Monthly Archives: November 2013

Counseling theories converge: Person, client, therapist

By Keith J. Myers November 19, 2013

Counseling-theoriesEstablishing a theoretical orientation as a counselor is vital in working with clients in the mental health profession. This is common knowledge in the field because any well-grounded professional needs a basis by which to operate.

As a professional counselor, one must know how to respond to various complex individual and family issues, behaviors and emotions. If the counselor does not know how to respond to the client, then he or she may appear incompetent to the client. Actually, the counselor may be incompetent regarding that particular issue. Most theories propose that counselors are competent to address most of the major life issues that clients present within the therapeutic relationship, however. Therefore, being knowledgeable and well-trained in a particular theory may increase a counselor’s competence and confidence when working with clients in need.

A new counseling student may wonder, “What is the process for tailoring my own counseling theory?” Personally, I can trace my theoretical orientations back to several factors that include but are not limited to life experiences, personal beliefs and values, perspectives on how people change, my own work in individual therapy and professional experiences working with diverse client populations. These orientations include person-centered therapy, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), brief psychodynamic therapy and motivational interviewing.

Theoretical orientation was originally formed by my life experiences. Part of my life experience was being raised in a home with parents who worked in a helping profession most of their lives. My father was a pastor for more than 40 years and the founder and headmaster of a private school for 13 years, while my mother served as a secretary in both of those arenas.

Some of my earlier memories involve observing my father modeling interpersonal skills among the parishioners he served. Some of those people were especially difficult. He would tell me, “Keith, you just have to love them and accept them where they are. Eventually, that love and acceptance will get through to them. It’s all about the relationship.”

Similarly, Carl Rogers, founder of person-centered therapy, attested that the necessary conditions for therapy are contained solely within the therapeutic relationship itself. At least six specific conditions emerge out of this relationships, including unconditional positive regard, genuineness and empathy, as referenced in the popular theories text Systems of Psychotherapy: A Transtheoretical Analysis by James Prochaska and John Norcross. I would say there is an excellent chance that if my father were alive today, he would identify with Rogers as it relates to how people change.

Throughout my life, I was able to test this “theory” as I connected with other people and made observations about how people change. I observed that, in fact, people do change within the context of how people relate to them. I originally learned my own version of “person-centered therapy” through the modeling of relationships from my father, but I learned later in life that the relationship is not the only necessary ingredient for helping within the counseling profession, even though it remains a foundational one.

Another theoretical orientation I identify with is cognitive therapy, also commonly referred to as cognitive behavior therapy. CBT posits that one’s emotions and behaviors are often caused or derived by one’s thoughts. In other words, if a person is depressed or anxious, then that person has certain cognitive errors or distortions that cause that person to be depressed or anxious. For example, a person experiencing severe anxiety and panic attacks might have common thoughts such as “I’m going to die” or “I can’t handle this!” By confronting the cognitive error and replacing it with a more realistic thought (“This is uncomfortable, but it will pass on its own” or “This is tough, but I can handle it”), the person will reduce or even eliminate the anxiety completely.

I identify with this therapy largely because of my own psychotherapeutic work. I can attest to CBT’s efficacy in my own life. For example, I learned that my inner thoughts of “should” statements (“I shouldn’t be this” or “I should have done this”) exacerbate my personal anxiety. I realized that by increasing my own thought awareness, I could identify my cognitive distortions that were unrealistic or even completely false. Once I learned to be more aware of my thoughts, it helped me to reduce my anxiety significantly.

I have also experienced the importance of my changing beliefs through the years and how this has affected my emotional and behavioral life. From a spiritual perspective, my thoughts and beliefs about God, myself and others have also shifted the way I feel about those important aspects of my life. For example, I previously held the view that God expected a performance of good deeds in order to receive His love and acceptance. When I confronted that “spiritual cognitive error,” however, I was able to free myself from significant anxiety that had a spiritual basis.

In my therapeutic work with diverse client populations, I have also found it helpful to confront their thought and belief patterns and examine how these affect their other emotional problems. For instance, I worked with a client who had moderate to severe anxiety that often resulted in panic attacks and vomiting. The client stated, “I can’t figure out why I’m having anxiety. Things in life are going well.” In other words, he did not think he had any external or life circumstances that warranted anxiety and was therefore perplexed. I assigned the client to keep a thought journal in which he would regularly record his thoughts, especially during times of higher anxiety. After journaling for two weeks, he said he realized he had the following thoughts during times of anxiety: “I can’t handle this” and “If this happens, then I won’t be a good husband, and that would be unbearable.” The client was astonished that these thoughts were manifested during anxiety, and his awareness increased. We explored some cognitive restructuring around those thoughts, and he was able to form more realistic thoughts and beliefs given the situation. Four weeks later, he reported that he had not experienced any significant anxiety or panic attacks since our session. This was the first time he had been free of anxiety in over a year. Thanks to personal and professional experiences such as these, today I strongly identify with CBT.

When reading my theories textbook about psychodynamic therapies, I must admit I was a little surprised. After almost 11 years of working in mental health, I thought I had solidified my theoretical orientation. Then I read about the following themes that, according to Prochaska and Norcross, characterize brief psychodynamic therapy:

  • Emphasis on past experiences
  • Focus on client’s emotional expression
  • Exploration of client’s desires, fantasies and dreams
  • Emphasis on the therapeutic relationship
  • Exploration of client’s attempt to avoid issues
  • Focus on the interpersonal experiences of clients
  • Identification of client patterns in relationships

I continued to be surprised as I read about the specifics of the therapeutic working alliance. This alliance is based on collaboration with the client about therapy goals, consensus on treatment tasks and a connection within the professional relationship. This alliance seems to merge well with my leanings toward person-centered therapy and Rogers’ themes. I also connected with the principle of consensus in treatment tasks because I have always viewed informed consent to be a living and ongoing process with the client. For instance, when I am working through an evidence-based treatment for PTSD with a trauma client, ongoing informed consent (specific phases of treatment) is a necessary collaboration in order for the client to feel a continued sense of safety and trust. Another theme from brief psychodynamic therapy is that therapists seem to be more empathic, similar to the tradition of person-centered therapy.

A final theoretical orientation I relate with is motivational interviewing (MI). MI is considered to be in the same category as other person-centered therapies. It is based on skills related to empathy and warmth, while focusing on working with clients who often are resistant to treatment. It was originally developed for resistant clients who were receiving substance abuse treatment. Four active elements of MI are expressing empathy, developing discrepancy, rolling with resistance and supporting self-efficacy.

Expressing empathy entails the therapist applying reflective listening skills to express a genuine concern for the client and a basic understanding of the client’s message. Developing discrepancy relates to identifying the difference between the client’s current behavior and deeply held values. Rolling with resistance involves the therapist avoiding any argument with the client because the client’s resistance is simply his or her way of voicing ambivalence. Supporting self-efficacy involves the therapist portraying that the client is capable of change. It is the client who is responsible for finding his or her own solution to the issue. Four important skills of therapists who operate from an MI orientation are open questions, affirmation, summaries and reflective listening. From my clinical perspective gained while working with the military population, I have discovered that MI helps veterans in establishing their own goals for treatment. I also believe that MI is helpful as a supervision model, and I am excited about utilizing it in my doctoral studies while supervising graduate counseling students.

Given my orientation to various counseling theories, I ask myself whether I am an integrative therapist who works across theoretical systems in a purposeful way, or whether I just pick and choose as I prefer without any rationale behind my choices. I would like to believe that I am more of an integrative therapist who chooses commonalities among systems in a purposeful manner concerning the theories I select. However, I must explore this on a deeper level to obtain an accurate answer.

When I reflect about this process, I discover common themes between the therapies of person-centered, motivational interviewing and brief psychodynamic regarding the important of the relationship, working alliance and assisting clients in developing their own goals. However, my leaning toward CBT is incongruent with the other therapies in some of these important aspects. Instead of the relationship being the “end all, be all,” CBT is oriented toward thoughts and how they affect behaviors and emotions.

I believe some of my incongruence is in conjunction with my own work in CBT and how it has helped me. I have experienced firsthand the effectiveness of CBT. Therefore, I have integrated it into my way of helping others. I have been helped, so I choose to help others in the same way I have benefited. Consequently, my integrative orientation is partly based on common themes between therapies and partly based on my personal experience within my own therapeutic work. This is how I resolve this discrepancy of sorts regarding my orientation.

What is the process of developing one’s own theory as a counselor? A counseling theory is not something that is solidified by simply reading a theories textbook and choosing from a plethora of options. Developing a theoretical orientation is initiated and enhanced by personal reflection, readings, working in the mental health field and life experience. Furthermore, it can be integrated by participating in one’s own individual therapy. It is derived from within, particularly from the beliefs and significant relationships of the counselor. It changes over time and is dependent upon personal growth or working with diverse populations. Counselors should not be surprised if they identify with a particular theory when they revisit those theories years later. I am a person, a client and a therapist, and I attest to this process.

 

****

Keith J. Myers is a licensed professional counselor and doctoral student of counselor education and supervision at Mercer University. He is also an intensively trained eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapist and serves on the American Counseling Association’s Ethics Committee. Contact him at keithm355@gmail.com.

Counseling students join effort to raise awareness of emotional/behavioral disorders in children

Heather Rudow November 15, 2013

wcakOne of the goals that Dan Habib has for his documentary, Who Cares About Kelsey?, is to raise awareness about the struggle of children with emotional/behavioral disorders (EBDs) in U.S. school settings.

Students participating in a service-learning class in the University of Georgia’s (UGA) counseling program have taken this mission to heart. They are joining with local organizations to host a community screening of the film Feb. 13.

Jolie Ziomek-Daigle, an associate professor and coordinator of UGA’s school counseling program, heard about Who Cares About Kelsey? from a colleague in the school’s department of special education.

 “UGA’s College of Education has a professional partnership with Clarke County Public Schools, part of which involves placing professors in residence in schools to supervise student internships, provide professional development trainings and consultation, and to serve in leadership capacities,” explains Ziomek-Daigle, a member of the American Counseling Association.

This year, she is serving as the professor-in-residence at Rutland Academy, one of 24 Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support schools in the state.

“Students with emotional and behavioral disabilities receive full instruction and therapeutic support at Rutland Academy through schoolwide positive behavioral support and interventions (PBIS) and related interventions,” Ziomek-Daigle says.

In addition, 14 UGA counseling students were placed at Rutland Academy this year as a component of a service-learning course, which is a requirement within the UGA counseling program.

At the start of the school year, Ziomek-Daigle asked her colleague in the department of special education to come to her class and discuss strategies for working with students with EBDs. The colleague quickly encouraged Ziomek-Daigle to order Who Cares About Kelsey? so the counseling class could watch the documentary and explore its free tool kit, which includes best practices and supplemental clips.

“After watching the documentary, I was amazed at how well counselors and school counselors fit into this work through our beliefs, training and expertise,” says Ziomek-Daigle. “And [I found] that I needed to include more evidence-based practices, like PBIS, into our training model.”

The counseling students jumped at the opportunity to schedule one of the community screenings the documentary promotes. After meeting to discuss the opportunity, the students stressed their desire to make the screening as far-reaching as possible.

“We spoke with local agencies and community organizations and asked for their involvement,” Ziomek-Daigle says. “To date, the UGA school counseling program, the UGA office of service learning, Rutland Academy, The Cottage/Child Advocacy Center, Nuci’s Space and Empowered Youth Programs are organizing partners for the screening.”

Believing it important to hold the screening in the actual community, the class, with financial assistance from The Cottage/Child Advocacy Center, was able to reserve a room at Cine’, a local theater in downtown Athens, where UGA is located.

The goal, Ziomek-Daigle says, was to have the screening “stem from the community and not be seen as just another university-led initiative. “

Ashley Holmes, a counseling student in the course, thinks that bringing the screening to Athens is a good idea because “it will shed light on some of the issues that these students [in the community] face, in hopes of rallying more support toward their educational pursuits. With more community awareness and action, these students will see that they, too, can complete their education in a school with support and further it beyond high school.”

Classmate Chauntice Buck, echoes those thoughts. It is “essential that we get as many stakeholders in the community to become aware of EBD and how to better serve students who have this disability,” says Buck, who is a member of ACA. “Providing a narrative experience from a student’s perspective (Kelsey) will really highlight the struggles and thought process of students dealing with similar issues. With this documentary, people will be able to put a realistic face and experience with the disorder and hopefully will eliminate the negative perception that is often associated with people who may have this disability.”

She says viewing the documentary has affected her counseling education and career for the better.

“The screening has definitely given me a personal perspective on how students with EBD cognitively, emotionally and physically deal with this disorder and how it impacts their social and academic development,” Buck says. “It is one thing to read about this disability in an academic textbook, but it is a total different experience when seeing it in action. With this knowledge, I hope to better serve my future students by relating to their experience and having a more practical idea of how to help them. As a future school counselor, I am aware that the school setting fosters a greater opportunity for students to develop meaningful relationships. As well as having a positive adult figure present, these relationships are fundamental to
 sustaining environments of
success in which students learn to prosper.”

Though Holmes, also a member of ACA, first heard about the documentary through the service-learning course, she immediately saw a use for it within the community.

“Through our work with K-12 students with emotional and behavioral disabilities this semester, we were exposed to the challenges these students face every day and how some schools do not have a system in place to help students be successful,” she says. “I think my initial thoughts were that Kelsey’s story was one of triumph in the face of adversity, which had a lot to do with her school’s reform.”

Holmes hopes that after the screening, “the community will be more aware of the challenges these students face and are more sensitive, empathetic and patient with these students. I also hope that as a result, more support will be geared toward the institutions that support these students.”

She believes more opportunities for inclusion should exist within the classroom and says the documentary can help promote this idea.

“This will give students an opportunity to tutor, assist and support their fellow classmates,” she says. “Additionally, I believe that all students can benefit from PBIS. PBIS helps educators with classroom management because classroom expectations are known and the teacher consistently reinforces the positive behavior, which creates student buy-in.” 

Mi’esha Frierson, a fellow classmate, agrees.

“I think that this subject is important because individuals struggle with this problem every day,” says Frierson, also a member of ACA. “If not given the proper support and guidance like PBIS, these challenges may inhibit them from achieving future success. I believe that making the community more aware will make the community less judgmental and, hopefully, more likely to create the foundation that these students will stand on in the future.”

Frierson hopes the February documentary screening in Athens willbring a sense of unity and direction to the community so that as a whole, we can embrace evidence-based practices like PBIS to help children succeed. It takes a village to raise a child. However, if the village is not fully informed on the needs of the specific child, raising the child will be a challenge.”

Buck would like to see the community screening bring not only awareness “but increase advocacy and support like providing more PBIS training for counselors and educators. Educating parents, teachers, policymakers and even students on what EBD is, looks like in the school setting, and how it can influence a student’s personal, social and academic success or failure will hopefully lead to eventually having all schools use effective, evidence-based models like PBIS that will help these students.”

Ziomek-Daigle says her goal is to see an increased use of PBIS throughout local schools.

“School administrators need to take missed instruction time, absences and suspensions very seriously,” she says, “as these numbers are included in annual school report cards. PBIS is focused on prevention, is solution-focused and allows all school staff to use the same language and operate from the same framework.”

Learning about EBDs and how they affect student development is very important, especially when considering minority students, Buck says.

“Research has shown that African American students are 30 percent more likely to face disciplinary action, often for a similar incident that would not lead to suspension for [their] White or Latino counterparts. Instead of attributing their ‘aggressive’ behavior to being ‘typical’ of that student, delving deeper into the matter to investigate what further issues may be going on with that student and then developing ways to better assist them is a more advantageous way to approach this issue.”

Ziomek-Daigle has been impressed with the way her counseling students have used their service-learning course to “to identify a need in our schools and communities. Through the Rutland Academy partnership, the students have gained skills in clinical work, classroom management and consultation. They also have honed advocacy skills in building partnerships locally and are using their voices to help improve the lives of youth and families in our community. I hope the screening recommits us to helping youth succeed through the use of evidence-based practices such as PBIS. I also hope we discuss next steps and are able to identify training needs and resources for our local educators and school counselors.”

NBCC Foundation announces 2013 scholarship award recipients for Global Career Development Facilitators

November 13, 2013

Screen-Shot-2013-09-12-at-3.14.47-PMThe NBCC Foundation (NBCCF) recently selected the recipients of its 2013 Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) scholarships. Scholarship recipients will receive $5,000 to support their counseling education and recognize their commitment to providing career counseling and guidance.

The goal of the GCDF scholarship program is to increase the number of available counselors providing quality career guidance and facilitation. In doing so, the GCDF scholarship program plays an important role in the Foundation’s mission to leverage the power of counseling by strategically focusing resources for positive change. Learn more about the GCDF scholarship by clicking here.

The Board of Trustees was impressed with the high caliber of applicants from across the country and around the world. The scholarship recipients are Ileana Luminita Balasoiu, of Bucharest, Romania; Angela Robinson, of Moncks Corner, South Carolina; and Madalina Zaharia, of Bucharest, Romania.

Balasoiu received her undergraduate degree in educational sciences at the University of Bucharest. She is continuing her studies by pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling and career development, also at the University of Bucharest, where she is enrolled in the GCDF training program. Balasoiu looks forward to practicing as a career counselor in order to further develop the profession in Romania.

Robinson received her B.A. in English from the University of South Carolina and her M.S. in English from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in secondary school counseling at The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina. As a teacher, she obtained the GCDF credential in 2007 in order to provide meaningful assistance to students in preparation for life after high school.

Zaharia received her bachelor’s degree in commerce and master’s degree in marketing and business communication from the Bucharest University of Economic Studies. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling and career development at the University of Bucharest, where she is also enrolled in the GCDF training program. As a counselor, she plans to focus on the development and implementation of educational programs for children, teenagers and young adults, and on assisting adults with career changes.

In early 2014, the Foundation will award 15 military, minority and rural scholarships to increase the number of counselors serving these priority areas. For more information or to make a donation, visit nbccf.org. More information about the GCDF credential, from the Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE), is available at cce-global.org/GCDF. CCE is a platinum sponsor of the NBCC Foundation.

Counselor plans to use scholarship to enhance counseling profession in Turkey

Heather Rudow November 8, 2013

mehmetMehmet Akkurt’s overriding goal is to advance the profession of counseling in his home country of Turkey. Eventually, he also hopes to serve as a bridge between Turkish and American counselors and counseling techniques because he believes there are “great opportunities for mutual learning.”

Akkurt, a member of the American Counseling Association, is currently pursuing his doctorate in Duquesne University’s counselor education and supervision program thanks to a scholarship he received from Turkey’s Ministry of National Education. Upon graduating in 2014, he will return to Turkey and teach counseling students at Ege University in its department of psychological counseling and guidance.

Akkurt received the scholarship, known locally as the YLSY or the Graduate Study Abroad Program, in 2009. He began his master’s degree program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) in 2010.

“Studying abroad was one of my goals, and this scholarship seemed like a great opportunity [that would allow me to do so],” says Akkurt, who is also a member of ACA’s International Counseling Interest Network. “My family is a lower-middle-class family, so I could not even afford a plane ticket to the United States. This scholarship made my dreams come true by providing full financial support.”

The scholarship provides full financial support to students interested in pursuing their graduate studies abroad, with the understanding that they return and work as professors at Turkish universities. The YLSY also provided Akkurt with training in English as a second language.

Upon being accepted to UTSA, Akkurt recalls feeling “very excited. I remember having a big celebration with my friends. It was a big achievement for someone who had been learning English for less than a year.”

Akkurt hails from Midyat, a city in the province of Mardin located in southeastern Turkey. He first realized the great need for counselors in his country during undergraduate internships in primary schools.

“When I was doing my internships, not every school had school counselors,” he says. “That lack was [what] made me realize the need.”

Akkurt’s initial perception of counseling was limited to career counseling, which he had planned to pursue so he could help children make positive career choices. “However, when I was introduced to [other aspects of] counseling, I fell in love with the profession,” he says. Akkurt ultimately chose to pursue a master’s in community counseling.

Akkurt was raised in a small town, but he says at least four languages were spoken there and at least three different religions were being practiced. “I developed an interest in the areas of multicultural and global counseling,” he says. “I am specifically interested in global counseling, and I believe international students play an important role in the globalization of our profession. They do that by creating bridges between the United States and their home countries.”

Currently, the counseling profession in Turkey is known as psychological counseling and guidance. It is mostly taught at the undergraduate level, though master’s and doctoral programs are available at some universities. Upon graduating, most of these students work in school settings (typically public schools) as school counselors.

“Turkish professionals have established close relationships with the professionals in the U.S.,” Akkurt says, “and many Turkish counseling professionals are also members of ACA. However, counseling licensure is not a developed area yet, and counselors are not allowed to work in private practice settings.”

In addition, the practice areas of community counseling and mental health counseling have yet to be developed in Turkey.

“It is unfortunate that counseling is not a commonly known profession [compared with] other mental health professions in Turkey,” Akkurt says. “[In addition], there is a stigma associated with mental health in Turkey. However, counseling professionals are advocating to change that and to increase people’s awareness of psychological counseling.”

He finds it easier to understand the state of counseling in the country when put in the context of Turkey’s collectivist culture.

“Turkish people have close family relationships,” Akkurt explains, “and it is easy for people to find support when they need it. That is one of the reasons … why community mental health counseling does not exist.”

One of the most important things that Turkey can learn from the United States is the practice of multicultural counseling, Akkurt says.

“There has been a great amount of development in the field of multicultural counseling in the U.S., and Turkish professionals can definitely benefit from this knowledge base,” he says. “Turkey has a population of approximately 74 million, and there are several groups of minorities. Multicultural counseling is a new concept for Turkey, and I believe the U.S. has a lot to offer to assist Turkish professionals in this transition.”

However, on the basis of his experience, he thinks more also needs to be done to perpetuate multiculturalism and cultural competence within counselor preparation classrooms in the United States.

“Students usually travel to the U.S. because universities claim that they provide global education,” Akkurt says. “However, specifically in our profession, classroom discussions are mostly stuck in the U.S. borders. Most of the students do not seem to be interested in global issues. So, it becomes an issue for international students who are planning to return to their homeland after graduation, because the education they receive here is not necessarily [related] to their countries’ needs. Also, it is unfortunate that international students are stereotyped in the classroom. For example, I believe that I am always seen as a Muslim male, and all my statements are seen through that window. This is the main cause of misunderstandings because people do not seem to listen to what I have to say; they mostly hear what they expect from me.”

He believes American universities could learn much from Turkey’s welcoming attitude toward international students. “International students are usually invited to homes of Turkish families so they can experience the culture,” Akkurt notes. “I also think Turkish academics are more aware of the advantages of having international students in the classrooms, as they contribute to global education by bringing different perspectives into the Turkish university classrooms.”

“I think one of the responsibilities of faculty [in U.S. counseling programs] is to make students feel welcome and encourage them to share their ideas in the classroom,” he continues. “Faculty members that serve as mentors of international students play a big role in their success. Therefore, faculty members should make themselves accessible to international students, and they also need to remember advisory time spent for an international student is more likely to be higher than the time spent for a domestic student. The importance of international students’ role in the development of global counseling cannot be disregarded. Therefore, supporting international students is not only going to ensure their success, but it will also contribute to the something bigger: global counseling.”

Given the United States’ diverse population, counselors are extremely likely to encounter clients who have emigrated from other countries. For this reason, Akkurt says, “It is essential to know how counseling is perceived in other parts of the world. Explaining the nature of counseling and challenging any stigma associated with it would be a good start when working with clients from other nations. ACA has emphasized and contributed to the development of global counseling, and the process of globalization in counseling should be perceived as a mutual learning process. The U.S. counseling profession has a lot to offer and a lot to learn.”

Learning and living abroad has given Akkurt many ideas for enhancing the counseling profession in Turkey. Upon returning home, he would like to start an “international exchange student program, begin licensure and accreditation intuitions, [do more to] ensure that school counselors provide more than just guidance lessons … and develop supervision for students embarking on clinical [experiences].”

Though his experience in the United States has not always been easy, Akkurt looks forward to applying what he has learned to Turkish counseling students and the profession as a whole.

“Making the decision of traveling to another country and pursuing a graduate degree in a different language requires a lot of courage,” Akkurt says. “It was a risk I took, but I am glad I did it.”

 Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.

I knew that this month’s column would be both difficult and easy to write. Easy because the content came to mind quickly; difficult because I dreaded the task. Writing this column would mean that a chapter of my life had ended.

As the publisher of Counseling Today and your CEO, I appreciate the honor of communicating my thoughts, perceptions and updates with you each month. I try to share what might help you, personally or professionally. As we prepare to close out 2013, I wanted to write about something that had great impact on me. I thought long and hard about the appropriateness of my writing this column. Ultimately, I decided to move forward and share it with you.

There are times when we realize that the simplest of life’s pleasures, or even things that we take for granted, result in the most profound discoveries. In this case, I am referring to the impact that a beloved individual — a hairy blond who stood 3 feet tall, loved snacks and was sometimes stubborn — had on my life. For almost 12 years, my family included a yellow Labrador named Oly.

OlyFrom the small, scared little ball of yellow fur that we brought home in 2002, Oly grew into a confident, friendly, people loving, always-there-for-you, 100-pound pal. Upon hearing of his recent death, friends referred to Oly as the “mayor” and “ambassador” of the neighborhood. He was the kind of dog that even those who weren’t “dog people” came to love. He introduced me to more people than I ever could have imagined knowing. Oly was a connector of people.

Although I miss him terribly, I am thankful for what I learned from Oly. Regardless of our degrees, certifications or scholarly endeavors, we must remain open to continuing to learn. Here are some of the lessons I picked up from Oly.

  • When you can’t make it up the stairs anymore, sleep at the bottom of the steps. That way, you’ll be the first thing other members of the family see when they come down in the morning.
  • If you want to get in the car only from the left side and exit only from the right side, that just makes you unique and memorable.
  • If you stare at the couch long enough, someone will eventually give you a lift onto your special spot.
  • If there is something special you like (let’s say … discovering grimy tennis balls), then be the best at it. It isn’t about keeping the ball; it’s about the joy inherent in finding it.
  • Always know the importance of getting and giving kisses.
  • Diversity and inclusion are key. Play with others who are bigger, smaller, older or younger than you, whether they have four legs or two.
  • Napping is a good thing — whenever, wherever. Just do it when the mood strikes. You’ll feel better after a few good winks.
  • Cookies and cheese are always good things. They help compensate for the onslaught of getting older and being less mobile.
  • Let people know you like belly rubs. It makes both you and them feel good.
  • It is probably better not to swallow a sock.
  • Don’t worry about the size of the stick if you want it. Bring it home no matter how big it is and how ridiculous you might look.
  • Welcome people with a wag of the tail. For that matter, even allow your whole body to go wiggle-waggle. Show your joy, appreciation and contentment.
  • Let little kids sit on you, lie on you and give you lots of hugs. They’ll love it, and so will you.
  • If something upsets your stomach, listen to those who prevent you from eating it — even if it would be really tasty.
  • Plowing into a big pile of leaves or snow is a very good thing, no matter how old (or young) you are.
  • Although your world might get smaller due to physical limitations, don’t let that stop you from making the most out of where you are still able to go — even if it takes much longer to get there than it previously did.
  • Be pure in your intentions, whether that involves grabbing the laundry and running through the house, barking for a treat, resting your head on a friend or just plopping down and taking in the scents and beauty of life.
  • Enjoy every moment of a walk because it really isn’t about finishing but rather being “in” the journey.

When Oly first came into my life more than a decade ago, I had the audacity to believe that I was going to teach him things. In actuality, it was I who learned from him. We expect to receive guidance or knowledge from some; then there are those who surprise us with their purity, wisdom and love. As we close out the year, let’s all take a moment to look back and think about the things for which we can be thankful. I know I will as I say, “So long, old friend.”

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 ryep@counseling.org. You can also follow me on Twitter: @RichYep.

Be well.