Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Counseling Connoisseur: Seeking connections to ourselves, others and the sacred

By Cheryl Fisher May 9, 2016

Bonjour! As I sit in this overstuffed chair, sipping my coffee and letting the buttery chocolate croissant melt on my tongue, I quietly observe the bustle of Friday morning in Montreal, where I am attending and presenting at the American Counseling Association’s 2016 annual conference.

I close my eyes and breathe in the café, attending to the local chatter. I am selfishly hoping that by breakfast with croissantssome form of osmosis, my French will vastly improve with the exposure. Although my acquisition of the language may not ensue, the people and culture of this charming and historically rich community endear themselves to me.

Earlier in the day, I embarked on a horse-drawn buggy in exploration of Old Montreal. With the clip-clop of Duke’s hooves against the centuries-old pavement, we passed the enchanting Notre-Dame Basilica, where people lit votive candles, knelt in prayer invoking assistance from the saints and experienced the incandescent light glimmering through the ancient stained glass. We clamored down Saint Laurent Boulevard to Rue Saint-Paul, eventually resting at the Port of Montreal. Passing shops, restaurants, patisseries and cafés, we were offered a majestic medley that tempted the tongue and tantalized the spirit — a banquet where the sensual and the sacred commune. It is precisely in this space of the human spirit that I like to reside personally … and clinically.

Let me introduce myself. I am a connoisseur of life. Not necessarily an expert (though I do freely voice my opinions), but more of a collector. I am a gatherer of moments and memories. I appreciate the complexity of the lived experience. With a researcher’s lens, I seek the wisdom found in everyday experiences and embrace the sacred in humanity.

I am a licensed clinical professional counselor — a keeper of stories that are often tales of pain and suffering. I am a pastoral counselor, trained in the integration of spirituality and psychology. I am a counselor educator, a mentor privileged to co-journey with neophyte helpers. I am a researcher and storyteller, conveying empirical wisdom found in everyday moments.

Every thoughtful thinker, compassionate counselor and intentional teacher becomes a messenger of a message that he or she forever embodies and proclaims. Isn’t that what TED Talks are all about? Thoughts worth spreading!

I believe I have discovered mine. Each component of the message resonates with me as a thinker, a counselor, an educator and, probably of most importance, a human being. My message, inspired by the tremendous contributions of others, is simple: Illuminate the shadow aspects of life while embracing humanity so that one can fully consummate life.


Illuminate the shadow

Carl Jung claimed that the less the shadow is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. Therefore, there is a healing and empowering element in recognizing and claiming one’s shadow side.

Silken Laumann, one of the keynote speakers at this year’s ACA Conference and a former world champion in single sculls women’s rowing, was preparing for the 1992 Olympics when a freak accident shredded the muscles and tendons of her right leg. Silken shared her story of perseverance as she beat all odds and not only performed in the Olympics just ten weeks following the accident, but won a bronze medal. She said her most courageous act, however, took place later in life, when she confronted her inner world fraught with depression and anxiety, residuals from her childhood experience of “chaos, unpredictability and abuse.”

“Asking for help takes courage … and it saved my life,” Silken said. She reminded us that to live authentically, we must learn self-compassion. We must learn to embrace our vulnerabilities as well as our strengths.


Embrace humanity

The human experience has been the topic of scientists, artists, theologians and philosophers. We have the unique ability to ponder our existence. Yet, we spend a vast amount of time thinking and less time being — being in our bodies, in particular.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book titled Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, suggested that when we put our energy into experiencing our body rather than judging it, then our view of it and ourselves can change drastically. How magnificent our bodies are in their glorious sensuality. We experience our surroundings by employing our finely honed sensory organs that allow us to immerse ourselves in the delights of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch.

Kabat-Zinn continued, “We usually tune out these sensations because they are so familiar. When you tune in to them, you are reclaiming your life in that very moment, and your body as well, making yourself more real and more alive. … Your experience is embodied.”

In addition, human beings are driven to find meaning in their circumstances. Research indicates that the ability to make sense of our situation is associated with overall wellness. This quest for meaning construction is born out of the sacred, the creative. Madeleine L’Engle, in her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, suggested that “we write, we make music, we draw pictures, because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing. And during the writing of the story or the painting or the composing or singing or playing, we are returned to that open creativity which was ours when we were children.”


Consummate your life

Friedrich Nietzsche cautioned avoidance of the “unlived life” when he instructed us to consummate one’s life and to die at the right time. Although not nearly as eloquent, Nike also captured this concept in the slogan “Just Do It!” Seize the day. Live fearlessly. Live in the moment.

We have only moments to live, one following the other seamlessly. Yet we can spend so much time reliving the past or inventing the future that we remain oblivious to the present moment that (in a flash) is gone.

Irvin Yalom, in Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death, suggested that “the way to value life, the way to feel compassion for others, the way to love anything with greatest depth, is to be aware that these experiences are destined to be lost.”

So, how do we help our clients peer into the hidden crevices of self while learning self-compassion and living life to its fullest? Join me here at CT Online as I examine snapshots from life and explore the existential angst, while also identifying the scientifically based clinical applications to address whatever malady may present. Each month, I will explore the sensual-sacred-science of daily life and offer clinical applications that may benefit not only the client but also (wait for it) … the counselor.

After all, we are people, not pathologies, seeking connection to ourselves, others and the sacred. See you next month! Au revoir!




Cheryl Fisher

Cheryl Fisher

Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland. She is visiting full-time faculty at Loyola University Maryland in the Pastoral Counseling Department. Her current research examines sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer. She is currently working on a book titled Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically Based Organic Practices, of which this article is an excerpt. Contact her at


The loss of a meaningful relationship

By Kristin Schofield May 4, 2016

As counselors, we are trained to focus on our clients’ needs and assist them through the therapeutic process. This focus on client needs is highlighted in the termination process. Counselors are trained to help clients prepare for termination from the beginning of therapy, to support clients through the termination of therapy and to ensure that termination is not unnecessarily delayed because of the counselor’s own needs or desires.

However, termination can be a deeply moving phase of therapy not just for clients, but also for clinicians. Viewed through the lens of attachment, counselors might expect to experience feelings of sadness and loss intermingled with feelings of hope and accomplishment during the termination phase. Because of the focus on client needs, the poignancy of this phase for clinicians appears often to be ignored, perhaps diminishing the process for both the clinician and the client.

Navigating the termination phase with all of my clients as I completed my internship brought up deep emotions for me that needed to be processed. I personally sought out information from others and Depositphotos_38192737_m-2015guidance from the literature but, surprisingly, there is little research addressing the loss the therapist feels during the counseling termination process.

One of the more encouraging sources I found was an older article in which the author said the counseling relationship could be viewed as an attachment bond and that termination could activate the attachment system (see “Caregiving in attachment relationships: A perspective for counselors” in the Fall 1999 issue of the Journal of Counseling & Development). This affirmed and normalized my feelings around the loss of the relationships I was experiencing. Although the article was helpful in supplying a theoretical framework for the experience, it provided little guidance to me as a novice counselor on how to navigate and perhaps utilize my own experience in the termination phase. Most of the other available research simply describes clients’ feelings of grief and loss during the termination process and is silent on the counselor’s feelings.

Fortunately, relationship loss and transition are not unique to the clinical experience. The field of anthropology provides rich information on how cultures use (and have used) rituals and ceremonies to denote transitions and commemorate transformation. Rituals and ceremonies can restore dignity, acknowledge a relationship or significant event, provide a new status, assist in integrating changes into a personal framework, mark development and reduce isolation.

Looking within the field of anthropology, I came across “definitional ceremonies,” a term coined by anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff. These ceremonies are a tool counselors can use to address both the therapist and the client in the counseling termination process.

In a 2012 article (“A narrative approach to terminating therapy”) in the Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory & Research, Stephen A. Lenz, Manual X. Zamarripa and Stephanie Fuentes described five stages of a definitional ceremony: initiation, preparation, participation, emancipation and commemoration.

The initiation stage, or first stage, is one in which the client and therapist discuss the definitional ceremony. This can be discussed in the first or second therapy session with the client.

The preparation stage involves the therapist and the client discussing the ceremony agenda, who will be invited to serve as an insider witness and what artifacts will be used. According to the authors, insider witnesses are significant people in the client’s life who have known the client while he or she has been in therapy. Artifacts are items that represent or commemorate the client’s therapeutic transformation.

The participation stage is when the client tells his or her transformation story that could include changes, themes or future wishes. The insider witnesses listen to the story, ask questions and provide input on the story. The client and the witnesses collaborate in creating a consensual transformation story. The counselor’s role in the ceremony is to present the artifacts, assist in the meaning-making of the ceremony and create a safe atmosphere for the client and witnesses.

In the emancipation stage, the counselor reiterates the images, themes and significance of the client’s transformation. According to Lenz and his co-authors, the counselor may also ask to retell the client’s story in the future with someone who is having a similar journey.

Commemoration is the final stage of the definitional ceremony. The client is presented with a certificate that contains his or her name, completion of therapy date, the transformation theme and an applicable quote. The counselor, client and witnesses can then celebrate, potentially using cake, music, balloons or other symbols of celebration.

As Lenz and his co-authors describe, the counselor writes a letter to the client after the ceremony is completed. The letter contains a summary of the ceremony, what aspects of the ceremony resonated with the counselor, the client’s strengths and the counselor’s hopes for the client’s future. This letter provides the therapist with a way of expressing how the client has transformed. It may assist in closure for the therapist and aid the therapist in processing the change in the attachment relationship, while keeping the client the focus of therapy.

The definitional ceremony can provide both the client and the counselor with closure in the termination process. It may also utilize the counselor’s experience in the termination process to further the client’s therapeutic process.

Depending on the client’s needs, I might utilize all stages of the ceremony or only one or two stages. Some of the stages could be adapted based on location or monetary limitations. For example, a small counseling office could limit the number of insider witnesses, or the symbols of celebration could be omitted.

Termination is an integral phase of therapy for both the client and the clinician. The attachment bond can provide another framework for the meaningful relationship between the counselor and client. The definitional ceremony addresses the therapeutic attachment bond. The five stages of the definitional ceremony can assist the client and clinician in processing the significance of the relationship, highlighting the client’s transformation and providing closure.




Kristin Schofield, a member of the American Counseling Association, is working toward counselor licensure and eye movement desensitization reprocessing certification. She works with women dealing with trauma. Contact her at