Monthly Archives: February 2011

Working outside the box

Lynne Shallcross February 22, 2011

Outside the BoxPicture this: Somewhere, a counselor sits with a client who is struggling to make progress. Traditional talk therapy isn’t moving the client forward. The counselor thinks, “I wish I were more of an artist because I’d love to try out a painting exercise with this client.” Substitute photography, dance, music or any other of the wide range of creative interventions for the word painting, and you’ll find the reason why so many counselors hesitate to fully embrace creativity in counseling — they think they have to be experts at the particular artistic enterprise themselves.

…continue reading

Ensuring college access for all

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Vivian Lee, Julia Bryan & Anita Young February 21, 2011

Current education reform initiatives and reports are fueling new debates among national and state education leaders and policymakers about the viability of U.S. schools and solutions to pervasive education problems. Initiatives such as the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program and President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act focus on four core areas:

  • Enhancing and rewarding principal and teacher effectiveness
  • Building data systems that inform parents and educators about student achievement while also guiding instruction
  • Developing college- and career-ready standards as well as assessments aligned to those standards
  • Implementing effective interventions that will improve academic achievement in the lowest-performing schools

These initiatives are transformative in nature, but documents associated with these initiatives do not mention school counseling as a means to transform education, nor do they mention school counselors as essential to increasing student achievement or strengthening college and career readiness.

Although these aforementioned initiatives do not mention school counseling, school reform groups have been increasingly critical of school counseling services. For instance, the 2010 Public Agenda report done for the Gates Foundation, “Can I Get a Little Advice Here?” highlighted young adults’ perceptions of school counselors during their college-going process. The report indicated that between 54 percent and 67 percent of young adults rated school counselors as “poor” or “fair” when it came to helping them find ways to pay for college (such as financial aid and scholarships), decide what school was right for them and think about different careers, as well as in explaining and helping them with the college application process. Almost 50 percent of the young adults surveyed felt school counselors merely saw them as “just another face in the crowd,” while 47 percent thought school counselors made an effort to get to know them as individuals. In response, the American School Counselor Association asserted that the report “illustrates what can go wrong when there are not enough school counselors to support students and when school counselors are placed in positions preventing them from performing the functions they were trained and hired to do.” Although student-to-counselor ratios are high and school counselors have many non-counseling-related responsibilities, the Public Agenda report joins a body of research and literature that highlights school counselors’ lack of attention to the college search, application and enrollment process (for example, see “Higher Education Access for Undocumented Students: Recommendations for Counseling Professionals,” written by William Perez for the Winter 2010 Journal of College Admission).

Given the rise of educational reform as a major priority among education policymakers and the absence of school counseling in those policies, we believe that a knowledge and skill shift in the profession is warranted to ensure our viability. As such, we are proposing that school counselors claim college and career readiness as a dominant knowledge and skill domain. We are not advocating for less counseling or a non-counselor professional identity. In fact, we are advocating for a stronger school counselor identity that includes career and college readiness counseling as a dominant focus of practice and research.

Practice recommendations

We would like to offer the following school counselor practice recommendations that, if implemented, would create more school counselor engagement in educational reform, particularly in regard to college and career readiness.

Recommendation #1: Make school counseling central in district organizational structure. In many school districts, the placement of school counseling is often within departments or divisions of student personnel services, student support services or, in some cases, special education. Although such positioning might seem appropriate, these placements render school counseling as an ancillary service rather than central to the academic mission of schools. If school counselors are to be a foundational part of schools, these professionals need to be in a position that engenders centrality.

Recommendation #2: Make advocacy/outreach a major role of school counseling. School counselors need to understand and implement advocacy. This means actively seeking out families to assist rather than waiting for families to approach school counselors. We believe the college and career readiness of all students can be increased when school counselors reach out to parents and create a school community that extends beyond the walls of a school building.

Recommendation #3: Use a systems perspective. From a systems perspective, school counselors must view the school community as their client, grasping both the big picture and each interrelated part of the system and its impact on individuals, especially those who are most often underserved.

Recommendation #4: Use school counseling methods and delivery systems that ensure that all students are college ready. School counselors fill an important role when they assist students with the completion of college and federal student financial aid applications. However, college and career readiness is a P-20 (preschool through graduate school) process that involves increasing student aspirations, linking aspirations and academics, increasing one’s social capital, engaging in academic and life planning, encouraging civic engagement (for example, service learning) and developing personal responsibility. School counselors must also examine how current practices contribute to the disparities in college access and begin to make needed changes without blaming caseloads, administrators, parents or the community.

Training recommendations

We also believe training school counselors so they will have the knowledge and skills to increase college/career readiness should be a primary goal for the next generation of counselor educators. We believe this can be accomplished by implementing the following recommendations.

Recommendation #5: Develop admission criteria aimed at performance required in the field. Recruiting and selecting assertive, culturally competent and social-justice-minded individuals who can readily address difficult educational issues with courage and integrity is essential for the future of school counseling. Among the possible admission requirements that would increase faculty members’ insights into an applicant’s readiness for enhancing all students’ college and career readiness are extensive individual and group interviews, writing samples on critical school-reform issues and opportunities to speak about opportunity gaps in education.

Recommendation #6: Counselor educators must teach in ways that will result in performance that can be measured in schools. We must monitor the ability of graduate students to deliver outcomes (for example, increased numbers of students who are college ready) in “real-world” schools, particularly the lowest-performing schools.

Recommendation #7: School counselor training programs should engage in interdisciplinary training with teacher and principal trainees to ensure that teaming and collaboration skills are acquired prior to graduation. Some may argue that this type of training would diminish the professional identity of the school counselor. We think it would do just the opposite. The power of an interdisciplinary team approach to training is that it allows trainees an opportunity to learn different perspectives, knowledge and skills. This type of training would require school counselors to clearly identify which skills and knowledge are shared and which are distinctly the domain of counselors.

Recommendation #8: Counselor educators must build a college and career readiness knowledge base. Currently, college and career readiness counseling is not a training requirement prescribed by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. We believe that not only should it be a requirement, but counselor educators should be highly engaged in professional development to gain the knowledge and skill necessary to teach, train and supervise for college and career readiness counseling.

Recommendation #9: Actively integrate college and career readiness concepts and knowledge into existing school counseling curricula. In doing this, counselor educators must seek out professional development and partnerships to build their capacity and knowledge in this area of training.

Recommendation #10: Counselor educators, in collaboration with school districts, should build partnerships with community colleges and universities so that large district, state and national policies about college and career readiness can be addressed collaboratively. In addition, building partnerships with community action groups, foundations and education reform organizations can invite different perspectives and ideas that will significantly strengthen a school community and allow for greater impact on federal policy related to college and career readiness.

Recommendation #11: Counselor educators need to engage in research that demonstrates the efficacy of training and practice in college and career readiness counseling on student outcomes. We believe school counselor training programs should be held accountable by demonstrating that program graduates engage in effective practice after they become employed in schools.


We believe that school counselors can no longer afford to be disconnected from educational reform initiatives. We further propose that ASCA, the American Counseling Association and other education reform and college readiness organizations such as the National Association for College Admission Counseling, The Education Trust, Achieve and The College Board continue to work together to promote an extensive network of professional development for practicing school counselors who have little to no training in college and career readiness. Through this increased collaboration, we would hope that more research and funding opportunities would evolve for counselor educators and researchers. We believe school counseling researchers are in the best position to conduct rigorous studies related to the effectiveness and practice of school counselors in relation to college and career readiness.

School counseling is at a critical crossroads. More than ever before, students need school counselors who are trained to provide them with the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful in life. At the same time, school counselors are being criticized for not doing enough to get students ready for their futures. We believe school counselor skills in college and career readiness are key to closing gaps in student achievement, bringing positive reform to schools and preserving our profession’s positive future.

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy is professor and chair in the Johns Hopkins University Department of Counseling and Human Services and author of School Counseling to Close the Achievement Gap. Contact her at

Vivian Lee is director of counselor advocacy at the College Board National Office for School Counselor Advocacy.

Julia Bryan is an assistant professor in the University of Maryland at College Park Department of Counseling and Personnel Services.

Anita Young is an assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins University Department of Counseling and Human Service.

Letters to the editor:

Your witness

Stacy Notaras Murphy

A summons calling a counselor to court brings with it enumerable questions and anxieties. What should you say to the judge? How should you present your credentials? Is it ethical to answer the opposing attorney’s questions?

These concerns are enough to make some counselors avoid the court system altogether. But others have found that providing expert witness testimony complements their skill set and ignites their curiosity even as it helps to build their bank accounts.

The evolution from feeling fearful of the legal field to being fulfilled by its many opportunities is likely to include specialized training, anecdotal research and good old trial and error. Most counselors who have spent a significant amount of time in court as an expert witness will attest that the latter has a strong effect.

“My first court experience was a sex abuse case,” says Richard Stride, a psychologist and licensed professional counselor in Wenatchee, Wash. “The attorney that asked me to help didn’t prepare me at all. In Colorado at the time, in order to be qualified as an expert witness, the attorneys had to ask you questions, cross-examine you and then agree. I had no idea that that process was happening. There were six attorneys on the opposing side. It was a grueling process.”

As a result, Stride, who has specialized in forensic mental health since 1995, always brings what he calls a “court notebook” that includes his résumé, transcripts and validity and reliability data concerning any psychological test he has administered in the case. “I have all that information at my fingertips because I came in for my first experience very unprepared,” he says. “I couldn’t remember every class I’d ever taken — and they do ask those questions to disrupt your testimony and disqualify you.”

Which kind of witness?

Betsy Neely, an American Counseling Association member who teaches in the Forensic Psychology Department at Argosy University in Atlanta, has developed a workshop to help counselors understand their role in legal proceedings. “When someone from the helping professions enters the courtroom, they are entering a different culture,” she notes. “They don’t understand why the questions they would like to answer have not been asked, or why the questions they have been asked are not the ones they’d like to answer. It can be very frustrating.”

In Georgia and many other jurisdictions, Neely explains, a significant difference exists between expert witnesses and “lay witnesses” or “witnesses of fact.” Mental health experts must be qualified as “legal experts” and demonstrate a mastery of the research in all the areas in which they are testifying. As such, these expert witnesses can draw conclusions about a case, but often they have little personal connection to the complainants and defendants in a case. In contrast, mental health lay witnesses commonly are in direct contact with the members of the case, frequently serving as their counselors well before the legal system became involved. These witnesses are not allowed to draw conclusions and must rely only on the facts of their interactions with their clients.

Neely offers the example of a fictional child custody case. “If you’re just being a fact witness, a caseworker or case manager, then your testimony is going to be limited to whether there’s food in the fridge, if the house is clean, if the mother’s eyes were red. You can only say, ’These were things that I observed.’”

Anne Marie “Nancy” Wheeler, an attorney who operates the ACA Insurance Trust’s risk management helpline, says she frequently gets questions from counselors about serving as witnesses in court cases. “Perhaps someone’s being harassed on the job and that client comes to you because she’s having trouble dealing with it all. Later on, her attorney wants you to testify, and he will label you as an expert witness, asking you to render an opinion about the situation,” explains Wheeler, coauthor of The Counselor and the Law, published by ACA. “If it’s truly in your client’s best interest for you to testify, it makes more sense to be a witness of fact, and not an ’expert,’ which implies that you’re neutral. How can you be neutral when you’re really doing it for your client?”

“The role of an expert presumes there’s a non-bias that the court can rely on to make a decision, but I think a lot of attorneys confuse the roles,” she continues. “The expert witness’s job is almost like a teacher in court — to inform the court, to help the court resolve some kind of issue. The person doesn’t act as a client advocate but as someone who lends experience to the court. Many counselors fall into this role and end up feeling battered and abused by the process.”

One effective way for counselors to avoid feeling abused during legal proceedings is to educate themselves on the process before they are called into court. “I think that most counselors don’t like the idea of going to court, but there are some who are comfortable, especially if they go on to get further training,” Wheeler advises. “The better trained you are, the more knowledge you have, and it definitely seems to lower anxiety. Counselors should typically act as expert witnesses only when they are not counseling the client involved in the legal action.”

Getting prepared

Neely notes that talking to others who have spent time in the court system — counselors and other professionals alike — can be useful in helping counselors relieve anxiety and prepare themselves. She also recommends reading and rereading texts about clinicians involved in court proceedings.

Stride agrees 100 percent. “We know we live in a ’credentialed’ society. You can’t possibly foresee every question. Even though a lot of them are typical, many are aimed at disrupting you or discrediting you in the eyes of the jury. Of course, it’s OK to say, ’I don’t know,’ but one of the things that has helped me is getting the credential as a Certified Forensic Mental Health Evaluator through the National Board of Forensic Evaluators [NBFE].”

ACA has partnered with NBFE since 2004 to advance the forensic evaluator credentialing process. The NBFE’s certification requires a significant amount of footwork, including both written and oral exams. “It’s grueling from the fact that you have to have so much experience, be licensed for a certain amount of time, have worked in the court system, have referrals, do a workshop, take exams and so on, but it’s important because, traditionally, it’s only been psychiatrists and psychologists whom the courts felt were qualified to be witnesses,” Stride says. “We know that mental health counselors are just as qualified, so having a certification from a national board looks good.”

Becoming an expert witness can also help counselors build another revenue base. “I require a retainer upfront, and then I charge per hour to do what I do,” Stride explains. “The retainer can go from $1,500 to $5,000, depending on the case. It can be very lucrative if you do three or four cases per month.” Marketing yourself is an important part of building a niche in this field, Stride says. He recommends that counselors maintain websites devoted to their courtroom experience and invest the time to get listed in the various expert directories.

Maryann Lucy, a counselor and ACA member in San Benito, Texas, is also certified by NBFE. She says her main motivation in serving as a witness in court cases remains using her expertise to help those in need. She explains that jurors face complicated, difficult decisions when it comes to child-related cases. “They need to have clear and concise information to assist them in understanding the nature of child responses and behaviors within the context of the developmental information that is available to us,” Lucy says. “They need witnesses to educate them on such topics as symptoms of abuse and delayed outcry.”

Lucy recommends finding a professional who can serve as a courtroom mentor. “Discuss your fears, plan rehearsal scenarios that will serve to educate you, and work on affirmations to overcome fear,” she says. “You are the professional. You know the part you played in this [client’s] experience. After testimony, process your experience and evaluate it with your mentor.”

Do’s and don’ts in court

Lucy describes her first court appearance as terrifying. “I had never done anything like this before and never experienced cross-examination,” she recalls. “I felt very intimidated but tried to keep the image of the child victim before me. I left believing I had ruined her case, only to find out that her perpetrator had been judged guilty.”

The experience made Lucy realize that she would need to “toughen up” to better serve her clients. Today, she emphasizes the importance of working with the lawyers involved ahead of time. “If I don’t hear from them after a subpoena, I start calling,” she says.

Stride says the most important thing for counselors to do is to go over questions in advance that the attorney will ask and to get input concerning potential cross-examination questions. He also emphasizes that counselors should work hard to present their information in a non-defensive manner. “When they challenge your credentials, certainly don’t embellish,” he says. “It’s OK to agree with them and say, ’I don’t have a lot of experience in that. However, according to my evaluation …’ Sometimes, you have to keep repeating yourself. Stick with your results, and certainly don’t change your mind on the stand.”

George Cyphers, an ACA member and rehabilitation counselor education instructor at Kent State University, agrees that advance preparation is key. Cyphers, who also runs a private consulting business, built a career around employee disability assessments, serving as an expert witness in 14 states.

“I have learned over the years that this is a serious business because it involves a person’s life. You cannot afford to hold yourself out as an expert unless you are willing to invest time and effort to prepare thoroughly for the challenge of cross-examination,” he says. “You must be thoroughly grounded in their field. In addition to being a subject-matter expert, you must be aware that the framing of opinions is a skill, as [is] the articulation and defense of an opinion in the stress of cross-examination.”

Cyphers also notes the distinction between courtroom and deposition testimony. “Courtrooms are the theaters in which trials take place. … Depositions are much harder work. Court testimony takes place in front of a judgmental audience — a jury, with a referee — a judge. Depositions are much more open to being turned into a free-for-all, and there is no one to admonish the bad behavior that attorneys can sometimes engage in.”

Among Cyphers’ additional pieces of advice for counselors serving as witnesses: dress modestly; speak clearly; only answer the question that was asked; and refrain from humor during testimony. “When serving as an expert witness, remember that none of the attorneys involved is your attorney,” he says. “They all represent someone else, and they all have as an agenda to vigorously prosecute their particular point of view.”

Richard Knowdell is a nationally certified counselor and longtime ACA member whose San Jose, Calif.-based career counseling firm offers vocational evaluations of those going through no-fault divorce proceedings. It’s beneficial for counselors to know ahead of time that the courtroom experience is nothing like the old Perry Mason TV show, Knowdell says. He recommends that counselors spend time in a courtroom to observe the real-life behavior of judges, attorneys and witnesses.

Knowdell emphasizes the importance of counselors having a clear opinion backed up by solid facts. He also suggests that counselors be prepared for the legal system’s slow pace. “You need to be patient, as most of the time your 9 a.m. case will not actually be called by the judge until 11 a.m. But keep in mind that your ’meter is running.’ As an expert witness, your chargeable time starts the minute you leave your office and continues until you return to the office.”

K. Joe Heard, an ACA member in private practice in Benton, Ark., has testified in more than 100 court hearings. He stresses the importance of obtaining documented consent from all parties so the counselor can communicate freely with the attorneys and judge. He adds that counselors should turn off their cell phones in the courtroom, dress professionally and remember to address the court politely using “sir,” “ma’am,” and “Your Honor.”

“It is OK to take notes in with you and ask the court if you can refer to them. Just be aware that anything you carry into court is subject to review,” Heard says. “Be objective on the side of truth rather than being biased. … Realize that you are a highly trained professional with a license. Do not allow attorneys to intimidate you.” After testifying, counselors can ask the court if they can be excused, Heard points out. That way, they won’t end up spending the entire day in court.

What kind of person willingly signs up for this kind of experience? Stride says it helps to be someone who enjoys the debate. “There are some counselors who would rather do therapy, but there are some individuals who like the stimulation of going into court and debating with the attorneys. That type of person usually does very well in the court setting,” he says. “[It’s also] having the desire to do an in-and-out sort of thing. In forensics, you aren’t the person’s therapist or counselor. You are there to do an evaluation only, and that appeals to some counselors.”

Stride notes that attorneys on both sides might attempt to get the counselor to offer an opinion rather than a statement based on facts alone. “Sometimes, the attorney will say, ’Well, if you knew that this person had a DUI 10 years ago, would this change your opinion?’ You must say, ’No, according to the information I had at the time, I would not change my opinion.’ Or they say there’s an expert who said something else, and would you defer to him because he’s an expert. You have to say, ’No, according to the information I had at the time of the evaluation, I would not change my opinion.’”

“No speculation,” Stride emphasizes. “Stick to the facts.”



Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Washington, D.C. To contact her, visit

Letters to the editor:

A Musical Chronology and the Emerging Life Song

Thelma Duffey & Shane Haberstroh

Have you ever been driving along in your car, listening to the radio, and heard a song that completely took you back in time? All of a sudden, you remember what you were doing, how you were feeling and who you were with.

That seems to be a common experience for many people. In fact, just listening to a song can take many of us back to old sensations, excitements, fears and hopes. With a click of a button, we’re there.

Music is a medium long used by educators, counselors and other mental health professionals when working with children, adolescents, individuals, groups and couples.

Thelma’s experience

For as far back as I can remember, music has been an incredibly wonderful form of entertainment, comfort and fun for me. Many of my memories and associations are recalled simply upon hearing a song that was playing at another point in time. Some of my favorite pastimes involve listening to live music, both in large and small venues, and spending a day at home with my music or the radio. I enjoy all sorts of music and feel especially connected to people when music is part of our shared experience.

Professionally, I have used music in my counseling practice for more than 20 years with people of all ages, and I regularly introduce its use to graduate counseling students at our university. However, I first started using music in my work more than 30 years ago in an area where many children identified as “at-risk” faced unique educational, cultural, economic and social challenges. At the time, I was a Title I teacher in a junior high school where a number of 14- to 16-year-old students were reading below a third-grade level. In addition, many were challenged by intergenerational culture clashes, English-as-a-second-language issues and poverty. Others struggled with the effects of gang violence and the untimely deaths of siblings, parents and other family members.

Unfortunately, the books appropriate for these students’ reading levels were far more elementary than the students’ experiences or worldviews. Finding resources that could simultaneously engage students, inspire their interest and afford them dignity was challenging. As a culminating project for my master’s degree, I developed a reading resource manual that used popular music to help the students develop literal, inferential and evaluative reading skills. We’d work in small groups and listen to the songs. Using the manual as a guide, each person would respond to a series of developmentally aligned questions and engage in readings and discussions based on the music.

We had such fun using music they had selected — music that was important to them. Using this method, a number of the students developed reading skills they could then transfer to their work in the content areas. Interestingly, a valuable by-product of this work was the cognitive and emotional processing that took place. It was apparent the music helped students connect with one another and helped bring context to difficult life experiences.

Later on, through my work with children with chronic and terminal illnesses and their families, I was again reminded of how fragile life is and how wonderful it can be when people connect with music that inspires, comforts, entertains or relays feelings for which we may not have words. That was when I first began developing an intervention I refer to as A Musical Chronology and the Emerging Life Song.

Shane’s experience

I have been a musician for the past three decades, so music has been central to my self-expression as well as to my connection with others. In my professional life, I have done a good portion of my clinical work in addiction treatment centers. There I discovered that music was a powerful tool for expression, communication and connection among the clients.

In my journey of playing music with others, I have found that the experience can transcend individual performances to create powerful moments. Other times, playing music can feel frustrating and stilted. It is in these moments when, despite my best efforts, the music feels flat and empty.

When artists are able to create musical works that connect with the human experience, those are the songs that resonate with us. I think the best songs — the ones with which we connect — speak to our inner experiences. When performed with authenticity, these songs seem to capture the subtle textures and profound moments in our lives, encapsulating and preserving powerful moments. The musical chronology speaks to these moments.

With today’s availability of libraries full of music, clients can easily access songs that are representative of their pasts, presents and futures. A few years ago, Thelma introduced me to the musical chronology, and I have used it in my practice, particularly with adolescents. I find that most clients are eager and excited to share this aspect of their lives. When listening to songs and sharing their chronologies with me, they express their experiences, losses and hopes more fully.

What is a musical chronology?

A musical chronology is akin to a musical scrapbook. The chronology uses meaningful music to help clients connect with feelings, thoughts and memories, identify relevant life experiences and bring perspective to these experiences. One goal of the chronology is to help clients appreciate the good they have experienced, while also coming to terms with experiences or situations they have left unreconciled. The hope is that by remembering the good, clients can give context to their experiences, and by coming face-to-face with difficult hurts while accessing a more realistic and compassionate lens, they will be better able to put those hurts to rest.

We have used music as a chronology with individuals, couples and groups in our practices, and we have presented variations of this process at conferences and workshops that address issues of grief and loss, addiction and intimacy development. We have also used music in this context with reminiscence, people invested in creating meaningful life reviews and older adults — in particular those seeking perspective on life events.

More recently, Catherine Somody, a longtime counselor and educator, conducted a phenomenological study, “Meaning and Connections in Older Populations: A Phenomenological Study of Reminiscence Using A Musical Chronology and the Emerging Life Song.” Participants ranged in age from 74 to 88. In describing her experience with the chronology, one participant said, “It helped me live a little better with missing my sister. … She and I sang together. We were four years apart; we sang together when we were kids. In fact, just this morning I was talking to her out my kitchen window. I can actually do that now.”

“The power of music and the chronology to evoke emotion was expressed by all participants,” Somody noted when discussing her research. “All reported increased self-awareness and reconnection with many important memories and values.” She went on to add, “The recall of happy memories added to the enjoyment of the process. Recall of hardships contributed to feelings of pride and accomplishment. Some participants connected with feelings of regret.” And consistent with the chronology mission, “Many connected with the experience of forgiveness and ’opened the door to hope.’”

The chronology process

Stage 1: Have clients select music that speaks to them or has been meaningful to them throughout time, and then have them arrange the order chronologically to illustrate their personal story or “life themes.” The counselor and client discuss the use of music to revisit historical events and experiences. The counselor explains the process and, together with the client, determines the structure for its use in counseling. This includes discussing the number of songs per session, session length and format. The process is flexible and can be adapted to client needs and levels of development. Clients create their anthology using CDs, audiotapes, flash drives or iPods/iPhones. They may also include lyrics. The counselor can assist with any of the steps in this process. We generally do.

Stage 2: The second step involves using the musical selections as vehicles to revisit clients’ experiences. In conjunction with a counselor, clients can reconsider limiting belief systems or perspectives that interfere with their ability to reach their goals. The chronology provides opportunities to revisit attitudes born from difficult experiences — attitudes that influence or reinforce our expectations of life, ourselves and one another.

Stage 3: After compiling the music, clients select a song that represents their current life experience. This song serves as a reality check, one designed to help cut through denial, bargaining or other protective strategies. Although most of us can “move on” in life after difficult experiences, it is more challenging for us to move forward, meaning to carry with us a humble respect for and understanding of our humanness and the humanness of others, regardless of the outcome of our efforts. During this step, clients can begin to consider their experiences from an alternative, more compassionate and productive perspective. It is here that clients consider possible adjustments, try them on and begin to come to terms with life as it is.

Stage 4: The fourth step involves selecting a song that represents what clients hope to experience in their futures. This song (or songs) serves as a metaphor for their counseling goals.

Speaking volumes

Music speaks of our world and communicates our unique mix of cultural and personal experiences. While we may identify with important music from a particular genre, many of us also connect deeply with music from different generations and cultures.

Abel, 52 years old, relayed that bands such as Air Supply, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Guess Who brought back memories of his youth spent in a small Guatemalan village. Despite his current struggles with medical and financial problems, he recounted the classic rock of his youth with a soft smile and a twinkle in his eye. For a moment, he was 17 again. When we connect through music, we can know each other better because of it.

On the horizon, exciting links appear to exist between listening to music, brain functioning and expression of emotions. One example involves using the musical chronology with neurofeedback training. Neurofeedback, a form of biofeedback, uses real-time electrical signals from the brain, known as electroencephalography (EEG), to address problems associated with EEG frequency dysregulation. “The theory behind neurofeedback suggests that too much or too little of these EEG frequencies, like beta waves, can lead to maladaptive behaviors,” advises counselor and neurofeedback consultant Julie Strentzsch.

Combining neurofeedback with the musical chronology may help counselors and clients work through past losses. Neurofeedback data could be used while processing the emotions associated with clients’ musical selections. We are excited about using these modalities in combination to harness the power of music and modern technology.

At the same time that Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway” speaks to the experience of looking back to the people and places we used to know, Abba sings “Thank You for the Music.” And for the time when we appear to be traveling, like the Wallflowers sing, with “One Headlight,” our music can help us revisit past experiences more thoughtfully. Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen and countless other music artists tell stories to which many of us can relate — stories we can have fun with and borrow from

as we integrate our own circumstances. And for those of us who simply like music, at the end of the day, and in the words of Billy Joel, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”



Thelma Duffey is professor of counseling and department chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She was the founding president of the Association for Creativity in Counseling, serves on the American Counseling Association Governing Council and serves as editor for the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. Her book, Creative Interventions in Grief and Loss Therapy: When the Music Stops, a Dream Dies, is published by the Haworth Press. Contact her at

Shane Haberstroh is associate professor of counseling at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is past president of the Association for Creativity in Counseling and associate editor for the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. Contact him at

Letters to the editor:

Counselors coming together to face profession’s challenges

Richard Yep

Richard Yep

Next month, thousands of professional counselors and graduate students will come together in New Orleans for the ACA Annual Conference & Exposition. The registrations we have received indicate that we will be welcoming professionals from all over the country and from many parts of the world. Those who have visited New Orleans previously know a truly unique city is waiting to greet them, and those who have never been to the Big Easy … well, all I can say is buckle your seat belt and be prepared for quite a ride! New Orleans has a vibrancy that extends beyond the greatest jazz and the most amazing restaurants. It is a city with a true soul, a spirit that continues to rise up and face adversity — not unlike the counseling profession.

Many of you attending the ACA Conference will be involved in our community-wide Day of Giving Back project, which will encompass providing services in many different venues throughout New Orleans, as well as learning about community advocacy strategies that participants will be able to take back to their own cities.

I hope you are able to join us in New Orleans — and not just because we are trying to meet some financial commitment for the association. Rather, I want you there to witness the services and networking being brought about by the changing demographics we see in the ACA membership. We have an increasing number of graduate students relative to professional members. We have a number of midcareer counselors who are seeking new career paths. We also have a “graying” group of members who have seen the best of times (and perhaps the worst of times) in regard to the opportunities and challenges the counseling profession has faced over the past 60 years.

Clearly, we will have an incredible mix of professionals and students, and we hope that the Annual Conference will help to meet the needs of each unique constituency.

In January, I attended the annual conference of the American Association of State Counseling Boards. As the organization kicked off its 25th year of service (which will be observed at AASCB’s 2012 event in Charleston, S.C.), we heard from Ted Remley, the conference’s keynote speaker and AASCB’s first president. Ted made a number of interesting points as he looked back at AASCB’s history, but he also inspired the group to meet the challenges that it will face in the coming years.

Ted noted that he and his contemporaries made up the first generation of licensed counselors. Many of you in Ted’s generation recall when there was no such thing as counselor licensure and what you went through to achieve passage of that legislation. Ted asked the audience to remember that we have licensure today because counselors stepped up, faced the challenge and did something that he believes truly kept the profession alive.

Ted observed that if the profession was going to survive, it needed to work together rather than fragmenting into specialties that went off to do their own thing. Similar to how AASCB supported licensure efforts throughout the United States during the past 25 years, Ted encouraged the group to begin working on creating and supporting minimum standards for reciprocity and portability.

In New Orleans at the ACA Conference, I hope that attendees will take the time to embrace their diversity of thought, while also coming together with ideas that support a unified profession. As Ted said this past month, if the profession is going to make it, we have to work together.

As always, I hope you will contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions that you might have. Please contact me via e-mail at or by phone at 800.347.6647 ext. 231.

Thanks and be well.