December 16, 2014

Counseling Reading List

Hey masters counseling students and alumni! I put this list of books together for you. The books are mostly counseling related and not traditional textbooks. [Sorry textbooks, 97% of the time you're awfully boring.] These are the type of books I enjoyed reading when I was in graduate school, working with clients, and when teaching about counseling. I've reread a few of them a couple times. I include some information about each book (and/or the author), as well as a link to the book's entry on Goodreads so you can get other people's perspectives too. These are books that are great for break or reading during the term to remind yourself that clinical topics can be covered in a more engaging fashion than in your overpriced, information clogged, narrativeless textbooks.

[This post is brought to you by 1) finishing a Fundamental Counseling Skills class with the masters students and realizing I won't see them much from here on out and 2) the type of brutal fatigue and brain-fry that we're all experiencing by exam week... So of course I spend time doing something semi-creative that has nothing to do with what I actually have to get done this week.]

One of my first non-textbook, "Wow-I'm-Actually-in-Grad-School" books that I found was by Jeffery Kottler. The man has lots of books. His writing is enjoyable, and his books are very applied. The first book that I read by him was The Compleat Therapist. [I don't remember if he explains WHY he chose the archaic form for complete...] I think his book On Being a Therapist is a bit better, but if you like the one you might seek out the other. These books are really helpful at the point in graduate school when you start getting a bit disenchanted. They cover the essential stuff that is often in-between classes.

Kottler and Jon Carlson put together is The Mummy at the Dining Room Table: Eminent Therapists Reveal Their Most Unusual Cases and What They Teach Us About Human Behavior, and Kottler edited Bad Therapy: Master Therapists Share Their Worst Failures. These are the first two "vignette and reflection" books on this list. These books (and a few others on this list) are good reads for clinical students and clinicians because they present vignettes or overviews of therapy from the clinician's perspective and include their reflections. And who doesn't want to learn from the outliers and the unusual, as well as from other people's mistakes? By the way, it is great modeling to have "master" therapists make their mistakes transparent and discuss how they understand their mistakes in hindsight.

You will meet Irv Yalom is graduate school. You must. I'm not even sure that you are allowed to take a group therapy class without reading his giant, dense group therapy book that has to be in its 36th edition. That book is just about the only Yalom book I would not put on this list. It is his most text-booky. Yalom's writing is usually very engaging and enjoyable. He writes novels about psychologists and therapy (that I recommend, but haven't listed here). He also writes books about becoming a therapist and books full of therapy vignettes and reflections.

The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients
is the perfect bathroom reading material or it may be a good bedside table read (if you're someone who can't stay awake to read.) The sections are very short. This is Irv giving the reader bits of advice or things to consider. What I appreciate about his writing is he really wants therapists to attend to the relationship with their client, be human, be in the here-and-now, and by brave about inquiring about your relationship and sharing their perspective and experience. His writing is a bit of an antidote to the incessant focus on productivity, "CBT for all", and diagnosis-driven everything. This book brings you back to the basics in an affirming way.

His forthcoming book in Feb 2015
Yalom has vignette & reflection books too. His most recent, which I reviewed... somewhere... is Creatures of a Day. I would highly recommend that book and others (including Staring at The Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death.) He even has a book that he wrote with a client and the chapters shift between her perspective on the therapy and his. Sometimes I think that Yalom's typical clients are closer to "the walking wounded" rather than people who have incredibly chaotic lives or especially severe experiences with mental illness. This isn't to minimize those patients' pain or their work with him. I learn a lot from his books that is still very applicable, including how to wonder about the relationship, notice your reactions, and invite (and use!) feedback... however, many clients I've worked with seem to have much more stacked against them and fewer resources to help buffer them. Still, I recommend Yalom's books.
Deborah Luepnitz's Schopenhauer's Porcupines: Intimacy and Its Dilemmas was another book I read in grad school and then immediately sought out her other book Family Interrupted: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Family Therapy. Both of these books are the vignette and reflection type, though the second one is a bit more technical and didactic (if I remember correctly.)

The dilemma "Schopenhauer's Porcupines" refers to is a helpful metaphor. Little porcupines huddle when they get cold, but if they get too close the poke each other with their quills... which is also uncomfortable, so they need a bit of distance. See the connection with "intimacy and it's dilemmas"? There is a need to titrate and adjust closeness in relationships that can often be something clients are struggling with in their lives or in therapy. Somehow cold porcupines make the point faster. [Was that a point pun?]

I have some reservations about often white, very-much western, often upper middle class and/or professional people facilely adopting Eastern philosophies and spirituality. Why? It feels like convenient cultural appropriation, and since it is (or was) fashionable, I always wonder about social gain that has nothing to do with the ideas themselves. Truthfully, this could very much be my own baggage. I've has a few experiences (in the clinical community) that make me nervous about people who wrap themselves in talk, but can't do the walk. Peaceful and reflective veneer and deep, deep (and surprising) anger issues. Having said all that, I recommend Mark Epstein's books because I am interested in similarities, differences, and complimentary aspects of Buddhism and psychotherapy. I think Epstein is grounded enough in each to be a fair guide, though I'm replying on broader reading and other people's reviews to access his credentials and training. I enjoyed his writing; however, if you aren't a clinical practitioner I am not sure how accessible these books will be for you. I recommend Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective and Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life - Insights from Buddhism and Psychotherapy (which I think is also published with an alternate subtitle).

Just to be clear, I am not against importing ideas into the counseling practice or medical practice. John Kabat-Zinn and others have been studying the impact of mindfulness practices on stress reduction and improving health for awhile (since the 70s). This has been helpful for people in cardiac rehab and pain management programs, as well as for people dealing with anxiety. It is nearly mainstream medical practice. There has also been collaborative research on Buddhist monks (highly skilled meditators) and neuroscientists trying to understand what is happening in the monks minds when they meditate. So there are a lot of ways to learn and incorporate, but when pulling practices from another group of people's spiritual tradition that is situated in another culture care needs to be taken. As my friend would say, "Why do so many people in America think yoga is a Physical Education class. It's spiritual practice." Anyways, check out a Mark Epstein's books. And, as always, be considerate of social and cultural context, whether learning from or trying to apply a framework.

The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment by Babette Rothschild and The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk are two books on traumatic experience's impact on people and how to help them. Rothschild's book is a quicker, more applied read. A good practitioner reference. Both of these books are aligned in that people who have experienced trauma need help resetting and reconnecting with their bodies (since their fight-or-flight system has been highjacked) in addition to more traditional mental health counseling focus on interpersonal relationships. I separate those two things because not every masters or doctoral level clinician has the training to comfortably assist someone is the body-focused work. (Ironically, these practices definitely own a debt to the influxes of Eastern philosophy and spirituality into the field.)

Bessel van der Kolk's book (above) is dense and thorough, but a good read. It is also an important read if you did not receive much training on working with people who have experienced trauma(s) and are struggling with it. I'm about half way through this book prepping for my Trauma and Recovery class in spring. What I really appreciate about this book is 1) he fairly criticizes the diagnostic system and the DSM for their limitations, as well as the "mental illness is a brain disorder" belief and advocacy stance [as all of these create incredible tunnel-vision], 2) he spends a lot of time covering the basics of attunement and attachment (both developmentally in early childhood, throughout life, and within treatment), 3) he covers the basic physiology required to understand traumatic reactions and the rationale for certain interventions, 4) he incorporates the Adverse Childhood Experiences research (Look it up. It is crazy... and yet, not very surprising.) and 5) it is MUCH better read than van der Kolk's earlier Traumatic Stress book.

Letters to a Young Therapist by Mary Pipher (of Reviving Ophelia fame) is another good, early-in-your career read. [Though not every new therapist would regard themselves as young...]

I Don't Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression is a somewhat dated book by Terence Real. Maybe post-Sopranos we have more examples of men being comfortable with accessing therapy and dealing with depression... but it is still a book I found helpful for thinking about how in counseling we are often asking people to join us in a way that is very contrary to their socialization or the worldview they have grown up in. Reviews also indicate that people who have been diagnosed or self-diagnosed find this book helpful.

The Impossibility of Sex: Stories of the Intimate Relationship Between Therapist and Patient by Susie Orbach is another vignette and reflection book. Maybe a titillating title? Like I said (in class, 800 times), therapy is profoundly weird. It is jumping into a very intimate, very lopsided relationship with highly specific boundaries with a complete stranger. It is unlike any other relationship (that I am aware of). Sex... maybe sells the book to some. For clinicians, the focus on intimacy and relationship, which can include sexual attraction, is more the point.

The Relationship Cure by John Gottman... I sort of reluctantly put this on the list. The books smacks of cheesey, top 10 self-help, but Gottman's research is solid. If you've read one of Malcolm Gladwell's books [Blink, maybe], he covers some of Gottman's work. So if you plan to work with couples, families, or individuals who care about their relationships (which should pretty much cover anyone you work with) this book can be helpful. Couples and family work can be pretty sad watching people need and want from each other while they tear each other up trying to get what they need.

A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life by Parker Palmer is not a therapy related book. Parker Palmer wrote The Courage to Teach and started the Center for Courage and Renewal that provides workshops to prevent burnout and help make the world a more just and compassionate place! See where I am going with this? Self-care. Teachers and therapists and other people who are called to the helping professions are at high risk for feeling overwhelmed, under-supported, ineffective, and none of us want to become burnt out, apathetic, or unable to connect with people... I like A Hidden Wholeness a lot. I think I've read it three times. To me, it is a self-care book. I believe, though I am not sure, Parker Palmer comes from a Quaker tradition, which may be a new angle for some (my self included). [By the way, if you are in Washington County the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott has a workshop every year for educators facilitated by the Center for Courage and Renewal. I haven't been able to go because of schedule conflicts, but it is something I've wanted to do.]

What Therapists Don't Talk About and Why: Understanding Taboos that Hurt Us and Our Clients by Pope, Sonne, and Greene is a bit more didactic and textbookish than most on this list... but helpful. It has short sections and vignettes to help you think about what your internal process and reaction would be in some situations that are challenging.

How You Can Survive When They're Depressed: Living and Coping with Depression Fallout  by Anne Sheffield is a self-help book directed at loved ones who have someone close to them who is depressed. It is an important angle, whether for your client or providing space and empathy for their loved one's experience.

Clinical Pearls of Wisdom: 21 Leading Therapists Offer Their Key Insights edited by Michael Kerman. This is a readable book that is a bit more textbookish than others on this list, but it does help orient a new therapist or re-orient a seasoned one. There are vignettes and multiple voices/perspectives in this edited volume.

I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help! How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment by Xavier Amador is a book that I used in Psychosocial Rehabilitation class and other classes. It is well received by students. Amador is both a clinician and a brother of someone who is diagnosed with schizophrenia. I really appreciate his dual perspective. If you are going to be working with people who have pretty severe mental illness and may have periods where they don't perceive their disability and/or the oddness of their behavior (anosognosia) this book should be on your shelf. It is also helpful for working with parents or loved ones who are concerned about a family member because this book provides strategies for understanding, supporting, and working with the family member who is dealing with mental illness instead of just trying to force or cajole them into treatment.

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche by Ethan Watters is a book by a journalist. He is not a clinician, and this is not about therapy per se. It is a critique of the exportatuib of a health care model developed in one social and cultural context [think mainstream medicine in US] and then application (sometimes blindly and sometimes in as very calculated fashion to create a market) of that model in another social and cultural contexts. Watters is asking very important questions about the ramifications of "helping" by rushing in and assuming that one treatment model is appropriate universally. That challenging part of this book is he gives examples where the application not only does not help, it does harm and displaces local practices that were more effective.

Addiction is a Choice by Jeffery Schaler... I almost didn't put this book on this list. This book is more of an argument around social policy than related to treatment. Since the "addiction is a brain disease" model is so rigidly and deeply embedded advocacy stance, it feels heretical to suggest this book. Yet it is a good critique with important questions. You know you: if messing with "addiction is a brain disease" or "once an addict always and addict" is not something that is okay with you, skip this book. Otherwise, consider it an exercise in cognitive flexibility. My perspective as a teacher is you should know what you believe and be aware of your internal reactions and you need to be open to supporting the clients' worldviews even when they clash with your own. You will work with clients who you may identify as having substance abuse issues, but that is not the problem that they perceive. Have a big bag with lots of tools and select the one(s) that works best for that client. If you want more applied (treatment focused) alt addiction perspectives try Stanton Peele or Gabor Mate. And of course, if you are in one of my classes, will be talking about Motivational Interviewing too.

Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson is a goofy book, but a great way to introduce yourself or clients to externalizing the problem and then cognitively challenging it. The book is humorous and down to earth. It is not written in the language of mental illness and diagnosis, so some people find it more appealing. If you took out "gremlin" and said "addiction" you have another framework or tool for helping someone reduce their use or quit. It is a MUCH gentler, but similar form of Rational Recovery's focus on Addictive Voice Recognition Technique.

Classic Memoirs

William Styron is an author. I find his book listed below incredibly hard to read, but if you have not experienced depression (yourself or nearby - a parent, spouse,  or child) it may be a helpful read. He is a wonderful writer. The other two books are memoirs by women who are professionals and who publicly identify as having mental illness. Elyn Saks is an attorney who works in law related to mental illness. She was diagnoses with schizophrenia. Kay Redfield Jamison is a psychologist who works at medical school. Her book is about her experience realizing she has manic depression, which is generally called Bipolar Disorder, but she prefers the older term. Both of these women are high achieving, very articulate people who can present the first person experience and talk about mental illness from a professional vantage point. They both have something powerful to say about the level of stigma people with mental illness continue to face. Granted, their experience does not match all people who have the same diagnoses. Both recognize that if they hadn't the safety nets and social supports that they have they could have ended up homeless. 

William Styron's Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

Elyn Saks' The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods & Madness

 This video of Elyn Sak's TED talk about her experience with schizophrenia.

December 17th, 2014 NPR piece on William Styron's Darkness Visible: 25 Years Ago, 'Darkness Visible' Broke Ground Detailing Depression. [It is a 4.5 minute news story.] Very timely NPR.

The other books I would recommend are pretty much any fiction you can find that involves relationships and people living their lives. Doesn't have to be about mental health problems or therapy. Just read. Especially if you can read broadly about people with different experiences than yours, be that nationality, age, sexual orientation, class background and socioeconomic status, immigration status, religious background, race or ethnicity, disability status or events in their lives.  One of my professors introduced me to Jhumpa Lahiri's writing by having us read The Interpreter of Maladies for a counseling diverse populations class as a way for us to learn about experiences of Bengali immigrants in US and family dynamics between the generation that immigrated and their children who grow up in both worlds. (That book won the Pulitzer Prize by the way.) I actually prefer Lahiri's The Namesake, which is a novel and was made into a movie by the same name. You should probably see that too. #WeNeedDiverseBooks (in more than just children's literature) to be culturally aware and responsive practitioners. Keep reading. :)

So, is that enough reading to keep you busy for awhile? I take recommendations too. When you read a good book send me the title and author. Thanks!

October 26, 2014

Job Interviews

In our COE 313 Community Experience: Internship and Professional Seminar class all students do mock job or graduate school admissions interviews. The students who are on campus do their mock interviews in front of their peers. Sometime a community partner comes to class and does the mock  interviews. Sometimes they are stuck with me, their teacher, interviewing them. Apparently, this is very anxiety provoking. Either way, the experience provides some practice and feedback that are critical. We want you to get the job. We want you employed.

The number one piece of feedback I have for students year after year is that it is clear that they haven't practiced for their mock interviews. If you want that job or admission to that graduate school, practice, practice, practice. Prepare by thinking through questions and writing notes for yourself, but don't forget to practice answering these questions out loud. It really makes a difference. Speaking is a lot different than reading your notes or just thinking about it. Here are some more suggestions. [Yes, there is a bit of repetition. On purpose.]

1. Prepare

This is pretty simple advice. Probably something you already know you should do, but don't necessarily do it or give it the time it deserves. If you want the job, do your homework. Research the job (i.e., community support worker), the organization (#3 below), and list what you bring to the job (#4). That part is just gathering data. This is what you do before you practice answering questions. Writing out your qualifications is not the same as articulating them in an interview.

Onet is one online resource that allows you to search occupations to find out required skills, abilities, and knowledge, education/credentials, work activities, work context, related occupations, and salary and employment trends. Have a look.

You should also look up common interview questions. Here is a Forbes article on the Top 50 Most Common Interview Questions. The list is fairly generic. You can search for other lists. Consider making sure you are comfortable with Behavioral Interviewing questions. This type of question asks you to explain what you do or would do in specific situations. The interviewer is trying to learn about how you think and then respond in work situations. Here is a Top 10 Behavioral Interviewing Questions article for About Careers.

2. Know your audience

Your audience, that person who is interviewing you, is not in your head. They don't know what you know about you. Make sure when you describe experiences and your skills that you give them enough information to appreciate them. So often in classroom assignments and mock interviews student expect the teacher or the interviewer to connect the dots rather than making an argument. In a mock interview or a real one, your job is to make an argument connecting your experiences and skills to the job description or organization's mission so it is clear that you are a strong candidate for the job. 

An example of forgetting your audience is sharing that you interned at The Next Step and then not explaining what The Next Step is (a domestic violence project that provides service to families experiencing domestic violence, trainings on domestic violence, and advocacy and prevention programs) or how your experience there helped you develop skills or knowledge that is transferable to the job that you are applying for. Connect the dots for the interviewer. Don't assume they will do it for you.

3. Understand the job and the organization

Do your homework to understand the job expectations, qualifications, and as much about the organization as possible. This will help you be clearer when arguing that you are a strongly qualified candidate. If you can reflect back some of their language or values or ask questions that show you took an interest in understanding the organization, you sound thoughtful and diligent. Also, you may have relevant experience that doesn't seem related to the job.

4. Make your pitch (as in sales pitch)

Think of that first open-ended "Why are you interested in this job?" question as a prompt for you to make 1) a good first impression and 2) an argument as to why they should hire you. By argument, I mean your organizing your thoughts in order to persuade someone or to make your point clear. Do the work for your interviewer. If you are experienced in that field or that role, don't coast assuming that your experience will speak for itself. Explain why you are a strong candidate for the job. If you are new with less experience in the field or that role, your argument will explain how you are prepared in light of not having much formal experience. 

5. Don't assume your degree means anything to anyone. Highlight what you want them to know.

Our program is unique. Psychology & Community Studies does not explain itself. People think they know what psychology as a discipline is, but they have no idea what community studies is or what they are when you put them together. Frankly, even if you have a Psychology major or English major or Chemistry major, you still need to explain how your college experience prepared you for the specific job. I'm not saying just list relevant classes or your minor. Think though assignments, courses, general skills, experiences at conference, research experiences, service-learning experiences and more and then explain the most relevant pieces and how they prepare you for this particular job. Our degree is very malleable in description. Explain it to your advantage, which will depend on the specifics of the job. Make sure to make the most out of highlighting your senior project.

6. Have questions for the person who is interviewing you.

When you have questions ready for your interviewer it makes you look prepared, thoughtful, and thorough. Granted, the content of your questions matter. So consider what your questions will communicate about you.

7. PRACTICE. Out loud. Alone or with a friend role playing with you.

Not kidding here. I see students come to class with well organized notes and still end up with a choppy, discombobulated interview. Gathering information and thinking about it is necessary, but not sufficient. You need to practice saying the words. I prefer the pace-talk-out-loud-by-myself method (at home of course). You can also ask a friend to role play with you. Or ask Career Services (Jo-Ellen Scribner) or someone at your local Career Center if they will practice with you and give you feedback. Repetition is the point here. That way your are more likely to answer smoothly during the interview. It also can also help decrease your anxiety for the real interview.

8. Get feedback and use it.

Along with practice, get feedback and utilize it. You want feedback from someone from whom you can accept constructive criticism. Don't choose your best friend if they are going to pump you up with praise and avoid telling you what you need to improve. This does not help. It is good to know what you are doing well in an interview, but it is even more important to know what you can do to strengthen your interviewing skills. 

Does this picture not scream stock-picture?

9. PRACTICE more.

Not kidding. If you want the job or admission into that grad program, do the work.

10. Understand that not getting a job is not necessarily a reflection on you. Though it may be. And you won't get to know.

This is a tough one: if you don't get the job, you don't get to know why. You have to remember that applying for jobs is competitive, and you don't know who else applied. You might not have had enough experience or someone might have had more. Someone else make have had a proverbial toe-in-the-door (which is what you folks have after a good internship experience because your internship site knows you and has already trained you). And you may not have presented yourself as well as you could have. You don't get to know. Please do not take not getting a job or into grad school too hard. Apply again if you have the opportunity. After realizing I applied to teach at UMM twice, a friend was shocked that I applied the second time. She thought I should have gotten the message and have been upset about being "rejected". I figured I needed more experience teaching to look like a viable candidate (I did) and that if I applied a second time that I would already be familiar (which generally works in your favor provided you didn't make a bad impression the first time.)

Links to Resources:

Career Centers are all over Maine and their are similar resources all over the country. Generally their services are free. Use them! There are two in Washington County, ME (Machias and Calais).
Maine Career Center

Find Jo Ellen Scribner :)
University of Maine Career Services

October 1, 2014

The Big Read in Downeast Maine

Readers! Booklovers! Community Members! Folks Who Love Art! You, who are looking for cool, FREE community events! We have some for you!

Travel to Earthsea with fantasy readers from Downeast Maine! Join us for The Big Read, community events built on themes from A Wizard of Earthsea, the fantasy classic by author Ursula Le Guin. In 1968 Ursula Le Guin published A Wizard of Earthsea, creating a fantasy world that rings true with issues meaningful to us today. Topics to explore include the hidden power of a man's name, what it means to be a wizard, and the importance of home.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. Porter Memorial Library is one of 77 not-for-profit organizations to receive a grant to host a Big Read project between September 2014 and June 2015. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with Arts Midwest. 

Want to know a bit about Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea? Here is the link for The Big Read's Reader's Guides, a wikipedia entry, and Ursula Le Guin's website.

The Big Read in Downeast Maine is brought to you by Porter Memorial Library, and the Psychology and Community Studies program at University of Maine at Machias.
Free Community Events include:
  • Discussion groups on A Wizard of Earthsea
  • Fantasy/SciFi Booklovers’ Rumpus
  • Graphic Novel Illustration Workshops
  • Collage & Print Workshops
  • Digital Dragons Workshop
  • Reader’s Theater Performances
  • Wizard Party Masquerade
  • Featuring Fantasy & Scifi on the What's The Fox Say? Children's Radio Show on WUMM
  • Wizard-themed sports: Quidditch at University of Maine at Machias
  • Talk by Author Elizabeth Hand