Monthly Archives: April 2008

From Mozart to Metallica

Angela Kennedy April 15, 2008

iPod, therefore, iAm.

It’s hard to stroll down the street or ride on the subway these days without seeing digital music devices attached to the ears of people from all walks of life, of every age and race. These individuals go about their day while gazing off into the distance, enjoying their self-made soundtracks to life. Indeed, to many people, music has moved beyond simple entertainment, seemingly bordering on being classified a necessity.

For American Counseling Association member Leah Oswanski, music is not only her livelihood, but also a way to live a healthier life. Oswanski is a board certified music therapist who has eight years of experience working with adults in hospice and oncology settings. As the music therapy director at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Memorial Hospital in New Jersey, she often sees patients at their bedsides, where she teaches them to tap into music’s healing power.

“Music is an inexpensive, noninvasive medium that can be used to facilitate a relaxation response in people,” explains Oswanski, who is proficient on both piano and guitar, but uses her vocal abilities as her principal instrument. “As a music therapist, I help clients, but I often teach my coworkers and other hospital staff music therapy techniques, and I personally use those techniques as a form of self-care.”

At the time of this interview, Oswanski was preparing to present an Education Session titled “I’ll See You on the Dark Side of the Moon: Music Therapy Techniques for Self-Care” at the ACA Annual Conference in Honolulu. The title of the session is not only a play on words, but also a nod to one of her favorite groups, Pink Floyd, and its 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. The session will teach counselors how to effectively use music for personal relaxation and stress management.

“We all have a dark side and a light side,” Oswanski says. “We have to take care of ourselves so we are not only in one spot or another, but a balance of both sides. Burnout is widely known as a universal problem for those in the helping professions. Evidence has shown that basic self-care to reduce stress and increase relaxation can prevent or prolong the onset of burnout in many cases. When you are feeling really depleted, poor, unpleasant and on that ‘dark side,’ you can use music to reconnect the mind, body and spirit and nurture yourself.”

She notes that self-guided music therapy is an easy and accessible method for counselors to relax and rejuvenate, because with portable music devices and a pair of headphones, a “therapy session” can be conducted almost any place and any time. The hallmark of music therapy work is meeting the client where they are in the moment — and in their own music. In essence, Oswanski says, the same goes for counselor self-care.

“The crux of it is that self-selected music is the most effective music,” she says. “We need to use music that resonates with us in our own cultural, religious, ethnic and societal context first and foremost. I have always said that one person’s Metallica is another person’s Mozart, and vice versa. It’s really experiential. I teach people the basic guidelines of how to utilize music in self-care so that they may plug in their own selections and favorites.”

Different pieces of music can be used to achieve different goals and objectives, she says. Some musical selections are better for guided imagery. These selections can stimulate thought or help counselors to problem solve, whether the issue concerns a client or is an obstacle in their personal life. Other selections are more useful for relaxing and focusing on breathing.

“The bottom line is there’s no such thing as prescriptive music, although many people try to sell that idea,” Oswanski says. “There is no one piece of music that will make everybody relax or everybody stimulated.” She notes that people often ask her if she knows of a musical composition for depression. “Certainly there are pieces of music that might be helpful to facilitate relaxation when someone is dealing with depression,” she says, “but there’s no musical cure.”

Oswanski suggests that counselors become familiar with many different genres of music and listen to samples online to help determine their personal preferences. Websites such as and Barnes & provide digital song snippets for free.

Jennie Band, a member of ACA and the Association for Creativity in Counseling, agrees that the best way for counselors to find what works is to listen to and experience a variety of musical categories. Band, a certified music therapist and school counselor, suggests counselors take 30 minutes a day to listen to public radio, perhaps choosing a jazz station one day and classical the next.

“What I have found to work best is to start a music journal,” she says. “Listen to a song and then write down how it made you feel. How did it affect you physically or emotionally? What did you like about it? What did you not like about it?” The journal will eventually become a resource to help counselors determine which selections are better at helping them achieve specific goals or moods, she says.

Connecting with the music

Oswanski uses the phenomenon of entrainment to physically connect with music. She explains this as the process of joining with the feelings conveyed in the music and sensing commonality with those feelings. This beat synchronization leads to musical entrainment — an experience of the body harmonizing with the music being played.

Oswanski says entrainment has the potential to:

  • Resonate with the listener’s feelings
  • Transform negative feelings into more positive feelings
  • Promote a state of liveliness or serenity

“It’s about taking a certain rhythm and matching the body to that rhythm, and then usually trying to modulate it,” she explains. “For example, if a client comes in extremely anxious and their breathing is very quick and shallow, I will use music to meet them in the moment. I will play (an instrument) fast to match their heartbeat and breath, and then, over time, I will modulate the music and make it slower. Over a matter of minutes, I’m gradually slowing down the pace of the music. What you find is that their body will entrain to that rhythm. Obviously, it works best if you have live music in the moment, but there are some pieces of music that will help in this situation. They start out a quicker meter, about 80 beats per minute, and slow down over time to 50 beats per minute, which is about the same as a resting heart rate. The idea is to modulate through entrainment.” In theory, she says, the next time a person hears that particular piece of music, the recognition will prompt the body’s relaxation process to occur sooner.

When selecting music, Oswanski says, first consider the specific goal — either to relax and come down from a heightened state or to rejuvenate and stimulate. “For relaxation, you are going to want to choose something with a slower rhythm or meter and not listen to something fast. It sounds pretty logical. It’s not that you can’t relax to something with a quicker tempo, but if it’s really busy — like some classical music, for instance, is really busy, with many key changes or movements — it’s not going to be as relaxing as something with a slow steady rhythm,” she says. “Additionally, if you are in a really heightened state, putting on a slow-metered song at first isn’t good either. You will still feel anxious, so that’s why you need to find selections that modulate over time, quick to slow.”

She notes that the same principle is at play when attempting to stimulate the mind for improved problem-solving abilities or self-guided imagery. The musical selections should gradually increase in both meter and tempo. Music doesn’t need to be “chaotic” to achieve mind stimulation, Oswanski points out. More structured or livelier music selections are the best choices for stimulation, she adds.

Oswanski warns people to be leery of the mass-market “relaxation” CDs found in general merchandise stores. “I have to be honest,” she says. “There is a lot of New Age relaxation music out there that is really bad. It’s garbage. It’s not well written or well produced and not the least bit relaxing for most people. They usually have some weird nature or running water sounds that just don’t work. The selection suggestions I give have been proven to be helpful to most, time and time again.”

Among Oswanski’s tips for preparing to relax with the help of music:

  • Choose a time when you will not be interrupted.
  • Dress in comfortable, unrestrictive clothing.
  • Find a warm place. Body temperature will decrease with relaxation.
  • Get comfortable. Lie down or sit in a chair.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Do not try too hard to relax, and do not judge yourself. This will only create more tension.

Oswanski also suggests using one of the following techniques while listening to music:

  • Focus on your breathing. As you inhale, gather up all your worries and tensions. As you exhale, release them.
  • Allow your face to relax. Drop your jaw slightly so your mouth is comfortably open.
  • Think of a place that makes you feel comfortable and safe. This special place can be in nature or simply a favorite room. It can be real or imagined. Use all of your senses to explore the area: Look, listen, smell, taste and touch everything you can.
  • Imagine a soothing ball of light or energy massaging any tensions or discomforts out of all the parts of your body. Start with your head, and move down to your toes.
  • Think of positive affirmations (statements) you wish to convey to yourself. Repeat them to yourself, either in your mind or out loud.
  • Imagine that you’re immersed in a warm ocean of music. Notice how the music feels on your skin. Imagine diving into the depths of the music.

Personal favorites

So what’s in Oswanski’s musical library? The Dark Side of the Moon, of course.

“It’s a great existential, thought-provoking piece, so I may use that when I want to problem solve or when I’m stuck on something, though some people would think that’s bizarre,” she says, quickly adding that she isn’t some stereotypical “hippie music therapy chick” who hangs out in her basement listening to Pink Floyd. “But it is a powerful piece of music and a great selection for looking within.”

For relaxation, she prefers The Köln Concert by renowned jazz pianist Keith Jarrett. “It’s a great piece for me to relax and revitalize. But again,” she says, “that’s not for everybody. It’s jazz. It’s free and improvised solo piano, which is an acquired taste. But it’s one of the best pieces for me.”

Oswanski is currently working toward finishing her master’s degree in counseling at Montclair State University. She hopes to one day start her own private practice in creative grief and bereavement counseling. For more information on self-guided music therapy, contact her at

Building a music library

American Counseling Association member and board certified music therapist Leah Oswanski offers recommendations to help counselors begin creating a library of music resources.

Stephen Halpern
Inner Peace Music

Janalea Hoffman
Rhythmic Medicine

Belleruth Naparstek
Guided Imagery & Music

Chuck Wild
Liquid Mind Series-Real Music

Some classical pieces used to stimulate imagery:

Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 5 (second movement), Symphony no. 6, Symphony no. 9 (third movement)
Massenet: “Meditation” from Thaïs
Mendelssohn: “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Nocturne op. 61
Mozart: “Andante” from Piano Concerto no. 21, Concerto for Flute and Harp
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concertos nos. 2 and 3

For classical music-based relaxation, Oswanski suggests the following RCA-produced CDs:

Beethoven for Relaxation
Mozart for Relaxation
Vivaldi for Relaxation
Chopin for Relaxation

All classical selections are available by searching or checking other online music sites.

— Angela Kennedy

Angela Kennedy is a senior writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at

Letters to the editor:

Dump that zero and get with a hero

Angela Kennedy April 14, 2008

OK, ladies, let’s be honest. Everyone knows one or has been one — the good girl stuck on the bad boy.

John Farrar, a counselor educator at Central Michigan University, calls it a phenomenon: the reoccurring nightmare of capable women choosing needy and dysfunctional men. Females who are charming, well educated and successfully employed mysteriously compromising their lives and futures by committing to, for lack of a better word, losers.

“It appears to cross all age, ethnic and socioeconomic lines,” Farrar says. “More descriptively, the pattern is one in which females of virtually any age, from teens to seniors, attach themselves to males who are significantly less capable, achieving or functional than they are.”

But what makes the leather-clad, motorcycle-riding bad boy so appealing? What does she see in the commitment-phobic, party animal man-child? What’s so attractive about the older, mysterious (read: oftentimes married) man?

For the past several years, Farrar, a member of the American Counseling Association, has conducted his own research into why women fall for Mr. Wrong and has come up with some interesting answers. “I have counseled and surveyed girls and women, ranging in age from 16 to 60, from high school girls to graduate students to professional women,” he says. “They all had some of the same basic answers and universal responses. They all have been in this situation at some point in their lives or have known someone — their sister or their friend — who has dealt with this.” At the time of this interview, Farrar was preparing to present his theories at the ACA Conference in Honolulu in an Education Session titled “Why Winning Women Choose Losers: A Review of the Motivations for Poor Relationship Selection.” He plans to share data collected from more than 300 survey respondents regarding the reasons for their relationship choices.

But why him?

Farrar has analyzed the survey data to pinpoint reasons why women choose negative types of men. “My investigation has led me to the identification of six causes, or ‘strands’ as I identify them, that lead to these relationship decisions,” he says. “I refer to them as strands because there appear to be many ‘fibers’ that combine to produce the motivation embodied in that strand. In addition, often women have been able to point to more than one motivation, one strand, that generated (their) relational choice.”

The strands Farrar has identified:

Low self-concept or self-esteem

“Self-concept, as it applies to why females end up in relationships with less capable males, appears to dictate to certain women that they are simply not deserving of a more worthy partner,” Farrar says. “Consequently, for women who suffer from a diminished sense of self, finding a ‘match’ can translate into pairing with a man less capable than themselves.” He adds that although her friends and family may see that the pair is obviously mismatched, the woman views her partner as an equal or believes she is getting all that she deserves from a relationship.


Farrar notes that nurturing is the most common strand identified by women in the survey. “There are, of course, many explanations for why women are drawn to this behavioral pattern,” he says. “Anthropologists would account for caretaking behavior as being biologically rooted in a female’s nature. While men, through the millennia, have been hunter-gatherers, women tended to the nest and the offspring. It is a traditionally held view that, even in the age of the computer, feminism and the two-income household, women retain their biologically driven instincts to look after others.”


Do nice guys finish last? In the case of women in this strand, yes, says Farrar. “Ironically, many women seem drawn to men who don’t treat them as well as nice guys do. These guys are seen as more exciting than the conventional, good guy.”

In many ways, he says, this strand represents a polar opposite of the first two strands. “While the first two suggest introversion, domesticity and perhaps personal uncertainty, the excitement strand represents a desire on the part of some females to back away from traditionally held values related to dating and mating. Many women and girls often speak ambiguously when they fit into the excitement strand. They speak about how the nice guys of the world don’t pose a challenge, don’t offer much in the way of adventure. Conversely, they are puzzled and, at times, disappointed in their own weakness in allowing themselves to be manipulated by the Rockys of the social world. But some girls and women are drawn to these men and that excitement nevertheless.”

Need to be nurtured

This strand plays on a woman’s desire to be cared for by what some people jokingly refer to as the “sugar daddy,” described by Farrar as, typically, an attractive male who is older than the woman by at least a few years. This man brings elements of status to the relationship, Farrar says, such as a nice car, extravagant trips or lavish spending. Young women in these relationships may feel admired or even envied by their girlfriends or others in their social circles.

“In the beginning,” Farrar says, “he is attentive, exciting, romantic and powerful in a sheltering and supportive way. Unfortunately, things change. There’s a downward progression toward possessiveness, suspicion, manipulation and, eventually, abuse. In many ways, it imitates the experiences of young women who are seduced into lives of prostitution. Promises of support, affection and protection later generate only neglect, disdain and abandonment. Women who seek to be nurtured invite essentially the same deteriorating progression. The choices of these girls and women have their roots in their developmental experiences, principally in their relationships with the men who served — or more likely, did not serve — as father figures.”


This is a common strand identified by more mature women, Farrar notes. “This strand is, in many ways, more complex and difficult to understand fully than many of the others,” he says. “Its origins may be the most difficult to trace and, in all likelihood, probably has its beginnings in many disparate areas. The female who is seeking control, either consciously or unconsciously, may be exhibiting learned behavior from a dominant mother.” In these relationships, he says, either underlying insecurity is guiding these women to needier males, or the women are simply acting out their commitment to a feminist view, which makes them determined not to be dominated by any man. Furthermore, he adds, “the controlling female is the psychological ‘mother’ to her passive-aggressive partner. The woman who seeks control is buying into a trade-off situation. The compromise involves tolerating the nonachieving behavior of a mate for the right and ability to make the decisions, to call the shots, in the relationship.”


Chemistry is the miscellaneous, “there’s just something about him — a certain je ne sais quoi,” catchall strand. “Chemistry addresses the inexplicable biological magnetism and is aimed at accounting for relationships which do not fit into any of the previous five (strands),” Farrar says. “It accounts for relationships between individuals for whom there are no obvious common interests or personality matches. This strand accounts for why a given woman may concede that a given male is attractive without actually being attracted to him. Conversely, it also explains why a woman is drawn to a male who, on a more rational, cognitive level, she concedes has seemingly little to offer in terms of physical appearance or social status.”

The chemistry strand also includes biologists’ theories on pheromones, endorphins and motivations driven by unconscious genetic matching. Farrar admits that it might sound extreme, but says the chemistry strand offers an explanation for relationship choices that seemingly cannot be accounted for otherwise.

Preventative measures

After identifying the strands, Farrar took his research a step further and developed strategies to help women choose healthier relationships. Among his suggestions:

  • Recognize personal tendencies.
  • Recognize that sense of self determines direction.
  • Understand that personal beliefs and ideas are the basis of personal choices.
  • Learn the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
  • While biology is a powerful influence, understand that individuals ultimately retain the power to shape their choices.
  • Do the right thing. Come to grips with family background, values and cultural influences.

Farrar says many people ask him why a man is so interested in researching such a woman-centered topic. “I tell them I’m just a data gatherer,” he says. “I’m just cataloging what women have told me.” He adds that his goal is not only to assist women in recognizing poor relationship choices, but also to help parents educate and protect their daughters. He admits that his crusade was inspired by the struggles of his own daughter, who, while in high school, suffered from what Farrar calls a dreadful case of “loser boyfriend syndrome.” Farrar strongly encouraged her to attend an out-of-state university and is happy to report she is now, at age 27, cured and happily married to a “good guy.”

A woman’s perspective

ACA member Nina Atwood has written and published three self-help books on relationship issues, including the highly successful Be Your Own Dating Service: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding and Maintaining Healthy Relationships. Her most recent book, Temptations of the Single Girl: The 10 Dating Traps You Must Avoid, also taps into why women choose what she refers to as “wounded men.” Her take on the subject of finding the “right” man is more of a “been there, done that” approach, with lessons learned the hard way. But drawing from her own past unsuccessful relationships, as well as 20 years of experience in private practice, this licensed professional counselor claims she has figured out how to date more effectively and is only too happy to share those secrets.

“I’m a singles coach. I want to help people while they are in the process of choosing a life partner as opposed to helping them figure out the messes they get into after they are married,” she says. “There is an educational piece to getting into a good relationship and actions you can do to help ensure you are getting involved in a healthy commitment.”

Atwood says she has pinpointed 10 temptations women should avoid in relationships:

  1. Denying your true desires. Solution: Be honest with yourself. You do want a loving, committed relationship that leads to marriage.
  2. Loving a wounded guy. Solution: Hold out for a healthy guy who is your equal in every way.
  3. Dating without integrity. Solution: Make choices you can feel proud of and that are true to your deepest values.
  4. Choosing high-risk relationships. Solution: Make you your top priority. Pay fierce attention to the warning bells and red flags that tell you a relationship isn’t in your best interest.
  5. Settling for less. Solution: Remain carefully detached until you meet a real candidate for marriage.
  6. Aiming for the fairy tale. Solution: Be yourself and look for the same level of authenticity in the guys you date. Aim for a connection at the level of core values.
  7. Getting sexual too soon. Solution: Postpone sex for at least six months while you really get to know a guy. Avoid sex unless there is a real love and commitment.
  8. Rushing into the relationship. Solution: Pace a relationship for real discovery and take a “we’ll see” attitude while it unfolds.
  9. Taking the lead. Solution: Let him take the lead, but be aware that what he offers up front is as good as it gets.
  10. Sacrificing authenticity to get the guy. Solution: Tell guys the truth. Be real and honest.

One of the biggest temptations women should avoid is falling for the wounded man, Atwood says. “That’s the guy who uses his issues in life, whether it’s a rough childhood, an addiction or whatever he is struggling with, as an excuse to avoid responsibility and commitment,” she says. She adds that women sometimes find themselves tempted by wounded men because these men are often very charming.

Women often recognize up front that this type of man has a few issues, Atwood says, but they also notice and are drawn in by his good qualities. They take him on as a sort of personal project, she says, thinking they can help to fix him, heal him or solve his problems. “She thinks if she just loves him enough, he will heal and then eventually give her what she wants or needs,” Atwood says. “The problem is you can’t rehabilitate the wounded guy by loving him. The way to rehabilitate the wounded guy is to kick him in the (rear end), confront him and make him face up to his issues. But most women don’t want to do those things. It’s exhausting, it’s draining, and you never get your needs met. We are so hardwired to want to nurture or caretake. Often, (a woman) will try to be the caretaker and completely overlook the fact that she needs a partner who can also care for her and meet her needs too. It’s a two-way street.”

Atwood strongly suggests that women keep the pace of the relationship slow enough to really discover the character and values of the man they are interested in. “(Women) make the mistake of thinking, ‘This guy is cute and hot and makes my heart go pitter-pat,’ and they just dive right in. You have to take a step back. Women need to implement a dating process that will protect them while they are figuring out if this is someone who is compatible and has good character.” A successful dating process incorporates all the “solutions” highlighted in her 10 temptations to avoid, she says.

“Women should look for courtship. It’s an old-fashioned word, but the principle of it still holds true. He must be willing to pursue you. Today, women don’t even know how to be courted — they don’t have any expectation of it,” Atwood says. “But as a woman, one of the most important decisions you will ever make in your life is your choice of a life partner. Make a poor one, and the consequences could be devastating for years. Make a good one, and you have the foundation for a lifetime of happiness.”

Atwood is a self-proclaimed slow learner at the dating game, but three times proved to be the charm. After two divorces, she finally found Mr. Right and has been happily married for eight years. Additional information about Atwood’s dating strategies is available at

Angela Kennedy is a past senior writer at Counseling Today.

Letters to the editor:

Stories of the storms

Angela Kennedy April 7, 2008

Several weeks removed from the havoc unleashed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, one thing is for certain. Stories will be told about the killer storms for years to come, both by those who fled from the hurricanes’ angry onslaught and by those who rushed in to offer aid during the tempestuous aftermath. Counseling Today caught up with an American Counseling Association member who was forced from her home by the rising floodwaters and also talked to some of the initial volunteers who worked with incoming evacuees in San Antonio.

Destination unknown

Judy Miranti is a counselor educator at Our Lady of Holy Cross College in the Algiers section of New Orleans. Like many people in the Crescent City, she always “hunkered down” for impending storms and never gave a second thought about evacuating — until Hurricane Katrina.

“We have usually ridden out every hurricane,” Miranti said. “We have never evacuated, but by that Sunday morning, President Bush was speaking to our mayor and ordering a mandatory evacuation, so we knew we had to leave.”

Miranti and her husband packed a couple of days’ worth of clothes, some recent family portraits and a few pieces of jewelry. With much apprehension they left behind their 90-pound Labrador retriever in their two-story home in Carrollton. The usual drive of two-and-a-half hours to Lafayette turned into a 12-hour ordeal in bumper-to-bumper traffic. When they finally arrived, all the surrounding hotels and motels were booked or closed because of the evacuation. By chance, Miranti thought about a retreat camp where she had stayed in the past. The Jesuit Spirituality Center had one room remaining, and for the next eight days Miranti and her husband slept on a mattress on the floor. They then bounced from one location to another for the next four weeks before finally being allowed to return to a tiny one-bedroom apartment they owned in New Orleans.

“We are in our fourth location and still can’t go home because we have no electricity,” she said. “But we feel very, very lucky. We have just been strangers on a journey, and people have taken us in — they were just people who knew people who knew people. We were able to stay with people who we trusted but had never met before. It was quite an experience of faith and hope.”

The hardest part for Miranti has been facing the unknown. “You didn’t know if you were going to come back to anything,” she said. “I’m not just talking about material things but (also) relationships, friendships and family members.”

After an agonizing five weeks, she and her husband were allowed to return to their home to survey the damage. Though the first floor was unsalvageable, they still had all their belongings on the second floor. More good news: Their son, a police officer in Kenner, had saved their dog.

Of course, there was bad news to deal with, too. “The mildew was already 4 feet high on the walls, so a cleaning crew came in and gutted everything out,” Miranti said. “We hope to be back in the next few weeks. We were lucky though. We had a home to come back to. We had a home still standing.”

Although Miranti was fortunate enough to still have a place to call home, some of her fellow faculty members at Our Lady of Holy Cross College lost everything. The school administration and staff members have been collecting household goods, food and clothing on campus so those affected by the hurricane can take what they need.

“Coming back was like looking at a war zone,” Miranti said. “People are going home and finding just slabs or nothing at all. Now that the rebuilding process is beginning, we are starting to see new opportunities. If we can just be patient — I know things will be slow — but we will come back a lot stronger.”

Hope for the future

For the past several weeks, Miranti’s college has been serving as an emergency operations center and home to more than 1,000 firefighters and emergency personnel from all over the nation. The campus was turned into a massive staging area and a “tent city” was erected to house volunteers on the grounds, in the classrooms and in the library. Among the volunteers were New York City firemen who brought back the “Spirit of Louisiana,” a truck that the state of Louisiana and private donors gave to New York City after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The truck was used as a backdrop for an impromptu memorial service recognizing the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“We witnessed 9/11 vicariously and we saw how New York rebuilt,” Miranti said. “Now, here we are talking and standing side-by-side with those same people. We listened to them talk about how they survived, how their experiences helped prepare them to come down here to help us. Hearing them talk gave us hope — hope giving hope.”

“I just pray that this change is lifelong and that we don’t have short memories — personally and professional,” she said. “This has been a transforming experience. You put things in perspective very quickly, and you discover that many of us don’t live what we believe half the time. We are so work-oriented or career-directed. My research is in the area of spirituality, but I don’t think I have lived it until now. I have never lived it before — it was research, it was a wonderful topic, etc. — but in the last few weeks, it’s been a lived experience.”

Kelly USA

More than 13,000 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina were transported to San Antonio over the Labor Day weekend, and all of them were processed through Kelly USA, a former Air Force base on the southwest side of the city. Kelly USA was the hub location for the American Red Cross and other state and federal agencies. Several thousand evacuees stayed there, while others were fanned out to four other shelters across San Antonio.

Gerald Juhnke and Thelma Duffey, president of the Association for Creativity in Counseling, a division of ACA, were part of the initial wave of volunteers at Kelly USA. Juhnke and Duffey are both counselor educators at the University of Texas-San Antonio, and they called on their counseling students to volunteer to help.

“They were not counselors yet, but they could clearly talk to people, and they helped out where they could,” said Juhnke, a member of ACA. “These folks provided over 240 hours of service in a two-week period. I think that is pretty spectacular considering most of the students are single parents or nontraditional students holding down full-time jobs and going to school.”

The first night, many of the volunteers spent more than 10 hours talking and consoling the evacuees, passing out food and water, and assisting emergency personnel in administrative duties. “Our students were working full-time jobs and then coming to the shelters and putting in another four to six hours,” Juhnke said. “Our faculty members would go to the shelters in the morning, leave, go teach classes and then return in the evening.”

He noted that many of the volunteers were spreading themselves too thin, including counseling student Kari Arnold. “When you talk about compassion fatigue, she is the first person that comes to mind,” Juhnke said. “She’s a very healthy person, but given the hours she was putting in, her job and school, it was just really hard for her.”

Arnold arrived at Kelly USA Friday morning, Sept. 2, and left 12 hours later. Her unique skills as an interpreter for the deaf were desperately needed, but it was her dedication and compassion that kept her going long into the night. She assisted several deaf people through the entire intake process, followed them to the medical station and while they were getting their food, and made certain they were settled in and felt safe. She retuned the next afternoon and didn’t leave the shelter again until the wee hours of the morning.

“It was a very humbling experience,” she said. “It has changed me. It’s changed everything. I have a really nice job, a great family, everybody is safe and healthy. Everybody is here in the same town. I have a house, a car, education. All of us have all of these really wonderful things that we take for granted, and these people had everything taken away from them.”

Arnold had difficulty getting out of the house and taking part in simple, enjoyable activities such as going to the movies in the days after she volunteered. “I was asking myself, ‘Why am I spending $6 to go to the movies when all of those people are there with nothing?’ I was really struggling,” she said. “It was like survivors’ guilt. How could I go on with my happy-go-lucky life?”

Arnold couldn’t put her finger on exactly what was causing her to feel so upset. Fortunately, that week at school, she attended a lecture on compassion fatigue and a lightbulb went off. “It really struck a chord with me and I realized what was going on and why I was feeling so bad,” she said. After the lecture she paired up with a trusted classmate and talked about her experiences and feelings. “The biggest thing was the validation that what I was feeling was OK,” Arnold said. “I really needed that time to process it and really appreciate the experience. And if I had to do it all over, I would do it again.”

Counselors helping counselors

Across the nation, counselors are reaching out to help their colleagues by making donations to the Counselors Care Fund, sponsored by the ACA Foundation. The fund was established to assist ACA members and branches in the aftermath of the hurricanes. The ACA Foundation is doubling the fund by matching each gift, up to a total of $50,000.

The Counselors Care Fund provides help in two ways:

  • With grants of as much as $500 to help ACA members get back on their professional feet or to serve the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
  • With grants of as much as $1,000 to help ACA branches meet the enormous challenges of the storms’ devastation and impact on people.

If you are a counselor unaffected personally by the hurricane yet eager to reach out with empathy, you can support your colleagues by making a secure online donation to the Counselors Care Fund. You may also mail your gift to the Counselors Care Fund, ACAF, 5999 Stevenson Ave., Alexandria, VA 22304.

Counselors or students struggling to recover from the storm and individuals representing ACA branch organizations must complete a one-page application for funds (600K PDF). A team of ACA professionals will promptly review all applications, with priority given to applicants residing in the affected areas.

Those interested may also call 800.347.6647 ext. 222 for applications or ext. 350 to make a contribution.

“It truly demonstrates why the counseling profession is so incredibly special,” said ACA Executive Director Richard Yep. “The outpouring of good will and inquiries on how to help fellow counselors is yet another example of the type of empathy that professional counselors have, not only for their clients and students but, as this project shows, for helping their own.”

Use of SAT lands Maine in hot water

Angela Kennedy

Last March, Counseling Today reported that Maine Commissioner of Education Susan Gendron was planning to replace the state’s junior year educational assessment test with the SAT, a move that the Maine Counseling Association (MeCA) tried prudently, but fruitlessly, to block. Since that time, the state of Maine has received notification that it is in “nonapproved” status with No Child Left Behind requirements because the SAT isn’t a sufficient testing tool. Additionally, and some are questioning whether it is mere coincidence, certain school counselors in Maine have been denied a significant salary increase for next year.

In a letter to Gendron, the U.S. Department of Education said in part: “… the Department laid out new approval categories in a letter to the Chief State School Officers on April 24, 2006. These categories better reflect where States collectively are in the process of meeting the statutory standards and assessment requirements and where each State individually stands. Based on these new categories, the current status of the Maine standards and assessment system is Non-Approved. This indicates that Maine’s standards and assessment system administered in the 2005–06 school year has several fundamental components that are missing or that do not meet the statutory and regulatory requirements and that the evidence provided indicates that the State will not be able to administer a fully approved assessment in the 2006–07 school year.”

The letter further informed Gendron that because Maine failed to meet NCLB requirements for the 2005–06 school year and will not be able to come into compliance during the 2006–07 school year, the U.S. Department of Education intends to withhold 25 percent (approximately $28,500) of the state’s Fiscal Year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds.

The state commissioner was allowed an opportunity for rebuttal with the DOE in the fall. In order to meet the testing requirements for NCLB, Gendron is adding a supplementary science and math exam to the SAT (the SAT lacks a full science portion, while the math section is actually a level higher than the national requirements for assessment). The new math problems are being added in an attempt to fairly assess those students who have not completed Algebra I, a class that is not required for graduation in Maine.

A rock and a hard place

Many Maine school counselors are shaking their heads and biting their tongues, but they are determined to support their students and to work with the state DOE. “We made it clear to our supervisors and principals that using the SAT was a violation of our ACA Code of Ethics as counselors and (that it was) an inadequate tool for assessment,” says ACA North Atlantic Region Chair John Parkman, a high school counselor in Maine.

Despite their objections to using the SAT as an assessment test, school counselors in Maine pressed on and helped students prepare for the change. “The participation rate was very good,” Parkman says, “but the problem was that we had special ed kids (and) Vo-Tech kids who didn’t have the math background, and there was a reading problem. The SAT assumes (certain levels of comprehension and skills) because it’s developed for college prep students.”

“We did everything we could to stop it,” says Ben Milster, past president of MeCA, “but once we couldn’t, we did everything we could to advocate for the students.”

For some counselors, the partnership between the state Education Department and the College Board, the association trademarking and controlling the administration of the SAT, is troublesome. “In my opinion, I want to question why the College Board has such an influence and impact on the decision-making regarding how we meet the NCLB (requirements),” Parkman says. “Why is the College Board so engaged with our personnel at the Department of Education?”

According to Milster, last spring the federal government wrote some preliminary letters to Gendron informing her that the SAT was not an appropriate instrument to measure the state curriculum and learning results. “And low and behold, this summer we got a letter saying Maine flunks — the SAT is not acceptable. We are one of two states in the country that failed with NCLB,” Milster says. “The plan, from what I understand from the Commissioner of Education, is to create another exam — a science exam with math components — which would be given at a different time than the SAT. So now kids are going to have to take the SAT and another test on top of that. Apparently, if the state carries through with those, it will be an approved assessment for Maine.”

The question on many counselors’ minds is why the state doesn’t just simply create a new Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) test, which was used prior to being replaced with the SAT. Milster believes he knows part of the answer. “This is a multimillion dollar contract with the College Board,” he says.

Three years ago, as part of an initiative with the Maine DOE, Milster was sponsored to attend a College Board forum in Boston. While there, the College Board held a reception exclusively for Maine school counselors. At the reception, state school officials announced they were beginning a collaboration with the College Board.

In 2005, a state bill was passed that included one line buried in the bureaucratic language which gave the state commissioner the authority to change the MEA. “That was the key legislation that gave (Gendron) the power to make the change,” Milster says. “It passed. No one paid attention to it. No one knew about it until it was too late. So this was set in motion for a while. She had all her ducks in a row with the key players.”

Interestingly enough, Milster says, the guidelines for using the SAT, as written by the College Board, explicitly state that the test should not be used for state educational assessments. Milster sent an e-mail to Arthur Dole, the regional director for the New England College Board, asking how the College Board could justify going against its own guidelines.

“I got an incredibly long, very condescending letter back that totally dodged the question,” Milster says. “But finally, their answer was that it could only be used (if) all students take it.” He adds that since Maine initiated the SAT as a mandatory assessment for all juniors, it can be used for that purpose. “That’s how stretched they are,” he continues. “But it’s all moot because it’s a done deal. It’s just absolutely astonishing that this happened.”

The juniors’ SAT test scores have been returned to the schools in Maine. To date, however, no transposition scale has been created to interpret the SAT numerical scores, meaning there is no basis for determining whether a student exceeds the state’s standards, meets the standards, is working toward the standards or does not meet the standards, which are the categories defined by NCLB. Currently, an internal committee within the Maine DOE is looking into this issue.

Coincidence or retaliation?

To add to the disappointment and frustration of many Maine school counselors, those working under teacher contracts with a National Board Counseling Certification were passed over for a $3,000 state-funded salary increase — an increase the Maine Legislature awarded to all teachers who hold a national board certification.

Parkman, who meets that criterion, actually signed a new contract reflecting the raise. He received the bonus for a month, but was surprised to find on the next payday that his raise had been terminated and the total additional compensation he had received previously had been deducted from his current paycheck. He was told that someone within the state DOE had contacted his superintendent to explain that he was ineligible for the raise because he was not a “teacher in a discipline.”

Maine seems to be sending the message that only an educator who teaches a class is entitled to the increase. Furthermore, national certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors is not being recognized as equivalent to a teacher’s national certification, which is blatant discrimination against school counselors who work under teacher contracts, Parkman says.

In a letter to his superintendent, Patricia Hopkins, Parkman wrote, “Is school counseling not recognized as a viable ‘discipline’? … School counselors are governed by the same rules as teachers in earning our recertification units, and we fall under the contract as equals with teachers when setting Step Levels and all other benefits required in teacher contractual agreements with school boards.”

Parkman took immediate action and posted messages about school counselors being denied the raise on various counseling and education listservs. He was contacted via e-mail by Shelley Reed, a guidance consultant with the state DOE, who stated that the denial could be interpreted as an error. “The commissioner has said that she feels that counselors not receiving a stipend for their national certification is an oversight and that she wants to do something about this next year,” Reed wrote.

That’s not enough for Parkman. “The discrimination is just unbelievable,” he says. “Some counselors feel — at least I do — that it was a vendetta because we questioned the SAT issue and went on record against it. It seems like it’s a pretty significant oversight.”

Officiails at NBCC estimate that the issue could affect approximately 75 nationally certified school counselors in Maine. “Even if there were just two of us (affected), it still doesn’t make any sense,” Parkman says. “It’s just another attempt to separate school counselors from teachers, which is not a good working relationship.” Still, Parkman remains optimistic about the vague message he received from Reed.

As Counseling Today was preparing to go to press, Gendron contacted the newspaper and said the state DOE was submitting language for the Legislature to consider that would include counselors who hold a national certification in the salary increase.

The complications of sliding fee scales

Robert J. Walsh and Norman C. Dasenbrook April 3, 2008

In this month’s column, we want to address a question sent in to us by many members of the American Counseling Association. This issue has to do with private practice billing, particularly the issue of using a sliding fee scale. We will offer our opinion from the viewpoint of private practitioners, while ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan will discuss some of the ethical considerations.

We recommend against using a sliding fee scale, both in our book The Complete Guide to Private Practice for Licensed Mental Health Professionals and on the “Private Practice Pointers” section of ACA’s website (from the home page at, click on “Counselors” and then “Private Practice Pointers”). Our reasoning is related to the difficulty of setting and administering the fees. Another reason has to do with the complications that arise when a clinician has contracts with managed care companies. If you have a signed agreement with Blue Cross Blue Shield, for example, the company will pay 85 percent of your “usual and customary” fee. But if the managed care company finds that your lowest sliding fee is, let’s say $30, it will pay you 85 percent of that amount on all your billing — even the higher fee amounts.

If you do not deal with managed care companies, then it’s a different story. Before managed care covered licensed professional counselors some 12 years ago, I (Bob) used a simple formula: .001 x Family or Individual Yearly Income. (Example: $36,000 = $36 per hour.) I simply trusted clients to tell me the truth, because inspecting tax documents would have been time consuming. That model worked fairly well, but I always worried about the outside chance that a discussion in my waiting room over fees would cause issues.

Today, I deal with clients who have limited income but don’t have insurance by offering three pro bono spots per week, scheduling them at low demand times during the day. I also offer half-hour times to some clients for a half fee. We don’t waste any time, getting down to business right away. These two strategies permit me to maintain my social interest in the community by still being of service to clients of all income levels.

This answer may appear to be pretty complex for a seemingly simple issue, but in our experience, this issue grows more complex when really examined. In the final analysis, we can each use our own discretion in fee setting, which is the great thing about being our own boss in private practice.

Ethical considerations

David Kaplan: The counseling ethics perspective very much supports Bob and Norm’s statements. Nothing in the ACA Code of Ethics prohibits the use of a sliding fee scale. However, the ACA Ethics Committee recommends against using a sliding scale. Why? Because it is discriminatory.

A sliding fee scale charges people with larger incomes more for the exact same service that is being provided to clients with lesser incomes. Along those lines, it has been argued that a sliding scale can come across as gouging — that you are looking to squeeze as much money as you can out of an individual. That is why you aren’t charged according to income in a physician’s office, at the grocery store, at the gas pump or at the dentist.

Of course, we know that counselors who use a sliding scale are not trying to gouge their clients. Quite the opposite — counselors who use sliding scales are attempting to make counseling affordable to those with limited incomes. So how can you do that without using a sliding fee scale? The answer lies in Bob and Norm’s suggestion to keep a certain number of pro bono slots available for those who can’t afford counseling. How many hours should you designate as pro bono? That is up to you, but the number I have heard bandied about most often is 10 percent of your total practice hours.

Information detailing the essential components of implementing a required transfer plan, as addressed by the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics (Standard C.2.h., “Counselor Incapacitation or Termination of Practice”), is now posted in a bulletin on the “Private Practice Pointers” section of the ACA website.

Finally, the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association will be offering the workshop on June 8. More information is available at

ACA members can e-mail their questions to Robert J. Walsh and Norman C. Dasenbrook at and access a series of “Private Practice Pointers” on the ACA website at

Letters to the editor: