Monthly Archives: April 2012

Using a wider lens to conceptualize client problems

Heather Rudow April 18, 2012

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at

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Scientist begin using blood tests to diagnose depression

Heather Rudow

(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists are hopeful that a blood test examining biological markers for depression could one day help to better diagnose the disorder.

As The Los Angeles Times reports, researchers examined 28 biological markers that circulate in the bloodstream, and found that 11 of them could predict the presence of depression at accuracy levels ranging from medium to large. A preliminary study was done on 14 depressed teens between the ages of 15 and 19 as well as a group of 14 healthy control subjects. It was found that the depressed teenagers had “significantly higher concentrations of the 11 targeted molecules in their blood.”

The researchers hope that by using an objective technique such as a blood test to diagnose depression, some of the stigma involved with the disorder will be reduced and greater numbers of depressed adolescents and adults will come forward for treatment.

“Once you have a measurable index of an illness, it’s very difficult to say, ‘Just pull yourself together,’ or ‘Get over it,’ ” added study leader Eva Redei.

Read the rest of the article

Source: Los Angeles Times

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at

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The Pentagon uses canine therapy to reduce PTSD symptoms in veterans

Heather Rudow April 17, 2012

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Department of Defense is using therapy dogs to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) they may have developed while fighting overseas.

As The Atlantic reports, the initiative is through the Defense Department’s National Intrepid Center of Excellence. With the support of the Pentagon, almost 100 troops have been able to go through the program’s unique combination of therapy and d0g training: the dogs rotate among the patients, whose job it is to train them to become service dogs. Once the rotation is complete, 20 veterans have gone through treatment, and a successful service dog has also emerged out of the process.

As animal-assisted therapy continues to gain popularity and support, Meg Olmert, director of research at the veterans’ therapy outfit Warrior Canine Connection, told The Atlantic this method is so successful because, as studies have shown, spending time with animals sets off the hormone oxytocin.

“Oxytocin replaces fight-flight with a brain and body chemistry of calm-connect,” she said. “Dogs also release this same brain chemistry in humans. It is not just in your head that you think your dog is family.”

Source: The Atlantic

For more information about animal-assisted therapy, visit the ACA Animal Assisted Therapy In Mental Health Interest Network or read the August 2011 Counseling Today article “Counselor’s best friend.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at

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Adolescents downplay seriousness of cyberbullying

Heather Rudow

(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

New research from the University of British Columbia comparing traditional bullying with cyberbullying found distinct differences in the way students view the two.

“There are currently many programs aimed at reducing bullying in schools and I think there is an assumption that these programs deal with cyberbullying as well,” says research presenter Jennifer Shapka. “What we’re seeing is that kids don’t equate cyberbullying with traditional forms of schoolyard bullying.  As such, we shouldn’t assume that existing interventions will be relevant to aggression that is happening online.”

The study involved 17,000 students from Vancouver between grades 8 and 12 as well as a follow-up study with youths between the ages of 10 and 18.

The results revealed that 25 to 30 percent of participants reported experiencing or taking part in cyberbullying, compared with 12 percent who reported taking part in schoolyard bullying.

However, says Shapka, “Youth say that 95 percent of what happens online was intended as a joke and only 5 per cent was intended to harm. It is clear that youth are underestimating the level of harm associated with cyberbullying. Students need to be educated that this ‘just joking’ behavior has serious implications.”

Shapka says schoolyard bullying is typically associated with three main characteristics — “a power differential between bully and victim, a proactive targeting of a victim and ongoing aggression” — but research is beginning to show that cyberbullying does not necessarily involve these three characteristics.

“An open and honest relationship between parents and children is one of the best ways to protect teenagers from online risks related to cyberbullying, Internet addiction, and privacy concerns related to disclosing personal information online,” she says.

For more information about cyberbullying, read Sheri Bauman’s Cyberbullying: What Counselors Need to Know, a 2011 book published by the American Counseling Association, as well as the June 2011 Counseling Today article “Bullies with byte.”

Source: University of British Columbia

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at

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Gender and personality impacts how we process negative memories

Heather Rudow April 16, 2012

When reflecting on hard times in your life, do you look back fondly on getting through a difficulty experience, or are you just as upset as the day it occurred? According to University of Illinois researchers, how a person remembers and is affected by negative memories depends on their gender and personality traits.

Researcher Florin Dolcos said that other studies have found that people with high neuroticism tend to become “more disposed to become ill with affective disorders like depression and anxiety-related problems.” But they have not explored the differences between genders, the relationship between positive and negative memories, the frequency with which individuals recall specific memories and the vividness of their memories, as well as the coping strategies involved with recalling said memories. Says Florin, some of these strategies include suppression – trying to hide negative emotions – and reappraisal – putting a positive spin on unpleasant memories when looking back on them:

“The new study examined all these variables, and the findings offer a first hint of the complex interplay of factors that contribute to mood in healthy young men and women. The researchers used questionnaires and verbal cues to assess personality and to elicit more than 100 autobiographical memories in each of 71 participants (38 of them women). Their analysis revealed that both men and women who were high in extroversion (gregarious, assertive, stimulus-seeking) tended to remember more positive than negative life events. Men who were high in neuroticism tended to recall a greater proportion of negative memories than men who were low in neuroticism, while women who were high in neuroticism tended to return to the same negative memories again and again, a process called rumination.”

But the most pronounced difference the researchers found between men and women was regarding the emotional strategies each gender used when recalling negative memories. Men who engaged in reappraisal, were more likely to recall positive memories than their peers, while those who suppressed them saw no pronounced effect on the recall of  either positive or negative memories. However, the suppression of memories in women was significantly associated with not only a recalling of negative memories, but also a lower, depressed mood afterward.

“I think that the most important thing here is that we really need to look concomitantly at sex- and personality-related differences and to acknowledge that these factors have a different impact on the way we record our memories, on what we are doing with our memories, and later, how what we are doing with our memories is impacting our emotional well-being,” said researcher Sanda Dolcos.

According to the findings, she said, being more outgoing, stopping rumination, and using the reappraisal strategy appears to help both genders best deal with reflecting on negative memories.

Source: University of Illinois

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at

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