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Counselor Educators Audience

Behind the Book: Counseling Research: A Practitioner-Scholar Approach

By Bethany Bray April 17, 2017

The first paragraph of the preface in Richard Balkin and David Kleist’s book Counseling Research: A Practitioner-Scholar Approach acknowledges that research is probably not something that most counselors get excited about.

However, it’s a much-needed endeavor and something that counselors are particularly suited for, they write.

“Counselors make great qualitative researchers because of the natural fit of hearing our clients’ narratives and to establishing meaning from them. These same skills can be used in developing meaningful research,” they write.

Counseling Research: A Practitioner-Scholar Approach was published by the American Counseling Association this year. Balkin, a professor and doctoral program coordinator at the University of Louisville and Kleist, a professor and chairman of the Department of Counseling at Idaho State University, know each other through their work in the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), a division of ACA.

 

Counseling Today sent the co-authors some questions, via email, to learn more.

 

Your book emphasizes the “practitioner-scholar model” for research. Can you elaborate on that?

Rick Balkin: As a journal editor [Balkin is editor of ACA’s Journal of Counseling & Development], one of the topics discussed often is the gap between practice and research. Does one reflect the other? It should, and we see this in the ACA Code of Ethics, “Counselors have a responsibility to the public to engage in counseling practices that are based on rigorous research methodologies” (p. 8).

Many future counselors might think they will never do research, but they will definitely use research in their practice, and so we hope this text serves as a nice bridge. Furthermore, we provided sections on research design [to] help emerging researchers, such as a beginning doctoral student, begin to conceptualize how they can design and conduct research.

David Kleist: For myself, I was strongly motivated to clarify the “practitioner-scholar” role and relevance for master’s students identity as developing professional counselors. For years the profession of counseling has only viewed master’s students as passive consumers of research, not active knowledge-producers. However, with the counseling profession’s distinct training structure (with the terminal clinical degree being the masters), and the doctoral degree focused on counselor education and supervision, we need licensed professional counselors who see their role as researchers — that is practitioner-scholars — to inform the practice of counseling as they comprise the majority of front line counseling practitioners. A past doctoral advisee of mine, Megan Michalak (2013), conducted a grounded theory study of how counselor educators promote scholarship with counselors-in-training. Her research communicates that this role as knowledge-producer can be integrated into counselor training beyond merely training master’s students to be passive consumers of research.

 

In your words, why are counselors a good fit for research work? What particular skills do they bring to the endeavor?

Rick: Our skills in listening, attending to a narrative and trying to get deeper into the issues affecting our clients make us a natural fit for qualitative research. To be good stewards of the profession and strong advocates for professional counseling, we need to know that what we are doing is effective and helpful – and be able to explain that to consumers and stakeholders. We need to be knowledgeable about research and how to access and evaluate data in this era of accountability where counselors may be called in to court or have to justify our services and funding.

David: Rick is dead on accurate, particularly as to the readiness for counselors to conduct qualitative research. The foundational counseling skills are also the foundational skills of skilled qualitative researchers. The counseling profession is situated to be at the forefront of mental health qualitative research.

 

What was your inspiration to collaborate and create this book?

Rick: Often research courses for counseling students are farmed out to another departments or taught across the college of education. In other words, counseling programs often lack ownership of their research classes. That is unfortunate, because we end up learning about, and ultimately trying to adopt, the strategies used in educational research. But educational research is often related to student performance in classrooms, schools, school districts and statewide performance. These are large systems with a lot of people and data. But whom do counselors see? Predominately we see an individual, small groups, couples and families. So I view counseling research as quite different from educational research, and I wanted to highlight that as well as provide an opportunity for counseling departments and counselor educators to take more ownership of their research classes. ACA did not have a research book, so I saw an opportunity to lend a counselor voice to this area.

I truly enjoy teaching research and helping students understand and relate to concepts that quite often are found intimidating. David Kleist and I knew each other for many years and have co-chaired the ACES INFORM program together. I knew his passion for qualitative research, and I wanted that passion and voice reflected in the book. I think that is something that this text delivers that is different from other books.

David: Hearing that ACA reached out to Rick to write a research book made total sense. When Rick approached me I was touched by his generosity, and his understanding that he could write the qualitative chapters but maybe not with the same passion as he would the quantitative chapters. For myself, I felt overwhelmed, and initially quite hesitant. I knew that I had clear ideas and passion toward qualitative research but wondered what collaboration with Rick would look like. I trusted our past — and ongoing — relationship through ACES and thought we could create an accessible text that clearly communicates the role of scholar for both doctoral and master’s students in the counseling profession.

 

Do you feel the counseling profession, as a whole, produces enough research? Is there an unmet need (if so, what particular areas of research)?

Rick: I think we need to do more client-centered research. We see a lot of research come out on the role of counselors, counselor training and training/practicing within various competencies. But I think we need more research on what we [are] doing with our clients and how our interventions affect clients. I think this type of research can elevate our profession even further.

David: I agree with Rick and would refer back to my comments above to extend the conversation. The counseling profession’s training structure is distinct from the profession of psychology. Psychology has the doctoral degree as the terminal clinical degree, which clearly includes training to conduct research. Thus, psychology conceptualized the “scientist-practitioner model” more than 70 years ago to frame the purpose of the doctoral degree in psychology. The counseling profession would benefit from framing the training of professional counselors as “practitioner-scholars” [and] client-centered research would be the focus. For the doctoral degree, which focuses on producing counselor educators and supervisors, we need to conduct research on the education and supervision of counselors, too, stretching our time thin for also conducting client-centered research. Our profession is still young and developing, and framing our master’s level counselors as “practitioner-scholars” will go a long way to meeting Rick’s goal — our goal — of conducting more client-centered research.

 

What would you want counselor practitioners who aren’t in university settings to know about this topic?

Rick: Research is similar to our counseling skills; if you are not using your skills you tend to get rusty. So, for counselors who have not thought about research in a while, this text provides a very readable overview. We tried to use a voice in this text that is more engaging, fun and practical. Like any research text there are technical terms, but I believe we explain them well and we only use counseling examples. All of the research cited in the book is from counseling research. In essence, this is a book written by counselors for counselors.

David: Research is becoming more and more a collaborative endeavor. I would want counselors to have access to counselor educators in academic settings to consult on developing group research projects targeting the frontline provision of counseling services.

 

What makes research an area of interest for you, personally?

Rick: The formative experiences of my counseling career including working with adolescents admitted to inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. I worked during the period [when] managed care really started to take over — in Arkansas that was 1993 to 2000. So, I saw a lot of change in terms of length of [hospital] stay and how we had to justify our treatment interventions for working with adolescents. I constantly had to answer questions related to why the adolescent required hospitalization and what were we doing to address the issues. I had to verbalize an understanding of what [we] were doing and why it was effective — and yet the system was changing so rapidly I do not think there was sufficient data to justify what the insurance industry was executing. So, when I entered my doctoral program, I saw an opportunity to use research to advocate for clients and to push back against changes that were not helpful to our clients. I see research as a way to not only enhance the care we provide our clients but to advocate for them.

David: I became a counselor to better understand how I could “help people,” the cliché response for most beginning counselors in training. The core of this interest is a curiosity of people [and] of people in relationships. I see curiosity as core to the research process. For me, this book emphasizes to master’s students, in particular, that they have the essential quality of curiosity to not only to provide counseling services, but also to engage in research.

 

 

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Counseling Research: A Practitioner-Scholar Approach is available both in print and as an e-book from the American Counseling Association bookstore at counseling.org/publications/bookstore or by calling 800-422-2648 x 222

 

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Related reading: See Counseling Today‘s recent online exclusive: “What gets in the way? Examining the breakdown between research and practice in counseling

 

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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.

 

Counseling’s connector-in-chief

By Bethany Bray June 30, 2016

When you see Catherine Roland at a professional event, the number of lives she has touched throughout her career soon becomes clear.

“You can go to any American Counseling Association conference, and when [Roland] walks down the hall, people are constantly stopping her, running up to her, hugging her. She’s left behind quite a trail of very accomplished people,” says Vincent Viglione, clinical assistant professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. “Without her, I would not be where I am today. And it’s not just me. She gives constant, very intentional support, good advice and goodwill through it all. She’s very interested in the betterment of the profession.”

Roland, chair of the counseling program at the Washington, D.C., campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, becomes the American Counseling Association’s 65th president on July 1.

“I think of her as the pied piper of counselor educators. She has a gift for it,” says Larry Burlew, a retired counselor educator and licensed professional counselor (LPC) who worked with Roland at the University of New Orleans and Montclair State University. “She draws people in and knows how to connect well with people. She’s extremely friendly, very loyal and high energy. She’s the glue. She glues people together.”

Many of Roland’s former students have gone on to educator or leadership roles within the counseling profession. Some now pass on her example of mentorship to students of their own. A case in point: Monica Osburn, a past president of the American College Counseling Association, says she was one of five students from her Ph.D. cohort with Roland at the University of Arkansas who went on to become ACA division presidents.

Richard Balkin, another member of that Ph.D. cohort and a past president of the Association for Assessment and Research in Counseling, says Roland’s legacy extends to the students he graduates as a professor at the University of Louisville. “They all know who Catherine Roland is. They see her as part of their lineage,” Balkin says. “It really is an ACA family that she has created. … She’s very good at making connections. She’s very relational in her leadership approach. That’s one of the real treats of knowing Catherine and working with her.”

Although Roland has held many titles throughout her career, she says her role of mentor is one of the most important to her. “I was mentored well, and I’ve always thought that was important. You pay it back,” Roland says. “It’s something that you give to someone, and they give it to other people. … My book of students past is very long, and that is such a gift.”

Career journey

Roland brings a diverse skill set to the ACA presidency. She has worked in private practice; in student affairs as a college dean, residence life director and director of a college counseling

Catherine Roland, chair of the counseling program at the Washington, D.C., campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology

Catherine Roland, chair of the counseling program at the Washington, D.C., campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology

center; and as an educator, both in public school classrooms and as a counseling professor.

As a counselor, Roland’s areas of focus and expertise include LGBT issues, trauma and aging. She is a past president of the Association for Adult Development and Aging, a division of ACA, and has more than three decades of experience in private practice counseling couples, families and individuals. She has also been employed both at small private colleges and large state universities. A native of Long Island, Roland has worked and studied in eight different U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia.

Roland began her career as a high school English teacher at an inner-city school in Cincinnati, where she became good friends with a co-worker who was a school counselor. Through that friendship, Roland became more interested in the ways that counselors could support students and meet their needs.

“I took a couple of master’s classes in counseling, and I knew that was it,” Roland says. “When I was in doctorate work, I just fell in love with the clinical piece of [counseling]. I have always dealt with people of all ages. Counseling, in general, fits my personality very well. I really like working with families, couples … and some of the more difficult stuff — trauma, death and dying, and grief.”

After earning her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Cincinnati, Roland transitioned from classroom teaching to student affairs, working at universities in Philadelphia, just outside New York City and New Orleans. She spent a decade in full-time private counseling practice in New Orleans before becoming a college professor.

While living in New Orleans, Roland was very involved in providing support services, both as a volunteer and as a professional counselor, to those in the community affected by AIDS. This was in the 1980s, when little was known about the disease and a crushing amount of stigma was attached. People would often lose their jobs because of the diagnosis, Roland says.

“There were no medications. … We didn’t know back then. We thought it was a death sentence,” she says. “I devoted most of my practice and personal time to HIV/AIDS work, and that’s what shaped me. It changed my life, and it changed my practice as well. I started doing a lot of pro bono work. … It was a very difficult time in the city, very tragic.”

Roland says she got involved because more and more of her clients were getting sick with HIV/AIDS. As a private practitioner with a background in student affairs, she frequently received referrals to work with young men and college students. When clients couldn’t pay, she counseled them pro bono.

“I can’t even begin to say how many personal friends I lost, one after the other after the other,” she says. “Of course, if you had the [counseling] license and the degree, you wanted to help. … [This experience] is part of who I am. These are the things that shape us. I learned a lot about adversity. It’s what you did. It’s not something to be congratulated [for]; it’s just what had to happen.”

Roland was involved in numerous agencies and nonprofits that supported those affected by HIV/AIDS in New Orleans in the 1980s and early 1990s, including serving as chairwoman of New Orleans Women Against AIDS. She also helped cowrite a training manual for HIV/AIDS counseling that is still used in New Orleans today.

Roland spent many hours counseling clients in a clinic that was housed in a New Orleans church basement. The operation was kept very hush-hush because of the stigma that was prevalent at that time surrounding AIDS. Part of the work involved opening a sealed envelope with the client that contained the person’s test results. Roland would then counsel the client about the diagnosis, which was most often HIV-positive.

“The indignity those guys must have felt, sitting in a cold room in the basement of a church,” Roland recalls. “You [the counselor] are on one side of the table, and the guy comes in, and he’s never seen you, you’ve never seen him. You’ve got an envelope in your hands which hasn’t been opened yet, so I’m also surprised when I see [the test results]. It never occurred to me that that was hard to do. In retrospect, it was horrendous. It was just what you did. Someone had to do that. … I think back, and I’m so happy to have been a part of that, so proud to have been a part of that.”

A mover and a shaker

Many of Roland’s former students say that she possesses the ability to see qualities and potential in people that they may not recognize in themselves. She is described as the type of mentor who applies pressure when needed but also gives students enough room to grow and learn on their own.

“There were times with me when [Roland] needed to sit back and let me go, and times when she needed to provide more mentorship or challenge me,” says Balkin, an LPC and ACA fellow who is the editor of the Journal of Counseling & Development. “I think she struck that balance very well.”

“She truly is one of the most intuitive people that I’ve ever met. As a student, that was kind of scary. You felt like she was peering into your soul,” says Balkin with a chuckle. “But that allows her to form deeper connections. … It’s not just what you do, but how you get there. That’s important to her.”

Osburn, director of the counseling center at North Carolina State University, describes her former professor and dissertation chair as a “seed planter.”

“She’s so unassuming. It’s just a series of small, building-block snippets that help turn you into this person you’d never thought you’d be. No one moment defines it. It just solidifies over time,” says Osburn, an LPC supervisor. “She is a quiet leader, intentional and thoughtful. She really has a knack for making you feel [that] you are the most capable and worthwhile person, which gives you the confidence to take a leap of faith that you maybe didn’t think you were ready for. And she’ll always be there to catch you if you fall too.”

“She sees things in people that they don’t even see themselves,” Viglione adds. “She sees their strengths, what they need, and she orchestrates it for them.”

In addition to being an intuitive and relational mentor, Roland is a visionary leader who is very driven, according to several people who know her well. “She’s extremely kind and giving of herself, her heart and her time,” Osburn says. “She is this unassuming, always-smiling person, but don’t let that fool you for a second. She is sharp — and fiery if she needs to be.”

Viglione, an LPC and clinical supervisor who has a private practice in Denville, New Jersey, studied under Roland at Montclair State and later worked with her in private practice, sharing an office. He expects that Roland, as ACA president, “will be a driving force — an absolute driving force. I’ve never seen her back down from anything or take shortcuts. She’s pretty straightforward. She knows what she wants, what she needs, and she pursues it single-mindedly. She’s a mover and a shaker, without a doubt.”

Viglione and Burlew saw these attributes come out in Roland as she worked to build a doctoral program at Montclair State a few years ago. When Roland joined the faculty at Montclair State, the university’s counselor education program offered only a master’s degree track. She soon crafted a proposal to introduce a Ph.D. program for counselor education and presented it to the university administration.

A Montclair State dean initially said no to the proposal, Burlew remembers, because the university was considering the creation of several other programs at the time. But that didn’t stop Roland. She worked diligently to rework, edit and finalize her proposal, and the school’s president bumped it to the head of the queue, according to Burlew.

Montclair State’s Ph.D. counseling program, of which Roland was the inaugural director, came to fruition in less than two years. At the time, it was the only counselor Ph.D. program in the tri-state area of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, Viglione says.

“She hand-picked the professors, designed [the program] and made it happen,” Viglione says. “Everything she puts her hands on, she makes it the best possible thing it can be.”

Burlew also credits the program’s existence and growth to Roland’s effort, vision and initiative. “She just kept at it  [even] after people said, ‘This is never going to happen.’ … It was just like a whirlwind. It was like lightning. That’s how she works. She does things 200 percent. If it’s really important, she’ll figure out a way to work through barriers.”

Catherine Roland, surrounded by students from the first counselor Ph.D. cohort at Montclair State University, at a farewell dinner held for her as she was leaving the university in 2013. Roland was instrumental in creating the university’s counselor Ph.D. program. The students gave her this photo in a frame inscribed with the words “Thank you for believing in us!”

Catherine Roland, surrounded by students from the first counselor Ph.D. cohort at Montclair State University, at a farewell dinner held for her as she was leaving the university in 2013. Roland was instrumental in creating the university’s counselor Ph.D. program. The students gave her this photo in a frame inscribed with the words “Thank you for believing in us!”

The year ahead

Roland is taking the reins at ACA during what may appear to be a turbulent time. In May, the association announced its decision to move its 2017 annual conference out of Nashville after Tennessee passed a law allowing counselors to deny services to prospective clients based on “sincerely held principles.” Denying services based solely on a counselor’s personally held values is a violation of the ACA Code of Ethics (see cover story for more details).

Roland served as president-elect during the past fiscal year under outgoing ACA President Thelma Duffey. As president-elect and a member of the ACA Governing Council, Roland was involved in the discussions and decision to pull the conference out of Nashville. Roland says she is aware of and prepared for the extra demands that will be placed on her and the association in the year ahead.

“I never thought it would be an easy or a simple thing to be president, but this year more than ever, it will be more complicated and intricate,” Roland says. “It’s going to be a challenge, and I’m up for the challenge. … I think I can approach it with a good heart, ready to learn as much as I can, in addition to what I’ve learned [already].”

“Catherine is very approachable,” Burlew says. “If you feel things should be going in a different direction, you can talk to her and she’ll listen. She has an open-door policy. You can walk right up to her as an ACA member, and if she thinks action needs to be taken, she’ll take action.”

Balkin believes that thanks in part to Roland’s previous experience and professional focus on issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, she is the right president at the right time for ACA. “She’s very in tune to the issues that are at the forefront of ACA today,” he says. “I think she’s going to have a very well-timed presidency. … She is a capable person who will, I think, articulate very clearly, compassionately and very empathically the direction that ACA is moving the profession.”

While serving as president, Roland says she will have two focuses: life span development of minority populations and bringing ACA’s branches, divisions and regions together for mentorship and leadership.

“I think we have a lot of things in common among us as far as ACA’s regions, divisions and branches [go]. I want to tap into that. We’re more alike than we are different,” Roland says. “I believe we have more common ground than we understand, and I want to harness that common ground. From that stems the best kind of leadership and leaders.”

 

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Meet Catherine Roland

Degrees: Ed.D. in counselor education and M.Ed. in guidance and counseling from the University of Cincinnati; B.A. in English literature and education from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia

Licensure: Licensed professional counselor, national certified counselor and licensed clinical supervisor

Has taught or worked at: The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Washington, D.C., campus (current position); Georgia Regents University (now Augusta University), Augusta, Georgia; Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas; University of New Orleans; Delgado Community College, New Orleans; St. Mary’s Dominican College, New Orleans; Manhattanville College, Purchase, New York; Temple University, Philadelphia; and University of Cincinnati (as a graduate assistant)

What ACA members may not know about her: She currently works a block and a half from the White House. She’s an only child from an Italian American family. She’s an animal lover and a self-described “cat lady.” She loves to travel (Cape Cod, New Orleans, New York City and the Maine coast are her favorite destinations). She also enjoys being outside and taking walks, photography, needlepoint, knitting and going to plays, musicals and museums. Her taste in music is wide-ranging; her favorite genres are opera, country music and rock ‘n’ roll.

 

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

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Professional trip to India opens eyes, fills hearts

By Bethany Bray June 20, 2016

Counselors around the world have more in common than you might think.

Angela Coker, an associate professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL), found herself talking about some very familiar issues with international colleagues recently at a conference in Bangalore, India. Challenges that American counselors face – workload, pay rate and questions of counselor identity – are the same for colleagues around the world.

“In interacting with many of the counselors I met at the conference, [I found that] the issue of professional identity of counselors is a worldwide issue. I met a counselor from the U.K. who talked about how most people don’t know what a counselor is, or what we do,” says Coker, a licensed professional counselor (LPC). “It really just hit home again that most people don’t know … We have a lot of work to do, in terms of educating people who we are.”

Coker and Sachin Jain, an LPC and associate director of Counselors Without Borders, led a group of six masters-level graduate students from UMSL and George Mason University to India in January. The group attended and presented at the International Counselling, Psychotherapy and Wellness Conference at Christ University in Bangalore.

Many of the students who went on the 10-day trip said the experience spurred both personal and professional growth; for one student, it also allowed her to overcome past trauma she associated with Indian culture (see sidebar, below).

The conference, jointly organized by Christ University and the University of Toronto, was a gathering of university educators and professionals from around the world. While on the Christ University campus, the group was able to interact and share meals with Indian counseling students.

George Mason student Alexander Hilert remembers this experience as a highlight of the trip.

“I found a great deal of similarity between myself and the (Indian) students, sharing their motivations and aspirations for making a difference and helping others,” says Hilert.

Jain has been leading groups of counselor educators and students on professional work/study trips to his native India for years, including a meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2013. This time, the trek was a chance for students to present at an academic conference, as well as be exposed to culture and perspectives they might be missing in an American graduate program, he says. In India, there is a shortage of mental and physical healthcare, while the needs are great – due to stressors such as poverty, class struggles, rampant corruption and high rates of suicide, says Jain.

“Students are the future leaders for the field. But their [American] training explicitly does not identify the most vulnerable populations living in developing countries, [which] severely limits advocacy and social justice efforts,” says Jain. “My hope is that some of these students return back to India or other developing countries to serve.”

Coker agreed, saying the trip was a chance to “expose some of our students to international thinking.”

“The whole purpose of this trip was international immersion and to increase multicultural consciousness,” Coker says. “A person can get a whole PhD (in the U.S.) without reading a text by anyone who isn’t an American, which I think is crazy.”

 

 

In their own words

Here are some thoughts from the counseling graduate students who traveled to India this winter:

 

“Deciding to make the trip to India was a very challenging decision for me to make personally. Not just because of logistics or the fact I had never been out of the country before but because I had a traumatic experience when I was 14 years old when a man who was from India sexually assaulted me. In court he used his cultural background as a defense. At a young age I became fearful of Indian culture, believing his words that his actions were considered normal in his country. From that point forward I generalized and shied away from the culture; India was one country I told myself I would never visit in my lifetime.

When I first learned about the opportunity to travel to India I knew it was a wonderful opportunity, but it was just something I told myself I could not do. Over the next several months I did a lot of self-reflection. When the day came that I got the email announcing the trip I decided in that moment, YES, I was going. It was the perfect time for me in my personal journey towards healing and growth and I just knew it was something I had to do and I would forever regret passing on this opportunity. I sought out supervision from my supervisors and professors; they were all very encouraging and gave me some tools and coping skills to help me on my journey.

One moment in particular was monumental for my personal growth. There was a cultural (dance) performance I was able to witness and I was in complete awe as the group started to perform. It was breathtakingly beautiful and I found myself tearing up. This was a culture I feared for so long, a culture I shied away from, and in that moment I felt genuine appreciation and admiration as I watched this performance and I felt myself take a huge step towards my recovery.

Being immersed into a culture is completely different than reading about it in a textbook or watching a movie. Being able to experience the sights, sounds, tastes and feel of a culture brings my understanding of cultural awareness to a completely different level. By personally overcoming my fears and biases held from a traumatic experience in my youth and by witnessing firsthand the struggles of poverty, racism and cultural norms I know I will be better equipped personally and professionally as a multicultural and social justice [focused] counselor.”

— Eliina Belenkiy, George Mason University

 

“The highlight of the trip for me was attending class and meeting the counseling graduate students at Christ University. This gave me the opportunity [to] see how counseling theory was taught there. For example, mindfulness-based therapy was being taught from a broader cultural and historical perspective. We discussed parallels between our training and perspectives as counselors (there was a great deal of overlap) and learned about the challenges counselors face in promoting the mental health profession in India. I found a great deal of similarity between myself and the students, sharing their motivations and aspirations for making a difference and helping others.

Something critical I learned about myself was how I react to being in an unfamiliar environment culturally. Thankfully I was supported by Dr. Sachin Jain and the students and faculty at Christ. But I think it will help me moving forward, having more empathy for clients navigating culturally unfamiliar environments. I also realize the difference race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexuality and socioeconomic status play in terms of this experience and the treatment you receive. I would say I’m learning to keep these factors in mind in how I relate to others and the stand I take for social justice.

I think my struggle and ‘aha moment’ was learning to be more present and open-minded. In my mind this is what makes cross-cultural dialogue possible and where the learning occurs.”

— Alexander Hilert, George Mason University

(Left to right) Tosha Pearson-Royston, Eliina Belenkiy, Dr. Angela Coker, Dr. Sachin Jain, Ngozi Williams, Deborah McGhee, Alex Hilert and Meaghan Lakes pictured at the Mysuru Palace in Southern India.

(Left to right) Tosha Pearson-Royston, Eliina Belenkiy, Dr. Angela Coker, Dr. Sachin Jain, Ngozi Williams, Deborah McGhee, Alex Hilert and Meaghan Lakes pictured at the Mysuru Palace in Southern India.

“My trip to India was nothing short of miraculous. I met so many wonderful people during my visit. I was first struck by the noise, dirt, trash and amount of people on the streets at any given time. However, I became so entranced by [the] life I saw on a daily basis. The people were so colorful, energetic and full of life. I was shocked to notice how prevalent colorism was in the country. I noticed most, if not all of the skincare products had bleaching cream, and I felt sad. I felt sad because I began making direct parallels between the people of India and Black/African-Americans and how colorism has affected us. I became very close with a young Indian woman; she explained it this way: ‘families want their daughters to marry men of European decent to have fairer children and grandchildren.’ I’m so thankful for this opportunity, and have used it to help me grow while working with international people during my internship. When working with [clients] I will be aware of similarities that different cultures share and use what I have learned to be the best professional counselor I can be. My [Indian] friend and I have kept in touch since my return to the U.S., and our friendship is growing. I’ve been invited to her wedding and we speak weekly. I wouldn’t trade my time in India for the world, and I can’t wait to return!”

— Tosha Pearson, UMSL

 

“While I had no clear or definite expectations for our trip to India, admittedly, some of my experiences surprised me. My most significant personal reflection is the feeling of Otherness I had while there. That is to say, I felt a different type of ‘other’ than I feel when I am at home in the U.S. As an African-American woman, I am very experienced with being a minority or being viewed as atypical to my surroundings, however, my India experience gave it a different flavor. Not only was I, and a few of my peers, atypical, we broached on the verge of being novelty. Public response to our presence varied from discreet stares and pointing to requests for pictures and being followed by groups of schoolchildren on a field trip. While it did not feel rude, it definitely felt strange, as if I were suddenly under the scrutiny of standards I did not know or understand. As a result, I had a sense of vulnerability throughout my trip, though not feeling unsafe, just uncertainty about where I stood in the grand scheme.

Understanding social justice, multiculturalism and the multiple forms of oppression is essential for every counselor and counseling student because these issues are relevant all over the world. Bangalore, as one of the fastest growing cities in India, must handle issues with pollution, construction and other logistical and socioeconomic problems. For example, the city had some of the busiest and congested traffic I had ever witnessed, but I did not observe many pedestrian crosswalks, despite seeing numerous construction projects in progress. How do these things affect the disabled? The ill? The elderly? As counselors, we must be aware of the wants, needs and obstacles of the minority as well as the majority.

Another area of interest that I observed in India was the standards of beauty promoted by the media. My first observation was that the individuals featured did not match [or] reflect the features of general populace. While somewhat expected, the extent of these differences were sometimes surprising with some models even appearing to have significant European heritage vs. Indian/Asian heritage. Most of the ad models had light eyes, narrow noses and lighter or olive tone skin, while most of the residents in the city did not. Furthermore, many beauty products were promoted as a means of obtaining these features. All throughout the city, we saw billboards for plastic surgery, cosmetic procedures and products, including numerous ads for skin whitening cream. As counselors, we should ask the following questions: How do standards like these affect a culture? How can we understand –isms (such as racism, colorism, sexism, etc.) in a different cultural context than our own?”

— Meaghan Lakes, UMSL

 

 

 

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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.

The graduate school decision: Four diverse student voices

By Essence Fiddemon, Nayo Tabron, Thomas Latson and Kimberly Cabral April 29, 2016

Choosing the right graduate school for counseling can be both a challenging and exhilarating experience. Applicants have many motivators to weigh when making this decision and often have Group of Graduatesmany choices concerning which school and program will best fit their needs. This article shares the stories of four students who recently chose to enter a master’s program in clinical mental health counseling. Additionally, each student provides tips for other individuals who are contemplating the decision to enter a graduate program in the mental health field.

 

Essence

Before entering graduate school, I found myself caught in a dilemma. I had just finished my bachelor’s in June 2015, and here I was in August 2015 not making enough money with a bachelor’s degree to independently support two children.

I always wanted to complete graduate school, but I was nervous and hesitant about the debt that it might cause. After much consideration, I decided to enter graduate school and view the debt in a different light. Either I was going to put myself in debt by struggling to care for my children, or I could put myself in debt because I invested in my education to get to a better situation financially.

I set my fears aside and began to research schools that interested me. I knew that in my future career, I wanted to have the knowledge, skills and training to counsel all individuals, not just children. I decided to complete a master’s in clinical mental health counseling because I wanted to counsel children, adolescents and adults with developmental trauma.

When choosing a graduate school and field, I knew that I had to choose a field that I liked because it would be hard to invest myself in a school or field that I did not care for. As my graduate school experience began, I felt nervous and anxious. I had to remind myself that nothing comes easy and that the rewards would be worth it in the end. I noticed the further I got into the program, the less scary the experience became. I was more scared of the title “master’s degree” than anything else. The moral of this story is to overcome fear, because fear kills so many dreams and aspirations.

Currently I am a full-time worker with two small children. The support system I have is amazing. Graduate school became more stressful toward the end of my first term, but it was still manageable. In the future, I hope to have my own practice, and I would like to be involved in consulting. I would like to counsel adults with developmental issues and children who have experienced sexual trauma and physical abuse.

Graduate school will challenge you and reward you. In graduate school, you will learn how to master your writing and time management skills. My first tip to readers is to stay totally invested in your education despite your doubts. My second tip as you struggle through graduate school is to remember that to whom much is given, much is required.

 

Nayo

My first encounter with the counseling world happened when I was 8. My parents took me to see a counselor so that I could work through my confusion about their divorce, among other things. At 8, I was far more aware of the world than most, and I really didn’t care to spend my time in a counselor’s office once a week, especially because I felt belittled by my counselor. He spoke to me like an unaware child who couldn’t comprehend my emotions. The anger I felt toward my counselor turned into a sympathetic compassion for others like me — for others who felt like they weren’t being heard.

I turned this compassion into a career path and have aimed to change the system and those who work in it ever since. In my path, I have encountered terrible testimonials that made me weep for those who turned to the mental health and substance abuse care systems. They expressed to me that they too felt belittled. This has driven my passion even further and motivated me to continue my education beyond my undergraduate degree.

Deciding whether I wanted to go to graduate school was a long process. I had to consider if school was necessary to achieve the goals I wished to accomplish. I had to first make sure that the school I chose had an accredited degree program that would prepare me with the knowledge I need to pursue my goals. Finding a school that was CACREP accredited but also helps students obtain licensure was very important.

Currently I am pursuing my degree in clinical mental health counseling. I wanted a school that would build not only my fundamental knowledge but my professional knowledge as well. Not only is the school providing me with the basic knowledge I need to be a counselor, but it also provides me with opportunities to be experienced in the counseling field, which is a bonus. Having proper knowledge about the legalities of my career choice is very important in my pursuit to change the current systems.

I hope to open up more doors for people not only to get the help they need, but also to feel comfortable enough to do so. My future goals are to motivate counselors to take the time to listen to their clients and figure out what their problems are before diagnosing them for life.

Since being in graduate school, I have learned two things that I believe all those in pursuit of higher education should know. My first tip for those considering or starting the graduate program is to always use your resources. Making connections with the faculty around you and using the educational resources provided on campus are good ways for you to excel academically and to grow your network. Talking to people who have already achieved the professional or educational goals you are pursuing is a great way to learn the customs of pursuing professional and educational goals.

The second tip all potential graduate students should know is to develop time management skills. Depending on your school choice, the pace of the school may be more or less than you are accustomed to. This can cause you to become either overwhelmed or stagnant, either of which can have large effects on your grades. It’s important to schedule time to complete and comprehend your assignments while also providing yourself with downtime to prevent burning out.

So, the next time you consider whether graduate school is worth the effort, it is. Taking the time to advance yourself in life, in any facet, can open doors far beyond what you might imagine.

 

Thomas

I was led to counseling in high school after taking an intro to psychology course. Learning about the mind and the way it works piqued my interest because I was coming to accept the fact that I was gay.

Children are very conscious, and as a child I came to the understanding rather quickly that being gay was not acceptable in society. I discovered that I was considered mentally ill until 1987, when the decision was made to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I felt like a normal, conscious person, but society told me that my thoughts were not normal or conscious. I knew that something was wrong with this idea. When I made it to a bachelor’s program in psychology, I realized that I was not alone, and I wanted to help others like myself.

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I felt that I was equipped with the foundation I needed to start my journey, but I wasn’t qualified to provide help in the context I desired. I quickly realized that I would not be able to fully fulfill my purpose without an advanced degree. My reason for choosing a master’s in the clinical mental health counseling program was because I enjoyed the idea of sitting down and helping people work through their problems as a clinician, as opposed to the assessment and testing angle that a psychology master’s would provide.

I have always been ambitious, and the idea of continuing my education has always been a driving force in my life. I relocated from Florida to Georgia in 2009 for a job opportunity at a residential treatment facility, and I decided to continue my education. Of course, life doesn’t go exactly as we plan it out, and establishing a life for myself via full-time employment prevented me from starting school right away. But I knew the stars would align when it was my time.

It was a difficult decision because I had to continue working full time and needed flexibility. I was determined to make it work, and I was accepted into graduate school for my master’s in clinical mental health counseling in October 2015.

Currently, as a student in my first term, I am surprised at how much I am analyzing myself while learning the material. I realized that counselors must explore their own lives and personal experiences to effectively help others understand their experiences. Realizing things about myself and how I fit into the spectrum of life gave me a sense of purpose and opened my eyes to the importance of helping others realize their purpose. The curriculum in my Foundations of Mental Health Counseling course definitely helped me solidify and understand my professional identity and equipped me with a wealth of knowledge about myself.

My future now gives me a sense of success and fulfillment. I’m looking forward to studying counseling theories because my goals involve implementing strength-based modalities to help gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning at-risk youth achieve success.

My tips for those considering or starting a graduate program are to be ready to face yourself and any issues in your personal life, such as your sexuality, that may be barriers to your own success. Students should use the experience as a sense of self-therapy in an attempt to prepare to help others. Also, to ensure success, students should become comfortable with writing. I have always been a writer, and I love to express myself through words. With the help of the available resources for writing in graduate school, students should graduate as better writers than they were when they started.

 

Kimberly

My interest in the world of counseling embarked when I decided to leave a life and career in the music industry that was full of glitz and glamour. However, I strongly believed that I was choosing a path that felt much more rewarding. A path filled with light. A path that has purpose and endless possibilities to make a difference in the lives of other individuals who are in need of some guidance and encouragement.

My decision to enroll in the clinical mental health counseling program derived from the passion I have to help at-risk youth gain skills to overcome their struggles and obstacles. This passion came from the struggles I personally faced as an at-risk child. Fortunately, I was lucky to have two individuals who helped me learn the skills I needed to be able to succeed in life, and I was inspired to do the same for other at-risk youth.

My decision to enroll in the clinical mental health counseling program came close to three years after I had received my bachelor’s degree in psychology. My passion to succeed in life and help those individuals who need that extra push or guidance was far stronger than the doubt and obstacles I had about enrolling in graduate school. Additionally, I realized that with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, I was limited from being able to achieve my future goals. Furthering my education became almost impossible to ignore.

After doing extensive research on graduate schools, I came across one school that really stood out to me. The flexibility of the program’s schedule, the scholarly faculty and the fact that the program was CACREP accredited was very influential in my decision.

My current experience in my first class has come to an end and has proved to be very informative and motivational. This class is called Foundations of Mental Health Counseling and truly embodies the foundation of everything the clinical mental health counseling program consists of. In all honesty, I was extremely nervous when I first started this class because I had no idea what to expect. I also had reservations about how it was going to affect my personal and work life. Fortunately, now that I am at the end of the course, I can say that this class has helped calm my nerves and given me some insight on what to expect in future classes and in the counseling field in general.

My future goals consist of running my own practice; playing a major role in implementing a program inside school systems to either replace suspension or work hand in hand with suspension; and starting a nonprofit organization that empowers at-risk youth and troubled families while positively influencing school systems and communities worldwide. To some, it may seem as if I am biting off more than I can chew. However, in my eyes, if you truly want something in life, it is up to you and only you to make that dream turn into a reality.

My tips for those considering or starting a graduate program are to make sure you engage in self-care and to study smarter, not harder. Engaging in self-care can help you avoid burnout and keep a healthy balance between work, life and school. Some examples of self-care are working out, meditating and practicing mindfulness.

Learning how to study smarter and not harder is also very important to your success. Staying organized, using good time management, taking good notes and reviewing them consistently are all ways that you can study smarter and not harder. In the end, remembering why you entered the graduate program should be your biggest motivator.

 

Conclusion

The backgrounds, personal stories and inspirations behind counseling students’ decisions to attend graduate school are unique to each individual. Whether those experiences are as a mother, a former patient, someone accepting his sexual identity or just someone with natural talent, we all share a passion to learn about what it takes to help bring about the best in all of us.

Counseling students share a set of values that all people in helping careers possess, including empathy, passion and a nature of selflessness that ensures we are helping our clients reach their full potential. Future counseling students should know that this career is about more than personal gain or financial stability; it is about changing the world one client at a time.

 

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The authors of this article were students in a Foundations of Clinical Mental Health Counseling course at Argosy University, Atlanta, taught by associate professor Allison L. Spargo. Tanisha Johnson, a doctoral student, served as a teaching assistant. Both Spargo and Johnson are members of the American Counseling Association.

 

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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.

Validating the quarter-life crisis

By Lynne Shallcross April 22, 2016

More than a decade ago in the song “Why Georgia,” musician John Mayer put words to a phenomenon that many 20-somethings sense all too well.

“I rent a room and I fill the spaces with/ Wood in places to make it feel like home/ But all I feel’s alone/ It might be a quarter-life crisis/ Or just the stirring in my soul/ Either way I wonder sometimes/ About the outcome/ Of a still verdictless life/ Am I living it right?”

Despite its inclusion in a hit pop song, the quarter-life crisis isn’t always taken seriously by society at large. “Nobody questions the midlife crisis,” points out Cyrus Williams, an associate professor in the Branding-Images_quarter-lifeSchool of Psychology and Counseling at Regent University, but the same isn’t always true of the quarter-life crisis, which Williams defines as a period of significant life and career transitions for young adults between the ages of roughly 22 and 30.

“As a culture, we all think that age 25 is the best stage of your life — these folks are happy, they’re doing everything they want and it’s a great time of life,” says Williams, an American Counseling Association member who has been studying and speaking about the quarter-life crisis for more than five years.

In the counseling session, however, the quarter-life crisis — a developmental time period of potentially high anxiety — needs to be given the same level of respect and attention as the midlife crisis rather than being dismissed out of hand, Williams says. “We really need to acknowledge and not minimize this time period,” he emphasizes.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

In their early 20s, many young adults are graduating from college and find themselves faced with a deluge of life transitions, Williams explains. There are choices and changes swirling around them in almost every major area of life.

They are deciding where to live, whether moving to their own apartment (or a shared living space) in a new city or back into their parents’ home. They want to pursue a career but sometimes find themselves stuck in entry-level jobs that don’t pay their bills or student loans. They wonder whether they should already be in a committed relationship headed toward marriage and a family. They question whether and how they will develop new friendships while hanging on to old ones from their high school or college days.

All of those issues can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear, instability and an existential crisis of “Who am I?” Williams says. “There are too many choices, too many decisions to make, and it’s scary,” he says.

This time in life can also dredge up self-doubt, says Melissa Nelson, a doctoral candidate in counselor education and supervision at Regent University who has been researching the quarter-life crisis with Williams. For example, some young adults might see that a peer has landed a successful job and become financially stable and start wondering why they haven’t been able to follow the same timetable. This can make young adults question themselves, their decisions and their abilities, says Nelson, a member of ACA. “Did I major in the right thing? Is there something wrong with me?”

It isn’t uncommon for clients in their 20s to present in the counseling session with feelings of depression and anxiety, says Katherine Hermann, an assistant professor in the Department of Counselor Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The idea of leaving a close-knit community, whether the town where someone grew up or the circle of friends an individual developed at college, can be isolating, says Hermann, who has presented on transitions in adulthood. The search for a romantic partner can also feel isolating and provoke anxiety, she points out.

Young adults in this stage may also feel a sense of betrayal, Williams says. Many of these individuals have grown up being told by parents, teachers and others that if they follow the rules and check all the boxes they’re instructed to, life will work out as it is supposed to. When things don’t fall into place that seamlessly, Williams says, these young adults feel lied to.

In such cases, Williams says, it can be helpful if counselors talk through those feelings of betrayal with clients, allowing them to express why things feel unfair and then working together to move forward past those feelings.

All of the anxious feelings that are normally experienced at this time of life can be exacerbated by social media, Williams adds. For instance, on Facebook and Instagram, people tend to post messages and photos documenting only their best experiences, which doesn’t translate to a realistic account of life. “That is one of the things that other generations didn’t have to deal with,” Williams says. “They [didn’t] have to have this in their face every day of ‘Wow, my friend is having a great life and I’m not.’”

Nelson agrees. It is easy for people in this stage of life to get caught up in comparing themselves to peers who post photos or messages related to career success, romantic adventures or starting a family. “What does that mean for an individual who doesn’t have those things yet?” Nelson asks.

One key is for counselors to talk with these clients about how social media rarely shows the day-to-day reality of people’s lives, Williams says. That simple action can help young adults begin to put things in the proper perspective, he adds.

Keep your ‘therapeutic antennae up’

With all those choices and transitions hurtling toward young adults in rapid succession, how can counselors help most? “I wish there was a magic answer,” says Hermann, a member of ACA. Short of that, developing a strong therapeutic relationship is perhaps most important, she says, along with gathering and attempting to understand the perspective of the client as much as possible.

“I think having your therapeutic antennae up is one of the most important things,” says Hermann, who adds that the client’s presenting problem isn’t always the real problem. Get to know these clients and work on the issues they present with, she says, but also be open and attentive to exploring other issues of which they may not even be aware.

Counselors should also know that these clients aren’t afraid to walk through your door, Williams says. “This generation is not like generations in the past,” he explains. “There’s not a stigma involved in mental health issues [with them]. They’ll come in to your office and they’re like, ‘Listen, I’m stressed out, I’m anxious. I need some help.’”

In return, Williams says that he stands ready to help these clients identify what they are experiencing. He specifically uses the term quarter-life crisis with young adult clients because he says it is empowering for them to hear a phrase that defines their experience. “It’s liberating for them,” Williams says. “They’re like, ‘Holy crap. OK. I get it. This is what I’m going through right now.’ So normalizing this is very important.”

Nelson agrees, adding that 20-somethings are reading magazine articles and self-help books on this topic as a way of finding support and normalizing their experience. “If we as counselors and therapists don’t do the same in normalizing this and recognizing this,” Nelson says, “then we’re not providing the comprehensive services that we need [to].”

Even if career counseling is not a counselor’s specialty, being well-versed in career counseling topics is imperative when working with these clients, Nelson says, because career issues are intricately tied to many other areas of life, from identity to finances to relationships. For example, Nelson says, paying for a house or paying for child care is tied to family and partner relationships, but it is also dependent on career decisions. That means that even if a counselor doesn’t specialize in career or academic counseling, it is critical to have a basic understanding of those areas of counseling, she says.

On the flip side, Nelson says, career counselors might have young adult clients come in for help writing résumés, only to discover that their parents are pressuring them to create the “perfect” résumé in order to find the “perfect” job. Or perhaps a counselor working with a couple in premarital counseling might find that one member of the couple is struggling with career and financial worries. Nelson suggests that counselors try to look holistically at everything going on in these clients’ lives.

Williams points out that, of course, not every 20-something is going to experience a full-blown “crisis.” But the potential is there for these various life transitions to lead to crisis if young adults don’t have the coping skills and supports in place to weather changes in a healthy way, he says.

Counselors would be wise to do assessments with these clients at the outset of counseling, Williams says, especially to help determine whether they might be experiencing clinical depression or anxiety. Then, he says, counselors should hear these clients out and try to understand where they’re coming from.

Williams often explores existential questions such as “Who am I?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” with clients in this age group. He also reminds these clients that the answer to what they want to do with their lives doesn’t necessarily have to be related to their jobs; a job can pay the bills without necessarily “satisfying” or defining every aspect of the person. Williams prefers a holistic perspective, asking clients to think about what things in life make them happy, bring them meaning and help them make sense of the world.

No one right approach

When working with clients on quarter-life crisis issues, Williams suggests that practitioners remember to keep the counseling brief. Although these clients tend to be more willing than generations past to seek out counseling, they also generally want a faster route to a solution, not years of sessions, he observes.

“They come to counseling, but they don’t stay in counseling,” Williams says. Brief, solution-focused and existential approaches are often the best alternatives with these clients, he says. At the same time, many young adult clients aren’t afraid of doing work toward arriving at the solution, he adds, so counselors shouldn’t hesitate to suggest books for them to read, questions for them to ponder or other homework for them to do between sessions.

When deciding which interventions to use with these clients, Nelson suggests that counselors familiarize themselves with the literature on evidence-based practices related to life transitions, such as the school-to-work transition or the transition of becoming a family. Because the quarter-life crisis is a newer area of study that hasn’t yet been extensively researched, Nelson says it is hard to pronounce whether one counseling approach would be more effective than another. She believes almost any evidence-based approach can be effective with these clients, although she tends to lean toward existential-based approaches.

Williams came up with an intervention that he calls the “NEEDS” approach. The “N” stands for normalize, which all three counselors interviewed for this article highly recommend trying to do with clients confronting a quarter-life crisis.

The first “E” stands for empower. Williams says counselors can do this by arming these clients with anything from books to YouTube videos that will help them feel less alone and more confident that what they are experiencing is real.

The second “E” stands for taking an existentially focused approach. Williams says this involves helping clients explore who they are, what their calling is and the “why” behind it. For example, if young adult clients are focused on landing a particular job or moving out of their parents’ house, Williams will ask them to examine the “why” behind those desires.

The “D” stands for a developmental approach, in which Williams encourages clients to explore the “long continuum” of their lives, and also the decision-making skills that are required at this time in life. The decisions that 20-somethings make can have consequences that extend into their later years, he points out. For example, some young adults make the decision to run up their credit card debt so they can rush to move out of their parents’ home, while others decide to get married and have children before they are truly ready.

The “S” stands for screening and assessment, which Williams says is a must in determining whether clients are experiencing a normal transition or if their experience has crossed over into crisis mode.

Prevention where possible

Although counselors must be prepared to help 20-somethings who already find themselves in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, Nelson says practitioners should be thinking with a preventive mindset whenever possible. For example, she says, counselors who work with college students can help those students better prepare for what lies ahead by engaging them in exercises to build their self-esteem and raising their awareness of the challenging decisions and transitions that might pop up in the near future.

University counseling centers might be able to offer graduating students continued career counseling services until they land jobs, Nelson says. If such services aren’t feasible, she suggests that college counselors ensure that their clients who are graduating leave the school equipped with referral sources. She encourages college counselors to add website resources for recent graduates “who are feeling the heat of the quarter-life crisis.”

Nelson says counselors must do what they can to arm graduating students with the tools they need before they actually need them. “Getting the information out there and the resources out there before it becomes a problem is really important,” she says.

In preparing to work with clients on issues related to the quarter-life crisis, Nelson says it is crucial for counselors to be aware of changing cultural dynamics. For example, she says, counselors should understand how social media can further complicate life transitions for young adults and how changes in unemployment rates and student loan rates can have “very real implications” during an already frightening time period for 20-somethings.

Counselors who desire to work with young adult clients should read more about this generation, Williams says. Understand what makes them culturally unique, what is significant to them and what has shaped their lives. Among the resources that Williams suggests is the 2001 book Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner.

“Cultural shifts of parenting style and expectations are one of the greatest mitigating factors in understanding millennials,” Williams says. “Concepts such as positive reinforcement rather than punishment, or self-esteem building rather than tough love, became popular during the millennials’ formative years. Millennials were revered by parents and sheltered from the world, developing unrealistic expectations of self and never learning skills necessary for survival in the ‘real world.’ Often they have been sheltered so much that they have not been allowed to learn to survive on
their own.”

“In addition to the confounding dynamics such as parental influence, millennials have come to age during a period of significant corporate downsizing, unemployment, underemployment and outsourcing,” Williams continues. “The estimated unemployment rates for young adults are more than double that of overall unemployment rates. As a result, young adults face increased financial stressors, often resulting in an inability to pay student loans, save for retirement or maintain independent living. It is estimated that approximately 44 percent of recent college graduates are currently experiencing underemployment, working in fields and positions in which they are overqualified. Like many other generations, work is a crucial aspect of one’s identity and expression of self. Consequently, when employment aspirations and ideals are not met, crises of personal identity may result.”

Hermann agrees. “Understanding the culture of this population will be important to sustained treatment success,” she says. “I think a systemic perspective is very important, and understanding the individual within [his or her] environment, especially as it pertains to relationships — family of origin, intimate, social, professional — is imperative to treatment.”

Hermann recommends two journals published by ACA divisions to counselors who might be working with this population. One is Adultspan Journal (published by the Association for Adult Development and Aging), which includes topics relevant to young adults. The other is the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health (published by the Association for Creativity in Counseling) “because of the innovative, therapeutic applications that engage and challenge clients to think differently,” she says.

Expert wisdom

To help counselors better prepare to work with clients undergoing a quarter-life crisis, Counseling Today asked these experts to weigh in with their best advice and guidance. Here are their top tips.

  • Don’t minimize the quarter-life crisis, Nelson says. “Far too often, that’s one of the reasons that an individual is there [in counseling] in the first place.” In many cases, parents, peers or co-workers have minimized what these 20-somethings are experiencing, which only ends up increasing the pressure on them, Nelson says.
  • Do focus on wellness, decision-making and the future, Williams says, not pathology.
  • Don’t make assumptions, Hermann says. “Every client has a different past and goals for the future. Focus on the individual,” she says. Although counselors develop models and frameworks to understand patterns, “every person is a unique human,” Hermann reminds her colleagues.
  • Do your research, Nelson says. Become aware of factors outside of your counseling specialty or area of practice that may be affecting young adults. “Awareness is half the battle,” she says.
  • Do make it clear to these clients that this is short-term counseling, Williams says, “because you lose Generation Y if you are going to ask them to come back for 15 sessions. They really need to see the end from the beginning.”
  • Don’t rely solely on clinical intuition, Williams adds. “I love the fact that we are intuitive, but we have instruments and science out there that can help us,” he says.
  • Do consider group therapy. “If you are working in a setting that has the ability to utilize group therapy and group counseling interventions, I would say go for it,” Nelson says. “I think that group counseling can really help that process of normalizing the crisis [and] developing a support network for individuals beyond their counselors.”
  • Do take the time to explore the individual’s relationships, including family relationships, intimate relationships, friendships and work relationships, Hermann says. “This exploration will give counselors an understanding of the individual and also the depth and capacity of [his or her] support group. In addition, so many of the changes that occur during this developmental period are connected to changes in relationships, so having a complete understanding of the relational aspects of an individual can be helpful in understanding and focusing a treatment plan.”
  • Do encourage these clients to address their relationship with their parents, Williams says. It is a relationship that has likely changed now that these young adults are in their 20s, but it is a relationship and an influence that has long been paramount to them, he says.
  • Do normalize the crisis, Nelson says. Point clients toward books or other resources to help them recognize that they are not alone in experiencing these struggles and challenges.
  • Do explore identity development with clients, Hermann says. What is meaningful to them, and how do they create meaning?
  • Do give these clients resources, books to read and homework to do, Williams says. They are typically used to being on the computer and doing research, so they are likely to engage in the homework related to their own counseling, he says.
  • Do ask questions and then address any issues that become apparent from the answers, Nelson says. “Is it stressful to pay your student loans each month? Is it stressful to be pressured by your parents to be married and to have children, and how are you dealing with that?” Nelson suggests asking. “I don’t think that counselors need to be afraid and shy away from addressing the quarter-life crisis.”

 

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To contact the individuals interviewed for this article, email:

 

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Lynne Shallcross, a former associate editor and senior writer at Counseling Today, works for Kaiser Health News as a web producer. Contact her at lshallcross@gmail.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org