Monthly Archives: September 2013

ACA supports Human Rights Campaign endeavor to promote well-being of LGBTQ youths

Heather Rudow September 16, 2013

Hrc_logoNavigating the trials and tribulations of life as a middle school or high school student can prove to be emotionally exhausting and difficult for many adolescents. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths, the road can be even tougher.

According to the Human Rights Campaign’s “Growing Up LGBT in America” report, 51 percent of LGBTQ youth have been verbally harassed at school, compared with 25 percent of students who do not identify as LGBTQ. In addition, 63 percent of LGBTQ youths said they thought they would need to move to another part of the country to feel accepted.

To promote the safety, inclusion and mental well-being of LGBTQ youths, HRC is launching its Youth Well-Being Project. Coupled with a national conference, Time to THRIVE, the project will provide training, technical assistance and best practice tools to help K-12 teachers and youth-focused organizations such as after-school enrichment programs, recreational sports leagues, summer camps, family counseling centers and job training centers to better serve young people in the LGBTQ community.

Time to THRIVE, which will take place Feb. 14-16 in Las Vegas, aims to bring LGBTQ awareness and cultural competency to attendees. Attendees will also have the opportunity to learn best practices from experts and organizations in the field. The conference is accepting workshop and presenter proposals until Oct. 11.

The American Counseling Association is partnering with HRC on the conference as a member of its host committee, and ACA Executive Director Rich Yep is thrilled that the association is supporting such an important endeavor.

“For those who advocate for the safety of all our nation’s children, adolescents and young adults, the Time to THRIVE conference will be one of the most important events to attend in 2014,” he says. “The networking, professional resources and educational sessions will provide these advocates with the information and support they will need to ensure that their communities are supportive of those who are most vulnerable to bullying, taunting and violence.”

For more information and to register, visit

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


Virtual role-play shows promise for addressing mental health

Heather Rudow September 13, 2013


(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A developer of online and mobile role-playing training simulations and games is helping individuals who are not trained in mental health to become more familiar with at-risk behaviors and how to respond to them. Christine Karper and Michelle Stone, members of the American Counseling Association’s Cyber Task Force, view such developments positively, not only because these simulations show potential for raising public awareness of mental health, but also because they indicate another step forward in the integration of technology into behavioral health.

The developer, Kognito Interactive, provides gatekeeper and suicide prevention training simulations for faculty, staff, students and resident assistants in higher education settings, as well as for high school educators, middle school educators and high school students. The online training simulations allow participants to enter virtual environments and practice challenging conversations with avatars so they can build real-life skills such as:

  • Identifying when a student’s appearance or behavior is a sign of psychological distress
  • Discussing these concerns with the student
  • Motivating the student to seek help
  • Making a referral to mental health support services

Kognito recently released a study examining the effectiveness of its gatekeeper training programs and whether virtual, role-playing games that use avatars can enhance suicide prevention initiatives among the general public. The two-year study involved 1,300 participants from 195 educational institutions in 28 states who had completed one of five training simulations from Kognito Interactive’s At-Risk Training Suite.

The number of students whom educators and staff members approached to discuss mental health concerns after the training increased between 25 to 71 percent, depending on which level of education the faculty member was teaching. Students reported a 70 percent increase in identifying and discussing their concerns with a peer after the training. The number of students whom educators referred to counseling services after the training increased 37 to 53 percent, while students referred their peers to services 53 percent more often. In addition, college students who participated in the training and study reported a “statistically significant increase” in the likelihood that they would seek help from their school’s counseling center if experiencing psychological distress.

Karper and Stone, who co-presented two sessions on social media and virtual worlds at the 2012 ACA Conference in San Francisco, predict virtual role-play interventions will become more integral to counselors and their clients as well.

Using role-playing and avatar technology in mental health settings is becoming more popular for various reasons, says Karper, a licensed professional counselor and associate faculty member for the College of Social Sciences at the University of Phoenix Central Florida Campus. “Some appreciate the ease of access due to mobility restrictions, whether this is due to being homebound, a lack of transportation or other reasons the person is unwilling or unable to travel,” she says. “Some consumers may prefer to engage in counseling from the comfort of their own home. This may also be popular due to a lack of services available in the community, and some prefer the ‘anonymity’ of technology. … The possibilities of using technology in service delivery are endless and considerable.”

Stone, the director of family services at a nonprofit, intends to research computer-mediated human interaction while pursuing a graduate counseling degree. She says that technology “offers previously unavailable or unknown opportunities for training and service delivery. Clinicians are constantly looking for new methods and new approaches to improve outcomes for clients and, in many cases, new technologies fill the bill.”

Stone says technological innovations are also offering increased opportunities for mental health professionals to work with marginalized populations. She cites use of Second Life, an online role-playing game set in a virtual world, by the Department of Defense (DOD) to reach out to military personnel struggling with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“The DOD maintains a simulated land environment where [PTSD] sufferers are able to participate in simulations designed to assist with PTSD and where they can also access resources for help and treatment,” she explains. “This provides a nonthreatening mechanism through which sufferers are able to gain information and resources they may be reluctant to seek out otherwise.”

The use of avatars in virtual environments provides clients, gatekeepers and even counselors with realistic practice that is both affordable and accessible, Stone says.

“Various forms of avatar-based training, specifically in virtual worlds, are being used in other industries with success,” she points out. “An example of this is EMT training using Second Life. Opportunities to practice skills, whether in real life or using virtual simulations, can only benefit practitioners.”

Karper is developing a project that uses virtual simulations to desensitize military personnel to combat stresses.

“The digital experience is as valid as a genuine experience, meaning the brain cannot distinguish between a virtual experience over an authentic experience,” she says. “The therapeutic value of the experience is the same.”

Stone has participated in online virtual conferences for counseling professionals and has observed clinicians from around the world using virtual role-playing both for training and counseling purposes. She says she finds the experience to be “immersive and beneficial.”

“One reason is because of the sorts of choices one makes regarding [his or her] avatar, [such as] appearance, clothing and surroundings. This functions as a sort of projective exercise that I believe offers great insight into the individual,” she says. “Though some argue that therapy in a virtual world is impoverished due to the lack of nonverbal cues, I believe it can be enhanced due to the projective nature I previously described. The environment of a virtual world can function as a sort of dynamic Rorschach test.”

Karper recommends that counselors interested in incorporating this kind of technology into their practice seek guidance from other practitioners who have experience in that area. She points out that counselors can also consult with members of the ACA Cyber Task Force on best practices and for networking assistance.

Stone stresses the importance of counselors staying informed about technological developments. “I recommend incorporating journals that address technology in practice into our professional reading schedule,” she says. “Also, becoming aware of how colleagues are incorporating technology into their practices is important. Purposely keeping an open mind while considering new technologies is imperative, while simultaneously critically evaluating all aspects of impact upon practice and the clients the practice serves. Collaboration with colleagues can be very beneficial as well.”

Stone thinks the integration of technology into therapy and other facets of professional life is generally positive. Still, she offers a word of caution to counselors. “It’s imperative that we evaluate what benefit it offers against any vulnerabilities it may present,” she says. “Further, I believe we must take steps to ensure any legal or ethical concerns are satisfactorily mitigated.”

On the other hand, Stone says, “Not being open to the integration of technology in both practice and counselor education means we risk becoming ineffectual by not remaining up to speed with society. In order to remain relevant and of use, we must integrate technology into the field.”

“Technology will become more integral to the practice of counseling and the mental health field as a whole,” Stone predicts. “This integration will simply reflect the integration of technology that we are seeing across the board in many professions.”

Her hope is that counseling professionals will commit themselves to conducting research that will inform the development of future technologies that can be used throughout the field of mental health.

“This reciprocal relationship, handled appropriately, may well offer hope for more efficient and effective practice that has the potential to [impact] previously difficult-to-reach or difficult-to-treat populations.”

“It’s imperative to stay informed of advances in practice and in the technologies that facilitate practice,” Stone continues. “Emerging interventions, such as Kognito, demand that we stay abreast of changes so that we can offer the very best to those who depend upon professional counselors. Additionally, it’s important to maintain a critical and discerning stance regarding new technologies so that best practices may be developed and integrated into their use. This is why it is so important to be part of a professional body [such as ACA] that analyzes new advancements in the field.”

For more information, contact Karper at and Stone at

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

NBCC Foundation announces 2014 military, rural and minority scholarships

September 12, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 3.14.47 PMThe NBCC Foundation is pleased to announce three scholarship opportunities for individuals pursuing a career in counseling. The scholarships support the Foundation’s priority of increasing access to mental health care through professional counseling services, particularly for underserved populations.

The military scholarship program is designed to support service members, veterans and their spouses embarking on a career in counseling. The program provides financial support to students with military experience who commit to serving military personnel, veterans and families after graduation.

The rural scholarship program provides financial support to students from rural areas who commit to serving in these communities after graduation.

The minority scholarship program, the most recent addition, is designed to help ensure that the behavioral health needs of all Americans are met, regardless of language or culture. This program provides financial support to students who have substantial experience with the minority community they commit to serving after graduation.

Five $5,000 scholarships are available for each program. All scholarship recipients must be enrolled in a master’s-level counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Further eligibility requirements can be found at The deadline for all applications is November 1.

Anniversary of 9/11 rekindles memories for clients, counselors

Heather Rudow September 11, 2013

(Photo:Flicker/ Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

(Photo:Flicker/ Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

Twelve years ago today, terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City, another plane into the Pentagon and one more into a field in Pennsylvania, leading to nearly 3,000 deaths and a nation suddenly awakened to its own vulnerability.

The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks takes an emotional toll on the entire country, but it is especially difficult for those who witnessed the events firsthand. Counselors have the ability to be a sounding board and support system for clients affected by the tragedy, but they must also keep in mind the impact the event may have had on them personally.

Gail Roaten, an associate professor of psychology at Hardin-Simmons University, recalls the anxiety she felt on the day of the attacks when she didn’t hear from one of her daughters, who worked for an investment firm in New York City and regularly visited the World Trade Center to deliver and pick up documents. Yet Roaten, working as a high school counselor at the time, was tasked with helping her students process their emotions.

“Students began coming into our counseling suite, crying and upset with what they had seen and heard,” she says. “Managing my own anxiety was important in helping students deal with theirs. I met with students for about an hour. … I continued to process feelings with students [and] talk about coping skills, but after about two hours of working with students, I found that I was not really being effective. My own emotions were in turmoil, [and] I could not focus on my clients. I sat in my office and really tried to apply the tools I had discussed with my students on myself.”

Roaten and her husband were greatly relieved upon receiving an email from their daughter around 4 p.m. and learning she was OK.

Eric Gentry, vice president of the International Association of Trauma Professionals, admits he is still haunted by the events.

“Earlier this year, I was walking on Liberty Street in lower Manhattan and couldn’t help thinking about how much change we have all seen since I walked those same streets in late September 2001,” says Gentry, a private practice counselor based in Sarasota, Fla. “While walking, it dawned on me how much those events have become part of my life. I fly over 200,000 miles each year, and I never get on a plane that I am not reminded, unbidden, of the events of Sept. 11. I am never in a multifloored building that I don’t semiconsciously look out the window, halfway expecting to see an airplane hurling itself toward me. That day and the images associated with the events that occurred that day have become part of the collective, nonverbal, implicit memory of a nation.”

“The conscious and unconscious memory of these events have become part of the warp and weft of our worldview,” he says. “We perceive a more dangerous world than we used to, even though we are safer than we have ever been. Because many of us experience an uptick in perceived threat after witnessing trauma, we see our world [being] a little more dangerous than we did before. We find ourselves with a little more [emotional] dysregulation. We find ourselves a little more stressed out. … We are a more anxious people than anytime before now, and much of this is attributable to 9/11.”

Lennis Echterling, a counseling professor at James Madison University, says the anniversary of the attacks is “part of our collective psyche. One only has to mention 9/11 to evoke vivid images and memories of the incidents that took place on that fateful day.”

It is an especially difficult time for those who lived close to the epicenters in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania. Echterling says counselors can help those individuals to “assess again the impact of those horrific events, and spur reflections on their meaning and place in one’s life.”

Roaten says special care should be taken with children and teenagers who are affected by the event.

“As a counseling team,” she says, “we sent tips home to parents about how to talk to their kids [about the event]. We suggested parents limit TV and news coverage of the event itself and the aftermath. We suggested ways that teachers and parents could help kids process feelings and seek ways to be constructive.”

Clients overcoming trauma have reported to Echterling that, on the anniversary of 9/11, their memories of what happened become “not only more frequent, but also more vivid and clear,” he says. “The original feelings and reactions to the event often reemerge at this time. For some, the anniversary is accompanied by feelings of frustration, hopelessness and disappointment because survivors must acknowledge that many of their life circumstances may be forever changed.”

Jane Webber, a private practice counselor and adjunct professor of counselor education at Kean University, says the anniversary of 9/11, the recent Boston Marathon bombings, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and other events of mass violence can trigger raw emotions and traumatic reactions. “Individuals can feel a range of responses from vulnerable, uncertain and empty to sad and angry,” she says. “The barrage of media coverage [on] TV, Facebook, Twitter and texting can trigger memories that were forgotten or put aside.”

Roaten agrees that technology can be particularly problematic for survivors, and especially children.

“As I watch TV coverage of crises around our country,” she says, “I continue to advocate for parents trying to control how much of the coverage their kids see and hear. It is important for parents to answer kids’ questions honestly and to talk about their feelings.”

Webber, a member of the ACA Crisis Response Planning Task Force and co-editor of the third edition of Terrorism, Trauma and Tragedies: A Counselor’s Guide to Preparing and Responding, notes that teens who were young children at the time of the 9/11 attacks “may be confused by the barrage of video clips and photos each year that they piece together as a patchwork narrative to help make sense of their loss. Teens may struggle with fulfilling their support role at home or with pending decisions about military or service careers to follow family traditions as firefighters or police.”

She echoes Roaten, saying parents need to “be available to listen and respond to questions with developmentally appropriate answers and lots of love.”

Many survivors feel the need to partake in some sort of commemorative action in honor of the anniversary. Echterling says counselors can help by recommending “that all citizens take some constructive and positive action, such as participating in a memorial event or reaching out to those grieving with supportive messages of support and condolence.”

Around the anniversary, survivors may also be confronted with friends and relatives urging them to put the past behind them and move on from the events.

“As counselors,” Echterling says, “we can give permission to survivors to reflect more on the past at the time of an anniversary. We can encourage everyone to be especially supportive of survivors who lost loved ones. We also can remind survivors that they do not have to carry their burdens alone.”

Webber says counselors should be prepared for clients to feel “distressed, upset and to say they are ‘not OK.’”

“Trauma-informed counseling recognizes that the majority of clients will experience trauma in their lifetime,” she says, “with Sept. 11, 2001, experienced and witnessed by nearly everyone in the country.”

She gives counselors the following recommendations:

• Listen and be fully open to the client’s experience.

• Check for risk-taking or harmful behaviors as well as substance abuse, all of which can increase with triggers related to 9/11.

• Assess for changes in sleeping, eating, work habits and relationships that do not return to normal in a few days.

• Be prepared to hear spontaneous stories of trauma and grief.

• Build on the client’s strengths, resilience and support systems.

• Suggest exercises such as walking, dance and yoga, as well as breathing and relaxation techniques. These activities “focus on emotional and physical regulation,” Webber says.

Roaten reminds counselors that they, too, may need support during this time.

“I always share my own experience with this particular crisis and talk about counselor stress,” she says. “Counselors must be engaged in ongoing reflection, self-care and wellness to be who and what they need to be for their clients.”

Adds Webber, “[Counselors] should be alert to our own signs of vicarious trauma, emotional dysregulation, and concurrent trauma in our shared experience of 9/11. We may need time to reflect, consult with colleagues and supervisors and be mindful of the impact trauma can have on each of us in a changed world.”

The events of 9/11 continue to haunt America’s history and collective memory. But Gentry says the date also marks a significant shift for the counseling profession.

“Since that fateful day, the mental health field has embraced and centralized understanding, diagnosing and treating traumatic stress,” Gentry says. “Over the past decade, trauma has rightly taken its seat at the center of research and development. Research in the area of trauma and PTSD has exponentially proliferated since 2001, causing some evolutional leaps in understanding of and treatment for trauma survivors. As we pass the baton of leadership to the generation that follows 2001, I know of no better way to honor the memory of the victims and indomitability of the survivors than to, in their names, continue to evolve our understanding and treatment of the effects of traumatic stress — primary and secondary — for all survivors of trauma.”



Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today.

Letters to the editor:


Exploring motivation among college students

By Heather Rudow September 10, 2013

(Photo: Flickr/Sterling College)

(Photo: Flickr/Sterling College)

The reason that certain students excel in college while others flounder might relate back to their motivations for attending in the first place, according to a study conducted by two members of the American Counseling Association.

Doug Guiffrida and Martin Lynch, professors at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester, used the concept of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to reveal that a student’s motivation for attending college is directly related to his or her level of academic success.

In their study, titled “Do Reasons for Attending College Affect Academic Outcomes? A Test of a Motivational Model From a Self-Determination Theory Perspective,” Guiffrida and Lynch, along with co-authors Andrew Wall and Darlene Abel, looked at the specific types of motivation driving students to attend college and how academically successful they are once they arrive, while also considering background factors such as socioeconomic status, gender and race.

According to Lynch, SDT is “a theory of motivation, personality and development that proposes that intrinsic motivation, or motivation derived purely from the satisfaction inherent in the activity itself,” and is more advantageous to learning than extrinsic motivation, or “motivation to achieve an external reward or to avoid a punishment.”

Based on the theory, there are three primary psychological needs that, when satisfied, foster intrinsic motivation:

  •  Autonomy: the need to feel “choiceful and volitional” in one’s actions and engaging in activities because they are aligned with one’s values and interests.
  • Competence: the need to test and challenge one’s abilities.
  • Relatedness: the need to establish mutual, close, secure relationships with others.

Guiffrida became interested in understanding relationships between motivation and college student success based on his prior research investigating the experiences of college students of color. Many of the students in his classes talked extensively about their motivations for attending. However, he says, student motivation was a topic that was relatively unexplored in college retention theory.  “While many of the theories of college student retention mention that students need to be motivated to succeed, they fail to describe the quality of these student motivations?,” Guiffrida says. “SDT provided the opportunity to understand relationships between student motivation and college success in a much more sophisticated way.”

Guiffrida and Lynch had 2,500 college students take a web-based survey asking them to provide information about their backgrounds, GPAs and intentions to continue with their studies. The student survey-takers were also assessed on the three areas of intrinsic motivation according to SDT. All of the participants attended either a two-year community college or a four-year liberal arts college.

They found that students who were motivated through autonomy and competence had higher GPAs as well as higher intentions of staying, “which really hit the basis of theory,” Guiffrida says.

For Lynch, who has been researching SDT for many years, “some of the most unexpected findings were that there were some cases in which the links between the motivational constructs and academic outcomes were moderated by things like socioeconomic status or ethnicity. Those findings are surprising because traditionally, self-determination theory predicts that the psychological needs on which these motivational constructs are based are universal across groups. So to find that there was some moderation going on tells us to think about what these specific data are telling us.”

On a related note, Guiffrida was interested to discover the fact that autonomy was found to be a slightly more important motivator for higher-income students than low-income students. “I think it’s probably because they have a luxury of not having to worry about changing their financial situation at the end,” he says.

Guiffrida recommends that school counselors and college advisors “not minimize the importance of monetary gains for lower-income students. It is important that counselors and advisors talk about the importance of salaries [upon graduation] … but not at the expense of intrinsic motivation.”

It is important to foster intrinsic motivation, Guiffrida says, especially within college counseling. “Intrinsic motivation is very important to college success, and it is something that college counselors, academic advisors and even high school counselors need to pay attention to and tap into with their clients.”

He suggests helping students discover subjects that trigger passion and intrinsic motivation.

“They’re going to do better if they find a subject that interests them, not just something that they excel at,” Guiffrida says. “Career exploration is important.”

In addition, Guiffrida and Lynch’s study found that that altruism — the motivation to attend college in order to give back to one’s community — is a stronger motivator for students of color than for white students.

Students who were motivated to attend college for relatedness needs — to establish relationships with their peers — were more likely to have lower GPAs and were more likely to be male.

I think it’s important to understand the link between students’ motivation for going to college and various outcomes, including academic outcomes, so that counselors can help to support optimal motivation among students,” Lynch says.

 Lynch says he believes that, as a next step, “it would be important to look in greater depth at ways in which counselors, advisors and faculty members can be taught to promote more internal forms of motivation in students, not only in terms of why they go to college, but in terms of why they stay in college. In motivational terms, this is the difference between initiating a behavior and maintaining it. An important point is that, from the perspective of self-determination theory, motivation can change, in part depending on what kind of supports are in place in the social-interpersonal environment. Motivation that starts out as more external or controlled can change — it can become more internal and autonomous. The reverse can also happen: motivation that starts out as internal can become more external in nature. But a lot depends on the supports and affordances in the environment. So one next question is clearly what can counselors, advisors and faculty members do to support and promote more internal forms of motivation among the students with whom they work?”

To learn more about SDT, read Lynch’s article in the July issue of the Journal of Counseling and Development. Additional information about Guiffrida’s research examining the experiences of College Students of Color can be found in a 2010 article in the Journal of Counseling and Development, titled “The African American college student experience at predominantly white institutions: Implications for school and college counselors” (co-authored with Kathryn Douthit).  




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