Monthly Archives: December 2022

Tips to navigate workload and prevent burnout  

Celine Cluff  December 9, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has left few sectors untouched when it comes to burnout. With an ever-increasing need for sector-specific crisis measures to mitigate some of the stressors faced by workers globally, society finds itself in midst of a burnout epidemic. The biggest issue we face collectively is that burning out in one’s professional life also leaves one struggling in one’s personal life. This carry-over effect is what many counselors and psychologists are seeing in their practice today.  

As we prepare to enter another holiday season — a time that can add stress to a routine that is already hectic — people need to check in with themselves and consider how they are feeling during this busy time of the year. This simple step can make all the difference, and it might even improve their relationships with loved ones.  

The need for interpersonal connection 

Virtual therapy and telehealth platforms are continuing to emerge as a by-product of the pandemic. These resources can provide some of the emotional support people need to get through the day. For example, the company Spring Health offers virtual therapy to the employees of organizations that have added the platform to their health benefits package. It is hopeful that these telehealth platforms will also become available and affordable for everyone — regardless of employment status — especially older people and those living in rural areas.  

These virtual counseling platforms, however, do not replace some of the vital interpersonal relationships humans need to thrive and build resilience. This includes their relationship with their counselor. The connections people have with each other are important ingredients in helping them feel there is meaning in life beyond what they achieve as part of a task or job.  

Much like a forest where trees are interconnected with each other via their root systems, people are also connected to their community on a deeper level. This connection, however, can be compromised if other environmental factors have a negative impact on people. Recent research on pandemic-specific stressors has revealed that professionals working in health care might benefit from coping strategies that are geared toward nourishing interpersonal connections.

Although meeting and socializing with others in person used to be a common occurrence, now it is often overshadowed by all the ways in which people connect virtually, from one bandwidth to another.

Preventing work-related burnout 

Dr. Maria Gualano, who was recently listed as one of the top 2% of scientists in the world according to Stanford University, conducted a systemic review in 2021 and found that three factors appear to have played a prevalent role in causing health care professionals to burn out during the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors are emotional exhaustion, high levels of depersonalization and the lack of personal accomplishments.  

Focusing on the prevention of these three factors may help people develop new norms that promote their well-being in midst of a global health crisis.  

Here are six tips on how employees can target and counteract feelings of emotional exhaustion and high stress related to work:  

  • Take breaks throughout the workday. Research from Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab shows that breaks allow the brain to reset, which can help reduce the cumulative buildup of stress. Even taking breaks in small seven-minute increments throughout the workday can make a difference if done regularly. One way to ensure you are taking a break from work is to turn off work notifications in the evenings. But if your job requires you to be on call for an extended period, then you could carve out a few minutes for yourself throughout the day (e.g., taking mental breaks for seven minutes several times a day). Although evidence on shorter workweek benefits is limited, the emerging literature shows that employees report feeling happier at work when working a shorter workweek. In addition, when people feel connected to the work they do, their well-being increases. So weaving more leisure time (even minutes) into one’s workweek can help increase feelings of well-being and lead to better work engagement, which in turn results in better work outcomes. 
  • Develop a point system for unwinding. Typically, I like to count one point for every 10 minutes of doing something that is not work-related (or better yet: look out a window). Find a point system that is suitable for your lifestyle, and then aim to accumulate a certain number of points over the course of a workweek. Achieving your goal for the week helps you feel accomplished, and this can lead to a cumulative effect.  
  • Adopt a growth mindset. In a Tedx talk on the power of belief, growth mindset expert Eduardo Briceno said we can cultivate a growth mindset by accepting that we are not chained to our capabilities. This uplifting and inspirational message is one we must all internalize in times of stress and uncertainty. I invite you to think deeply about what it means to be successful and at what cost. Only through personal reflection can we maximize outcomes at work and in our personal lives. It helps us learn about ourselves and why we do what we do.  
  • Shift the perspective. An inspiring way to ground yourself is to take an imaginary field trip to the moon and look back at Earth. There are no deadlines, no objectives. The beauty of this exercise lies in reflecting on the miracle of life itself, not what is accomplished throughout it. It invites you to take a step back from all the noise you encounter as part of daily life, and instead focus only on what is necessary. If practiced regularly, this activity can work to alleviate some of the chronic stress people associate with work deadlines.  
  • Spend time doing something for yourself regularly. When it comes to meeting work demands, people are quick to prioritize deadlines over themselves, which can lead to people feeling disconnected from their work and associating it with stress. In general, burnout rates increase when people feel they have no control over their workload and stress levels. In a society that celebrates being busy, putting oneself first should be at the top of the to-do list. Self-care is crucial in maintaining a pace that is sustainable and healthy. This rings especially true during the holidays. We often feel pressure to participate in all the festivities, bake sales, cheer, and so on. But sometimes it’s OK to not spread yourself so thin. Choose one contribution and be proud of it — your time is valuable.  
  • Seek out a qualified counselor. This is inarguably the most important tip for those wanting to combat burnout. Seeking out a registered counselor is pivotal in the prevention of a burnout episode because they understand the underlying challenges faced by those who struggle with managing a heavy workload and are trained to provide the tools necessary to prevent escalation. Whether someone works in health care or another industry, identifying the root causes that resulted in a burnout episode with a counselor can be the first step in implementing a solution.  

 


 

Profile picture of Celine Cluff, the authorCeline Cluff is a registered clinical counselor and researcher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She holds a master’s degree in psychoanalytic studies from Middlesex University in London and recently completed her doctorate in psychology at Adler University in Chicago. Her private practice focuses on family therapy, couples therapy and parenting challenges. Contact her at celine.cluff@yahoo.com. 


 

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. 

Tough love: Supporting parents of children in unhealthy relationships

By Katie Bascuas December 7, 2022

Most parents would do anything to protect their children from pain. So watching a child struggle with an addiction, whether to a substance, behavior or even a relationship, can be an excruciating experience and bring up feelings of guilt, grief, self-doubt, worry and isolation. This situation becomes trickier when the child becomes an adult because parents can no longer intervene or make decisions on behalf of their loved one. 

Most people understand the challenges that surround having a child who struggles with a substance addition, but having an adult child in an unhealthy romantic relationship or a relationship in which there may be emotional abuse, such as inappropriate use of control, disrespect or dishonesty, is often considered less “taboo” or more acceptable than a substance addiction. Most people desire the feeling of being loved and accepted, including in romantic relationships. Therefore, parents can sometimes feel helpless when they think their child may be in a toxic and painful relationship.

“I’ve got half a dozen people I’m working with right now who are dealing with this, and my encouragement to someone who has a loved one in an unhealthy relationship is that it’s going to be difficult to talk them out of it because it’s just not rational,” says Ronald Laney, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) at Change Inc. in St. Louis. “The other person is going to feel that that relationship, whatever it is, is filling a void that started long, long ago.

For counselors, supporting these parents can look similar to working with clients who have loved ones struggling with an addiction. There may be questions around how much to get involved, whether to distance themselves from their child or if they’re doing the right thing. 

And depending on the parent-child relationship, helping parents to understand and accept the situation could be challenging. For example, there may be years of unhealthy patterns of co-dependent and enabling behaviors that inadvertently perpetuate and reinforce the child’s addictive patterns, says Laura Whitcomb, an LPC who owns and operates NoCo Counseling in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“Parents are willing to do and give everything for their kids,” Whitcomb says. But “they’re often trying to control someone else’s behavior and ensure someone else’s well-being, and that person is not making those same choices.” 

Counselors can play a key role in helping parents better understand what their child may be experiencing as well as normalizing the parents’ feelings and experiences and helping them reach a place of acceptance of the situation so as to ensure their emotional and mental well-being. 

Meeting clients where they are

While it might seem like a no-brainer, Whitcomb says one of the most important things to remember when working with parents seeking support around an adult child’s unhealthy relationship is to meet those clients where they are, but she admits this can be challenging. 

“I care so much that sometimes I get ahead of myself,” Whitcomb says, noting that she has to sometimes stop herself from giving advice or providing feedback that clients may not yet be ready to hear. “I really want [the clients] to be OK. I want them to get some joy back in their lives, and I want them not to be taken advantage of and have all this responsibility that isn’t really theirs. Some of these parents should be looking toward retirement or traveling, and they’re just sacrificing everything.”  

Because counselors are trained to examine the big picture, they may recognize things that may benefit the client before the client does, notes Robin Witt, an LPC and director of relationship dynamics at the Better Institute in Pittsburgh. “My biggest piece of advice is meeting the client where they’re at and working at the pace that they feel comfortable because, especially in these trickier situations, we can see the solutions but they’re not always willing or ready to see it, and if we push it, we can lose the client,” she says. “They could get scared or intimidated, and the biggest thing that we can do for them is to be a validating, supportive resource. We might be the only person that they’re talking to about this, and … what’s most important is keeping that professional relationship safe.” 

Witt focuses on client goals and knows that change can be gradual because clients do not have control over their loved ones. And truly accepting the fact that they may not be able to change the situation to the degree that they would like often takes time. “This is not a four-sessions-and-they’re-done thing,” she explains. “So keeping a slow pace and being mindful that the client is the driver is important.” 

Whitcomb says she has to remind herself as much as her clients that she may be getting ahead of them and that the process of learning how to support and engage with a loved one in an unhealthy relationship — similar to someone with an addiction is often long and complicated. She uses frequent check-ins and asks clients what changes seem manageable to them and what they are thinking and feeling in order to gauge where they are and what they want to accomplish as well as to help them set reasonable expectations. 

Some clients, for example, may take quick or impulsive action to try and fix or ameliorate the situation, such as giving ultimatums to their loved ones, but Whitcomb says those types of actions often just push the child away and have the potential to hurt the relationship. “A lot of people seem to want to do that. They want the problem to be solved. Most of us do,” she says. “So really try and shift their focus back to themselves, less on the unhealthy person and more on them.”

Whitcomb says she draws from her experience growing up with parents who had substance use issues to help clients learn to redirect their focus to themselves. It took her several Al-Anon Family Group meetings before she realized that focusing on herself, not her parents, was one of the first steps toward healing.

“It took me four meetings before I realized, ‘Oh, these people are no longer consumed with what their addict is doing. They are focused on their own lives and rebuilding their own lives,’” she recalls. “It took me a while to get it because people are holding so much intense emotion. We’ve been hurt a lot. That lightbulb doesn’t go on just overnight.” Whitcomb says that she uses this insight to prevent herself from getting ahead of clients as well as to help explain to clients the common tendency to focus on the other person.

The importance of psychoeducation

Another helpful component of supporting parents whose adult children are in unhealthy relationships is psychoeducation, which can include accurately labeling unhealthy or abusive relationships and modeling empathy and understanding.

Witt admits there can sometimes be a fine line between educating clients and validating and supporting them. The clinician, for example, wants to acknowledge the client’s experience and how painful it may be, but they also want to help the client understand the reality of the situation, which may involve exploring uncomfortable truths such as the fact that their child is likely unaware of or unwilling to accept that they are in an unhealthy relationship and subsequently are likely in denial about the effects that the relationship is having on other family members. 

Witt finds that naming and defining abusive relationships can help clients better understand what a loved one might be experiencing. Depending on where the client is at, this can be incredibly validating in the moment, or it might be information that clients come back to in the future. “Giving them the vocabulary can be important because we might only get that client for a short time,” Witt notes. “We’re planting seeds. Someone else is watering them, and we also might be watering seeds that therapists or others have been planting and watering.” Then, if the child becomes more open to discussing their relationship or relationship dynamics down the road, the parent will be more prepared to help their child see and understand some of the unhealthy patterns taking place, she adds.

Clinicians can also teach parents the importance of meeting their child where they are, while also modeling this behavior within the therapeutic relationship, says Laura Copley, an LPC who owns and operates Aurora Counseling & Well-Being in Harrisonburg, Virginia. 

“If I was seeing a mother whose son or daughter was coming home from college and all of a sudden in this toxic or manipulative relationship, I would first need to help teach her how to slow down enough to recognize where her child is at,” she says. To do this, Copley may use open-ended questioning to encourage the mother’s exploration into her child’s mindset. For example, she may ask the client questions such as “What do you think your child is experiencing right now? How do you know your child is experiencing that? What are some of the things they’re showing you that is making you feel like this is how they’re connecting to this relationship? And if that’s the case, what might be something your child needs to hear first from you?”

Copley also advises clients to show an interest in their child’s partner by asking how that person is doing and demonstrating concern for the partner’s well-being. Clients “don’t like this part, but it works,” Copley admits, because it’s a way to show genuine concern and hopefully create a safe space where the child can open up about their own well-being without getting defensive or reactive. “The son or the daughter then starts to trust, starts to feel safe, starts to express what they’re experiencing,” she explains. Then parents can reassure their child that if something bad happens in the relationship, they can stay with them, no questions asked.

Copley says that it can also be helpful to teach parents about the positive and negative personality characteristics that are often present in someone engaging in an unhealthy relationship. For example, a person may identify as being a “savior,” so they are loyal, committed, loving and courageous. On the other hand, saviors are also prone to attracting others who “need” saving, so they may also have a fear of asking for their needs to be met or a fear of being vulnerable or getting hurt, she notes. 

“This is all part of the conversation that we could have with parents to help them understand how to bridge the mindset of where their child might be,” says Copley, who adds that she would also role-play and model various ways to approach the loved one. “How we approach another human being, even somebody like our child, around something like this will deeply influence how they receive the message.”

Setting healthy boundaries

Working with clients to set healthy boundaries is another important aspect, but it can be incredibly challenging. 

To overcome difficulties with boundary setting, Laney encourages clients to think of it as setting a boundary not only for themselves but also for their loved ones. For example, he says that parents could tell their child, “Out of my care for you, I’m going to set this boundary because it’s not doing you any good to allow you to continue to treat me in that manner.” Framing the boundary as a means of protecting the child has helped many of Laney’s clients overcome their hesitancy to set boundaries. 

Another challenge with setting boundaries, especially in the beginning, can be finding the right balance. Clients sometimes move from having no boundaries to the extreme, Laney notes. For example, a parent may go from talking to their child every day to cutting off communication completely, rather than just communicating less. “We have to find that sweet spot,” Laney says.

Therefore, it’s important for counselors to help clients understand the nuance of boundary setting as well as the feelings of guilt and anxiety that can come along with setting limits with loved ones. Witt says that she encourages clients to make values-based decisions around things such as finances, faith, career and physical well-being when setting boundaries to ensure greater success.

“Making values-based decisions leads to those boundaries that actually stick,” Witt explains. For example, a parent may value attending church every Sunday, so if their child asks them to watch their grandkids one Sunday so that they can spend time with their partner, the parent may feel more empowered to say no because it will be a values-based decision. 

“If it’s values based, [the client] is more likely to uphold the boundary versus something they feel they ‘should’ do,” Witt says. “And setting a boundary that’s not going to stick is not going to be helpful to anybody.”

Dealing with guilt, grief and shame

There’s also the possibility that parents will feel a sense of guilt while watching a child in an unhealthy relationship dynamic and wondering how their parenting style or the child’s upbringing might have contributed to the situation. 

“The reality is that … our early attachment styles can absolutely set the stage for what we expect in romantic relationships, how we expect to get treated, how we get our needs met and if that’s replicated,” Copley says. So she likes to keep clients who may be experiencing these feelings of guilt focused on the present and what they can do now as opposed to exploring past events, at least when it comes to their goal of helping their child. 

Copley refers to having clients focus on what they can do in the present as a corrective experience, one in which behaviors and dynamics from the past can be corrected in the present by making another choice and behaving differently. For example, if a parent avoided tough conversations with their child in the past because of their own discomfort around confrontation, they could decide that moving forward they will be more open to having difficult conversations with their child. 

“If there’s shame and guilt for something the [parent’s] recognizing, we can either spiral into that shame and guilt and once again make it about us,” Copley explains, “or we can say it’s a signal that another opportunity is present for you to do something different and get redemption over anything that happened in the past.” 

Copley also teaches clients how to better manage the uncomfortable feelings that their child’s relationship may be bringing up in them by using somatic techniques to decrease the chances of reacting out of fear and trying to control the situation. Often, “the storm of emotions that are more than likely in them is because they’re so afraid of what their child is going through and the pain that they must be going through,” she explains. “And if we project that fear onto someone who thinks they are in love, that’s going to push them away and make them protect the toxic person more.” 

Sometimes parents feel guilty because they were also in an unhealthy relationship when their child was growing up. Witt advises clients who are worried their child may have witnessed unhealthy relationship patterns from them to have an honest and transparent conversation with their child about it. “We can’t go backwards, but we can be mindful of what we can do today to move forward,” she notes. “Whether that’s an apology or having an age-appropriate conversation to explain ‘This is why I handled things the way I did,’ [it] can enhance the relationship that you now have with that adult child.”

To help clients work through some of the shame and guilt that they might feel in these situations, Laney says that he likes to reinforce self-compassion and will often work with clients to explore how they can accept both difficult emotions and realities. For example, he might work with clients on how to hold the sense of sadness that their child might be in an unhealthy situation with possible feelings of guilt as well as possible disappointment around the dynamics of the relationship they have with their children. 

Accepting what you can’t change 

Although it’s not easy to come to terms with potentially challenging realities, such as a child’s unhealthy relationship and its effects on the wider family, embracing a certain amount of acceptance and equanimity can be one of the healthiest solutions for these clients, Laney says. 

“At some point there’s almost a surrender,” Laney says. “We exhaust ourselves trying to change things that we really can’t change. There’s something of a letting go there.”

Whitcomb also emphasizes acceptance, especially self-acceptance, in these types of situations that often involve an element of codependence or a preoccupation over the child and the child’s relationship at the expense of parent and their well-being. “Codependence feeds on avoidance of one’s own needs and difficult emotions because by being consumed by the problems of another, we are better able to ignore and avoid encountering our own,” she explains. “As I encourage parents and family members to shift their focus from the person they are enmeshed (overinvolved) with, I also try to guide clients to identify their own strengths as well as parts of themselves they perceive as flawed.” In recognizing their strengths and taking time for self-care, clients can start to develop not only a healthier sense of confidence and independence but also more self-compassion, she says, which in turn can cultivate more compassion for others.

Chaay_Tee/Shutterstock.com

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Contact the counselors interviewed in this article: 

 

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Katie Bascuas is a licensed graduate professional counselor and a writer in Washington, D.C. She has written for news outlets, universities and associations.

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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.

Resisting a savior mentality

By Caitlin C. Regan December 5, 2022

When I first began counseling as a teenager, I often did not connect with the clinicians sitting in front of me. They lectured me. They told me what I could and could not do. They told what I should and should not feel. Needless to say, that approach was not effective. 

But when I was 23, I started working with a psychiatrist who had a different style. She provided me with information about my condition, and then she would ask how I related to that information, what I felt, if that made sense or if I was connecting with it. She didn’t tell me what I could and could not feel or what I should and should not think; she just allowed me to be myself. 

This different approach allowed me to make a lot of progress. She was the first practitioner to diagnose me with bipolar II disorder because she was the first one I felt comfortable telling about my earlier manic episodes (which I later learned are actually hypomanic episodes). I felt like I owed her a lot because of how much she helped me during therapy. 

During one of our last sessions together, I thanked her for all she did for me and told her how she had saved me and changed my life. She stopped me and said, “I didn’t save you; you saved yourself. You’re giving me credit I haven’t earned. Give the credit to yourself. You’ve done the work, you’ve taken the knowledge and made change with it, and you’ve made a difference for yourself.” Her words in that session have always stuck with me even as I now sit in the therapist’s chair working with my own caseload of clients.

A humble helper 

I too have clients who thank me at the end of counseling for the difference I have made in their lives and for saving them, but I always remember to do the same as was done for me. I do not take credit for my clients’ triumphs and successes because it is not mine to be had. I take extreme joy when I witness clients have revelations and make progress, but I do not hold it as my success. It is theirs; they have rightly earned it. As a clinician, my role is to provide clients information and the tools they need to be healthy. I have modeled empathy for them by being a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen, which made them feel heard. So many who have come my way have not felt or had empathy in their life for the longest time. But I am not the one doing the work, making the choice to change and putting behavioral change into place, so I cannot take credit. 

As clinicians, we are not saviors. Instead, we should strive to be helpers. We do not enable clients or have them so reliant on us that they cannot choose or change for themselves. Instead, we work with our clients to help them move toward self-empowerment. I love being a counselor; I am blessed to be able to do it each day because seeing changes in clients’ lives unfold before me is a powerful experience.

It is important for clinicians to remain in a humble mindset and give clients credit for their successes. I see many clinicians who take this path and clients are more thankful for it. I once had a client, who after I told them it was not my credit to take, turned back to me and said, “Thank you. I do need to give myself credit when it is earned and stop giving my credit and my power away to people.” The client patted themself on the back and walked out the door. We worked together for several more sessions, and the client’s confidence continued to bloom to the point they no longer needed counseling, and I was thrilled to witness their success. 

When clients gain courage, confidence, strength and self-esteem in counseling, they are able to apply those skills outside the session and continue to have success even after their time in therapy ends. It will also better prepare them to face and overcome challenging moments and disappointments and move back toward living and thriving. Roy Baumeister and colleagues’ research, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest in 2003, shows that people with high self-esteem are better able to overcome challenges. Encouraging clients to take credit for the success they have while in treatment is another way clinicians can work to increase a client’s self-esteem. In turn, helping clients increase their self-esteem allows them to make greater strides not only in treatment but also after they leave a clinician’s care.

Empowering clients 

If we work from a belief that we are “saving” clients, then we are stripping them of their ability to be empowered. Empowerment is a key aspect to any mental health treatment. The strengths-based approach in counseling, created by psychologist Donald Clifton, works on the premise that focusing on a client’s strengths, rather than their faults, allows them to see all they are capable of and develops their belief in themselves and therefore their success. Helping clients see the capabilities that lie within is the essence of clinical work. 

Moreover, if a clinician assumes the role of a savior, the client’s setbacks and successes becomes theirs as well. This belief makes it the clinician’s fault if they do not “save” a client. Clinically, we cannot make clients put actional and behavioral changes into place. We can help them learn how to make changes, but they have to want and choose to do so for themselves. So, when a client does not choose healthy actions, clinicians should not blame themselves, and at the same time, when clients do choose healthy actions, we should not take the credit for being their savior. We can rejoice with our clients for making healthy decisions that will help them progress and grow, but it is not fair to take away the client’s empowerment and say we saved them. 

I do not think that clinicians who take on this savior mentality are trying to strip clients of their empowerment. They are excited when they see clients have success, but when they assume this “savior” frame of mind, they get caught up in the wins and lose sight of their role in empowering the client. We as clinicians must constantly remember the importance of empowering the clients, not ourselves, to improve our work and therapeutic relationship with clients.

As clinicians, it is our role as to encourage, empower and guide clients as they begin to make changes and healthy life choices. We walk beside them on their journey to remind them of all they are worth. When clients are able to walk ahead in their journey because they have grown and changed and no longer need us by their side, it is something they earn themselves.

SynthEx/Shutterstock.com

When my psychiatrist taught me to give myself credit, it allowed me to further my successes because I realized I was capable of empowering myself. If she had just said “thank you” when I gave her the credit, then I may still believe that she alone is responsible for my progress and not recognize the hard work I put into those sessions to help me develop a healthy frame of mind that now allows me to help others. Her assuming the role of a savior would have done more harm than good. What do I mean by this? I have seen how detrimental it can be to the recovery of clients when clinicians take on the role of savior. Clients in this situation become dependent on the counselor and believe they won’t be able to progress without that clinician. They may even think they are only able to make progress with the help of others rather than believing in their own ability to change. 

By assuming the role of helper, we can help clients learn to do things for themselves and give themselves proper credit. They grow in their self-esteem and belief in their own capability, rather than relying on yet another person telling them how to live and function. Clinicians need to work to remove the role enabling has played in many of our clients lives or the low self-esteem that has created the belief of not being able to do for themselves. When clients are enabled, often by clinicians and others in their lives, it leads to clients not taking responsibility for their good or bad choices. In addition, enabling often leads to lower self-esteem because clients do not feel like they are in control of their own lives. As clinicians, it is not our responsibility to “fix” people but to help people recognize all the wonderful pieces that already lie within.

Am I helping or saving?

Maybe you are asking yourself, “Am I helping or am I saving? How can I even tell?” To answer that, you first need to explore your underlying motivations by asking, “Do I rejoice in my clients progress because I am excited for them or because I think it makes me look good?” If any part of you is saying because it makes me look good, then that is a good sign you are assuming the role of the savior. 

The truth is that much of what counselors do is not about looking good. As an addiction counselor, I walk away from a lot of my sessions not feeling all that great because in addiction treatment, it is more common for clients to relapse or leave therapy against medical advice than for them to complete treatment and go on to celebrate 10 years of sobriety. At times, it does cross my mind, “What am I doing wrong? How can I fix it?” In these moments, I need to meditate and remind myself that I am no one’s savior, and I am there to help clients when they are ready to do their own work to make change. I have to constantly remind myself not to assume this role of savior because it’s easy to feel pressure to “fix” people and think you are responsible for their success. 

Another way to determine if you are saving or helping is to think about how you respond when a client thanks you for helping them. Do you remain humble and appreciative and then remind them of all the work they have done for the success they have earned? Having clients thank me for the support I show them is always a wonderful part of my job, but every time a client thanks me, I remind them of my motto, “This is credit I have earned, don’t give my credit away.” Within a week of working with me, my clients can easily repeat that motto, which helps them realize they are the ones who deserve the credit because they are the ones doing the work. 

I also do not want to diminish the work that counselors put into their sessions. Our work is hard and a labor of love. We watch every day as people grow, change, regress, learn, experience heartbreak and so much more, so it takes a lot of our own strength to do what we do. We deserve credit for our part as well, but clients should not be the ones to pay us that credit. It is essential clients build their own credit when working with us. Our validation should come from our loved ones, supervisors and bosses, so we can focus on helping our clients and not make the session about us, which is unethical. We cross boundaries when we look to clients to validate us, and this is another reason to wholeheartedly allow clients to have the credit for their own growth, which is 100% theirs.

Early on in my counseling journey, I had many clinicians who assumed the role of the savior, and it led me down a path of believing that I needed others to save me. It wasn’t until several years later when I had a clinician point out that I earned the credit myself that I was able to take the first step toward the empowered road I now walk. I am able to accept and ask for help when I need it, but I am also empowered to save myself and know how worthy I am as a person. Knowing my worth each and every day is the best gift I have ever allowed myself to receive, and every client out there deserves the same. As a counselor, I am now in a position where I can pass that message on to my clients and show them their credit is theirs to keep. It is a great honor to work in a helping profession, and it is important to always remember that we are helpers not saviors.

 

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Caitlin C. Regan is a 35-year-old mental health and addiction counselor in Juno Beach, Florida. She has been living with a mental health diagnosis since she was a teenager, and through electroconvulsive therapy and daily self-care, she has been successfully living with it for over eight years. As a teacher and counselor, she has over 13 years of experience helping those with mental health and addictions. Her passions include helping others, mental health, seeking social justice, and spending time with her friends, family and two dogs. Follow her on Instagram and Pinterest @caitlins_counseling_corner or on her YouTube channel at Caitlin’s Counseling Corner. Contact her at caitlinscounselingcorner@gmail.com.

 

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

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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.

Behind the book: Handbook for Human Sexuality Counseling: A Sex Positive Approach

Compiled by Bethany Bray December 2, 2022

Sexuality is often a taboo topic in the United States, and that extends to the counseling profession. Only two states, Florida and California, require a human sexuality course for counselor licensure.

Not only are there few counselor-specific resources on human sexuality, but the majority of them “address the basic concepts of sexuality and gender … from a narrow cisgender, heteronormative, and pathological framework,” write Angela Schubert and Mark Pope, co-editors of the new American Counseling Association book Handbook for Human Sexuality Counseling: A Sex Positive Approach.

“Sexuality is part of the human experience,” they note. “However, it is often disregarded in both counselor training and the actual process of counseling.”

Pope, a past ACA president and professor emeritus at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and Schubert, a former student of Pope’s and associate professor at Central Methodist University in Missouri and lead clinician at Brightside Counseling Services in Colorado, collaborated on the book to begin to address this knowledge gap. They are both also leaders in the Association of Counseling Sexology & Sexual Wellness (ACSSW), an organizational affiliate of ACA. (Schubert is past president and Pope is trustee.)

What does a sex positive approach look like in counseling? And what might counselors be missing if they fail to bring up sexuality in the counseling room? Counseling Today sent the co-editors some questions via email to learn more.

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Q&A: Handbook for Human Sexuality Counseling: A Sex Positive Approach

Responses by co-editors Angela Schubert and Mark Pope

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Sexuality is an uncomfortable topic for some people. Have you received any pushback from within the counseling profession as you’ve researched and published this book?

Angela Schubert: Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite response. People, and more specifically mental health professionals and students alike, are eager for this information. Yes, there are books out there that discuss the basics of sexuality, but none have taken on a candid and comprehensively sex positive viewpoint.

Mark Pope: What Angie said. And when we approached ACA to publish our book, they were so very supportive and eager to have such a book in their publications list. There is nothing like and as comprehensive as our book available to counseling professionals. It’s historic for ACA to publish this book and we are quite proud of it. We assembled an amazingly knowledgeable and talented group of authors from a variety of professions who deal with human sexuality, including professional counselors, school counselors, counseling psychologists, clinical social workers, urologists, neurologists and others. One of the urologists even did the drawings in the physiological chapter.

 

Sex education is lacking — or nonexistent — for many American students. From your perspective, what should professional counselors’ role be in filling that knowledge gap?

AS: This is a tough question because most professional counselors in the U.S. are in fact former American students. They too may have received minimal sexuality education. As a result, it is highly likely a counselor may first need to become educated themselves on the topic of human sexuality as it relates to counseling. This can be done via workshops, trainings, webinars or a class conducted by licensed mental health professionals and/or organizations that support comprehensive sexuality training. Joining associations like ACSSW would also greatly benefit counselors. ACSSW in particular provides free sexuality counseling webinars to their members. When a counselor has the proper knowledge, they are better equipped to fill the gap with their clients. Ultimately, we hope this book contributes to bridging that gap for counselors and counselor educators.

MP: We have chapters in our book that address this directly. One that focuses on sex education for students in elementary, middle and secondary schools and another for counselors-in-training. It is so important that counselors take the lead in their work settings to advocate for comprehensive sex education for the whole person. But first we must be educated ourselves about sex. This is where counselor education programs are failing their students and where the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is as well.

 

What should those conversations look like with individual clients (or students)?

AS: Conversations with clients should be conducted from a sex positive framework. This type of approach asks counselors to engage in a dialog inclusive of intentional curiosity, radical respect and candid openness. What do each of those look like? Intentional curiosity sets the stage to speak freely and without judgment. Radical respect embraces the belief that every sexual story deserves to be heard. Lastly, it is imperative for counselors to approach sexual issues in the same way they approach suicide, depression, anxiety, etc. — with candid openness.

MP: Realistically, each client/student is different, but each requires the foundational unconditional positive regard that we all learn in our counseling techniques classes.

 

What would you want counselors to know about examining their own feelings and possible biases regarding sexuality in order to best help clients? What is the best way to do this?

AS: It is important to recognize that we are all full of biases when it comes to sexuality. There is nothing wrong with that. The key is to lean in to any discomfort and open yourself up to exploring your personal biases, baggage and damage that might influence your therapeutic filter with clients. This could be done by picking up this book, for example, and reflecting on how you feel and think about the material presented. You might also participate in individual counseling or engage in a formal experience such as a Sexual Attitudes Reassessment (SAR) seminar. A SAR is an intensive professional development program that aims to challenge participants to evaluate their own internal beliefs, values and attitudes toward sexuality topics.

MP: It’s not much different than dealing with any personal bias that you have — [it’s about] awareness, knowledge and skills. Be authentic and ask caring questions of your peers.

 

What advice would you give to a counselor who has a client who talks about a sexual topic that the counselor doesn’t understand, know about or feel comfortable addressing?

AS: I start off an initial session by stating to the client, “I know a lot about a lot of things, but I don’t know you. You are the expert of your story. There might be moments where I might need some more information to better understand how to support you.” Counselors not only set the stage to give permission to their clients to express themselves freely about sexuality, but they also need to give themselves permission to ask.

With that said, it is not on the client to do the work for the counselor. If you have a client who starts talking about sexual contracts and your only knowledge of that is what you saw in 50 Shades of Grey, you might want to clarify what the sexual contract means to the client. If emotions are coming up, it is important to bracket any feelings that arise and check back in with yourself to see where the discomfort came from and find ways to adequately educate yourself on the topic.

MP: Listen to your client/student and then consult with a specialist in this area. It’s basic ethics 101. And if you don’t already have such a specialist in your professional referral list, then do the research to find one now, before this happens, because it will happen. It happens to all of us.

 

What topics or discussions (with clients) regarding sexual issues might be beyond counselors’ scope of practice? Is there anything you’d want practitioners to know about this?

AS: In Chapter 3, Robert J. Zeglin and his co-authors did a phenomenal job addressing this very issue. They created a knowledge-based decision-making matrix that incorporated both the ethical decision-making model and Jack Annon’s PLISSIT (permission giving, limited information, specific suggestions and intensive therapy) model. The combination allows for counselors to ethically identify what topics fall within scope of practice, as well as those in need of referral. Ultimately, practitioners are in an optimal position and within their scope to give permission to clients to speak freely about sexual issues, as well as to provide limited information and specific suggestions (within the scope of competency, of course).

MP: As we work with clients/students, we always must be concerned first with ruling out physiological causes which would require an appropriate physician referral, but we must be sure to not send them off unprepared for such a meeting or to send them off too early without us having a full picture of the problem or problems.

 

Only two states, Florida and California, require a human sexuality course for counselor licensure. What would it take to change that? What would you want counselors who don’t live in those two states to know about educating themselves?

AS: The first question really is, why is this the case? It could be assumed that human sexuality is not considered a core aspect of human identity — not just by the mental health field but also by those in position to create and implement the educational and licensure requirements. And because most counseling programs abide by their respective state licensure requirements and CACREP standards, most do not require students to take a human sexuality course. This is where counseling programs can really make a difference. Regardless of what the state says, counseling programs can still require students to take a human sexuality counseling course. Counselors can also join efforts with their state counseling association to lobby for an inclusion of a sex education requirement for licensure.

MP: Counselors can also join groups such as ACSSW and attend their human sexuality and counseling webinars. They can subscribe to the Journal of Counseling Sexology & Sexual Wellness, the only journal dedicated to counseling and sexual wellness. Last, they could attend any sexual mental health conferences, such as [those of the] American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) and the Center for Sex Education.

 

What made you collaborate on this book — why do you feel it’s needed now?

AS: We met each other when I first entered the master’s program at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis (UMSL) in 2004. Dr. Pope and the rest of the UMSL faculty went as far as they could with elective courses on the topic of sexuality, yet more was needed. We made an agreement that once I graduated with my Ph.D. and settled into a professor position, we would create a book that addressed every topic I wished I had seen during my training. And here we are. Ultimately, the way I see it [is that] it is unethical as a mental health profession to not train practitioners on the topic of sexuality. Sexuality is, in fact, a key component of mental wellness. This book aims to support the ethical practices of the mental health field.

MP: It is clear to me that this topic and human sexuality as a whole need to be formally recognized as an integral part of human wellness and human development. Human sexuality is not an elective! And we need to advocate for this as a core component of our profession.

 

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Handbook for Human Sexuality Counseling: A Sex Positive Approach was published by the American Counseling Association this year. It is available both in print and as an e-book at counseling.org/store or by calling 800-298-2276.

 

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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.

From the President: What good mentoring looks like

Kimberly N. Frazier December 1, 2022

Kimberly Frazier, ACA’s 71st president

Last month, I discussed three steps to help you find a mentor that meets your needs: 1) Do your research. 2) Ask questions. 3) Determine if you and your potential mentor are a good fit. I also challenged you to evaluate your current mentors and mentoring needs using two central questions: What do I think are the most important characteristics in a mentor? And is this potential mentor a good fit for me? 

It is important to remember mentoring is used to help aid in navigating your leadership and career goals to pursue your life’s work. So far in our deep dive into mentoring, we have discussed the qualities of a good mentor, the steps to find a good mentor and the central questions that guide your process in finding a good mentor. 

This month, we will explore what the process of mentoring looks like. People repeatedly ask me how often they should reach out to their mentors, what specifically they should be asking for in the relationship and what they should do when disagreements occur. 

How often should I reach out to my mentor? The relationship you establish with your mentor at the beginning builds your mentoring foundation. From the start, you and your mentor determine how often you are in contact. As the mentee, you should be upfront about how often you would like to communicate and the way you would like to communicate (e.g., on Zoom, on the phone, in person). Your mentor should also be honest and let you know how much time they can commit to meeting with you. 

How frequently you meet with your mentor will vary depending on your needs and where you are in your career. In general, you could opt to schedule check-ins with your mentor twice a month. There will also be times when you need more in-depth mentoring such as when you are job searching or changing careers. Another time you may need more in-depth mentoring is when you are working with your mentor on a project or presentation. During these times, you may want to schedule Zoom or in-person meetings more frequently. Remember to communicate with your mentor when you need more or less time with them.

What should I ask for? Many potential mentees are unsure what to ask for in the mentoring relationship. The answer to this question depends on what you need help with. If you have selected the mentor for career guidance, then you should be asking about career-related questions. If you have selected the mentor to aid in leadership mentoring, then you should be asking about leadership opportunities and guidance. In each mentoring meeting, you should have specific questions and/or topics that you are seeking guidance on. Establish timelines for yourself and your mentor focused on your career goals and milestones and your professional development goals and milestones, so that you can track your progress and look for areas of potential growth. Remember you should have multiple mentors with expertise in specific areas to help you achieve your goals and pursue your life’s purpose.

How do I navigate disagreements? Like any relationship, disagreements between you and your mentor can and will occur. When this happens, it is important to be honest about your feelings and thoughts that have transpired because of the disagreement. It is also important to remember that how you see a situation may not mirror how your mentor views it. Your mentor’s job is to help you look at a situation from all angles, but ultimately you make the final decision about how to react or the next steps to take. Communication is the key when your opinion differs from your mentor’s. A good mentor is not going to expect you to agree with every opinion they have or follow every piece of guidance they give you.

Use these three questions to think about how you want to set up your mentoring relationships. This relationship should be a good fit for both you and your mentor, and it should allow you to be open and honest about your needs. Your needs in the mentoring relationship will change as your career and leadership goals and opportunities change. Communicate these changes openly with your mentor and be mindful that your mentor’s personal and career goals can also affect the mentoring relationship. 

For this month’s challenge, I want you to reflect on the type of mentoring relationship that works best for you. Think about what type of time commitment you want from your mentor, how often you want your mentor to contact you and how you best handle disagreements. Use the three questions posed in this month’s column to reflect on your current mentoring relationships; take note of the things that are working in your current relationships and things that may need to change based on your leadership and career needs. Remember, self-reflection is part of the journey needed to help achieve your life’s work. Until next month!