Who are the major influences on today’s counseling professionals? What voices, both within and outside of the profession, are counselors listening to and intently following?
Recently, Counseling Today posed these questions to a random assortment of American Counseling Association members and a few select counseling leaders. The responses were as diverse as the association’s membership. From personal mentors and supervisors to eminent thinkers and authors, from human rights champions to neuroscientists and others on the cutting edge of research, today’s counselors are influenced by a wide variety of voices.
We invite you, in turn, to consider who influences your work as a counselor. The exercise may spur some self-reflection on what methods and philosophies you place value on and how you have learned and evolved over the course of your career. We encourage you to share your responses in the comments section for this article.
I am greatly influenced by Thelma Daley, a phenomenal leader within and outside of the profession. She exudes knowledge, vision, compassion, diligence and grace. Anyone who has ever worked with her has benefited from her ability to lead without imposition and her humility without passivity. I am fortunate to have been mentored by her before, during and after my presidency.
As ACA’s first African American president in 1975-1976, Thelma Daley is truly a living legend in our profession who has greatly influenced a community of thinkers. If being a trailblazer weren’t amazing enough, she is also an influential thinker and past president of Delta Sigma Theta, the largest African American sorority in the world. I continue to learn from Thelma and hope to pay it forward by modeling her ideals of stewardship to emerging leaders in counseling. — Cirecie West-Olatunji, associate professor in the counseling program and director of the XULA Center for Traumatic Stress Research at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans and past president (2013-2014) of ACA
I’ve been most influenced by Michael White, a narrative family therapist from Australia. White suggests we are most successful when we attend to the unique stories clients share and strive to use these stories to help clients shape a more positive, solution-focused narrative. This new narrative is broader in perspective and helps normalize negative experiences. Our stories connect us, prevent us from being alone and are key to understanding our uniqueness. Attending closely to clients’ stories allows us to use those stories to communicate, bridge gaps and increase the trust with our clients.
I also lean toward story and narrative as I consider this question. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince offers me solace and guidance when helping others. The author uses the allegory of the little prince to teach the importance of mindfulness. He warns against pursuing power for power’s sake, the folly of conceit, the foolishness of becoming lost in drunkenness, the risks of pursuing success and achievement, the sadness of the unreflective life and the peril of scholarship in lieu of living.
Like the story’s fox or rose, individuals become unique and special when observers take time to care for them and tend to their needs. While the science of counseling is essential, nothing is more important than appreciating the distinctive humanity of those in our care.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” — Brian Van Brunt, author and counselor educator who lives in Manchester, New Hampshire, and serves as executive director of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association
My parents, who were unaccompanied minor refugees, have endlessly helped others throughout their lives and instilled social justice values in me at a young age. With this mindset, I gravitated toward human rights/social justice leaders such as Steve Biko, Aung San Suu Kyi, Gandhi, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr., who inspired and profoundly influenced my counseling work. I am motivated and encouraged by their fearless courage, tireless energy, robust strength and resiliency, limitlessly placing others before self and utilizing infinite creativity [while] striving for social change toward equity and equality for all.
They remind me that giving up is not an option and barriers should be viewed as tenacious opportunities to empower others through positivity, patience, hope and humor. I am honored and humbled to stand on the shoulders of the social justice/human rights giants who have sacrificed and paved the way for counselors to continue their social justice legacy. — Rita Chi-Ying Chung, professor in the counseling and development program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, president of Counselors for Social Justice and ACA fellow
I don’t really see [influence] as any single voice that counselors are listening to right now. What is exciting to me in the counseling field is the collective voices of therapists coming together and helping each other to go into private practice, negotiate rates and even some talk of forming unions so we have more negotiating power with the insurance companies and our employers. Throughout much of the history of the counseling profession, we counselors have been isolated and on our own. Now so many therapists are starting blogs and online forums and coming together. I really think that because of this, we’re on the cusp of some good things coming into our profession. Counselors want change, and 2016 could be the year it happens. — Marina Williams, licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) working in private practice in Boston
There has been no greater influence on my counseling career than Stephen Southern (professor and chair of psychology and counseling at Mississippi College). His approach to counseling using his keen wit, questioning of common norms and progressive thinking makes me acutely cognizant of how counseling is a lifelong learning profession. His passions for social justice, advocacy and empathy challenge me to consistently question and evaluate my own judgments and perceptions. Southern has influenced my work by helping me broaden my awareness and deepen my insight to better serve my clients and students. — Jessica Cole, licensed professional counselor supervisor (LPC-S), clinical professor at Mississippi College and psychological health coordinator with the Mississippi National Guard
I owe a debt of gratitude to the following health care pioneers: Alia Crum for demonstrating how our thoughts affect us on a physiological level and Jon Kabat-Zinn for showing us how mindfulness practice can produce cognitive, behavioral and even chromosomal change. Nicholas Cummings and Nadine Burke Harris for integrating health care, which is creating a more person-centered and effective health care system. Daniel Amen, who empowers clients and advances our profession by using brain-scan technology to demonstrate the positive effects of counseling, nutrition, social engagement and medicine. The feminist therapists and the manyfaces1voice.org recovery movement, [which] prove that personal transformation takes place when we join together to create societal change. Carl Rogers, Irvin Yalom and Scott Miller, who demonstrated that no matter how skilled we become with cognitive behavior therapy, motivational interviewing and trauma-informed therapy — which are all important — nurturing the counselor-client relationship is the quintessential evidence-based practice. Finally, Gerald Juhnke for teaching me through example how to see the person instead of the problem and for recognizing the need beneath the behavior. — Russ Curtis, licensed professional counselor (LPC) and associate professor at Western Carolina University
Courtland Lee (ACA president, 1997-1998) is most influential to me as a counselor and counselor educator. I first read his work during my master’s program. I was encouraged by how he centered multiculturalism and social justice in his writing. His writing introduced me to the concept of cultural identity development. This helped me make sense of my own identity development as a person of color and later inspired me to study the ethnic identity development of Chicanxs. Through him, I was introduced to the concepts of cultural validation and cultural encapsulation — notions that have helped in my work with students of color in higher education and in designing educational experiences for white counseling students. Finally, he is a tremendous role model of how to carry oneself as a man of color in a predominantly white profession. He is confident, proud and charismatic. I model my professional presentation after him. — Carlos P. Hipolito-Delgado, associate professor and program leader in the counseling program at the University of Colorado Denver and chair of the ACA Foundation
Most recently my work has been influenced by Jeremy Safran and Christopher Muran’s approach as outlined in their book, Negotiating the Therapeutic Alliance: A Relational Treatment Guide. This approach resonates with me because it includes elements from experiential, dialectic, Gestalt and humanistic approaches. It is born from the highly researched and validated notion that the therapeutic alliance is the most significant predictor of treatment outcomes.
The approach is also highly applicable in therapy, no matter your theoretical orientation. It speaks in terms of metacommunication in the here and now, which they refer to as “mindfulness in action.” The book offers several detailed examples of “ruptures” in the relationship that occur during sessions and how to repair the ruptures in the moment, basically allowing room for the therapist’s humanness to be a part of the didactic. The importance of attending to what is happening in the room between therapist and client is used as a tool to help illuminate relational patterns.
This dance of noticing ruptures, attending to them and ultimately repairing them fosters an even stronger bond, which as research has shown, leads to better client outcomes. — Sabrina Marie Hadeed, LPC, assistant clinical director and wilderness therapist at Evoke Therapy Programs in Bend, Oregon, and doctoral candidate at Oregon State University
Samuel Gladding’s focus on creativity has been tremendously influential in my work as a counselor. Early on and through the years, Sam’s works reinforced my belief that when talk is not enough, we owe it to our clients to find innovative ways of working with them. This belief motivated me to embark on a trajectory that has been nothing short of incredible. I value the creative spirit — the creative force — and believe that when counselors and clients connect to these and to each other, wonderful things are possible.
The works of Judy Jordan, Jean Baker Miller, Irene Stiver and Jan Surrey profoundly influence my work as a counselor through their writings on relational-cultural theory. Years ago, they introduced the notion that people grow through connection, not separation, and deepened my understanding of authenticity, mutuality and resilience.
Linda Hartling and Evelin Lindner’s human dignity and humiliation studies also significantly influence my counseling. They are critical thinkers whose work provides a lens from which I can conceptualize client cases and deepen my understanding of people and life.
Finally, David Daniels, Helen Palmer, Russ Hudson, Richard Riso, David Fauvre and other leaders in enneagram personality studies have provided a life-changing influence. Through their work with the enneagram, they helped me pragmatically consider the many worldviews with which clients come to counseling and provided a structure by which I could better understand my own.
My operational framework for counseling is integrative and includes important aspects of each of these influences. Shane Haberstroh and I are developing a model we named Developmental Relational Counseling, which speaks to the role of awareness, connection, compassion, power and feedback in the counseling process. I am grateful to these influential thinkers and to the many others who continue to bring me energy and inspire my work. — Thelma Duffey, ACA president (2015-2016) and professor and chair of the Department of Counseling at the University of Texas at San Antonio
As I have grown as a counselor over the years, there is not one idea or approach I can think of that influences me the most. I do know my five years of working in mental health rehabilitation impacted me the most, however, and shaped me as a counselor. It was my “feet on the ground” training. It taught me how to think on my feet and how to cope with individuals in crisis.
I worked in mental health rehabilitation from my bachelor’s level all the way to my LPC, so it has a huge impact on the way I approach my clients now in private practice. I learned to empathize and to develop healthy boundaries during my time in mental health rehabilitation. I also had the opportunity to work with a great range of individuals one does not always see in private practice. — Christina S. Mehal, LPC-S in private practice in Jennings, Louisiana
The individuals who are having the greatest influence on my counseling practice are those in the fields of neuroscience, mindfulness and trauma. I have been guided by the work of Daniel Siegel, Bessel van der Kolk, Norman Doidge, Kelly McGonigal, Rick Hanson, Pat Ogden, Stephen Porges, Bonnie Badenoch, Christopher Germer, Elisha Goldstein, Bill O’Hanlon, Robert Scaer, Ron Siegel and Jon Kabat-Zinn. For my clients, the concept of neuroplasticity holds a promise of hope for lasting change. At the same time, the explanation of the hard-wired neural firing patterns allows clients to release their feelings of personal insecurity, guilt, shame and blame placing.
I believe that as research continues to explore the mind-body connection, we will find out that each of us has more control over our physical and mental health than we realize. Mindfulness techniques will become part of the gold standard for any counseling practice. — Jerry D. Ryan, LPC and certified rehabilitation counselor in Oregon City, Oregon
There have been many influential thinkers and writers within our profession, and I will highlight just one. Irvin Yalom’s broad array of writing has impacted me throughout my career, most especially through one initial concept that runs throughout his writing: the installation of hope.
Hope for me is the bright light, the avenue on which we travel to go forward. Yalom named this within the therapeutic frame of reference for me. Hope can be an elusive feeling for those experiencing loss or fear in any form, trauma from various sources or personal identity struggles. Developmental transitions can leave us feeling uncomfortable in our personhood and often lead to feelings of hopelessness. The absence of hope while experiencing serious mental health concerns can be dangerous, and as a counselor, I have utilized many strategies to assist clients in recapturing that hope, that bright light.
With a seemingly simple concept as the necessity of hope, Yalom effectively implored us as counselors to instill that concept in our clients. Knowing hope is vital is a small part of the task of instilling it within a client’s world. That is our work, and the concept has propelled me in all my clinical work, as well as teaching and leadership throughout my career. There is something engaging about a positive, encouraging and hopeful person, and if that describes a counselor, that combination can be magical within the counseling process. — Catherine B. Roland, LPC, chair of the Ph.D. counselor education and M.A. clinical mental health counseling programs at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Washington, D.C., campus, and ACA president-elect
From Barry Duncan, whom I encountered as a first-year graduate student, I learned about approaching therapy from a strength-based perspective, and this has been my guiding principle in the work I have done over the last decade.
From Irvin Yalom I learned that death anxiety is an enormous influence on our day-to-day decisions. Staring at the Sun was a transformative book, and I’ve used its principles countless times in helping clients to obtain deeper insight about concepts such as “wasted time,” a drive to be true to oneself and the difficulty of living in the moment.
From Brené Brown I learned — and am learning, every single day — about how vulnerability counteracts shame so that we can all live more authentic lives. I learned to support clients through the discomfort of being in the muck of uncertainty and how to live more wholeheartedly. — Jennie Steinberg, licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional clinical counselor in private practice in Los Angeles
Steven Hayes’ work with acceptance and commitment therapy and Carl Rogers’ emphasis on empathic presence in the counseling relationship have a great deal of influence in my therapeutic approach. I find that present-moment awareness (mindfulness) offers the most effective avenue for change, both in the counseling session and in a client’s daily life. With a positive therapeutic relationship underlined by empathic presence, the opportunity for impact is greater.
Also, philosopher Ken Wilber and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh have a great deal of influence on my therapeutic approach. Wilber’s integral psychology contributes ideas and establishes new paradigms that offer attention to mind-brain integration — an effective tool as more science is inserted into ancient wisdom surrounding the mind. On the other hand, the simplicity of Hanh’s mindfulness teachings create tools to help clients focus on the effects of their clinging to the past or longing for the future while missing the miracle of the present moment. — Linda Good, LPC and mental health service provider in Johnson City, Tennessee
C. Gilbert Wrenn and Carl Rogers were certainly my first serious reads as a professional, and I keep coming back to their writings on a regular basis. They humanized counseling and also the process of writing. I also like reading Jeffrey Kottler. He has excellent insights into human nature and who we are as counselors. Irvin Yalom’s novels are fantastic reads too, and
he provides stories that are sensitive and touch the fabric of what it is like to be human. Mark E. Young is one of my favorite authors (and people) too. His book on helping skills, Learning the Art of Helping: Building Blocks and Techniques, is rich in metaphors and excellent examples.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Creativity and Flow, is the professional outside of counseling who has influenced my work most. Csikszentmihalyi is an excellent researcher, clear writer, deep thinker and insightful contributor to the process of creativity, purposefulness and meaningfulness. I also continue to read H. Richard Niebuhr and Reinhold Niebuhr for their emphasis on ethics, moral responsibility and social justice. Finally, I love reading Ronald A. Berk’s wonderful and funny book on teaching, Professors Are From Mars, Students Are From Snickers. It is about injecting appropriate humor into the classroom as a way of teaching. — Samuel Gladding, professor of counseling at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and past president (2004-2005) of ACA
The composer Igor Stravinsky has influenced my work as a counselor — in particular, his only full opera, The Rake’s Progress (1951). Using a very literate libretto by Chester Kallman and W.H. Auden, this Faust story has all the ingredients true to life: finding meaning and purpose in life through activity that covers thinking, loving and doing.
The hero, Tom Rakewell, succumbs to the distorted belief that fate alone determines his outcome and that “good works are of no avail, for heaven predestines all.” It also features a transgender-like character, Baba the Turk, a bearded lady who falls in love with Tom but is jilted. The opera’s epilogue is a timeless multicultural and transcendent appeal to banish idle hearts, hands and minds so as to promote the overall good in individuals and in the world at large. — Peter A. Manzi, a national certified career counselor and master career counselor who lives in Rochester, New York, and is contributing faculty in the School of Counseling, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Walden University
Individuals who don’t work in the counseling field and who most heavily influence my approach as a counselor are my clients. It is truly remarkable to observe both how fragile and resilient human beings can be. It is also inspiring to hear how honest people can be when they are in an emotionally safe environment. By extending an invitation to treat the therapy office as a laboratory where we can dissect anything we’d like to, I have been fortunate enough to examine the fascinating mind, in awe of its beauty and complexity. Some of
my most pivotal growing experiences have taken place as the result of these humbling moments in session when I’m learning from the true experts. — Alyson Carr, LMHC, qualified supervisor and doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida in Tampa
Jane Myers (ACA president, 1990-1991) was first of all an advocate for anyone marginalized by those with power and sway over others. I was already aware of social injustices, but she helped me to find ways to act upon my convictions. As rehabilitation counselor educators, for example, we sought to infuse into the education of all counseling students their responsibilities as advocates for persons with disabilities.
Jane spearheaded the development of a curriculum and competencies for gerontological counseling, adopted by both the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and the National Board for Certified Counselors, respectively. These accomplishments, and the establishment of the Association for Adult Development and Aging as an ACA division, were overshadowed only by her career-long advocacy and research on wellness counseling, both in this country and abroad. A colleague described her as a brilliant mentor, prolific scholar, counselor and counselor educator. She was indeed that and more. — Thomas Sweeney, professor emeritus of counselor education at Ohio University, executive director emeritus of Chi Sigma Iota International and past president (1980-1981) of ACA
Within the counseling profession, my framework is shaped by Carl Rogers. His concepts align with my approach to elementary school counseling, and I use his theories every day. In my practice as an elementary school counselor, I tap into a Rogerian school of thought where I apply principles to students’ social and emotional development through the lens of a person-centered approach. It is so important to meet [children] where they are developmentally and empower them to apply tools to continue to grow in a healthy manner.
Carl Rogers advocates for what I consider the crux of my counseling practice: the notion of unconditional positive regard. Feeling worthy at school empowers children to take chances and know they are supported. Shaping young minds is a daunting task, but to me, the Rogerian approach is the best way to reach children and teach them they are valued and worthy of unconditional love.
Outside the realm of counseling, another Mr. Rogers is the inspiration for my daily practice: Fred Rogers. His approach to children and life in general is so inspiring, and I use it in my daily practice with elementary school children. His gentle nature and direct way of speaking to children like they are worthy beings is so important. His iconic television show (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) was such a staple for children and truly showed what it meant to be loved and treasured as a human being. I try to impart that same notion in my practice every day, where my office is safe space for children.
In a school environment, we are given the responsibility of spending five days a week shaping children into productive members of society. My role as an elementary school counselor is one that Mr. Fred Rogers filled every day, making sure that kids felt heard, understood and loved. — Rebecca M. Cordisco, an elementary school counselor in Hillsborough, New Jersey
I have been inspired by many people outside of the counseling profession, but one woman stands out: Helen Taussig. She was a famous pediatrician, surgeon, cardiologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I was doing a part-time counseling internship in the hospital. By chance I was chosen to have dinner at her home and, after dinner, we toured her greenhouse. She treated every growing plant differently. This one a little water. That one some plant food. Very deliberately she moved about, preening this one, pruning that. Then she turned and said, “People are like plants. … Give to each according to need,” and she humbly walked on. — Lee Richmond, professor of education at Loyola University in Baltimore and past president (1992-1993) of ACA
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes to mind for the value the pyramid lends psychotherapists as a tool to better understand the etiology of their clients’ circumstances. The pyramid and its concepts can be an effective mechanism to help clients see the importance of procuring and maintaining love and belonging, as well as conceptualizing the
benefits that can be gained while working toward self-actualization.
Maslow’s work underscores the importance of individuals awakening to the value of identifying peak experiences in their daily lives and encourages the pursuit of transcendence. How these two crucial elements unfurl assists the individual to experience a more authentic and meaningful life. Life is perceived through the meaning we apply to our experiences, which, therefore, assists in illuminating the true meaning of life. Life is in the details. — Vanessa L. Dahn, LPC, adjunct professor of sociology and psychology at Colorado State University-Pueblo, Pikes Peak Community College and Southern New Hampshire University, and executive director of Safe Landing Group Center, a facility for at-risk youth in Calhan, Colorado
Nearly 40 counselors provided input for this article. Read more responses from practitioners on who and what influences their work at our online exclusive here. Then add your voice to the conversation by telling us about your major influences in the comments section at the end of the article.
Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her
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