Monthly Archives: April 2014

Focusing on ability, not disability

By Amy L. Cook, Laura A. Hayden and Felicia L. Wilczenski April 29, 2014

My junior high school teacher once told me to reach for the stars in life and said I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. Now, I really do believe this!” — Courtney Vinson’s story from Think College, a project of the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston


This excerpt from Courtney Vinson’s story describes her pathway to college and the workplace despite being diagnosed with an intellectual disability (ID) and told by educators that she had limited future options.

According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), ID is characterized by significant impairment of intellectual functioning (IQ of 70-75 or lower) and significant impairment of adaptive behavior, with onset occurring before age 18. During Courtney’s senior year in high school, she applied and was accepted to the Pathway program at UCLA. Pathway is a two-year certificate program for students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities that offers a combination of educational, job-related and social experiences.

Pathway is just one of more than 250 college campus-based programs that are offered to students with ID. Some of these programs feature inclusive postsecondary educational options, meaning that students with ID are integrated into mainstream college classes and campus activities rather than being separated from the campus community. Courtney is now employed full time at a resort hotel and feeling proud of her achievements.

The prevalence of ID has burgeoned due to the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder having increased by almost 300 percent during the past decade. Given the high incidence rate, school counselors need to be in position to assist students with ID in making successful postsecondary transitions. While many educators may have focused on these students’ disabilities, school counselors can recognize their strengths and encourage positive pursuit of postsecondary options.

Federal legislation, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind, mandates educators to present students with disabilities with appropriate postsecondary transition opportunities, including “further education, employment and independent living” (IDEA). However, according to findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, conducted by SRI International (formally Stanford Research Institute), students with ID are less likely to graduate high school and achieve competitive employment than their peers without a disability.

In an attempt to close these gaps, educational institutions have increased postsecondary educational options for individuals with ID, including offering greater access to higher education through concurrent enrollment between high schools and universities. Such programs provide students with ID the opportunity to attend college and enroll in college classes, participate in college-based activities (for example, clubs, intramural sports and extracurricular activities) and, in some cases, reside on campus. Additionally, in 2008, Congress passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act with the goal of increasing accessibility to higher education for students with ID. This federal legislation has resulted in the development and implementation of inclusive college education options nationwide. The goal of these postsecondary education programs is to prepare these students for gainful employment and enhance their independent living skills.

The school counselor’s role

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of students with disabilities receiving federally funded special education services in public schools has increased from 8.3 percent to 13.1 percent during the past three decades. More than 463,000 children with ID are now receiving such services. Given the burgeoning population of students with disabilities and federal legislation that mandates improved higher education accessibility for these students, school counselors will increasingly be called on to share their expertise in college and career preparation and to assist in developing appropriate transition plans for students with ID.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) position statement on students with disabilities says that the professional school counselor’s role includes “providing assistance with developing academic and transition plans for students in the IEP,” or individualized education program. Staying aligned with the ASCA National Model, school counselors can support students with ID in achieving postsecondary educational and vocational goals in a variety of ways, including through individual and small group counseling, consultation to teachers and parents, and advocacy for children with ID.

Cognitive behavioral interventions can be used to help students with ID modify their thinking, feeling and behavior. Specifically, these interventions can be applied to help these students reduce their anxiety and increase positive characteristics that contribute to success, including development of an internal locus of control. When engaging in individual and group counseling, school counselors can use cognitive behavioral interventions to help students with ID recognize their strengths and rephrase negative thinking into positive thinking and subsequent positive self-talk. In small groups, students can help each other recognize strengths and reinforce rephrasing of negative thinking into positive thinking and self-talk. School counselors can serve as group facilitators by praising rational and positive self-talk when it is displayed, while providing a safe and calm environment for these students to share their concerns and feelings about postsecondary transition. For example, school counselors can help students with ID to identify negative feelings or self-talk (for example, “I don’t think I can succeed in college”) and turn it into positive feelings or self-talk (“I know I can succeed in college because I have sought help when I’ve needed it in high school”). In addition, school counselors can provide these students with tangible steps for reframing negative comments (for example, “Identify one way you have been successful in school in the past”).

School counselors can provide consultation to teachers and parents concerning the current needs of students with ID. This might include offering guidance on how to identify those needs (understanding the defining characteristics present in children with ID), and preparing and sharing material that identifies learning strategies that are helpful for students with ID. It might also include facilitating and delivering workshops with guest speakers who can share strategies to help support adolescents with ID with their postsecondary educational and vocational goals.

As students with ID are preparing to graduate from high school, school counselors can also emphasize to teachers the importance of providing these students with emotional encouragement and strength-based feedback that communicates a belief in their ability to succeed. The more information school counselors can share with teachers and parents, the higher the likelihood that students with ID will be properly prepared to face the challenges of the final year of high school, make appropriate postsecondary plans and feel supported throughout the transition.

Counselors can also promote awareness of the unique needs of this population by advocating on their behalf with current teachers, university admissions committees and future employers. When writing letters of recommendation, counselors can highlight the strategies these students have used to succeed academically — strategies that will further benefit them as they pursue their postsecondary educational goals.

Postsecondary educational options

A variety of postsecondary educational opportunities are available for students with ID. School counselors can collaborate with special educators, parents and school psychologists to ascertain students’ needs and ensure an appropriate fit when exploring postsecondary options. Options range from separate programs held on college campus grounds wherein students with ID take courses separately from their mainstream peers, to inclusive programs that permit students with ID to enroll in or audit regular college classes, participate in college activities/clubs and intramural sports and, in some cases, reside on campus. For students residing nearby a higher education institution that supports students with ID, opportunities may also exist for concurrent high school and college enrollment. Currently, eight higher education institutions across Massachusetts have formed partnerships with roughly 40 high schools in which students with ID are offered the opportunity to attend college while completing their high school education. Through these partnerships, students acquire a deeper understanding of interest areas related to their career goals, develop self-sufficiency in negotiating the complexities of the university and broaden their social contacts and use of free time.

For example, the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment (ICE) Partnership Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) aims to improve opportunities for postsecondary education for students with ID. This initiative involves inclusive concurrent enrollment for high school students ages 18-22 who are receiving special education in high school. Educational coaches from the high school facilitate the transition to the postsecondary setting. The students with ID are enrolled in college courses, which they either audit or take for credit. Their career development is fostered through job shadowing, paid and unpaid internships, and integrated competitive employment.

UMB staff collaborated with educational coaches from Boston Public Schools (BPS) to implement this program through a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. During the fall 2012 semester, seven BPS students participated by auditing classes based on their interests — for example, creative writing, art history, sociology and so on. Five of these students completed the courses. During the spring 2013 semester, seven additional students from a nearby city enrolled in courses of their choosing. Additionally, a mentoring program pairing students in the ICE program with matriculated undergraduate students was initiated during that semester. Moreover, in an attempt to ensure best practices, a professional development workshop concerning universal design for learning was conducted for UMB faculty with the assistance of UMB’s Institute for Community Inclusion. In addition, an interagency advisory council was formed to provide guidance and feedback.

Initial results suggested that these students learned to advocate for themselves by arranging course accommodations through the UMB disabilities services center. The students also engaged in activities outside of the classroom (for example, pool, gym and track), and three of the students used their identification cards to visit the library housed on UMB’s campus. All of these students had the same access to the academic and social support services as UMB’s general student population. Postsecondary education for students with ID serves as a transition to adult roles and responsibilities.


As is evident from Courtney’s story of postsecondary success and entrance into the workforce, we cannot afford to marginalize any person. Everyone needs to contribute, and school counselors can share their expertise when supporting students with ID in exploring postsecondary options.

Some educators may think that students with ID are being set up to fail if they are encouraged to pursue postsecondary education — particularly inclusive postsecondary options. School counselors, on the other hand, are in position to recognize and celebrate these students’ interests and motivation to obtain postsecondary education just like their peers without disabilities. School counselors understand developmental changes and appreciate that students with ID pass through the same adolescent-to-adulthood transitions as students without disabilities. Consequently, these students need the same stimulation and support.

Through effective postsecondary opportunities, students with ID gain soft skills such as self-advocacy, self-confidence and self-determination that are critical for future employment. Postsecondary options, and particularly inclusive postsecondary educational programs, have resulted in improved outcomes such as better employment opportunities for individuals with ID. School counselors can play an important role in preparing students with ID to be independent adults and ready for college. The role of school counselors needs to be broadened beyond serving just the general student population to one that is inclusive and fulfills the needs of students with ID throughout the postsecondary transition planning process. For more information, refer to the AAIDD website at and the Think College website at




Amy L. Cook is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology, College of Education and Human Development, at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Contact her at


Laura A. Hayden is an assistant professor and school counseling program director in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology, College of Education and Human Development, at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Contact her at


Felicia L. Wilczenski is a professor and interim dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Contact her at


Letters to the editor:

The inner life of the counselor

By Robert J. Wicks and Tina C. Buck April 28, 2014

inner-lifeA psychiatrist’s wife once questioned him about why he was so faithful in going to see Zen master Shunryu Suzuki for mentoring and guidance. His response was simple: “Where he is, is where I want to be … in that place of sanity.”

One of the greatest gifts we can share with those who come to us for counseling or supervision is a sense of our own peace, resilience and healthy perspective. However, we can’t share what we don’t have. It is as simple as that. And so, for those of us in the counseling profession, strengthening our own self-care protocol is not only an important undertaking for ourselves, but also a gift to our clients and colleagues.

To enjoy and share our signature strengths as counselors, we must:

  • Be willing to let go of that which is nonessential or destructive
  • Practice a greater sense of self-regulation
  • Incorporate at least a brief informal mindfulness practice in our day
  • Embrace approaches that help us maintain a healthy perspective regardless of the darkness that may be encroaching on our professional and personal lives

To encourage some movement toward these goals, this article will “dust off” and emphasize what is essential to remember about the value of “alonetime,” mindfulness and self-nurturance. In addition, we will offer several ideas on integrating these concepts through the practices of personal debriefing, rituals for renewal and releasing judgment.

Our bodies, minds and spirits are the instruments that we bring into our sessions as counselors. Our view of ourselves both as individuals and clinicians affects how we engage our clients, express our thoughts verbally and share our essence. Thus, knowing ourselves is a foundational element of self-care. With this awareness, we need to continually challenge and encourage ourselves by asking an overarching question: What do we seek for our own lives, and how does that translate into a mission or theme for our vocation as counselors? If we know what we are working toward, then we will know when we go off course — as all of us surely will at times.

There are occasions, of course, when the workload will be extremely heavy, and there is little we can or probably should do about it at that moment. However, if we find ourselves working 60 hours a week in private practice and missing our teenager’s sporting events, our anniversary and other things that we hold dear on an ongoing basis, then we know that adjustments need to occur. Also, by having a balanced life and valuing the fragility and impermanence of our human state, we are more likely to remain in the moment and be attentive to who we are and what we are doing now. Whereas, if we are too tired, hungry and/or stressed, we naturally have a tendency to lose focus and make poor judgments such as crossing boundaries and seeking inappropriate gratification from our clients, students or colleagues because the resources we are drawing from in our own lives are so sparse or currently unavailable. One of the best ways to ensure this scenario does not develop or is caught early on when it does is to place greater value on periods of alonetime.

 Valuing and accessing ‘alonetime’

We become vulnerable to physical, mental and spiritual decay when we do not slow down long enough to invest in ourselves consistently. However, when we appreciate, explore and enjoy designated and spontaneous time alone and gentle-clear reflective periods within ourselves (what we are referring to here as “alonetime”), we can lessen and more quickly withdraw our projections, become easier on ourselves and become less discouraged when personal or professional successes aren’t granted. Instead, we may feel a sense of inner ease and intrigue about the life we can live that is before us right now rather than constantly being postponed into some uncertain future.

Although as caregivers we live in an especially demanding, bustling world, there are simple, effective ways to uncover and enjoy crumbs of alonetime. In doing this, we can also:

  • Uncover the existing resistances to seeking more space in our lives
  • Access more readily the surprises about ourselves that are getting lost in the busyness of the day and our practice
  • “Positively contaminate” the rest of our day with the new learning and “unlearning” that becomes possible during even brief periods of mindfulness

Sitting with mindfulness

Experienced counselors and clinical supervisors are not surprised when the following paradox is present in those they guide (or even in themselves): Often we are gentler with our clients than we are on ourselves as counselors.

We possess the capacity to make each session we have with someone fresh and new. But first we need to approach ourselves — especially during periods of silence and solitude that we have set aside or that unexpectedly appear — with no preconceived notions of what will happen and without picking up leftover thoughts from earlier in the day. Our goal is to empty our minds so the most relevant ideas reveal themselves. The stability and awareness offered by informal and formal mindfulness meditation practice counters unproductive movements. This helps us to:

  • Recognize the importance of focusing on personal and professional faithfulness to the process of counseling rather than on specific successes we want — even if we believe those successes are for the client’s benefit
  • Appreciate when we are becoming too easily upset — often over the wrong things such as a client being late or resistant or wishing to change therapists — and missing what life is offering us in all interactions and events
  • Uncover personal character traits, habits and rules that continue to sap life’s freshness for us
  • Limit our dwelling on the past or rushing through precious moments of our life by living with “if, then”
  • Note when we have a tendency to spend too much of our time in a cognitive cocoon of judgment, worry, preoccupation, resentment, fear and regret, thus missing the chance to experience life’s daily gifts
  • Gently confront ourselves when our emotions alert us that we seem unable or unwilling to see transitions as being as valuable as our destinations, even though transitions make up much of our life
  • Increase our sense of intrigue about ourselves, including both our gifts and growing edges as persons and counselors
  • Limit instances in which we a) project faults onto clients or colleagues whom we don’t see as supportive, b) shoulder an inordinate amount of self-blame or c) stay immersed in discouragement when we don’t succeed as we would like

What we are emphasizing is that a mindfulness practice allows us to psychologically lean back and, in the process, more often get onto the psychological lane of greater inner freedom — the very same lane we call our clients to merge onto.  Silence, solitude and mindful moments have the power to stop us in our tracks and make us ask: Why, especially as counselors, are we continuing to live in ways that are not renewing?

If we are brutally honest with ourselves during those reflective times, we might wistfully respond, “We must live this way. We have no choice. It is practical and normal, so there is really no other way. As a matter of fact, most of my colleagues live this way — even the ones I admire or who were my teachers and supervisors.”

Paradoxically, when this helpless response occurs, the first gate to new inner freedom opens to some degree because in our hearts, we know that what we are telling ourselves is not true. So, once this portal is nudged open a bit, we can begin to access a healthier, freer perspective because even if we choose to ignore or unconsciously forget the portal, it never closes completely again. And that is what the permanent gift of leaning back for the first time (even in the reading of this article) offers us.

Self-care, self-knowledge and expanding our resiliency range

Self-nurturance is a sense of full awareness that requires attention to self-care and self-knowledge, as well as a desire to maximize our resiliency range. It also necessitates a spirit of unlearning and relearning. This exploration is undertaken in more depth in the books The Inner Life of the Counselor and The Resilient Clinician, but for our purposes here, it will suffice to ponder a few central themes to set the process in motion.

  • Patience and pacing: If we are moving so fast that we cannot catch our “psychological or spiritual breath,” we may be losing the purpose behind why we became counselors in the first place. By practicing mindfulness with ourselves and when we are with our clients, we will receive more, and so will they.
  • Chains of the past: Most counselors have gone through their own personal therapy and extensive supervision, but there may be a tendency to forget that unfinished business doesn’t disappear once and for all. How we have addressed the past will affect our lives and our sessions. We know that if we view the memories as bad, then we will want to deny, avoid or embrace them in ways that are not helpful (for example, self-blame). On the other hand, if we look at our past with a sense of intrigue, the results can be strikingly positive. Likewise, if we can accept our growing edges, we can be better counselors and more integrated persons.
  • Immature and/or unproductive thoughts and behaviors: As counselors, we are constantly assessing our clients’ stage of change and ever watchful for relapse. Often, it is hard to turn this spotlight back on ourselves and objectively examine what we are doing unless we have made the time to reflect.
  • Gratitude: Many of us in the profession feel that counseling “chose” us. But as we struggle to build our careers and manage busy practices, we can forget the core reason for the work that we do. We need to focus and reconnect to our purpose.
  • Self-care protocol: Developing a self-assessment and guide to enriching our personal time alone encourages us to explore our thoughts and beliefs more carefully. Likewise, it also challenges us to align our actions with our authentic selves and to refresh and renew our inner beings. A self-care protocol should especially include personal debriefing approaches, rituals for renewal and ways of releasing judgment.

Personal debriefing

As we journey with those who come to us, we provide a safe holding space where they can experience their emotions, process their hurts and, in time, heal. Similarly, as we reflect their emotions, we strive to model and teach our clients about self-regulation and debriefing. Given the intense work, it is also imperative that we process the emotions within ourselves in a deliberate way so we don’t become unnecessarily vulnerable to the point of poor self-regulation.

As counselors, all of us experience physical and emotional exhaustion, anxiety that a client is not getting better or wants to change therapists and, if we are honest, even boredom with what the person is sharing, who the client is or the problem being presented. As a result, we can and sometimes do become hypersensitive when the client is able to zero in on our own unfinished business, lack of knowledge or personal issues. That is why it is worthwhile to conduct a daily  “countertransferential review” in which we systematically reflect on our feelings, cognitions and beliefs.

An end-of-the-day review might include basic questions such as:

  • What made me feel sad or angry?
  • What overwhelmed me?
  • What sexually aroused me?
  • What made me extremely happy or confused me?
  • What was my responsibility given these reactions?

Quiet reflection at the end of the day can reframe our perspective, help us to be kinder to ourselves and jettison that which is beyond our control, especially when that reflection is accompanied by scheduled and specific actions and routines that refresh us.

Rituals for renewal

A thoughtful personal ritual can help us center ourselves, create order and offer comfort. For example, rising early to enjoy a cup of coffee while sitting propped up in bed for about a half-hour may allow us to awaken slowly, appreciate the joy of being alive and center ourselves for the day ahead. We let any thoughts that arise move through us like a train. We do not stop the thought train, hop on and indulge the issue that comes up. Instead, we merely notice it nonjudgmentally. It can be faced or possibly solved later. After this initial part of our ritual, perhaps we can share a cup of coffee with a significant other, chat and watch the morning news. This second part of the ritual opens up space for us and between us and those we love before we are bombarded with all of the day’s events and experiences.

The best time of day for such rituals is based on personal choice. The key is carving moments out of the day when we can stop, breathe and enjoy what is before us. It is not the length of time that is important but rather our willingness to be aware without effort or judgment. Without this practice, we run the risk of rushing through our lives in a cognitive cocoon, while deluding ourselves that this is all life has for us. If we choose the latter, we will find ourselves disconnected and depleted until there is nothing left for self, let alone clients, colleagues, family and friends. Not surprisingly, the extremely busy clinician needs a ritual more than others because it offers the needed space to recharge if the work is to continue in a good way.

Other simple but potentially powerful rituals might include:

  • Taking a brief walk — not a “think” — in the morning, at the end of the day, during a break or after a client cancellation. In this way, we can experience all that is around us rather than being in a cognitive cocoon.
  • Practicing meditation or simple mindfulness techniques
  • Involving ourselves in activities in which we simply “flow,” such as playing music, racing, researching areas of interest, creating or preparing something with love, volunteering or writing
  • Playing with pets

There are so many rituals that renew. What other ones come to mind for you? How can they be expanded and built upon? When under stress, we need to ask ourselves the very questions we ask our distressed clients.

Releasing judgment

As counselors and people involved in so many renewing and depleting activities, we can have greater sensitivity to stressors that may be present and learn how to recognize those stressors early. We can also adopt healthy attitudes and approaches for bouncing back and even learning from their presence. The ability to allow information to flow over and through us without passing judgment is an essential aspect of mindfulness.

In The Mindful Way Through Depression, Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn detail how people can release themselves from chronic unhappiness by the way they face all of life. Their suggestions are also relevant to counselors and how we greet aspects of our lives that we don’t like. They ask us to examine our feelings during our sessions and through the rest of the day and question “negative” emotions instead of avoiding, retreating or attacking. They also ask us to explore the real facts about a situation rather than dwelling in the “shoulds.” By retooling our perspectives with more positivity, we can better begin to see people in a more balanced way and experience events for what they really are.

By employing an attitude marked by openness, intrigue and hopefulness, we minimize self-condemnation and projection. Instead of playing host to discouragement, there is greater opportunity to learn and go deeper. What follows are some examples of “energy sappers” that we may need to uncover and confront.

  • Scheduling clients back to back, which leaves no space to take a breath or psychologically decontaminate ourselves prior to the next session
  • Developing a style of living that is not in line with the guidelines we offer to clients, family members and friends
  • Failing to carefully diagnose situations, resulting in our demonstrating a “tyranny of hope” that risks having goals for clients that are impossible/impractical for them to reach given their personal and other resources
  • Overlooking the effects of workaholism, including ongoing fatigue, emotional distance and/or overidentifying with clients
  • Responding sharply, flatly, cynically or intellectually to inquiries or feedback

The good news is that with a little attention, these issues can be resolved. With ongoing diligence and a willingness to prune all that takes us away from our purpose, unexpected gifts will become evident, even when things are difficult. As the literature on posttraumatic growth teaches us, this can be the case even with significant stress or trauma.

Being a counselor is truly like being in treatment for a lifetime because the process and content of what makes life good for people is our daily fare. If counseling is done in the right spirit, with good support and supervision and a sense that it is a “wisdom profession” that can transform even failure into something that makes life deeper and better, this profession can bring joy and fulfillment equal to the richest vocations in the world.

Because we step into strangers’ lives and hear their intimate, powerful, poignant stories, we must be prepared to journey with them as they achieve greater integration of their perceived past and present selves. By uncovering the source of what has held them captive, they can choose freedom and grow into their futures. A steady practice of alonetime, mindfulness and self-nurturance shores up our resilience so we can remain true to our clients and ourselves. What could be better than that?




Knowledge Share articles are adapted from sessions presented at American Counseling Association conferences.


Robert J. Wicks, the author of The Inner Life of the Counselor (Wiley), The Resilient Clinician (Oxford University Press) and, most recently, Perspective: The Calm Within the Storm (Oxford University Press), is professor emeritus at Loyola University Maryland. He is currently involved in presenting on clinician self-care to state counseling associations. Contact him at


Tina C. Buck is a licensed graduate professional counselor at Carroll County Youth Service Bureau and group facilitator for the Abuser Intervention Program in Montgomery County, Md. Contact her at


Letters to the editor:

There’s no such thing as bully-proof

By Bethany Bray

“Instead of thinking about bullying, we should think about belonging,” says Stan Davis, a researcher on peer mistreatment and school dynamics.

The most effective way to combat school bullying is to work toward having students accepted by their peers, asserts Davis, a retired school counselor and child and family therapist in Maine.

bullyingThe majority of anti-bullying curriculum used in schools encourages bystanders and peers to speak up or intervene when they see bullying. According to Davis, not only is this tactic ineffective, it can actually make the bullying worse.

Davis and his co-researcher, Charisse L. Nixon, associate professor of developmental psychology at Penn State Erie, recently surveyed 13,000 public and private school students in 31 schools across the United States about bullying and school culture. They published their results and analysis in the 2013 book Youth Voice Project: Student Insights Into Bullying and Peer Mistreatment.

Of the 13,000 youths surveyed, 3,000 said they had been mistreated by peers repeatedly, two times a month or more.

High schoolers who took the survey named two tactics as most effective in disarming a bully: walking away from the situation and pretending that it didn’t bother them. At the same time, they said the assertiveness and intervention methods commonly taught in anti-bullying programs often led to negative outcomes.

“What [students said] worked better than anything was when kids were included by their peers,” Davis says. “It was twice as effective as asking the bully to stop.”

Davis believes school staff and therapists should focus on the school culture as a whole rather than trying to make kids “bully-proof.” While he isn’t suggesting that schools shouldn’t try to reduce instances of bullying, he says the reality is that there is no way to stop all mean behavior among school students. Instead, healing, belonging and connecting should be the focus of anti-bullying efforts, he says.

Davis illustrates his point with an analogy of safety airbags in vehicles: We are not going to stop car crashes altogether, but we can make them “survivable,” he says.

“[It’s] a seductive idea – that a therapist will make a child so confident that the bullying will stop,” Davis says. “We need to switch and realize, ‘I don’t have any magic that will make the bullying stop.’ There is no such magic. … We can’t give the kid some kind of mystical shield.”

Therapists should use a cognitive approach with students who have been mistreated by peers, says Davis. Assure them the bullying is not their fault but simply a choice that another person made.

“The idea that a kid could change the behavior of another kid is fantasy,” he says. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Instead, focus on enhancing the mistreated student’s social network and sense of belonging, Davis suggests.

As is the case with victims of domestic violence, targets of bullying should never be made to feel they brought the situation upon themselves, Davis says. Avoid anything that implies the student should make personal changes – be less flamboyant, behave differently, opt for a less noticeable hairstyle, etc. – to stop inviting bullying.

It’s a misconception that victims are made targets of bullying because they’re not assertive, Davis says.

According to their survey results, Davis said assertiveness worked just 20 percent of the time in bullying situations. In a majority of situations, it just made things worse, he says.

Fifty-six percent of youths said the situation got better when a peer spent time with them at school. Private expressions of support between students, such as sending a text message, were also helpful, he says.



Here are some ways Davis suggests counselors can help students who have been mistreated by their peers:

  • Focus on helping the bullied student see who was at fault: the other person. Bullied students are not responsible and could not have stopped another person’s behavior.
  • Help the student filter what the other person says: It’s not real, and it’s not important.
  • Help the student enhance his or her social interaction (finding friends through joining clubs, doing extracurricular activities, etc.). Being passionately involved in a hobby can foster connections that can buffer mistreatment — such as between a coach and player or a player and his or her teammates.
  • Push schools to protect students from bullying as much as possible, but also help kids find a way to belong. For example, start a gay/straight alliance group to foster belonging among straight and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students alike.
  • Students who have been mistreated by peers can benefit from doing community service. Instead of focusing on why they’re being bullied, the students can see how they’re making a difference through volunteer work.




Davis is continuing his research on peer mistreatment and school dynamics, and also leads programs and workshops at schools for staff and students. For details, see his website,


For details on the Youth Voice Project research and book, see




Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at


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Not a legacy so much as a life path

By Richard Yep April 25, 2014


Richard Yep, ACA CEO

I have many T-shirts, some purchased at stores, others collected at counseling events I have attended over the years. One of my favorites says, “I’m More Than a Counselor, I’m a Change Agent.” I like it because it goes beyond simply announcing one’s profession — it gets to the heart of the actions that are such an integral part of what many of you do each and every day.

On March 20, ACA and the profession lost one of its brightest change agents when we learned of the passing of the association’s 49th president, Judy Lewis. Over many decades as a counselor, counselor educator and author, Judy let everyone know that she was someone who “walked her talk.” For Judy, it wasn’t about “being right” so much as it was about “doing right.” She didn’t squander the time she had here on Earth. No, when you consider a career that looked closely at issues of social justice and how professional counselors can be instruments in helping to eliminate prejudice, discrimination and the challenges faced by the less fortunate, I would say her time was well spent.

Judy could be very determined (some might even say feisty) when she believed strongly in something. Her efforts encompassed issues that played out on the local, state and even national stage of public policy and politics. She was diminutive in stature, but that didn’t diminish the strength of her voice when was speaking up for something for which she felt great passion.

As an organizer and trainer, Judy was not satisfied with the practice of advocacy in a counseling context. She wanted others to understand how the concept of social justice could be a tool to help others. She went on to serve as one of the editors of a book about advocacy competencies in professional counseling, ACA Advocacy Competencies: A Social Justice Framework for Counselors. Judy and her colleagues wrote eloquently about exemplary practice in understanding and applying the principles of advocacy. In yet another example of her commitment to the issues in which she believed, Judy donated all of her royalties from the book, which to date have totaled several thousand dollars, to one of ACA’s divisions, Counselors for Social Justice, an organization that she helped to found.

Although our social justice advocacy corps lost one of its most vociferous soldiers with Judy’s passing, her influence on countless colleagues and students over the years ensures that what she believed in so strongly will continue. I am not sure she would want to call this a “legacy” because that was not what she was about. Rather, I always felt she just wanted to make sure that counselors were the best at what they were trained to do and that they knew what made counseling such a special profession.

Judy’s son, Keith, said that as news of his mother’s death began to circulate, he was amazed to learn about the many circles of people in which she had been involved. She was a community organizer at heart, someone who was able to bring together disparate groups of people and unite them around a specific cause or effort to alleviate the pain, suffering and misery faced by our fellow human beings.

As if being a true social advocate was not enough, there were also Judy’s social and family-focused facets. As a devoted mother and grandmother, she adored her family and found great joy in being with them whenever she could, even in the last few months of her life.

And in terms of being a friend to many, Judy traveled with a number of colleagues over the years to places both domestic and international. She was a people person. She was also good at convincing others to do things. One year, a group of us were asked to participate in a skit for some ACA leaders. Judy was masterful as our “creative director.” She even got me to play the role of a less-than-enthusiastic cheerleader whose only line was a very deadpan “Rah rah.”

Judy was more than a counselor; she really was a change agent. Turn to page 48 for our “In Memoriam” article about Judy.

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



New frontiers in counseling

By Cirecie West-Olatunji


Cirecie West-Olatunji, Ph.D.
President, ACA (2013-2014)

Three key frontiers await us in counseling that will catapult us into a new age of functionality. First, the recent incident at Fort Hood reminds us that those returning home from active-duty military deployments are in need of our expertise. Second, we need to advance our understanding and operationalization of the multicultural competencies. Third, unification of the profession is the ultimate frontier. We must find our unified voice to survive — no, thrive — in the next 50 years.

Research on active-duty military personnel and veterans is sorely needed. There is so much we do not know about this population, and its members are quite diverse in their needs. What we do know is that veterans of the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars have some unique needs not shared by veterans of previous wars. We also know that their needs are acute. However, as counselors, we have yet to identify what interventions are most effective with these clients, and we do not fully understand what competencies are needed to work effectively with active-duty military personnel and veterans. Given the diversity among veterans in terms of gender, age, education, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation, it is imperative that we prioritize learning more about the needs of this population. As counselors, we naturally utilize a strength-based approach in our investigations and thus give voice to the unique experiences of military personnel and veterans.

Research that advances the multicultural counseling competencies is long overdue. We need to unpack White identity, explore transnational counseling and increase our knowledge of the intersectionality of identity. Although research is replete with information about middle-class White privilege and racism, little is known about the cultural variations within White identity. Further exploration into low-income White identity is warranted. For example, I recently read a research article stating that smoking among low-income White women is on the rise, and I wondered about the lived experiences of these women that relate to their health problems. I am also intrigued by the health disparities among members of urban Appalachian communities, which primarily are made up of low-income Whites.

Another area that would advance our multicultural competence and help us keep up with globalization is transnational counseling. As counseling moves to an international arena, our ability to communicate and share knowledge effectively is challenged by our insufficient understanding of cultural norms as contextualized by social, historical and political events and linguistic nuances. We must be proactive in our globalization of the profession and mindful in our cross-national endeavors.

Finally, in the multicultural arena, it is time for us to take a more sophisticated approach to identity development by incorporating the complex identities that we all have. We are simultaneously engendered, acculturated and socially positioned based on our environmental experiences in schools, communities and families. Thus, we assume multiple and concurring identities that are difficult to disaggregate. Yet, what do we know about these intersected identities? More research is needed in this area to enhance clinical practice with children, adults and families.

The most important frontier awaiting us is unification of the profession, and there has never been a better time for this than now. To survive as a discipline, we must unify and define who we are. Make no mistake — this is going to be one of the most difficult tasks in our lifetime. However, unification promises to yield the most beneficial results. Similar to the developmental task of adolescence, crystallization of our identity is crucial to successful movement into adulthood.

I don’t know about you, but I am ready for counseling to take that giant step into maturity. I am ready for us to stand strong and proud as counselors, unapologetic in our professional identity, to assert ourselves into national and international conversations about behavioral health care, education, jobs, families and disabilities. As a discipline, we will need to decide what makes us more uncomfortable: a broadly defined identity or the missed opportunity to shape the world in which we live. Which will you choose?




Follow Cirecie on Twitter: @Dr_CWO