Monthly Archives: June 2017

ACA’s Illuminate kicks off with reflection, rally cry

By Bethany Bray June 9, 2017

“Look at us now! We’ve come so far.”

Colleen Logan, delivering Friday’s opening keynote address at the American Counseling Association’s Illuminate Symposium, broke into a wide smile when she noted that she didn’t even have to explain what the letters in the LGBTQ abbreviation meant to the packed room.

Illuminate, a three-day conference focused on the intersection of counseling and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer (LGBTQ) issues, is taking place June 8-10 in Washington, D.C. More than 200 professionals are attending the sold out conference.

Colleen Logan gives the opening keynote at ACA’s Illuminate Symposium June 9. Photos by Pruitt Allen.

Logan, a past president of both ACA and one of its divisions, the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling, reflected on the progress made in recent decades within the counseling profession and in society as a whole. But she also called on her audience to continue the push forward.

“We can’t be complacent,” said Logan, the program coordinator for the marriage, couple and family counseling program at Walden University. “We need each other. We need to advocate. We need to learn from our younger generation. We need to care, we need to cry and we need to be here [at events such as Illuminate].”

Years ago, LGBTQ-focused sessions at counseling conferences were few in number and covered only the most basic of issues, recalled Logan, a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family counselor who maintains a private practice. She noted the difference between those conferences and Illuminate, which features sessions on everything from microaggressions to the unique needs of transgender clients.

“Back in the day, we really didn’t think folks would come to our sessions,” Logan said. “We would leave these sessions hoping that we made one little bit of change, invoked one little bit of understanding and a little less hostility. We felt we had succeeded if people left our sessions knowing that everyone was not heterosexual.”

Current ACA President Catherine Roland, who spearheaded the concept and planning of Illuminate as one of her presidential initiatives, concurred with Logan’s observations about the progress realized over the past decades. She mused about what an Illuminate symposium would have looked like if ACA had hosted it 20 years ago. “I can tell you what it would have looked like — because there wasn’t one,” Roland said.

Logan cited the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in highlighting the progress that has been made. At the same time, she noted that America’s social climate and political landscape has shifted back over the past couple of years. From so-called “bathroom bills” to religious freedom issues, “this time is more frightening and disheartening than ever” for the LGBTQ community, Logan said.

“It’s two steps forward and 10,000 steps back,” Logan continued. “The vitriol is breathtaking, the hatred is palpable. … There is no such thing as homophobia. It is prejudice through and through. It matters because there is no such thing as a phobia toward another human being.”

Change is never linear; it is a process, Logan reminded the audience, adding that it is so “easy to quit when you hit snags, wall off and move on. … [But] there is no time to be weary, no time to be tired.”

Above all, counselors within the profession need to rely on each other, Logan said.

“Stay steadfast,” Logan urged the Illuminate attendees. “We can be our hardest critics. Give each other a break. If someone doesn’t know everything, it’s OK. Turn together, not on each other. Share, listen, lean in, lean on.”

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, an ACA fellow and dean of American University’s School of Education, will serve as the closing keynote speaker for Illuminate on June 10.

The event coincides with Washington, D.C.’s annual Capital Pride festivities. Logan noted that she will be marching in the Pride Parade on Saturday.

“I will not be complacent. I will not stay on the margins,” Logan said. “I march for those who can’t march. I march for those who won’t march. I march for those who don’t march. … I march for my children and my beautiful wife. I march for me, for all of you, with pride.”

 

 

 

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Find out more about Illuminate at counseling.org/illuminate.

 

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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.

 

 

Key concepts from Gestalt therapy for non-Gestalt therapists

By Jon Frew June 7, 2017

Several years ago, I attended a reception for a faculty member whom we had recently hired in our department. She had just completed her doctoral degree, and this would be her first academic job. She had received her training in the Midwest in a program known for its emphasis on cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). In a one-on-one conversation, she inquired about my theoretical orientation. I said I was a Gestalt therapist. She paused, looked slightly confused, then said, “Gestalt therapy? Really! I didn’t think anyone did that anymore.”

It’s not easy being a Gestalt therapist, especially when you’re teaching and supervising in a doctoral psychology program in the United States. Sometimes I encounter individuals, like my former faculty colleague, who believe that Gestalt therapy is extinct. More often I encounter individuals who have an antiquated and unbalanced picture of what Gestalt is (or was). Fritz Perls, the co-founder of Gestalt therapy, can be credited for this inaccurate picture, which has been difficult to recalibrate 47 years after his death.

When I presented on this topic at the 2016 American Counseling Association Conference in Montréal, I began with a “free association” exercise: “I say Gestalt therapy, you say …?” As expected, I heard hot seat, here and now, empty chair, techniques and the Perls prayer. I was also pleased to hear field theory, dialogue and process oriented.

One common misconception is that Gestalt therapy is a tool bag of techniques that any therapist, regardless of orientation, can employ. In fact, a technique, such as having a client imagine, then address, another person in an empty chair, can be employed by any therapist, but that intervention is not Gestalt therapy. As with any counseling approach, achieving even an elementary level of competence as a Gestalt therapist takes years of education and training.

Another misconception is that Gestalt therapy can be coupled with other counseling orientations. Many years ago, I attended a one-day workshop led by Arnold Lazarus, the “founder” of multimodal therapy. Near the end of the morning session, he announced that he was going to show a video in which he would demonstrate how he could combine Gestalt therapy with his approach. In the video, he led a client through a “two-chair” exercise (in which a client moves back and forth between “facing” chairs, enacting a dialogue with two conflicting parts of the self). I approached him during the lunch break and respectfully suggested that he was not doing Gestalt therapy. I asked if he would make a clarifying comment in the afternoon session. My suggestion and request were not well-received to say the least.

Having said that, are there aspects of Gestalt therapy that can be incorporated by counselors who are not well-trained and grounded in this approach? I believe there are, and in the remainder of this article, I will outline several of those concepts.

1) Context, context, context. In our increasingly multicultural society, the importance of considering context is becoming more obvious, regardless of one’s theoretical orientation. Gestalt therapy adopted (from Kurt Lewin) the concept of “the field” as one of its underlying philosophical foundations. In Gestalt therapy, the individual is always considered in the context of past and present field conditions or environments. Conceptualizing our clients as both being influenced by and influencing their various environments is the starting point of any therapeutic relationship.

One of the mistaken perceptions about Gestalt therapists is that we are not interested in the past. In fact, a thorough history is usually taken so that we can find key parts of the trail that led clients to their current social and emotional location. “Context analysis” is critical to effective counseling, and given the demographic shifts taking place in the United States today, our clients’ contexts are far more heterogeneous than they were in past decades.

2) Curiosity competency. I just completed a one-year training program on intercultural communication. I had to smile when my trainer announced that the most important competency in intercultural communication is curiosity. I smiled because for the past several years, I have been featuring curiosity as the most essential competency for Gestalt therapists.

Our theoretical term for this competency is phenomenological inquiry. Sitting with our clients, we attempt (as much as possible) to bracket off preexisting experiences, which would compel us to rush to judgment, to objectify and to believe we have these clients figured out. This process is not easy. After all, our academic preparation encourages us to ask questions to help us determine what box to put our clients in (diagnosis) so that we can apply the most evidence-based intervention.

The goal of phenomenological inquiry is not to classify, however. Rather, we are using our “open mind” to understand the client’s subjectivity. Paradoxically, the more we are like our clients (in regard to age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on), the more essential it is to lead with curiosity, especially given the natural tendency to take shortcuts and assume we know how the story ends without taking time to read all the chapters.

In our increasingly diverse and multicultural world, it is more common to be sitting with clients who are not like us. One caveat about using phenomenological inquiry with clients who are very different from us is that it is not the job of the client to educate the counselor. Unlike other competencies that must be learned or acquired to be a skilled clinician, curiosity is innate and for most of us must be “recovered.”

3) Play no favorites. Many psychotherapy orientations place more emphasis on one particular aspect of an individual’s experience. I vividly remember watching a video of a group therapy session led by Carl Rogers. In the early minutes of the group, members predictably were engaging in intellectual exchanges. Rogers was very quiet and looked half asleep. When a member eventually began to talk about her feelings, Rogers became animated and said some version of “Now we are getting somewhere.”

Whereas client-centered therapy holds that feelings are primary, CBT places a similar emphasis on cognitions or thoughts. Gestalt therapy plays no favorites. Our clients may present with distress related to their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, dreams, sexuality, spirituality or relationships. All of those “domains” are interconnected, and at any particular moment in therapy, one may be more salient to the client than the others. As a Gestalt therapist, I trust that my clients (not my theoretical orientation) will identify the aspect(s) of their experience that is primary at any moment.

Cultural considerations will also require that therapists do not adhere too strictly to the dictates of any counseling approach, the majority of which have been developed with Euro-American values and biases. For example, how would a counselor trained to encourage clients to express feelings accommodate a client from an emotionally restrained culture?

4) The power of process. One of the hallmarks of Gestalt therapy is the attention to process, not just content. A graduate student recently approached me to inquire about joining one of my supervision teams. I asked him how familiar he was with Gestalt therapy. He said that all he knew for sure was that Gestalt therapists focus exclusively on the present. I corrected that perception and gave him a number of books and articles to read.

I think about content and process in counseling relationships in several ways. Content is the currency of therapy, what is exchanged. Content is the vehicle that drives therapy, the stories that our clients share. Content encompasses the past and the future. Process exists only in the present moment. Process is the arena for change because change cannot happen in the past or the future.

In every counseling relationship there is a rich and vibrant process that the therapist can either incorporate or ignore. The majority of counseling orientations are “content heavy.” Gestalt therapists realize that content and process cannot be separated. We are trained to pay close attention to process and to “artfully” comment about it. For example, a counselor might say, “As you talk about your former lover (content) you are speaking louder and your fists are clenched (process).” I use the word artful because it takes time and experience to become skilled at process observation and commentary.

To comment on process is to invite your client to be “in the consulting room” with you. To comment on process is to create the opportunity for a kind of “intimacy” that many clients would be uncomfortable experiencing. And yet no matter your counseling approach, there is ample evidence that the so-called “relationship factors” account for much of the positive outcomes that our clients report. Laura Perls, the other co-founder of Gestalt therapy, adopted Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” relationship beliefs as a model for Gestalt therapy. Something such as our clients feeling truly understood and appreciated by us can, in some way quite simple, be healing in and of itself.

In my experience, these occasional and fleeting moments when clients feel extraordinarily connected to their therapist (and not alone) can occur only if counselors are able to incorporate attention to process into their approach.

5) Beyond empathy. It is widely recognized in the counseling field that empathy is a good thing. Carl Rogers’ contributions to the field are well-documented. Certainly the ability to be empathetic is a necessary competency in all counseling relationships. But I would like to introduce and define another lesser-known term. The term is inclusion, and it comes to us from Buber and Heinz Kohut.

The distinction between empathy and inclusion is not absolute. There is some intersection and crossover between the two, but for the sake of this article, I will define them this way: Empathy is what it would be like for me to be in my client’s shoes; inclusion is “getting” what it is like for my client to be in her shoes.

Empathy is very useful in counseling and operates using the mechanism of projection. The Golden Rule is related to projection and empathy. We do for others what we would want others to do for us. By gaining an awareness of what it would or might be like for me if I were in the midst of a divorce with kids at stake, I can refine how I provide support to my client. On the other hand, if I become too “married” to my own experience, I might miss key differences or make inaccurate assumptions about the client’s divorce experience.

The mechanism of inclusion is phenomenological inquiry, which I defined earlier. It is closely related to the Platinum Rule: We do for others what they want done.

There are two parts to inclusion. The first is the process of truly getting (Buber used the word apprehending) our client’s experience at a particular moment in the counseling session. The second part is conveying to the client that we do truly understand and have no judgment. If we can occasionally practice inclusion at this precise level, we have moved beyond empathy, and the result will be what Maurice Friedman called “healing through meeting.” He believed, and I agree, that these powerful moments of connection between counselor and client can occur in any psychotherapy approach.

6) The funny thing about change. The field of counseling is committed to helping clients change. Most counseling theories have some fundamental philosophy about how change occurs. The funny thing about change, however, is that it is always happening. The seasons change, our bodies change, the weather changes, technology marches on, etc.

Gestalt therapy’s view of change is called the paradoxical theory of change. Simply put, change occurs naturally and organically when sufficient attention, awareness and support exist around the “what is,” not when we are preoccupied with the “what isn’t.”

Inevitably, clients come to therapy of two minds. They are 1) seeking change and relief from struggle and 2) they do not want to change. The “do not want to change” agenda is typically less apparent. As a result, counselors can easily get swept into aligning with the “desire to change” side and miss its counterpart. When therapeutic progress is not being made and treatment goals are not being met, counselors often become frustrated and question their own effectiveness. In the worst-case scenario, the client is blamed and regarded as not ready to change or “resistant.”

In my supervision groups, there is an ongoing joke that if I hear my clinicians say, “I am trying to get my client to …”
I will push a hidden button and a red alert light will flash. Of course, it is absolutely normal, for new clinicians particularly, to be enthusiastic about helping our clients change. The critical question is how we as clinicians support the change process.

Returning to the paradoxical theory of change principle, sustained (not quick-fix) change occurs when clients are able to “stay with” present experience, not flee from it. I should point out that when clients report that they feel “X” and don’t want to feel “X” anymore, I would never say, “Well the only way to not feel ‘X’ anymore is to more fully experience and resolve the ‘X’ so you can move on.” Experienced Gestalt therapists realize that our change theory is not how most individuals in Western culture consider change.

One of the key contributions Laura Perls made to Gestalt therapy was emphasizing the importance of both individual and environmental support. Individual support is what the client brings to therapy. It is posture, the breath and all of the senses. Environmental support is provided by the client’s chair, the lighting in the office, but mostly by the therapist. I believe that one of the essential tasks of the counselor is to assess the client’s sources of individual support and, over time, to endeavor to determine the kind of support the client needs from the therapist.

This last task is complex because each client is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all kind of environmental support. Different clients — and even the same client at different moments — may need the counselor to take the lead, to self-disclose, to sit in silence and so on. This ongoing attention by the counselor to maximize the level of environmental support requires attention to process, which I addressed earlier. Connecting the concepts of change and support, if clients are going to examine the “what is” or stay with aspects of their present experience (say an uncomfortable feeling), both individual and environmental support will need to be enhanced, both in the therapy hour and in their lives.

7) Watch your language and your attributes. The “fundamental attribution error” comes to us from our friends the social and organizational psychologists. They point out our tendency to “blame” or attribute responsibility to the individual. For example, a client arrives late for a counseling session and the counselor assumes some version of the client lacking sufficient motivation, not taking therapy seriously enough or not being a punctual person by nature. This type of faulty attribution is related to the deep individualistic roots of U.S. culture.

I was drawn to Gestalt therapy because it is a theory of health, not pathology, and because context is always taken into consideration. Children learn quickly that certain emotions and behaviors are not OK to exhibit in the presence of their caregivers. Creative adjustments occur over time, become rigidified and carry into adulthood. Examples would be the inability to experience sadness or to ask for emotional support, or even a self-conception of being a worthless person. These adjustments, so critical for survival and safety in childhood, are typically no longer necessary in the adult context. These disconnects between the past and present create a disturbance that counselors and the medical model often classify as “symptoms.”

Gestalt therapists do not blame or pathologize clients. Just in the past week in the training clinic where I supervise doctoral students, I have heard the following: the client is resistant, avoidant, attention seeking and dependent. I suggest that we all, no matter our theoretical orientation, watch our language when referring to our clients. These types of judgments lack sensitivity, miss the bigger picture and do not inspire the formation of a compassionate therapeutic alliance. By regarding our clients as any of these terms, we fail to seek the purpose or meaning for their behavior in the greater context of their lives, present and past.

The scientist who is studying an iceberg knows that to truly comprehend “icebergness,” there is much to take into consideration, not just the tip visible on the water’s surface. There is the larger mass of ice below the surface, the water temperature and the entire ecosystem, past and present, that provide context for the iceberg. To label a client as “difficult” or “avoidant” is to form a judgment based only on the tip of the person.

8) Co-creation, not assimilation or adjustment. In a recently published article, I wrote, “Going forward into the 21st century, I would suggest that the term assimilation be replaced with the term co-creation. Our multicultural society will be an ongoing creation with no superordinate culture as the thickest thread.”

One of my first trainers and mentors told me that Gestalt therapy was the only counseling approach he could identify with as an African American because it is not an adjustment therapy. That comment has stayed with me many decades later. Although individuals must creatively adjust to their childhood circumstances, Gestalt therapists do not encourage their clients to adjust to the values and expectations of the dominant majority culture.

Assimilation has been used in the Gestalt literature to describe a process in which the individual selectively accepts the value of some aspects of the environment while rejecting others. The concept of assimilation is also problematic though because it suggests a process of “making like” or “causing to resemble.” In fact, there is another term, assimilationism, that is defined as “the policy of absorbing minority groups.”

At its essence, Gestalt therapy is about honoring the potential and unpredictable outcomes of the ongoing meetings that occur daily between individuals. Through those meetings, both parties are changed, and new experiences and realities are co-created. Given our current political context, I would assert that this concept of co-creation be embraced to counter a resurgence of xenophobia and “disinclusion” of non-like others.

Counselors have the privilege to participate in very special (dare I say sacred) kinds of meetings with their clients. I would urge all of us to be wary about becoming, wittingly or unwittingly, agents of systems or agendas that promote adjustment or assimilation to the “thickest thread.”

 

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

Jon Frew is a professor in the School of Graduate Psychology at Pacific University. He is an associate editor of the Gestalt Review and a co-author and editor of the book Contemporary Psychotherapies for a Diverse World. He is a co-director of the Gestalt Therapy Training Center Northwest in Portland, Oregon, and has been involved with the training of Gestalt therapists in the U.S. and internationally for more than 30 years. Contact him at jfrew@pacificu.edu.

Letters to the editor: ct@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.

ACA continues push forward for licensure portability

By the Counseling Today staff June 6, 2017

 

Summer 2019 update: The American Counseling Association has created a state-by-state guide with updated information on licensure requirements across the country. Go to counseling.org/knowledge-center/licensure-requirements for information on licensure in your state or U.S. territory.

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The American Counseling Association Governing Council has endorsed a plan that would allow counselor practitioners who are licensed and in good standing in one state to become seamlessly licensed in other states should they move.

The lack of licensure portability — being able to transfer a professional counseling license when a practitioner moves to a different state — has long been an issue within the profession and is frequently cited as one of the top frustrations of professional counselors. Counselor licensure titles and requirements vary from state to state across the U.S., sometimes forcing even the most veteran of counselors to obtain additional supervision hours or meet other requirements before securing a new license after moving across state lines.

The ACA Licensure Portability Model, passed by the Governing Council in June 2016 and reaffirmed this past March, calls for counselors who are licensed in one state and have no disciplinary record to become eligible for license “in any state or U.S. jurisdiction in which they are seeking residence.” The model allows that states may require these counselors to take a jurisprudence exam to verify that they are knowledgeable about the laws in that particular state.

To become a reality, the ACA Licensure Portability Model must first be adopted by individual state licensing boards across the U.S. The procedure for taking this action varies from state to state. Some licensing boards possess the ability to change regulations on their own, whereas others must first petition their respective state legislature.

“I was amazed to see the progress that last year’s Governing Council made and how this year’s board has been so supportive of our rolling out the model that was adopted,” comments ACA CEO Richard Yep. “We look forward to working with licensing boards across the country in order to ensure that qualified professional counselors have the ability to practice in the jurisdiction of their choice.”

During her year as ACA president (2015-2016), Thelma Duffey helped to guide the discussion as the Governing Council considered the portability model motion. She calls the adopted model aspirational and forward thinking, and terms the plan a form of advocacy in and of itself.

“One of our goals in endorsing the model for consideration by states was to enthusiastically promote ACA’s position on portability while working with stakeholders who shared our interests and visions. It was also important to the Governing Council that we alert the membership of our vision and mission to make licensure portability a reality,” says Duffey, professor and chair of the counseling department at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Much like ACA’s aspirational goal of seeing counseling licensure reach every state years ago, we once again are aspiring to establish a national standard, and our goal is to see this realized in the future.”

As for next steps, Duffey says, “ACA is engaging in communication and advocacy efforts that involve informing the membership and other stakeholders about the ACA Licensure Portability Model … and communicating the challenges to portability, particularly as they relate to differences in initial licensure requirements across states. The Governing Council also approved an advocacy plan that highlights the trend toward standardization and provides a rationale for why the ACA portability model is a well-suited aspirational goal. The ACA plan is, of course, grounded in respect for state sovereignty and recognizes that each state licensing board has the ultimate decision on whether to participate. Next steps involve ACA working with states to facilitate support for standardization and the ACA Licensure Portability Model.”

“This model is, from my perspective, visionary in that it takes into account the increasing standardization of training and postgraduation supervision requirements,” Duffey continues. “It is also inclusive of all independently licensed professional counselors, and it is respectful of the training that counselors undergo. Moreover, it is designed with the intent of protecting the public. A criteria of the model stipulates that portability is contingent upon a violation-free practice.”

Multiple ideas, one goal

The ACA Licensure Portability Model joins another initiative that is being floated across the profession to address this issue. A plan co-created by the American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB), the National Board for Certified Counselors, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, and the American Mental Health Counselors Association endorses allowing licenses to be transferred between states for counselors who have “engaged in ethical practice, with no disciplinary sanctions, for at least five years from the date of application for licensure endorsement” and “possessed the highest level of counselor licensure for independent practice for at least three years from the date of application
for licensure endorsement.” Licensees would also have to comply with one
of the following:

  • Hold the national certified counselor credential in good standing
  • Have a graduate-level degree from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs
  • Meet all of the academic, exam and postgraduate supervised experience standards as adopted by the respective state counseling licensure board

Prospective licensees would also have to complete a jurisprudence exam if required by the state’s regulatory board. As with the ACA model, this plan would first have to be adopted state by state to come to fruition.

“A set of guidelines, as with the ACA Licensure Portability Model that Governing Council embraced in June 2016, is a positive and necessary gesture in support of the standardization of licensure to enable licensed counselors to move from state to state with a maximum of ease,” says 2016-2017 ACA President Catherine Roland. “The operative word in that sentence is guidelines, because any portability model … is at best [a set of] respectful professional suggestions to state boards. So while portability is a priority for all of us, the state boards would need to be willing to work to create a similar template for all, and that I feel is aspirational.”

“I also believe it is an attainable goal in the future,” Roland continues. “That goal may be reached, however, and still not ensure the actual ability of an individual to be licensed in a particular state. It’s important to realize that each state board will continue to carefully check each and every applicant, in much the same way as they do now. If someone doesn’t have the requirements of academic or practice rigor, it is very likely that no license will be granted. Portability doesn’t guarantee a license.”

A vision for the future

During her presidency, Duffey created a task force focused on counselor license portability, led by 2014-2015 ACA President Robert Smith. Duffey says she directed the group to evaluate other portability plans circulating within the profession “for potential ACA adoption of those models. If the task force did not see a compatible fit between those existing models and ACA’s strategic vision, the task force was given the latitude to create a model that more closely aligned with our vision for the future.” The task force decided to create a separate ACA model, which was ultimately passed by the Governing Council.

As Duffey explained, “The portability task force was charged with developing the model that considered the extensive training and supervisory experiences of counselors, and the great needs for mental health counseling. They also recognized the strong trends toward licensure standardization with regard to education and experiential requirements. The task force believed that the ACA portability model would meet the needs of counselors as the requirements become more uniform across the country. It would be very unfortunate for states to adopt a portability plan that involved additional post-licensure years of experience only to have this requirement unnecessary in the near future.”

Duffey says she views the ACA Licensure Portability Model as addressing the problem of state-to-state portability by providing states with “a visionary best practice promulgated by ACA. Although this can be seen as a tall order in the short run, I believe it will be a wonderful accomplishment and form of advocacy in the long run. Most state licensing boards require 60 hours of course work and 3,000 hours of post-master’s-degree supervision at this point in time. We are making strides toward standardization. As a result, I believe we are well-positioned to move the ACA Licensure Portability Model forward for consideration by states. It may be that we begin this work through compacts, or states that share common requirements.”

Building on a foundation

In 2015, ACA sent letters to state licensing boards asking for the adoption of a uniform professional title — licensed professional counselor (LPC) — and a uniform scope of practice, a five-paragraph job description that defines the work of professional counselors. The letter was the culmination of the Building Blocks to Portability Project that was part of 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling. The yearslong strategic planning initiative, co-sponsored by ACA and AASCB, involved 31 counseling organizations. (For more information on 20/20, including the Principles for Unifying and Strengthening the Profession, the consensus definition of counseling and the Building Blocks to Portability Project, see counseling.org/knowledge-center/20-20-a-vision-for-the-future-of-counseling.)

Counselor licensure requirements were set up individually by each state over a period of decades — beginning with Virginia in 1976 and ending with California in 2009 — as the profession matured and pushed to establish itself. In the process, significant disparities arose between counselor licenses across the United States, from the number of supervision hours required to obtain a license to the license titles themselves, creating many of the ongoing obstacles in licensure portability.

“ACA is committed to working through these obstacles,” Duffey says. “It is a real burden that licensure portability is not available for a very large majority of independently licensed counselors at this point. As counselors, we cannot move from state to state with any assurance that we can practice and do the good work of counseling. This is so even after investing countless hours in training and supervised practice. Should independently licensed counselors need or desire to move to a different state, they risk losing the opportunity to work within their profession. This is a real challenge that too many people must deal with. Therefore, I see licensure portability as an important need and promoting licensure portability as an important professional goal.”

Says Roland, “I do believe licensure portability is a goal we all have, and I believe eventually it will be a goal that is reached. Until then, we will continue to support our ACA Licensure Portability Model and uphold our ACA Code of Ethics while we remain loyal to the counseling profession.”

 

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Text of the ACA Licensure Portability Model (as adopted by the ACA Governing Council)

“Whereas the mission statement of the American Counseling Association is to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession, and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity; and

“Whereas advocating for licensure portability that allows professional counselors licensed at the independent practice level in one state to have the mobility to utilize their education and training and to serve the public by becoming licensed at the independent practice level in another state supports the mission of the American Counseling Association;

“Therefore, the American Counseling Association promulgates the following licensure portability model:

“A counselor who is licensed at the independent practice level in their home state and who has no disciplinary record shall be eligible for licensure at the independent practice level in any state or U.S. jurisdiction in which they are seeking residence. The state to which the licensed counselor is moving may require a jurisprudence examination based on the rules and procedures of that state.”

 

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Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

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See ACA’s list of frequently asked questions on portability, as well as an email address you can contact with further questions, here: counseling.org/knowledge-center/aca-licensure-portability-model-faqs

 

Addressing religion and spirituality in counseling with bullying survivors

By Elizabeth R. O’Brien and Amanda L. Giordano June 5, 2017

The alarming prevalence of bullying in the United States warrants continued education and dialogue among counselors regarding effective ways to serve clients who are survivors of bullying. One aspect in need of more inquiry is the ethical and effective integration of religion/spirituality in clinical work with clients who have experienced bullying.

Bullying, defined as unprovoked abuse in the form of physical, verbal, relational or cyber acts of aggression, can intersect with religion/spirituality in several ways:

a) The experience of bullying can affect clients’ own religion/spirituality.

b) Clients can experience bullying by religious groups or group members.

c) Clients can experience bullying as a result of their membership in marginalized religious/spiritual groups.

In this article, we briefly discuss counseling considerations for each scenario.

 

 

Bullying’s impact on survivors’ religious/spiritual beliefs 

Consider the case of “Sara,” a 16-year-old Caucasian high school student. Sara does not fit within the thin ideal that is so prevalent among American high school females. Because of her insecurity regarding her physical appearance, Sara wears dark, loose clothing and tries to hide behind her long hair. Sara’s appearance, coupled with her low socioeconomic status, makes her the target of bullying from her classmates. Her classmates call her degrading names (verbal bullying), and many of her female peers refuse to engage with her at all (relational bullying). The cumulative effect of these daily taunts and exclusion leads Sara to counseling.

Sara’s experience of verbal and relational bullying constitutes a traumatic event. Peer groups are extremely valued and influential during adolescence. Through exclusion by her peers and being a target of their verbal assaults, Sara has cultivated a sense of hypervigilance and feelings of perpetual danger. Additionally, Sara has internalized shame regarding her body image and low socioeconomic status.

During the initial counseling intake, Sara reveals that these experiences of trauma and shame have caused her to question aspects of her religious/spiritual beliefs. Sara identifies as a Christian and reports that she has prayed for relief from bullying. She feels as though her prayers have gone unanswered. She also is questioning her worth to God and ruminating on the thought that perhaps he does not love her.

Sara’s case highlights several counseling considerations. It is clear that her experience with traumatic bullying at school intersects with her religious/spiritual identity. Specifically, Sara has attempted to respond to the bullying by using a religious coping skill (prayer), but she continues to struggle with painful emotions and negative thoughts. Furthermore, she is pondering existential questions concerning the nature of God and her inherent worth but has been unable to find adequate answers.

Therefore, it is important for the counselor to fully assess Sara’s religious/spiritual identity. A thorough assessment in the form of unstructured dialogue regarding Sara’s religious/spiritual history, or the use of standardized spiritual assessment instruments, can help the counselor understand Sara’s Christian identity and worldview.

Through the exploration of Sara’s religious/spiritual identity, the counselor discovers that Sara is uncertain about the concept of prayer and how it applies to her current situation. Sara expresses a desire to learn more about various types of prayer and gain insight into the purpose of the practice. The counselor and Sara agree that she specifically is searching for spiritual direction within the Christian faith tradition regarding the practice of prayer. The counselor provides a menu of options for how Sara might meet this goal. These options include self-study (i.e., reading Christian books and listening to sermons/messages on prayer), meeting with a Christian religious leader or engaging in experiential learning through the practice of various types of prayer (ritual, conversational, centering, contemplative, etc.).

After exploring each option, Sara decides that she would most like to meet with a Christian pastor for an interactive conversation about prayer. The counselor is able to refer Sara to a Christian pastor in the community and helps her set up a meeting. Along with prayer, Sara and
her counselor explore other ways in which Sara can use religious/spiritual coping strategies — such as finding support in her faith community — in response to bullying.

Sara’s experience of bullying has also affected her religious/spiritual worldview by calling into question her perceived value to God. The counselor enters into Sara’s frame of reference to unpack the meaning of her victimization as it relates to her relationship with God. The counselor is careful to utilize the skill of bracketing to avoid imposing her own beliefs onto Sara. Bracketing consists of intentionally compartmentalizing the counselor’s personal values to impartially enter into the client’s worldview.

Through their dialogue, the counselor reflects one of Sara’s core beliefs — that inaction is evidence of dislike. Continued exploration reveals that this belief emerged from Sara’s childhood experiences with her mother. Living below the poverty line, Sara often did not have the same possessions and opportunities as other children her age. She concluded that her mother’s lack of material provision reflected a lack of love and care. Sara then generalized this core belief to her relationship with God: His perceived inaction to stop the bullying constituted evidence of his dislike toward her.

The counselor and Sara examine evidence for and against this belief until Sara develops insight into the limitations of such a dichotomous view. Over time, Sara adopts a more adaptive and nuanced perspective of the meaning of others’ perceived inaction, which helps resolve her spiritual struggle. Throughout this discussion, the counselor is careful to keep in mind models of spiritual development, such as James Fowler’s stages of faith development, to work within Sara’s appropriate developmental level.

These represent only a few examples of how the experience of bullying can affect a survivor’s personal religious/spiritual belief system. Counselors should be skilled and competent in assessing client religion/spirituality, referring or consulting with religious/spiritual leaders, bracketing personal beliefs and considering models of religious/spiritual development in their conceptualization of the bullying survivor.

Bullying by religious/spiritual groups or group members

Next consider “Jacob,” a 31-year-old Black male who identifies as gay. He is employed as an accountant for a trucking and transport company that is characterized by strong Christian values. Working for this company for the past three years, Jacob has continuously dodged questions about his personal life because he fears his co-workers’ reactions to finding out he is a gay man.

A few weeks ago, one of Jacob’s co-workers found a picture on social media, posted without Jacob’s knowledge, that showed Jacob and his partner kissing at a friend’s cookout. Jacob was quickly outed, and his co-workers’ attitudes have become difficult for him to manage. Although some co-workers’ attitudes toward him have not changed, others have become hostile (verbal bullying/aggression). And still other co-workers with whom Jacob had no prior relationship have since approached him to discuss their perceptions of the deviance of his behavior (emotional bullying). Because of recent comments from his boss, Jacob also has learned that his advancement potential in the company has been compromised. These instances are very disturbing to Jacob and trigger his own struggle with how his sexual orientation intersects with his religious faith — a topic he has been avoiding since adolescence.

Jacob’s experiences illustrate how clients might feel that they need to deny or hide aspects of their cultural identity in order to belong to the larger group. This experience becomes even more complicated when individuals are struggling with strongly held values that they perceive to be in direct opposition to each other. To elucidate Jacob’s situation, he grew up in a very religious, Christian household. He learned at an early age that members of his family and faith community believe homosexuality to be in opposition to biblical principles. Jacob continues to value religion and spirituality, but he has struggled to reconcile his affectual orientation and the principles of his religion. These seemingly opposing identities (religious and gay) create internal conflict for Jacob.

Jacob’s counseling journey begins by exploring his experiences with his family of origin and the messages he received regarding religion and sexual identity. His experiences of bullying at work have reignited Jacob’s long-held fears that he will be rejected by those he loves. Specifically, he fears that both his biological family and church family will disown him if he is truthful and open about his life as a gay man. In addition, Jacob’s multiple minority statuses (Black and gay) compound his fear regarding potential discrimination.

Through dialogue and reflection, Jacob and his counselor uncover Jacob’s core beliefs about himself, the world and others, including the notion that God’s love, like his family’s, is conditional and must be earned through correct behavior. Jacob’s counselor is trained in Bowenian family systems theory and works with him to create a genogram to begin assessing the nature of relationships between Jacob and those he identifies as family.

In addition, the counselor prompts Jacob to identify the messages he received from individuals in his faith community, family members and religious texts regarding sexual orientation. This begins Jacob’s process of critically examining the relationship between his religious identity and his sexual orientation. The counselor takes a nonevaluative, neutral stance to allow Jacob to wrestle with his prioritization of multiple aspects of his identity and how he can experience more personal integration. Additionally, the counselor helps Jacob consider how he would navigate situations in which his personal beliefs regarding religion and sexual orientation differ from the beliefs of those in his family of origin.

Through counseling, Jacob gains insight into how his current work situation is triggering emotional experiences of rejection from his adolescence, a time when he was not equipped to deal with those experiences. Jacob’s counselor empowers him to see that he has built the resources and skills over time to negotiate his current situation both at work and in his family. Through this collaborative effort, Jacob is emboldened to contact the human resources department at his work. His experiences of bullying are met with concern, and an intervention plan is created to help manage the situation.

Despite the action taken by the human resources department, Jacob discloses to his counselor that he is in a place of unforgiveness toward the individuals who bullied him at work. He describes feeling withdrawn and cold toward these co-workers, where he once felt they had a collegial relationship. His counselor is careful in addressing these emotions because they likely are the coping mechanisms that helped Jacob feel emotionally safe in the past.

Jacob’s counselor explains that experiencing unforgiveness is a natural part of the forgiveness process. His counselor also is very clear with Jacob that the process of forgiveness is about releasing the hold that negative emotions have on him; it does not mean that Jacob is denying that what happened to him was wrong. As Jacob works on his journey toward forgiveness, he relies heavily on prayer and Scripture. These have always been reliable sources of religious coping for Jacob and help him feel connected to both his religious past and his spiritual present.

Bullying related to one’s religious/spiritual identity

A final way in which bullying can intersect with religious/spiritual issues is being bullied because of one’s membership in a religious/spiritual group. Consider the case of “Malik,” a 22-year old Middle Eastern college student. Malik is a practicing Muslim who is a member of his university’s Muslim Students Association and regularly attends worship at a community mosque. Recently, as a result of growing suspicion of Muslims in America, Malik has experienced both physical bullying and cyberbullying. In one instance, while walking home from campus, he was physically assaulted by a group of male students. They called him a “terrorist” while punching and kicking him. Additionally, he has received threatening messages on social media telling him to leave the country. These experiences led Malik to seek services from his college counseling center.

Malik’s religious/spiritual identity is an important part of his cultural makeup. His worldview is shaped by his understanding of Islam and his desire to adhere to the tenets of the faith. As a member of a marginalized religious group in America, Malik experiences oppression in both covert and overt ways, including the overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Muslims as antagonists on TV and in film, poor customer service at stores and restaurants, and being perceived as suspicious or dangerous by others. Additionally, he now is a survivor of various forms of bullying.

Malik reports to his counselor that he feels conflicted regarding his faith. On one hand, he is devoted to Islam, but on the other, he is ashamed of his religion because of the oppression he experiences. He reports feeling guilty for having negative thoughts about his faith and is struggling with feelings of hopelessness.

The counselor listens to Malik’s account with empathy and sensitivity. As a non-Muslim, the counselor also broaches the subject of this cultural difference. He asks Malik what it is like working with a counselor who does not practice Islam. Malik seems to appreciate this question. He acknowledges being nervous that the counselor will secretly be afraid of him as others have been. Broaching the differences between their religious/spiritual cultural identities and the potential impact of those differences on the counseling process helps provide a corrective emotional experience for Malik, who encounters acceptance and understanding from his counselor.

Within the context of this strong therapeutic alliance, the counselor enters into Malik’s worldview and validates his experience of feeling conflicted about his faith. By exploring his thoughts and feelings associated with his religious identity, Malik discovers that he is not ashamed of being Muslim (individual issue). Rather, he longs to be treated with respect and dignity by those who are not Muslim (systemic issue). This insight leads Malik and his counselor into a conversation about systemic oppression and advocacy.

The counselor describes Malik’s experiences with physical bullying and cyberbullying as barriers to his welfare and personal development on campus. As an advocate, the counselor discloses his responsibility to help remove these types of barriers and challenge injustice against oppressed groups. The counselor presents a variety of advocacy options, and Malik decides that he would like the counselor to act with him as he advocates for himself and other Muslims on campus. Malik and his counselor develop an advocacy plan that includes raising awareness regarding Islamophobia on campus, joining with other religious groups to develop a system of support (such as a buddy system to avoid walking alone at night) and alerting campus police to potential threats against Muslim students. The counselor works to empower Malik to develop the skills necessary to complete his advocacy plan.

As evidenced in this scenario, when addressing religion/spirituality among bullying survivors, counselors need a solid understanding of major world religions and the experiences of marginalized religious/spiritual group members in America. Additionally, counselors should have proficiency in the skill of broaching, defined as ongoing, genuine invitations for clients to explore their cultural identities in session. Furthermore, counselors should be able to recognize advocacy needs and be familiar with advocacy competencies and domains at the micro, meso and macro levels.

Resources for continued growth  

Given the many ways in which bullying and religion/spirituality can intersect, it is clear that counselors must be equipped to integrate these important values into the helping process. Although attention to clients’ culture is mandated by the ACA Code of Ethics and various counseling competencies, many counselors struggle to appropriately address aspects of clients’ religion and spirituality. The reasons for this struggle vary but can include counselors’ belief that they lack appropriate training, difficulty bracketing personal beliefs, countertransference issues regarding religion/spirituality and perceived setting constraints. Regardless of the reason, it is up to the clinician to engage in reflective practices and seek additional training as needed in this area.

Resources that are readily available to aid professionals in this task include the ACA Code of Ethics; the Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling’s Competencies for Addressing Spiritual and Religious Issues in Counseling; and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development’s Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies. By increasing their knowledge and skills, counselors can feel competent to
address religion and spirituality with bullying survivors.

 

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

Elizabeth R. O’Brien is a licensed professional counselor and the immediate past president of the Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling, a division of the American Counseling Association. She currently serves as the counselor education program director at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and is a UC Foundation associate professor. She has presented both internationally and nationally on issues related to wellness and beginning counselors, marriage and couples counseling, and spirituality and supervision. She recently completed a co-edited textbook titled Supervision and Agency Management for Counselors. Contact her at Elizabeth-O’Brien@utc.edu.

Amanda L. Giordano is a licensed professional counselor and an assistant professor at the University of North Texas. She specializes in addictions counseling, multiculturalism and religious/spiritual issues in counseling. She serves on the board of the Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling and on the editorial review board for the Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling. Contact her at Amanda.Giordano@unt.edu.

Letters to the editor: ct@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.

Helping clients build their life rafts

By Angela Frank

How can you judge the value of a life raft if you can’t measure the impact of the waves, the harshness of the current or the depth of the water? For clients, being in the midst of chaos feels like being in the middle of the ocean with no vessel, flailing arms in hopes that someone might see and help.

It can be hard to determine where to start to get out of a bad situation. But with the help of professionals, clients learn how to slowly build their life rafts. Not all results are immediate. It can take years for a counselor’s impact to become apparent in a client.

When I was a client in counseling as a minor, I’m sure that the helping professionals in my life questioned whether they were making any impact on me. They would likely be surprised to find that not only did they have an impact, but that I have made it my mission to pass on what I learned from them.

I remember the first time a school counselor told me that I could not only graduate from high school but that I could also go on to college. I had assumed that opportunity was lost to me because I had previously dropped out of school. No one else had ever told me it was still a possibility. I still remember the way I felt when I heard this news. I was crying because, in that moment, I felt more hope than I had felt in a very long time.

I had been subjected to a life that was excessively chaotic. Between elementary and high school, I moved eight times, was interviewed by child protective services (CPS) social workers in two different states, had to stay with a stranger while my mother was in rehab and was fostered by two other families (being removed by court order from one of them).

Upon graduating from high school, I was floored to find out that children in similar situations do not often go to or finish college. After graduating with both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and becoming licensed in counseling, I feel safe to say that I beat the odds and the expectations of many. I can’t stress enough that I could not have accomplished these goals if it wasn’t for the professionals in my life.

The list of coping skills presented in this article may be useful in working with adolescents and adults who have had childhood trauma, but they may not work as well for people who are still in the throes of chaos. This list is best used with clients who are at a place in their lives in which they are feeling safe and no longer feeling threatened by their attackers.

Many of the action points on this list are considered therapeutic techniques, but I used them before I knew they were taught as techniques to counselors. My hope is that this list will help other counselors who might feel lost in their practice or off course with a client to find direction once again.

The following skills constitute the foundation of my life raft.

 

1) Making a timeline

For someone who has had a chaotic childhood, time might seem like an abstract concept. Collecting documents can help these clients piece memories together, make past events feel more real and provide an outside, unbiased perspective into what was happening to and around them. Documents also can be used as a tool when confronting family members who deny or don’t want to face reality.

In Washington state, anyone can search online for court case files and request public records. I have been requesting my childhood records because I need help understanding what happened in my life. I collected as many records as I could find related to my past. These include court records, CPS records, police reports and mental health evaluations.

Obtaining records has been a struggle, but it has also been one of the most important steps in confronting my trauma. They serve as a concrete reminder that, as unbelievable as it all seems, what I remember from my childhood really happened. I was able to obtain one record from CPS but was informed a previous record had been destroyed before I even knew it existed. In many states, CPS doesn’t have to inform the subjects of records that the records exist before destroying them. The records told me about the abuse I remember and didn’t report when, as an adult, now I know I should have.

My mother let me know that anything left at her house from when I was a child is gone, so these records are all I have of my past. I haven’t talked to her in six years. I offered to show my younger sister the records because she was very young when the chaos ensued and doesn’t remember a lot. I believe this step has helped both of us.

2) Sharing my story

Listening is the most basic counseling technique any professional is taught, and talk therapy is the place where trauma victims really need to start. Listening is a tool that can be used to gain the trust of clients who normally keep their thoughts on lockdown. For me, having someone there literally just to listen — who didn’t know my family, wasn’t going to tell them what I was talking about and wasn’t going to judge me — was such a relief.

My counselor had to push me a little bit to get me to talk about the trauma. I brought my counselor a copy of my CPS records and let her look at them. It was easier than saying what had happened to me. I didn’t know how to bring it up myself. I had avoided telling her that I had a traumatic childhood because I had come to counseling (or so I thought) for a different reason. After she read my records, I felt she had a better understanding of why there were destructive patterns in my life.

3) Confronting the shame

After trust is gained, clients feel more comfortable talking about how they have treated others in response to what has happened to them. This is important because clients who come from dysfunctional families might fear backlash. Their family members may have tried to use these incidences against them for blackmail or as a “guilting” technique in the past. Just the thought of bringing this up and the potential resulting scrutiny can put clients on edge.

Talking about guilt in a therapeutic setting can help clients to see patterns of shaming and let go of their guilt little by little. Once clients can acknowledge that they have hurt others, it can open up conversation about how these clients are now different. They recognize that how they treated others was wrong and can reassure themselves that it won’t happen again.

This process gives clients back the power. Shame can no longer be used against them once they recognize that part of the reason they can talk about it now is because they have taken steps to change their destructive behaviors with others and are interested in constructive interactions.

It is really hard to acknowledge when you’ve wronged someone. I had memories of how I had wronged people that haunted me for years. When I finally was able to talk about these memories with my counselor, I never sensed that she judged me for what I had done. It was such a relief to finally be able to tell someone who wasn’t going to judge me for actions I had taken when I was a kid and was in a bad place.

4) Normalizing

As a counselor, normalizing is an essential technique, but there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to use it. It is appropriate to use normalizing to help clients recognize that they reacted harshly to a situation because that is how they grew up — as long as they are taught or have learned more constructive ways to handle tough situations. Children have little control, but adults are more responsible for their behavior. Discussing how destructive reactions are inappropriate as an adult is important.

After I told my counselor about what I was ashamed of and how I had treated people, she would normalize it for me, saying, “In this situation, it would be normal for you to have this reaction given your history.” When she told me that, it helped me put into perspective how the trauma affected me and why I would resort to taking certain actions instead of dealing with issues in a more functional manner. From this step, I have been able to deal with my anger, panic, and numbness in more constructive ways.

5) Practicing altruism

Clients may not always be in a position to help others financially, but there are plenty of other ways to help every day. Encourage clients to find those small but meaningful opportunities. It has been therapeutic for me to be there for my younger sister, both financially and emotionally, the way I would have liked someone to have been there for me. When I was removed by court order from a family member’s home, I didn’t get to see my sister for five years. Even though she doesn’t blame me and is understanding, this is how I am trying to make up for missing all that time watching her grow up.

6) Making amends

When clients tell their counselors about their guilt, they might feel depressed for a while after. Admitting that you hurt someone, even if it wasn’t on purpose, might not feel like enough. The next step might be apologizing in a way that feels fitting to the client. Not everyone gets a chance to face their victim and apologize, so writing a letter (which might be kept or sent to the victim, depending on whether the client feels the apology would benefit the other person) can be a very healing experience.

In dealing with my guilt, I apologized to family members because, in my agony, I hadn’t thought about their feelings or how I treated them. I offered that if they ever felt the need to confront me, I would be open to meeting with them. It has helped me to imagine these interactions beforehand. So far, none of my family members has felt the need to confront me. Instead they have told me either that I do not need to apologize or that they have forgiven me, which has brought me closure.

7) Discovering gratitude

For clients in the midst of depression or anxiety, it can be hard to elicit any positive feelings. It’s most important during these times to be grateful because the affect can snap a person out of the emotion. Making a list of what the clients have that they would be worse off without or the things they don’t want to change is a good place to start. This might also jog some really good memories, and clients might end up wanting to reach out to people. The internet is a useful tool for people searching and reaching out when the time comes.

Clients who haven’t been able to confront their past or who still feel guilt and shame might not be able to remember the people who helped them yet. Give it time — it’s a process.

I decided to use the internet to try to connect with people I remember showing me kindness when I was in despair. From becoming grateful, I was able to have more affectionate feelings toward my family and started recognizing the little things they had done to help me along the way.

Even though my mother was not in a position to care for me at times when I was a child, there are things she did that showed that she loved me and cared about me. When the time came, she gave me her tax information so I could fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to finish college. She also told me I wasn’t crazy even when I was convinced I was. These actions don’t make me want to talk to her, but they do let me know that she wanted to keep me moving forward. I wasn’t able to be grateful for these little acts until I could fully accept all the trauma and stop trying to hide it from myself and everyone else.

8) Having faith

It’s well-known that possessing faith can literally keep someone alive. Being able to turn life circumstances over to a higher power can be a profoundly impactful internal resource. For me, this takes some of the pressure off regarding the goals I want to achieve. I keep working toward my goals, but it helps to have faith that forces are at work (even if I don’t understand them), giving me the power to push to get the things I want. When I’ve done all I can, that’s the time for me to just turn it over to the universe to let it take care of what I no longer have control over. I have stopped trying to maintain control of everything and have started to just let things happen.

It doesn’t matter if your faith is in a Christian God, Buddhism, Judaism, fate, Unitarian Universalism or some other system. Just having faith and truly believing that there is some bigger force out there that can’t be taken away can make a positive impact on an individual’s life.

9) Reconnecting with community

Everyone has days when he or she would rather just sit alone at home and watch TV or be on the computer. Over time, this can result in feeling disconnected and lonely. It can even be triggering, making clients feel more isolated than they actually are.

Tell clients that you understand that it can be hard to get out at times. But also remind them that simply being with others can provide a welcome distraction, result in meeting personal goals, and lead to positive feelings and new opportunities. For frugal clients, there are plenty of free events, but this might require some research.

For me, forcing myself to become part of a community and visit friends even when I didn’t feel like it made all the difference. I ended up being grateful I had made myself go. If clients tell you this same thing, talk extensively about what happened that made it a positive experience for them. This will encourage the new behavior.

10) Engaging in advocacy

There are plenty of marches going on in America right now as a way to advocate for what many believe in. Advocacy creates unity between people with similar goals, creates community, brings hope and empowers. Counselors can help by searching for groups or communities with a purpose that would help their clients move forward from their past.

I case manage children in foster care and get triggered at work sometimes because some of the stories I hear feel similar to mine. I can physically feel my heart hurt. To deal with this, I remember that there aren’t many professionals who can relate to what children in foster care go through the way I can, so I draw on my personal experience to advocate for and understand them.

11) Using a mantra

Having a reminder of what’s often forgotten or overlooked in the midst of chaos can be very comforting. This can help clients who feel stuck to keep going. When things are hard in my adult life, one thing that keeps me going is remembering that I survived much worse as a kid and have only grown stronger.

 

 

Conclusion

When people stop denying or minimizing their trauma and face their fears head-on, the resulting calm and insight are greater than the numbness brought on by burying the past. We all have our methods of coping; sometimes our coping strategies are so unique to us that we can’t even put a name to them.

Counselors have the ability to help clients find their strengths. The hard work results in feeling so empowered that clients may prefer to remember what they have already survived rather than trying to forget and feeling powerless over what they are experiencing now or will experience in the future.

Keep in mind that anyone who is sitting in front of you as a counselor has already survived a lot. Their arms are flailing for help, but they haven’t given up. There is still a chance for them. Using the techniques in this article, you have the power to help them build their life raft. You have the power to support them and be there for them as they look back on the chaos they survived, so that they can finally be free from it. Now that I have reevaluated my personal history, I want to help others recover from their own fears and trauma.

It took a long time to get to this place where I can finally face my past and not feel devastated. But now that I have, I would rather live in a cardboard box than ever deny myself again. When I tried to ignore my past, all it did was trigger me. It did not help me or those around me. I had so much anxiety that it was hard to function daily. I forgot why I was doing what I was doing and what my goals were in life. When I finally faced it head-on, I was able to reclaim myself, my confidence and my internal compass. Without the guidance I received from the helping professionals in my life, I would not be where I am today.

It might seem that some children are set up for failure, but counselors can help them find the strength within themselves to overcome. Take it from someone who knows. Anyone who is reading this possesses the power to change the course of someone’s life. Remember that.

 

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Angela Frank is a licensed mental health counselor in Washington state. She graduated from Washington State University with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Masters of Arts in education. She recently started a blog at highlymobilechildawareness.com and can be contacted at angela@highlymobilechildawareness.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.