Lee's Blog

  • 10/19/2018 2:35 PM | Lee Richmond

    According to reports from the Mental Health Association, the Center for Suicide Prevention, and the Center for Disease Control there are growing numbers of young people engaging in self-harm, self-mutilation and suicidal behaviors. This is particularly true in college and high school students, but there are growing numbers of children between ages five and twelve that are engaged in self-harming and suicidal ideation and activity.  Most recent reports show an alarming rate for girls; presently more than three times as many are involved in suicidal incidences than a short eight years ago.

    One of the major reasons is believed to be the increased time spent on social media and video games, where content is often detrimental, leading to depression.  Older teens struggle with fear of not being able to get a good job when they graduate from high school, inability to find professional employment after graduating from college, and not wanting to advance into a world of adults whose values are not their own. These problems often cause a downward spiral of depressive thinking. Younger children see violence and death on TV, and, not understanding fully the finality of death and its effect on their family, seek it to relieve themselves of painful circumstances.

    Whatever the reasons for the increasing number of students who self-harm, engage in suicidal thoughts, or kill themselves, the important thing is to stop it.  The first step is to take the issue seriously.  Largely, school systems have addressed this issue by introducing suicide prevention programs and Lauryn’s Law. However, it must be more than words. Words are not enough. Knowing and being alarmed by statistics are also not enough.  Action is called for. We must do something!

    School counselors have long known that Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has proven to be the most effective psychological treatment for persons who self-harm and/or are suicidal or thinking about it. School counselors also know that they are not supposed to do any form of psychotherapy in the school setting. Because DBT Therapy requires two therapists, individual therapy, 24-hour phone contact when necessary, and numerous sessions, even were it allowed, even if counselors received necessary training, it would be impossible to offer DBT in its strict therapy form in the schools.

    What is often overlooked is that within the theory of DBT there are ideas that school counselors should know and can use. Overlooked are the many exercises that Marsha Linehan, developer of the DBT model, created to help people decide to abandon negative thoughts and behaviors.  These exercises involve students in radically acceptance of what is, thus changing that which is hurtful and harmful.  There are also many exercises that help students rid themselves of emotional dysfunction, value self, develop healthy relationships and encourage creativity. Because DBT has been proven successful, all school counselors should have these exercises in their “bag of tricks” and, on the strength of evidence-based research, know how and when to use them. It is, I think, the duty of counseling programs and programs of continuing education for counselors to teach this material and to offer experiences in use of the DBT exercises that can be welcomed in a school setting.

    The PsyCoun Institute  be offering the first workshop on this topic on October, 27th

    Visit:  http://psycoun.com/event-3010729

  • 08/02/2018 10:51 AM | Lee Richmond

    “Live in the moment” has become a slogan of our time.  If you Google it you will find many articles, books, recordings and even videos about the importance of being in the “now.” You will find readings that tell you four, six, and even eleven steps about how to live in the present, and you will learn that if you follow these steps you will expand your awareness and increase your joy, abandon stress and lessen, if not eliminate, pain. Both Reader’s Digest and Psychology Today tout the value of being present in the now, and in fact thousands of years of meditative practice, and sound psychological research record health benefits from present awareness. But both meditation, as practiced by sages, and sound research put the now in perspective.  As I recall, Abraham Maslow, and his student, Edward Shostom, in their study of self- actualizing people, discovered that truly self-actualizing people spend one part in the past or future to every eight parts in the present.  This means that as important as the now may be, it is also important to remember the past and plan for tomorrow. The world-famous ethologist Konrad Lorenz said something like: humans, after all, are the only creatures on earth that can remember their past and have future goals.

    Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, is quoted as saying “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” A wish is like a daydream. Rather than daydreaming, achieving is what self-actualizing people do. While I like to think that I am self-actualizing, as a high N- P on the Myer’s Briggs I admit that I do not have as much love for detailed planning that my S-J colleagues have. Nevertheless, I know even though keeping a calendar is tedious for me, and even though I sometimes hate to write things down, I basically do it. (My S-J friends keep behind me, sometimes draw me out of my big picture dreams, and remind me that if I don’t plan for it and put it on my calendar, I’ll miss it.  And if I “miss it” where will big picture dreams and being in the now get me?)

    This brings me to the point.  My colleagues and I plan the schedule for the PsyCoun Institute events.  We determine the days when things will happen.  We design an events calendar.  This year we have some big events coming, and if attending them helps you better actualize your personal or professional future you need to put them on your personal calendar and register for them as soon as it makes sense for you to do so. This fall we are offering three important workshops They are:

    Sat, Oct 27:  Helping Traumatized Youth through DBT Practices by Lee Richmond and Martha Milli

    How can DBT be used to help traumatized youth? Get practical tools you can use to reach affected youth. See more…

    Fri, Nov 2: Sacred Counseling by Lee Richmond

    Sacred Counseling is counseling that “cares for the spirit” and is concerned with finding meaning and the passion that inspirits. See more …

    Sat, Dec 8: Finding Meaning Through Photo Metaphors by Lee Richmond, Marilyn Maze, Elda Schwartz, and Suzanne Savickas

    Photo Metaphors help clients become aware of values and motivations. Uses will be explored in settings from HR to clinical counseling. Materials included. See more …

    Each of the above offerings are timely, and on-target for counselors.  And while we haven’t finished the spring calendar yet, we will be joining with various Maryland state counseling associations in sponsoring a three-day program that you won’t want to miss. Watch our calendar of events in coming weeks.

    If this blog sounds more commercial than usual, it is meant to.  I sincerely believe our offerings will be worthwhile! Also, I know how hard it is for me to do advanced planning. Like you, I try to live in the now, reaping the benefits of the present: it’s the only time that we really do live!  Nevertheless, I know that future goals without an action plan are the wisp of a daydream.  If I want to actualize my goals I know what I need to act.  I hope (in all things) that the same goes for you.

    ANNOUNCEMENT:  Starting October 1st,  I will be accepting new clients who are counselors seeking LCPC supervision. Send an email to Lee@PsyCoun.com if you have an interest or would like to hear more detail.

  • 04/19/2018 6:29 PM | Lee Richmond

    For several weeks now, I have been thinking about that question. My history and my nature makes me want to answer the question in the negative and say: No, never give up. When things aren’t going well, try harder, keep looking for new solutions, new ways to make a dream, a product, a relationship work. But then I remember a workshop that I attended long ago where the speaker, Dr. Albert Ellis, suggested that sometimes the words, try harder, are hot pokers we learn when we are children that often becomes a real pain in the side when we are adults. To be completely honest, Ellis used another word for “side,” but you can figure that one out.  So, the question of trying harder mutates into the question, “when is it time to give up?” And while the answer is always situational and dependent on the individual, below are some general guidelines.

    Consensus is that when all alternatives have been explored, and all possible solutions creatively sought are exhausted, it is then and only then OK to say, “Enough, I am done.” This expresses the hot poker approach. With this approach one gets heated, sometimes beyond both physical and emotional tolerance.. A cooler approach to the “try harder” injunction is to add the codicil, “when it makes sense.” Thus, the question, “Is there a time to give up,” mutates into the question, “When is the time where trying harder does not make sense?”

    Trying harder does not make sense when a dream is dead.  For example, I have a son who wanted to be a lawyer since he was nine or ten years old.  He saw lawyers winning criminal cases on exciting TV shows.  He saw lawyers getting people freed of trumped up charges in the comics.  He learned in school that Abraham Lincoln, his favorite U.S. President, was a lawyer.  He was energized throughout middle and high school, and remained so during his four college years.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he was elated when accepted to three law schools. He was very excited to select and then attend one of them.  It took him all of two months to realize that law school would not lead him to a career anything like his dream career, that which he saw in TV.  While Lincoln was able to practice pass the Bar Examination from mostly self-study, my son would have to spend three years in school learning things that he was not interested in learning.  He had decent grades, but in his first semester he decided that trying harder to achieve a long-term, largely fictional goal made no sense.  He quit! I was still tethered to what I thought was his life’s dream and was sad.  I was wrong.  He was happy when he quit. And I have learned that It can be very unsettling to reach a goal, and find that the goal is no longer desirable.

    It is also time to stop trying harder when you are physically and mentally exhausted from trying to achieve or save something to the degree that it consumes everything else in your life. When trying to hold on to a marriage that no longer works, a job that is unfulfilling, a friendship gone sour, takes everything else out of your life, it may be time to “give up.” Because of the childhood hot poker, voices in one’s head may be saying “never give up,” but to save your health, and perhaps your spirit, those voices need to be silenced. No one thing should ever take over all of one’s being.

    There is a time when it is an absolute necessity to stop trying.  If you want to do something that takes more than one person to accomplish, and, if there is no way to obtain the support needed from others, you will have to give up the goal however noble.  Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Joan of Arc, Yitzchak Rabin, for example, each had goals, and each championed a cause that was more than one person could accomplish, but all of them garnered followers. Even so, each died far before the goal was reached. Without followers, not one of the leaders mentioned would have succeeded. When there is a goal that you can’t reach alone, and absolutely no one to help, it is time to  stop trying.

    In situations where trying harder diminishes one’s self esteem, even more, when it deadens one’s spirit, it makes sense not to try harder; not to fix what externally is broken. Instead it is a time to be gentle with oneself. Rather than try harder, exercise self-compassion. These are things I have been thinking about lately. It seems that there is a time to reap, a time to sow, and maybe a time to do neither and just be kind to oneself.


  • 03/29/2018 3:33 PM | Lee Richmond

    The subject of forgiveness has attracted some interest on the part of persons in the helping professions. Since the American Psychological Association published the book, Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope by Enright and Fitzgibbons (2015), there has been increasing interest in the subject of forgiveness as it relates to wellbeing.  While this concept may be trendy and helped by positive psychology and positive counseling, the notion that forgiveness is related to hope and health has been around for a long time. In religion, a large amount has been written about this topic.  There one discovers many quotations, the most famous of which, at least in the Western world, is “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke: 23:24).  But choosing to love over hatred is not unique to Christianity.  In the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu) one finds the following: “If you want to see the brave, look to those who can return love for hatred.  If you want to see the heroic, look to those who can forgive.” Jews, in their bed time prayer, traditionally say, “I forgive all who have hurt me, all who have done me wrong, either deliberately or by accident, whether by word, deed or thought…”

    These sayings and hundreds more like them from world religions encourage forgiveness, not for the sake of heaven but for our own good. Nevertheless, there are several problems when it comes to bringing the words to life. For many people forgiveness phrases are so familiar that they became platitudes. Others think the love implied is so lofty that it is unattainable or unsustainable. Also, in religion, forgiveness is often associated with sin and is thus removed from the area of science and/or psychology, and clinical treatment.

    Although not concerned with atonement, clinicians are concerned with at-one-ment with self and with others, and this is where forgiveness therapy plays a part.  To define what is meant by forgiveness, and to turn words into beneficial and attainable action, it is best to make clear what forgiveness is not.  It is not forgetting, and it is not excusing. It is not something that weakens us and makes us vulnerable to future attack. Furthermore, it does not occur in one fell swoop. Rather forgiveness is a process that can occur when one first recognizes and names the wrongful behaviors directed to the self by the self or by others, or done to others by the self or others. More than just recognizing them, one must name them, own them, and then desire to free body and spirit of their burden.

    Forgiveness is a process, something we move toward, something we grow into, often as slowly as day by day, minute by minute. It is an acknowledgement of old, harmful thoughts, feelings, intentions and behaviors toward self or others and a turning away from them. While religious leaders preach forgiveness, our job is to help people through the process of forgiving.  We help clients name the offending person (self or other) and name the offense(s). Then we begin the process of helping the client re- tell the story from a frame of reference that allows turning from self-righteousness on the one hand or self-castigation on the other. In brief, it is a process of letting go of frustration or anger, sadness or blame; a process of beginning to see things from a different vantage point and in a new light. As counselors, we do not claim that this new light is more than a laying down of defenses, which frees up the energy formerly spent on the resentment.  The resentment prevents one from treating oneself and others with gentle kindness at least, and at best with love. Repairing what has been broken in relationships with self and others is the work of forgiveness. Helping clients take the practical steps toward reconciliation is our counseling work.

    There are three levels of forgiveness.  The mind operates at the first level when the wrongdoing is acknowledged and named.  Clients who reach this level have a recognition of the roots of their anger and frustration and a growing desire to find ways of alleviating the pain of it. At the second level, the level of the heart, clients seek some sort of reconciliation with the offender, whether the offender is self or other. In this area progress may be very slow because one must first accept the notion that it is usually possible to reconcile with self but may not be possible to reconcile with another. If, after thorough investigation, reconciliation with the other is deemed impossible, or, for special reason not desired, the client must reconcile the impossibility or undesirability with self, accept his or her new clarity of thought, and move on. The spirit is involved at the third level where action takes place. This is the level of reparation, when the client does what it takes to fix things. Counseling helps clients at every level by bringing clarity to their deep concerns, listening compassionately to the acknowledging of wrongdoing, reflecting changes of heart, and supporting new ways of living.


  • 02/18/2018 5:17 PM | Lee Richmond

    My recent blog about listening discussed how one’s cultural stance and geographic location influence thoughts related to meaning “Outside it is snowing, bitter cold, and chilling to the bone.” was the sentence used for example. This sample sentence needs be examined even more closely than it was explored in my previous blog because the full meaning conveyed by the words bone-chilling cold is impossible to express in very day talk.

    In my last blog the metaphor, bone-chilling, was examined relative to the weather. In common talk we could say bone-chilling may mean that it is very cold, or very, very cold, or so cold that one need wear thermal underwear beneath one’s sweater, jeans, and parka. However, none of these expressions will do! They do not catch the subtle sense of fear that inheres in the words. The emotional component of “bone-chilling,” is that which one feels when scared. Movies, books, videos of crime scenes, the sight of a high-speed car crash, violent acts against children, all are bone-chilling.

    A client who uses the words bone-chilling as in the sentence above, may refer to weather, but even so there is something else beside the cold that needs to be explored. Remember that it is not only what is said that the client wants the counselor to hear, but what is not said: feelings that can’t be expressed other than in special metaphoric talk.

    There is some question as to whether the ominous feeling conveyed by the metaphor is conscious or unconscious. The answer is probably both. The conscious mind knows that this snow was extraordinary. What may be hidden in the unconscious is that the bone-chilling cold may relate to death. After all, what is left after the death of the body is, in fact, cold bones. Please note that only what is conscious is the territory of counselors and most other mental health workers. The unconscious is left to trained psychoanalysts. However, effective counselors push the limits of consciousness though extreme listening. Our clients deserve no less.

    NOTE: Lee’s blog is written for the website:  www.PsyCoun.com.  On the home page there is a menu item called Lee’s blog. That blog is interactive allowing for your thoughts and comments. The blog features a different topic each month; one generally related to one or more of our workshops. Check it out. I look forward to reading what you say about the topic of the month.

  • 02/15/2018 8:28 AM | Lee Richmond

    Much of what we learn in professional preparation is the reflective response. We are told to listen carefully if we are to respond reflectively to both feeling and thought.  However, in most instances instructors in counselor education programs spend more time teaching the reflective response than teaching how to listen. There is an implicit expectation that because we have been listening and responding throughout our lives, as long as we learn to listen with accurate empathy and occasionally paraphrase we will obtain all of the material necessary to reflect upon.

    In fact, listening effectively and deeply is a skill that does need to be learned, and it is not easy. It is hard enough to listen for thoughts, feelings and intentions without listening for other things. However, to listen deeply takes more: it necessitates withdrawal from one’s own perception of things. We need to hold our own ideas in abeyance in order to recognize how the person speaking perceives the experience, thought, intention or feeling that he or she is trying to convey. In other words, we must perceive things as much as possible from the speaker’s frame of reference. This may sound simple, but it is not.  it requires an understanding of the culturally laden idiomatic and metaphoric language that is used.  For instance, examine the sentence that follows.  “Outside it is snowing, bitter cold, and chilling to the bone.” In ordinary language the words are easy to understand. After all, just about everyone has seen snow and has felt cold.  But, when one deconstructs the sentence and deciphers what each word means, one must consider context.  For example, examine the word, “outside”. Outside of what? Outside of the house, the place of work - these are the places commonly thought of.  However, outside could mean outside of a tent, an apartment, an igloo, or a means of transportation such as a train, bus, airplane, or ship.  And, geographically, where, is the location of “outside”? This is important to know, because in the sentence “outside” relates to snowing and to cold.

    In a Washington Post article titled “There really are fifty words for snow,” David Robson, lists some that are spoken in the Inuit tongue. What kind of snow is the snow in the sentence: light, heavy wet, dry? Furthermore, bitter cold is a metaphor that has various meanings depending on context. What is bitter cold to most people in Mississippi would probably not be described as bitter cold by most people in Minnesota. Temperatures that are bone chilling (another metaphor) in southern Alabama differ from bone chilling temperatures in northern Alaska. Furthermore a 20-degree sub-zero temperature may not be bone chilling in the Artic where people expect it and dress accordingly. Hence, the importance of the “check-out”.

    To give a response that is deeply reflective one must listen closely to the context of ordinary day to day language and even more closely to metaphor.  In poetry metaphor is meant to stir the imagination of the reader. Conversely, in counseling, meaning is in the mind of the client and not in the imagination of the counselor. The counselor needs to make certain that he or she can grasp what is in the client’s mind. For this to happen the counselor should ask insightful open-ended clarifying questions and not simply say “uh-huh” or “what I hear you saying is.” To further complicate the matter, idiomatic and metaphoric language are often culture-specific, thus difficult to decode if one is not from the culture of the speaker. For this reason, accurate reflection requires a slowing down, allowing for silence, contemplation, and enough trust in one’s intuition to not feel afraid of asking the questions that will make meaning visible.

    It is only when we know and understand that we can accurately reflect. Extreme listening is what we do in to unmask metaphor and recognize the cultural underlay that inheres in the idiomatic speech so often embedded in ordinary language. To hear both noise and nuance and distinguish one from the other while making sense of each in context, to listen not only to what is said, but also to what wants to be said, this is the not-so-easy mark of the experienced counselor.


  • 01/11/2018 7:31 PM | Lee Richmond

    There is an interaction between demographics and culture, economics and technology. All four play a role in the repetitive cycle of change. At present a major demographic shift is occurring in the United States where the fastest growing population is that of older Americans. Advances in public health enable people to live longer and work longer. Many older Americans want to work, not only for money, but to maintain purpose. This fact has not escaped the notice of the United States Senate which created a bi-partisan Special Committee on Aging, chaired by Senator Robert P. Casey (R-ME). Very recently the committee published a report that contained information counselors should contemplate. Below are some of the findings.

    First, the number of older workers is increasing at a faster pace than the rate of increase of the entire workforce. By 2025 older workers will account for one quarter of the entire labor force. Second, this group of workers will be diverse. Some will transition from full to part time work with their same or new employers.  Others will become self-employed. Third, and quoted directly from the report, work is linked with improved health and well-being. For many aging Americans, work provides a sense of purpose. In addition to financial security work is linked to physical, emotional, and cognitive health thus enhancing quality of life. Therefore, in making public its report, the intent of the Senate Aging Committee is to support the needs of aging workers and help them and their families achieve the personal and professional goals they set for themselves.

     The Massachusetts Institute of Technology houses an Age-Lab that collaborates with business and government in order understand the impact and opportunity offered by an aging workforce.  One of its objectives is to leverage technological and market innovation into public policy change, ensuring that technology’s promise is affordable and available all people regardless of income, education, or ability. The goal is to use technology to improve people’s lives. This technology will be innovative, ranging from robotic and/or prosthetic assists, to artificial intelligence and enhanced communication devices.  All of this sounds complex, but advanced technology institutes are equal to the task of helping older people remain viable in the workplace. They are creating the devices that will enable older people to do things that they could not otherwise do and, by so doing, drive the economics that will cause cultural change.

    Real cultural change, however, comes more slowly than technological advances. It requires a social climate change. Even though older workers bring skill, stability, and a sound work ethic, there are many challenges to be faced. While it is true that some corporations recognize and give lip service to the trend of an ageing workforce, not so many are taking positive action.  Although an increasing number of employers are allowing people to work past age 65, few are introducing processes that allow people to transition from full to part time work. Fewer are making provision for “leave time” for those who must work to support their families while at the same time are care takers for even older parents or for sick or dying spouses.

    In the today’s work place age prejudice and discrimination regarding the older worker still exist. However, we have reached the tipping point. People with canes and walkers will shortly outnumber people in baby carriages. Nevertheless, most young individuals do not realize the consequence of prejudice against older workers. If older people are drummed out of the workplace, fewer and fewer young people will need to support more and more older people. Technological advances may well make work, even labor, possible for the elderly, but only a change in social attitude will make it probable.  This is where counselors have work to do. Counselors, as educators, have a huge role to play in bringing about the end of age prejudice. For the good of all of us, the day of age discrimination in the workplace must end!

    When counselors advocate for aging workers, and truly understand what is at stake if we do not do so, there will be new avenues for career development and career counseling for a population previously undervalued and under-served.  The desire of aging Americans to find work for both financial stability and purpose will not only provide us with new clients, it will also afford us and them new opportunities for learning.  Enough said.  I urge all who read this blog to go to your computers and find and read the Report of the Senate Committee on Aging. Then, go to the site of the MIT Age-Lab and check it out, especially the resources. By understanding how the changing demographics of aging will affect us personally and our profession, we will be better able to help culture change in a positive direction.


  • 12/22/2017 6:05 PM | Lee Richmond

    If you look up the name of Helen. B. Taussig, you will find that she founded the field of pediatric cardiology and is famous for developing, in the 1940’s, a procedure called the Blalock-Taussig shunt. It saved the lives of countless “blue-babies” who would otherwise be doomed to death.  Needless to say when twenty years later I arrived at Hopkins in pediatric psychiatry as a mental health counselor intern, Dr. Taussig was a very famous physician. One day I saw her on an elevator. She was wearing a white doctor “coat.” I remember that her name was embroidered over the pocket red thread: Helen Taussig, MD.  I was in awe of her!

    Several days later I was actually introduced to her.  She asked me what I was doing in pediatric psychiatry and I told her that I was trying to learn to do therapy with children. She must have known that she had something to teach me, because one day she invited me to her home for tea. After a short sit in her tearoom, she suggested I accompany her to her greenhouse.  I did not know then that it was there that the lesson would be taught.

    Dr. Taussig had many plants and each one got individual and measured attention.  A little water here with some plant food, different plant food there with no water at all, and little or a lot of water for some other plants with varying amounts of this or that food.  We walked among the rows of plants in what seemed like utter silence until we reached the end. Then she said, “Children are like these plants. You have to nurture each one individually and give to each exactly what is needed, no more, but surely no less.” End of lesson one.

    Rarely did I see Dr. Taussig after that, only in passing, and never after my internship was done, but I did not forget her lesson nor how she taught it.  See each person as an individual, treat with care, and give exactly what is needed to nurture and facilitate growth.

    I learned the second lesson ten years later having had the good luck to be in a few day-long workshops with Viktor Frankl. The group was large. And the room was packed. One afternoon he talked about a specific incident. What happened follows.  One night at four AM Frankl was awakened by a stranger who called him on the telephone.  The stranger said that he had found Frankl’s name in the phone directory. The stranger also reported that he was going to commit suicide. “I listened to him for about an hour, as he gave reason after reason why he wanted to die,” Frankl said.  Finally, when the man gave no more reasons for wanting to end his life, Frankl elicited a promise that the “client” would not kill himself until after four o’clock the afternoon of the next day when an appointment was made for the two to talk face-to-face.

    At four the man appeared at Frankl’s office, no longer suicidal.  When Frankl asked had what happened in the intervening hours to cause the change, the man said that the change was in his thought process. He said that he marveled that if a stranger, a famous physician no less, would talk with him in the dead of night with no thought of remuneration and no request other than the meeting the next day take place, then the world could not be such a sorry place. Frankl’s availability had saved a life. Frankl became the man’s therapist. The man not only clung to life but began to thrive.  Lesson two: when people cry out in need, the only good response is “Here I am.” Frankl’s point; be there!

    “If you and I could live every moment with an awareness of our mortality, of the fact that sooner or later we will die, then we would live every breathing moment as if living and loving were the exact same thing,” said Elizabeth Kubler Ross in a master class that I was invited to attend. Kubler-Ross is known by many counselors as the “death and dying lady,” famous for outlining the psychological stages one goes through when learning of impending death. In the workshop that I attended, Dr. Kubler Ross talked only about life and how to live it.  Living and loving means living with gratitude and forgiveness.  It means being aware that you have only so many hours to live and to model living with love.

    Kubler-Ross did just that. She taught by the way she lived her own life.  It is not easy to work day after day with the dying, and then write and talk about it.  She said that she could embrace her calling only because being aware of her own impending death caused her to live with love. And thus, she taught lesson three: Be aware that you will one day die, so today, choose to love, and by loving, you choose life.  From this comes genuineness, respect, and empathy for your clients and yourself.

    Three lessons taught. Three lessons learned.

    Lee Richmond
    Principle, PsyCoun Institute

  • 01/19/2016 9:38 AM | Lee Richmond

    Psychotherapy depends on the fact that human beings react not to the facts or to experience per se, but to the meaning of these facts as they interpret them; so I’d say that psychotherapy is an effort to change people’s meanings from negative to positive through relationship with the therapist.

    -- Jerome D.  Frank, Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins Medical School

    When I looked at the headlines in the news today, the list that follows is what I read.

    • Desertions deplete Afghan forces, adding to security worries.
    • Asia stocks subdued after retreat in Europe, oil stays bearish.
    • Court acquits ex-Vatican official in money smuggling case.
    • Zika virus scare spreads as Brazil gears up for Carnival, Olympics.
    • Al Qaeda names fighters behind attack on Burkina capital.
    • Jail to Jihad: Indonesian prisons a breeding ground for militancy.
    • As U.S. marks MLK holiday, daughter says his dream not yet realized.

         Not too bad, I first thought. Today there are no threatened nuclear attacks, no new ISOL threats, no hijacked airlines, no mass killings…a good day.  Then I listened to what I was telling myself.   How can I call it a good day when racism still exists, when jihadists are becoming more militant, when Al Qaeda boasts about killing 29 people, when a religious official smuggles money, when markets crash around the world and when there is little to no security in Afghanistan.  I realized that I thought it a good day, only because the news is usually much worse.  Today’s world is filled with uncertainty at best, and terror at worse.  It is no wonder that last year, when on sabbatical I conducted a survey of school counselors in Maryland as to what were the current issues most bothering children and adolescents. The most bothersome issues for which they (the counselors) would need further training were trauma and anxiety. Not a surprise when the world is filled with so much uncertainty.

         Jerome Frank, speaking to counselors not long before his death had this to say, “Uncertain about the future, you lack your sense of mastery.  You feel that you are a victim of events. These are the emotions we all treat in psychotherapy. These emotions of anxiety and depression that most, if not all of our clients complain of, are at the root of demoralization and resentment.  Because the world is not treating me will, I feel helpless!”

          Jerome Frank was saying these things years ago. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at Hopkins.  But fortunately I also heard him speak of the antidote, which is helping the person, particularly the child, feel secure, valued and appreciated for whom the person is. Frank did not stop there. He talked about the importance of consistency, the importance of the predictability of that constancy, of being valued and appreciated, and he spoke of giving clients some activities that allow for a sense of responsibility and control.

        Frank mentioned that during World War II, children knew that Dads that were not serving in the army did duty as air raid wardens, and neighborhood patrols.  In reality, they could not stop bombs from falling, but they were doing something to give communities a sense of some control.  Later, during the cold war, there were again air raid drills and school children were told to sit with their heads down in “secure” spaces in school so that they would stay safe.  Of course there is no safety during a nuclear attack.  What was said was not true, but the “white lie” gave kids a sense of responsibility for self, and some sense of control.

        Frank defined mental health as the ability to withstand suffering and stress. An impossible task when there is neither consistency nor control: when most of the news of the world blurting boldly from our television screens shouts that we have no control.  But that too is a lie, and far more negative a lie than the “white lies” told to children years ago.  There is always something we can do to make us realize our importance to self, family, civic organizations, and, in the case of children, schools. We can learn to take responsibility for our immediate environment. Alone, we can’t change the world, but we can change the block on which we live, the place in which we work, the school in which we learn. If nothing else we can make it cleaner.  We can, together, take responsibility for demanding our news networks report good news in equal time with the bad and the scary.  We can be better and healthier people by being prudent about what we eat, how much we exercise and sleep. Good physical health lends to a sense of control. In the end we can at least be consistently responsible for managing ourselves.

       After teaching school counselors for many years, this I say to myself and to colleagues. Yes, learn what the research says about affect management and executive functioning in management of anxiety and trauma. These things are important, but it is equally important to heed the words of doctor Frank as paraphrased here. Good counseling is dependent on the fact that human beings react not so much to facts or to experience per se, but to the meaning of these facts as they interpret them. Therefore, we can help ourselves and others take control instead of harping that things are out of control. It may not be the whole truth, but I believe that my world and the world of my clients would be the better for it.


PsyCoun Consulting, LLC offers training and consulting services related to psychology, counseling, and career development to individuals, professionals, corporations, and educational organizations.  For more information contact: info@PsyCoun.com

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software