward looking more at environmental factors (the trigger finger) such as nutrition and lifestyle factors that affect the brain and, ultimately, the behavior.

I also see a growing trend with young adults and teens presenting with poor social skills and the inability to interact one-on-one or in groups. There is a growing isolation that I believe is fueled by the explosion of technology and the overreliance on electronic gadgetry to socially connect. So, there is a growing need for social skill-building groups for these young people.

Courtland C. Lee is a professor of counselor education at the University of Maryland and a past president of ACA. Contact him at clee5@umd.edu.

As I consider the evolution of counseling over the next decade, it will be important for the profession to be aware of a number of important global trends. Issues such as worldwide financial instability, climate changes (global warming), unprecedented population aging, ongoing political instability and ideological conflicts, increasingly diverse communities, and rapidly evolving and ever-pervasive technologies all have the potential to significantly impact human development and well-being.

It will be important, therefore, for the counseling profession as it is known in the United States to develop more of an international perspective on counseling and human development, given the sense of global interconnectedness that is emerging among mental health professionals. In many parts of the world, both individually and organizationally, counseling professionals are moving beyond provincial conceptions of theory, research and practice to join in collaborative efforts to foster notions of mental health and human development that stretch across geopolitical boundaries. It will be important for ACA and counselors in this country to be part of these collaborative efforts. Counseling theory and practice over the next decade should focus on understanding human nature in a broad global context. In addition, counselor training must stress the notion that what happens in one community in any part of the United States must be understood within this larger global context. More than ever, it will be crucial for counselors to be able to “think globally and act locally.”

Given this, I believe that counseling practice over the next decade must be predicated on counselors becoming globally literate human beings. Global literacy is the breadth of information that extends over the major domains of human diversity. It consists of the basic information that a person needs to possess in order to successfully navigate life in the technologically sophisticated, globally interconnected world of the 21st century — a world in which people from diverse cultural backgrounds interact in ways that were previously inconceivable.

Global literacy implies an understanding of the contemporary world and how it has evolved over time. It encompasses important knowledge of cultural variations in areas such as geography, history, literature, politics, economics and principles of government. Global literacy is the core body of knowledge that an individual gains over a lifetime about the world in which he or she lives. The driving force behind the development of global literacy is the commitment one makes to ensure that openness to cultural diversity is the cornerstone of his or her life. While the development of multicultural competency should continue to be an important goal for professional counseling training and practice, global literacy must be the goal for a life lived in a culturally competent manner. It logically follows, therefore, that one cannot be a culturally competent counselor if he or she is not a globally literate person, and a wider understanding of the world will be crucial for counselors in the decades to come.

Blair Sumner Mynatt is a doctoral student in counselor education at the University of Tennessee and the student representative to the ACA Governing Council. Contact her at bmynatt@utk.edu.

In my opinion, a future focus of the counseling profession should center on the counseling needs of older adults. In the United States, baby boomers represent a growing percentage of the overall population. As they retire, the counseling profession must be ready to meet the unique developmental needs of this age group. Research suggests that the mental health needs of older adults are growing at an exponential rate, and counselors must be prepared to serve the needs of this underserved population.

The process of aging is a universal phenomenon that needs more attention in counselor preparation programs. There is a general lack of evidence-based practices for older adults. Counseling programs should place a specific emphasis on understanding and meeting the developmental needs of older adults. Counselors should be prepared to work with older adults’ issues such as grief and loss, disability related to physiological functioning, career needs and lack of access to services.

Counselors need training in counseling-based interventions specific to older adults and the awareness of services available in the community. Counseling programs should prepare students to work in more client-focused settings, such as older adults’ homes. If counselors do not reach out to this population, chances are high that older adults will not receive services due to transportation and mobility limitations.

Counselors can play a vital role in the successful aging of today’s older adults. The mental health needs of older adults are often overlooked and can only be expected to grow in the immediate future. The training of future counselors, flexibility of service delivery and development of evidence-based practices are vital for people experiencing this inevitable part of human development.

Cirecie West-Olatunji is past president of the American Counseling Association and associate professor and director of the Center for Traumatic Stress Research at the University of Cincinnati. Contact her at westolce@UCMAIL.UC.EDU.

There are three major trends that are emerging in the discipline of counseling: the internationalization of counseling, more nuanced understanding of traumatic stress and the role it plays in psychological distress, and counseling children.

As more countries explore the value and benefit of having counseling professionals in their society, counseling will become increasingly visible outside the United States. A major benefit of this expansion is that it has the potential to create a global synergy that advances our knowledge and application within the discipline. In particular, globalization of counseling can augment our cultural competence and understanding of sociopolitical context in service delivery.

Another trend is in the area of traumatic stress. There are several human challenges that fuel this trend, such as a) the impending return of U.S. troops from areas of conflict, b) the evolution of the term traumatic stress to include more pervasive triggers (for example, systemic oppression and historical bias/discrimination) and c) the increase in natural and human-made disasters worldwide. More recent catastrophic disasters have [had a greater impact on] individuals, families and communities due to their size, intensity and duration. These changes in the characteristics of disasters have offered new challenges to disaster mental health professionals. Additionally, the prevalence of technology has delivered disasters and subsequent secondary stress to a worldwide audience. Thus, counselors need to create innovative interventions that respond to contemporary challenges.

Finally, the third trend in counseling is attention paid to counseling young children. As the discipline matures, counselors are increasingly defining new areas of application for service delivery. Working with infants, toddlers and preschool children is an emerging area for counselors that allows them to traverse down the developmental pipeline to apply the core principles of counseling to young children. Such an area is appealing to professional counselors because counseling young children requires a focus on prevention and use of a developmental perspective.

Given these three emerging trends, we are likely to see several new theories develop. One would be the creation of new culture-centered counseling theories that come from Eastern Europe, southern Africa, the Pacific Rim or South America. Another area where theory is likely to be developed is in providing more definition to the area of traumatic stress in relation to pervasive intergenerational issues. In working with young children, we are likely to see a flurry of theories related to counseling young children ages 0 to 5. The next decade in counseling will be a very exciting time in which counselors will need to be more responsive than ever.

 

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A closer look at developing counselor identity

Timothy E. Coppock

Professional identity has emerged as one of the hot topics in the counseling profession. A quick look at the 2011 ACA Conference schedule and a preview of the sessions for the 2012 conference in San Francisco reveals that, as counselors, we are interested in discussions that investigate the topic and equally interested in adding the topic to our research agendas. This article is a personal reflection on the importance of professional identity from my vantage point both as a professional counselor and a counselor educator. An aspect I am most interested in is how we can strengthen and enhance the process of developing identity as professional counselors.

As is the case with most counselors, the first thing I need to do when meeting a new client is to introduce myself and talk about my identity as a professional counselor, what my client can expect from the counseling process and the expectations that he or she might have. I most often find that I have to define my professional identity by describing what I am not: I cannot prescribe medications, and I am not a psychologist. I go on to say that professional counselors are licensed to help resolve mental and emotional problems. A few clients ask for even more clarification concerning specific competencies, but most individuals are satisfied that their needs can be met so long as I assure them that their insurance will cover my charges.

I find that I have almost the same conversation with applicants to our master’s program in community counseling. If this conversation doesn’t take place at their admissions interview, then most assuredly I will need to provide some further explanation and clarification at several points during their first two or three semesters until the notion of professional identity begins to sink in. By the time master’s students reach their fourth or fifth semester and begin practicum and internship, maybe they will have some level of confidence in the professional identity for which they have trained. At least that’s our hope, isn’t it?

A personal journey

I believe my understanding of professional identity was formed in much the same way. I remember asking dumb questions of my professors at Bowling Green State University as I explored the shared concepts of analysts such as Freud, Jung, Adler and Rogers. Like many of the students entering into the community counseling program where I now teach, I did not have a background or degree in psychology or an applied science such as social work. And, to be honest, the lines between disciplines were quite blurry as I acquired the skills for counseling. What distinguished my identity as a professional counselor from the other professions was not so much based in what I was taught but rather in who was doing the teaching and in the application of these concepts. My professors were counselors who had put the theories and techniques into practice, who exemplified the best of the skills needed to help others bring about desired changes, and who understood the importance of what works and what doesn’t in the development of plans to reach goals.

It’s tough to say exactly when my identity as a professional counselor first emerged because it is indeed a process. It takes time for professional identity to develop, and it requires strong mentors who are willing to invest their time and energy not only in teaching but also in leadership and advocacy. I was simultaneously flattered and challenged when my master’s program adviser, Susan Huss, invited me to co-present at a regional counseling conference. Similarly to most of my fellow students, my life consisted of working a full-time job, attending night classes, finding time to study and balancing multiple roles as a father, student and, now, counselor-in-training. How would I work a two-day event into my already full schedule? How could I stretch my meager budget to include a conference registration and professional membership?

To be sure, professional identity is much more than attending and presenting at conferences. But the process of building identity does include strong relationships with mentors and colleagues who aspire to teach and learn from one another at conferences and continuing education events. And, most formidably, professional identity is built during the two to four years devoted to acquiring the master’s degree required for licensure as a professional counselor in all 50 states. Indeed, there would be no licensure for professional counselors and, hence, we would not be able to provide vital services to clients if it weren’t for the dedication and advocacy of professional counselors and counselor educators. Professional identity depends in part on the critical decisions and crucial sacrifices made by leading counselors and counselor educators. They forged the relationships and coalitions necessary to enact laws that ensure credentialing and accreditation by organizations such as the National Board for Certified Counselors and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. They also provide us with the ACA Code of Ethics and other professional guidelines that protect both the public and our obligation to provide services that meet standards of care. Ultimately, if not for the perseverance and continued dedication of these leaders, counselor licensure laws would not have been enacted in all 50 states.

What distinguishes counselors?

Ever since my years as a doctoral student at the University of Toledo, I have clung to the tenets of a profession that has worked hard to define itself within the complex context of other related professions. Ideally, these related professions would work together as a team, with an integrated approach, to provide mental health services. However, these professions often perceive one another as competitors, fighting for community contracts, insurance endorsements and licensure rights.

Martin Ritchie is another mentor/adviser, and now colleague, who has made a profound impression on my life and career. Indeed Martin Ritchie and Susan Huss represent a league of counselor educators who have invested their entire careers in the building of counseling as a profession. On one unforgettable occasion, Martin challenged my doctoral cohort with a concise history of professional counseling, giving specific emphasis to the identity conflicts professional counselors experienced regarding the related professions of psychology and social work. Embedded in his lecture were the primary issues of a fledgling profession — a profession oftentimes viewed as a stepchild in the course of lobbying and legislative efforts to secure licensure, a profession scrutinized by managed care and representatives of federal funding to determine if its members are legitimate providers of mental health services, a profession frequently lumped together with other social service providers variously as “mental health therapists,” “psychotherapists” and “clinicians.” Dr. Ritchie’s questions still reverberate in my memory: What gives us distinction? What sets counselors apart? Have we indeed earned our identity as a separate profession?

There are no simple answers to any of these questions. The reality is that professional counselors share a heritage of theories, techniques and, to some extent, training with several other types of mental health professionals, most notably marriage and family therapists, social workers and counseling psychologists. In Pennsylvania, where I currently am a counselor educator and also have a limited practice, professional counselors can be licensed with educational backgrounds in no less than 10 related fields. Indeed, the multiple tracks available to licensure in some states have in my opinion contributed to a blurring of professional identity, for counselors and consumers. From the point of view of the consumer, it doesn’t matter which license I use to practice, so long as my profession is regulated to protect the consumer. Psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and professional counselors all use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and bill the same insurance companies. Some attempt to make the distinction that professional counselors subscribe to a wellness model as opposed to a medical model. But quite frankly, other related professions would claim the same.

So what does make the difference? I believe the difference lies primarily in two areas: in our education and in our supervision as counselors. Professional counselors are trained in counselor education programs by faculty who identify as professional counselors, and we are supervised by licensed professional counselors (LPCs). Counselors educated and supervised by professionals other than counselors are unlikely to have a clear professional identity. CACREP’s work has provided a foundation to ensure that students develop both professional identity and standards for knowledge and skills specific to the profession of counseling.

Supervision is equally influential with regard to our identity as professional counselors. For a number of years, before there were enough LPCs to provide supervision, professional counselors were supervised by other professionals. However, as a profession, we have reached the point at which all 50 states have licensure laws that regulate not only the title of “professional counselor” but, in many states, the practice of counseling as well. Related to the achievement of that objective, most states currently require either that a professional counselor provide supervision or that a minimum number of supervision hours be provided by an LPC.

The task of instilling and developing identity as a professional counselor includes some serious challenges, not the least of which is the limited time available for the identity-building process. The program I am privileged to teach in at Gannon University is a three-year master’s degree program. Other master’s programs can be completed in as little as two years, however. Students entering master’s counseling programs come from a variety of backgrounds and with corresponding bachelor’s degrees: social work, psychology, art therapy, criminal justice and even from humanities or business. Entering students often possess almost no understanding of how counseling is different from other social service professions. In comparing my experience with that of other counselor educators, I have found this is commonplace among three-year master’s programs and even in larger programs featuring multiple tracks or offering a doctoral degree in counselor education.

The challenge is that counseling, unlike other related social service professions, has no corresponding undergraduate major and, hence, no undergraduate professional identity. Undergraduates typically may choose to major in psychology or social work in their freshman or sophomore years, which provides those professions as many as six to eight years to create and develop strong professional identity. Indeed, for a number of students the expectation is that a master’s degree in counseling will be a stepping-stone to a Psy.D. or a Ph.D. in psychology. It has become a challenge for counselor educators to develop curricula that offer the essential components to train counselors, while simultaneously including experiences that will instill and enhance strong identity as a professional counselor. A number of master’s programs are three-year programs in which the third year is spent in clinical practice and internship. Many full-time programs are only two years, however. At best, this leaves only one or possibly two years of classroom contact and exposure to professors and other students in the cohort during which identity-building experiences can be planned.

Suggested solutions

I view myself as a solution-focused, strengths-based counselor. In the best of that tradition, it is time to consider ways to reach beyond the next two to three years. One option for addressing this deficit of time is to expand beyond the bounds of graduate education and training by developing an undergraduate minor in counseling. At a minimum, this would provide undergraduate students — particularly those with related majors in psychology, social work or criminal justice — an opportunity to explore professional counseling. In turn, an undergraduate counseling minor would provide three to four courses in content areas such as basic helping skills, human development and professional orientation. This potentially would expand the amount of time students could develop their identity as professional counselors to as many as four or five years. An important component of this solution is that these undergraduate courses would have to be taught by instructors who strongly identify as professional counselors. One option would be for counselor education doctoral interns to teach the courses. This would represent a secondary benefit for larger counselor education programs that support doctoral degree programs. Another advantage of this approach is that undergraduate students who minored in counseling would be much better prepared for master’s programs. Universities might benefit from this increased awareness in the form of higher enrollment.

A strong predictor of professional identity is membership in professional organizations such as the American Counseling Association, attendance at professional conferences and pursuing leadership opportunities in professional organizations. One of the hats I wear is as faculty adviser for our local chapter of Chi Sigma Iota, the professional honor society that has distinguished itself as being clearly and singularly identified with professional counseling. Students are not eligible for membership in CSI until their second semester. Although the work of CSI is commendable in building professional identity, for students in master’s-only programs, this leaves precious little time for active involvement: about 18 months. I participated in a roundtable discussion in March 2011 with other chapter faculty advisers from master’s-only programs, and it was quickly noted that my experience is not unique. Again, as one who looks for solutions, what if CSI chapters placed even more emphasis on non-membership participation in events for first-year master’s students? And in the interest of expansion of opportunities for identity development, what if CSI supported programs that could be implemented at the undergraduate level to promote the profession of counseling?

Gannon University’s master’s program, like many other CACREP-accredited programs, is in the process of preparing for reaccreditation under the 2009 CACREP Standards. Much adieu has been made over the requirement that 50 percent of master’s course work be taught by core faculty. At issue has been an additional standard related to the professional identities of core faculty members. From a very practical, strengths-based approach, it would seem that the counseling profession could only gain from strengthening the identity of those who are primary to the formation of professional identity in the counseling profession.

In summary, I believe an expansion of the time allotted for development of professional identity can serve to strengthen and enhance our work as professional counselors. The bottom line, of course, is the public we serve. Clients will benefit if they are treated by professional counselors who are not only competent in their counseling skills but also confident in the specific role professional counselors play in providing services.

“Knowledge Share” articles are adapted from sessions presented at past ACA Annual Conferences.

Timothy E. Coppock is assistant professor an clinical experiences coordinator in the community counseling program in Gannon University’s Department of Psychology and Counseling. Contact him at coppock001@gannon.edu.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org