Tag Archives: Counselors Audience

Counselors Audience

Q & A with a counselor: Evelyn Duesbury

Heather Rudow November 9, 2012

Evelyn Duesbury, a counselor educator from Wisconsin who teaches online, as well as a researcher and author, began a career in counseling after a dream; appropriately, she now spends her time teaching counselors how to interpret dreams to help their clients solve real-life problems, reconcile feelings and make decisions. Duesbury, a member of the American Counseling Association, developed a process called the Personalized Method for Interpretation of Dreams (PMID) during her thesis research in 2000. She has since expanded the process to help clients gain a clearer connection between their dreams and “waking life.” She has also written a book, The Counselor’s Guide for Facilitating the Interpretation of Dreams published by Routledge in 2010. Duesbury believes that exploring dreams can help clients better connect with themselves and also help counselors better understand their clients. For more information, visit yourguidingdreams.com.

Describe your journey from teaching to counseling.

Nighttime dreams changed my life: my profession, my passion and my purpose. Though for several years I was passionate about teaching accounting, my nighttime dreams began to surprise me with suggestions to leave the accounting classroom. In dreams, my students were no longer attentive and no longer filled my classroom. In waking life, my classroom was most always full of attentive students.

I dreamed that Chapter 23 was the next chapter in our accounting textbook. However, there were no problems at the end of Chapter 23; accounting textbook chapters conclude with problems. I also dreamed that a Dr. Conway took my place in my accounting classroom. Finally, I realized that my “con way” was to teach about dreams, and there would be spiritual guidance. Chapter 23 stems from my familiarity with Psalm 23 [in the Bible].

When I visited with a colleague about my interest in dreams, he suggested a nearby college – Loras of Dubuque, Iowa – where I could enroll in a psychology program. After I began the course work, I had dream confirmation that Loras was the right choice. After I had completed preliminary courses, my nighttime counselors (my dreams) led me in state to a counseling program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. My psychology course grades transferred to UW-Whitewater and were valuable additions to my master of counselor education degree. During thesis research I, with thesis committee guidance, developed PMID. The thesis was chosen UW-Whitewater’s thesis of the year for 2000.

Describe a typical session with your clients.

The overall procedure is for the counselor to guide the client’s use of the PMID model by providing feedback and posing questions as the client interprets his or her dream. The PMID model steps, in brief, are:

Step 1: Connect your previous-day (often the day before) events to the dream to discover the theme of this dream. The events may appear in either symbolic or literal terms in your dream to determine an overall theme of your dream.

Step 2: Connect your previous-day (often the day before) thoughts to your dream to detect which thoughts may have prompted this dream’s responses.

Step 3: Select and define major dream phrases and symbols from your write-up of this dream to discover the dream’s personalized meanings.

Step 4: Compare your emotions in your dream with your pre-dream, waking-life emotions to discover whether your waking-life emotions accurately reflect how you feel about the issue in this dream.

Step 5: Explore your dream for possible solutions to problems, including changing (or affirming) your thoughts, attitudes or behaviors.

Step 6: Explore your dream for family and other relationship systems perspectives, which are influences arising from reactions to family and other major relationships, both past and current. Use these perspectives to discover whether this dream reflects your reactions during experiences with family members or other important people in your life.

My typical work with clients has been by way of facilitating research and exploring participants’ use of the PMID model. Those sessions are intensive with interchanges as I facilitate their use of the PMID model for a minimum of five of their dreams over at least a three-month period.

For preschool-aged children, why is it important to include their parents in the sessions?

From my experiences of working with adults whose dreams about childhood experiences repeat into adulthood, I consider it important for caring parents to be included in their children’s counseling sessions.

The dreams of preschoolers are often terribly frightening. Young children are painfully aware of how small and weak they are in a world filled with tall grown-ups, complex machines and ferocious animals. Nightmares are a very natural, very normal response to these feelings of vulnerability. Through their nightmares, young children work at developing the inner resources necessary to fend off the various threats and dangers that frighten them in waking life. Paradoxical as it may sound, frightening dreams are often a sign of healthy adaptation for children. So … parents should not worry too much if their children have occasional nightmares.

Outside the counseling session, the most important help parents can give when their children awake from dreams, whether happy or scary, is to patiently listen as their children relate their dreams. In this way, the children’s feelings and reactions are valued. It is also possible that waking-life activities that might have prompted the dreams may be revealed as the children talk about their dreams.

Why do you think it’s important that counselors put more of a focus on their clients’ dreams and subconscious than they currently do?

Dreams reach to the peripheries of the mind, further than most waking-life thoughts go. That occurs because some structures that somewhat confine thinking in waking life to directed thought and voluntary control are shut down during dreaming. Consequently, during the dreamers’ work of connecting their waking-life events, thoughts, personal experiences, emotions and reactions to their dreams, they have potential to discover and share personal information they may not otherwise have known or thought to share with their counselors.

Inherent in the counseling profession’s mission is to enhance the individual’s quality of life. The facilitation of clients’ work with dreams is a positive resource for counselors to enhance the quality of life for their clients. Even so, work with dreams is an aspect of people’s lives that is yet to be emphasized by the counseling profession.

Research shows that all people dream, whether practiced techniques are used to remember their dreams or not. All that activity done during this “night shift” – what a waste to ignore it! Let’s recognize that dreams are significant resources for the counseling profession.

The Counselor’s Guide for Facilitating the Interpretation of Dreams was written with ACA counselors in mind. As a counselor education student, I often felt a gap because dreams were not included as resources for understanding and alleviating stress. A major reason dreams weren’t considered was the lack of textbooks by ACA members on how to facilitate clients’ use of dreams. In ACA, we facilitate clients as they find their own answers. A unique feature of the PMID model is that the counselor facilitates clients’ use of the PMID model as they interpret their own dreams.

Are there techniques used in this kind of therapy that all counselors can use with their clients?

Yes. For instance, exploration of the client’s current thoughts can help all counselors understand what issues are primary in the client’s life. When clients can connect waking-life thoughts to their dreams, there is potential to discover which thoughts are at the root of stressors. Comparison of waking-life emotions with the client’s report of dreaming emotions has potential to reveal when the client has inaccurately appraised his or her current emotions about an issue at hand.

Research shows that dreaming emotions, rightly understood, are more accurate than people’s waking-life appraisal of their emotions. Further, exploration of clients’ early-life experiences can be enhanced by searching dreams for clues about current unresolved issues. Such information is often important for dealing with the issue that brought the client to counseling.

Are there any misconceptions about PMID?

Though a great benefit of using the PMID model is the ability to find solutions to waking-life issues in dreams, competence in using the PMID can take more persistence, patience and dedication than the counselor or the client is willing to give. The PMID model is not a quick-fix model.

In my view, one reason that the Western world places little emphasis on dreams is because people have become accustomed to quick fixes. Ironically, in our culture of highly skilled people in the arts, sciences, entertainment and athletics who dedicate themselves every day of their lives to developing skills in their specialized fields, it seems amazing that so many people look for quick fixes for something as vital as understanding themselves.

The good news is my projects (which I collaborate on with my colleagues at UW-Whitewater) show a significant number of participants experience positive outcomes by eight weeks of receiving facilitation by a knowledgeable counselor for a minimum of five dreams. One measure to evaluate each participant’s progress in changing emotions is our Emotional Change Instrument (ECI). For instance, during a research project with participants from a general population sector, at three and one-half months, six of the eight participants reported a positive change in their emotions about one or more relationship. At six months, seven of the eight participants reported a positive change in dreaming emotions about one or more relationship. As the facilitator, I compared participants’ dreams with their ECI reports. Only one dream by one participant was different from the participant’s report.

A common misconception is it is dangerous to work with dreams. Counselors’ experiences with their clients is a first criteria [for] each client’s emotional stability to work with dreams. We use a screening application to evaluate applicants’ emotional stability to work with their dreams. E.B. Bynum, clinical psychologist, wrote a “Caveat on Bad or Worrisome Dreams” that is included in The Counselor’s Guide for Facilitating the Interpretation of Dreams.

An obvious limitation of dream interpretations is the possibility of misinterpretation. Studying more than one dream about critical issues, reviewing dreams and interpretations before acting, and consulting with a professional counselor trained in dream work all help dreamers forestall misinterpretation. Another obvious limitation of all dream interpretation models is that people must have dream recall. Though all people dream as a biological necessity, some have little or no dream recall.

What sorts of counselors might benefit from trying this kind of approach?

Those who use a cognitive behavior-type therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy focuses on the individual’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors; nighttime dreams connect to the dreamer’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

Those who use a family systems therapy. Family systems methods focus on the family group’s influences and reactions to each member of the family; nighttime dreams reveal the dreamer’s reactions to earlier and current experiences with family and other major relationships.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The history of dream use across the globe from ancient times is strong support for the value of dreams. For instance, an ancient authority on dreams — Synesius of Cyrene, circa. 373-414 — taught that people should explore the personal meanings of their dream symbols instead of consulting dream books for interpretations. Yet, dream guidance practices were uprooted and fell into disuse for many centuries. Dreams found their way back to common usage in contemporary times when 20th-century pioneers Freud and Jung championed dreams for overcoming stress. Counselors, think about this: The most universally experienced nighttime activity is dreaming. We counselors need to wake up and consider the intrinsic value of dreams.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.

Sandy’s aftermath: counselors weigh in on how to help

Heather Rudow November 8, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/United States Government Work)

As the East Coast recovers from Hurricane Sandy, a historic “superstorm” that claimed more than 120 lives in the United States and left an unthinkable path of destruction in its wake, Counseling Today reached out to a few American Counseling Association members living in affected areas. We asked them to share their thoughts on how counselors can be of help in both the immediate aftermath of Sandy and also in the long term. Jane Webber, former president of the New Jersey Counseling Association and current member of the ACA Crisis Response Planning Task Force, is the next to share her thoughts.

Jane Webber, co-editor of Terrorism, Trauma and Tragedies: A Counselor’s Guide to Preparing and Responding, third edition, published by ACA, thought she would be one of those helping in recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy. Instead, she is in the midst of recovering herself.

“I am a part of the New Jersey system for ready responders as a disaster response crisis counselor, and I was prepared to volunteer,” says Webber, a Jersey City resident. “I did not expect that Hurricane Sandy would also affect my community and me.”

“Sandy roared through our town and up our street like a monster,” she recalls. “It was the worst storm I have ever experienced, even when I grew up on the Jersey Shore. The next morning, we walked outside to downed trees and wires everywhere, and the poles and transformers are still a mangled mess.”

Webber’s house was not damaged during the storm or its aftermath. However, some of her neighbors were not so lucky.

As Webber related to CT Online on Sunday, Nov 4, “Many shore residents have no home to return to, and I count my blessings that we are OK. We have no heat, no power, no phone service. We pack up the car in the morning hoping to find a hotel vacancy, unpacking it at night and crawling under blankets in the dark. The temperature has dropped below freezing, and we slept in the basement last night where it was warmer. … The whole town is dark at night and perhaps three families are left in the neighborhood. We stand in line in the library for a spot to charge our cell phone from a generator and to share a little heat and our stories during the day.”

 Webber says those who experienced Sandy directly faced the possibility of death, which she calls the “ultimate existential experience.”

“Survivors may be deeply shaken as they reflect on their survival and their losses,” Webber says. “Families stay very close, and while some can begin to consider decisions about staying or leaving, rebuilding or abandoning, others are in shock or worrying about heat and food and just pulling it together each day. … Those who left may need your support when they can return to inspect the damage. I sat next to one woman at the hospital who said that she did not know her house was gone until she saw her destroyed neighborhood on the news.”

One of the main things counselors can do to help those recovering from Sandy is to be empathic, she says.

“Counselors are fully present, attending, supporting and lending an ear as survivors pull together [and] decide how, when and where to rebuild their lives,” Webber says. “In the immediate aftermath, counselors use psychological first aid rather than mental health counseling to help people going through a normal response to an abnormal event. We can assist individuals and families in empowering themselves toward recovery, and in time, through the overwhelming experience of gathering the remains of their homes [and] navigating through insurance, FEMA, unemployment and emergency assistance to continue.”

A great need exists for counselors living outside of affected areas to help, Webber says.

“Counselors in other areas can assist relocated individuals coping with separation and loss and making decisions about resettlement and employment in [what is] an already distressed job market,” she says. “Individuals may relive previous hurricanes or tornadoes, particularly if they live in certain geographic areas. Others may vicariously experience Hurricane Sandy through television news coverage and may need to ground themselves with your support. Each individual with traumatic experiences has a story to tell in order to move forward.”

Counselors can also be a primary resource in assisting individuals who have special needs as they recover from Sandy.

“Survivors with mental health problems and co-occurring disorders may be more vulnerable and in need of medication and additional support,” Webber says. “Shelter volunteers may not have the time or the training to provide assistance to persons with disabilities, and this is where outside counselors can play an important role in helping vulnerable clients in both the immediate aftermath and in the long-term recovery.”

Webber points out that counselors in areas hit by Sandy are dealing with their own hurricane experience and recovery, making it all the more important for outside counselors to help.

“[A colleague] and I have talked about the effect of contemporaneous trauma, when counselors have experienced the disaster personally [and are also] experiencing the impact of their client’s trauma from the same event. Few if any counselors have been untouched in the state,” she says.

For many residents in devastated towns, counselors included, the recovery process could extend for weeks and even months. Of particular concern in the days to come, says Webber, “are older individuals, those with multiple physical and emotional needs, and children and families who have been displaced or separated from their friends and relatives.”

Webber emphasizes that children need to be reassured that they are safe and encouraged to express their feelings.

“They may not have the words to describe the terror of the hurricane, and play is their universal language,” she says. “Parents and guardians need to be close to their children and respond honestly and sensitively to questions. Encouraging the child to play and talk first helps limit parents’ need to overexplain the disaster. … Long, dark nights without their favorite TV shows and possibly without cherished pets or stuffed animals can be very scary. Card and board games with family members are good ways to stay connected and pass the time.”

She also recommends watching Sesame Street Workshop videos, which address children’s feelings and questions about disasters.

Additionally, counselors can look at the suggested responses in the Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide, which Webber finds helpful. A free psychological first aid course is also available on the website.

Other recommendations Webber provides to counselors interested in helping in affected areas:

  •  Teach individuals of all ages self-regulation techniques such as deep breathing and relaxation.
  •  Do not pressure children or teens to talk when they are not ready.
  • Let them know you will check with them again soon and find a better time to talk.
  • Do not expect to conduct mental health counseling in the beginning. Psychological first aid is nonintrusive, brief, practical and empowering.
  •  Do not self-deploy to another area. Register and deploy with a unit.
  •  Do listen fully and attend as a compassionate “lurker.”

To prepare for future disasters, Webber recommends that ACA members “consider becoming a disaster mental health responder through the American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health training offered at the ACA Conference & Expo. You can also attend the Learning Institute, ‘Essentials of Disaster and Crisis Counseling,’ at the conference. You can also prepare by completing the FEMA courses, ICS 100 and NIMS 700, online or through your state disaster training unit.”

In the wake of Sandy, Webber says she is “amazed at the resilience of the human spirit after such horrific terror and destruction that often changes the way we view our world. Counselors may be most surprised by the power of post-traumatic growth. Neighbors help neighbors and strangers reach out with acts of remarkable kindness and compassion. Survivors often share their deepest human feelings about what they have been through, finding new meaning in their experience. They emerge from trauma stronger and more committed.”

Read parts one and two in this series.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.


Sandy’s aftermath: counselors weigh in on how to help

Heather Rudow November 5, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/United States Government Work)

As the East Coast recovers from Hurricane Sandy, a historic “superstorm” that claimed 110 U.S. lives and left an unthinkable path of destruction in its wake, Counseling Today reached out to a few American Counseling Association members living in affected areas. We asked them to share their thoughts on how counselors can be of help in both the immediate aftermath of Sandy and also in the long term. Next up to share her thoughts is Ilana Levitt, president of the New Jersey Counseling Association.

Ilana Levitt, a resident of East Brunswick, N.J., compared living in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to “living in the Twilight Zone.”

“It’s almost a complete lockdown,” she says. “There’s no gas stations open, no food [stores open]. All businesses are shut down.”

Levitt is living in a home currently without power, which is making it, not surprisingly she says, “really cold.”

In addition to the discomfort, Sandy’s aftermath is also making things dangerous.

“An 80-foot tree [fell and] missed my dog by minutes and my house by feet,” she says.

Looking outside of her own personal experience through Sandy and viewing the disaster as a counselor, Levitt says crisis counseling, especially meeting disaster victims’ basic needs, is what is most acutely needed right now.

“There are immediate needs for food, clothing, medical supplies and the issues of loss, grief and finances are all going to come,” she says. “I think people can’t fully process what’s going on because they’re in the trauma phase right now. Even inland where I am right now, people are cold and need to eat.  People need to see family members and take care of basic needs before anything else.”

Levitt believes the full scope of the storm still remains to be seen. She says the immediate impact has been tremendous, but the actual full impact might not be known until later. The effects have ranged from people losing property to people sustaining injuries and finding themselves unable to get needed medications. The impact, Levitt says, has been widespread — financial, health and safety all included.

Levitt, a career counselor and consultant who runs a private practice, knows that the businesses destroyed during the storm and the time employees take off in its wake will have an impact, too.

“They say this is going to be the most costly storm in history,” she says.

The storm will also impact more than the roughly 14 states directly affected by the hurricane.

“Given new technologies and social media, counselors are in touch and working with people face-to-face, remotely and are connected in many ways,” Levitt says. “Counselors all over the world will end up interfacing with people who are impacted by this storm.  Businesses are so global now, [so] the effects of this will be seen for a long time.”

In terms of helping those recovering from Sandy, Levitt recommends counselors go through community or government programs — don’t show up without being asked or provide expertise in areas you are not familiar with.

Grief counseling isn’t appropriate in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster like Sandy, says Levitt. “Right now is about safety and stabilization.”

And when it comes to counseling storm victims in the weeks to come, Levitt says not to assume people want to talk. “Some people want to share their traumatic stories, other people may not,” she says. “You have to meet them where they are. There’s a huge range of emotional reactions, [and] a huge range of ways that people are impacted that we may not expect. ”

She also stresses the importance for counselors to remember self-care, as that can sometimes get lost in the midst of helping others cope. Levitt says she went to a yoga class as soon as it was possible for her to do so after Sandy hit. In addition, Levitt says, maintaining a positive spirit goes a long way.

Levitt says she is grateful for the role social media is playing in keeping residents connected. “Even without TV or radio, they still have Facebook and Instagram to show the devastation and keep information coming,” she says.

She is also amazed by the human spirit, the power of which is truly evident in a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, she says.

“People are coming together even though there is enormous devastation,” Levitt says.  “I’m surprised by the damage but also by peoples’ strength.  It’s important to   also recognize the positive in a crisis.”

The New Jersey Counseling Association asks that any American Red Cross-certified member who wants to provide counseling contact their local Red Cross chapter. Visit the NJCA website for more information.

Read part one in this series.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.

Sandy’s aftermath: counselors weigh in on how to help

Heather Rudow November 4, 2012

As the East Coast recovers from Hurricane Sandy, a historic “superstorm” that claimed more than 120 lives and left an unthinkable path of destruction in its wake, Counseling Today reached out to a few American Counseling Association members living in affected areas. We asked them to share their thoughts on how counselors can be of help in both the immediate aftermath of Sandy and also in the long term. First up to share her thoughts is Deb Del Vecchio-Scully, executive director of the Connecticut Counseling Association.

Her office may not have power, but Deb Del Vecchio-Scully, a Hamden, Conn., resident and licensed professional counselor, admits that the hit from last year’s Hurricane Irene was much more damaging than that of Sandy — but, of course, she says, that won’t be true for everyone.

“I think that depending on the impact, you will see varying spectrums on the trauma scale,” Del Vecchio-Scully says. “My house is OK, but 20 minutes south of where I live at the shoreline, homes were devastated. These are people who don’t have homes to go back to, who are living in shelters. This is at the very worst end of the spectrum.”

For counselors residing in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, Del Vecchio-Scully says it is important to have adequate disaster and trauma-informed training in order to provide professional help in the immediate aftermath. However, even those who don’t have that training will still be able to help in some capacity.

“There are many ways to help out that may not involve traditional roles of counselors,” she says. “There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at shelters, disaster sites, community centers and churches. You can just go and play games with the kids. Something as simple as giving a kid paper and markers to draw is helpful because … the way the brain processes trauma is not verbal. It’s up to us to give them a way to tell their story, art-making is a great tool to do so.”

Over the long term in Sandy’s aftermath, Del Vecchio-Scully says counselors can expect to see people dealing with issues such as anxiety-spectrum disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and feelings of grief and loss.

“In the immediate short term,” she says, “you’re going to see people suffering from shock, a sense of surrealness about what’s happening, a denial about the reality of what’s happening [and] a much higher level of stress because of food, personal needs [and] work-related demands. The stress level is much, much higher [than usual]. It continues to stay that way over time because there’s no quick answer to these problems. If your home is destroyed, there is no easy way to fix that.”

Additional stressors, Del Vecchio-Scully says, include the financial impact of the storm, which, she says, will be “pretty significant,” and any losses people endured as a result of Sandy.

A loss of a loved one can very definitely include a pet, Del Vecchio-Scully says. “For many, their pets are considered members of their family and thus, such a loss would be difficult [even] in a less stressful time,” she says.

In many ways, Del Vecchio-Scully says, a counselor’s role after a natural disaster such as Sandy is no different than in any other situation, although the focus is different.

“Disaster mental health focuses on normal people who are responding to an abnormal event and avoids pathologizing reactions,” she notes.

Del Vecchio-Scully says counselors act as case managers immediately following a disaster.

“Focus on connecting people to the resources that they need, things that maybe available through the government, such as grants and housing,” she says. “Also, in some cases, even though people are warned to have enough medication, they may not have gotten any. The practical needs need to be met. You have to establish that internal sense of safety regardless of what’s happening around them.”

Del Vecchio-Scully recommends that counselors keep in mind the four phases of disaster mental health that those impacted by the storm may go through in order to best help them:

  •  Phase 1. Impact Phase: This phase occurs within the first few days of the event, and Del Vecchio-Scully says the role of the counselor is to provide psychological first aid for the natural disaster victims. “People are stuck in their stress reactions,” she says, “and the role of a mental health provider is to help ensure their basic needs are met.”
  • Phase 2. Rescue Phase: “This is when people are either able to cope or become emotionally exhausted,” explains Del Vecchio-Scully, and this phase occurs within the first week of the event.  This is the time for counselors to do needs assessments with their clients. She stresses the importance of being mindful of previous trauma histories. “For people in the tri-state area [New York, New Jersey and Connecticut] who experienced the 9/11 attack,” Del Vecchio-Scully notes, “they are more vulnerable and are much more likely to be re-traumatized.” Regardless of past experience, it is important to focus on normalizing the here-and-now experience and foster resiliency during this time.
  • Phase 3. Recovery Phase: Occurring during the first month after the event, Del Vecchio-Scully says it is normal for people impacted by the event to feel grief and loss during this time, experience intrusive thoughts of the event or be reappraising or reevaluating their lives. The role of the counselor, she says, is to be “very aware, watching, listening and noticing the symptoms, monitoring to see if there is any ongoing stress or threats [to their mental or physical health].” Additionally, Del Vecchio-Scully says to make sure clients are getting their needs met both emotionally and practically, whether it is by ensuring they are receiving entitlements or clean clothes. “Responsiveness and sensitivity are the most important traits [for a counselor] to have,” she says.
  • Phase 4. Returning to Life: Del Vecchio-Scully says to think of this fourth phase as a “continuum,” as it can begin occurring within two weeks after the event and last for years afterward. Evaluate where a client is on the continuum: extreme — losing their house, job or a loved one — or less extreme. “This is where you see people not coping when they should be coping as well as one would hope.” Del Vecchio-Scully says. It is also the point for counselors to start looking at treatment options, whether it be individual, family, group therapy, hospitalization or medication, for as long as it takes to help the individual to cope. “I see a lot of people in my practice who are still impacted by 9/11,” she says. “As much as we try to put time frames on it, people heal when they heal.”

While Del Vecchio-Scully says it’s important to help those affected by disasters learn to cope on their own, she says that offering empathy and sensitivity is also key.

I think the most important thing is no one can determine the impact of another thing on another individual,” Del Vecchio-Scully says. “Whatever their experience is, is their experience. It is that non-judgmental, compassionate presence that we come back to again and again.”

Read parts twothree and four in this series.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.


ACA members expand cultural competencies on People to People trip to China

Heather Rudow November 2, 2012

(Photo by Bill Fenson)

An American Counseling Association-sponsored People to People Citizen Ambassador Program to China gave 17 counselors, counselors and teachers the opportunity to expand their worldview and learn about mental health in a country with a culture different from their own.

The trip allowed delegates — most of whom are ACA members — to collaborate with Chinese students, counselors and workers on topics relating to the counseling profession and to experience cultural activities around the country.

During the program, which was held Aug. 13-25, delegates learned about Chinese culture in unique ways: from exploring local neighborhoods to visiting two of the country’s top universities to observing Chinese counselors in their element. The delegates learned about mental health issues affecting Chinese students, children and adults, about career options for Chinese workers and about what the country’s environment is like for counselors. Attendees had the chance to visit and listen to presentations at places such as the Jinghui Soul Education and Counseling Center, the Career Center at Tsinghua University and the Jie Su Tenzin Orphanage.

People to People began in 1956 when it was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. ACA has previously partnered with the organization to send counseling delegations to countries such as Russia, Rwanda, South Africa, China, Tibet, India and Brazil. While this trip was sponsored by ACA, all travel expenses were paid by People to People and the delegates.

ACA member Tammy Hurst’s first experience with People to People was in 2011, when she went on an ACA-sponsored trip to Brazil. The trip focused on multicultural counseling and was a positive experience, she says.

The August People to People trip to China was Hurst’s first trip to Asia, she says. “I had wanted to visit there for a very long time but never knew how it would work out. When the trip was announced as a multicultural counseling delegation, I knew I had to go.”

Hurst says getting to know the Chinese people she met was one of her favorite parts of the trip, helping her to expand her cultural competencies as a counselor and an American.

“My ideas of what China would be like stemmed back to my childhood when I was told that it was a communist country and was made to believe that it was a cold, gray place with busy and unfriendly people,” she says.

But these notions were quickly challenged the more she encountered the country’s people and culture.

“Today, I am so thankful that I know better,” Hurst says. “I am quite honestly overwhelmed at the amazing hospitality and warmth shown to myself and the entire delegation by every Chinese person we met. The trip reinforced my belief that we should not rely on what we hear in the news, on the radio or even often times from our own families. We must be brave and open to explore the world around us. We must see and touch for ourselves and then form our opinions about our fellow humans. I am forever changed by their sense of loyalty, their passion for life, their seriousness about life, their drive and their wonderful peaceful nature.”

Though ACA member Bill Fenson says visiting Asia for the first time on this trip crossed more things off his bucket list than he can count, he, too, admits to having some preconceptions about what the culture would be like.

“I knew as a tall, large, Caucasian male that I would stand out in the crowds,” he says. “I had only traveled one place before that it was so evident that I was a tourist.”

However, Fenson says, he was greeted warmly wherever the delegates went. “Pleasingly, I wasn’t shocked or embarrassed by the stares or photos,” he says. They were very compassionate, asked for photos and [are] ultimately not so different [from Americans].”

The experience with People to People made Fenson realize how important it is for counselors to travel abroad.

“We get the privilege of representing the United States and sharing the knowledge that we have gleaned from our experience with others,” he says. “I can only think this was a shared learning experience and that we now understand them more than we could from reference books or articles. The experience of a communist country with friendly, idea-sharing and cheerful professionals was not expected.”

Hurst, too, says she believes that one of the best ways to develop cultural competencies is to actually experience other cultures firsthand.

“I feel that a counselor can read all of the books, stories, magazines [and] journals they want about any certain culture out there and they would still know very little,” she says. “Counselors tend to be very intuitive and sensitive people, [but] they need to actually get hands-on experience with the populations they serve. There is no better way to try and relate to our clients than to know something experientially about their culture, language and beliefs. Books would like you to believe that a people are all the same. It is so very important for counselors to realize and experience the fact that all people from a certain nation or culture are all not the same, just as we Americans are very different from each other. When asked how to best serve Chinese American clients in the States, one wonderful counseling professional said to our group, ‘Just remember that we are people, too.’”

Jane Goodman, a past president of ACA, led this year’s group, as she also did for the 2009 delegation to China. She went to the country for her first time with People to People in 1985. Goodman says the experience on this trip was “fascinating, enlightening, fun, sometimes challenging. As we met with people who do what we do, in a country that is so different from ours in so many ways, we were consistently amazed that they are so similar in their challenges and approaches.”

One thing Goodman noticed on this year’s trip is how rapidly the mental health landscape is evolving in China.

“Most of the places we visited had only been in operation 10 years or fewer,” she says, “but [there] are sophisticated counselors with knowledge of the same theories and approaches as Americans and the wisdom to apply them in their own cultural context. [On] my 1985 trip, things were very different and counseling didn’t really exist.”

Although this wasn’t her first time, Goodman says she still managed to learn new things, even as a group leader.

“I find that not only do I learn new things,” she says, “but I ask new questions. For example, on this trip, because the U.S. ‘falling behind’ educationally has been in the news so much, I pondered how one can motivate students without terrifying them and creating as much anxiety as Chinese students have.”

After experiencing China through this unique lens, Fenson is ready to take another type of adventure.

“As a direct result of this trip,” he says, “I am currently seeking an international position based outside the United States to actually work in unfamiliar geographic areas and become an open resource to familiar and unfamiliar venues.”

Fenson says he is grateful for such a positive and rewarding experience.

Goodman adds that the experience has also renewed her faith in the counseling experience.

“I have a renewed respect for the impact of counseling on people’s lives, its power and its universality,” she says. “I am again reminded of the strength in a group, as 17 people who did not know each other bonded and shared both great moments and sometimes the need to help each other with challenges.”

For more information about People to People’s Citizen Ambassador Programs, click here.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.