Adios, Canisius!

Adios, Canisius!

Hello, Canisius!

Wow! It’s hard to believe that I have officially completed my Masters degree! Two and half years of hard work and graduate school is a wrap!

That being said, this is also my very last blog post 🙁

Internship 1… So many great memories!

I don’t even know where to begin in talking about all of the things I truly love about Canisius.

I actually found Canisius pretty randomly. My high school counselor went here and when I decided to pursue a Masters in school counseling, I looked at her Facebook page and saw that she attended Canisius. I did very little research on the school and decided to apply about a week before I walked at my undergraduate commencement. I said my prayers and sent in my application, and about six weeks later I was accepted! My mother was the one to inform me of the news over the phone when she called and as soon as she read my acceptance letter, I said to myself: “You’re really moving to Buffalo.” Little did I know, this decision would be the most life changing choice I have made.

Internship 2… Many more great learning experiences and fun!

Over the past week, I have had the opportunity to speak to TWO students who are attending Canisius next year. One graduate student coming to the school counseling program and one high school student in one of the classes I coteach who is attending Canisius in the fall for business. The graduate student I saw seemed very excited and enthusiastic about starting her new experience. The high school student’s face lit up when he talked about starting at Canisius. I loved telling both incoming students how much I love Canisius and they seemed very appreciative of the fact that I spoke highly of the college. I found myself getting a little emotional at the thought of knowing that I will not be a student there anymore. I love having these experiences to share my love for learning, Buffalo, and Canisius with potential and incoming students. They have so much fire in their eyes and I know they want to be successful at Canisius.

At Canisius, I have had the opportunity to be in the presence of such inspirational people throughout the past few years. From positive professors and mentors to and encouraging college personnel, my life has been forever changed.

The Canisius counseling program has taught me to make mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning and growing. This started in my practicum and internship experiences. As I was practicing my skills and actually making mistakes, that is how I was LEARNING.

Celebrating with my closest friends and a former student and friend!

This program has taught me to extend myself and step outside of my comfort zone to open myself to novel experiences. I have done this in professional, social, and personal aspects of my life. I understand the importance and the value in engaging in experiences that may make me feel a little uncomfortable. Throughout my time at Canisius, I have been a part of various experiences that I never ever would have had the courage or mind-set to do had it not been for my experiences at Canisius College.

My cap! This shouldn’t surprise anyone!

I have recently been offered a job in Florida, and I am considering making this my step in my career. I think I had a I not been through this program, I never would have grown in to the woman I am today. I am so very thankful for the many experiences that Canisius has offered me to grow and learn both as a student but as a person.

Being a student blogger for the program has allowed me to represent Canisius as a student and as an individual. I have reflected on myself, my counseling skills, and my positive (and negative) experiences through my blog. I have met people and read about their own students at Canisius that I never would have done if I hadn’t blogged for my program. I remember when I received an email asking me to join the team and I was so excited to represent my college.

If you’re reading this as a potential graduate student, this is me telling you to GO FOR IT! Whether it be counseling, education, or any other program, Canisius is a great environment to learn and grow. If you’re still a student, keep soaking up Canisius. Graduation will come and you will look back and realize WHO you are.

Be who you are becoming.

Peace and love.

Demystifying Therapy Part 2: Homework

Demystifying Therapy Part 2: Homework

Homework is an interesting and wildly debated counseling phenomenon. Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Therapy, always incorporated homework into his counseling sessions. He did this for two reasons, the first of which was had to do with his own personal successes at finding change. He used to be dreadfully nervous around women and struggled relating to women and more particularly, asking women on dates. He put his counseling knowledge to the test by devising an experiment for himself. He spent all day in Central Park asking random women out for a date. To his surprise, several actually said yes to him, shattering his irrational belief that he was unable to get a date. He imported this process into his counseling practice by tailoring each homework assignment to his client’s needs. For instance, a client who is dysfunctionally obsessive about keeping his car clean may be asked to drive down a muddy country road and keep himself from cleaning the car for one night.

albert ellis

Albert Ellis

The second reason Ellis incorporated homework into his practice was due to the simple rationality that clients only see the counselor for one hour a week. Most change takes place outside of the counselor’s office due to the shear amount of time spent outside. So the counselor might as well direct how the client spend some of his or her time outside the counseling session. Of course, people will do what they want to do and mental health counselors will need to take this reality into account. This is why the proponents of Solution Focused Therapy insist that the “homework assignment” (more appropriately understood as the out-of-session solution to the client’s difficulty) should always come from the client since only then will the client actually follow through with the action.

Should homework assignments as used in counseling even be called “homework assignments?” While the idea of homework does convey the thought that the client is to work on therapy outside of the therapist’s office, it also implies that the work outside of the office MUST be completed and is for a grade, just like schoolwork. This is why Gestalt therapists use the word “experiment” in place of “homework.” That way the client is free to engage in the activity if he or she wants, or he or she could pass over this opportunity. In my own practice, I plan on referring to homework assignments as opportunities, activities, or experiments to avoid the negative connotation that my clients may have to the drudgery of past homework assignments. However, to avoid confusion, I’m going to refer to all such experiments as homework assignments for the entirety of this post.

toilet paper behind shoe

Homework in action. 

One of the more imaginative homework assignments that I have read about in the past was given to a client who thought that everyone was watching and judging her flaws. So the counselor ingeniously had her go to the restroom in a busy mall, stuff toilet paper in her shoe and allow about two feet of the paper to trail behind her. Then she walked around the mall, acting as normal as she could with such an embarrassing paper accessory. No one commented on it. However, the client then took the experiment to the next level and approached random strangers to ask them if they had noticed her bathroom blunder. To her astonishment, most had not even been aware of such an obvious “mistake.” This confirmed the irrationality of her thought that “everyone notices every little flaw that I have.”
However, what do counselors assign to clients who likely won’t benefit from such a bold and active experiment? Journal writing is a popular assignment, along with self-help reading (also known as “bibliotherapy”). Dr. Yalom, whom I’ve mentioned an affinity for before, once assigned a dream journal to a particularly uninsightful client to great effect, since his unconscious existential needs and desires communicated through his graphic dreams.

In short, a client who seeks counseling should expect to put in some work outside of the counselor’s office to promote real and lasting change.

Demystifying Therapy Part 1: The First Session

Demystifying Therapy Part 1: The First Session

This is the first in a series of posts aimed at demystifying the counseling process so that people who believe they may benefit from counseling will know what to expect and why.

When beginning counseling, the perspective client’s first stop is usually to talk to the receptionist. There the client will make his or her appointment to complete the intake form and to meet the counselor for the first counseling session.

maze

Surveying the maze of the human mind

Usually, counselors are not chosen by the client. They are most often chosen by a combination of the receptionist and the joint schedules of the client and the counselors. The receptionist attempts to place new clients with the counselor with the lightest caseload (the one seeing the fewest clients). However the schedule of open times in combination with when the client can come into the office, may end up interfering with this ideal plan. Despite all of this, a perspective client may attempt to request a certain counselor that he or she knows already (perhaps the counselor was recommended by another client) or the client can present what he or she wants in a counselor and hope that the schedule will permit a session with the counselor that most meets the client’s need. This latter issue sometimes occurs when clients want a counselor of a particular gender, ethnicity, or religious belief system. While having a counselor of a similar background to the client can aid in the client’s initial trust and be a tremendous boon in the beginning stages of the therapeutic relationship, all counselors are trained to empathize with all clients and our relationship skills are easily generalized to wildly different clients. Therefore, knowing which counselor will be most useful with which client is merely guesswork; transference and counter-transference can both aid or hinder the therapeutic relationship. For instance, a female client who is having difficulty with her relationship with her boyfriend, may have an easier time opening up to a female counselor unless that counselor reminds her of her overly critical mother.

The intake form itself can be long and tedious or it can be simple and short. At Canisius, perspective clients are told to arrive twenty minutes early to their first session to complete their intake form. The form will cover basic demographic questions such as gender, ethnicity, and family of origin along with, contact information, basic wellness questions such as amount of sleep, exercise, and nutrition, in addition to mental health questions. The mental health questions nearly always include brief assessments on such issues as substance abuse, suicidal and homicidal thoughts, level of anxiety or depression, and the presence of voices or hallucinations. This form can be completed at a computer or with pen and paper. However, if the intake form is to be completed on the computer, then the designated computer is usually located in the counseling center. The reason for this location is that questions about the form can be answered by the receptionist and because the counselors can intervene if the client starts reacting to the intake form. This final scenario occurs on the rare chance that some problems surface as the client answers the questions; giving fragile clients an anxiety attack.

Finally the client is ready for the first session. The counselor will first introduce him or herself, go over the limits of confidentiality, and then ask the client what his or her goals for both the counseling relationship and for that particular hour. The counselor will hold everything the client says in complete confidence unless the client leads the counselor to believe that he or she will kill himself or someone else, discloses that a member of a vulnerable population has been or is being abused, or if the counselor is subpoenaed in court. The rest of the session will likely involve the counselor asking the client to elaborate on whatever the client or counselor deem important on the intake form so that they can hammer out a purpose for their next few sessions.

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Therapy

The session will likely end with some sort of what Albert Ellis calls a “homework assignment.” This is usually some form of concrete experiment or work that the client can do in-between sessions. Some assignments include mundane activities such as starting a nightly journal, or starting a daily exercise regimen. However, more imaginative and confident counselors may offer up bold experiments such as asking the client to walk around a busy mall with toilet paper dragging behind him or her in an effort to see if people notice. Homework is an essential part of most counseling experiences. Doing this assignment will keep the client reflecting about what was said in the counseling session throughout the week, tying the client over until the next session.

Why counselors in-training seek counseling

Why counselors in-training seek counseling

As counselors in training, all of my colleagues have been told to seek counseling for themselves at some point or another. Most of us have taken our professors up on that offer.

One of the reasons for this recommendation from our professors is so that we can empathize with our clients. Going to a complete stranger and pouring out all of our problems takes a lot of courage. Allowing this specially trained individual into the darkest parts of our mind puts any client in a place of immense emotional vulnerability. Since we have been clients ourselves, we know how this vulnerability feels and how much courage we need to be able to take our interpersonal defenses down.

Individual Counseling

individual counseling

Another reason that many of us choose to go to counseling is because we should only ask our clients to do as much as we would be willing to do. If we are unwilling to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with a stranger, then we cannot expect our clients to do this either. This same line of thinking goes with other suggestions that we might make to our clients. For instance, right now I am struggling to both meditate and exercise daily, despite knowing all of the mental and physical benefits of each. Since I know how difficult developing new habits is for me, I know that expecting a client to do this is unrealistic.

An additional reason that counselors in-training often seek out counseling is because we know the value of counseling. We are going to be counselors ourselves, so we believe that counseling can change lives. We may disagree about how lives are changed through the counseling process, but we all agree that somehow, the relationship changes people, and we want that change for ourselves. We want to become more functional, more genuine, more open, more confident human beings and we see counseling as the on-ramp onto the faster-moving highway of life, more free of the potholes and pitfalls of the beaten paths.

choices

choices

Finally, we seek counseling here at Canisius because it is free. Of course this in itself is not unique to Canisius. I know that my undergrad university, Ball State University, as well as the University of Buffalo, each offer free counseling, or rather, counseling that is paid for by the student’s tuition. However, I also know that at Ball State, the counseling was mostly done through the graduate students in their program. The Counseling Center at Canisius is done only with professional counselors who are licensed. This fact sets Canisius ahead of other universities since our students are in the best hands that they possibly can be.

Counseling is simply a relationship in which one person is professionally trained in how to encourage growth in the other person. If you are thinking of entering into one of these relationships, try it out. Especially if you are thinking about, or actually are pursuing mental health as a professional career.

Indiana in the news

Indiana in the news

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am from Indiana. As anyone who isn’t living under a rock knows, Indiana and our esteemed governor Mike Pence, have passed a new law called the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. This new law is very controversial and because of that, the facts have been muddled. So, since I’m not a political or legal expert I’m not going to talk the specifics of this law. Instead, I’m going to discuss about what I do know, my experience.

Hoosiers against the RFRA

Hoosiers against the RFRA

Most of the country has perceived the citizens of the humble state of Indiana to be as discriminatory as their new law. In fact, the Governor of New York has announced a ban on non-essential public travel to my home state. I believe that this is a bit extreme, however, as any good politician would do, I believe Governor Andrew Cuomo is playing off the political climate for his own benefit. I must of course say that not everyone in Indiana thinks this way. I know this from both personal experience and from my own beliefs and thoughts as an Indiana resident. In fact many residents opposed the creation of this new law, but our law makers, who we elected, decided that we needed this law. My Facebook feed has been filled with my friends arguing in both directions of the law. Even in our local government, views of this law are not unanimous. The mayor of Indianapolis has publicly opposed this law. Personally I find the law unnecessary, intentionally controversial, and divisive. I believe politicians have hijacked the Christian faith to further their career and that Christians should stop emulating them and instead emulate the more open and Chist-like people I have met here at Canisius.

The people here have been accepting and loving. I have never felt more welcome than here at Canisius. I have spoken to a couple Jesuits and people of other faiths about my personal beliefs which are not in agreement with theirs. However instead of trying to convert me, defensively arguing with me, or just leaving the conversation, these wonderful people have engaged me in conversation out of genuine curiosity and left their contact information for further conversations. We all have a great deal to learn from each other and this new law shuts down the conversation by allowing businesses to keep those they interact with to mirrors of themselves.

Hoosiers for the RFRA

Hoosiers for the RFRA

My personal experience leads me to believe that not all people of Indiana are close-minded or bigoted. On the contrary, many of my friends from back home are loving and accepting people. However I should mention that the conservative Christians that I met in New York are nearly identical to those in Indiana. They made me feel that I needed to live and believe like them to be completely accepted. This similarity between those of the same faith in different states leads me to logically conclude that the teachings of conservative Christianity either attracts already close-minded people or slowly molds previously open people into the kind of people who would refuse to help or even hinder two people of the same gender in their marriage. However, I must also assert that conservative Christians whom I have spent a great deal of time with in both states are also greatly loving. One gave me an extra bed he had. Once we went to a member’s house to help him pave his gravel driveway. Conservative Christians are not unloving, but in my experience and from my time as a conservative Christian, we can be resistant to accepting people and ideas that stretch our view of the world.

What have been your experiences with conservative Christianity or with the people of Canisius?

Teaching from a Counseling Perspective

Teaching from a Counseling Perspective

Hello, Canisius friends!

I am settling into my “new position” at Sweet Home and could not be happier! While I have experienced a few challenges already, I have experienced great moments of connection with my students. While I was a substitute teacher the past few years, I have NEVER denied students the ability to go to the counseling center. That is how I always used my counseling knowledge in the classroom when I first started in the counseling program. As I advanced in my classes, I am able to use my counseling skills in the classroom a different way…

1) I encourage students to talk to each other and look at each other. While I have not done this yet as a special education teacher, I have done it as a substitute teacher in other settings. In my counseling classes, when working with groups (and in our classes) we tell our clients to talk to each other. This makes clients feel cared for and important and that he or she is a part of something beneficial to them.

2) Empathizing with students who struggle. I have quite a few students who struggle academically with reading and writing. In my experience, many teachers do not understand why students have a hard time completing work. I want my students to understand that it’s OKAY to have a hard time and that I am there to support them. I find myself being very empathetic and understanding and saying things like “I understand this is hard.” Many of them begin to relax once I say something like that.

3) Offer assistance with college preparations. Many of my students are community college bound and are applying for admission to college and scholarships. Some struggle to understand the application, which is where I can assist them as a teacher, but also use my counseling experience and knowledge to be a better resource for them.

4) When I was at my counseling internship, my supervisor was always asking students “Is there anything you need at home?” because many students had needs. While teaching the past few weeks I’ve found myself asking questions such as “Do you need anything?” and “What can I do to make you more successful?” Those are natural questions for both teacher and counselors.

I could go on and on about how much I love working with students, but my FAVORITE part is realizing when students are starting to trust you, open up to you, and seek you out for help. It is honestly the most amazing feeling in ANY educational profession. I honestly feel like a “better teacher” because of my counseling experience and I would not trade this for the world.