Tag Archives: Counselor Education & Supervision

Singalong with Richard Watts: Teaching REBT through song

By Bethany Bray February 16, 2016

When Richard Watts’ counseling graduate students arrive to class for a unit on Albert Ellis and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), they’re in for something a little different.

Watts, a professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, pulls out his guitar and sings songs he’s written to illustrate the irrational beliefs that Ellis in part developed REBT to combat.

Set to familiar tunes such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Oh Suzanna,” Watts’ song lyrics paint a picture of some of the self-sabotaging feelings and behaviors that REBT addresses, such as perfectionism, obsessive relationships, defeatism, victimhood and so on.

Ellis referred to such beliefs as “stinking thinking,” Watts says. REBT works to reverse negative, often paralyzing thoughts into rational beliefs, such as an acceptance that we are not perfect and that life won’t always go our way, but that is OK.

Through the years, Watts has written a slate of songs to highlight the self-defeating beliefs with which many people struggle. In most causes, the songs feature a good dose of humor. For example, the “Rejected Lover’s Refrain,” sung to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey,” ends with the lines: “Oh

Richard Watts with his guitar.

Richard Watts with his guitar.

why did you leave me? What’s that all about? I guess that I’m worthless and you figured it out. I really deserve this, I know that it’s true. If I only could dear, why, I’d leave me too!”

Watts distributes the lyrics in class and encourages his students to sing along. He’s been singing about REBT in his classroom — as well as in group therapy settings and, occasionally, at professional conferences and events — for two decades.

“We sing the songs and they make us laugh, but many times humor also makes us think,” says Watts, a professor of counseling and director of Sam Houston State University’s Ph.D. program in counselor education. “[As] I’m teaching students, I’m trying to get them to think about their own irrational beliefs as well as their clients’.”

Watts is following in the tradition of Ellis, who wrote songs to illustrate irrational beliefs decades ago. Ellis led workshops every Friday night at his New York City institute for many years. Known for his big personality, wit and sometimes-irreverent style, Ellis would pull members of the audience on stage for live therapy sessions. He used the songs as a therapy tool, often encouraging the audience to sing along. In 1987, Ellis penned a chapter “The use of rational humorous songs in psychotherapy” in ‪William Fry and Waleed Salameh’s book ‪Handbook of Humor and Psychotherapy: Advances in the Clinical Use of Humor.

Watts decided to write songs of his own after discovering that today’s college students aren’t as familiar with many of the older tunes that Ellis’ songs are set to. At first, Watts says, his students are a little startled by seeing their professor in a new context — similar to seeing your teacher in the grocery store as a kid. But they soon warm up, he says, even laughing and singing along.

“I’m not [Eric] Clapton, but I can play pretty well,” Watts says with a chuckle. “I thought it’d be a clever way of introducing the material.”

When used in group therapy, especially in groups with men, the songs often get clients to open up, he says.

“Many times [in group settings], clients are reticent to share ideas that might be inhibiting their progress,” says Watts, a licensed professional counselor supervisor, American Counseling Association fellow and immediate past president of the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology. “But we’ll sing these songs, and I’ll see them laugh and whisper to their neighbor, ‘This is so me!’ … After they’ve sung and laughed together using those songs, they feel more at liberty to talk about and unpack the meaning that they saw in those songs for themselves.”

Similarly, the songs serve as an icebreaker in the classroom. They are also an effective, if nontraditional, way of helping students learn and remember Ellis’ points. The lessons stick with students much more so than if they were to simply read about the concepts in a textbook, Watts says.

In one case, a student who struggled with perfectionism printed out Watts’ song about the issue (the “Perfectionist’s Refrain”) and attached it to the visor of her car as a reminder. Other students have asked for recordings of the songs to use in sessions with their own clients.

“They sing about it, they laugh about it and then we talk about it,” he says. “It’s an application exercise. They’re not merely reading about the different [cognitive] distortions. In a sense, the songs are fun case studies. They learn to listen for the irrational belief theme underpinning [each] song. It sets them up for having an ear and an eye for the mistaken beliefs.”

After singing his songs, Watts urges students to start looking for irrational beliefs elsewhere, including in popular culture. Students are often surprised to discover how often irrational beliefs – from love lost to feelings of worthlessness – are embedded in their favorite music, he says.

Given Watts’ penchant for using clever lyrics as both a teaching and therapy tool, it perhaps comes as no surprise that he has a musical background. He came to the counseling profession after earning an undergraduate degree in music (choral conducting) and working as a church choir director. As an undergrad, he put himself through college by singing in piano bars.

Watts’ irrational belief songs proved so popular that some of his colleagues encouraged him to submit the songs for publication in the Texas Counseling Association’s academic journal. They were published in academic journals several times in the 1990s, including in the Journal of Humanistic Counseling.

Watts sent a copy of his song lyrics to Ellis prior to the influential psychotherapist’s death in 2007. Ellis responded with a letter, written on the letterhead of his Institute for Rational-Emotive Therapy, and said that Watts’ songs were “right on the ball and can be very useful.”





Richard Watts’ REBT song lyrics and recordings are available online at bit.ly/1PwpziW.

Contact Watts at rew003@shsu.edu





Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis

Interested in learning more about Albert Ellis and REBT? See “Getting to know (and love) Albert Ellis and his theory,” Allen Ivey’s recent Q+A with Ellis’ widow, Debbie Joffe Ellis, that appeared in Counseling Today.








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: facebook.com/CounselingToday

Behind the Book: ACA Ethical Standards Casebook

By Bethany Bray February 23, 2015

The 2014 ACA Code of Ethics is meant to be a living document, applicable to a growing, changing and active profession.

It would make sense, then, for counselors to familiarize themselves with the code through the lens of real-life scenarios that might arise in their office.

Barbara Herlihy and Gerald Corey have provided that lens in the seventh edition of their ACA Ethical Standards Casebook.

The book fleshes out each standard of the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics with a case vignette and discussion points. Readers are exposed to various aspects of counseling, from issues that might Ethical-Standards_branding-boxarise with record keeping to whether a counselor should be friends with a former client.

“The work of the counselor is fraught with ambiguities. When we find ourselves navigating in waters not clearly charted by the code of ethics of our profession, we must be guided by an internal ethical compass,” write Herlihy and Corey in the book’s introduction. “… We believe that ethics is best viewed from a developmental perspective. We may look at issues in one way as students; later, with time and experience, our views are likely to have evolved. Ethical reasoning takes on new meaning as we encounter a variety of ethical dilemmas. Professional maturity entails being willing to question ourselves, to discuss our doubts with colleagues and to engage in continual self-monitoring.”


Q+A: ACA Ethical Standards Casebook

Responses by co-authors Barbara Herlihy and Gerald Corey


In this new edition, you mention that a counselor’s perspective on ethical issues may change over the course of his or her career. Besides revisiting the ACA Code of Ethics and related resources such as your book, what are some ways counselors can stay “fresh” regarding the ethics of the profession?

Ongoing supervision, seeking consultation when needed and self-reflection are essential routes in keeping current. Counselors can gain new ideas from attending conferences and participating in workshops, by reading professional books and journals, having dialogue with colleagues, keeping a personal journal, making efforts to write about topics that matter to them, developing a network of support, finding ways to engage in personal development, consulting on matters related to their practice and engaging in self-care.

The casebook can serve as a vehicle for continuing education that experienced counselors can use to further their aspirational ethics. Counselors with many years of experience can read and reflect on the material in the casebook and can discuss the material with their colleagues. They can also ask themselves: How can I best monitor my own behavior? How can I apply relevant standards to situations I encounter? How can I ensure that I am thinking about what is best for my clients, my students or my supervisees?


What do you hope students, recent graduates and new counselors take away from this book?

Our hope is that this casebook can be a tool to assist recent graduates and new counselors in obtaining a clearer idea of what is involved in the practice of aspirational ethics. Ideally, readers will not think about doing the minimum to avoid malpractice actions but will think of how they can always keep the best interests and welfare of their clients in mind.

Rather than foster a rule-based approach to ethics, our aim has been to help readers think of ways they can develop their own perspective on ethical practice. The variety of perspectives of the contributors and the case studies will help students think about their position of the issues. Each of the 12 chapters in the casebook is followed by two case studies that illustrate some of the issues examined in a given chapter. Each case study presents an ethical dilemma and is followed by questions for thought and discussion and an analysis of the case.

Students have often told us that they had never thought about certain ethical questions until they were confronted with cases that raised difficult issues or posed dilemmas that could not be neatly resolved. This casebook gives students an opportunity to examine many ethical issues before they confront them in practice.


What do you hope more veteran, experienced counselors take away from the book?

We hope that more experienced counselors will realize that ethical practice is a journey in which one never arrives at a destination. We believe that ethics is best viewed from a developmental perspective. As counselor gains experience, their views are likely to evolve. Ethical reasoning takes on new meaning as practitioners encounter a variety of ethical dilemmas. Becoming an ethical and competent professional entails being willing to question ourselves, to discuss our doubts with colleagues and to engage in continual self-monitoring.


What prompted you to release a seventh edition of this book? Please talk about the updates and changes readers will see in the new edition.

It was time for the new edition. The casebook is always updated so that it matches revisions to the ACA Code of Ethics. Thus, when the 2014 code was adopted, a new casebook was needed. Readers will find several new chapters in this seventh edition of the casebook that reflect new standards and sections of the 2014 code. There is a new emphasis on social justice and counseling across cultures, and new chapters on managing value conflicts; technology, social media and online counseling; research and publication; and the intersection of ethics and the law. Almost all the case studies are new and reflect the complexities of real-world counseling practice.


As you mentioned, this edition of the casebook coincides with the release of the revised ACA Code of Ethics. What are some topics from the revised code that you felt were most important to flesh out in your book?

There are 34 contributors to this edition of the casebook. The chapters have been revised, and many new case studies are presented. Some topics that were given particular attention (to reflect the changes in the revised ACA 2014 code) include:

  • Implications of recent court cases and dismissal of students who refused to bracket their values
  • Avoiding value imposition
  • Avoiding referral based on the counselor’s personal values
  • Implications of technology on the practice of counseling
  • Issues of privacy and confidentiality associated with social media
  • Ethical issues involving research
  • Ways that ethics and the law are both related and different
  • Becoming a culturally competent counselor in an increasingly global profession
  • Ethical aspects of addressing social justice concerns

The contributors provided a wide range of case studies that are geared to the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics. These case studies have reflection questions aimed at assisting readers to become actively engaged in the issues they raise. Each case study is followed by an analysis of the case based on the ACA code and further questions for discussion. These cases help translate sometimes-abstract concepts into practical and concrete terms. The depth of the case studies challenges readers to formulate their own perspectives on ethical issues involved.


Explain the thought process that went into the way you broke up the subject matter from the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics in your book.

We wanted to incorporate all aspects of the current code in the revision of the casebook. For example, in Part II of the casebook, we include the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics, yet we also have an illustrative vignette for each of the standards. The aim here was to provide concrete examples of ethical and effective implementation of the spirit of each standard. Many of these illustrative vignettes are new to this edition or are revised. Part II presents a kind of “micro” perspective on the code, illustrating each individual standard with a brief vignette.

We also thought it would be useful to readers to have a “macro” perspective, or a section that gives focused attention to larger issues such as values, confidentiality and implications of new technologies and boundaries. Part III presents chapters on these and other issues, and each chapter is accompanied by two case studies that demonstrate how the code of ethics can be applied to resolve ethical dilemmas that arise around these issues. These case studies, written by counselors with widely diverse experience and expertise, represent the complexities of real-world practice.


What originally inspired you to collaborate and write a book on this topic? What made you want to include case studies?

We have a common interest in ethics and have co-presented at conferences many times over the years. We agreed that writing about our views and experiences would be a meaningful endeavor. Thus, we have collaborated on various editions of two books [Boundary Issues in Counseling being the other] with ACA for over two decades, and we always find it challenging, interesting, rewarding and fun to work jointly in this manner.

We also have found it meaningful to involve our colleagues and students in contributing to the evolution of these books on ethics. The decision to include case studies in our books was based on feedback from students who consistently stated that actual cases stimulated their thinking and promoted discussion in class. This helped them to see the actual implementation of ethical standards into counseling practice.





About the authors

Barbara Herlihy is a licensed professional counselor and university research professor in the counselor education graduate program at the University of New Orleans.

Gerald Corey is a national certified counselor and professor emeritus of human services and counseling at California State University at Fullerton.




The ACA Ethical Standards Casebook is available from the American Counseling Association bookstore at counseling.org/publications/bookstore or by calling 800-422-2648 x 222.





Herlihy and Corey will be at the 2015 ACA Conference & Expo in Orlando, Florida, to give a talk on both the ACA Ethical Standards Casebook and Boundary Issues in Counseling, another book that they co-authored for ACA.

They will be speaking Friday, March 13, at 4 p.m. and signing books Thursday, March 12, at 4:30 p.m. For more information, see counseling.org/conference




Interested in learning more? ACA recently produced a webinar with Herlihy and Corey about boundary issues, ethics and their two books, Boundary Issues in Counseling and the ACA Ethical Standards Casebook. More information here: counseling.org/continuing-education/webinars





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: facebook.com/CounselingToday


A steadying hand

By Laurie Meyers November 1, 2014

Receiving supervision is an experience common to all counselors. Some view it as little more than an experience to be endured — another box to be ticked off the list in pursuit of a counseling degree or counselor licensure. Perhaps that’s because securing the proper supervision can be a frustrating, time-consuming and expensive proposition, especially at the beginning of a counseling career when Bird landing on an outstretched handthe paychecks are low and the burden of student loan debt is heavy.

Many other counselors, however, possess a different perspective, believing that all the “gains” achieved through supervision are worth the potential “pains” that accompany the process. Professionals who study and provide counselor supervision contend that the supervisory experience is critical to a counselor’s development. Many of these professionals also think that supervision is something counselors should seek throughout their careers — not just at the beginning of a career — from senior colleagues and peers.

Counseling Today recently spoke with several counselors about what makes a supervisory relationship work, as well as some of the challenges inherent in supervision.

A reflection of the counselor-client relationship

In a recent small study, American Counseling Association members M. Kristina DePue and Glenn Lambie found that effective supervision is more about the relationship itself than the particular methods or strategies used during supervision (studies have found, of course, that the same holds true with the counseling process). Lambie and DePue examined satisfaction ratings by supervisees and supervisors and found that high satisfaction ratings correlated with greater competency levels during the practicum process.

As with the counselor-client relationship, the supervisor-supervisee relationship should include trust and acceptance, says DePue, an assistant professor of counselor education at the University of Florida. As a constructivist, she believes the supervision process is (or should be) a holding environment — one of support, challenge and continuity.

“I know that might sound odd to many people,” DePue says, “but when we think about it, counseling serves the purpose of providing a safe space for growth and change. In reality, supervision does the same thing. Therefore, we should expect to see very similar patterns in these relationships.”

In fact, DePue thinks that in order to provide understanding and effective supervision, those who supervise must keep the therapeutic relationship in mind.

“Students aren’t that dissimilar [from] our clients,” she points out. “They are attracted to this profession for various reasons, but oftentimes they come to training with a history of wounds that need healing. Supervisors should know what to expect from trainees at a particular developmental stage. For example, if we are working with practicum students, skill acquisition and self-awareness may be drastically less than [it is in] a person in their first year of licensure. It is important to consistently think about the individual student and what they need at this point in the trajectory of their career. Always be mindful that students are developing skills and developing personally. We can help or harm their development, and I think having realistic expectations is a huge part of not being too critical or harsh on students.”

Lambie, a professor of counselor education and chair of the Department of Child, Family and Community Sciences at the University of Central Florida, agrees about the importance of maintaining an environment in which supervisees are able to be themselves and feel comfortable trying different things.

Referring to his supervision of students, Lambie says, “We don’t want it to be just sink or swim. When you’re new you need feedback, and we want to provide you with that feedback.”

Lambie’s advice to other supervisors is to remain mindful throughout the process. “Be purposeful in trying to develop a strong supervisory bond. Don’t just take it for granted,” he urges. “It’s important for a supervisor to model what he or she wants to support in his or her supervisees. If I want you to be more empathetic but I’m yelling at you, I don’t think that’s going to be a good experience.”

Critical support

During their professional journeys, many counselors experience critical incidents — specific moments or cases that cause them to question the path they’re on. Oftentimes, these critical incidents can be positive, serving as turning points that deepen a counselor’s sense of professional identity, says Ruthann Smith Anderson, an ACA member and past president of the Ohio Mental Health Counselors Association. However, when a supervisee experiences a critical incident, the encounter can be overwhelming. Supervisors need to recognize when supervisees have had a critical incident so they can help guide the supervisee through it.

“There are moments when counselors-in-training come up against something they don’t expect in terms of who they are in counseling and what counseling is. It can cause them to question themselves, their qualifications and capabilities,” says Anderson, a licensed professional clinical counselor supervisor (LPCC-S) and an assistant professor of counseling and human development at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.

Critical incidents among supervisees often involve questioning professional identity, difficulty with the complexity of real-life cases and even struggling with the supervision process itself, Anderson says. In some cases, supervisees are dealing with a sense of disappointment because they are not as professionally competent as they assumed, she adds.

“One of the things that supervisors have to do is provide a safe environment,” Anderson says. “Supervisees frequently feel insecure and full of self-doubt, and they need to feel that they can come to the supervisor and express that. You [the supervisor] have to find a way to give feedback that is clear, concrete and immediate, and you want it to be sandwiched with feedback about what the supervisee has done well. Supervisors need to remember how vulnerable supervisees are and to help normalize it — tell them that these reactions are common. In talking with students, they have consistently said that if they don’t feel safe [in the supervisory relationship], they won’t bring up their doubts.”

Providing consistent feedback requires close supervision. In Anderson’s program, all supervisee sessions are taped so that the supervisor can later review the session with the supervisee. Supervisors also watch some sessions live from another office.

Going over the session tapes with supervisees helps Anderson track their professional development and provide guidance in areas in which they need more help. For example, perhaps the supervisee didn’t stop to note that what the client was saying didn’t match his or her affect — maybe the person was smiling or laughing while talking about something sad. Anderson can jump to that spot in the session tape and ask what the supervisee was thinking at that moment and what the supervisee might say now. If the supervisee still doesn’t recognize the problem, Anderson will explain it and ask why the supervisee thinks he or she missed it. The supervisee can then bring the issue up with the client in the next session and also will have learned to watch for similar reactions with other clients.

Working with and teaching supervisees, not just telling them what they did wrong, is part of successful and supportive supervision, Anderson says. “When [providing] supervision, hopefully you are doing supervision on several levels — developing skills, deepening the ability to hypothesize or conceptualize, and exploring who the supervisee is as an individual and how that influences [his or her] work,” she explains.

When supervising closely on all three of those levels, Anderson says, supervisors are likely to catch a supervisee’s critical incidents and any other issues that need to be addressed.

Protecting against client suicide

Among the most difficult circumstances any counselor will face is a client’s death by suicide. Now imagine confronting that reality in the supervision process. Although it is not a common occurrence, it can and does happen, says Daniel Weigel, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and ACA member. To protect supervisees, clients and themselves, supervisors must observe caseloads closely, teach supervisees how to assess for clients who may be suicidal and build a strong supervisory relationship that encourages novice counselors to ask for help anytime they are working with a client who is potentially suicidal.

Such clients aren’t likely to come in to counseling and announce that they’re feeling suicidal. Instead, counselors must be on the alert for subtle signs, including behavioral or verbal clues that novice counselors and counseling students might overlook, says Weigel, a counseling professor and the practicum and internship coordinator for the counseling programs at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. As an example, he mentions clients who avoid using a future orientation in conversation, such as discussing plans for the weekend or talking about what they’ll do after graduation, or who speak almost exclusively in the past tense.

Because not all clients will have been diagnosed previously, supervisors also need to teach their supervisees to recognize signs of disorders such as depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, substance abuse and schizophrenia that commonly accompany suicide attempts, Weigel says. Other signs supervisees should be taught to probe for are a previous history of suicide attempts (which Weigel identifies as perhaps the best predictor of future attempts); isolation from social supports such as family members, a partner, friends or a religious community; abuse of alcohol or drugs; and addictive behaviors such as gambling, among many other potential signs.

“Counselors-in-training require education in recognizing these clues and trusting their instincts to ask the necessary questions if such situations arise with a client,” Weigel says. Supervisors can help supervisees by observing or shadowing actual suicide assessments (if clients give their permission). As supervisees become more experienced, they can also learn by co-participating with supervisors or taking the lead (under live supervision) in conducting suicide assessments and interventions.

Providing close and collaborative supervision is likely the only way for a supervisor to accurately determine whether the supervisee’s client is at risk for suicide, Weigel says. “To rely solely on information presented by a supervisee verbally or in written form, as opposed to the raw data presented in recorded sessions, live supervision or co-counseling supervision strategies, is unlikely to reveal the subtle clues of client suicide risk,” he says.

Weigel acknowledges that much of the supervision being provided in the field is not live, in part because many supervisors don’t have the time necessary to see their own clients and observe live counseling sessions conducted by their supervisees. In addition, many supervision sites don’t have the capability to tape sessions for later review. So Weigel stresses the importance of developing a strong supervisory relationship, particularly if supervision must be based solely on verbal or written reports from the supervisee. Otherwise, supervisees may be tempted to hold back and present only that information they think will “please” the supervisor. According to Weigel, this is very common behavior.

Weigel advises supervisors to screen clients carefully before pairing them up with a counseling student or novice counselor to determine if they are an appropriate match. He also directly discusses the possibility of client suicide with his supervisees.

“Allowing supervisees who are not carefully oriented and trained in suicide assessment to see clients is a very dangerous position in which to place everyone. The first step in handling a potential crisis between a supervisee and his or her client is to educate [the supervisee] on the process before clients are ever seen,” says Weigel. He explains that preparation involves carefully reviewing the signs of suicide risk with supervisees, while also encouraging them to tune in to their own feelings and trust their instincts.

“Many novice counselors feel like impostors or feel unprepared to see clients,” he says. “Part of the role of the supervisor is to help supervisees feel empowered to trust the skills they have learned and the instincts they carry. This is especially true regarding skills related to crisis intervention.”

At Southeastern Oklahoma State, if a supervisee at the practicum or internship level suspects a client may be suicidal, he or she must bring the supervisor in immediately. Supervisors should establish a procedure for this circumstance ahead of time because suicidal clients should never be left alone, even for a moment, Weigel emphasizes. Once the supervisor is called in, he or she will typically take over the suicide assessment and ideally give the counselor-in-training the opportunity to observe the assessment and intervention in real time, he says.

Preparing supervisees for the possibility of client suicide is an incredibly difficult part of supervision, Weigel says. “[It] can, quite frankly, become overwhelming at times. Any client with whom we work is at risk of death by suicide, just as any supervisee’s clients might be at risk of the same. For me, the scariest part of clinical supervision is the fact that one of my supervisee’s clients might die by suicide, and I may never have had a chance to meet with that client.”

Multicultural competence

The United States has long been a nation of many cultures, and its population continues to grow more diverse. Yet most counseling programs offer only one course specifically devoted to multiculturalism, notes ACA member Kevin Feisthamel, director of counseling, health and disability services at Hiram College in Ohio. He doesn’t believe that’s enough.

“We need to become aware of our biases and become competent,” asserts Feisthamel, an LPCC-S and national certified counselor. “As supervisors, we need to be up to date on the latest [multicultural] research. [But] we get complacent or get so busy that we don’t have time. We forget that we have an ethical mandate [to teach multicultural skills].”

Being multiculturally competent as a counselor doesn’t automatically make you multiculturally competent as a supervisor, says Paula Britton, an ACA member and professional clinical counselor supervisor who runs a multicultural workshop for supervisors in Ohio. “In many states, you don’t need any additional multicultural training to become a supervisor,” she notes. When supervisors aren’t multiculturally competent, they are really doing their supervisees a disservice, contends Britton, who believes that supervision is the best place to learn multicultural competence.

Multicultural awareness in supervision doesn’t just concern clients; it may also be an issue within the supervisory relationship itself, says Britton, a professor of clinical mental health counseling at John Carroll University. “People who come from oppressed cultures often have trouble with trusting people in power, and supervisors are people in power,” she points out.

If a supervisor doesn’t take the time to understand a supervisee’s personal cultural background, the supervisor may make assumptions that further impede trust being established in the supervisory relationship, Britton says. And if a supervisee doesn’t trust the supervisor, he or she will be less likely to ask questions or bring up concerns, which can have a negative effect on the counselor’s professional development and, ultimately, the quality of care provided to clients.

Britton offers the example of a white supervisor with a supervisee who is African American. The supervisor might make the assumption that the supervisee comes from a low-income background. “Then the supervisee feels misunderstood but doesn’t want to say anything because [he or she is] being evaluated,” Britton says.

The best way for supervisors to start building a relationship of trust is to genuinely get to know their supervisees by asking about their culture. “I see a lot of supervisors who are worried that they will offend someone, so they just don’t say anything [about cultural differences],” Britton says. “We know from literature that that is the worst thing you can do. The more questions you ask, the better. The supervisor can [also] say [something like], ‘I’m aware that I’m white and you are Latino. I want to be sensitive, but if I say something insensitive, let me know.’”

Counselors need to educate themselves, but that doesn’t mean they have to be experts on every culture, either with their supervisees or with their clients, Britton says. Rather, she explains, they simply need to speak up and acknowledge when there are holes in their cultural understanding.

“Say to your supervisee, ‘I don’t know a lot about this culture. Let’s explore it more,’” she urges. By doing that, a supervisor shows the supervisee that learning is a career-long process and that even veteran counselors don’t have all the answers, she says.

Feisthamel sits down with his interns whenever they will be working with a client from another culture and asks them how knowledgeable or comfortable they feel about that particular culture. “They [the supervisee] might say, ‘Well, I’m not too familiar with the culture in India,’ and I’ll say, ‘OK, what are your questions? Let’s look at the research and find out what’s working for Indian people.’”

Feisthamel also encourages his supervisees to ask questions. “I think sometimes students don’t ask questions because they’re afraid to be wrong,” he says. The supervisor needs to make sure that the supervisee feels comfortable enough to ask questions — even if they seem stupid, asserts Feisthamel.

Britton agrees. “The best thing you can do as a supervisor with any supervisee is make them feel safe instead of making them feel like they have to pretend.”

Helping counselors-in-training and the community

Counseling students at Indiana State University receive assistance with internship placement, but the program staff there also wanted students to get more experience under live supervision. So the staff lobbied to reopen a community mental health clinic, associated with the university since the 1970s, that had recently fallen by the wayside.

“We have an underserved community,” says Catherine Tucker, director of the clinical mental health counseling program at Indiana State. “We also have a highly service-oriented program.”

The clinic is staffed by three of the department’s counselor educators, as well as outside clinicians and the students themselves. Students begin work there during their practicum and stay on during the summer between practicum and internship. Although they are placed outside the clinic for internship, they still put in hours at the clinic.

But the clinic isn’t just convenient for the community and students; it’s essential to the supervisory process, says Tucker, a member of ACA. Instead of reviewing tapes from supervised sessions off campus, as the program used to do, all supervision at the clinic is live. Each consultation room has a camera with a live feed that is monitored by staff and other students in a main control room. The camera also records all sessions so that students can review them later. In addition to being observed from the control room, students come out halfway through their counseling sessions for a brief consultation on what is going well, what isn’t and what they might try next.

“It is so much better [than before] because they [the supervisees] can go back in and, if they missed something, they can ask questions,” Tucker says. “Or if they need to change techniques, they can do it then. If they are just bringing in a tape or discussing it [afterward], it’s too late. They can make a change the next week, but the opportunity for immediate change [and learning] is gone. I think all the skills develop more rapidly when you have the chance to go back and correct in real time.”

How do supervisees react to being watched by multiple observers? “They’re very self-conscious at the beginning,” Tucker acknowledges. “It’s strange [for them] to think that they’re being taped and watched.”

But the faculty reassures supervisees that the purpose of the observation is not to catalog all their faults. “We see this as a developmental process,” Tucker explains. “Other students also observe. If you don’t have another client, you are expected to watch another session. At first [the supervisees’ reaction is] kind of deer in the headlights. We talk a lot about that in practicum and let them know that it’s normal to be strung out and anxious the first few times.”

“Starting out, we want to make sure basic skills are solid and that they can do an interview,” Tucker continues. “As time goes on, we want to make sure they are solid on diagnosis and that they can pull in their [chosen] technique. We also want them to know that they are in a developmental role. Growth happens over the length of a career, not just in one process. We don’t expect perfection, but we always expect to see progress.”

The supervisees and the program also benefit from the participation of counselors from outside the university. These counselors not only provide an outside perspective but also help students gain an understanding of the nuts and bolts of private practice, such as billing practices and issues (the clinic charges a nominal fee and doesn’t bill), and all the documentation that practitioners need to keep. “They [the outside practitioners] also have access to outside referral services that we don’t have,” Tucker adds.

The clinic serves individual adults, children, families and couples. The faculty uses this variety to push supervisees out of their comfort zones.

“If they say that children make them nervous, we’ll stick them with a 4-year-old,” says Tucker, noting that several of her supervisees initially voiced feeling uncomfortable counseling children, only to later decide that they wanted to become play therapists.

But the main point of the clinic is to give the students experience counseling a wide variety of clients. “They need to become generalists, because in the beginning [of a counseling career], you need to be able to handle whatever comes through the door,” she says.

Tucker believes live supervision is the key to getting counselors-in-training ready for internship and beyond. Therefore, she urges other counselor educators to find a way to incorporate at least a few live supervision sessions into practicum or internships.

“The growth we see is absolutely exponential when compared with the other model [of just reviewing session tapes],” she says. “The thing that really strikes me is that when internships start, they [the counseling students] say they feel really comfortable walking into a meeting and saying, ‘This is my treatment plan, and this is how I’m going to implement it.’ … Seeing the growth firsthand has been really exciting.”

Peer-to-peer supervision

How do you find supervision when you’re in an area with very few providers? And if you’re one of those providers, how do you learn to supervise novice counselors? These are among the challenges that Lauren Paulson, an LPC and ACA member, has faced while working as a clinician and supervisor in a rural area outside of Pittsburgh.

“Many rural environments are lacking a lot of services, and counselors have to work as generalists,” she notes, adding that practitioners in these small, sometimes remote communities often have to fill most or all of the community’s counseling needs. Not only are these practitioners juggling roles and a wide range of counseling issues; they are often doing so without the assistance of colleagues.

“I had this feeling of isolation, and then I became a supervisor and felt even more isolated,” says Paulson, who is also an assistant professor of psychology at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. “I really wasn’t trained to supervise, and rural communities have unique and specific needs.”

For instance, she says, boundary issues are very common. In a small rural community, it’s harder for counselors to draw the line between personal and professional interactions.

“People have multiple roles in the community, and sometimes they may conflict with your role as counselor,” Paulson explains. “You might be sitting on a school committee, and a client’s parent might be working with you.”

Counselors are also more likely to run into clients outside of the office, Paulson notes. “I work out at the local YMCA, and I often see one of my clients in the locker room,” she says.

So on the one hand, Paulson felt like she had little privacy in her role as a counselor. On the other hand, she felt very isolated professionally. “I wanted to connect with others, but it was hard to find [fellow helping professionals] to connect with,” she says.

Those experiences sparked Paulson’s interest in peer-to-peer supervision, which she currently researches. In her research, she has found that other counselors who practice in rural areas mention having the same kinds of challenges — and a desire for community.

Bill Casile acknowledges the difficulty of finding supervision in the comparative isolation of a rural environment, but he says living in an urban environment doesn’t guarantee that counselors-in-training and prelicensed counselors will secure quality supervision either.

“When I talk to graduates, it’s scary the minimal supervision they’re getting,” says Casile, an ACA member and associate professor in the counseling, psychology and special education program at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Too often, he says, supervisees working toward their licensure are learning mainly about administrative tasks such as completing paperwork. While these novice counselors are logging hours and getting clinical experience, no one is attending to their skill development, he says.

Casile was initially drawn to the study of supervision because he was dissatisfied with how counselor education programs were performing supervision during the practicum process. He thought the evaluation process was getting in the way of the functional educational purpose of supervision. In other words, supervisors were too busy grading and critiquing to truly teach their students real-life counseling skills.

Casile has long been interested in group supervision and currently teaches a supervision class inTeacher and student which he tries to create a collaborative environment. His work with group supervision and collaboration led him to believe that peer-to-peer supervision might be a useful supplement to counselors’ other supervision experiences.

Casile and Paulson have now teamed up to research peer-to-peer supervision. Their first study involved bringing counselors together just to talk face to face. “It wasn’t hierarchical, just an exchange of information,” Paulson says. The participants thought the experience was helpful, but most had to drive a considerable distance to meet their peers.

So, Paulson and Casile decided to test online peer-to-peer supervision. They recruited area mental health professionals and established an online group through Google Hangouts, a platform that enables online group interaction through audio, video and a chatlike comments box. After the initial meeting to set everything up, the group met twice a month at first and then scaled back to once a month. The group was diverse and included family counselors, school counselors, private practitioners and even a psychologist.

“Initially, Bill and I led the group, but we wanted the group to take over,” Paulson says. “They decided the structure would be that each meeting, one person would present a case [while maintaining client confidentiality], and then we would all discuss it.” The group also reserved time at the end of each session to discuss any concerns its members might have.

Group members also wanted to learn more about supervision itself, Casile says, so they used different models, including “reflecting teams,” which is a structured way of providing feedback to the person presenting the case. One person assumes the role of supervisor, and the rest of the group listens to the dialogue between the “supervisor” and “supervisee.” Once their dialogue stops, the rest of the group members talk about what they heard, with the supervisor and supervisee now remaining silent. The group repeats this pattern until it has finished discussing all aspects of the case. Casile says this form of supervision helps to keep the presenting counselor from getting defensive when receiving feedback.

The group also engaged in another type of supervision in which each participant played a role in the presented case, such as counselor, client, client family member and so on. This allowed group members to explore the case from multiple viewpoints, Casile notes.

Participants found value in the peer-to-peer supervision group because it allowed for diverse perspectives. And unlike with one-on-one supervision, the group members didn’t feel pressured to demonstrate competence, Paulson and Casile say. Instead, the environment made it safe for members to ask “silly” questions they may have been embarrassed or scared to ask an individual supervisor.

Paulson and Casile emphasize that peer-to-peer supervision is not a replacement for the regular one-on-one supervision that counselors should be accessing throughout their careers. They emphasize that even veteran counselors need the benefit of an outside perspective. At the same time, they realize that many counselors aren’t securing individual supervision for one reason or another, and they believe that some kind of supervision is essential throughout a counselor’s career. Participants in peer-to-peer groups may even end up finding individual supervision opportunities through the peer contacts they make, as happened with some of the members of Paulson and Casile’s group.

To find a group of peers, Paulson and Casile advise counselors to join local professional networks, participate on Listservs or explore an ACA Interest Network (see counseling.org/aca-community/aca-groups/interest-networks).

Counselors searching for peer-to-peer supervision might also want to avoid putting too many restrictions on their definition of a peer. “Peers need not all be LPCs,” Paulson advises. “Others like school counselors or anyone in the helping professions can provide interesting perspectives. With peers, I don’t think you need to limit yourself.”


To contact the individuals interviewed for this article, email:


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

Letters to the editorct@counseling.org


Related reading: See “Unethical supervision practices and student vulnerability,” the story of one counselor’s experience with unethical supervision practices during her practicum and internship: wp.me/p2BxKN-3Jb


Reaching across continents to prepare counseling’s next generation

Yukio Fujikura & Marie Kobayashi March 1, 2013

online-learning_11516797Some months after starting my private practice in Japan, I (Yukio Fujikura) received an email from a Japanese American woman asking for an opportunity to do her counseling practicum at my practice. While living in Tokyo, she was pursuing her degree through an online school counseling program offered by a university in New Jersey. This is how I got to know Marie Kobayashi, the co-author of this article, and learned about the challenges she faced as an online counseling student living outside the United States.

Online education, also known as distance learning, is becoming more and more prevalent around the globe. It contributes greatly to the academic development and success of many people with limited access to traditional schools, including individuals living overseas. The following statistics were reported in “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011,” the ninth annual survey conducted as a collaborative effort between the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board:

  • The 10 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2 percent growth rate among the overall higher education student population.
  • Among higher education students, 31 percent now take at least one course online.
  • Among higher education institutions, 65 percent say online learning is a critical part of their long-term strategy.

The counseling profession is also witnessing the rise in popularity of online graduate programs, both at the master’s and doctoral levels. An Internet search of “online graduate counseling” instantly provides links to scores of online programs, some accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and others not. According to the CACREP website, of 599 accredited counseling programs, only 11 were exclusively online programs as of June 2012. By contrast, of the 45 programs in the midst of the accreditation process as of June 2012, seven identified themselves as online programs.

Challenges in online education

The American Psychological Association’s Commission on Accreditation (CoA) is very cautious about this trend. According to an article by Rebecca Clay in the June 2012 issue of Monitor on Psychology, although the CoA allows online courses to make up a part of programs, it does not accredit “doctoral programs primarily or completely online.” The article notes that “face-to-face interaction is critical for achieving such essential goals as socialization into the profession, faculty role modeling, and the development and assessment of competencies.”

Alternatively, it seems possible for educators to help online counseling students obtain these critical elements by providing these students with good practicum and internship experiences, thus filling the gap between online and traditional programs. For the sake of the entire counseling profession, as well as for the welfare of our clients, it is especially essential for online counseling students to have good practicum and internship experiences with qualified supervisors. Finding appropriate practicum and internship sites with qualified supervisors is a challenge for many counseling students in online programs — and especially for those who live overseas.

While focusing on teaching materials, technology and smooth communication between students and teachers, many programs appear not to address how to improve their online students’ practicum and internship experiences. Furthermore, for online counseling students living outside of the United States, the burden of finding appropriate practicum and internship sites often falls directly on them, even though they already have their hands full with other challenges. Those challenges, in addition to having limited or no access to the various supports and services that most domestic students are naturally entitled to, include language barriers, cultural barriers and time differences. We strongly believe that online counseling students who live outside of the United States deserve more attention and care from the field.

Marie Kobayashi’s experience 

It is undeniable that online programs still have a stigma attached to them. Some people doubt the credibility of online programs or question whether it is possible to obtain an authentically enriching experience from them. I admit that I had my doubts as well, but I was more comfortable entering an American school counseling program rather than a program offered in Japan. For that matter, as far as I am aware, school counseling programs do not exist in Japan.

Although every school in Japan must by law have a “school counselor,” in almost all cases, these positions are only part time and their roles are undefined. The positions are normally filled by rinsho shinrishi, Japanese clinical psychologists who graduate from two-year programs that have almost nothing to do with school counseling. Nevertheless, I was determined to stay in Japan for personal reasons. I also had a passion and commitment to my work as a volunteer counselor at a not-for-profit organization helping international community members in Japan. This position really opened my eyes (and a door) to school counseling.

During the past two years, people have asked me frequently about online programs and how I chose the one in which I am currently enrolled. Initially, I still held preconceived ideas about “online schools,” so I began my search by looking for traditional schools with online programs. Although I came across some useful and organized websites, I think my best search tool was simply Google. I specifically wanted a school counseling program, so this naturally helped to narrow my search. In the process of trying to contact a few schools, my current program at Seton Hall University really stood out to me. The program coordinator was friendly, the program itself seemed well-established, and I liked the idea that I could get there easily from Tokyo if I needed to (or at least it would be a great excuse to go to New York City!).

People ask me if it is strange to have classmates whom I have never met, but in fact I can put names to most faces, and I would say we are a very close-knit community. I attended two residencies — one at the beginning of the program and another at the approximate midpoint — that I really enjoyed being a part of, and I found them to be a significant part of the program.

Back in Japan, I was looking for a clinical setting to fulfill my practicum requirement and hours for my school counseling program. After having lived in Japan for nearly a decade, I had become aware of the lack of available mental health care here, which is one of the main reasons I chose to pursue a career in counseling. As a volunteer counselor at a not-for-profit organization for the international community in Japan, I had also witnessed the increase in the number of calls over the years. As I began my search for a practicum site, I was excited about the various options I might have and the different experience and perspective I could share with my learning team. Unfortunately, that excitement soon was replaced with the reality that it was extremely challenging to find a practicum site in Japan. Without access to a structured database, my only resources were Google and cold-calling.

Although some of the sites I contacted were interested, they were unable to accommodate me for various reasons. One counseling center told me it would be unprofessional to hire me because I was a graduate student. That was both confusing and discouraging. I had expected more support from professionals in the field. A long and humbling process made me realize that, despite the many advantages of an online program, and even with full support from my program back in the United States, there was (and still is) a significant obstacle to completing an online counseling program while residing outside of the United States.

Having encountered these challenges myself, I would love to see a database developed that contains information on qualified professionals worldwide who will allow graduate students outside of the United States to gain the necessary practicum or internship experience. I ultimately found a wonderful site with a qualified counselor who felt as though it was his ethical responsibility to welcome me as a practicum student. I can only hope that other online counseling students outside of the United States will be as lucky.

Valuable assets

Having online students who live overseas as part of U.S. counseling programs not only adds variety but also could contribute to a better and deeper understanding of multicultural issues in counseling, both among educators and students. In a 2007 study, Lawrence Gerstein and Stefanía Ægisdóttir, counselor educators at Ball State University, stated, “Training programs can greatly enhance their cultural environment and climate by recruiting and admitting a more internationally diverse group of individuals.” Despite the counseling profession’s current emphasis on multicultural perspectives and experiences, many online programs seem to lack a good understanding of the unique needs and challenges of online trainees living overseas.

To spread the American Counseling Association’s perspective and values worldwide and to further develop the counseling profession, we believe it is necessary to establish ways to address these needs and challenges. Failing to take action to help online counseling students living outside the United States will put our profession in a much more undesirable situation.

Through creation of a special database and network of appropriate practicum and internship sites and supervisors outside the United States, we could foster the ability and willingness of these students to acquire professional standards and skills, while maintaining their own psychological functioning at an acceptable level. We propose such a database should include the following:

1) Lists of sites that can provide appropriate clinical training and will accept online counseling students (would include those sites that former students have used)

2) Lists of qualified supervisors available overseas

3) Lists of professional organizations and institutions, both in the United States and overseas, where online students can ask for help

This kind of database and network would not only help those online counseling students who are struggling to find their training sites overseas, but also encourage prospective students to apply to online counseling programs. The potential is there for these prospective students to bring much more diversity and enrichment to the counseling profession.

Yukio Fujikura is an ACA member who runs a private practice in Yokosuka, Japan. Contact him at postmaster@ezcounseling.jp.

Marie Kobayashi is a student member of ACA who is in the online school counseling program at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Contact her at marie.kobayashi@student.shu.edu.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

A peek at the interview process for doctoral students seeking counseling faculty positions

Kathleen Smith December 14, 2012


From the moment he stepped off the plane, Tyler Wilkinson knew he had to be ready. Ready to have a meaningful conversation in the car on the way to campus, ready to engage at a faculty dinner meeting and ready to field questions from potential future colleagues during a marathon interview day commencing at 7 the next morning.

Ask any candidate for a counseling faculty position to describe the job interview process, and you are likely to get the same response: exhausting. “It was exhausting in the sense that you always have to be ‘on,’ and you’re always trying to stay focused on interacting with the person in front of you,” says Wilkinson, a member of the American Counseling Association. “Yet at the same time, you’re anticipating what is coming up next.” A faculty member at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Counseling, Wilkinson ran the gauntlet of interviews this past spring as he was completing his Ph.D. at Auburn University.

Doctoral students looking for counseling faculty positions are often advised to consider how the timing of their arrival will affect their preparation. Interviewees might be rushed or exhausted from an early morning flight, but those arriving a day ahead of time might face an anxious night of tossing and turning. “I flew in the day before, which is good in one sense because it allows you to prepare,” says Joel Filmore, a doctoral candidate at Northern Illinois University and a member of ACA. “But for someone like me, it just created 24 hours of anxiety building up to the daylong interview. I tried to use that time to relax and reflect and work on my presentation, to make it more polished.”

With interviews often reduced to a single day, candidates face a gauntlet of meetings with several deans, department chairs, faculty members, administrators and students. And beyond the numerous rounds of questioning, they are expected to present and defend their own unique research, teach a course to unfamiliar students and socialize with future colleagues at several meals. “The day physically and mentally drains you because you don’t really know what anyone is thinking the whole time,” Wilkinson says. “You’re trying to get a sense of their thoughts, but everybody’s trying to make a good impression.”

Recently having faced an entire day of half-hour interviews, Filmore recalls a challenge he hadn’t been anticipating — hearing the same questions again and again. “They have to ask all the candidates the same questions so they’re not showing favoritism, and I wasn’t prepared for that. But it made it much easier by the second or third group of people I was meeting with, because I already had a framed answer for them. The challenge, I think, is to make it sound fresh, as opposed to being a canned response.”

More so than other faculty interviewees, counselor education candidates are also called to reflect on nonacademic experiences and their potential contribution to a career in academia. Wilkinson advises candidates to reflect on the interaction between teaching and clinical experiences — a question these candidates may very well be asked by an interviewer. “They’re not only interested in your teaching and scholarship,” he says. “There’s a piece of being able to speak to your clinical experiences, so consider questions about approaches to counseling in addition to teaching approaches. How does your teaching influence your counseling, and vice versa?”

Perhaps the most underutilized audience during the interview process, however, is the students themselves. Most counseling faculty candidates are given the opportunity to interact with students through teaching a class or during a scheduled meeting time. Filmore emphasizes that this opportunity should not be overlooked. “You want to have that experience to see how the students interact with faculty, but also, how do they experience somebody new? These are counseling students, so are they able to adapt to new situations?”

Another recommendation is to take full advantage of any brief moments of respite. “Anytime you’re offered a bathroom break, take it,” Wilkinson advises. “Even if you don’t have to use the bathroom, it’s your own little space saved for a moment to recollect your thoughts and take a deep breath.”

“I literally went out to the parking lot, got in the rental car, turned on the car, put on the air conditioning and just sat there for that whole half hour decompressing,” says Filmore, reflecting on one lengthy interview day.

Although no amount of practice can completely prepare a candidate for the interview process, doctoral counseling students are advised to take advantage of programs offered by their universities. Wilkinson attributes much of his own readiness to the Preparing Future Faculty Program at Auburn, which taught him about “the other side” of being a faculty member — “not just teaching and research, but faculty governance, the job search process, how to write a competitive vita and what to know about the interview process,” he says.

Doctoral counseling students also have exposure to the interview process through their own departments, which may be interviewing new faculty members. Seeing the process at work and bouncing observations off of faculty members can be an invaluable step in learning the interview game.

But for those who are in the thick of the interview process, the most pressing and perhaps the most challenging bit of advice is to stay composed and not to stress, despite the exhaustion they will likely experience. “There is a clear delineation between those programs that ‘fit’ you and those that do not,” Filmore says. “For the programs that fit, [the process] is almost effortless, so all the worry will be for nothing.”

Kathleen Smith is a certified rehabilitation counselor and a doctoral counseling student at George Washington University. She is also a regular contributor to the Counseling Today website. Contact her at ak_smith@gwmail.gwu.edu.