Tag Archives: Yalom

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


Influential thinkers

By Bethany Bray February 29, 2016

Who 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 Branding-Images_InfluenceAssociation 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.

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 for this article.




I am greatly influenced by Thelma Daley, a phenomenal leader within and outside of the profession. She exudes knowledge, vision, compassion, diligence and grace. Anyone who has ever worked with her has benefited from her ability to lead without imposition and her humility without passivity. I am fortunate to have been mentored by her before, during and after my presidency.

As ACA’s first African American president in 1975-1976, Thelma Daley is truly a living legend in our profession who has greatly influenced a community of thinkers. If being a trailblazer weren’t amazing enough, she is also an influential thinker and past president of Delta Sigma Theta, the largest African American sorority in the world. I continue to learn from Thelma and hope to pay it forward by modeling her ideals of stewardship to emerging leaders in counseling. — Cirecie West-Olatunji, associate professor in the counseling program and director of the XULA Center for Traumatic Stress Research at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans and past president (2013-2014) of ACA




I’ve been most influenced by Michael White, a narrative family therapist from Australia. White suggests we are most successful when we attend to the unique stories clients share and strive to use these stories to help clients shape a more positive, solution-focused narrative. This new narrative is broader in perspective and helps normalize negative experiences. Our stories connect us, prevent us from being alone and are key to understanding our uniqueness. Attending closely to clients’ stories allows us to use those stories to communicate, bridge gaps and increase the trust with our clients.

I also lean toward story and narrative as I consider this question. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince offers me solace and guidance when helping others. The author uses the allegory of the little prince to teach the importance of mindfulness. He warns against pursuing power for power’s sake, the folly of conceit, the foolishness of becoming lost in drunkenness, the risks of pursuing success and achievement, the sadness of the unreflective life and the peril of scholarship in lieu of living.

Like the story’s fox or rose, individuals become unique and special when observers take time to care for them and tend to their needs. While the science of counseling is essential, nothing is more important than appreciating the distinctive humanity of those in our care.

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” — Brian Van Brunt, author and counselor educator who lives in Manchester, New Hampshire, and serves as executive director of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association




My parents, who were unaccompanied minor refugees, have endlessly helped others throughout their lives and instilled social justice values in me at a young age. With this mindset, I gravitated toward human rights/social justice leaders such as Steve Biko, Aung San Suu Kyi, Gandhi, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr., who inspired and profoundly influenced my counseling work. I am motivated and encouraged by their fearless courage, tireless energy, robust strength and resiliency, limitlessly placing others before self and utilizing infinite creativity [while] striving for social change toward equity and equality for all. 

They remind me that giving up is not an option and barriers should be viewed as tenacious opportunities to empower others through positivity, patience, hope and humor. I am honored and humbled to stand on the shoulders of the social justice/human rights giants who have sacrificed and paved the way for counselors to continue their social justice legacy. — Rita Chi-Ying Chung, professor in the counseling and development program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, president of Counselors for Social Justice and ACA fellow




I don’t really see [influence] as any single voice that counselors are listening to right now. What is exciting to me in the counseling field is the collective voices of therapists coming together and helping each other to go into private practice, negotiate rates and even some talk of forming unions so we have more negotiating power with the insurance companies and our employers. Throughout much of the history of the counseling profession, we counselors have been isolated and on our own. Now so many therapists are starting blogs and online forums and coming together. I really think that because of this, we’re on the cusp of some good things coming into our profession. Counselors want change, and 2016 could be the year it happens. — Marina Williams, licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) working in private practice in Boston




There has been no greater influence on my counseling career than Stephen Southern (professor and chair of psychology and counseling at Mississippi College). His approach to counseling using his keen wit, questioning of common norms and progressive thinking makes me acutely cognizant of how counseling is a lifelong learning profession. His passions for social justice, advocacy and empathy challenge me to consistently question and evaluate my own judgments and perceptions. Southern has influenced my work by helping me broaden my awareness and deepen my insight to better serve my clients and students. — Jessica Cole, licensed professional counselor supervisor (LPC-S), clinical professor at Mississippi College and psychological health coordinator with the Mississippi National Guard




I owe a debt of gratitude to the following health care pioneers: Alia Crum for demonstrating how our thoughts affect us on a physiological level and Jon Kabat-Zinn for showing us how mindfulness practice can produce cognitive, behavioral and even chromosomal change. Nicholas Cummings and Nadine Burke Harris for integrating health care, which is creating a more person-centered and effective health care system. Daniel Amen, who empowers clients and advances our profession by using brain-scan technology to demonstrate the positive effects of counseling, nutrition, social engagement and medicine. The feminist therapists and the manyfaces1voice.org recovery movement, [which] prove that personal transformation takes place when we join together to create societal change. Carl Rogers, Irvin Yalom and Scott Miller, who demonstrated that no matter how skilled we become with cognitive behavior therapy, motivational interviewing and trauma-informed therapy — which are all important — nurturing the counselor-client relationship is the quintessential evidence-based practice. Finally, Gerald Juhnke for teaching me through example how to see the person instead of the problem and for recognizing the need beneath the behavior. — Russ Curtis, licensed professional counselor (LPC) and associate professor at Western Carolina University




Courtland Lee (ACA president, 1997-1998) is most influential to me as a counselor and counselor educator. I first read his work during my master’s program. I was encouraged by how he centered multiculturalism and social justice in his writing. His writing introduced me to the concept of cultural identity development. This helped me make sense of my own identity development as a person of color and later inspired me to study the ethnic identity development of Chicanxs. Through him, I was introduced to the concepts of cultural validation and cultural encapsulation — notions that have helped in my work with students of color in higher education and in designing educational experiences for white counseling students. Finally, he is a tremendous role model of how to carry oneself as a man of color in a predominantly white profession. He is confident, proud and charismatic. I model my professional presentation after him. — Carlos P. Hipolito-Delgado, associate professor and program leader in the counseling program at the University of Colorado Denver and chair of the ACA Foundation




Most recently my work has been influenced by Jeremy Safran and Christopher Muran’s approach as outlined in their book, Negotiating the Therapeutic Alliance: A Relational Treatment Guide. This approach resonates with me because it includes elements from experiential, dialectic, Gestalt and humanistic approaches. It is born from the highly researched and validated notion that the therapeutic alliance is the most significant predictor of treatment outcomes.

The approach is also highly applicable in therapy, no matter your theoretical orientation. It speaks in terms of metacommunication in the here and now, which they refer to as “mindfulness in action.” The book offers several detailed examples of “ruptures” in the relationship that occur during sessions and how to repair the ruptures in the moment, basically allowing room for the therapist’s humanness to be a part of the didactic. The importance of attending to what is happening in the room between therapist and client is used as a tool to help illuminate relational patterns.

This dance of noticing ruptures, attending to them and ultimately repairing them fosters an even stronger bond, which as research has shown, leads to better client outcomes. — Sabrina Marie Hadeed, LPC, assistant clinical director and wilderness therapist at Evoke Therapy Programs in Bend, Oregon, and doctoral candidate at Oregon State University




Samuel Gladding’s focus on creativity has been tremendously influential in my work as a counselor. Early on and through the years, Sam’s works reinforced my belief that when talk is not enough, we owe it to our clients to find innovative ways of working with them. This belief motivated me to embark on a trajectory that has been nothing short of incredible. I value the creative spirit — the creative force — and believe that when counselors and clients connect to these and to each other, wonderful things are possible.

The works of Judy Jordan, Jean Baker Miller, Irene Stiver and Jan Surrey profoundly influence my work as a counselor through their writings on relational-cultural theory. Years ago, they introduced the notion that people grow through connection, not separation, and deepened my understanding of authenticity, mutuality and resilience.

Linda Hartling and Evelin Lindner’s human dignity and humiliation studies also significantly influence my counseling. They are critical thinkers whose work provides a lens from which I can conceptualize client cases and deepen my understanding of people and life.

Finally, David Daniels, Helen Palmer, Russ Hudson, Richard Riso, David Fauvre and other leaders in enneagram personality studies have provided a life-changing influence. Through their work with the enneagram, they helped me pragmatically consider the many worldviews with which clients come to counseling and provided a structure by which I could better understand my own.

My operational framework for counseling is integrative and includes important aspects of each of these influences. Shane Haberstroh and I are developing a model we named Developmental Relational Counseling, which speaks to the role of awareness, connection, compassion, power and feedback in the counseling process. I am grateful to these influential thinkers and to the many others who continue to bring me energy and inspire my work. — Thelma Duffey, ACA president (2015-2016) and professor and chair of the Department of Counseling at the University of Texas at San Antonio




As I have grown as a counselor over the years, there is not one idea or approach I can think of that influences me the most. I do know my five years of working in mental health rehabilitation impacted me the most, however, and shaped me as a counselor. It was my “feet on the ground” training. It taught me how to think on my feet and how to cope with individuals in crisis.

I worked in mental health rehabilitation from my bachelor’s level all the way to my LPC, so it has a huge impact on the way I approach my clients now in private practice. I learned to empathize and to develop healthy boundaries during my time in mental health rehabilitation. I also had the opportunity to work with a great range of individuals one does not always see in private practice. — Christina S. Mehal, LPC-S in private practice in Jennings, Louisiana




The individuals who are having the greatest influence on my counseling practice are those in the fields of neuroscience, mindfulness and trauma. I have been guided by the work of Daniel Siegel, Bessel van der Kolk, Norman Doidge, Kelly McGonigal, Rick Hanson, Pat Ogden, Stephen Porges, Bonnie Badenoch, Christopher Germer, Elisha Goldstein, Bill O’Hanlon, Robert Scaer, Ron Siegel and Jon Kabat-Zinn. For my clients, the concept of neuroplasticity holds a promise of hope for lasting change. At the same time, the explanation of the hard-wired neural firing patterns allows clients to release their feelings of personal insecurity, guilt, shame and blame placing.

I believe that as research continues to explore the mind-body connection, we will find out that each of us has more control over our physical and mental health than we realize. Mindfulness techniques will become part of the gold standard for any counseling practice. — Jerry D. Ryan, LPC and certified rehabilitation counselor in Oregon City, Oregon




There have been many influential thinkers and writers within our profession, and I will highlight just one. Irvin Yalom’s broad array of writing has impacted me throughout my career, most especially through one initial concept that runs throughout his writing: the installation of hope.

Hope for me is the bright light, the avenue on which we travel to go forward. Yalom named this within the therapeutic frame of reference for me. Hope can be an elusive feeling for those experiencing loss or fear in any form, trauma from various sources or personal identity struggles. Developmental transitions can leave us feeling uncomfortable in our personhood and often lead to feelings of hopelessness. The absence of hope while experiencing serious mental health concerns can be dangerous, and as a counselor, I have utilized many strategies to assist clients in recapturing that hope, that bright light.

With a seemingly simple concept as the necessity of hope, Yalom effectively implored us as counselors to instill that concept in our clients. Knowing hope is vital is a small part of the task of instilling it within a client’s world. That is our work, and the concept has propelled me in all my clinical work, as well as teaching and leadership throughout my career. There is something engaging about a positive, encouraging and hopeful person, and if that describes a counselor, that combination can be magical within the counseling process. — Catherine B. Roland, LPC, chair of the Ph.D. counselor education and M.A. clinical mental health counseling programs at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Washington, D.C., campus, and ACA president-elect




From Barry Duncan, whom I encountered as a first-year graduate student, I learned about approaching therapy from a strength-based perspective, and this has been my guiding principle in the work I have done over the last decade.

From Irvin Yalom I learned that death anxiety is an enormous influence on our day-to-day decisions. Staring at the Sun was a transformative book, and I’ve used its principles countless times in helping clients to obtain deeper insight about concepts such as “wasted time,” a drive to be true to oneself and the difficulty of living in the moment.

From Brené Brown I learned — and am learning, every single day — about how vulnerability counteracts shame so that we can all live more authentic lives. I learned to support clients through the discomfort of being in the muck of uncertainty and how to live more wholeheartedly. — Jennie Steinberg, licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional clinical counselor in private practice in Los Angeles




Steven Hayes’ work with acceptance and commitment therapy and Carl Rogers’ emphasis on empathic presence in the counseling relationship have a great deal of influence in my therapeutic approach. I find that present-moment awareness (mindfulness) offers the most effective avenue for change, both in the counseling session and in a client’s daily life. With a positive therapeutic relationship underlined by empathic presence, the opportunity for impact is greater.

Also, philosopher Ken Wilber and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh have a great deal of influence on my therapeutic approach. Wilber’s integral psychology contributes ideas and establishes new paradigms that offer attention to mind-brain integration — an effective tool as more science is inserted into ancient wisdom surrounding the mind. On the other hand, the simplicity of Hanh’s mindfulness teachings create tools to help clients focus on the effects of their clinging to the past or longing for the future while missing the miracle of the present moment. — Linda Good, LPC and mental health service provider in Johnson City, Tennessee




C. Gilbert Wrenn and Carl Rogers were certainly my first serious reads as a professional, and I keep coming back to their writings on a regular basis. They humanized counseling and also the process of writing. I also like reading Jeffrey Kottler. He has excellent insights into human nature and who we are as counselors. Irvin Yalom’s novels are fantastic reads too, and

he provides stories that are sensitive and touch the fabric of what it is like to be human. Mark E. Young is one of my favorite authors (and people) too. His book on helping skills, Learning the Art of Helping: Building Blocks and Techniques, is rich in metaphors and excellent examples.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Creativity and Flow, is the professional outside of counseling who has influenced my work most. Csikszentmihalyi is an excellent researcher, clear writer, deep thinker and insightful contributor to the process of creativity, purposefulness and meaningfulness. I also continue to read H. Richard Niebuhr and Reinhold Niebuhr for their emphasis on ethics, moral responsibility and social justice. Finally, I love reading Ronald A. Berk’s wonderful and funny book on teaching, Professors Are From Mars, Students Are From Snickers. It is about injecting appropriate humor into the classroom as a way of teaching. — Samuel Gladding, professor of counseling at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and past president (2004-2005) of ACA




The composer Igor Stravinsky has influenced my work as a counselor — in particular, his only full opera, The Rake’s Progress (1951). Using a very literate libretto by Chester Kallman and W.H. Auden, this Faust story has all the ingredients true to life: finding meaning and purpose in life through activity that covers thinking, loving and doing.

The hero, Tom Rakewell, succumbs to the distorted belief that fate alone determines his outcome and that “good works are of no avail, for heaven predestines all.” It also features a transgender-like character, Baba the Turk, a bearded lady who falls in love with Tom but is jilted. The opera’s epilogue is a timeless multicultural and transcendent appeal to banish idle hearts, hands and minds so as to promote the overall good in individuals and in the world at large. — Peter A. Manzi, a national certified career counselor and master career counselor who lives in Rochester, New York, and is contributing faculty in the School of Counseling, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Walden University




Individuals who don’t work in the counseling field and who most heavily influence my approach as a counselor are my clients. It is truly remarkable to observe both how fragile and resilient human beings can be. It is also inspiring to hear how honest people can be when they are in an emotionally safe environment. By extending an invitation to treat the therapy office as a laboratory where we can dissect anything we’d like to, I have been fortunate enough to examine the fascinating mind, in awe of its beauty and complexity. Some of

my most pivotal growing experiences have taken place as the result of these humbling moments in session when I’m learning from the true experts. — Alyson Carr, LMHC, qualified supervisor and doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida in Tampa




Jane Myers (ACA president, 1990-1991) was first of all an advocate for anyone marginalized by those with power and sway over others. I was already aware of social injustices, but she helped me to find ways to act upon my convictions. As rehabilitation counselor educators, for example, we sought to infuse into the education of all counseling students their responsibilities as advocates for persons with disabilities.

Jane spearheaded the development of a curriculum and competencies for gerontological counseling, adopted by both the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and the National Board for Certified Counselors, respectively. These accomplishments, and the establishment of the Association for Adult Development and Aging as an ACA division, were overshadowed only by her career-long advocacy and research on wellness counseling, both in this country and abroad. A colleague described her as a brilliant mentor, prolific scholar, counselor and counselor educator. She was indeed that and more. — Thomas Sweeney, professor emeritus of counselor education at Ohio University, executive director emeritus of Chi Sigma Iota International and past president (1980-1981) of ACA




Within the counseling profession, my framework is shaped by Carl Rogers. His concepts align with my approach to elementary school counseling, and I use his theories every day. In my practice as an elementary school counselor, I tap into a Rogerian school of thought where I apply principles to students’ social and emotional development through the lens of a person-centered approach. It is so important to meet [children] where they are developmentally and empower them to apply tools to continue to grow in a healthy manner.

Carl Rogers advocates for what I consider the crux of my counseling practice: the notion of unconditional positive regard. Feeling worthy at school empowers children to take chances and know they are supported. Shaping young minds is a daunting task, but to me, the Rogerian approach is the best way to reach children and teach them they are valued and worthy of unconditional love.

Outside the realm of counseling, another Mr. Rogers is the inspiration for my daily practice: Fred Rogers. His approach to children and life in general is so inspiring, and I use it in my daily practice with elementary school children. His gentle nature and direct way of speaking to children like they are worthy beings is so important. His iconic television show (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) was such a staple for children and truly showed what it meant to be loved and treasured as a human being. I try to impart that same notion in my practice every day, where my office is safe space for children.

In a school environment, we are given the responsibility of spending five days a week shaping children into productive members of society. My role as an elementary school counselor is one that Mr. Fred Rogers filled every day, making sure that kids felt heard, understood and loved. — Rebecca M. Cordisco, an elementary school counselor in Hillsborough, New Jersey




I have been inspired by many people outside of the counseling profession, but one woman stands out: Helen Taussig. She was a famous pediatrician, surgeon, cardiologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I was doing a part-time counseling internship in the hospital. By chance I was chosen to have dinner at her home and, after dinner, we toured her greenhouse. She treated every growing plant differently. This one a little water. That one some plant food. Very deliberately she moved about, preening this one, pruning that. Then she turned and said, “People are like plants. … Give to each according to need,” and she humbly walked on. — Lee Richmond, professor of education at Loyola University in Baltimore and past president (1992-1993) of ACA




Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes to mind for the value the pyramid lends psychotherapists as a tool to better understand the etiology of their clients’ circumstances. The pyramid and its concepts can be an effective mechanism to help clients see the importance of procuring and maintaining love and belonging, as well as conceptualizing the

benefits that can be gained while working toward self-actualization.

Maslow’s work underscores the importance of individuals awakening to the value of identifying peak experiences in their daily lives and encourages the pursuit of transcendence. How these two crucial elements unfurl assists the individual to experience a more authentic and meaningful life. Life is perceived through the meaning we apply to our experiences, which, therefore, assists in illuminating the true meaning of life. Life is in the details. — Vanessa L. Dahn, LPC, adjunct professor of sociology and psychology at Colorado State University-Pueblo, Pikes Peak Community College and Southern New Hampshire University, and executive director of Safe Landing Group Center, a facility for at-risk youth in Calhan, Colorado



Read more

Nearly 40 counselors provided input for this article. Read more responses from practitioners on who and what influences their work at our online exclusive here. Then add your voice to the conversation by telling us about your major influences in the comments section at the end of the article.




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

What would Yalom do? Ten nuggets of wisdom for counselors old and new

By Cheryl Fisher March 23, 2015

In the winter of 2014, I bedded down for a long-deserved rest. As a counselor educator, I basked in the idea that after posting final grades, the university would be closed for the holiday season. With a full private practice, often seeing 25 clients a week, I had made the executive decision to close my office between Christmas and New Year’s to make full use of my respite. Twelve days of rest, relaxation and reading! Lots and lots of reading.

I had ordered and methodically piled up in my home office every textbook or novel promoted by my clients or my students. The pile was just waiting for me to slow down long enough to open the crisp pages of wisdom and intrigue. With the holiday break, I would finally have the time to enjoy these sage words from great thinkers and authors. There, vying for my attention, were the works of Rollo WWYD_2May, Friedrich Nietzsche and Irvin Yalom, each enticing me in their own seductive way to join in the intimacies of the human experience.

I made myself a cup of jasmine tea, lit a fire in the fireplace and pulled my new Christmas throw over my tired shoulders. Inhaling the scent of jasmine mixed with the musty pages of the selected paperback, I caressed the book’s smooth binding and held it close to my chest. I gently set the book in my lap and turned the first page. This would be the beginning of my relationship with Irvin Yalom.

I had required my students to entertain Yalom’s philosophies surrounding the counselor-client relationship in his book The Gift of Therapy. No other has so genuinely approached the experience of being authentic and authentically human in the therapeutic relationship. Yet, I had only flirted and danced through those pages of disclosure and boundaries.

It was when I immersed myself in the titillating experience of Yalom’s literary masterpiece, When Nietzsche Wept, however, that I swore my allegiance to his wisdom. Within this teaching novel, Yalom brilliantly intertwines the lives of the successful Josef Breuer, the neophyte Sigmund Freud, the despairing Friedrich Nietzsche and the seductive Lou Salomé. The encounter that ensues captures the essence of the sacred-yet-murky therapeutic relationship and the courtship that occurs between healer and healing.

I reflected on my role as a counselor educator, a midwife to second-year clinicians-in-training who (as they experience the final stage of their birthing) make one final attempt to remain safe in the womb of graduate school. “There must be more to this therapy thing. Surely I do not know what I am doing! Teach me your tricks. Offer me your magic wand!” they implored as they faced their launch into the professional community.

I assured them they would remain in the shelter of supervision and community as they continued their journeys as helpers. I commented on the vast amount of continued work they would do, both professionally and personally. I reminded them that the most important element of the therapeutic relationship is … the relationship.

Yet, I wanted to be supportive. I wanted to offer an elixir to relieve their discomfort. I pondered the unrest of the neophyte counselors and inquired, “What would Yalom do?” To this question, I provide my learners with final lessons as interpreted by me and borrowed from When Nietzsche Wept.


1) Symptoms are messengers. Yalom’s Nietzsche suggests, “Perhaps symptoms are messengers of a meaning and will vanish only when their message is comprehended.” The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has provided us with a new manual for categorizing and labeling sets of symptoms. For many counselors — in particular new counselors — the responsibility of diagnosis can be daunting. Many of my students chide me as I refer to the “patterns of behavior” a client manifests versus a specific diagnosis. For example, “Jody” may be experiencing depressive symptoms. However, Jody is not referred to as “being depressed” because this may imply that Jody’s identity is to “be depressed.” Yalom further challenges that all behavior is purposive and serves the host. Therefore, discovering how these patterns or symptoms serve the client may provide insight into deeper meaning.

2) Cultivate meaning. Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and author of the groundbreaking book Man’s Search for Meaning, describes meaning construction as paramount to the human condition. He notes, “You can take everything from a man, except his attitude about his circumstance.” Yalom concurs that the cultivation of understanding is key for a client’s wellness. Therefore, I am inclined to assess what meaning the client ascribes to a particular symptom or patterns of symptoms.

For example, I had a client who presented with concerns over discovering that her husband had a fetish for wearing women’s lingerie. Initially, I thought her discomfort was related to possible concerns about his sexuality. However, upon further exploration, this client’s real discomfort was related to her own body image. She found her husband to be more comfortable wearing his pink nightie than she was wearing hers, and this resulted in her envy and resentment.

3) Model honesty. To truly be honest, one necessarily experiences risk — risk of rejection, risk of betrayal. Yet vulnerability can offer great rewards in relationship. As clinicians, we ask our clients to be truthful, and we often negatively refer to those who withhold information as “resistant.” Do we ask the same of ourselves, however? Do we allow ourselves, as Yalom suggests, to model this behavior so that our clients can “learn there is no horror in openness and honesty between people?” Brené Brown, author of the 2012 bestseller Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, writes, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

4) Healer and healed are in courtship. Yalom poignantly reminds us that the secret to the therapeutic alliance is the unconscious dance that occurs between the healer and the healed. This intricate pattern between transference and countertransference may resemble a perfectly executed waltz or a more random quickstep. Rarely understood outside the counseling community, it is within this complex relationship that healing occurs.

Furthermore, the healer is often equally touched by the experience of being in relationship with the client. This is best portrayed in Hermann Hesse’s novel Magister Ludi, in which two great healers discover one another. In desperation, the young student seeks the help of the great teacher and remains in service to him until his dying days. It is during the final scene as the sage healer is dying that he confesses that he too had sought out the care of the younger healer and that both were served by the relationship.

5) Isolation exists only in isolation. Nietzsche’s emotional release results in a profound understanding by Breuer: “Isolation exists only in isolation. Once shared, it evaporates.” The importance of social supports is well documented in the research, and the therapeutic relationship provides an intimate and significant relationship for many of our clients. For some, it may be the first time that they have told their stories. This is powerful. Up until that moment of disclosure, it has remained a secret that has anchored the client to the experience and the emotional turmoil that is attached to the experience.

6) Choose your fate, love your fate. Yalom’s Nietzsche confronts Breuer about agency in one’s life, offering that we make choices in our life that contribute to our experiences. He further contends, “The spirit of a man is constructed out of his choices!”

Our clients often present to counseling feeling stuck in a life that they feel has happened to them. WWYD_1They do not feel that they have agency in their life. It can be powerful to simply offer that they possess the ability to choose many of their experiences in life, and they always have the ability to choose how they respond to their circumstances.

7) Take time to chimney sweep. “Chimney sweep” is a term in the text that is synonymous with brainstorming and relative to the technique of free association. It refers to the free flow of thoughts around a topic or idea as a method to access meaning. This, however, requires us to unplug and put aside all other activities that may distract us from this “housekeeping” of sorts. Additionally, chimney sweeping requires adequate time to empty our cluttered thoughts, turn our attention and eventually meditate on the topic of interest. This results in a purging of thoughts, ideas and meanings tangled within the threads of the subject matter. It adds to clarity of mind and peace of body.

8) Be more generous to your own humanity. Yalom’s Nietzsche declares a “granite sentence” of the human experience to be to “become who you are.” He continued, “That means not only to perfect yourself but also not to fall prey to another’s designs for you.”

Kristin Neff, associate professor of human development and culture in the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Austin and author of the book Self-Compassion wrote in her blog (dated June 25, 2011), “Instead of endlessly chasing self-esteem as if it were the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, therefore, I would argue that we should encourage the development of self-compassion. That way, whether we’re on top of the world or at the bottom of the heap, we can embrace ourselves with a sense a kindness, connectedness and emotional balance. We can provide the emotional safety needed to see ourselves clearly and make whatever changes are necessary to address our suffering. We can learn to feel good about ourselves not because we’re special and above average, but because we’re human beings intrinsically worthy of respect.”

9) Die at the right time. Yalom’s Nietzsche and Breuer agonized over mortality and Nietzsche proposed, “Die at the right time. Live when you live! Death loses its terror if one dies when one has consummated one’s life. If one does not live in the right time, then one can never die at the right time.”

Consummating one’s life necessarily requires the shunning of distractions of the past and concerns for the future. It requires us to be fully present in the moment. It commands courage to take risks in life and love. This results in vulnerability (there it is, again!). However, to live fully means to embrace all aspects of the human experience. Pain, suffering, joy and ecstasy are all shared experiences of humanity. Would I give up one aspect for another?

For example, I recall the day my daughters moved from our home. They had graduated college the same week and were launching into their exciting new lives. We procrastinated in saying our goodbyes, and when the time came, we collapsed in each other’s arms in hysterical fits of tears and laughter. I remember smoothing the hair of my grown daughters, kissing their foreheads and reminding them that the reason we were experiencing grief over this milestone is because we had chosen to love deeply. I, for one, will always choose love.

Now armed with several, though certainly not all, of the nuggets of wisdom provided by the brilliant Irvin Yalom, I leave you with one final thought from my humble experience as a counselor.

10) We are people, not pathologies. We are human beings seeking relationship and wanting to belong in community. We want to love and be loved. As counselors, we have the greatest privilege in being asked to enter into the most vulnerable spaces with others and to be in relationship. That is a sacred gift and the secret to therapy.




Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland. In addition to her practice, she is a visiting full-time faculty in the pastoral counseling program for Loyola University Maryland. Contact her at cy.fisher@verizon.net.