Monthly Archives: August 2013

What police officers can learn from counselor education

August 1, 2013

photoAmerican Counseling Association member Diana Hulse and former police officer Peter McDermott are once again joining forces to help members of the law enforcement community enhance their interpersonal skills. Hulse and McDermott are in the midst of completing a handbook designed for police instructors called The Ultimate Cop in the 21st Century.

Hulse, a professor and chair of the Counselor Education Department at Fairfield University, and McDermott, a retired captain from the West Hartford and Windsor, Conn., police departments and a retired instructor from the Connecticut Police Academy, have been collaborating together on the topic of skills training for the past three years. Although they have published articles in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (here and here) as well as in Counseling Today, this will be the duo’s first book.

“This handbook builds on the articles [we wrote], providing resources and tools for police instructors and supervisors to use in teaching and evaluating interpersonal skills, skills for giving feedback and skills for leadership tasks,” Hulse explains.

McDermott, who trained police recruits and officers from 1985 until 2009, recalls how their collaboration began. “After I retired and started talking with Diana, I became aware that the procedures used for teaching and evaluating interpersonal skills in counselor education programs could be adapted to training and evaluating interpersonal skills in police academies.”

Coming from a police officer’s perspective, McDermott believes The Ultimate Cop in the 21st Century will be useful for police officers and that its content “demonstrates how to take best practices from counselor education programs and apply them to training methods that are accessible and useful to law enforcement.”

Having spent nearly 50 years in law enforcement, McDermott says, “Police officers have always needed to be good with people, and they have suffered inordinately if they haven’t been. Police, in all of their tasks, require a mastery of interpersonal skills to be successful.”

But unfortunately for police officers, McDermott says that “just the appearance of red lights and a uniform causes conflict.” That heightens the importance, he says, of officers being able to comfortably and confidently interact with people.

McDermott can attest to the fact that police officers get proper training and evaluation on their use of force, or “touch” skills, such as how they use a Taser or handle firearms. “But there is no compelling evidence that the same level of training and evaluation is applied to interpersonal [or] ‘talk’ skills,” he says.

McDermott stresses the importance of being able to talk to people from any multicultural background and in any situation in order to glean information and keep communities safe.

In addition to their writing projects, Hulse and McDermott have provided training and workshops for first-line supervisors at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden, Conn.

“In these workshops, we include graduates and current students from [Fairfield University’s] school counseling and clinical mental health counseling programs,” Hulse says. “They function as group facilitators for structured discussions around the topic of corrective feedback in police supervision.”

In Hulse’s experience, she says that first-line supervisors seem to engage with the idea of working on their interpersonal skills, but they also often feel that they don’t have time for it.

Hulse says that she and McDermott hope that The Ultimate Cop in the 21st Century will help officers “embrace the talk factor more completely, so this won’t be seen as an add-on but rather as a foundational core for effective police work.”

The goal is to eventually change the culture within the law enforcement community and infuse interpersonal skill training into police academies. “If you start with recruits and teach them the foundations of interpersonal communication, they can take those skills along with them throughout their careers,” Hulse explains. “In addition, officers also need skills for working effectively with groups of individuals in their organizations and communities. If a goal in these groups is to hear from everyone and to gain information, officers need skills for understanding group dynamics and managing different communication styles so all voices are heard.”

Hulse and McDermott believe there needs to be more collaboration between counselors and police officers across the country, and they recommend that counselors be proactive about offering their skillsets to local police departments.

“Counselors have been trained in interpersonal skills, feedback skills and skills for leadership tasks,” Hulse says, “and [they] can be great resources for teaching and strengthening these skills.”

 To contact Diana Hulse, email  dhulse@fairfield.edu.

To contact Peter McDermott, email pete06422@yahoo.com.

 

Effective treatment of military clients

By Keith Myers

militaryThere is sound research available that demonstrates the efficacy of certain evidence-based treatments when working with the military population. However, most of that research seems to disregard the necessary prerequisite for counselors in achieving reliable treatment outcomes — the ability to build trust with a client population that has a general disposition to distrust others, especially those outside of the military, which probably includes most of you reading this article. The prerequisite of trust illustrates the primary importance of establishing a level of multicultural awareness that will empower clinicians to achieve a more meaningful therapeutic relationship with military clients. In turn, this will lead to an improved quality of life for those clients.

Trust is the foundation for all meaningful personal and professional relationships. It is what causes a child to laugh when his father hoists him high into the air, knowing that he will always catch him on the way down. If a veteran does not trust you, then your treatment outcomes will have poor results virtually every time. One of my former military clients put it to me bluntly: “I’m not going to let you screw with my mind before I get to know who you are and what you represent.”

Therefore, each clinician should work diligently to establish that level of trust before proceeding with more intensive treatment such as trauma work or other aspects of a mental health treatment plan. Whether you currently work with this population or are simply considering it, I would like to offer some practical ways to build trust with military clients.

Be aware of their grit and character

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grit as “sand, gravel; a hard, sharp granule.” Another definition includes “firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger; indomitable spirit.”

If you are planning on working with military veterans or active-duty members, then you should be aware of their inner character and grit. This grit is what helps keep them alive in theater, motivates them in spite of roadblocks and allows them to persevere under dire conditions. Military training and culture advances and enhances this inner fortitude.

This culture of character is evident in the language taken from an actual Army NCO Evaluation Report (officer evaluation). It states, “Army Values: Loyalty — bears true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, the unit, and other Soldiers; Duty — fulfills their obligations; Respect — treats people as they should be treated; Selfless Service — puts the welfare of the nation, the Army, and subordinates before their own; Honor — lives up to all the Army values; Integrity — does what is right legally and morally; Personal Courage — faces fear, danger, or adversity.” Each branch of service has its own set of values by which its members are expected to live and conduct themselves, but they all speak to an overarching theme of maintaining a high moral and ethical code.

It has been my experience that military clients can activate this grit while in treatment and that it can motivate them to achieve outcomes that might be more difficult for nonmilitary clients to achieve. Having an awareness of this “hard, sharp granule” within military clients gives you more insight into this population, thereby helping you to form trust and rapport earlier in the therapeutic process.

Respect their service

My late father, a World War II Navy combat veteran, would become both angry and empathetic when viewing TV footage of Americans belittling, mocking and even spitting on returning Vietnam veterans. He would exclaim, “How dare those people spit on our troops’ faces when those are the same people for whom they lost their lives!”

Regardless of your personal political views on the Vietnam War, I hope all of us can acknowledge the disrespect our own culture showed Vietnam veterans after they returned from service. It stands as a horrific example of how not to treat our veterans. Sometimes, the best lesson for learning what to do is deduced from learning how not to behave.

On the other hand, one practical way that counselors can show respect for their military clients is to honor all military holidays in their own practice or clinical setting. At the same time, counselors should be mindful that the holidays could invoke memories of buddies who were lost in service or some intrusive thoughts surrounding combat trauma. Some of these holidays include Memorial Day, Veterans Day and birthdays of the different branches of service.

Be comfortable with spirituality

Among the spiritual statements I have heard previous military clients make are, “I don’t know what happened. My spirit died out there” and “Before deployment, God told me that I would return injured but promised me that he would not let me die.”

It is common for spirituality and the veteran population, especially combat veterans, to be intertwined. Therefore, being comfortable with veterans exploring their faith and/or spirituality during a counseling session is vital to building trust and effectively treating this population.

Edward Tick, a clinical psychotherapist who has worked with veterans for more than 30 years, authored the influential book War and the Soul, which contends that posttraumatic stress disorder is a psychospiritual condition or “soul wound.” On the basis of his work during the past three decades, Tick further asserts that a significant part of this wound is caused and further exacerbated by the absence of warrior rites of passage that were present in ancient civilizations. He explains that these spiritual and communal rites of passage are oftentimes missing within the U.S. military system, especially when military members return home. Tick cites storytelling and reconciliation retreats as two such spiritual rites of passage. He further explains, “Reconciliation retreats are one of the most effective tools for addressing the healing needs of both veterans and nonveterans. Such retreats incorporate the individual, group, aesthetic and spiritual dimensions of healing, while relying on the healing power of the story.”

To maintain multicultural relevance and effectively treat combat veterans, counselors and other mental health clinicians must possess knowledge about spirituality and faith as well as the spiritual effects of war.

Use some disclosure to enhance rapport

Regarding my own establishment of professional boundaries with clients in the past, I always erred on the side of caution when disclosing any personal information. Ethically speaking, disclosure comes with certain risks, including the possible crossing of boundaries. It can open the door for a role reversal of sorts if the client listens to the counselor’s issues and begins providing emotional support. As I often emphasize to my students, “You are the therapist, not the client.”

However, aren’t we being incongruent if we believe that authenticity is vital for clients yet never disclose any personal information at all in our role as counselors? Is there a way to balance being genuine with clients while simultaneously keeping other meaningful parts of our lives private? I believe this balance must exist if we are to be effective in treating veterans. Some amount of disclosure during the intake session can enhance rapport and trust, which strengthens the therapeutic alliance going forward in treatment.

I typically share three disclosures with military clients after informed consent: the personal meaning I derive from serving veterans, my previous work in clinical settings and that members of my family have served in the military. For example, I often inform these clients that helping them is rewarding to me because it allows me to “serve those who served,” which I consider to be one of the highest honors. Furthermore, I explain to them that I feel this allows me to give back in some indirect way to my family members who have served. Therefore, my “service” of working with veterans and active-duty members enriches my own purpose and meaning both on the professional and personal levels.

Several clients have reported that these disclosures significantly reduced their initial distrust of me and allowed them to be more open-minded in developing a therapeutic relationship.

Advocate for them

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word advocate is a technical term derived from Roman law that refers to “one whose profession is to plead cases in a court of justice.” It can also mean “one who intercedes for another” or “a pleader.”

If counselors wish to build rapport and establish professional relationships with military clients, then they need to develop the skill of interceding on behalf of their clients. Counselors would be wise to learn from the sister profession of social workers, who have gained a reputation for being master advocates for the clients they serve. In order to remain true to the ACA Code of Ethics, counselors should be aware of the role that advocacy implies and address these expectations clearly with clients before moving forward.

Some practical ways to advocate for veteran clients include communicating treatment goals and progress with their other providers (such as primary care physicians and other providers within the Department of Veterans Affairs) and linking these clients to other community resources. A client once informed me, “I know you care because you are willing to be my voice.”

At times, clients have asked me to accompany them to their physician appointments so I could help articulate their needs. Because I work with clients in an intensive outpatient program, it is possible for me to meet that request. Depending on your practice setting and the level of care you provide, accompanying your client to appointments may not be convenient or even possible. But you might be able to help articulate your client’s needs to other providers by writing a letter that the client presents at these appointments.

Getting started

Maybe you are a clinician and have always been interested in working with the veteran population but are confused about where to begin. As many of us probably realize, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been slow to recognize professional counselors as having equal standing with social workers in job placement. There are a few other possibilities available for exploration, however.

First, it is helpful to discover the location of your closest Wounded Warrior Project chapter. Wounded Warrior Project is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is “to empower and honor wounded warriors.” This mission is accomplished in part by holding community events, providing mental health education to warriors and their families, and promoting recreational interests that connect wounded warriors with each other. By networking with your local chapter of the Wounded Warrior Project, you will be exposed to opportunities for obtaining counseling referrals to work with the veteran population.

Second, if you are independently licensed by your state, have graduated from a counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and are providing therapy in a private practice setting, another option involves enrolling with the TRICARE panel. TRICARE is the insurance plan for the Department of Defense (DOD). Getting listed as a TRICARE in-network provider will make it possible to receive counseling referrals directly from the DOD. The American Counseling Association website has a “Private Practice Pointers” section that includes helpful information on starting the application process for TRICARE (from counseling.org, click on “Knowledge Center” and then “Private Practice Pointers”). Unfortunately, this process can take several months, so considerable patience is required.

A final helpful tip for getting started is to attend national, regional and local conferences that offer education about veterans. Whether it is the national ACA Conference or a local conference offered by your state counseling branch, this can be a relatively simple way both to absorb more knowledge about this culture and to network with other clinicians about possible referrals.

Final thoughts

A client recently shared with me that another therapist had made the following statement to him during a session early in the counseling relationship: “Trust me. I’m your therapist.”

This phrase was insulting to the client because actions speak louder than any attempt at shallow reassurance. If simply offering verbal reassurance of your trustworthiness as a therapist was a helpful intervention with veteran or active-duty clients, this article would have been composed of one succinct paragraph. However, it is never that simple with any population, much less with veterans and active-duty members who have a heightened tendency to be guarded with others.

Developing practical skills related to how to “treat” military clients will bolster your ability to connect with them and advance the goal of building trust in the therapeutic relationship. Accomplishing this prerequisite goal will help your military clients to achieve greater clinical outcomes and ultimately lead them to an enhanced quality of life.

 

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Keith Myers is a licensed professional counselor in Georgia, where he works at the Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative program in Atlanta serving active-duty members and veterans who have traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder. He is intensively trained in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy and is a doctoral student in counselor education and supervision at Mercer University, Atlanta. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member with both Argosy University in Atlanta and Point University in East Point, Ga. Contact him at doc355@yahoo.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

The common cold of the child’s mental health world

Mary Coffman, Thomas Ollendick and Frank Andrasik

Tnightmareonight, 5-year-old Jonathan is a fretful, whiney and downright irritable child, and with good reason. He is sneezing, running a low-grade fever and has a runny nose, symptoms so easily recognized that even Jonathan can diagnose himself as having a cold.

Five-year-old Greg is just as fretful, whiney and irritable tonight, but the fever he is running is a psychological one — anxiety. Rather than a runny nose, he is dealing with symptoms related to “runny thoughts,” oozing with images of scary things like monsters hiding under his bed or a masked burglar crawling in through his window. Greg’s “sneezes” come out in the form of fearful statements such as, “Mother, please come back. I’m scared.”

Both children will feel miserable tonight and may wake up tomorrow in a bad mood because they haven’t slept well (the same can be said for their parents). The good news for Jonathan is that within 10-15 days, he will be recovered from his common cold. Greg will not.  Recovery from the psychological equivalent of the common cold is more likely to take months, years or, in some cases, even decades.

‘Common’ doesn’t mean ‘simple’

Nighttime fears, like the common cold, are pervasive among children. One study led by Peter Muris, professor of developmental psychopathology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, suggests that in Western cultures, nighttime fears occur in many if not the majority of children ages 4-12. Similarly, Jocelynne Gordon of Monash University in Australia, along with other researchers, has pointed out that upward of 30 percent of children display severe fear — or phobia — and related sleep issues at nighttime.

The common cold does not refer to a single virus. More than 200 viruses are associated with the common cold. Similarly, nighttime fears are diverse both in their causes and expression. Children may be afraid of the dark, of unfamiliar sounds, of bad dreams or of imagined burglars, monsters and ghosts. In fact, Virginia Tech’s Child Study Center, where one of this article’s authors, Thomas Ollendick, serves as director, has uncovered more than 30 stimuli for nighttime fears. The center estimates that nighttime fears affect more than 20 million children in the United States. Children who suffer from nighttime fears may demonstrate excessive worry, crying, temper tantrums and overt disobedience.

The Virginia Tech Child Study Center has found that fear of falling asleep in the dark is the most commonly reported problem among children with nighttime fears. The responses of children who are dark-phobic are exaggerated much more than anything we would expect on the basis of any realistic dangers, such as stumbling over objects. One child told us she was afraid the dark would swirl around her and take her away like a tornado. Another child thought he might die if he fell asleep in the dark. Like the common cold, fear of the dark and other nighttime fears can cause a child to feel absolutely miserable.

Although symptoms of the common cold are irritating and uncomfortable, a cold can introduce more serious complications such as ear infections, bronchitis and even pneumonia. Similarly, nighttime fears can lead to complications such as sleep disruption and behavior problems, which in turn may create further problems, including lack of sleep and even missed work for other family members. In such instances, bedtime often becomes a battleground between harried parents and fearful children. One study found that it takes an average of 21 minutes to get nonfearful children to sleep, compared with an average of 76 minutes for fearful children. Moreover, many of these fearful children wake up throughout the night even after they initially fall asleep. Frequently, they go to their parents’ bedroom for comfort and reassurance, resulting in a lack of sleep for both child and parents.

Other “side effects” may occur with fear of the dark. For example, in an earlier study, William Mikulas, professor emeritus at the University of West Florida (UWF), and Mary Coffman, one of this article’s authors, found that 41 percent of children who had a phobia of the dark were also afraid of being alone. Some researchers have suggested that fear of the dark may be predictive of future risk for other anxiety disorders, loneliness and depression. At Virginia Tech, we have shown that about 80 percent of children who are afraid of the dark have other anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder. Typically, fear of the dark preceded development of these other disorders.

Also like the common cold, fear of the dark appears to be “contagious” and to run in families. At UWF, we found that 53.6 percent of the children with fear of the dark had either a parent or a sibling who was also afraid of the dark. Children can also “catch” fear of the dark by watching frightening TV shows or movies through a process of learning by observing.

Is treatment really necessary?

For years, researchers considered fear of the dark to be a transitory condition and questioned its clinical significance because it is so common among children. Early on, however, Anthony Graziano and Kevin Mooney found that the average duration of darkness phobia in children was more than five years. In a recent clinical trial, Ollendick and his colleagues confirmed this duration and suggested that in the absence of effective treatments, it was likely to persist even longer. For some individuals, fear of the dark can continue into adulthood.

Five years (or more) is hardly a transitory amount of time for a child. Would we expect a child to suffer the effects of a cold virus on a daily basis for five years without attempting some kind of intervention? The fact that fear of the dark is a common phobia does not make it any less uncomfortable or problematic for a child.

Physiological symptoms often associated with nighttime fear include increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, shakiness and tears, while psychological symptoms include feeling frightened and anxious and having very unpleasant thoughts and images. Parents spend millions of dollars each year on over-the-counter and prescription medications to assuage their children’s runny noses and sneezes. Unfortunately, many parents do not know where to turn when seeking treatment for their children’s nighttime fears, which are the mental health equivalent of the common cold.

Home remedies and therapeutic interventions

For most parents, the first course of treatment is a home remedy — the “chicken soup” approach. Some parents suggest using “monster spray,” a bottle of plain water that they tell their children will destroy monsters. Other parents employ nightly “reassurance routines,” which might include looking under the bed with the child or staying in the room until the child falls asleep. At Virginia Tech’s Child Study Center, we had one parent who provided his son a knife to attack the monsters should they appear, while another placed sidings on the bed to prevent a monster from getting under the bed. The “treatments” seem endless and speak to the ingenuity of well-meaning parents.

Experts have developed a wide array of therapeutic techniques for nighttime fears, including components such as relaxation, self-control, parent training, positive reinforcement and graduated exposure. According to the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (abct.org), exposure is the evidence-based treatment of choice for phobias. During exposure therapy, the child is exposed to his or her fear through repeated contact with the feared object or situation in a controlled, graduated and safe manner. Exposure and other treatment procedures have been provided through individual therapy, parent training, groups, the Internet, and even stories and books.

Many parents turn to children’s books, or bibliotherapy, to help their child understand and overcome nighttime fears. Many of the stories are short, cute, enjoyable and, like the effects of chicken soup on the common cold, may actually have some beneficial effects. This is particularly true for those children with mild fears of the dark — the kind associated with transitional phases in the child’s life. It is unclear, however, whether these stories are helpful with children who are phobic. Uncle Lightfoot, Flip That Switch, written by Coffman and illustrated by D.C. Dusevitch, is a fictional book on fear of the dark for ages 5-8. During its development, the book was tested in a series of studies supervised by Mikulas at UWF. The book incorporates elements of cognitive behavioral interventions such as exposure games, cognitive restructuring and parent instructions in a humorous, playful way so that children can actually have fun overcoming their fear of the dark. In addition to studies conducted at UWF, an earlier version of Uncle Lightfoot was field-tested by Isabel Santucruz and colleagues at the University of Murcia in Spain and found to be effective in treating fear of the dark.

During the development of Uncle Lightfoot, the children themselves taught us about the improvements that needed to be made. Six-year-old Emily was one of those teachers. Emily was afraid of the dark for three years before her family sought help. Emily may have “caught” her fear from her 9-year-old sister, Sarah, who was also afraid of the dark. Emily was so terrified that she was unwilling to stay alone in her dark room for even five seconds. After her parents read Uncle Lightfoot to her several times over a period of five weeks, Emily was frequently able to sleep in her bedroom all night with the lights off. Emily’s mother said she observed her daughter’s growing confidence while listening to the story and playing the games. Emily made comments such as, “I’m getting braver” or “I can do that. It’s easy!” Bravery, like fear, is contagious.

When a therapist is needed

Although at-home treatments may work for many families, professional help may be necessary in other situations. At the Child Study Center at Virginia Tech, we have been working on a form of intensive therapy called “one-session treatment,” a variant of cognitive behavior therapy, in studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Following an in-depth interview with the parent and child, the clinician spends up to three hours in an extended session with the child. In this session, the child is asked to perform tasks that require greater and greater contact with the feared object or situation in a graduated and controlled manner. Weekly telephone follow-up sessions for one month help the child and the child’s parents to apply the techniques in their homes and communities.

One-session treatment has been evaluated in several studies involving hundreds of children in the United States and Sweden, and as many as two-thirds of the children in those studies are no longer fearful of the nighttime. On average, the study participants had experienced a fear of the dark for longer than five years. Follow-up over a four-year period revealed that 85 percent were free of all symptoms; the remaining 15 percent were improved but still needed additional treatment.

At Virginia Tech, we recently completed a small pilot program on a “stepped-care” approach that combines the best of home remedies and professional care. In the study, the phobic child’s family was initially provided an exposure-based fictional children’s book and consulted on how to implement the book. If this approach alone was not successful or only partially successful, therapists then provided more intensive services to the family using one-session treatment. Results from this study look very promising, with about half of the families responding to the children’s book alone and not requiring additional treatment.

Parents and children have numerous options for treating the common cold. Similarly, parents and children need effective tools for treating nighttime fears. Whether through bibliotherapy, evidence-based interventions or a combined approach, a “cure” to the common cold of the mental health world may be right around the corner.

 

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Mary Coffman is a nationally certified counselor with licensure in South Carolina and Florida. Her career has included counseling, teaching parenting classes, administration, writing, adjunct college teaching and research. Contact her at maryfcoffman@yahoo.com.

Thomas Ollendick is director of the Child Study Center at Virginia Tech and a university distinguished professor of clinical child psychology. He is the author or coauthor of more than 300 research publications, 75 book chapters and 25 books. Much of his research has centered on childhood anxiety and phobias.

Frank Andrasik is distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Memphis. He currently serves as director of the university’s Center for Behavioral Medicine. The primary focus of his research has been in the area of stress and behavioral medicine.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

The hero is in you

Rich Yep

Richard YepEach day, society is faced with any number of tragedies, traumas and emergencies where lives literally hang in the balance. Many of you have faced situations in which the action you took, based on years of education, experience and training, allowed you to step in and save a life. After more than 25 years with ACA, I am still amazed and honored to be working with members and leaders who have done so much to improve our society. Your work is something to be proud of and serves as an inspiration to those following in your footsteps as professional counselors.

Although I’m aware of the heroic efforts of our members and leaders, I’d like to tell you about the potentially lifesaving actions taken by one of our ACA staff members. Last month, another of our staff members who was eating lunch looked to be in distress and tried to quickly head out the door. In the hallway was Carlos Soto, ACA’s senior graphic designer and the person who designs Counseling Today each month. He realized there was something more to this situation than someone looking to get some fresh air. In this instance, the person was struggling to get any air because food had become lodged in her throat.

Based on observation and then acting on experience, Carlos came to the rescue and applied the Heimlich maneuver. Thanks to his quick thinking and action, Carlos was able to clear his colleague’s obstructed airway, and a sense of calm returned to the office. Had he not been there at that moment, I am not sure what the outcome would have been. However, I do know that Carlos is yet another person with whom I am proud to serve here at ACA, and I was inspired by his act of heroism.

Many of you have also been heroes over the years. You have been there to help a child, adolescent, couple, family or individual at a critical moment in their lives. You were the right person, at the right time and in the right place. Just like Carlos, your experience and instinct helped you to provide a service such as emotional first aid to those facing life’s challenges. My question is, how will this be instilled in those who are just starting their careers as professional counselors? Is it instinctive? Is it something one can learn? Is it a combination of both?

While we at ACA cannot necessarily develop a product that improves someone’s natural instincts, we can do our best to deliver resources, consultation, services and networking opportunities to our members and others who will serve (or are preparing to serve) as professional counselors. But we can’t do it without constant input, comments, suggestions and, yes, even criticism. We depend on you to help us develop resources that will lead professional counselors who practice ethically and deliver exemplary service. Please know that we do appreciate your feedback and suggestions! For those of you who have shared thoughts and suggestions via ACA’s Facebook page or through ACA Connect, the online networking tool located on the ACA website, thank you. We really do read what you post.

To those of you (and this includes Carlos) who have reached out and saved lives, thank you for your service, your courage and your compassion. It doesn’t seem enough to say that you are inspirational, which is why I just said it for the second time in this column. Many thanks.

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

Be well.

Unification of the profession

Cirecie West-Olatunji

NCericieow that the delegates of 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling have had their final deliberations, it is time for all of us to reflect on the outcomes of the labor of those individuals from 31 of the most influential organizations in counseling.

Unification of the profession? My, my, we could not find a loftier goal, and we should applaud ourselves for taking on this challenge. It is a noble act to aspire, to have ideals, to want to be better. And, developmentally, it is a timely goal. It is where we should be. However, unification requires sacrifice, meaning we must give up something, individually and collectively, in order to acquire something more, something better. Unification of the profession requires — no, mandates — that we take extraordinary measures to reach heights heretofore unknown.

None of these measures can be considered new to even the most novice counselor or counselor trainee. Quite simply, we need faith, self-awareness, authentic dialogue and just enough humility to entertain the possibility that we could be in error from time to time. If we can be united as a profession, we can be stronger within the larger mental health community and advocate for practitioners and clients. With unification comes a clearer identity, increased self-confidence and augmented respect from others.

To attain unity, we need to have faith. This faith needs to begin with a belief in ourselves, each other, the process and the possibility that we can be successful. Unity requires each of us believing we can be better. It requires that we embrace change, no matter how daunting. Ultimately, as is the case for many of our clients, the absence of change must become more frightening than the process of change itself. Also, trust in each other is warranted. Old wounds are sometimes hard to heal, especially when they have been passed down from mentor to mentee over decades. Such transgenerational mistrust is a disservice to ourselves, our students and the profession. As such, we must embrace the difficulties and rejoice in the benefits. Additionally, I think sometimes the mere idea that we might unify is intimidating to us. After all, unification, no matter how laudable, still represents the unknown.

Second, to achieve unity, it is imperative that we focus on being self-aware. So many pitfalls exist that prevent us from checking in with ourselves to see if the problem is our own solipsism. Our own realities can sometimes loom so large that we drown out everything else. Self-awareness is the first step toward co-constructing new knowledge, going boldly where, collectively, we have not gone before. Thinking before speaking and reflecting before acting can aid us in the journey toward unification. We must first conduct a quick inventory of our thoughts and feelings in order to genuinely relate to each other, especially when discussing topics about which we are so passionate.

Only after we increase our self-awareness can we strive toward authentic dialogue. Human beings are wired for relationships; indeed, we thrive when we relate to one another. Authentic dialogue means that we are open and vulnerable to each other’s lived experiences, to our human drama. As such, authentic dialogue can be seen as the height of human relational behavior. Unification of the profession can be expedited through a commitment to genuineness and respect.

Finally, we are more likely to achieve unity if we reserve even a modicum of humility in our dialogue to consider the possibility that someone else has a clearer understanding of an issue than we do. Such humility allows us to see ourselves more clearly and, sometimes, even laugh at ourselves.

Human beings are amazing in that we can mold our destinies through our ascending or descending possibilities. I see the work of the 20/20 initiative as demonstrative of our ascending possibilities as a profession. Now it’s time for us to light a candle, burn sage, cross our fingers, say a prayer, sit in silence, meditate … you get my drift. The choice is up to us — all of us.