Tag Archives: Technology

@TechCounselor: There’s no escaping technology

By Adria S. Dunbar and Beth A. Vincent November 13, 2017

Do you pay for your drive-through latte with your iPhone app while streaming Spotify through your Bluetooth speakers and double-checking your GPS for traffic notifications? Or are you the stalwart who prefers to park and go inside to order your coffee because drive-throughs seem so impersonal and face-to-face communication is an endangered art? Whether you’re the early adopter who embraces technology usage in every aspect of your life or the skeptical laggard who argues that we would all be better off if we were less plugged in, you can’t escape the question of whether (or how) to integrate technology into your life and work.

For those of us who are counselors, our technology habits in our personal lives likely influence how we use technology in our professional lives, including in our relationships with colleagues and clients. Yet it can be difficult to remain self-aware about our habits and choices surrounding technology use. Constant advances in new technologies ensure that as soon as we have a solid grasp on current technology, a new innovation bursts onto the market and changes everything. This is lifelong learning to the extreme.

Why does it matter which technologies we use and how? If technology is a means to an end — be it increased efficiency, convenience, communication, transparency or organization — then it matters whether those ends are achieved. Email enables us to communicate from the convenience of our smartphones, but not when the messages pile up too fast for us to read and reply to them. Cell phones make us accessible 24/7 from any location, but only until our signal gets dropped. PowerPoint helps us stay on track in meetings, but not when the presenter falls back on reading slide after slide of black bullet point text from a plain white background. When technology fails — when it does not get us to the desired end — we can end up feeling lost, frustrated or even betrayed.

The downsides of technology can arise from our own abuse of technology or be inherent in the technology itself. We see the human tendency to abuse technology every time a co-worker consistently replies to all when they think they are replying to one. Or when we sit in a meeting that is filled with the incessant tapping of keyboard keys as colleagues refuse to unplug long enough to attend a one-hour meeting. Or, perhaps worst of all, when we sit silently while a lunch companion stares at a screen rather than paying attention to the human being seated directly across from them. At times, we may catch ourselves being less present in the company of others, distracted by social media, email or notifications. Some of the ways people use software may even be categorized as addictive or criminal.

In addition to these human failings, other pitfalls are inherent to the technologies themselves. Important emails wind up in spam folders, text messages never make it to their intended audience, and software crashes a moment before we hit save, just as we are entering the final case note of the day. Just as we all benefit from technology, we also struggle to navigate its challenges.

As counselors, our choices around technology use are laden with our professional responsibilities. Federal laws dictate what we can do and say in online and digital formats. Our social media must be monitored carefully to avoid the creation of dual relationships or unintentional self-disclosure to clients. Our behaviors must be models of healthy boundaries in front of those we serve. Ethical standards exist to help guide our professional behaviors, but as counselors, we are confronted with an ever-changing technology landscape that affects our personal and professional lives and the lives of our clients.

In this shifting landscape, how do counselors make decisions about which products to use and which to avoid? How can we leverage technology to make us more efficient and effective without allowing technology to steal the spotlight away from the real work we are doing with clients? We must keep returning to the question: “What is the end goal, and how can technology help us get there?”

Each column in this new monthly series for CT Online will explore this question in the context of a different type of mobile and online software technology that counselors use.

Future column topics will include:

  • Email
  • Productivity software
  • Communication software
  • Site blocking software
  • Record-keeping software
  • Online counseling platforms
  • Chat and texting
  • Mobile devices

 

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Adria S. Dunbar is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She has more than 15 years of experience with both efficient and inefficient technology in school settings, private practice and counselor education. Contact her at adria.dunbar@ncsu.edu.

 

Beth A. Vincent is an assistant professor at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, in counselor education. She is a counselor educator, licensed school counselor and former career counselor who is driven to learn everything there is to know about innovative productivity software to help counselors be their most present selves. Contact her at evincent@campbell.edu.

 

Our Instagram is @techncounselor.

 

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

 

Technology Tutor: Revisiting the ethics of discussing clients online

By Rob Reinhardt November 7, 2017

If you have given even a cursory observation to the advertisements that appear on Facebook, during Google searches or on many of the websites that you visit, you will have noticed that these advertisements are targeted at you. The ads might be related to web searches you have performed, the area you live in or something that is generally popular with your age group.

This is how companies such as Facebook and Google make almost all of their money. They gather information about you (and everyone else) and sell advertising to companies that want to target you. They make a lot of money doing this because they are very good at letting those companies get very specific with their targeting. (Google reported revenues of $26 billion in the fourth quarter of 2016 alone.) For a glimpse into the kinds of details that Facebook collects about people, check out the great infographic at bit.ly/FBTargetOptions. That list keeps growing and getting more refined. It is especially important to note this passage from Facebook’s overview of how to target ads: “Behaviors are constructed from both someone’s activity on Facebook and offline activity provided by data from Facebook’s trusted third-party partners.”

In other words, to target advertising to their users, Facebook is collecting data from many different sources about both online and offline activity. So, this is not restricted only to the activity on Facebook.

What does this have to do with our clients (and potential clients)?

I continue to witness counselors engaging in referrals and case consultation in online forums such as Listservs and Facebook groups. This is despite my previous article on this topic last year in Counseling Today (see bit.ly/discussingclients) in which I discussed the difficulty of maintaining confidentiality for clients and the PIT principle (permanence, identity, transferability), and even with American Counseling Association Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan clearly stating that discussing clients online is an ethics no-no. The existence of marketing databases curated by entities such as Facebook and Google adds yet another reason that we need to consider other ways of addressing client needs.

Take this example of a completely fictional situation that could quite easily refer to a real situation:

Johnny Client contacts Susie Counselor about an appointment. He provides some background, and Susie recognizes that she is not a great fit for him. She decides to reach out to her local mailing list or Facebook group of therapists to see if she can provide Johnny with a solid referral. She writes: “Looking for referral for 30-something male dealing with depression. Needs counselor in network with ABC Insurance.”

Although this may seem innocuous at first, it is likely more than enough information for Johnny to be identified. In my previous article, I pointed out the human reasons this is an issue. (For instance, what if someone who knows Johnny or even Johnny himself is in the group? What if someone copies and pastes or screenshots the information?)

Now let’s look at it from a targeted marketing standpoint. Johnny’s call to Susie didn’t happen in a vacuum. Prior to calling her, Johnny did a search for “Counselor MyTown” and visited Susie’s website. These are traceable behaviors tied directly to Johnny, and they likely will end up in the databases used by entities such as Google and Facebook to target advertising. Based on these behaviors, Johnny is likely to start seeing ads on his computer for mental health treatments, counselors in the area and self-help books.

It is important to note that Susie Counselor is now probably connected to Johnny in these databases because he visited her website and placed a call to her. So, when she posts about the 30-something male with depression shortly after receiving Johnny’s call, it’s not a huge leap for database algorithms to figure out that this is the same Johnny Client who recently visited her website and called her — the same Johnny Client whose address, birthday and many other pieces of information already exist in the databases. Except now, thanks to Susie, those databases have learned that Johnny is dealing with depression. They may well have already known what insurance Johnny has, but if not, that’s another bonus that Susie provided for them.

What you can do

I’d like to highlight one of my suggestions from the previous article as well as provide a couple of other suggestions:

  • Make it counselor-centric: When seeking someone to refer to, focus on the counselor’s skills, not the client’s issues. For example, you might say, “I’m looking for a counselor who helps clients dealing with depression.”
  • Keep it offline: Go old school! Keep your own notebook or database of people you can refer to. Note their strengths, location, the insurance they accept, etc. Network and get to know them to elevate the quality of your referrals.
  • Raise awareness: Sometimes, counselors need to be reminded of things that we often tell our clients. For instance, just because others are engaging in a behavior doesn’t make it OK. Make others in your online forums aware of the privacy issues surrounding discussing referrals and cases online. Point them to this article and to my previous article that I referenced earlier. Point them to the pertinent passages in the ACA Code of Ethics (noted below). Even if they aren’t counselors, the ethics codes for social workers, psychologists, marriage and family therapists and psychiatrists contain similar passages, so their concern for client privacy and confidentiality should be just as great. Above all, be kind and compassionate in your approach.

Pertinent standards in the ACA Code of Ethics

B.1.c. Respect for Confidentiality

“Counselors protect the confidential information of prospective and current clients. Counselors disclose information only with appropriate consent or with sound legal or ethical justification.”

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Note the inclusion of “prospective” clients. Do you have the person’s consent before disclosing anything about them online? Can you accomplish your goal without disclosing information about them online? If so, what is your legal or ethical justification for disclosing?

B.2.e. Minimal Disclosure

“To the extent possible, clients are informed before confidential information is disclosed and are involved in the disclosure decision-making process. When circumstances require the disclosure of confidential information, only essential information is revealed.”

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Do clients (or prospective clients) fully understand the ramifications of you disclosing information about them online? Do they understand how few details it might take for computer algorithms to identify them? Are they aware of all the options for accomplishing the goal, and do they approve of online disclosure?

B.3.c. Confidential Settings

“Counselors discuss confidential information only in settings in which they can reasonably ensure client privacy.”

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Is there any way that this standard doesn’t completely rule out using online forums for any disclosure? Based on my experience and expertise, there simply is no way that counselors can reasonably ensure client privacy if they share any details about clients in most online forums.

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For an interesting discussion of this topic, including an interview with social media policy expert Keely Kolmes, check out Episode 104 of the TherapyTech with Rob and Roy podcast.

 

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

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

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

Technology Tutor: Speaking your clients’ social app language

By Rob Reinhardt April 28, 2016

During my time as editor of the Technology Tutor column, I have been very focused on how counselors can use technology. This month, I’m breaking from that pattern to give you a look at technology from the client side of things.

Much of our work with clients involves discussing how they express themselves and how they relate to others. With social media use growing, it is important for counselors to stay in touch with the ways that people are connecting and communicating. We’ll be in a much better position to meet clients phonewhere they are if we understand statements such as, “My friend sent me a Snapchat about an Instagram I inadvertently posted. It was a screenshot from my Periscope session, and it was so embarrassing!”

It can be especially important for counselors to understand how these apps work if your clients include children or adolescents because some of these apps can amplify the typical dangers of social interaction. I leave the exploration of that to your imagination. Alternately, you could view an article by Common Sense Media, “16 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook” (see bit.ly/1LoFdkR), that details concerns about these apps as they relate to minors.

With all of this in mind, I’ll discuss some of the social apps that are currently most popular. Note that I am skipping some big ones — Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter — that I assume everyone is familiar with by now. You may also notice that I do a fair bit of comparing. That’s because it can be challenging to explain many of these applications without relating them to an app that readers may already know. Of course, the best way to understand most of these apps is simply to experience them for yourself.

Instagram

Instagram is like a pictures-and-video-only version of Facebook and is actually owned by that social media giant. Like Facebook, you can share your postings publicly or with a private network of connections. Instagram’s claim to fame is the filters users can apply to their pictures to give them many different looks. It is important to note that Instagram is a mobile-only program. It can only be accessed through an iOS or Android mobile device.

Tumblr

Tumblr is what is referred to as a microblogging platform. Unlike a traditional blog, Tumblr posts typically feature a photo or video with minimal text. It’s akin to a visual sound bite version of a blog. Although many Tumblr users create new content, some opt to simply curate and pass on the content of others. Another way to look at it is that Tumblr is like Pinterest with more options and more interaction.

Snapchat

Snapchat is like a self-destructing Instagram (it’s the content that self-destructs, not the app). Snapchat allows users to enhance pictures with text and doodles that they draw before sending. The resulting image can be viewed for only 10 seconds (or less if you choose) by the recipients, and then it’s gone forever. Snapchat also allows users to create “stories,” which are similar to “snaps,” but they last 24 hours. There is also chat functionality in which chats are cleared once completed. It is important to note that despite the transient intent of Snapchat, screen shots of content can be taken.

Yik Yak

Imagine you could view only the tweets of people within a 10-mile radius of your current location and you’ll have a good idea of what Yik Yak is. Add to that the fact that, until recently, Yik Yak’s users were completely anonymous. Now they have the option of taking on handles (i.e., nicknames/usernames). Yik Yak has been especially popular on college campuses and even embroiled in controversy (see on.mash.to/1LoEccn).

Periscope

Periscope allows anyone with the mobile app to broadcast his or her own live video show, complete with comments and questions posted by anyone watching. Owned by Twitter, and primarily used by businesses, it has spawned the growth of similar services. For example, Facebook has recently launched its own live streaming.

Blab

Whereas Periscope is focused on the broadcaster sharing an experience, Blab is more like a talk show. Similar to Google Hangouts, it allows the person producing the show to have up to three other guests. Those viewing can ask questions and provide feedback.

Tinder

Tinder is a photo-and-location-based dating app. Users view pictures of others within a certain mile radius, swiping right to “like” a photo and left to not like it. If two people both swipe right, they are then able to communicate with one other. Where it goes from there is up to them.

Skout

Skout is similar to Tinder, though generally less well known. It differs in that it attempts to segment users into peer groups on the basis of age and provides moderation for teen groups/communication.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is a mobile messaging app that can take the place of texting.  It uses the mobile data plan and, therefore, doesn’t incur SMS charges. It is cross-platform, so users can communicate with others regardless of the type of phone they use. Users can also create “chat groups” to message between multiple people at once. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014. Kik is very similar to WhatsApp, although not as prevalent.

 

 

This is not an exhaustive list, and there are always new applications coming out. I encourage counselors to stay up to date on their understanding of these apps and the ways that their clients are communicating and relating with their peers. And don’t forget, if you use social media as part of your work, the ACA Code of Ethics requires that you have a social media policy.

 

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Is there an app your clients talk about a lot that isn’t on this list? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to drop me an email, or leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Letters to the editorct@counseling.org

 

Apps4Counseling: What’s in your digital toolbox?

By Maxine L. Rawlins and Elizabeth A. Hughes January 27, 2016

The increase in mobile device ownership and usage — primarily smartphones and tablets, in that order — has been remarkable for all segments and age groups of the U.S. population. The Branding-Images_toolsindependent market research company eMarketer estimated that just under 2 billion people worldwide would own a smartphone by the end of 2015. Although tablet ownership and usage is generally lower than that for smartphones, the figures are still impressive. Worldwide and U.S. tablet sales for 2015 were estimated to reach 1 billion and 156 million, respectively, which represents a doubling of worldwide sales when compared with 2012 figures.

Among some other U.S. trends in mobile device usage and social networking as reported by various sources:

  • Mobile device ownership and social media usage have increased for all age groups (Pew Research Center, 2015).
  • Smartphones and tablets are used more than any other electronic device by children ages 4-14, prompting the toy division president of market research firm NPD to conclude that “technology devices are as much staples for American families as traditional toys” (NPD, 2014)
  • Increased mobile device usage by children has prompted some schools to adopt hybrid learning BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies (Ed Tech, 2015).
  • Almost one-third of adult smartphone owners say they couldn’t imagine living without their smartphone (Pew Research Center, 2014, 2015).
  • Young people, “minorities” and those with lower socioeconomic status (SES) levels are likely to be “smartphone dependent” for Internet access (Pew Research Center, 2015).
  • The highest rates of social networking were reported by young adults, African Americans and those with higher levels of SES and/or education (Pew Research Center, 2014, 2015).
  • Approximately 51.5 percent of millennials in higher education settings report using their smartphones to monitor their personal health (Domo, 2015).

Incorporating mobile devices into counseling

Professional usage of mobile devices by counselors has not sufficiently reflected an awareness of or capitalized on the dramatic shifts in the ways in which large numbers of the U.S. population currently communicate, learn, socialize and obtain, manage and share information. Put differently, counseling, counselor education and wellness promotion strategies have not, for the most part, kept pace with the way that people currently live in and interact with their immediate and larger world. The benefits of actively integrating mobile devices into the teaching and practice of counseling are numerous. These benefits include:

  • Portability
  • Flexibility
  • Effectiveness at embracing multiple learning styles and multiple “intelligences” because of the inherent kinesthetic, auditory and visual components of mobile devices
  • Ability to be customized to match the developmental level, culture, etc., of the target group
  • Range of standard accessibility features
  • Effectiveness with a wide range of cohorts, not only “digital natives”
  • Engaging and interactive nature
  • Potential to enhance brain neuroplasticity and neurogenesis
  • Ability to use a single device with an individual or group of clients/students
  • The ever-increasing plethora of high-quality apps that are free or low cost, many of which can be used across same-system mobile devices

Put another way, an informed use of mobile devices in counseling, counselor education and wellness promotion can significantly increase the size, creativity and effectiveness of our intervention toolboxes. The importance of meeting our clients and students where they are should not be minimized.

Despite the multiple potential benefits of incorporating mobile devices into our work as counselors, there are some primary challenges regarding their use. These include:

  • Reduced counselor experience, confidence and competence, as well as limited research on the use of technology (especially mobile devices) that might enhance our work as counselors
  • The less robust nature of mobile devices compared with computer-based software applications
  • The general “functional fixedness” of counselors
  • Concerns regarding confidentiality
  • Concerns that technology will depersonalize the counseling experience
  • Privacy concerns
  • The “digital divide”

Current project: Goals, genesis and focus

The goal of our current multiyear mobile device and app curation project is to explore ways in which iOS and Android mobile devices and related apps can be used to enhance counseling and therapy, counselor education, training and wellness promotion. Initial emphasis was on the iPad. The hope is that the results of the project will significantly streamline the app search process for counselors, human service and other allied health providers, counselor educators, trainers and counselor education students, and increase the ways and frequency in which mobile devices are purposively integrated into our work. We also hope project results might be useful to and accessed by laypeople to increase their overall well-being.

At the onset of the project in fall 2013, it was estimated that there were more than 1 million apps in Apple’s App Store, with approximately 500,000 of these apps developed specifically for the iPad. Identifying counseling and wellness-related uses of mobile devices and related apps proved to be an arduous and time-consuming process, even when the literature of related fields such as education, special education and communication was considered.

Because the initial project focus was on wellness promotion, an important early step was to identify a wellness model to provide the conceptual foundation for app exploration and selection. After reviewing a variety of models, we adopted the landmark multilayered Indivisible Self Model developed by Jane Myers and Thomas Sweeney (2004).

This Adlerian-compatible, holistic, three-tiered factor structural model includes the unified indivisible self, representing a person’s overall well-being, as its first factor. This is followed by five second-order factors: the creative self, the coping self, the social self, the essential self and the physical self. Finally, these second-order factors are composed of a combined total of 17 third-order factors. For example, the creative self is composed of the following five third-order factors: thinking, emotions, control, work and positive humor.

The current project enthusiastically adopted this model, with minor revisions, because of its evidence-based foundation, its holistic, broad-based definition of wellness and its contextual perspective.

In revisiting the Indivisible Self Model, however, it became clear that some adjustments were needed to reflect current counseling practice and literature. More specifically, this entailed a more inclusive definition of gender identity and the addition of brain health, sleep and sexual orientation as third-order factors. Finally, all third-order factors were further operationalized into a set of “fourth order” categories. Although these factors were not empirically identified, they provided a much-needed structural rubric for the project’s selection of counseling/wellness-enhancing apps and tablet-specific tools. Toward this end, we made every effort for the project to be guided by and to remain as true as possible to the writings and concepts put forth by the architects of the Indivisible Self Model, while simultaneously reflecting current practice and knowledge.

InfographicApp selection process

It became clear at the outset that a structured four-stage discovery and vetting process was required to cull through the plethora of App Store apps and ultimately identify counseling/wellness-enhancing apps for inclusion in the project.

The first stage, Identification, consisted of app searches within counseling and related fields. The procedure entailed arduously culling through the App Store using related keywords, categories and leads obtained from our literature and online searches, monitoring “best new app” listings and exploring other apps offered by the developers of apps we had already identified as promising.

After an app was identified, the Discovery process began, which involved taking several factors into consideration before the potential app progressed to the next stage. Factors included app reviews and user ratings, App Store developer descriptions, price, file size, in-app purchasing, free version restrictions, user suitability ratings (e.g., age), whether the app was accessible on the iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch, the app’s version history and the developer’s attentiveness to required fixes. If these features were deemed to be satisfactory, the app was determined to be ready for further examination in the Analysis stage.

During the Analysis stage, surviving apps were subjected to more robust scrutiny, as we “checked under the hood and kicked the tires.” The apps’ user friendliness and intuitiveness came to be of utmost importance. Relevance and quality of fit with the Indivisible Self Model also came into play, as did the apps’ level of versatility, customizable options and value-added features such as trend analysis, syncing/interfacing with other devices, integrated cloud storage and note-taking/journaling elements. If the app was for children, the degree of available parental control became important, as did the inclusion of follow-up questions, activities, resources or tips for parents.

Exclusionary factors included apps that focused on self-diagnosis, hypnosis or “hookups”; were sexualized; contained an excessive amount of grammatical or spelling errors; appeared to be pushing an agenda or product; cost more than $10; or contained excessive in-app purchasing or excessively intrusive ads. At the end of this stage, we determined whether an app provided sufficient value to warrant downloading or purchasing it to be tested in the project’s fourth and final stage.

In the Selection stage, we test drove downloaded and purchased apps by using actual or hypothetical data to make an informed recommendation about each app’s inclusion or exclusion in the project. For example, we considered ease and reliability of operation, usage restrictions, customizability and information saving/syncing. In this final stage, we raised the bar to reassess each app’s relative value by conducting an informal cost-benefit analysis and determining the extent to which its concept, design, functionality and operation were unique in comparison with similar apps in its category.

The hundreds of hours spent identifying and vetting apps have thus far yielded more than 350 high-quality apps — and counting — that enhance counseling and wellness. It is important to note that the majority of apps that survived the rigorous four-stage evaluation process and ultimately received the project’s stamp of approval were originally developed for purposes unrelated to counseling. It quickly became apparent to us that it was important not to be dissuaded by an app’s stated or intended purpose. To be maximally effective, this necessitated holding any tendencies toward app-specific functional fixedness in check so that each app could be creatively evaluated through an objective and unbiased lens. Put differently, it was critical for the project investigators to deconstruct each potential app, peeling off the layers to highlight its bare-bones core components. This careful mining process was critical in revealing multiple gems.

Case vignette and app-related interventions 

To demonstrate how mobile devices and related apps can be utilized in many ways during the counseling process, consider “John,” a hypothetical case study created to demonstrate app-related counseling and wellness promotion interventions and their potential effectiveness.

John is a talented budding lawyer who is determined to become the youngest partner in his firm. He often heads to work early and leaves late, sacrificing quality sleep and nonwork-related social activities to achieve his goal. John presents to counseling with several areas of concern. Specifically, he states that his lack of “real friends,” absence of nonwork interests and neglect of his overall health and wellness have significantly contributed to his life feeling out of balance.

John says that he:

  • Spends the majority of his time working at the office or at home
  • Eats on the go, typically consuming fast food on a regular basis at his desk, picking up something on his way home from work or skipping meals entirely
  • Has no time to exercise, although he has a gym located in his apartment building
  • Consumes caffeine regularly to keep up with his job demands and increasingly consumes alcohol to help him relax
  • Can’t recall the last time he had fun since moving to this area

John and several of his presenting concerns are good candidates for mobile/app-related interventions, particularly because he offers that he never leaves home without his smartphone and prides himself on being the most tech-savvy employee at his firm. Additionally, he consistently mentions his overall lack of time to address many of his highlighted areas of concern.

John acknowledges that he has neglected his health and put the rest of his life “on hold” in his pursuit of making partner and achieving career success. At several points, he also brings up his overall lack of discretionary time and his perceived inability to attend to his overall wellness. John agrees to give OWAVES (a free app for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch) a try to evaluate, track and change his current habits.

In response to John’s specific requests for assistance in expanding his social world and interests, he is introduced to the Meetup app (a free app for iPhone, Apple Watch and Android). This app provides users with a community-based way to nurture existing interests, rekindle old passions and explore new locally based activities through its listing of various social and interest groups in the area. John is particularly drawn to this app because he has mentioned an old love of ballroom dancing, a desire to reconnect with this “community” and an increased willingness to meet new people outside of his work environment.

Additionally, John has expressed a wish to reduce his alcohol consumption and explore other ways of relaxing that are compatible with his busy lifestyle. For this, he downloads and agrees to experiment with several mindfulness strategies, especially those that don’t require a large time investment. He is especially drawn to the bite-size mindfulness practices of the Smiling Mind app (free for iPhone, iPad and Android).

John’s insights and positive outcomes

In response to the counselor’s request that John track his daily activities using OWAVES and make efforts to use Smiling Mind and Meetup over the next two weeks, John achieves some insights and realizes some positive outcomes. First, he recognizes that taking time for lunch and eating mindfully actually increases his productivity in the afternoons. He begins to increase his sleep, waking refreshed in the morning. This results in time for exercise before work, decreased stress and less perceived need to use alcohol as a relaxant.

After four weeks, John takes small daily breaks dedicated to relaxation strategies, often using one of the bite-size Smiling Mind meditations. In the process, he increases his alertness during the day, decreases his need for caffeine and frees up some evening hours for social activities. John also uses his newly available time in the evenings (due in part to his increased daytime work productivity) to begin testing the waters with the Meetup app, searching for local groups that pique his interest.

Special considerations 

This hypothetical case was designed to highlight the app selection and implementation processes and the potential impact of app-related counseling interventions. Additionally, our intention is to encourage counselors to take a “blended” approach to incorporating technology into their work.

The incorporation of technology in general, and mobile devices in particular, into our counseling practice does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Such interventions can enhance and supplement — not necessarily replace — traditional counseling.

It is important to note that, first and foremost, John’s goals and fit for technology-incorporated counseling practice were considered. John was an ideal candidate for this type of intervention because of his age, presenting issues, comfort and access to technology, openness to its utilization and perceived lack of time to incorporate other strategies to improve his level of wellness.

App selection 101: Practical applications for counselors

Given the limited body of literature on the use of technology in general and mobile devices in particular in the counseling process, the following recommendations are offered to facilitate informed decision-making by counselors and other allied health providers when assessing the selection and incorporation of mobile devices and apps into their practice.

First and foremost, the provider should take into consideration the needs and goals of the client or student. As with any intervention, intentionality should be the driving force that guides the decision-making process. The app under consideration should be in the best interests of the client or student, taking into account his or her presenting issues and goals. Other factors such as developmental level, age suitability, cultural identification (broadly defined) and client degree of familiarity, experience and confidence in using technology should also be considered.

Although we live in a technological age that is constantly changing, the digital divide has become increasingly important. Client or student access to the considered app, as well as to the technology required to support use of the app, both inside and outside of the counseling session, are important factors that need to be considered. In addition, because confidentiality and privacy of the information generated within most apps cannot be guaranteed, this should be discussed prior to use. Any counselor who intends to utilize apps or other technology-related resources within the counseling process should strongly consider delineating such information in his or her informed consent.

Finally, counselors interested in integrating mobile devices, apps or other technologies into their work are advised to examine clients and students through the lens of their current stage in the counseling relationship and process. The Stages of Change Model (1994) developed by James Prochaska, John Norcross and Carlo DiClemente can also be useful in this regard. These factors may be critical in determining whether the individual will be responsive to and is appropriate for the technology-based intervention being considered.

We invite you to join our growing Twitter and Facebook communities
@Apps4Wellness, @Apps4Counseling and online at apps4counseling.com to access our App of the Month tweets and related online postings, which provide counseling/wellness-related usage ideas, app tips, case studies and sample products using the spotlighted app. We also encourage you to share with us your favorite counseling/therapy, training or wellness-enhancing apps or specific mobile device uses. Please be advised that by submitting your app or mobile device use recommendations, you are giving us permission to post your submitted information on one or all of the Apps4Counseling sites (Twitter/Facebook/website) in the way that it was submitted.

Finally, we invite you to contribute to our international research in this area by taking our brief survey at surveymonkey.com/s/N7339P6. Requests to receive project updates by email can be made at the end of the survey or by going to surveymonkey.com/r/2GFY8BZ. Alternatively, the survey or request for project updates can be accessed by scanning the QR codes on page 58 of the February issue of Counseling Today.

 

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Maxine L. Rawlins is a professor and coordinator of the Counseling Technology Center in the Department of Counselor Education at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. Contact her at mrawlins@bridgew.edu.

Elizabeth A. Hughes is a recent graduate from the CACREP-accredited mental health counseling program at Bridgewater State University. She is currently working as a mental health clinician.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

Coming to terms with technology

By Laurie Meyers June 22, 2015

In the early 19th century, during the Industrial Revolution, workers in the textile industry began protesting what they considered unfair labor practices. Many of them drove home their demands by destroying the factories’ machinery. It disrupted operations and hit management where it hurt — the pocketbook. These protesters weren’t anti-machinery; they just wanted to ensure that factories weren’t using the technology as an excuse to underpay workers while cheaply and quickly producing inferior goods. Regardless, the moniker the protesters acquired — Luddites — today stands as a synonym for the technophobic.

Few people could be called genuine Luddites these days. It’s almost impossible to avoid the march of technology in the modern age. Do you use the ATM or pay by credit card at the grocery store? You’re using a computer — often one with a touch screen, no less. Your car has a computer, which may or may not require that you learn how to navigate multiple menus just to listen to the radio. You can summon an instant map to your destination, go online to find an unadvertised coupon while at CT_Branding-Box-Techthe store, pay for your purchase without opening your wallet — all with your smartphone. There’s seemingly an app for everything, including your social life.

Texting instead of talking, catching up with friends via Facebook instead of a phone call, sharing your photos with the world — a lot has changed. Resistance to ever-expanding and ever-evolving technology options is, most likely, futile.

For some people, adapting to this vast array of new technology feels like sailing into uncharted waters, as though it were an unprecedented challenge. In reality, that’s not the case, notes Craig Windham, a member of the American Counseling Association who works with adolescents in private practice. “Every new wave of technology — telephones, radio, television, the Internet — has been met by initial apprehension,” he points out.

Part of that apprehension likely derives from a lack of knowledge. “I think everyone recognizes that technology is important, but they don’t necessarily understand it,” says Everett Painter, social media chair of ACA’s newly formed Counseling and Technology Interest Network (CTIN). “The speed with which it [technological advancement] develops sometimes outpaces our understanding.”

Is this cornucopia of technology good? Does it truly help us, or is it actually making life more difficult? Counseling Today asked several counselors to share their perspectives on the impact of technology, informed in part by what they’re seeing and hearing in connection with their clients. These questions seem particularly relevant now that many clients are experiencing so much of their lives online.

To begin with, the counselors with whom we spoke said that “good versus bad” is a false dichotomy when it comes to judging technology’s impact. “Technology doesn’t have any inherent goodness or badness,” exclaims Marlene Maheu, president of CTIN. “It’s just a tool … an instrument with which we can do harm or good.”

Finding love online

“The course of true love never did run smooth,” wrote William Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the age of social media, the rocky path to love may largely be charted online. This is particularly true for those in their teens or 20s, who not only vet potential partners on social media platforms but also gauge relationship status and develop further intimacy through site activity, says Renee Sherrell, an assistant professor of counseling and applied behavioral studies at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut. Sherrell has conducted several studies on the interplay between Facebook and college students’ romantic relationships.

For these students who grew up with social media, initiating romance online is a natural process, Sherrell says. One benefit they cite is that it makes the initial “getting to know you stage” less awkward, and they also think it is a better way to determine compatibility.

“Young people can use social media as a way to get to know the person superficially and then decide if they’d like to invest more in the relationship,” Sherrell notes. The students she talked to during her research consistently said that they preferred becoming Facebook friends with someone they were potentially interested in before even giving that person their phone number. That way, they could look at their prospective date’s profile to see whether their likes and dislikes aligned.

Commenting on postings and using Facebook messenger to talk, students increasingly rely on Facebook to communicate with potential partners, Sherrell says. “They like that online talking allows them the opportunity to perfect what they want to say,” she explains. Also, with a comment or text, they can choose to take as long as they want to reply rather than having to respond right away as they would on the phone or in person, Sherrell adds.

Once the students feel comfortable with each other, the interaction typically moves offline, and a relationship may develop. However, as the students in Sherrell’s study informed her, today’s romantic relationships are not “official” until a person’s status on Facebook reads “in a relationship.”

“Students explained that even though they could verbally tell their friends and family about a new partner, putting this news online for ‘everyone’ to see made the relationship more real to both partners,” she elaborates. “Furthermore, for some students, this relationship broadcasting also allows both partners’ friends to see that this is an exclusive relationship.”

Of course, there are also potential downsides to these virtual public displays of affection. By their nature, Facebook and other social media invite and encourage others to comment and offer their opinions, which may or may not be helpful, and, in some cases, can be actively negative, Sherrell says. This can have the effect of jaundicing not just the romance but also other friendships and relationships.

Another significant drawback to having a love life that plays out online is that it can be harder to detach when the relationship is over, Sherrell notes. “Many times young people decide not to unfriend or stop following an ex-partner in order to be able to still ‘see’ them [and] keep up with their life after their relationship,” she explains. “This can lead to increased heartache and sadness, which can lead to impairment in daily functioning. Some college students have reported skipping classes, calling off work and staying home from social gatherings.”

However, on balance, Sherrell believes that today’s connection between dating and social media is a positive. “I think that social media makes relationships easier for young people because it is their normal,” she says. “Although they report that at times it makes it confusing and complicated, in general, they enjoy it and feel happy to have another means of communication and connection.”

Sherrell notes that in the ever-changing landscape of social media, Facebook is already becoming passé for young people, including current college students. It is being replaced by platforms such as Snapchat (an application in which messages are more transient because texts self-destruct several seconds after being opened) and Instagram, a photo-sharing site. However, Sherrell thinks that students’ behavior on Facebook also applies to other prevalent social media platforms.

Wrestling with the ‘perfect’ image

Turning the camera on ourselves to snap a self-portrait is not a new phenomenon, but in the Internet age, the selfie has become ubiquitous. Selfies tell our stories: where we travel, what we celebrate, whom we love, what we feel and so on. Unfortunately, they can also drive an obsession with personal appearance.

The pursuit of others’ approval has expanded from websites such as Am I Hot or Not? to encompass entire social media platforms, such as the hugely popular site Instagram, which is somewhat like Facebook for photos. Users post pictures of all kinds to Instagram, from stark and barren winter landscapes to spectacular sunsets to the recent and widely shared images of rainbows over Ireland in the wake of the popular vote there that legalized gay marriage.

But the selfie is the lifeblood of Instagram. People who post pictures can use filters and tools to change a photo’s appearance, making it black and white, gauzy, sepia toned or adding other effects. They can also use programs such as Photoshop to significantly alter images, including thinning certain body parts, getting rid of a double chin or adjusting skin complexion. Once these images are posted, anyone can “like” or make comments about the photos. Users can also “follow” other users, be they friends, strangers or even celebrities.

Following can be fun, but for some people, it can also become obsessive and, in some cases, toxic. Michelle Bruno, a counseling professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, believes this widespread cultivation of the “perfect” image is exacerbating the struggle that many teenage girls already have with negative self-image.

“As adolescents, they are already engaging in social comparisons and fighting unrealistic media images at every turn,” notes Bruno, who studies trauma and resiliency in adolescent girls. Now they are also faced with the seemingly perfect images being portrayed on their friends’ social media accounts and on other websites. “[Adolescent girls] strive to maintain an online image and presence, to either take the ‘perfect’ picture or at least edit it in a way that makes it look perfect,” Bruno says.

According to Bruno, girls may obsess over several types of questions with their selfies. Among them: Is the lighting right? How about the pose? Are my friends editing their photos a lot, or do they just naturally look better than me?

Bruno asserts that women and girls are already socialized to value themselves on the basis of their appearance, and selfies create virtually endless opportunities to self-critique. And once their images become public via social media and the Internet, the likelihood that these girls will be demeaned, belittled or sexualized greatly increases, Bruno says.

“Additionally, girls can learn to garner their value from this external reinforcement,” she says. “They do not learn how to value themselves. They base their value on the reactions, ‘likes,’ responses and ideals of others.” Experiencing this at a time when self-esteem and cognitive development are still forming is particularly worrisome, Bruno says.

However, if social media and the Internet are often judged to be bad influences on the self-worth of female adolescents, so too can they help to counter the negative messages that girls are receiving, Bruno emphasizes. The widespread connectivity that the Internet allows can enable girls to find groups and individuals who want to emphasize positive messages about self-esteem and self-worth.

“There are currently many websites and Facebook pages full of many voices that advocate for body-positive, self-affirming and gender-equalizing stances,” says Bruno, citing examples such as A Mighty Girl, Girls Inc., Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and To Write Love on Her Arms.

Just as the Internet can widely disseminate unrealistic (perfect) photos of celebrities, it can also be used to spread the message of celebrities who speak out about gender equality, diversity, positive body images and self-acceptance. In our celebrity-obsessed culture, these messages can have a profound effect on girls, Bruno emphasizes.

If people can change the critical things they tell themselves and focus on finding things they like about how they look, Bruno says, selfies can be used as a tool to allow girls and women to see and define their own unique beauty. “We must create platforms to discuss and combat the messaging and the factors that contribute to the way we see ourselves,” she urges.

From the playground to the computer: Cyberbullying 

The relative anonymity of the Internet is in many ways a good thing. People can seek information on topics that they’re too embarrassed to talk about, and those with social anxiety may find it easier to interact with others when they can remain unseen and unnamed. However, anonymity has also allowed one particularly toxic behavior to bloom: cyberbullying.

Anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying, whether it involves abusive comments being posted on a personal blog, malicious rumors being spread through postings on Facebook or even doxxing, which is the public release of personal information that has previously been kept private, such as a person’s real name or alias, home address, phone number, place of work or Social Security number.

However, children and teenagers are particularly at risk for cyberbullying, says ACA member Janet Froeschle Hicks, an associate professor of counselor education at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. “I think the anonymity of the Internet has opened an environment where kids who might not otherwise have bullied someone feel safe to do so,” she says. “Covert bullying has always been around, but the Internet offers a place to express this bullying behavior without a need for face-to-face interaction. This depersonalization and anonymity lead to the perception that there will be no consequences for hurtful actions.”

Whether cyberbullying represents an actual increase in bullying behavior is unclear, Hicks notes. However, she believes that the effects of cyberbullying can be even more devastating than traditional bullying because of cyberbullying’s 24/7 nature.

With traditional “offline” bullying, the abuse typically takes place on school grounds, and leaving school at the end of the day provides the victim with some type of respite, Hicks explains. In other words, going home might provide at least temporary sanctuary. When bullying takes place online, however, whatever is posted or said is there around the clock and always accessible for everyone to see.

“Years ago, when a kid was bullied, [he or she] might be taunted for a few weeks and eventually be able to forget about it because it became old news,” Hicks says. “Today, this same bullying incident is posted online, and the victim is forced to relive the incident every day for years.”

There are many ways to humiliate someone online, she notes. Examples include:

  • Creating websites that contain stories, cartoons, pictures, rumors and jokes about a person or group of people
  • Posting pictures of classmates online and asking students to rate them, with questions such as “Who is the biggest (derogatory term)?”
  • Hacking into someone’s email or social media account and sending vicious or embarrassing material to others
  • Engaging someone in an instant messaging conversation, tricking them into revealing sensitive personal information and then forwarding that information to others
  • Taking a picture of someone in the locker room and sending that picture to others
  • Posting malicious and cruel gossip about someone on social media or other public forums

The Internet also provides bullies with a much larger audience in front of whom they can demean others, Hicks notes. As a result, moving across town, to a new city or even to a new state doesn’t automatically stop the humiliation to which the victim is subjected. She believes that this might create more devastating and longer lasting emotional damage than offline bullying does.

Many parents think that the key to avoiding cyberbullying is to have their children stop going online, but that tactic is unrealistic, according to Hicks. Although it may be a good idea for adolescents to temporarily stay away from sites where they are being bullied, cutting the online cord entirely is facebookimpractical for this generation of children, she says. The Internet has become a “hangout” for today’s children and teenagers; it is where they socialize and interact with friends. And from a purely practical standpoint, many of today’s youth also require access to the Internet to complete homework, she notes. Rather than ban all online activity, Hicks advises parents to become familiar with social media sites and online safety strategies so they can help guide their children and provide them with emotional support when instances of cyberbullying do occur.

Despite the prevalence of cyberbullying, Hicks thinks that social media and the Internet offer many more positive effects than negative ones. For example, she says, social media platforms can be used to build supportive networks, and the global reach of the Internet brings opportunities to chat with people from all over the world.

“Never in history have we had the opportunities we now have to learn about culture,” she says, adding that learning about and building relationships with diverse groups of people can also help foster greater acceptance of others.

A way to stay connected 

It’s easy for people who grew up in the age before personal computers and smartphones to focus on the negative aspects of life online, notes Windham, a licensed clinical professional counselor in Washington, D.C., who is also a reporter and newscaster for NPR. But for younger people, it’s just one more way to interact, he notes.

“I think most young people see social media as an extension of their face-to-face friendships, another way to stay connected and communicate with them,” Windham says. “[But] they still much prefer hanging out in person with friends.”

However, today’s teenagers often have less freedom to wander out on their own, Windham points out, so texting and posting from their smartphones and other mobile devices enable them to “hang out” with their friends as previous generations used to do at the mall or other public spaces.

From Windham’s perspective, the online disinhibition that can motivate adolescents to post questionable pictures and intemperate interactions can also have significant positive benefits. For example, online interaction can encourage children and teenagers to move beyond surface pleasantries and into more substantive sharing, he explains.

“Teenagers will often share things about themselves online — say on a Facebook chat or on Tumblr — that they might be reluctant to reveal in person, and by doing so, open themselves up to getting help,” Windham says.

In fact, the teenagers in the church youth group with which Windham works helped prevent a possible suicide thanks to open sharing on social media. “One of these teens noticed on his Facebook newsfeed that a student at his high school had posted a message that indicated he might be suicidal,” Windham recounts. “Even though the teen barely knew this student — only his first name — he went out of his way to track down where he lived and call his parents to warn them.”

Fortunately, another student had already warned the boy’s parents, who confirmed that their son had indeed intended to take his life.

Windham points out that younger people are usually early adopters of any new technology, and he thinks the rest of us can learn something from their attitude about it — namely, not focusing so much on what’s negative or scary, but finding out how it can be useful to you.

“The technology that puts constant connectivity in the palm of our hands has upsides and downsides,” he says. “It’s how we use that technology that matters most, and that is strongly influenced by the personal traits we bring to it.”

 

 

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The Counseling and Technology Interest Network

The Counseling and Technology Interest Network (CTIN) is a newly formed official interest network of the American Counseling Association that was approved by the ACA Governing Council in March. The mission of CTIN is to provide useful support to ACA members who are seeking to responsibly apply technology across the spectrum of counseling research, education, policy and practice. For more information, join the discussion at ACA Connect by going to community.counseling.org/home, choosing the “Communities” menu and then selecting “Interest Groups.” CTIN can also be found on Twitter: @counselingtech.

 

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To contact the individuals interviewed for this article, email:

 

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Laurie Meyers is the senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at lmeyers@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org