Terminating the client-counselor relationship

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What is the best way to end the counseling relationship?  A counselor’s hope is with the client in a better place and with a higher level of awareness.  Of course we want to know that we made a difference, but that’s the tricky part of working with humans.  We are all unique and results are measured differently.  With one client a certain level of progress may not seem very significant, but with others that same type of progress may be just enough to leave a lasting effect.  No matter how significant the results, terminating the counseling relationship is just as important as beginning it.

When meeting with a client, I like to be as proactive as possible.  The more information my clients have the better, that way there are no surprises.  Counseling is a very intimate relationship.  People don’t generally put their whole selves along with their secrets on the table for all to see, so developing the counseling relationship is instrumental.  Part of gaining trust comes with informed consent, making sure they know what to expect from you, and ending treatment in a respectful way.  Carl Rogers theory, person-centered approach, is drilled into your counseling education for a reason.  The three aspects Rogers believed are critical to the counseling relationship are unconditional positive regard, empathy, and genuineness.  If your clients feel that you are present-engaged- participating- and you care, they are much more inclined to do the work.  Get them started with an understanding that there will be an end within a timeline. This gives them a metaphorical carrot to chase; an outcome to look forward to.  One caution – you can be a part of the journey without getting on the bus.  Meaning, maintain your differentiation to prevent transference and countertransference.  It takes practice, patience, and diligence to confront your own emotions after a difficult session.  Be sure to take the time to meet with a supervisor or peer to process the session, your feelings and move through it.  We must constantly take care of ourselves, spend too much time giving all you have to everyone else, and there is little left to work with.  This work helps you and ultimately makes you a better counselor.   

The interesting part of counseling is when your clients surprise you.  Sometimes we can make termination such a big deal in our heads, and admittedly feel a bit disappointed when they are not nearly as bummed as we are to end the counseling relationship.  Bottom line…Inform them, Rogers them, and give them a loose outline so they can take you on an incredible journey!

Transformation is an experience that few of us have a front row ticket to, get in that mosh pit, get engaged, and take it all in. It will change your life as well.

Ying or yang? Finding balance through your inner dialogue.

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I found a poem about balance that I wrote many years ago.  It is a great lead into the topic of finding balance and appreciation in all aspects of life.

sometimes the sun shines on my life, it makes my whole world glow. 
i love to feel the warmth on my skin, on my soul.
other days the rain pours on my heart and overflows into areas that are saturated.
every part of life needs this balance.
without sunshine, my flowers will not grow.
without rain, my garden would dry out and die.
i am grateful for both the good and the bad. 
those opposite forces bring balance, contentment, appreciation.
~Melissa Cooper

 It may be hard sometimes to find anything positive when unfortunate events occur, but this way of thinking Continue reading

Having a baby – you want me to do what?

A friend recently asked me to write about expectations of a man and a woman when having a baby. Well, we talked about expectations a bit in my recent blog, so let’s reframe that to, understanding the relationship transition with a newborn. When two people decide to have or are blessed with the joy of children, there is a 9 month delay for good reason. Even with adoptions, the process takes time. Being a parent is an awesome responsibility and notably the hardest job on the planet. When embarking upon this new life, it may be easier if you are able to prepare more than 9 months out.

Discussions about values, beliefs, and family rules are a great way to start preparing. Just like navigating the rules in the relationship, new patterns and processes will be an important aspect of your new family dynamic. There will be some things that are extremely important to each parent as your child develops. Having the conversations about what is most important to you, prior to pregnancy, may help alleviate future disagreements or misunderstandings. And then, there are those grand ideas you may have that just don’t work out the way you envisioned. Establishing open, collaborative lines of communication will make future decision making easier.

Written and unwritten or verbal and nonverbal rules exist in all families. A written rule may be – we shower before bedtime, no eating in the bedrooms, saying please and thank you, or no feet on the furniture. An unwritten rule might be something that children observe about the way to behave or what is accepted in the family. Children look to their parents to know what is right or wrong. For example, if the child normally goes to the grocery store with mom, but this week goes with dad, the child may inform dad that they are picking the “wrong” items. The mom never said Cheerios were the “right” cereal, however over time, the child observed the mother’s behavior and determined what was “right.” This concept is extremely important to embrace as a future parent. You have the single most important influence on this little person, more than any other person will have. Have you looked at yourself? Have you thought about the legacy you want to leave behind? Have you identified the issues you struggle with so you can change them, so your children don’t inherit those same behaviors, thoughts, or beliefs?

I grew up knowing that dating outside my race wasn’t acceptable. Nothing explicit was said, but there were comments made that implied it would not be accepted. I didn’t believe the things I heard about other groups of people, and was fortunate to attend school with a diverse student body who I came to know for who they were, not only by the color of their skin. This experience helped me understand how important it is to teach my kids to evaluate people on their characteristics, and to not pass judgment based on what I see.

The hard part was taking my new knowledge of people and weaving it into my family dynamic. The implied or unwritten rules just didn’t make sense anymore, and if my parents were wrong about this, I wondered: what else were they wrong about? It is the little things that are seen and heard, kids don’t miss a thing! As a parent, I know there will be times when I make mistakes, but I truly hope the legacy I leave with them is to love and care for people, to constantly learn and ask questions before they make decisions about people, situations, or their own actions, and to become responsible engagers in the world around them.

So, the day arrives, Mom successfully delivers a healthy baby and you ecstatically, yet almost neurotically bring your bundle of joy home. During this time Mom will be experiencing the effects of her changing body, a very different schedule, and responsibilities will multiply and change.

All of a sudden there are a million more things to do, you’re nervous, worried, in awe of this little person you created, and exuberant all at once. Tasks like who will change diapers or get up in the middle of the night are important questions to negotiate.

Answering those questions will help you both identify which roles each parent will take on. Some partners may not be able to take much time off, so mom is home alone all day. Partners, be sure to help mom out when you get home from work and be patient with the transition.

Expectations may begin to seep in and get in the way of this beautiful journey. The lack of sleep doesn’t help things either, and Dad may feel dethroned, or left out. Making time for each other may seem like the last thing you can squeeze into your busy schedule, but even taking a few moments a day to see each other – not just exist side by side, but see the love of your life, and remember why you got into this relationship may help smooth out the rough parts.

Some parents prefer certain activities over others, but a partnership is the most realistic way to go so both parties don’t feel unappreciated or overworked. The most important thing is to talk to each other. When one person in the relationship feels angry, overwhelmed, depressed, uncertain, scared, or any other range of emotion and does not share it, that is the beginning of a slippery slope. I liken it to a funnel cloud that in time will turn into a tornado, unexpectedly wiping everything in its path.

If you say it out loud, then you can do something with it. Counseling may be a great way to learn effective negotiating strategies during this time of great transition, even if only Mom gets a chance to talk to someone, it may be incredibly helpful. Many moms experience the baby blues due to hormonal rebalancing from 4-5 days after delivery until about 14 days post delivery. If you do not notice an improvement in your mood, you may have postpartum depression. Please seek help from your care provider.

As stated previously, parenting is a lot of work, the folks who do it on their own definitely deserve some type of award nomination. I mean — how do you do it? Single parents – you are amazing people, give yourself a break, you are doing the best you can. As long as your kids know you love them – you are doing it right!

Helpful websites for new parents:

babycenter.com app available for smartphones

thebump.com app available for smartphones

parenting.com

dr.spock.com

parents.com app for the magazine available, have to pay for the magazine

Please share your tips and comments on parenting!

Externalizing the Problem

This is a great activity I learned from one of my amazing professors at University of South Florida, Dr. Ryan Henry.  You can use it with a client or even with yourselves to better understand Continue reading

Aging Gracefully

No matter what we do, what we don’t do, what we see, hear, believe or want – one thing remains unchanged about life. Time passes and we get older. We can age gracefully or we can wither away. This year as I reflect on another 29th birthday — hey no judgement! 29 was a good year, so I plan to remain 29!  I think about what I have accomplished thus far and what my dreams are for the future. Taking some time each year to reflect on outcomes (goals), accomplishments, and new challenges to embark upon, offers an opportunity to evaluate the commitments you have made to yourself and others and evaluate the results. If the results are not what you had planned or hoped for, chart a new course and continue or develop a new outcome plan. Continue reading

Creating a Vision for your Future

One of my favorite exercises in the substance abuse IOP group therapy sessions was Life Mapping. My supervisor used to remind our clients that the work we were doing was great work for all people, including folks with addictions. It was just plain old, good therapy! This exercise helps clients create a clear picture for what they want in their lives. It grew out of some work one of my previous supervisors had done with a Covey leadership development class.

So, how does it work? First, you identify your core values. Examples may include family, career, spirituality, integrity, health, education and sobriety. Then you identify how your current behaviors go against those values. How are the choices and decisions I make dishonoring my core values? For example, if family is your value, perhaps your current behavior is isolating you from your family or causing arguments. Or for career, perhaps your lack of follow through or completion of deadlines is inhibiting your career growth. Here is a worksheet to get you started: VALUES WORKSHEET

Next, you identify what outcomes you would like to see for each value. What do you want in your life? For family, perhaps it is a closer relationship with loved ones, for spirituality maybe it means a closer relationship with God, and for health perhaps your outcome would be feeling well, reducing risk factors or unhealthy behaviors.

Next, you identify the tasks associated with each outcome. These would be the specific behaviors or actions that are critical to accomplishing your outcomes and staying true to your core values.

Examples of tasks for health may be: eat 5 small meals a day, count my calories, exercise 3 days per week for 30 minutes, practice meditation 5 minutes each day.

For family, some examples might include: eat dinner together every night at 6pm, spend time as a family outside the home 2 times per month for at least 2 hours doing an activity in which we are engaged with each other (not going to a movie), implement a date night on Fridays with my spouse.

For career, tasks may include: get to work 5 minutes early each day, ask for additional training, meet with my supervisor to develop a development plan. I created this worksheet: LIFE MAPPING WORKSHEET to assist you in Creating your Vision.

The next phase is consolidating your Life Map into a Vision Statement. This one can take some time, and I recommend doing a talk-through-walk-through first.

Pretend I am an old friend and have not seen you for a year, and I see you at the supermarket and say, “Hey there! I haven’t seen you in such a long time. How are you? Tell me what’s new in your life?” Using the information you gathered about what outcomes you want for your life from your Life Map, speak as though you are currently living the life you have envisioned in your diagram. Use the tasks and outcomes to describe the changes that have occurred in your life. An example may be something like this:

Gosh, Missy, so much has happened! Life is great! I feel calm and peaceful, my family relationships are loving and connected and we spend time together having fun and learning. My body is strong and ready for each new day that comes. My career has moved to a new level where I feel proud and motivated each day. My relationship with God grows each day through prayer and meditation.

As I blogged about before, creating clarity is the beginning of the process of change. Iyanla Vanzant said in a speech she gave on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, “Your eyes adjust to the amount of deficiency present.” Think about that.

Read it again….Your eyes….adjust….to the amount of deficiency present.

So you get used to deciphering life through fuzzy eyes, you adapt and compensate, and inevitably miss things. If our vision for our lives is unclear, or we cannot even see an outcome that we would like or need, than we begin to believe that the possibility of our hopes and dreams are unachievable.

The deficiency may be the story we tell ourselves, the doubts we allow others to speak into us, or the insecurities that stifle us. Sometimes we let others talk us into or out of what we truly want and sometimes we do not need any help setting ourselves back. We may even begin to believe that the dreams we have are unrealistic. How will you nurture and foster your dreams to create a vision for your future?

“The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right. Which one are you?” ~ Henry Ford

Fear…a dirty four letter word!

A few blogs ago we talked a bit about finding love that lasts and how that dirty four letter word – fear – impacts love, decisions, motivation and life in general, so I thought I would share a recent fear of my own. Continue reading

Multicultural Counseling

Becoming a multiculturally competent counselor requires research, understanding the basics about the different populations you serve,  diligence, and the ability to know your limits.  Meet your clients where they are and understand that counseling a multicultural population is not a one size fits all strategy.  It is about being aware of your own biases and prejudices and doing the work to overcome them so that you can be an effective professional.  As much as we want to help everyone, we cannot possibly be a specialist in everything.  When we meet with clients from different cultures, we must consider other aspects of their diversity as an individual that include more than what you see; such as disability, age, sexual orientation and gender, spirituality and mental illness.  The term diversity has seemed over the ages to be viewed as a black or white issue, but to me understanding diversity is about being open to the experience of others that are different from you, and seeing and appreciating them for who they are.  When we are able to meet a client in a place that shows no judgment, that offers unconditional positive regard, genuineness and respect, the opportunity to help them make progress can be limitless. Continue reading

Clarity for extraordinary!

If you told me last year that I would be running a half marathon on October 7, 2012 in Washington DC, I would have told you that you were crazy! Words like “I can’t, I will never be, I am just not that person” were commonplace in my vocabulary. Pity, really, when I know from experience, when I really want something I can make it happen. The only thing that stops me 99% of the time is ME.

So, it all began when my old supervisor taught a lesson one night in group.

If you check out my blog from November 29, 2011, entitled “Change…clear, specific and appealing“, all this will make a bit more sense. I have, for as long as I remember had an unhealthy relationship with food, my weight and my body. I subscribed to the fact that I would “always” be overweight because I like to eat..as though change were impossible.

After my Supervisor’s lesson in group last year, probably around June, something looked different in that picture. He taught it another time a couple of months later and it really started making sense. So, I had to ask him to use my “problem” and guide me in the appropriate language to clear up the foggy messages I was sending to my brain.

See, I was saying I wanted to “lose weight” and “eat less”, but all my brain heard was weight and eat. The brain doesn’t understand negations, so you have to be very clear in what you want, whatever the goal, outcome, or result you are looking for.

So, instead he instructed me to be clear without negations. He asked what I wanted my outcome to be. I said, I would love to run a marathon. He said, “Okay, how about lighter and more agile?” It immediately fit. When I am lighter and more agile, it will be easier for me to run a long distance. Next, it is about being specific. So, we came up with “I run a marathon.” Finally, how did we make it appealing to my brain? I see myself at the finish line, I have completed the marathon, I have a huge smile, and I feel happy, excited and proud of my accomplishment. My body feels good. Strong. And more agile.

That is when the work started, in those conversations with him, almost a year ago. So, fast forward to today. My husband and I moved to DC in January where running is a popular activity. I met someone at work who is an avid marathoner. They gave me a training calendar, offered a few tips, and recommended a running store. I did a little research, found a half marathon (gotta crawl before you walk), and began little by little to run.

Now, please understand, never in a million years would I have chosen to start running. I was the girl who attempted running with her husband and acted more like a 2-year-old with a temper tantrum than an educated adult. I was all, “I can’t, it’s too hard, it hurts, blah, blah, blah.”

Looking back I can see why he was so annoyed with me. The only thing holding me back was me. I said, I can’t – so I couldn’t, it’s too hard – so it was, it hurts – so it did. I gave up before I even began! Yesterday, I ran 12 miles! 12.2 miles? Me? 12.2 miles! Yep! And this weekend 13.1 for my very first half-marathon! I cleared up the foggy messages in my brain, I set out to run a half-marathon, become lighter and more agile, stronger, proud of myself and my accomplishments, and what-do-you-know? I am doing it.

The lesson here about life is that large tasks work best when completed in small bites. If I had set out to begin running 13.1 miles that first week, it would have been impossible and I would have thrown in the towel. Instead, I did the research, came up with a plan, gathered the appropriate supplies (running shoes – super important!), and increased my miles each week. There were weeks when I got off track, but I still had my eye on the prize. My brain is on a mission, it has a destination. And this Sunday, those 13.1 miles are going down!

When working with clients, they may have tasks or situations that seem overwhelming. They may not be sure of where to even start. If we encourage them to start with the outcome, then work to the solution in small steps by using this strategy – clear, specific and appealing, big problems become manageable tasks.

For example, I had a client who had a sizeable debt to repay, working 2 jobs, having car problems and was saving money to move out of the shelter. We worked a budget. We looked at the small to the large. What is most important? Keeping the car, right? Keep the car – keep the job. So, we worked a way to repair the car, so her jobs would not be affected. Next she portioned a part of her check for student loans, for savings to move and allowed a small part for her to have fun. There has to be some reward in all that hard work. When she looked at the whole picture, she became overwhelmed, “how will I ever pay it all? I am going to be here forever!” After we were clear about her outcome – live independently. She could focus on small tasks to get closer to that goal. How was she specific? I will find one job that pays well enough to cover debt and expenses to live in my own place. How did she make it appealing? She envisioned herself at her home, inviting her mother for dinner, entertaining friends, feeling safe, secure and happy.

To think, what we could miss if we allow limits that only exist in our minds to hold us back from the sweetness of accomplishing the extraordinary! We all have something extraordinary brewing under the surface. Find clarity to bring your extraordinary!

Finding love that lasts

Love.  It is the one thing in life that we all need, search for, hope for, ache for, and even sometimes in our fear – run from.  John Lennon said it best, “All You Need Is Love.”  Martin Luther King said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”  From a spiritual perspective, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).  The Dali Lama notes that, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.  Without them humanity cannot survive.”

If love is essential to all aspects of life, why is it so hard to see it when it arrives before you?  I recall a time when I thought all I wanted was a relationship with a man who truly loved me, yet I did many things to get in my own way, and prevent love from flourishing in my life.  Continue reading