Monthly Archives: October 2012

National Depression Screening Day highlights Americans’ awareness of depression

Heather Rudow October 12, 2012

(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

Check CT Online on Oct. 22 to read Counseling Todays November cover story, in which counselors share their tips for identifying and treating clients with depression.

Oct. 11 marked the 22nd annual National Depression Screening Day (NDSD). In an effort to raise awareness and educate Americans about the disorder, more than a thousand hospitals, colleges, community organizations and military installations across the country offered free, anonymous screenings for depression and other mood and anxiety disorders.

In addition, earlier this month, Screening for Mental Health Inc., a nonprofit provider of mental health screening programs and founder of NDSD, released findings from a public opinion poll on the subject of depression.

Key findings include:

  • 53 percent of Americans report personally knowing someone who has been treated for depression.
  • 72 percent say they would be likely to speak with a health care provider if they thought they were experiencing signs of depression.
  • 67 percent believe depression can be successfully treated most of the time.
  • 65 percent said learning that a presidential candidate had sought treatment for depression would have no impact on their vote. There were no significant differences with regard to political party identification.
  • Those who know people with depression are more likely than others to seek help themselves (76 percent vs. 66 percent) and are more optimistic about the likelihood that depression can be treated successfully.

Says Douglas G. Jacobs, founder of Screening for Mental Health, “These findings tell us that our efforts to reduce stigma and increase the public’s knowledge of depression through events like National Depression Screening Day are having an effect. The goal of the program is to educate people on the symptoms of depression, assess their risk for mood and anxiety disorders and connect those in need with local treatment services.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today.

Contact her at

Friday Roundup: the best reads this week for counselors from around the Internet

Heather Rudow October 5, 2012

  • California is set to become the first state to ban gay conversion therapy.
  • New therapy interventions such as mindfulness, guided imagery, somatic experiencing, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing are gaining popularity in the mental health field.
  • Stress and depression can affect rates of cancer survival.
  • Research has found that phone therapy is equally effective as meeting face-to-face with a therapist for most people.
  • An occupation is most rewarding when it matches an individual’s personality traits.
  • Although only a small number of people with mental illness commit acts of violence, when those outbursts do happen, what often rises to the top as a commonality between the events is difficulty in securing effective treatment for these individuals.

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

Reading fiction as a means to greater empathy

Kathleen Smith October 3, 2012

(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

For many counselors, retreating into the depths of a novel can often be a much-needed and well-applauded act of self-care. But can reading fiction actually make someone a better counselor? Empathy-focused research in the past few years suggests that this may very well be a possibility.

Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Toronto, and Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, have found that people who read fiction on a regular basis appear to be more equipped to understand and empathize with others. This correlation between reading fiction and empathy held up even when the researchers controlled for variables such as personality traits, age and gender.

What is perhaps even more intriguing in Mar and Oatley’s findings is the discovery that this correlation is particular to fiction, with readers of expository nonfiction performing at lower levels on empathy tasks. Fiction readers also reported less loneliness, less stress and larger social networks. This reality provides a surprising challenge to the stereotype of the bookworm with a deficit of social skills.

What then are the implications of these observations for counseling students, who may find themselves with little time to read anything other than the academic, nonfiction texts assigned by their professors? Many educators in the counseling field have responded by turning to fiction as a source for engendering greater empathy in their students who are delving into their initial interactions with clients.

“I’ve used fictional novels as case studies, and they provide students with opportunities to experience empathy in a variety of situations that they might see in their professional work but don’t necessarily experience in the course of their training,” says Marinn Pierce, assistant professor of counselor education at California State University, Fresno.

This exploration can prove quite effective, as recent neuroscience research has demonstrated that the brain does not register a significant difference between real life experience and events in a novel. Therefore, students can turn to fictional characters’ thoughts and emotions to gain clearer perceptions of what their clients may be experiencing. “Students come to me concerned about how they might respond to certain situations in counseling practice, and fictional novels can be a safe way to begin to explore their values and reactions to some of these situations,” Pierce says.

Educators have also found fiction to be a useful tool in the development of multicultural empathy. “I offer opportunities for students to read works of fiction in our multicultural counseling course and ask that students select works by authors different from themselves,” says Cheree Hammond, assistant professor of counseling at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. “Through this opportunity, students are able to gain perspective on lived experiences that contrast with their own, while at the same time connecting with universal themes that permeate the human experience: love and loss, striving and achieving.”

The use of creative tools like fictional narrative in the counselor education field remains a ripe area for research, and educators like Donna Gibson, associate professor in the University of South Carolina’s counselor education program, have been eager to observe how fiction can influence a student’s perspective. Using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a tool for eliciting empathy in school counseling students, Gibson found in her 2007 study that the novel provided a secure environment as the students learned to flex their empathic muscles.

“In this case, it encouraged students to explore their own feelings and thoughts within the safety net of the fictional character Harry’s world,” writes Gibson. “It gave them the opportunity to explore possible hypotheses related to the main character’s personality, family and friends. In this process, many of the students learned to understand different aspects of themselves, which is a form of self-awareness that is often a goal in counselor education programs.”

Though research thus far has only been able to demonstrate a correlational relationship between reading fiction and empathy, the strength of the relationship should not be ignored. Whether there is a difference between readers who engage in fiction for pleasure and students who are assigned novels for a counseling course, however, remains unanswered.

“This is pure speculation, but I believe it’s possible that being assigned to read fiction can lead to similar benefits as reading fiction for pleasure,” Mar says. “It’s possible, then, that assigning particular fiction books that illustrate parallel problems as those possessed by a client could prove helpful.”

Until that correlation is established, however, it is safe to say that counselors and students alike could benefit from tossing aside academic texts and retreating into a novel now and then. A place where thoughts, emotions, frustrations and desires flow freely, without the necessary tug of the therapeutic process.

Kathleen Smith is a doctoral student in counseling at George Washington University. She can be reached at

ACA member’s passion for running evolves into something more for Alaskan inmates

Heather Rudow October 2, 2012

Tim Alderson, a member of ACA and the Alaska Counseling Association, turned his thesis paper into something more.

Tim Alderson, 37, has enjoyed running in marathons ever since high school. But he never thought he would be able to apply his hobby to an internship and graduate thesis paper at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, an all-female penitentiary in Eagle River, Alaska, and perhaps more surprisingly, eventually to a nonprofit organization.

“If you were to ask people who know me, I would be the last person to get caught up in something like this,” admits Alderson, a student member of the American Counseling Association and a member of the Alaska Counseling Association. “But sometimes the universe aligns and everything falls into the place. It’s really amazing when I think about it.”

In September 2011, Alderson read an article in Runner’s World about a group of volunteers in Topeka, Kan., who began a running club and held marathons for the female inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility. The club, at least anecdotally, he says, seems to have had an extremely positive influence on inmates — especially on their mental health and behavior.

“I saw that article and a light bulb went off,” Alderson recalls.

Curious and inspired, he contacted the group, Running Free, and asked the volunteers how they got started. Alderson decided that for his thesis paper for Alaska Pacific University, where he was obtaining his master’s in counseling, he would copy the group’s profile and create a similar program. Then, he would quantify the impact of a structured running program on dimensions of prisoner mental health.

Alderson enrolled 25 inmates in the study in January of this year. He began by administrating questions from the World Health Organization Quality of Life Assessment Brief Form (WHOQOL-BREF), asking the women about their psychological health, their physical health, their environment and their social relationships. Then the women followed a 12-week running protocol for 5K races that was developed by the Furman University Institute of Running and Scientific Training and practiced within the confines of the penitentiary.

At the end of the 12 weeks, 21 of the 25 women had completed the entirety of the training. Two of the women who dropped out did so because they had been released from prison.

Alderson says the prison staff informed him that this retention rate was impressive in itself. However, his findings were equally inspiring:

  • The average improvement in 5K time among the inmates was 5:01 minutes.  One inmate even improved her time by 14 minutes, 58 seconds.
  • Inmates increased their mean scores on the WHOQOL-BREF by 21 percent from 77.52 to 94.1, consistent with what Alderson heard anecdotally during post-test interviews.
  • Four inmates self-reported discontinuation of their mental health medications.
  • Attendance over the 12-week program — a total of 36 workouts — was 89.9 percent.
  • Inmates lost a combined 46 pounds.

As a runner, Alderson says he intuitively expected to see some benefit when comparing the pre- and post-test scores.

“I thought running would be a way to bridge the gap for these women,” he says. “It’s three hours a week where they can just be thought of as runners and not as anything else.”

However, Alderson continues, “where it gets interesting is when you look at the individual domain scores for the WHOQOL-BREF.”

Alderson says he expected to see changes in the inmates’ psychological and physical scores, as those aspects are supported by research, but the changes he saw in the women’s social relationships and environment were more surprising.

Universally, the inmates reported a lack of close personal relationships during their pre-program interviews.  “Themes of mistrust, criminal thinking and fear were frequently cited as reasons for not forming close bonds with other inmates,” Alderson says.  “However, at follow-up, their tune had changed.”

The comments the inmates made to Alderson about growing closer and developing longstanding bonds with one another are “consistent with a statistically significant increase in the social relationship domain score on the WHOQOL-BREF,” he says.

Alderson says he could also tell from the way they started to spend time together as a group outside of workouts.  “You could often see them eating together and chatting in the common areas of the prison facility,” he says. “One staff member even told me that she had complaints from other inmates because the runners were always talking about their running.”

One added variable that Alderson didn’t expect was that the inmates would have to train through one of the harshest winters in Anchorage’s history, which required almost all of the runs to be held inside a gymnasium. During the inmates’ final 5k race, they had had to circle the gym 68.5 times.

But Alderson says he believes that, in some respects, the close quarters ended up being a positive. “It built cohesiveness in the group by being so close together,” he says.  “They really had to get to know each other and work out their differences.  It was one additional obstacle they had to overcome together, and there is value in that.”

When Alderson’s study and the 5k at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Facility were complete, he knew that the program had produced such positive results in the women that it had to continue.

So he created the nonprofit Running Free Alaska — 44 inmates are currently participating and preparing for a race on Oct. 6.  They train three days per week under the guidance of 12 volunteer coaches.  Through donations and a partnership with local running store, inmates are provided with appropriate running shoes, just as they were during Alderson’s study.

Running Free Alaska is the second program of its kind after the Topeka program, and it has since sprouted off others. A group in Colorado has said it is interested in using Alderson’s model, and Run Free Texas has recently launched its program.

Alderson says he can see why the model has caught on nationally.

“I think our program is elegant in its simplicity,” he says. “With nominal training and almost no cash outlay, this program can be added to the treatment milieu in all types of institutional settings. At the end of the day, we aren’t a social program nor a rehab program. At its heart, it’s a running program, run by runners for runners, for the express purpose of making better runners. All of the benefits we saw in the study from a rehab and mental health standpoint were really just byproducts of this running endeavor. I think that is incredibly liberating relative to some of the other treatment programs in the correctional system. By focusing on running, we don’t have to reconcile our own values with the crimes committed by the inmates. Our volunteers can think of the inmates solely as runners and not as a problem to be fixed. The accomplishment of completing a 5k gives [the runners] a sense of control that they can use in all aspects of their lives.”

For more information, visit

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

Seasons: They come, they go, they come again

Richard Yep October 1, 2012

Richard YepI like October. The weather here in the Washington metropolitan area begins to cool down after what normally has been a warm and humid summer, the leaves turn colors that I never saw growing up in California, and many of our members (as well as staff) begin to move into their academic-year routines and schedules. It is a wonderful time to reflect and think about where we are, what we plan to do and how we imagine our future.

The ACA staff now numbers 61 with the filling of positions in public policy, marketing, information technology, professional learning and our new Center for Counseling Practice, Policy and Research. I have been here for a long time, and I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the most professional, highly trained and dedicated staff teams we have had in our history. I am constantly impressed with their commitment to ACA and the profession. In addition, the new ideas and improvements they come up with in terms of serving our members are really quite remarkable.

As noted, I have been here for many years and have seen the good, the bad and the proverbial ugly. ACA is a complex organization, and as we strive to meet the 21st-century needs of our members, we have been compelled to look at our growth and development. In fact, I have challenged the staff this year to continue in their own professional development. We asked each staff member to obtain at least four hours of professional development last year. During the current fiscal year, we are committing to 40 hours of professional development for each staff member. Why? Because we can be better in our jobs only when we continue to develop ourselves as association managers and staff.

When I noted my longevity with ACA, I should have been more specific. It was October 1984 when I first entered ACA headquarters as a new employee. In those days, I had more hair (less of it gray) and might even have been called “slim.” Time changes many things. What has not changed is my interest and desire to work with staff to do the best we can for the counseling profession because we know how important your work is to millions of students, families, couples and adults, each and every day.

Looking back at those early days in the mid-1980s, I remember being the new kid and coming up with various “new ideas.” Rather than shooting those ideas down, my boss who hired me, Frank Burtnett, engaged me in discussion and helped me to build our government relations program. I have tried to emulate Frank’s style by supporting a whole new group of young and enthusiastic staff members who bring terrific ideas forward. I guess the process is cyclical, just like the seasons.

Speaking of Frank, he has just completed his “third” phase of being part of the ACA family. He first joined the association in 1964 as a graduate student. He next moved into a staff position in 1971, rising to associate executive director before leaving in 1984. And for the past seven years, he has served as the editor of ACAeNews, building the project from one to five unique electronic publications for our members. Although he just retired from that role, we are looking forward to celebrating his 50th year of ACA membership in the not-too-distant future. My personal gratitude goes to Frank for his support through the years and for his dedication to ACA and the profession.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts. Feel free to contact me at 800.347.6647 ext. 231 or via email at You can also follow me on Twitter: @RichYep.

Be well.