Tag Archives: Yalom

Yalom urges ACA attendees to hold fast to self-care and the therapeutic alliance

By Laurie Meyers March 17, 2017

At Friday’s opening keynote session of the American Counseling Association 2017 Conference & Expo in San Francisco, psychotherapy sage Dr. Irvin Yalom shared his insights on everything from self-care and vulnerability as a therapist to counseling by text, his love of literature and the essential nature of the therapeutic bond.

Yalom, one of the most influential mental health professionals of our time, began the session by answering a question about the importance of self-care for counselors from moderator Adele Cehrs, the CEO of Epic PR Group and a former journalist. Yalom credited strong personal relationships, including his marriage of 60-plus years and consistent peer support, as keys to his

Dr. Irvin Yalom gives the opening keynote address at ACA’s annual conference & Expo March 17. (Photo by Paul Sakuma Photography)

own personal self-care. For many years, he has been an active participant in a “leaderless” therapy group for psychotherapists (among other groups) that meets for 90 minutes every two weeks. Within the confines of these confidential group sessions, members share their day-to-day struggles and client interactions that have evoked personal problems or concerns.

“I urge you to get into a group like that,” he told the more than 3,000 counselors assembled for the keynote. “It’s a key part of my week. I never miss a meeting if I can avoid it. That is my major source of self-care. That and getting therapy.”

Likewise, Yalom encouraged counselors in the audience to secure their own personal therapy, not just once, but many times throughout their careers.

In response to a question from Cehrs, Yalom also spoke about how and why he often chooses to “reveal” some aspect of himself in interactions with his clients. He said that his upcoming memoir — which he believes will be the last book that he will write — touches on this topic in some depth.

Yalom said he always tries to be “real” with clients and bring something of himself to the session. When Cehrs asked if he thought that he’d ever crossed a line and revealed too much, he thought for a moment before replying no.

“I can be quite revealing … but always in service of therapy,” he said.

Part of being revealing is choosing to be vulnerable as a therapist and admitting to his clients that he doesn’t have all the answers — a practice he started early in his career. Offering an example, Yalom recalled the first session he had as a young therapist with a female client in her 30s. He asked her what brought her to therapy.

“She said, ‘Well, I’m a lesbian,’” he recounts. This was in 1955, Yalom notes, and he genuinely had no frame of reference for this client at that time. “I don’t know what that is,” he told the client. “Could you please educate me?”

Yalom also recalled another valuable lesson he learned early on that cemented his belief that it could be valuable to put himself into his interactions with clients. While working in a long-term care facility, he was charged with treating a woman with catatonia. He met with her every day, but she never spoke. In fact, she was completely unresponsive, much like a living statue. Unsure of how to connect with a client who couldn’t respond, Yalom decided he would simply talk to her. He began sharing with her what he’d read that morning in the newspaper or talking about how he was doing.

Several months later, the patient was prescribed a new drug that had an amazing therapeutic effect, dispelling the catatonia and allowing the woman to speak again. Yalom was curious about her perception of the “therapy” he had tried during her period of catatonia and asked her what it was like.

“Dr. Yalom,” the woman said, “you were my bread and butter.”

This also demonstrated to Yalom the power of the therapeutic bond. He saw that simply by interacting with the woman and showing her that she still had value, even when she was catatonic, he had brought her comfort.

Yalom, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is also known as a prolific writer of both nonfiction and fiction, including his widely praised “teaching stories” and “teaching novels.” He described these works to the audience as having “one leg in literature and one leg in psychotherapy.”

“When I was a teenager, I had this strong idea that the best thing one could do was to write a novel,” Yalom told the audience. However, he revealed, as the child of Russian immigrants, he essentially had two options when it came to career choice: “We could become doctors, or we could become failures.” Although, in truth, there was a third option. “We could go into business with our father,” he added.

Yalom also responded to queries about advice for new counselors and his views on the role of technology in counseling. He expressed regret that so many new counselors work in environments that focus solely on cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) because it is labeled an evidence-based model. “CBT omits the essence of psychotherapy — the interpersonal nature of the therapeutic relationship,” Yalom asserted.

When asked about telecounseling, Yalom talked about being invited to work for a company that facilitates counseling via text. He initially thought it was a horrible idea, but the organization convinced him to supervise some novice psychotherapists. Yalom was surprised by what he learned.

“They [the psychotherapists] weren’t doing what I would have done, but it was working,” he said. “Clients felt very connected.”

But when the company expanded to telephone and video counseling, clients weren’t as enthusiastic.

“There is a whole new generation that wants to talk that way [by text],” Yalom says. “They’re not comfortable on the phone or on video.”

Innovations such as these have the power to help many people, Yalom noted. Still, he reminded his supervisees — and the audience at his keynote — not to lose sight of the therapeutic alliance, even when using new technologies.

“You can still ask [the client], ‘How are things going between us?’”



Dr. Irvin Yalom (left) shared insights from his storied career and answered questions from the audience at ACA’s annual conference & Expo March 17. At right is moderator Adele Cehrs, CEO of Epic PR Group and a former journalist. (Photo by Paul Sakuma Photography)


Dr. Irvin Yalom signs books and meets attendees after his keynote address at ACA’s annual Conference & Expo March 17. (Photo by Paul Sakuma Photography)


For more photos from the conference and Yalom’s keynote, see bit.ly/1MOAysM




Laurie Meyers is senior writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at LMeyers@counseling.org




Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Counseling Connoisseur: What Would Yalom Do? A Tribute

By Cheryl Fisher March 10, 2017


Editor’s note: CT Online columnist Cheryl Fisher writes this appreciation of Irvin Yalom in anticipation of his keynote address at ACA’s upcoming 2017 Conference & Expo in San Francisco. Find out more at counseling.org/conference/sanfransisco2017.




“What I want is to be intimate with the knowledge that life is temporary. And then, in the light (or shadow) of that knowledge, to know how to live. How to live now.”

― Irvin Yalom, Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy


I have a passion for books. You know, the old-fashioned paper kind. The kind that are transforming, as they [themselves] are transformed by every crinkled, coffee-stained page and dog-eared corner with smudges of comments penciled in the margin. The kind that, once read, become a part of one’s being. I love books so much that this past summer, I had beautiful built-in bookshelves installed in my home, along with a window seat where I fancied myself enjoying my literary mecca. I have shelves devoted to theologians, philosophers, feminist scholars and mental and holistic health experts ― with a smattering of best-selling novels and summer romance paperbacks.

As I reflect on the insights penned on the pages of the many volumes now perched on my bookshelves, my attention turns to the vast wisdom found in the works of Irvin Yalom. His work, spanning decades, contributes to the counseling profession in ways that transformed psychotherapy from science to art. In The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients, Yalom invites the clinician to not only invest in, but therapeutically utilize, the client-counselor relationship that presents in each session. Through a series of vignettes, Love’s Executioner provides examples of the tender and complex tapestry of human experience that occurs between the therapist and client: “A therapist helps a patient not by sifting through the past but by being lovingly present with that person; by being trustworthy, interested, and by believing that their joint activity will ultimately be redemptive and healing.”

In Momma and the Meaning of Life, Yalom graciously offers his experience in grappling with his relationship with his own mother (“who had a poisonous tongue”) years after her death. He further examines grief therapy intimately by exploring the many facets of loss and death. He continues his exploration of death anxiety in Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death, where he posits, “It’s not easy to live every moment wholly aware of death. It’s like trying to stare the sun in the face; you can stand only so much of it.” He returns to the topic of death anxiety as he explores his own mortality in his more recent release, Creatures of a Day and Other Tales of Psychotherapy.

In his fictional teaching novels — The Schopenhauer Cure, The Spinoza Problem, Lying on the Couch and, my personal favorite, When Nietzsche Wept — Yalom plucks key philosophers and physicians from history and transplants them into a terrace of tales that not only explore the complexity of human behavior and mental processes, but dare to venture into the minds of those who struggle to understand it.

Yalom’s words and transparency have informed my own practice and guided me to discover my ultimate message as a counselor educator: “Illuminate the shadow and embrace your humanity so that you may fully consummate your life. For we are people, not pathologies seeking to connect to oneself, others and the Sacred.”


In tribute to this great clinician, author and educator, I offer online readers the article I wrote as a final letter to my graduating counseling students, titled What Would Yalom Do? Ten Nuggets of Wisdom for Counselors Old and New.





Cheryl Fisher


Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland, and a visiting full-time faculty member in the Pastoral Counseling Department at Loyola University Maryland. Her current research examines sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer. She is working on a book titled Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically Based Organic Practices that speaks to nature-based wisdom. Contact her at cyfisherphd@gmail.com.




Dr. Irvin Yalom will speak Friday, March 17 at the 2017 ACA Conference & Expo in San Francisco and will sign books afterward. His keynote will also be live-streamed online. Find out more at counseling.org/conference/sanfrancisco2017


Find out more about his work and books at yalom.com





Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.


Irvin Yalom to welcome questions at ACA Conference

By Bethany Bray January 31, 2017

Attendees of the American Counseling Association 2017 Conference & Expo in San Francisco will have an opportunity to direct their questions to a living legend in the field of mental health.

Irvin Yalom, noted psychiatrist, author and scholar, will deliver the opening keynote speech on March 17 at the ACA Conference. He plans to format his talk as a live interview, fielding questions from the audience. Afterward, he will sign books and take photos with attendees.

“Dr. Yalom has influenced my personal and professional life for many years; his books have often brought a light to my thought process and a shine to my heart,” says Catherine B. Roland, ACA president and chair of the counseling program at the Washington, D.C., campus of the

Dr. Irvin Yalom, pictured at ACA’s 2012 Conference & Expo in San Francisco.

Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “He is the perfect person to speak, given his gentle direction forward — always forward, with hope.”

ACA’s 2017 conference will run March 16-19 at the Moscone West Convention Center
in San Francisco. Jessica Pettitt will give the Saturday keynote address on March 18.

An existential psychiatrist, Yalom is professor emeritus of psychiatry at Stanford University and author of more than a dozen books, both nonfiction and fiction. He also delivered the keynote address the last time that ACA held its conference in San Francisco, in 2012.

Yalom lives with his wife, Marilyn, in California, where he writes and sees clients at his private practice. His latest title, a memoir, is in the editing process and will be published by Basic Books.


CT Online sent Yalom some questions to learn more and get his thoughts on speaking at the upcoming ACA Conference.



What motivated you to accept this speaking engagement to address thousands of professional counselors?

I am devoted to our field of helping others in need, and I am honored to be invited to address such a large and important group of therapists.


What can American Counseling Association members expect from your keynote? What might you talk about?

The format is an interview, and I’m open to discussing my personal history and the development of my particular interests in the field. Namely, group therapy, individual therapy with an emphasis on existential factors and the use of the relationship, and my use of narrative in teaching psychotherapy.


Many counselors consider you a professional influence and inspiration. What would you want them to know about your experiences and career path?

[In my keynote, I’ll be] glad to discuss my own development in the field and how I’ve reacted toward psychoanalysis and interpersonal approaches, group approaches and groups for learning interpersonal skills and for inpatient and outpatient psychotherapy.


What advice would you give professional counselors, particularly those who may be early in their careers?

Learn as much as possible about all the various approaches, but don’t forget that it is the intensity, the depth and the genuineness of the therapist-client relationship that really is the instrument of change. Also get yourself into therapy — and I advise [seeing a therapist] more than once and with individuals from varying schools [therapy methods]. And leap at the opportunity to be in a group with peers.





Dr. Irvin Yalom will speak Friday, March 17, at the 2017 ACA Conference & Expo in San Francisco and sign books afterward. His keynote will also be live-streamed online. Find out more at counseling.org/conference/sanfrancisco2017


Find out more about his work and his books at yalom.com





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


Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.






Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.


Review: ‘Yalom’s Cure’ offers an honest glimpse into psychiatrist’s life

By Bethany Bray April 18, 2016

Psychiatrist Irvin Yalom is a giant in the field – a well-known author and scholar. But his life hasn’t always taken an easy or clearly-marked route to success.

The new documentary Yalom’s Cure offers a glimpse of the man beyond his many degrees, accolades and accomplishments.

Yalom offers insights through on-camera interviews and shares some of the history and experiences that have made him who he is today. An existential psychiatrist, Yalom is a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Stanford University and author of more than a dozen books, both nonfiction and fiction.


“Therapists are in therapy their entire lives,” Yalom muses in the film’s narrative. “Learning, changing, (and) growing is kind of part of our lifelong education. So knowing oneself is very important. Socrates spent a long time teaching that, and I very much agree with him.”

Directed by Swiss filmmaker Sabine Gisiger, Yalom’s Cure is done in a biographical style, including interviews with Yalom, his wife Marilyn and their children and grandchildren.

Through footage of family vacations and scenes of Yalom at home and at work, we are given a glimpse of Yalom’s family dynamics, his long-lasting relationship with Marilyn, his reflections on a life of learning and his professional and personal struggles along the way.

“If we don’t understand ourselves we may not be able to understand others, or appreciate others,” Yalom says. “I’m a guide on this voyage of self-exploration. I’m a guide because I’ve been there before.”

The film weaves footage of his professional life – including a brief clip of him at ACA’s 2012 Conference & Expo in San Francisco, where he was keynote speaker – with scenes of him working with a client, childhood photos, family home videos and archive footage of him leading group sessions in training videos from the 1970s and 1980s. Yalom’s contemplative narrative is also voiced over footage of him riding a bicycle, lost in thought or pouring over notes in his office or cooking with Marilyn or laughing with her in a hot tub.

He talks openly about his family relationships and the many phases of life that led to his professional journey from medical school in the 1950s to becoming a psychiatrist, professor and author.

Yalom trained with a Freudian analyst while at Johns Hopkins University in the 1950s. The many hours he spent with this therapist taught him “how not to be with patients,” he says. With the Freudian method – “a very bad model,” says Yalom – the therapist is unreactive and unengaged with what the client is saying.

Clients need an authentic, genuine relationship with a therapist, he says, in which the clinician is “both participant and observer.”

Yalom goes on to talk about his early start with group work, his professional journey and his calling to write.

Every person feels worry and stress – it is universal, although different cultures deal with it differently, Yalom muses.

“That is something that therapy can help you realize,” he says. “It’s a ‘welcome to the human race’ kind of thing.”

Yalom was one of the most-mentioned figures in Counseling Today’s recent “Influential thinkers” project. Numerous counselors said Yalom was someone who most influenced their professional work.

Born in 1931, Yalom was 80 at the time of the filming of Yalom’s Cure. He continues to see clients at his private practice in California, write and do speaking engagements. His latest book, Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy, was released in February.

“I feel freer and not anxious about things. I feel very creative and very excited about my work,” Yalom says, breaking into a smile. “I just want to say to the younger people (who are watching): There may be even better days ahead.”





Yalom’s Cure was screened in Los Angeles this spring. The DVD is now available for purchase.


For more information or to watch the trailer, visit yalomscure.com





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


Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

Who influences today’s counselors?

Compiled by Bethany Bray March 3, 2016

WWYD_1Who are the major influences on today’s counseling professionals? What voices, both within and outside of the profession, are counselors listening to and intently following?

Recently, Counseling Today posed these questions to a random assortment of American Counseling Association members and a few select counseling leaders. The responses were as diverse as the association’s membership. From personal mentors and supervisors to eminent thinkers and authors, from human rights champions to neuroscientists and others on the cutting edge of research, today’s counselors are influenced by a wide variety of voices.


Editor’s note: This online exclusive article is an addendum to Counseling Today’s March cover story on influential thinkers. Many thanks to the numerous counselors across ACA who contributed to this project.





The counselor who has had the biggest impact on me is my clinical supervisor, Kim Kelley. She taught me the value of truly practicing self-care, rather than just giving lip service to it. She also helped me with patience and self-compassion. She is a shining example of what an ethical, humane practitioner is like.

Brad Reedy, a psychologist whom I have had the pleasure of knowing well, has also had a profound influence on the way I work with clients. He once said to me “the way you hold the client in your mind matters.” Having seen how well he holds clients in his mind, I have tried to emulate this.

James Hollis has written terrific books that compel a deeper examination of the human condition. He taught me that psychotherapy means “listening to the soul,” according to the Greek roots of those words.

Outside the profession, I have been most influenced by my parents, who together taught me the value of equality, generosity and the balance between a worldly life and a spiritual life. They believe that fortunate people have a responsibility to help those less fortunate, and I try to carry this idea from them in my daily life and work.

One of my biggest inspirations in life comes from the founder of Aikido, a man named Morihei Ueshiba. He was a very disciplined, thoughtful man and he developed this martial art to serve humanity. Aikido teaches self-control, patience, poise, relaxation, harmony and care for all beings. I have been profoundly influenced by his teachings and writings.

The author Hermann Hesse has deeply affected my thinking through his books, most notably Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. He writes with such heart, and he captures the beauty and struggle of humanity so well. — Peter Allen, program director for College Excel in Bend, Oregon






Aaron and Judith Beck’s version of cognitive behavioral therapy is by far the most influential to my practice. This model can be applied to a wide variety of problems and offers a strong framework for me, as a counselor, to conceptualize my clients’ problems. It also provides a multifaceted framework for client improvement. Behavioral techniques (e.g., relaxation) can be used to bring about rapid improvement in symptoms. This allows for more long-term cognitive change to occur as clients are able to gain relief from overwhelming emotional states. The model just makes sense to me.

Richard Ryan and Edward Deci are also currently large influences for me. They are in the world of psychology as a whole, but not heard about much in what we do as counselors. Their self-determination theory is important to my practice. This theory informs a great deal of my work with criminal justice clients, but I would encourage any counselor to investigate this approach to understanding human behavior and motivation. I believe self-determination theory can help us wrap our heads around client problems and, most importantly, solutions. — Jason E. Newsome, licensed professional counselor (LPC), approved licensed professional supervisor (ALPS) and president of Dayspring Counseling Center in Dunbar, West Virginia







I am a psychologist who has been a school teacher and principal. The people who influence me most and allow me to grow as a professional and as a person are my patients. Each of the people I meet with has a unique story and have chosen to include me in one of their chapters. I view that as a great honor to accompany them in those pages and listen to them as the writers. I listen to what motivates them and their style of writing. I listen for how they choose to express themselves and the pictures they paint with their words. I try to imagine their characters in their lives and how they have contributed to their growth. I help them recreate timelines, settings and plots. I listen and help them process what they believe to be the climax of their story and I guide them to use different points of view. They are the writers and I learn from their life stories and sometimes, if we are lucky, there are happy endings but I always know there is suspense and adventure in every one of my patient’ s stories. — Robyn Glickman, school and clinical psychologist in Michigan 




I rely on the works of brilliant psychiatrists who are neuroscientists such as Bruce Perry, Daniel Siegel and Bessel van der Kolk. Without understanding the brain, it is difficult to be effective as a counselor. The brain and mind impact each other which means at a minimum, the two are intertwined with thoughts, emotions, chemicals, genetic predisposition, previous experiences and misfiring neurons — which means that focusing on the psychology of the client alone is not enough. I am a licensed professional counselor in Macomb County, Michigan and most of my experience has been with children and adolescents; predominantly those with an array of anxiety and mood disorders and (who) often come with a history of abuse, neglect or trauma. In addition to an eclectic approach to counseling based on the popular theorists of our field, I use modalities such as neurofeedback and animal assisted therapy in my work. — Amy Johnson, LPC, unit marketing manager and director of the animal assisted therapy certificate at Oakland University School of Nursing, Rochester, Michigan





Paulo Freire has tremendously influenced my work as a counselor educator. Freire was a Brazilian educator who focused on the educational experiences of the most marginalized members of Brazilian society. His book Pedagogy of the Oppressed transformed how I view education and inspired my work with marginalized communities to foster critical consciousness. In my courses I avoid lecturing, reduce power differentials, encourage dialogue and questioning and promote critical consciousness in my students. Inspired by Freire, my research focuses on the oppression of marginalized groups; I study the negative impacts of racism and internalized racism. Freire’s teachings also inspired my research on strategies that promote critical consciousness and sociopolitical development in counseling students and K-16 (kindergarten through college) students. Freire’s notion of praxis (a circular marriage of theory and practice) is also a major influence. I am co-founder of a charter school that uses my work on sociopolitical development to foster the empowerment of marginalized students. — Carlos P. Hipolito-Delgado, associate professor and program leader in the counseling program at the University of Colorado Denver and chairman of the ACA Foundation





Within the counseling profession, my work has been most influenced by three specific theorists who have informed how I practice, how I believe mental health issues develop and how they are best resolved: Carl Rogers, William Glasser and Albert Ellis. I use one or a combination of the three approaches when treating clients. Rogers taught me how to treat clients that simply need a safe space to process and express. Glasser taught me how to help clients who make poor decisions. Finally, Ellis taught me how to resolve depression, anxiety and other mental health diagnoses and symptoms. Together, the three approaches can be used to treat almost any client that I would see.

Outside of the counseling field, the Dalai Lama has most influenced my views and my work. There are many things I appreciate about his views. Obviously, he has lived a life focused on helping others. He presents with very clear themes in his life: non-violence, appreciating the moment and spiritual harmony. He instilled in me the idea of living a principled life, one where we focus on ourselves as people and being harmonious with nature, instead of being focused on the past, the present or material gains. He has also modeled activism, a key facet of being human and being a counselor who advocates for my clients. — Patrick Powell, licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) in Florida, Licensed Professional Counselor-Mental Health Service Provider (LPC-MHSP) in Tennessee and assistant professor and director of the Counselor Education and Supervision Program in the College of Counseling, Psychology and Social Sciences at Argosy University in Sarasota, Florida as well as president of the Florida Association of Counselor Education and Supervision





Oprah Winfrey is the preeminent voice that influences my counseling practice with athletes. Her personal and professional life stories provide both an example and game plan for how to become your best in your own life. The athletes that I encounter at all levels are expected to perform at their physical peak before they have fully completed their development as a person. I view my role in performance enhancement as helping athletes develop other strengths to help improve their sports performance. Oprah has created a world through her interaction with other leaders where being who you are, right where you are, is okay. But she stresses to start the work of personal growth from there! — Vonetta Kalieta, LPC, instructor in the Graduate Department of Psychological Counseling at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey and practitioner at Learned Excellence for Athletes in Tinton Fall, New Jersey





The caregivers and children (that I work with) have shown me the immense potential for global change held within attachment relationships. They have taught me to trust the process, especially the parallel process. In genuine, therapeutic relationships support of the primary caregiver (and) the caregiver’s attachment relationship with that child can heal and grow. The growth often spills over into positive behaviors, self-esteem and healthier relationships with others. It is remarkable. — Anna Van Wyck, LPC and infant and family specialist in Mears, Michigan





I, like many counselors, use different approaches to my counseling. I work with college students, and find that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), positive psychology and the solution-focused [approach] work well. For traditional aged college students this is often the age when depression and anxiety are first showing up, so I feel it’s helpful to use methods that will give them tools to learn how to cope and help themselves. CBT is also one of the most widely studied therapies for depression and anxiety and it also works well with various cultures.

As a college counselor I also do career counseling. I use some of the work by Mark Savickas, which is more narrative in approach. For students, it is often helpful to work with them in career counseling to help them connect with prior life experiences and interests to help assist in the career decision-making process. — Amy Lenhart, LPC, a counselor at Collin College in Frisco, Texas and president of the American College Counseling Association, a division of ACA





Rarely does a client come to us without some type of crisis in process. As counselors, we thrive on helping people make meaning of the challenging events that may overtake their lives or rewrite dysfunctional beliefs that may improve their life stories. Yet, these efforts take a remarkable toll if the “givers” do not replenish their minds, bodies and souls. Robert Wicks, psychologist, prolific author, speaker and sage has spent his career exploring how resilience is nurtured and sustained to promote growth post-trauma. Of particular note is his concentration on how caregivers can help themselves by finding crumbs of alone time, conducting daily debriefings, jettisoning false personal beliefs and practicing mindfulness. My personal favorite is his theme of “being faithful in the moment” with clients, family, friends and self. Crises will come, but it is how we handle them personally and with our clients that will be remembered. — Tina Buck, a licensed graduate professional counselor at Carroll County Youth Service Bureau in Westminster, Maryland





Resilience theory has been influential to my counseling practice, including the ideas of Steven M. Southwick, George A. Bonanno, Ann S. Masten, Catherine Panter-Brick and Rachel Yehuda (co-authors of the 2014 journal article Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: interdisciplinary perspectives). As I work with children and adults who experienced trauma, a key factor is guiding the development of resilience. Masten noted “positive assets” in the individual provide strong potential for resilience, and recognized spirituality and religious beliefs as important. With great amount of effort to counsel and help those who are experiencing negative effects following a trauma event, Bonanno suggests the need to focus on “what goes right in people who negotiate potentially traumatic events with equanimity.” Resilience theory changes perspectives noting, “the experience of trauma does not only yield pathology.” In counseling, I want to provide clients with support and clinical perspective integrated with elements that spawn and develop resilience.

Outside of the counseling profession, the greatest influence on my work comes from strong religious leaders. Speakers such as Ravi Zacharias (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries), John Ortberg (Menlo Park Presbyterian Church) and Josh McDowell (Josh McDowell Ministry) emphasize the importance of maintaining faith, hope and prayerfulness. They encourage compassion and forgiveness as important to healing and healthy living, which are attributes supported by research (Baskin and Enright, 2004). Many individuals who seek counseling note that faith-based practices are desirable and soothing. Faith-based characteristics reflect counseling ethical practice such as genuine caring, non-judgmental acceptance and kindness. Ideas from a faith-based perspective strengthen counseling focus, empathy and compassion as well as serve to provide a means of self-care for the counselor and healing properties to clients. For these reasons, gleaning from religious leaders inspires counseling work that is wholesome, passionate, fully engaging, client centered and self-supportive.

Susan Luck, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in New York and Virginia and instructor of graduate counseling and human services courses at Liberty University Online






There are many influential individuals within the counseling realm that have influenced my work. One such individual is Brené Brown (research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work) who has helped shape me into a better counselor but as an individual as well. Her research on imperfection, shame, courage, living whole-heartedly, self-compassion and living authentically have started to become the bedrock of my approach. These principles, when applied with Dialectical and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, have made a strong impact on my clients. These principles are important because if we can pull out our thoughts, behaviors, secrets and whatever we don’t talk about, the fear of shame and guilt can be put out there with people that we trust and know that trust wouldn’t be violated. Brown explores the importance of talking about these things in our lives, which allows us to be vulnerable and really connect with each other on a whole-heartedness level. — Noor Pinna, LMHC and owner of a private practice in Fishkill, New York





Over the 50+ years of my connection to counseling, there have been significant changes. In the beginning, we studied core philosophies of theorists such as Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis. There was a tendency, even then, to skip study of the core philosophies and jump to use of the responses (e.g., techniques) emerging from those theorists — a flawed practice since attempting to emulate another without being that person is inevitably faulty.

The contemporary influence of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs has made that “practice-sans-theory” approach become even more extensive. I can even download an app that will send a daily note of encouragement to a client — and I don’t even have to know what it says. I’ll be interested to listen to ACA conference discussions to see if practice emerges from philosophy. I suppose I could just Google my question — or ask Cortana. — Brooke B. Collison, professor emeritus of counselor education at Oregon State University and ACA past president (1987-1988)





I have been drawn to the social equality philosophy and individual psychology of Alfred Adler as represented principally in the works of Rudolph Dreikurs, whom I had the pleasure of knowing for a brief time before his death. Child and classroom guidance, parent education and the influence of one’s early life experiences as revealed in early memories first got my attention as “common sense” and teachable.

As a practitioner, Dreikurs’ empathy was based upon insight into the human condition. He had little time for contributing to anyone staying in a state of emotional upheaval. Both Dreikurs and Adler were strategists who gently invited clients to enter into a dialogue. Then they used their unique skills to uncover and challenge mistakes in one’s private logic and guide clients to new approaches in their life tasks at work, in their families and friendships, identity and spirituality. Their practical methods based upon a sound philosophy won me over. — Thomas Sweeney, professor emeritus of counselor education at Ohio University, executive director emeritus of Chi Sigma Iota International and ACA past president (1980-1981) who lives in Lexington, North Carolina





Richard James has worked for more than 30 years developing training, prevention and intervention programs for law enforcement, military and community agencies to address the timely issue involving the intersection of mental illness with law enforcement/corrections/military veterans in crisis situations. I’ve had the honor of studying under Richard James as a student and currently work as a junior faculty under his mentorship co-leading the Crisis Research Team (at the University of Memphis) in engaged research projects. His thorough text on crisis intervention strategies outlines the (crisis intervention) training he pioneered 30 years ago to train law enforcement to identify and de-escalate people with mental illness in the field, which is used in thousands of jurisdictions on three continents. Although he is at the end of his career, he exhibits incredible passion for mentoring junior faculty and masters and doctoral students in engaged research towards helping discover viable solutions for improving the treatment of mentally ill offenders.

As a play therapist and someone who works with offenders and addictions, I am also influenced by several clinicians/researchers who together help me practice neurobiologically-informed counseling. Paul Wachtel articulates relational psychoanalysis as it is practiced in contemporary settings. He describes a therapeutic approach that is flexible, technically eclectic (including behavioral therapy) and connects with the emerging evidence of interpersonal neurobiology that helps me conceptualize client-therapist dynamics. Bruce Perry’s work in interpersonal neurobiology as it relates to trauma and the concept of neurosequential interventions has influenced my continuous assessment and choice of intervention strategies with addiction and offender clients from a developmental perspective. I have found this to be most effective in engaging challenging clients to really work in treatment. Finally, the creators of Theraplay, Phylilis Booth and Ann Jernberg, provide a framework for an object-relations/attachment approach to working with interpersonal trauma that has helped me improve outcomes with challenging populations. — Leigh Falls Holman, licensed professional counselor-mental health service provider (LPC-MHSP), registered play therapy supervisor (RPTS), clinical mental health counselor (CMHC, assistant professor in the Counseling, Educational Psychology and Research program at the University of Memphis, associate editor of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling and president of the International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors (IAAOC), an ACA division





For me, the most influential figure for establishing and developing a positive counseling relationship by the use of empathy and unconditional positive regard is Carl Rogers, augmented by the work of Gerald Gladstein, a pioneer of non-verbal communication and Howard Kirschenbaum, who tirelessly advanced knowledge of Carl Rogers as a person, philosopher, practitioner and giant in the counseling field. He kept Roger’s work fresh and more relevant to newer generations of counselors. The most influential person for providing assessment tools and strategies for helping clients know who they are, and how vocational personality informs decisions related to choosing a college major or program of study and occupation is John Holland, as augmented and advanced by Janet Lenz and Robert Reardon (co-authors of Handbook for using the Self-Directed Search: Integrating RIASEC and CIP theories in practice). Reardon and Lenz integrated these two theories of vocational choice with the self-directed search, and nestled it into college career and counseling centers where it can maximize Holland’s influence. — Peter A. Manzi, national certified career counselor (NCCC) and master career counselor (MCC) who lives in Rochester, New York. He is also contributing faculty in the School of Counseling, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Walden University





Wow. This is a tough question! I would have to say (my influence) is Jon Carlson. There are two specific reasons for this. First, as a clinician—specifically an Adlerian, Jon’s scholarship in the work of Alfred Adler and his approach is seminal. He has been an ambassador of Adlerian therapy to the counseling field, and has influenced the wider recognition and acceptance of Adler’s ideas and practice in schools and in mental health settings. As a counselor educator, Jon Carlson has been influential to me through his vast library of video recordings that he has produced with the acknowledged masters in the field for over 20 years. These videos have a simple, yet overwhelmingly effective formula that I feel is invaluable to educators and trainees: Use real clients in live settings, and watch the entire interaction without interruption. And while it might be easier to use actors and more efficient to use scripts, I have found no better tool to help illustrate the processes of effective counseling. Truly, this is his gift to the field, and we are the beneficiaries.

Also, I would have to say I am influenced by the work of John Gottman (and his wife, Julie Schwartz Gottman). As one of the foremost researchers in couples and couples counseling, John Gottman’s approach has utilized observational methods to painstakingly study the relationships of well-functioning and poorly functioning couples. He has observed the key sequences in ordinary, everyday interactions that have allowed for old myths to be shattered. In addition, Gottman employs cutting-edge mathematical modeling to derive some of the essential dynamics of the couple relationship that I have modified in my own research on the therapeutic relationship. I am using his affective coding schemes and mathematical modeling equations to look at novice and master clinicians to decode the key sequences in the therapeutic relationship, and hope to uncover the key elements to successful counseling endeavors. In addition, as clinicians, the Gottmans have put their research efforts into a training program that is impacting thousands of therapists and even more couples to work through complex issues and lead better lives. — Paul R. Peluso, LMHC, LMFT, professor and chairman of the Department of Counselor Education at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and president of the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC), an ACA division





The late, great Viktor Frankl Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, neurologist and author of the prolific Man’s Search for Meaning is my go-to source for inspiration and guidance when it comes to troubleshooting irrational thinking and behaviors. Frankl believed that dysfunction is driven by the lack of an individual to perceive the meaning and purpose they have in life. Rather than enhancing the self through an internal locus of control, people focus more on their external locus of control to make themselves feel valued. In the 1960’s, Frankl stated that the U.S. population was far more materialistic than the German population. This can be the result of the onslaught of commercialism that emerged in the mid 20th century that conditioned people to move their beliefs to wanting material things rather than procuring items they actually needed. It is not things that nurture a true sense of belonging, but the procurement of non-material cognitions. — Vanessa L. Dahn, LPC and adjunct professor of sociology and psychology at Colorado State University-Pueblo, Pikes Peak Community College and Southern New Hampshire University as well as executive director of Safe Landing Group Center, a facility for at-risk youth in Calhan, Colorado






Like many counselors, I apply an eclectic approach to therapy and it seems that regardless of the presenting problems, way in which information is gathered, treatment goals are established and interventions are implemented, the theories that tend to drive these processes for me almost always come back to Fritz Perls, Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis. The importance of self-awareness emphasized by Perls, as well as the humanistic perspective on self-actualization influenced by Rogers and Ellis’s practice of cognitive restructuring in an effort to challenge self-defeating irrational thoughts are all foundational concepts to my practice that weave their way in and out of sessions throughout the entire therapeutic process. — Alyson Carr, LMHC, qualified supervisor and doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida in Tampa





Because I specialize in neurological cases, I like the work of Daniel Siegel. He gives beneficial information about counseling and the brain. I like psychiatrist John Ratey for bringing our attention to exercise and mental health. Norman Doidge and Jeffrey Schwartz are impressive with their work on neuroplasticity, which explains how change is attained biologically through therapy. I also like the work of M. Scott Peck, who was one of the most brilliant minds in psychiatry and psychotherapy in the 20th century, in my mind. Every counseling professional and student should read (Peck’s book) The Road Less Traveled. Cardiologist Herbert Benson discovered the relaxation response in the 1970’s and really changed the way medicine views the person. Instead of viewing the human being as dichotomous, we found out the human being is really integrated system. — Kevin Wreghitt, a mental health clinician counseling people with disabilities in day habilitation and college settings in Massachusetts






From within the profession two men have influenced my thinking greatly, and I cannot say one more than another because both have been creative visionaries: Gilbert Wrenn and David Tiedeman. Each was each was ahead of his time in foreseeing the usefulness of the computer and the advances technology would bring to the counseling professional. Yet both were holists, humanists and poets. I was fortunate enough to meet each of them before I was president of ACA and both communicated with me in poetry and prose throughout my presidency, sending encouragement and inspiration.

Two women also have influenced me professionally. The first, Katherine “Kitty” Cole, and I met at a conference. She was president of the National Career Development Association (NCDA) at the time. I was barely involved. She said that she thought I had talent. Whether I did or not is moot. She put me on a committee. I was hooked. Thelma Daily (ACA president 1975-1976) is the other woman. Never had I met someone so encouraging. Model par excellence, as she did for so many, she mentored me. — Lee Richmond, professor of education at Loyola University in Baltimore and ACA past president (1992-1993)




My clinical work is informed by the legendary Irvin Yalom. Author to a plethora of fiction and nonfiction writing, Yalom has been instrumental in promoting therapeutic transparency and embracing the humanity of self and relationship. He suggests that when we dare to confront (what he calls) the four “givens” of existence (inevitable death, aloneness, free will and the need for meaning construction), it is possible to experience personal growth and change. All of Yalom’s work centers around the authenticity of relationship and to this, I am indebted.

Last year when my article “What Would Yalom Do” (a tribute to his work When Nietzsche Wept) was published, Irvin Yalom emailed me his gratitude in observing his work. He is not a man who needs my endorsement. Yet, he took the time to thank me. This is a man who exceeds his scholar, he is an artist. — Cheryl Fisher, a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland and visiting full-time faculty member in the Pastoral Counseling Program for Loyola University Maryland




We invite you, in turn, to consider who influences your work as a counselor. The exercise may spur some self-reflection on what methods and philosophies you place value on and how you have learned and evolved over the course of your career. We encourage you to share your responses in the comments section below.





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


Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org