Monthly Archives: June 2017

‘Cultured’ counseling

By Laurie Meyers June 22, 2017

Pop culture has long exerted an influence on our lives, but some might argue that this overlap has unofficially reached its peak. After all, in November, a former reality TV star was elected president of the United States. And, of course, it is now possible for us to play computer games, listen to music, watch movies and stream live TV on a single device that is rarely out of arm’s reach for many of us. Some decry this confluence, stating that (among other things) people have become addicted to the internet and their smartphones and that video games glorify and encourage violence.

But rather than view pop culture as the ruination of society, some counselors say that elements of popular entertainment can actually be used strategically to enhance client-counselor communication and the therapeutic relationship. These counselors — many of whom are enthusiastic consumers of “geek” culture themselves — are turning comic books, TV shows, movies and video games into vital therapeutic tools.

For Steve Kuniak, a licensed professional counselor and private practitioner in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, the idea of using elements of pop culture in practice formed early, inspired by the words of a professor in his introduction to counseling class. “He said that counseling is one of the few — if only — professions where the professional uses themselves as the tool, and so we as professionals should bring everything we are into our counseling in order for it to be most effective,” Kuniak recalls. “That resonated with me, and what I am at my core is a gamer/geek.”

Not very long ago, the term geek had negative connotations and was used to belittle those who were viewed as being “different” in some way — often because they were out of step with popular culture. But now many of the interests formerly associated with geeks are routinely celebrated in mainstream culture, making it hard to define what today’s “geek culture” embodies. Kuniak says that, broadly, geek culture includes a love of video games, comic books, other types of games (tabletop games, board games, collectible card games) and the science fiction and fantasy genres.

For Kuniak, however, what truly qualifies someone as a geek (in the most positive sense) is the enthusiastic degree of interest that he or she shows in something. “It’s not just enough that I watch Star Wars,” he explains, “but rather that I need to know all of the characters’ back stories, I need to understand the philosophy of the Jedi … While I’m at it, maybe I should know how to build a lightsaber.”

Kuniak believes that being a self-described geek enhances his practice. “It helps me to create meaning with my clients,” he says. “If I’m talking to someone about the difficulties of their addiction, they might understand what I’m saying generally, but if I start talking about the ‘One Ring’ from Lord of the Rings and how Gollum ‘hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself,’ my client might get that imagery more and relate to it better. I can talk about feeling like no one can possibly understand me, and [how] I try to help people, but in my fear of doing something wrong, I end up hurting them, and the client might relate. However, I can relate this to the story of Darth Vader in Star Wars, and now the imagery is more solid.”

Kuniak likes to use clips from The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars as conversation starters in his group sessions, particularly with clients who are struggling against substance abuse issues. “The idea of the journey to destroy the evil Ring, and to have the Ring itself attempt to pull people back into darkness, resonates with this population,” he says.

Another film Kuniak likes to use is The Avengers, which he finds particularly useful in family therapy. “As we see in the film, the Avengers all have unique superpowers and don’t get along because they all want to be the individual hero of the story. Once they put their differences aside, they are more able to stop the bad guys and save Earth. Similarly, I’ll have each family member design their own superhero, [and] we talk about real strengths and weaknesses they’re experiencing. Then we go through The Avengers story, with clips if needed … and we work out how all of their powers work together. We explore how those powers and their weaknesses relate to their real strengths and struggles in the home, and how they can work together like the Avengers to build a stronger family.”

Playing in the virtual sandbox

Kuniak also frequently uses video games such as Minecraft in session as a kind of “virtual sandbox” for play therapy. “I find that video games have such a universal appeal right now that my client population tends to have at least some familiarity with them, and many are full blown gamers” (individuals who regularly plays interactive games). “This isn’t any specific age group either, which is what’s nice. I have clients from 4 to 40 and beyond who make gaming a part of their regular routine.”

“I’ve helped my clients build characters and improve goal setting by making smaller goal steps like they find in their games,” Kuniak continues. “I’ve also used some games that require voice input to help illustrate the point that when you don’t say things well — like when you’re inconsiderate to your parents — you don’t get what you want.”

Gaming proved particularly instrumental in helping one of Kuniak’s clients, a young boy with autism, move forward with therapy. At first, Kuniak says, the boy “was very resistant, and we struggled at getting any headway in his sessions.” Kuniak talked with the boy’s mother, and together they worked out a plan.

Kuniak learned that the boy was particularly a fan of the video game Halo, which requires players to build virtual worlds. Kuniak asked the boy to bring his Xbox video game system to sessions, and they began creating virtual worlds together.

“He was able to begin to talk to me [while engaged in the process],” Kuniak recounts. “Through helping him design a stage in the game, he began to trust me more, and we worked together. He very quickly began talking to me about the game and what he liked about it. He was able to identify that he didn’t like Halo [and other video games] because he got to shoot people or because he liked violence. Rather, he felt like he didn’t fit in at school, and characters like Master Chief in Halo made him feel like he was doing something good by saving the galaxy.

“When we eventually finished our treatment experience, he was able to use his … world at home. I heard back from his mom a few years later that he’d still go into that world and play around when he was having a hard time with things. She seemed to think, and I’m hopeful, that he was using it to remember all the sessions we worked through and the progress we made.”

Graphic examples

Lauren Calhoun, a doctoral student in counselor education and supervision at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and a crisis counselor at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois’ Project Impact and Welcoming Center, thinks comic books can be a powerful tool in therapy.

“Graphic novels [and] comic books … resonate with us [because] they give examples of what we can be,” she says. “While we may never wear costumes and have superpowers, we can see how these heroes overcome obstacles, much like [we do]. They show that one has a choice on how to respond. They also deal with real issues like grief and loss, trauma, injury and belonging. Comic books also give us an escape, but it can be meaningful and aid us in learning about ourselves.”

Calhoun, a member of the American Counseling Association, recently used a graphic novel featuring Batman to explore issues of grief and loss, belonging and feeling “different” with a group of clients who were struggling with serious mental illnesses. She made copies of some of the novel’s chapters and brought them to the group, asking members to either journal about their responses to the chapters or to add their own comic book page.

Group participants were also asked to consider the actions of the characters and to talk about how they might respond in a similar situation. About four weeks into group therapy, participants began creating their own comic books, making themselves heroes or villains and identifying an antagonist. Calhoun says that just envisioning themselves as heroes was extremely helpful, whereas others portrayed their presenting problems as villains that they could then vanquish.

ACA member Emily Dennis thinks that characters such as Batman might prove especially appealing in areas such as college counseling. When she was working with students at the Counseling and Human Development Center at Kent State University, Dennis and a colleague tossed around the idea of creating a group counseling experience based on the iconic superhero.

“We discussed it being focused on increasing social skills and ‘coming out of your bat cave,’” Dennis says. “We even brainstormed a curriculum based on various behavioral levels for group members to advance toward earning a cape. Unfortunately, it never progressed further than our imaginations. … However, I think there’s potential in using characters that clients can connect to as examples in counseling. Batman is one of those characters. There are many interpretations of Batman’s mythology, but in the most basic sense, his is a story of resiliency and the duality of public and private personas, which can be important themes in counseling.”

Batman isn’t the only hero who has inspired Dennis. “Another example of a popular culture character whose story can be meaningful to clients is Harry Potter,” says Dennis, who also worked as a doctoral intern and clinical resident at Child Guidance and Family Solutions in Akron, Ohio. “A few years ago, I had an insightful teenage client who was reading the Harry Potter series during the course of our work together. Luckily, I had read the books previously, and our sessions adopted a sort of unexpected bibliotherapeutic approach. As she progressed in the seven-book series, we processed the themes of love, loss and believing in yourself, and she identified parallels in herself [and] Harry Potter. Despite the magical or supernatural aspects of these stories and characters, the essence of these examples is very human and relatable. It’s why I believe they may be of value in counseling.”

Screen savers

Dennis and Calhoun are also proponents of using television shows and movies as adjuncts to traditional counseling approaches. With one of her groups and in some individual therapy, Calhoun has used Star Wars and the TV show Doctor Who to explore issues of right and wrong and feelings of loneliness and loss.

“I would show an episode or section of the movie, then ask questions for them to journal about and share if they wanted to,” she says. In addition to using favorite characters from TV shows and movies to address major themes in counseling, this approach can provide clients with a safe avenue to talk about challenging issues in their life, she adds.

Dennis has found that TV shows can also make excellent teaching tools in the classroom. Currently a temporary faculty member in the counseling department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Dennis recently taught a course on counseling and consulting within systems.

“When I was designing the class, I thought about showing a film that demonstrated some of the complicated dynamics that occur within systems, as well as giving my students a chance to practice creating genograms with the fictional family,” Dennis says. “I remembered that when I was a master’s student, we watched Ordinary People, which is a family therapy classic, but I wanted to push it further and match what I showed them with each of the systems theories we were learning from week to week. Sitcoms provided excellent examples of many of the systems theory concepts I was teaching. I liked that sitcoms were available through the various streaming subscriptions I had, they were 22 minutes or less and not nearly as heavy as some of the content featured in full-length feature films.”

Dennis used shows such as Black-ish, The Goldbergs, Roseanne and Everybody Loves Raymond to explore systems therapy concepts such as differentiation, triangulation and transgenerational patterns. “I created conceptualization worksheets for the students to work on in groups after we watched the episodes,” says Dennis, a doctoral candidate in counselor education and supervision. “My students reported enjoying the viewing and conceptualization activities. I think it encouraged them to think systemically, and we laughed as a class.”

Dennis cautions, however, that not all elements of pop culture can be considered therapeutic. Her school counseling students have been discussing the Netflix TV series 13 Reasons Why, which has become a ubiquitous presence in the lives and conversations of teenagers across the U.S. The show revolves around the suicide of a high school girl. Although Dennis has yet to see the show, she notes that suicide prevention experts are concerned that it might encourage copycat behavior and promotes the idea of suicide as a solution to problems and a weapon for revenge.

“I think it is important to be aware of what our clients and students are viewing or reading and the popular culture characters they idolize, celebrate or fear, especially with younger clients, who have a harder time differentiating reality from fiction,” Dennis says. “I’ve encouraged my students to research some of the popular culture references that their young clients talk about in counseling sessions. Most of the characters, shows and movies are benign, but fear and fascination provoked from characters like those in the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s or the internet meme of Slenderman are worrisome and worthy of addressing in counseling.”

The positive power of pop culture

As a whole, however, the professional counselors interviewed for this article view pop culture as a largely positive influence. Kuniak believes it even has therapeutic value for society at large.

“With all the exposure to heroic belief systems, there may be some transference of resilient ways of thinking and behaving. Because we expose ourselves to so many self-sacrificing individuals in fantasy, we can’t help but learn a little about being good people,” he explains. “Additionally, our individual areas of fandom provide us joy. There’s nothing like that. Just being able to sit down and indulge in something that provides such positive vibes can be great therapy all in itself. After that, we [counselors] need to help people use it all responsibly and take the next steps with it.”

Licensed professional counselor Josué Cardona is a proponent of “geek therapy” and a big believer in the power of pop culture. His website, Geek Therapy (geektherapy.com), started as a place to gather articles about geek culture being used in positive ways, and it now hosts six different podcasts that explore connections between pop culture, mental health and psychology.

“I see geek and pop culture as a celebration,” says Cardona, a former private practitioner in North Carolina who is currently working as a personal and professional coach in New York City. “There is a lot of positivity in communities that rally around their love of something. At a time of such polarized politics, with people itching to fight and so much negativity online, fandom and fan culture is still all about celebrating something. The reason why I enjoy comic and pop culture conventions is because everyone there is celebrating something. There is nothing but positive energy, mostly. So especially today, when so many things seem negative, imagine how beneficial it is to be a part of a group that is celebrating something, anything.

“These groups also help us feel less isolated, and thanks to social media and online communities, we can find people who like something we do, even if the people closest to us do not. In general, this … is beneficial in that it allows for social interaction and healthy relationships.”

Kuniak thinks that all counselors can — and probably should — learn how to use pop culture as a tool in their work with clients. “Most folks are acquainted in some way with the material we’re talking about … and are gaining some of the benefits of exploring geek culture — like the transference of heroic belief systems — without even knowing it,” he says. “The trick is that, at times, we need someone to guide us through that transference process, which is why I think that counselors need to be better acquainted with the medium. The culture is already laying the groundwork. If we speak the language, there’s a potential goldmine for linking in with our clients, building rapport, having a common language and helping them to make change.”

Cardona is planning to publish a “geek therapy playbook” in which he recommends several ways for counselors to integrate pop culture into their sessions. One common-sense approach is simply embracing what clients like and trying to see the world through their interests, he says. Counselors can do this by asking clients about fictional characters that they relate to or even just asking them about their current passions.

“The best insights here come from clients relating to characters and stories, seeing themselves in them and opening up about how they feel,” Cardona says. “It is often easier for a client to explain how they feel or how they see themselves by giving an example, real or fictional.”

Counselors can also use their own passions as a means of helping to explain or demonstrate a concept, Cardona says. “Think using a sports metaphor, [or] using Spider-Man to explain anxiety, or comparing a gaming mechanism to a real-life situation,” he says. “Here, although the client may not be a fan, the excitement and knowledge of the therapist can be more clearly understood and more engaging.”

When counselors use pop culture references in session, they may find that clients enjoy some of the same things, which can create a kind of shared language between them, Cardona says. For instance, when Cardona referenced Spider-Man in a session with a client, it inspired the client to talk about his own love of the X-Men — a passion that Cardona just so happens to share.

“The client was struggling with anxiety, and he said he liked comic books, so I used Spider-Man to explain anxiety,” Cardona shares. “Spider-Man is my go-to for anxiety and comic book characters because his spider-sense is a warning system, much like anxiety, and Spider-Man is one of the most popular comic book characters. I was surprised when [the client] told me he didn’t really know much about Spider-Man, but he loved the X-Men, so I asked him if there were any X-Men characters he really liked and why. He then used his own examples of X-Men characters and events that he thought represented what I was trying to explain about anxiety with Spider-Man. He continued to do this until he found a character — I believe it was Professor Xavier — whom he felt had been through a similar experience as what he was going through.”

Once Cardona was able to tap into that interest, the client went from barely speaking to becoming fully engaged in the sessions. “We shifted to discussing his symptoms in the context of the X-Men and made progress very quickly,” he says.

For counselors wishing to dive deeper into the world of comics, Calhoun recommends the website Comicspedia (comicspedia.net). “It lists several different books by topic or character as well as some ideas of how to incorporate comics into therapy,” she explains. She also suggests querying local comic book store employees if a counselor is searching for a fitting character or comics series to use with a particular client. “I have asked my local shops for suggestions, and most have been helpful,” she says.

Some counselors may like to have clients try creating their own comic books as a therapeutic tool. Helpful apps are available for creating comic books on a computer, but Calhoun says these tend to work best with individuals. In groups, she finds it easier to provide participants with blank comic strips on which to create their stories.

Says Cardona, “I see geek therapy as a mindset, and if I had to simplify it, I would say: Care about what your clients care about. We don’t have to care about gaming, for example, but it is beneficial to the therapeutic relationship that it matters to us that it matters to our clients. This enhances the counseling process in many ways: Counseling is more fun, it helps with rapport, and it can lead to insights more quickly.

“The insights are for everyone involved because I believe that the best way to understand someone is through the things that they love. So when a client talks to you about their favorite things, the things they enjoy doing, the reasons for that can include very telling insights about having related with characters or experiences in those stories.”

 

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Additional resources

Read more about how counselors are using pop culture in their work with clients:

 

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Laurie Meyers is the senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at lmeyers@counseling.org.

Letters to the editorct@counseling.org

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Working with Latina/os in counseling

By Jacqueline Michelle Barthelemy June 20, 2017

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2015, Latina/os made up approximately 56.5 million of the total U.S. population, making them the largest ethnic or racial minority in the country. The Latina/o population is projected to grow to 120 million by the year 2060.

The question on many counselors’ minds is, how can we work better with our Latina/o clients? With the growing number of Latina/os in the U.S., it is likely we will work with these clients at some point as counselors, and it is our professional obligation to be prepared.

Working with clients in general can be a new learning experience, especially if their cultural background is different from our own. Many master’s programs require counseling students to take a multicultural course to prepare to work with clients of different backgrounds. But textbooks can provide only so much general knowledge. How are counselors supposed to learn how to work with different cultures if they are reduced to a mere chapter in a textbook for a one-semester course?

As someone whose background is Latina, my upbringing has prepared me to better serve people who share my cultural background. Nevertheless, my experiences have made me aware of further areas of growth in serving my clients (for instance, my lack of Spanish fluency is a hindrance).

In my current position, I work with clients and their families to get them more comfortable with the idea of counseling. It is sometimes difficult when working with Latina/o clients because there are so many challenges that bring them to counseling, or there is the stigma of counseling that turns them off to it altogether. If it is their first time going to counseling, their first impression of you, as the counselor, may color all future experiences with the counselors they may see. It is our duty to make clients feel comfortable and let them know that their concerns and goals are a part of the counseling process. Ultimately, clients set the tone for counseling.

 

Traditional Latina/o upbringings

In the Latina/o culture, family comes first (after God); the first relationship you have is the one with your family. Traditional Latina/o families are brought up being very close to their immediate and even extended family members, where everyone cares about everyone. Elders are highly regarded, and children, regardless of age, respect their parents.

Most families live in multigenerational households that include parents, siblings and grandparents. Sometimes extended family members may also reside in the home at one point or another. So when working with these clients, it is best to remember that family plays a vital role in their everyday lives.

When working with the whole family, it may appear that the family is unresponsive to the counseling process. Counselors should be as patient as possible, however, because family members may be waiting for their head of household (typically the male) to start and lead the conversation. The key is to treat and work with the family as a unit because that is how they might live their life traditionally. Family support is everything to Latina/os.

The Latina/o culture has many rich traditions that are passed down generationally. An example is the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, celebrated Nov. 1-2), during which families gather to pay respect for their loved ones. Often they build altars in their homes or at graves, where they place flowers, pan de muerto (bread of the dead, which is sweetened bread eaten the day of or the week leading up to the holiday as a sign of respect to the departed), pictures and the favorite food of their loved ones. Some say small prayers or retell stories of their dearly departed.

Knowing about this while counseling a family can be very beneficial, especially for those who are grieving. Understanding some of their traditions can help to build trust, connect with these clients and strengthen the counseling relationships. If you are counseling a Latina/o family or client who is grieving, talking about or suggesting the altar can help with the process. However, be sure to remember the origins of the family or client you are working with because different cultures in the Latina/o diaspora maintain different traditions.

Most Latina/os’ identities are strongly rooted in being members of specific groups. For example, if the client you are working with is from Guanajuato, Mexico, she or he will most likely take pride in being from that particular state in Mexico. As counselors, we should always ask clients where they are from to get a better understanding of who they are as individuals. Counselors should also be aware that having this sense of pride can cause conflicts in characterization of identity with other members of Latina/o groups.

Faith in one’s religion also plays a very important role in the lives of Latina/o clients. Religion can set the tone for the family as a whole — the tone being that God comes first, the family trusts in Him, they live their lives according to the Scriptures, and they are good and honest people. Many Latina/o clients have makeshift altars with religious artifacts in their homes where they pray the rosary daily (a rosary is a string of beads; some say a prayer per bead as a way to be closer to God or a saint). When counseling these clients, it is best to remember how important their faith is and how much of an impact it has on their lives and the decisions they make daily.

 

Stigmas of counseling in the Latina/o community

I grew up with the best of both worlds — a mixture of traditions blended with new possibilities. Sometimes those ideas conflicted with one another, however.

My grandparents stressed that if I had issues or problems, that I should share them only with my family and no one else. Our reputation and how the world perceived us was important. To share something too personal with strangers or people outside of the family could change people’s views of me, potentially leading to getting overlooked and judged. On the other hand, my mother told me that people would judge me regardless of what I shared, so I might as well be my most authentic self.

I had an amazing support system in my mother and grandparents. They listened to me and allowed me to feel what I felt, regardless of the situation. My family kept me grounded and later led me to my career path as a counselor. I realized that not everyone was as fortunate as I was to have this incredible family support team to believe in them unconditionally.

When I told my mother about my decision to become a counselor, she was supportive and understood what a counselor was. However, my grandparents had a hard time understanding my decision to go back for more schooling. The first thing they asked was, “¿Qué es un consejera?” (What’s a counselor?). I spent an hour trying to explain, but all they understood was that I was going back to school, so I was probably doing something with teaching (because my bachelor’s was in education).

My grandparents believed in getting an education, but they were confused about why I would want to go back to school again. Had I not done enough the first time around? Why was I delaying working full time? My grandparents, like many traditional Latina/os, did not fully understand what counseling was or why someone would utilize the service. They wondered why you would need to tell your problems to someone else when you have family or could pray about your problems.

I knew that as a counselor, I could be a part of a support system for others and help them reach their goals. When working with Latina/o clients, it is helpful to explain that our job as counselors is to be that support system for them, much like their own families. It is best to emphasize that you want to be able to assist them, offer resources and be another source for them to use in achieving their goals.

In the Latina/o culture, counseling is stigmatized. Many families are brought up not to “gossip” or talk about personal or family problems with strangers. Aside from that, most families do not have a clear understanding of what counseling is. Families stress not talking to others about their issues because they know that people can gossip. For some of these families and clients, their reputations are all that they have, and if they are talked about badly, they take it to heart.

It is our job as counselors to educate others about what counseling is and how the counseling process works. It is best to emphasize confidentiality and the rules that are in place to protect clients, as well as the only times when confidentiality needs to be broken. Having Latina/o clients understand the counseling process and what it entails can make all the difference in building good rapport.

The risk is high for any individual who is an undocumented immigrant. The resources available to these individuals are limited, and they have fewer opportunities to vocalize their needs for fear of being reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Clients and potential clients who are Latina/o may be tight-lipped because they do not fully understand where information shared during counseling could end up. Again, I recommend carefully explaining what counseling and confidentiality are.

If the client or family members are working, their work environments may be less than ideal. They may be underpaid or get paid under the table (paid in cash only), and their superiors may subject them to harsh work conditions (for instance, overworking them). Latina/os who are undocumented immigrants live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether today is the day they are going to be deported. Because of this uncertainty, they sometimes do not feel comfortable sharing any personal information with people who are not family. These clients need to know that they can trust the counselor. Counselors need to reassure clients that their offices are safe spaces and what they share will remain confidential.

Some Latina/os choose not to share with family that they are seeking mental health counseling for fear of being judged negatively. When encountering clients who have no family support, it is best to address those concerns and explore other people (both outside and inside the family) they can count on for support.

As a school counselor, I have worked with Latina/o students, and to do so, one of the parents must give consent. The majority of the permission slips come back from the mothers, not the fathers. Typically, it is the mother who is more open to her child receiving counseling services, often on the condition that the father remains in the dark about the services the child receives. One time, I had to stop seeing a student when the father found out the student was receiving counseling services. The father came to the school livid. He gave his verbal and written consent to stop counseling services, and I had to oblige. It was a difficult situation because the student benefited from counseling, and I tried to get the father to see that. Ultimately, however, I had to honor the wishes of the parents and stop counseling services.

Another stigma of counseling with Latina/os is labeling in the educational setting. Many families worry about labels and how they can potentially negatively affect their child. Sometimes these labels can even lead parents to believe something is wrong with the child.

As counselors, it is our job to destigmatize labels and show that labeling is not always negative. When students are struggling academically in school, teachers, school counselors and other staff work together to figure out what is preventing them from succeeding academically. All the necessary avenues are taken (e.g., teacher works on modifying classwork and contacts parents for extra support) before determining a student needs an evaluation to determine if he or she has a learning disability.

When students need Individual Education Programs (IEPs), families are sometimes hesitant to support such plans. They worry what it might potentially mean for their child regarding being labeled. But in these cases, labels can help students receive the necessary services to achieve their academic goals. Remind parents that they are encouraged to be as involved as possible in the IEP process, the process can take a long time to complete (sometimes as long as six months) and that counselors can serve as advocates to assist them with the process.

 

Multigenerational conflicts

Even with what is taught in multicultural classes, not every family adheres to what you assume about Latina/os. As the years progress, younger generational Latina/os are abandoning some traditional norms. They are coming to be their own person and wanting to incorporate new traditions with the ones already established within the family.

An example of this is young Latinas not conforming to the expected gender norms of their culture. Most young Latinas who are raised in traditional families grow up learning that a wife’s place is in the home and taking care of the family, whereas a husband’s role is to provide for that family. Some Latinas are shattering these gender norms and wanting more for their life, such as going to college and putting off marriage and children. This can cause tension within the family unit.

For example, my mother broke barriers in her own family. When she was growing up, it was basically expected that she would be a good person and a future wife. My mother put off marriage and having a child and dedicated her time to figuring out her future. Her parents were not as supportive as she would have liked, and she left home (something that was not expected of young single Latinas).

My mother decided she wanted to go into the medical field, but she did not have her father’s support. Her mother would check on her and take her to night classes without her father knowing. The sneaking around her mother did went on for the duration of the time my mother was in school. It was because of the barriers my mother broke that I have been afforded the life I have now.

As a counselor, you might work with these clients and their families to try to get them to see eye to eye on what traditions they want to continue to uphold. The goals for counseling would be to hopefully reach a healthy and happy balance where everyone in the family is understanding of the others’ opinions.

 

Language barriers

Many Latina/os want and need counseling services, but the language barrier sometimes prevents them from receiving these services. Bilingual counselors are in high demand to reach these families. If counselors can speak Spanish, the family or client may feel more comfortable speaking with them, helping to build good rapport. If you are not fluent in Spanish, there are steps you can take to bridge this language gap, including using digital apps or going to someone who can help you learn the language.

I am not fluent in Spanish, but I have some conversational ability, and this has been a tremendous asset in reaching out and talking with Latina/o clients. If Spanish is your clients’ first language, they may feel more comfortable speaking in their native tongue and may talk more freely about their concerns or what brought them to counseling.

On another note, just because someone speaks a language doesn’t mean they read it well, so be sensitive to literacy levels in a language. Also, just because clients look like they Spanish might be their first language, don’t assume that it is. For example, some Latina/os such as Brazilians speak Portuguese.

 

Breaking down the stigmatization of counseling

How do we get Latina/o clients in our doors if they are hesitant to speak with someone outside of their families? The proactive actions counselors can engage in to break down these barriers include getting familiar with and volunteering in the community. Start small and get acquainted with the community you are targeting. What kind of resources and services does the community offer? Talk and research with other individuals to see how you can have a presence.

While working, see what potential clients are seeking help with (child care, employment, etc.) and figure out where the clients can go to receive those services. Often information is available to help people, but they do not know where to look for it. Knowing where and in what direction to point a client can make all the difference.

Normalize counseling and curtail the stigma; counseling does not equate to being “crazy.” People utilize counseling services for various reasons. Try and provide real-world examples of people taking care of themselves. For instance, you might say, “If you go to see a doctor for a checkup, why wouldn’t you see a counselor for a mental health checkup?” Let potential clients know it is normal to feel overwhelmed. After all, they are only human.

Educate potential clients about the counseling profession. Tell them that your job is not to judge but to listen and work with them to alleviate their stress. Explain that you are there to help them; they decide the counseling process and the direction of counseling. Self-disclose (within reason) about some of your own related experiences with the Latina/o client. Let them know they are not alone in their struggle. Inform them that it is normal to feel stressed and that talking about those stressors can be therapeutic.

Seek others in the community who are working with the Latina/o population, such as doctors, priests and schools. Explain who you are and what you are trying to achieve. Contact local public and private schools to ask about volunteering and working with the school’s counselors to help develop a counseling curriculum. Again, after being seen, you will become a trusted face in the eyes of potential clients. Underfunded schools in particular may not even have a school counselor on staff and would likely welcome the extra support for their students.

Finally, when trying to reach potential clients, think about the community you are working in. Is it in a low socioeconomic area? Is there an issue with trying to afford mental health services? Lack of financial income and insurance are among the reasons that some Latina/os do not seek mental health services. Think about offering pro bono counseling to make quality counseling available to all, regardless of insurance or income.

These clients may be working multiple jobs and face time constraints with raising a family. If they are without a vehicle, transportation to see a counselor may pose an obstacle as well. Counselors might think about being able to point these clients toward quality child care or offering bus passes to help with transportation to and from sessions.

 

Conclusion

Whatever brings Latina/os to counseling, it is important that we do our best to help in whatever way we can. Their first interaction with a counselor may lead them to form an assumption about all counselors moving forward. With the increase in population of Latina/os in the U.S., counselors have to be prepared to better serve these clients and break the stigma of counseling. Counselors must remember to be nonjudgmental and take an active interest in what their clients tell them about their backgrounds. Figure out how to work with others, and see how you can be a positive force in the community you are servicing.

Doing research about the client’s background can help strengthen the rapport between you and show the client that you are taking an interest in what she or he tells you. To work with this community, it would be best to take Spanish-language classes and read as much as you can about the Latina/o culture. Books and classes can certainly help, but the best way to truly serve these families and clients is through community engagement and becoming familiar with their cultural practices.

 

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Jacqueline Michelle Barthelemy is a fourth-year school counselor. She received her master’s in counseling from Saint Xavier University and is currently a doctoral student in the counselor education and supervision program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Contact her at jacqueline.m.barthelemy@gmail.com.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Counselors asked to advocate against FY2018 federal program cuts

By Bethany Bray June 13, 2017

The American Counseling Association will be keeping a sharp eye on federal budget proceedings through the next few months, as several programs critical to the work of counselors and school counselors are on the chopping block.

Counselors can – and should – make their voices heard throughout the process by advocating to their congressmen and congresswomen, reminding them of the critical work that counselors do, Art Terrazas, ACA’s director of government affairs, said during a recent ACA webinar on the federal government’s fiscal year 2018 budget.

The May 25 webinar gave an overview of the cuts pertinent to professional counselors in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for FY2018. The proposed budget seeks to offset an additional $57 billion in military spending with cuts to domestic and federal programs, the majority of which are in the U.S. Departments of State, Education and Health and Human Services.

Of particular concern to the counseling profession is the proposed decimation of the Student Support Academic Enrichments (SSAE) grants program, which is the only federally funded program that directly supports school counselors. The president’s proposed budget would eliminate all funding for the program, a bipartisan-supported initiative that was previously authorized for $1.65 billion over the next four years.

As envisioned by Trump , the budget would also eliminate funding for the federal Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the public service student loan forgiveness program, as well as reduce funding for Medicaid – all of which would affect professional counselors.

While Trump’s proposed budget is “pretty grave” for professional counselors, it’s also just a wish list that outlines the president’s priorities, said Chris Andresen, a public policy strategist who spoke at the webinar with his colleague Jayne Fitzgerald. Andresen and Fitzgerald are both senior vice presidents at Grayling, a public affairs firm ACA has partnered with for a number of years.

Ultimately, Congress must draft the actual FY2018 budget, explained Fitzgerald. This process will play out over the summer, as a budget is crafted and vetted via congressional committee hearings. A budget resolution will need to be passed by September 30 to keep the federal government funded and operating.

“We’re just going to have to see how all of this plays out. Right now, we don’t know,” Andresen said during the webinar. “With the changes that are being proposed there are going to be less tools in the toolbox for [counselor] practitioners such as yourselves and your clients in access to services. That gives us a lot of concern.”

The next few months will be a compressed, fraught process as Congress not only debates the budget but healthcare as well (a possible replacement for the Affordable Care Act), said Fitzgerald. At the time of the webinar, there were 43 legislative days left on the calendar.

“We’re on a ticking clock. September 30 will come quickly,” said Andresen.

 

 

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View the full webinar here: youtu.be/hz-d9L4ogZc

 

Email follow-up questions on this issue to mylearning@counseling.org

 

Contact your legislators via: counseling.org/government-affairs/actioncenter

 

Sign up to receive ACA Government Affairs news updates via email here: counseling.org/news/aca-blogs/aca-government-affairs-blog

 

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Illuminate closing: Less talk, more action

By Laurie Meyers June 12, 2017

“We are well beyond just talking. We need to act,” said Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy during Saturday’s closing keynote address at the American Counseling Association’s Illuminate Symposium, a three-day conference that focused on the intersection of counseling and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer (LGBTQ) issues that took place June 8-10 in Washington, D.C. She urged attendees to take the knowledge and strategies they had learned in the Illuminate sessions to empower and uplift their LGBTQ clients.

Holcomb-McCoy, an ACA fellow and dean of American University’s School of Education, told the audience of more than 200 attendees that certain forces in the United States would like to take

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy gives the closing keynote address at ACA’s Illuminate Symposium June 10. Photos by Pruitt Allen.

the country backward to its darkest days of prejudice against LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities. She noted that in the Washington area alone, a huge surge in hate crimes has occurred.

“I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know,” Holcomb-McCoy acknowledged. “But I just want to remind us that we need to stand up for the rights of those who are disenfranchised, marginalized, stepped upon, silenced and victimized. … And most of all we have to stand up for what is right.”

Although tremendous gains have been made in the fight for LGBTQ rights, Holcomb-McCoy said that many challenges still exist, such as universal protection against discrimination at work, the high rate of suicide among LGBTQ youth, the fear many LGBTQ students feel at school, a lack of resources for transgender people and the need to protect LGBTQ prisoners. She noted, however, that she feels hopeful as she sees and hears the younger generations speaking out more frequently on such issues.

Holcomb-McCoy also spoke to the importance of intersectionality — the cumulative effect of overlapping forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism and homophobia. At the same time, she extended a warning. “We [marginalized populations] are pitted against each other,” she said. Groups such as those living in poverty, women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants and people with disabilities are often made to feel that there are limited seats at the table, she explained.

“We become afraid of one another, we compete with one another, we judge one another and sometimes we betray one another,” Holcomb-McCoy said. “We must stop fighting. We must band together to reach the goal of full equality.”

Those in power often keep others powerless and disenfranchised by convincing them to fight against one another, Holcomb-McCoy noted. “Some in the black community believe that the messages of hate about LGBTQ individuals are not rooted in the same prejudices that have been used to discriminate against us as black people,” she said. “And I push back on that all the time. Our histories are different, but there is a shared experience of oppression.”

Holcomb-McCoy shared that sometimes her friends who are African American tell her that they don’t believe in gay marriage. “I immediately say, ‘You know, people used to say that about us and about our love.”

“The unshakable conviction that all people are equally endowed with fundamental and irrevocable rights has been central to this nation and in this capital,” Holcomb-McCoy continued. “The story of this country is one of striving to fulfill our ideals and only gradually expanding the circle of inclusion.”

However, history doesn’t always move forward. It can also move backward, she warned, noting that anti-LGBTQ movements across the country can be seen as a backlash.

Counselors must take action, Holcomb-McCoy said, urging attendees to stand up and speak out in multiple places and on multiple platforms. She noted that the Black Lives Matter movement traces its origins to Twitter.

She also encouraged counselors to create more forums in which they can work with others in the community, including the police, business leaders and other mental health professionals.

Holcomb-McCoy also advised the Illuminate attendees to be patient yet persistent. She pointed out that in the fight for equality, advocates may not win every race, but they can still win the marathon.

To bring about change, she said, counselors must ultimately be ready to make what civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis has called “necessary trouble.”

 

 

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Laurie Meyers is senior writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at LMeyers@counseling.org

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Examining our assumptions about emerging adulthood

By Peter Allen

For many counselors and educators, the term failure to launch is a familiar part of the American lexicon. Some have referred to this phenomenon as an “epidemic,” and a few prominent clinicians have even described it as a “syndrome.”

This classification is problematic for a number of reasons, including that it fails to consider the longer arc of human history and development. Referring to our clients as having “failed to launch” begins the relationship with judgments and disconnection rather than a sincere desire to understand and help. When we commence our helping relationships by adopting a judgmental and comparative stance, we start off on the wrong foot with our clients and communicate to them that we have little to learn. This is, in effect, very poor modeling of the skills and traits that we hope to instill in them.

The problem

What do we mean by failure to launch? Usually this language is used to describe young adults, typically between the ages of 18 to 25 or so, who have not met the traditional benchmarks of adulthood in some fashion. The stereotype usually depicts young 20-somethings who are living in their parents’ basements, playing video games and generally not contributing to the household in a meaningful way.

In general, we observe a lack of motivation and a delay in the acquisition of skills and traits that we typically associate with adulthood: financial autonomy, independence, stable relationships, responsibility and some sense of obligation to society or the collective. We want our adolescents to grow into mature, productive adults. Because numerous examples of these adults are readily available for view, the contrast between them and the so-called failure-to-launch crowd becomes striking.

The English word adolescence comes from the Latin word adolescere, which means “to ripen” or “to grow up.” This is important because young adults, despite some thinking to the contrary, are very much still in adolescence. They are in the period between childhood and adulthood, with a foot in both worlds, so they exhibit characteristics of both stages. This presents unique challenges for those of us who encounter them in this in-between stage.

Although we basically understand what adolescence is, when it ends depends on the culture in which we were raised. For example, in Mexican culture, the quinceañera is held for young women at age 15. This coming-of-age celebration marks the beginning of adulthood in that culture. The Jewish faith marks this moment at age 13 with the tradition of the bar mitzvah and the bat mitzvah. In Japan, an event called Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day) occurs at age 20 and marks the passage into adulthood. The Chambri people of Papua New Guinea, sometimes called the “Crocodile People,” use ritual scarification to mark the passage of young males from childhood to adulthood. This ceremony can take place anytime between the ages of 11 and 30.

It is interesting to note the difference in timing for these cultures. I am particularly struck by the range of ages in the Chambri custom. They have perhaps come closest to identifying the actual biological range within which adolescence occurs.

Taking a cognitive behavior approach

Young adults are sometimes just beginning to evaluate the power of their own thinking to positively or negatively shape their world experience. There can be some confusion about the difference between thoughts and beliefs. In my own evaluation, a belief is simply a persistent thought that has become true or seems real to the person. For instance, if I have the thought that God exists, and if I think this way for long enough, it becomes a belief.

I like to use a story that I call “A Tale of Two Apple Trees” to teach this concept. In this story, I have an apple tree on my property. I have a lot of thoughts and beliefs about this apple tree. This apple tree is my property. I bought it, I watered it and I fertilized it. So when a stranger walks by and picks one of my apples, how do I feel? I feel angry. What am I likely to do with my anger? I am likely to have a confrontation with this person. My beliefs led to my emotion, and my emotion led to a behavior.

My neighbor also has an apple tree in her yard. Like me, she has a number of thoughts and beliefs about the apple tree, but they are quite different from mine. She believes that everyone deserves to have food. She also thinks that because she has many dozens of apples on her tree, she can certainly spare a few for someone who wants them. So when someone walks by her property and picks an apple to eat, how does she feel? Most likely she feels happy. What is she likely to do? It is likely she will approach this person and have a positive interaction. Her thoughts led her to certain feelings, and those feelings precipitated specific behaviors.

The point here is not about determining the true nature of apples and apple trees in the world. The point is that, objectively, the same thing happened to both of us: Someone picked an apple off of a tree in our yard. But our respective experiences of that event were drastically different. Based on my beliefs, I experienced anger and then behaved in a confrontational manner. My neighbor experienced happiness and then behaved in a friendly manner. We all must choose what to believe based on our life experiences and what makes the most sense to each of us.

As clinicians and educators, I think we have collectively failed to monitor our own thinking about this population. We know that thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings can lead to actions. Are we applying this knowledge to ourselves in our work with young adults? We should acknowledge that we have chosen certain beliefs about young adults and, as such, these cognitive structures are negatively influencing our experience of working with this population. One of my goals is to bring those structures into our awareness so that we can nobly wrestle with them and make more assertive decisions regarding how we are going to show up in relationships with our clients.

When we use the term “failure to launch,” we clearly display our belief that the young adult has failed in some capacity. I have also heard this called prolonged adolescence; in other words, this particular period of adolescence is taking longer than normal. Who determines what is normal? Struggling is a word often used with this population. They are certainly not thriving and not succeeding like their counterparts, who have not been labeled as “struggling.” Even the term late bloomer, which on the surface seems gentler, indicates that these individuals are not on time in their development.

Let’s assume that you came to see me, a counselor, to help you work through some issue. Perhaps you and your partner come in for couples counseling to work on better communication. How would you feel if I said to you, “Sure, I can help you with your failure to communicate”? My guess is that you would experience an immediate disconnection from me because you may not perceive yourself in that way. I am starting out from the position that you have failed. Or maybe you want to become more assertive with your parent, and I respond by saying, “I would be happy to help you while you struggle to assert yourself with your parent.” Wanting to work on something is not the same thing as struggling with it. This language betrays my internal dialogue about you.

We know that we cannot think ill of our clients, even unintentionally, and then hope to show up with compassion and warmth for them in session. There is a discipline involved in thinking well of clients, actively, so that their best interests are always at the forefront of our efforts. If we begin our work with young adults from a judgmental place, then our feelings and behaviors will follow accordingly.

That is why I advocate for a term I encountered while researching this subject: emerging adulthood. I believe this is a judgment-free term and one that is actually more accurate. Then our primary cognitive framework can begin from an understanding that these people are emerging as adults, in their own individual way, and there may be some issues or difficulty for them during this period.

Around the world

Many factors contribute to the belief that emerging adults have failed in some capacity, but one factor in particular has a very powerful influence on our perceptions of how young adults are developing — whether they leave their parents’ homes within the “proper” time frame. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014, 32 percent of young adults ages 18-34 were living at home with their parents in the United States. This number is likely higher than most readers might have guessed.

As I thought more about this, I wondered how the rest of the world views this issue. Fortunately, the Pew Research Center has collected extensive data about young adults living at home in Europe. According to this research, Denmark is at the lowest end of the spectrum in Europe, with about 19 percent of young adults ages 18-34 living at home. At the high end of the spectrum is Macedonia, where about 73 percent of young adults in the same age range live at home with their parents. Most of Eastern Europe is in the 50 to 60 percent range. Most of the Scandinavian countries are in the 20 to 30 percent range. Why is there no failure to launch “epidemic” there?

In much of Latin America, including Central and South America, it is common for young people to live at home with their parents until they have completed school, partnered with someone in a long-term romantic relationship or begun their career. In an article from 2007, psychologist and researcher Alicia Facio and her team found that 71 percent of Argentinean emerging adults lived with their parents or other relatives.

Let’s turn to Asia for a final example. A 2014 Huffington Post article titled “Here’s Why It’s Not Weird for Indian Men to Live at Home With Mom and Dad” stated: “Typically, in the Indian culture, returning home after high school or college is not only encouraged, but expected. Even living in America, parents who have migrated here from India have instilled in their children the idea that living with their parents is how Indian ‘joint-families’ work. Most children will stay with their parents up until marriage and some even after marriage, and the Indian ‘society’ accepts this as the norm. There is no taboo, no judgment, and there is no shame — from the male or female perspective. Children are meant to stay with their parents to be taken care of, and as the parents grow older, the children are expected to take care of their parents in their home.”

The key part of this passage for me is the part that states there is no taboo, no judgment and no shame. Unfortunately, the American approach has plenty of all three.

There are actually numerous benefits to young adults staying at home beyond the age of 18 or 19. These benefits are not discussed much in the United States but are well-known to many other cultures around the world.

One thing young adults can do with greater success when they stay at home longer is save money. And nothing helps someone “launch” like having some money saved. In addition, with some healthy boundaries in place, the increased contact between young adults and their parents can actually lead to better long-term familial relationships. As the example about Indian families shows us, young adults who live at home longer are more likely to take care of their parents down the road when the parents may need support. The stability of this living arrangement also reduces anxiety for the young adult, and that readily lends itself to healthier development.

My assertion is that the American cultural emphasis on independence and autonomy is the driving force behind the current so-called failure-to-launch phenomenon. We want our young folks to be independent, but when they are actually capable of this varies widely from a developmental perspective. It is clear that Indian culture places a greater value on family connectivity than on independence. Therefore, there is much less pressure to get young adults out of the home, and thus they have more time to develop in a more stable environment — and with less shame. If American cultural beliefs are in conflict with the biological reality of human development, then perhaps it is our culture that should change.

If a young man is 25 and living at home in Argentina, his family is most likely accepting of this. It is normal for them. They do not see it as a problem provided that this young man is contributing to the household in some way. But a 25-year-old young man living at home in the United States is very likely to be viewed as being delayed somehow or, worse yet, considered lazy. This may be true even if he is contributing to the household, like his Argentinean counterpart. The same exact thing is happening in both situations (just like in my story of the apple trees), but our opinions of these young men depend on our beliefs about what is normal and healthy.

Integration of knowledge

This phenomenon is partly because of a failure to integrate knowledge from a variety of sources and disciplines. Practitioners in our field often draw on knowledge from psychology, but by also integrating information from anthropology, biology and sociology, we can develop a more accurate picture of what healthy human development looks like.

By now I hope I have demonstrated that the accepted timing of the path to adulthood depends entirely upon the culture in which one is raised. Biology tells us that the adolescent brain finishes developing in a person’s mid-20s. This piece of information alone should cause us to rethink our expectations of the average American 18-year-old. This neuroscience is widely known but seldom applied in day-to-day interactions with young adults.

Anthropology demonstrates to us that it is normal human behavior to live at home with one’s parents into one’s 20s. This is happening at very high rates all over the world. This discredits the idea that these other countries are all raising their young adults incorrectly and have been for millennia. This is not an “epidemic”; it is well within the range of normal human behavior. Sociology tells us that societies organized around principles such as family connectivity are sustainable over long periods of time.

When we put the knowledge from all of these disciplines together, it is fairly easy to see where we are going astray in the United States. When I presented this information to a group of clinicians, it was suggested to me that perhaps American culture is itself in adolescence. If that is true, then we should view ourselves as developing rather than as having arrived.

The counterarguments 

The principal argument I have heard repeated in many circles is that by letting our young adults live at home for a longer period of time, we will be raising a generation of infantilized people who will then be ill-equipped to manage their own lives. This is a valid concern, but I would respond by saying that the countries I have mentioned don’t seem to be creating generation after generation of incapable young people.

These cultures have been operating for centuries, continuously, and despite some current economic challenges, they seem to be making it work. If they were raising such incapable young adults, we probably would have seen their societies collapse decades or even centuries ago.

Having pointed that out, I am not suggesting that all young adults should get a free pass until age 25. On the contrary, we run the risk of enabling them by assuming, without testing them, that they are incapable of certain things. At the same time, we should rethink our basic position that a “healthy” person leaves the home at age 18 or 19 and should sail into adulthood with minimal disruptions from that point. What is healthy in the vast majority of the world appears to be leaving the parents’ home closer to a person’s early to mid-20s.

Both maturity and ability fall on a spectrum, so what I advocate for is the middle path. Some 18-year-olds are going to be very responsible and autonomous, while some 30-year-olds are going to need extra supports. We do not serve our clients well as counselors by comparing them all to the high-performing 18-year-olds. I acknowledge that in many cases young adults are experiencing significant gaps in their skills, engagement or motivation and need intervention to create healthy lives for themselves. In those instances, clinical and educational interventions are indicated.

Part of what we need to do better as counselors is ascertain exactly what the problem is before we intervene. Learning disabilities can play a large role in difficulties related to healthy development. If learning differences are a main cause of a young adult client’s stresses and problems, then it is we who have failed to adequately assess those challenges and make reasonable accommodations.

It has been mentioned to me several times that the difference between the other countries I have named and the United States is that young adults who live at home in those other countries are expected to contribute to the household. All of the clinicians I have asked about this have told me that they have worked with so-called failure-to-launch cases in which they discovered that the primary intervention was actually to coach the parents to communicate their expectations more clearly and to establish better boundaries.

My experience of young adults is that they will take a good deal — every time. So if parents offer full financial support and a free place to live with few or no obligations attached, young adults will gladly accept. This does not indicate pathology in them, however. Instead it indicates intelligence and shrewd negotiating skills, both of which transfer quite well to the real world.

The parents of young adults are often used to parenting children. After all, they have done this for most of their parenting lives when we encounter them as counselors. It requires a deliberate and skillful shift for them to begin parenting their new young adults effectively. Our job as counselors is to help them facilitate a smooth and supportive transition, not to judge them for perceived mistakes that we likely would make were we in their shoes.

In addition, when we encounter young adults and their families in our work, we should take very thorough histories so that we can understand the family’s unique culture and context and what is normal for them. From there, we can more effectively intervene for everyone’s benefit. For example, if the parents need to establish better boundaries, why would we offer intensive therapy to the young adult? If the parents have wonderful communication and boundaries, why would we presume to “teach” them something when we could be offering the young adult coaching and therapy services? The intervention must always flow from a careful and proper assessment of the situation and presenting problems.

The one-size-fits-all approach dictates that if someone uses the term “failure to launch,” then we assume the young adult is to blame for whatever is going on. This is an incredibly simplistic model for an astonishingly complicated developmental process. In short, our task as counselors is to separate legitimate clinical issues from normal, developmental ones.

Conclusion

As clinicians and educators, we need to actively monitor our thinking about young adults and choose a set of cognitions aligned with biology and normal human development. Our schools, clinics and programs need to be free of judgment-laden language that disconnects us from our clients and students.

We need to also recognize the wisdom that comes from a variety of cultures, countries and research-based science. We should acknowledge that we might have some cultural beliefs that, although deeply held, are incongruent with healthy human development. When we encounter these beliefs, we need to work publicly and privately to change them. The result will be better education and treatment for our emerging adults — and a better society as a whole.

 

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Peter Allen is a licensed professional counselor and the program director at College Excel (collegeexcel.com) in Bend, Oregon. The company helps college-bound young adults who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety and executive functioning deficits to succeed academically. Contact him at petercallen@gmail.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. To access writing guidelines and tips for having an article accepted for publication, go to ct.counseling.org/feedback.

 

 

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Related reading on emerging adulthood from the Counseling Today archives: Validating the quarter-life crisis

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.