Looking for Racial Identity: An Interview with Mary White

Utilizing the Helms White Racial Identity Model created by Janet Helms, the following description of Mary White (pseudonym) is based on the observation of verbal and nonverbal cues from an interview with Mary conducted in the fall of 2011.  Mary White is a 32-year-old, Caucasian American, divorcee with no children.  Keeping in mind the six statuses as proposed by Janet Helms, the interview with Mary set-out to discern her racial identity and attitudes to include her biases, prejudices, conflicts, tolerance, etc.

Mary was an extremely willing participant of the racial identity interview.  Her interest in the interview was shown through her expression as Mary immediately displayed a certain confidence of which I initially could not discern the reasoning.  This confidence, however, was the first of several cues that eventually led to my description of Mary’s identity.  Quickly identifying herself as a White American she explained an abbreviated version of her life history—growing up in South Carolina to a White mother and father and having a “pretty normal, average life.”  She was taught that all people were “equal” and, despite ever feeling that she experienced racism, did acknowledge that it exists.  Through her teen years her contact with races other than her own was limited to casual encounters in public places and exposure through media.  Mary claimed that there were a total of 3 Black people and “maybe ten or so” Hispanics that attended her school (K-12).  She recalls that one of the Black persons who attended her school was an athletic female who came to the school in tenth grade and happened to be in Mary’s class until graduation.  Mary remembered this individual as friendly and when asked about her relationship with the individual stated, “I would consider us to have been friends.  We never really hung out exclusively, but I’d say we were friends.  We held small talk… about to the degree that I had with most of my classmates vice my real good friends.”  She admitted to never having a “real” interest in dating a non-White person, but only considered her lack of interest to be a result of a lack of commonality and physical attraction.  “It’s not that I wouldn’t or won’t date a Black man, it’s just that I don’t typically find them to be attractive.  I have yet to really meet a person of another race that has similar interests as me.  Additionally, I don’t even think I was introduced to a non-White male my age until after I was married.”  I concluded this topic of conversation by asking Mary her opinion concerning interracial dating/marriages.  Shrugging her shoulders, she retorted that the idea doesn’t bother her at all, stating, “it’s really up to the people involved, it’s really none of my business… whatever makes a person happy.”  At this point I had already identified Mary’s Contact Status as well as noticed certain mild characteristics of disintegration.

As the interview progressed, I moved towards probing into Mary’s marriage.  Mary claimed to be “a little shy in school when it came to interacting with boys.”  She remained “single” until she started dating John during her senior year of high school (John was a junior at that time).  John was white and shared similar interests as Mary.  In fact, Mary and John had known each other since John came to Mary’s school a year earlier, as they were members of the girls’ and boys’ tennis teams respectively.  Mary explained that she and John rarely discussed race, but she had always assumed their view of the subject was similar.  She did always notice that, in casual conversation, when John described an individual of another race he always included the person’s race in the description of the person.  Mary said that this cognitive inclusion stood out to her because she felt she rarely ever did that herself.  Mary claimed that her own exclusion of race as a descriptive measure was not purposeful; “it’s just the way I’ve always been” she exclaimed.  It appeared that even at 32-years-old, and despite claiming to acknowledge racism, Mary had not moved into the statuses of Pseudo-Independence, Immersion/Emersion nor Autonomy as described by Helms.

Mary’s relationship and five-year marriage ended with John eight years ago when she was 24-years-old.  She feels that the marriage “fell apart because they had tried hard to have a child with no luck and he (John) had gotten really involved with his job.”  She explained that John claimed they “had grown apart over the years,” whereas her mother claimed that she and John “married too young.”  Since that time, Mary has dated “a few men.”  Not to my surprise, none of these dates were with a person of a non-White race.  Despite her persistence with dating men of her own race, her interaction with members of various races had increased over the last ten or so years.  This increase in interaction began when she attended college, where she saw “several people of a variety of races around campus.”  However, having been married at the time, she commuted to college and only attended classes.  “In general, I only interacted with classmates and that interaction was typically mandated by group projects,” explained Mary.  Mary has worked at her local community bank since college.  She works with mostly white females; however, there is one White male and two Black females who currently work with her in the bank.  Mary claims that “most of our customers are White, but there are people of every race that come to the bank nearly every day.”  It was at this point that I was concerned that, despite Mary’s excitement with participating in the interview, it seemed her state of oblivion limited a complex dissertation regarding her Racial Identity.  Despite my concern, however, it was also during this stage of the interview that the quality of Mary’s racial socialization became evident.

Considering Mary’s limited interaction with non-White races, I began more deliberate questioning regarding her understanding and knowledge of races and, in particular, racism.  Her basic stand on racism was that “slavery was a long time ago but it’s evident that not everyone feels that all races are equal.”  As she continued to claim her own acceptance of all races, she attempted to vet her declaration by stating that she studied about racism in both high school and college.  She experienced classroom debates that often created a great deal of emotion in various classmates.  During these debates she felt a bit removed from emotionality, and Mary was often standoffish in such class discussions.  When asked to explain her opinion of reparations, Mary said, “I know it causes a lot of debate.  Even at my job I’ve heard that the management has to have minorities on the staff.  I don’t really care who I work with as long as they are proficient.”  When I asked her if she had ever heard of anyone being hired simply because they were a member of a minority race despite interviewing against White’s who were more qualified, she said she doesn’t really think that happens.  Mary maintained a naïve attitude regarding the reality of the current level of prejudice and racism present in society.  Despite her potential for Autonomy, being generally knowledgeable of the historical context of racial issues, Mary maintained a very selective perception.  For example, she acknowledged no reason for herself or society to “help non-White races any more than Whites”, showed little vigilance for Immersion/Emersion and was overall inflexible, denying herself the attainment of Autonomy.  In general terms, I concluded that Mary was suspended in the Contact Status.  Despite being knowledgeable of racism, she remained oblivious to and unaware of racism in today’s society.  She explained how she felt as if she was “a fair and impartial person” in regard to race, and claimed that to her “race is not important.”

In conclusion, through the interview with Mary White I was reminded of the various degrees to which persons in society are truly unaware of the issues of racism that exists today.  It is my assertion that with Mary, her life experiences (or lack of) have weighed much heavier in the determination of her Racial Identity than any influence of media, education or publication.  For some people, even direct experiences with racism may remain unacknowledged despite a general knowledge of the subject.  In summation, Mary seemed to be a person who had inadvertently been successful at abandoning racism; however, she lacked any significant development of a nonracist White identity.  In layman’s terms, Mary’s interview suggested she was “obliviously non-racist.”  Due to Mary’s obliviousness to racial dynamics, it proved difficult to assess her methods for coping with such dynamics (thus challenging to assess any status other than Contact), yet Mary in turn was the quintessential reference for the Contact Status.

References

Helms, J.E. (1997). Implications of Behrens for the validity of the White Racial Identity Attitude Scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 44, 13-16.

Helms, J.E. (1999). Another meta-analysis of the White Racial Identity Attitude Scale.  Measurement and Evaluations in Counseling and Guidance, 32, 122-137.

Helms, J.E. & Carter, R.T. (1991). Relationships of White and Black racial identity attitudes and demographic similarity to counselor preferences. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38, 446-457.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache Williams

Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

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Counseling with Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is, without a doubt, required of clinicians who provide therapy to culturally diverse clients.  The acquisition of both knowledge and skills, but moreover, the ability to deal with powerful emotional reactivity and unconscious biases associated with race are incumbent (Sue, 2010).  When counseling clients who are culturally different, the competent therapist must be aware of the possibility of being uncertain regarding therapeutic discussions of sensitive topics.  In order for a clinician to be culturally competent and provide effective therapeutic assistance, one must be knowledgeable of cultural needs, to include language, religion, food, racial identity, and customs (Allain, 2007).

Throughout your professional career a continual effort should be placed on seeking total cultural competence, especially concerning the cultures that will primarily comprise your clientele.  As I have not exactly nor assuredly settled into my foreseen client-base, for comparative purposes I will refer to Fairfield County, South Carolina in this composition, as this is the location of many of my relatives.  The demographics of this area (as interpreted from the United States Census Bureau) possess a different skew than the United States, as well as the state of South Carolina, in that African Americans at 59% of the population are the majority race, followed by Whites at 39%.  American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian and multiracial individuals comprise less than 2% collectively, while an estimated 1.5% of these individuals are of Hispanic origin.

In addition, the percentage of poverty in Fairfield County is 24%, whereas the United States average is near 15%.  While Fairfield County is diverse, it is so in its own right.  The dynamics of this population create cultural norms that are not necessarily reflected by the perception of American culture at large.  A therapist working in this area must understand the intricacies of the cultures, to include cultural beliefs and values based on race, poverty and the availability of resources.

Taking a look at Fairfield County’s majority.  When any helping professional provides counseling to an individual of African American culture, there are several factors one must keep in the forefront in order to reach successful therapeutic treatment.  The primary factor is that of cultural competence, as it would be when counseling a member of any culture.  However, the therapist’s cultural competence is vital to the treatment of African Americans as it is quite common for an individual from this cultural background to be misdiagnosed, and subsequently incorrectly counseled.  This is often the result of the impact their culture’s history, racism, and oppression have had on their individual personality, as well as to their entire group as a national minority.  Although the clinician, no matter their race, will be unable to dispel any opinions the African American individual may harbor regarding discrimination, it remains their responsibility to aid the individual in attaining cultural acceptance—within their cultural group, as well as all others—and ultimately establishing their autonomy.

Therapists should abide by an obligation to aid the client in constructing the framework leading to development of the client’s autonomy.  This is especially the case when counseling individuals in the African American culture, where it is vital for them to become self-aware and fully autonomous as this quality will allow them the capability of personally conquering the effects of discriminatory encounters and the spectrum of microagressions they are guaranteed to continue facing.  In order for a clinician to aid in the process of developing racial identity in persons of color, the therapist must guide them in establishing a passive acceptance of the self as inferior, and then facilitate the client to overcome internal racism and develop a self-affirming identity (Constantine, 2005).

When the minority is the majority, such as the case of African Americans in Fairfield County, the therapeutic approach and methodology to counsel these individuals cannot be based solely on their role as a United States minority group, but also their role as a regional majority.  The primary adjustment to therapeutic intervention regarding this cultural group involves understanding the effects of, and relationship between, the national and regional cultures through the eyes of the individual.

The national majority.  For a clinician to successfully treat members of the Caucasian American culture, they must again utilize their cultural competence when formulating the framework to develop the well-being of these individuals.  In regard to the general population of the United States, Caucasians are the majority culture group.  And in this light, the therapist’s objective would be to guide them in becoming more culturally aware, as well as to increase their own self-awareness.  This would allow them to gain understanding in their typecast role as “oppressor,” acknowledging their unearned assets that constitute White privilege, and adjust their viewpoint with the goal of eliminating any harbored microagressions.

The therapist should assist them in understanding that the source of their conscious or unconscious racism is a result of their culture’s attempt to earn societal prestige through the control and dominance of cultures dissimilar to theirs.  And, according to the Psychoanalytic approach, racism surfaces to serve as a defense mechanism of the ego and superego out of one’s fear of loneliness (Utsey, 2002).  For Whites, as well as other groups, the attribution of cultural differences to minorities is a hidden expression of racial prejudice (Vala, 2009).

The majority as a minority.  Often referred to as the majority, the Caucasian cultural group in many smaller communities represents the minority.  In these instances, therapeutic approaches need to adjust due to the fact that many of these individuals have difficulty dealing with the sense that they are seeking racial acceptance from the majority culture, while they are experiencing discrimination.  In many instances, one’s racial attitude is an attempt to manage an underlying anxiety associated with one’s intolerance of the dissimilar (Utsey, 2002).  A therapist in this situation may find members of the White culture to be anxiety-ridden due to their inability to control the majority culture—which will in fact be a national minority group.  Many of the areas where these inverted racial demographics exist are more likely to be impoverished.  With a poverty level higher than the United States national average, some of the predominant issues for Whites in these areas are the difficulties stemming from their socioeconomic status.  In these situations, it is likely that a great deal of Caucasian individuals are dealing with the denial of their Whiteness because of their shared socioeconomic status with African Americans and other national minority groups.

White privilege in these regions relies predominantly on one’s financial success; and because many Whites have not attained any substantial financial successes, it is more difficult to identify White privilege (Sue, 2010).  Also, when Whites are the minority group, they are likely to be self-conscious of appearing racist; for example, it is highly unlikely that one would exhibit overtly racist behaviors if they are one of only seven White children in a class of forty-five students.

The Hispanic population.  When functioning at a high level of cultural competence, a therapist treating an individual with a Hispanic cultural background understands the importance of being perceived as a knowledgeable and authoritative therapeutic professional.  Likewise, these individuals should be aware that Hispanics are a heterogeneous culture, in that it comprises Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and several more ethnic groups, each with their own cultural values.  Therapists must be knowledgeable of these various cultures, and that their primary similarity is that of sharing the same language; this makes effective intervention and treatment contingent upon understanding the dimensions of the specific client (Altarriba, 1994).  The culturally competent clinician is also cognizant of the importance of addressing familial issues with the father of the family system, as Latinos are a highly patriarchal culture.  In addition, the clinician should understand the significance of the structure of the entire extended family, as it is common for Hispanic households to include other family members, not solely the nuclear individuals.  This family environment also plays a large role in the socialization of the children (Altarriba, 1998).

The role of the therapist also includes being open to alternative approaches to therapy, such as prayer and incorporating priests, as often the role of religion has a significant impact on the Latino family.  It is also necessary for the culturally aware clinician to formulate the aspect of immigration into his or her therapeutic approach.  Even in cases where the family or individual currently seeking counseling may not have immigrated into the U.S., there is the possibility that they have family members residing in their native country which impacts their current emotions and viewpoints.  Furthermore, those who have immigrated have suffered through geographically separating themselves from many social or familial support systems which were previously established (Smart, 2001).

The therapist’s role, when working with Latinos, is also to aid with their assimilation with other cultures of the region, this includes the therapist and client being linguistically compatible.  In many instances, Hispanic immigrants deal with their own language barrier within their household, as the parents tend to prefer speaking Spanish in the home, and the children (especially if born in the U.S.) may primarily speak English.  The problem this presents to bilingual therapists is that the clinician tends to serve as merely the interpreter for both parties.  Another risk associated with the bilingual therapist is in the aspect of dialect—if the therapist’s predominant language is English and they had to learn the Spanish as a second language, they must be fluent in a manner that displays the same authority and competency while speaking in the client’s language (Sciarra, 1991).

Although Hispanics represent the largest minority group in the United States, there are communities where the Hispanic population is less representative such as in Fairfield County, SC where they comprise less than 1.7% of the population.  One objective for the therapist, when counseling a member of Hispanic culture, is to foster the client’s cultural awareness of their own cultural group as well increase their awareness of other minority and majority cultures.  In essence, the therapeutic approach should include efforts to establish their acculturation.  Hispanic individuals may need assistance from helping professionals simply because there is not a large preexisting population of Latinos where they reside, or in the surrounding areas.  The primary discriminatory encounters they experience will originate from their skin color, illegal immigration, and reliance on physical labor due to the persistent language barriers (Smart, 2001).  In areas where they are the overwhelming minority, the root of their cultural issues often resides in their constant search for acceptance and sense of belonging within the community, and among the other cultural groups.

Multiracial groups.  Aside from the African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic cultures, one must also consider multiracial groups, as they hold 1.7% of the United States population.  Individuals in this group tend to have their own issues, to include having several identities and not being one-dimensional (Allain, 2007).  When requiring therapeutic assistance, they tend to bring a complex set of issues.  The concept of culture will remain critical to therapists, as cultural roots are often maintained through parental socialization (Leong, 2010).  When working with multicultural groups, therapists can generally model their approach by assessing the client’s racial and cultural identity development and forming a therapeutic alliance by gauging the client’s sensitivity to verbal and nonverbal cues.  The therapist also formulates his methodology by assessing how the client identifies themselves collectively, individually, as well as how one’s family values affects the client (Delgado-Romero, 2001).

Often, in order for a therapist to develop a financially successful professional practice, it is essential to provide adequate therapy to both majority and minority cultures as well as cultures which differ from their own.  To progress in doing this, it is necessary to conduct research to develop knowledge in a systematic way (Arzubiaga, 2008).  In therapists’ attempts to obtain cultural competence, many run the risk of being superficial and counterproductive if they remain underdeveloped in the area of cultural sensitivity.  The implementation of cultural competence and sensitivity offer a more rigorous and reflective methodology and therapists must keep that in mind.  It is not necessary to become an expert on any particular culture, but rather to concentrate on being aware of one’s own perspective.  As therapists, the utilization of critical thinking is vital to understanding how one’s own perspective can affect their ability to acknowledge and understand differing perspectives (Allain, 2007).  Finally, be aware that culture is not simply race, and it is my belief that economic status in many instances holds an equal, if not greater, effect on ones manifestations which define their cultural identity.

References

Allain, L.  (2007).  An investigation of how a group of social workers respond to the cultural needs of black, minority ethnic looked after children.   Practice, 19(2), 127-141.

Altarriba, J., Santiago-Rivera, A. L.  (1994).  Current perspectives on using linguistic and cultural factors in counseling the Hispanic client.  Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 25(4), 388-397.

Altarriba, J., Bauer, L. M.  (1998). Counseling the Hispanic client: Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, and Puerto Ricans.  Journal of Counseling & Development, 76(4), 389-396.

Arzubiaga, A. E., Artiles, A. J., King, K. A., Harris-Murri, N.  (2008). Beyond research on cultural minorities: Challenges and implications of research as situated cultural practice.  Exceptional Children, 74(3), 309-327.

Constantine, M. G., Warren, A. K., Miville, M. L.  (2005). White Racial Identity Dyadic Interactions in Supervision: Implications for Supervisees’ Multicultural Counseling Competence.   Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(4), 490-496.

Delgado-Romero, E. A.  (2001). Counseling a Hispanic/Latino client—Mr. X.  Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 23(3), 207-221.

Leong, F. T. L., Leung, K., Cheung, F. M.  (2010). Integrating cross-cultural psychology research methods into ethnic minority psychology.  Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 16(4), 590-597.

Sciarra, D. T., Ponterotto, J. G.  (1991). Counseling the Hispanic bilingual family: Challenges to the therapeutic process.  Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 28(3), 473-479.

Smart, J. F., Smart, D. W.  (1995). Acculturative stress of Hispanics: Loss and challenge.  Journal of Counseling & Development, 73(4), 390-396.

Sue, D. W., Rivera, D. P., Capodilupo, C. M., Lin, A. I., Torino, G. C.  (2010). Racial dialogues and White trainee fears: Implications for education and training.  Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 16(2), 206-214.

Utsey, S. O., McCarthy, E., Eubanks, R., Adrian, G.  (2002). White racism and suboptimal psychological functioning among White Americans: Implications for counseling and prejudice prevention.  Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 30(2), 81-95.

Vala, J., Pereira, C., Costa-Lopes, R. (2007).  Is the attribution of cultural differences to minorities an expression of racial prejudice?  International Journal of Psychology, 44(1), 20-28.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Systemic Thinking versus Linear Thinking

Systemic thinking versus linear thinking

The distinguishing difference between systemic thinking and its linear counterpart is the basis on which each is derived, which is causality.  Linear causality takes a direct approach and is more scientifically driven with its emphasis on cause and effect.  This school of thought encourages the idea that one’s behavior results in an effect on either that individual or another closely related (i.e. nuclear family members).  Systemic thinking occurs at the opposite end of the therapeutic spectrum.  The primary concept for which systemic thinking is centered is that of circular causality.  Circular causality is in fact the antithesis of linear causality in that an individual’s behavior is not only the result of one relationship or event, but also the result of all emotional relationships with one’s system.  The basic cycle is that the functionality of the system has an affect on one individual, then that individual’s emotionality and behavior then has an affect on the system.  The systemic approach also takes into consideration the broad variety of possibilities for a client’s functionality—familial relationships, nodal events, social happenings, etc.  This is a predominant reason that, therapeutically, systemic thinking seems to be more beneficial as it is holistic, as opposed to the idea of simply treating one behavioral or psychological issue.  Also, by involving a client’s family of origin—whether present during therapy sessions or by dissecting a genogram—clinicians are able to aid the client in understanding the origin of the issue, how it has been perpetuated, and then properly guide the client through treatment allowing them to be objective in their system.  This results in a lesser likelihood of continuing or creating multi-generational patterns of behavioral or psychological issues.

So, how is the systemic approach applied to families? And how is it different from individual therapy?

When adhering to the avenue of systemic therapy, the clinician must tailor his therapeutic approach to an individual’s family, not simply the individual.  Commonly family systems therapists will have the client create a genogram depicting not only the individual’s family of origin, but also several generations of his or her familial lineage in order for them to begin to grasp the possible origin of their issue, as well as to signify any multi-generational behavioral patterns.  For example, after studying one’s genogram, it may become apparent that the client’s behavior could be attributed to the role one of their parents held in their own family of origin.  For instance, the client has developed an alcohol dependency to aid in coping with his mother’s deteriorating health.  The client’s mother was the oldest of five children in a family where both parents were alcoholics.  The inability of her parents to fulfill their parental roles left her as the primary caregiver.  She now has a husband who spends a great deal of time traveling for his employer, as well as four children of her own.  Again, being the primary caregiver in her home has inevitably resulted in her absorption of familial anxiety and has recently begun developing symptoms causing her health to rapidly decline.  This results in her child—who has a significant dependence on her—being unable to operate at a high level of differentiation, thus developing a substance abuse problem.  By the therapist uncovering this information, the client’s family of origin can now become involved in therapy to promote positive change in the entire family system.  Whereas, in individual therapy, the client may have solely been treated for the alcohol dependency, preventing the potential for an overall positive adjustment for the system, as well as increasing his risk for relapse as his level of differentiation has not been improved.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Case Notes: Task or Tool?

Fields of Knowledge_Case Notes

If you have been providing therapy to clients with any longevity you have at some point questioned whether your approach to a given case was the culprit responsible for therapeutic stagnation. You may have chosen to switch your approach, integrate tenants of other models or refer the client(s) elsewhere.

You’re not alone in your desire to be the one who gets to witness a client’s transformation. However, most therapists understand that there is inevitably a time where they are not adequately equipped to handle a specific case. Unless there is an ethical dilemma with a particular client, therapists should (using good judgment) accept the clients that arrive for help.

I believe this because the person seeking help is present and in action. Any time a client leaves there is no guarantee that they will be back. Likewise, once a client is turned-away there is no guarantee they will contribute a similar effort again.

With this said, it is incumbent upon therapists to be equipped to supply the demand. At the least, the consultation process should include active listening, empathy and the sharing of hope and optimism. Whether the next step is session number two or a referral, therapists should feel that they have done everything possible to leave the client with a realistic impression of the therapeutic process.

Sometimes it’s further along than the initial consultation when therapists come to the realization that they are in over their head. Before throwing in the towel, therapists may seek guidance and advice from colleagues, mentors and other helping professionals.

Therapists can often learn a great deal from understanding how their colleagues’ approaches differ from their own. Even when colleagues share that their approach would have been the same, they may still be able to provide suggestions for your consideration.

I suggest that this dialogue, which is essentially a version of professional development, involve evaluating the effectiveness of your approach to tell the client’s story. In essence, this is a method for understanding how your therapeutic approach depicts your client(s). If your approach does not tell the client’s story, perhaps you can make a special effort to address the gaps in future sessions.

With the permission of your client(s), have a colleague review a version of your case notes, which outlines what approach and tools you have used and the effects that you hoped to, have gained. Have your colleague explain (back brief) the family’s situation as they see it as described by your notes, almost as if they were introducing you to the client(s) or transferring the case to you.

The picture they paint of the family may give you insights on the validity of the therapeutic model and techniques you have employed. Here are two examples using differing therapeutic approaches addressing a single vignette. Do the respective approaches to therapy tell the same story about the family? As we all know, there is rarely a single approach that can be considered “best”. However, you are always making the right decision when you approach a given case ethically, efficiently and effectively.

So while the model of therapy you have chosen to work with may not be wrong, you may be employing it ineffectively and thus having little effect assisting the client with positive change. These types of reviews assist clinicians with evaluating the effectiveness of their approach, and can be accomplished with a colleague or alone.

Example Case Notes – A

By implementing a structural approach, I understood that the relationship hierarchy needed to adjust significantly before the family’s optimal functionality could be attained. As a combined result of Jack devoting so much of his time at work, and Jill being the parent who has been more consistently present, of course Johnny would develop a more closely emotional relationship with his mother. However, this relationship is magnified because Jill has spousified Johnny in order for her to fill the emotional vacancy caused by Jack’s frequent absence, so obviously a large portion of Johnny’s anxiety results from his mother’s “need” for him to be present for her own functionality in the family. Also, a possibility for John’s extended absence could be the result of the fact that, with all of the children now away at school, he is experiencing his own anxiety as this will be the first time in twenty four years that he and Jill have been the sole members of the household.

The primary objective has been to eliminate Johnny’s panic attacks regarding his beginning college by minimizing his anxiety about being separated from the home. With the ideal situation being that the foundation is established for all relationships in this system to progress toward a healthy functionality. To accomplish this, a restructuring of the family is necessary. The relationship between Jack and Jill must become more developed. Jill must allow Jack to fill his spousal role—the role that she has encouraged Johnny to occupy. This will be done by basically reacquainting Jack and Jill, as well as reestablishing what their needs and goals are in their marital relationship, not simply their roles as parents. Boundaries should then be determined in order to stabilize each newly restructured role. An aspect of this technique that would be beneficial to use regarding Johnny’s anxiety would be to strengthen his relationships with his siblings. Since both Sue and Carl have years of experience away from home and in a college environment, their guidance would be tremendously helpful for Johnny’s elimination of his separation anxiety.

Example Case Notes – B

I have chosen to utilize Psychodynamic/Family of Origin therapy with this particular family. In the most basic triangle of this family, Johnny and Jill are the closest relationship with Jack as the outsider. By having knowledge of Jill’s position in her family of origin, it is understood that her own emotional over-involvement with Johnny has resulted from her attachment to her own mother, whom she could never obtain an ideal relationship with as she was consistently vying for her mother’s attention against her step-father and other siblings, so she is now severely attached to Johnny—the most constant figure in the home. Jack’s position in his family of origin placed him as a likely caregiver and source of support for his younger siblings, so he most likely feels a strong sense of responsibility to provide adequately for his nuclear family. Thus, he allows himself to spend an increasing amount of time involved with work.

The overall goal would be to establish positive functionality for this system by developing each member’s differentiation of self, and adjusting the emotional triangles. The initial technique to implement would be to sketch a comprehensive genogram in order for each member to understand the origins of the system’s emotionality. This would allow Johnny, Sue, and Carl to objectively view Jill and Jack’s familial positions and relationships with their respective families of origin, and provide them with a new understanding behind their current system’s functionality. Jack, Jill, and Johnny will all need treatment to improve their levels of differentiation in order to prevent their emotional dependencies from creating a multigenerational pattern. I plan to have Jack, Jill, and Johnny voice what their wishes are for their relationships and then be confronted with aspects of their situation which they may be oblivious. I believe that this will be an effective technique for this family as it seems apparent that they may not currently acknowledge to themselves what their needs are in each of the relationships.

—–

You can see how, despite the use of varying approaches to working with this family, that items such as the family dynamics are synonymous in each. Adversely, the priorities, techniques and goals differ and in such light, differing details regarding the family are presented in each set of notes. These types of notes give enough detail to your colleague to enable them to relay back to you “how they see the clients,” and may spur a discussion involving “what I would try is….”

At any course, your colleague is immediately able to pick up on your therapeutic hypothesis and the techniques you have, or plan to employ, as well as the family dynamics, presenting problems, and direction of therapy.

It is through the dialogue that follows where you may learn from the assumptions about the family that your colleague makes based on your notes. Likewise, you may find that their concerns for the client(s) may not align with your own. Perhaps your colleague has questions for you regarding the client(s) of which you don’t have answers.

You may also be enlightened to the fact that your colleague or mentor would prioritize the goals of therapy different than you and the client(s) have. In addition to being used as a tool to garner support from other professionals, these types of notes are a great way to provide yourself with a summation of your and your client’s work.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Locating an Internship Site

Fields of Knowledge_Locating an Internship Site

For graduate students who are required to display competency through a clinical experience, you will inevitably undergo an integration process at a site which will facilitate this chapter of your educational journey. If your academic institution has partnered or is contracted with a site (or multiple sites) guaranteed to facilitate your clinical experience, then consider yourself fortunate.

For many graduate students it is not that simple. In some cases, those institutions which do provide sites for students actually require that the student work with the site(s) provisioned. Not one scenario is necessarily better than the other, as all offer advantages as well as disadvantages.

So, if you are a student who has been provided a list of potential sites, been left to figure things out on your own, or are seeking a secondary site to supplement the experience of a site predestined by your school, here are a few thoughts from my experiences.

Review potential sites. If your advisor or other faculty present you with a list of potential sites, it’s probably a great place to start. At some point in time you’ll probably try an internet search engine or attempt to “show up” at a place you’ve heard about.

In this age, technology tends to seemingly ease the burden of learning about potential places to intern; however, the information provided by a computer or smart device is not always inclusive. So after you have tried 50-60 keywords in Google, a few hundred pages of opportunities on websites such as Monster.com, signed up for newsletters, participated in forums, reached out to groups on social media such as LinkedIn and prayed to the internet god for mercy…understand that you will at some point have to remove yourself physically from the comfort of your favorite chair and the soulful sounds of Kenny G.

My academic institution estimates that it takes 66% of its students 3-4 months to locate a suitable site and a willing supervisor, with the remainder having to search for over 6 months. With this said, understand that the effort may take time, so plan to be thorough and deliberate in your search.

Keep a sharp lookout for supervisor candidates. A great choice for a supervisor is a supervisor candidate. These individuals include those who are pursuing the Approved Supervisor designation with an organization such as the AAMFT. They are licensed professionals who are seeking opportunities to train, educate and, in essence, supervise individuals working towards a graduate degree or licensure.

The AAMFT provides a list of Approved Supervisors on its website; however, it is not as easy to locate candidates working towards fulfilling the requirements necessary for approval. Oftentimes by contacting Approved Supervisors you can accomplish a great deal.

You can inquire about opportunities to work with that individual in particular (who is “on paper” the quintessential supervisor), ask about opportunities they are aware of in surrounding communities and also ask them specifically if they are working with any supervisor candidates or are aware of any such candidates who may be of assistance.

Organize your effort. Make a list of potential sites, keep track of the “who, how and when” concerning your contact with each potential site. Keep records of individuals you have networked with including their contact information, how they may be able to assist you, where they work and/or volunteer and any leads they may have referred you to.

Additionally, look for ways to ensure that you stay relevant to individuals in key positions. This may be done by attending programs in which the individual is involved, joining them in volunteer experiences or stopping by to ask if there is anything you can do for them.

Prepare yourself. Yes, you are a student and you are locating a site to assist you with an educational experience, but I can almost guarantee that during the course of your search for a site and supervisor you will be asked questions pertaining to your personal interests and objectives, the models and theories which you plan to utilize with clients, any professional association affiliation and your level of participation with each, as well as inquisition pertaining to your level of experience. Yes, the last one got me too.

The first time I was faced with explaining my experience, I thought…“I’m a student, what experience do you think I have?” Preparing for such questions is critical to your ability to garner the support you need, and at the least can leave a good impression. You can always mention the experiences you have had during your academic coursework with classmates in mock sessions. Additionally, having experience in a counseling setting (even administratively), having personally attended counseling or having held a position (at a job, within an organization, etc.) which included coaching, teaching or mentoring are all great ways to build your credentials.

Liability insurance. From the moment an individual is identified as your supervisor, and throughout the course of that relationship, that individual is ethically and legally responsible for you. Though it is likely required by your academic institution, plan to, at a minimum, obtain liability insurance and keep it current throughout your internship.

One way to accomplish this is to join an association such as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). The AAMFT offers malpractice insurance as a part of the benefits of student membership. Already being insured during the pursuit of your site and supervisor speaks to your level of commitment and proficiency, as well as your knowledge of the field.

Bring something to the table. Understand what you offer in addition to being able to articulate what you need. The sites you visit may not have opportunities posted for an internship or currently have a program specifically for interns. If this is the case, attempt to locate job postings at the organization to understand the type of information (e.g. curriculum vitae versus resume, background checks, etc.) that is required of potential employees. Think about it like this…if you qualify for a job (say minus the graduate degree) then you are in pretty good shape to be a candidate for an internship. Nearly any and everything you would do for a job…do for an internship. That includes over- versus under-dressing, updating your resume, brushing up on your interview skills and mustering up that necessary confidence needed to talk about yourself.

In the pursuit of an internship, oftentimes it’s those who can give that get. As I stated earlier, some potential sites may not have a program in place for interns, and may even find that entertaining such would be more burdensome than beneficial. Through careful consideration of the site, you may be able to present yourself as an individual who can provide a relevant impact to the site. This impact may be through providing support for programs that the site currently sponsors.

You can present ideas for programs that you could organize and maintain, or volunteer to help out administratively. You may even offer to dedicate yourself to establishing an internship program at the site, by charting your experience and through research and evaluation of other programs. You first have to understand your own potential, personal/professional interests, desires and qualifications.

Next, find ways you can be of benefit to the potential site and/or supervisor and articulate these ideas concisely. You must understand that when you approach a clinical internship your presence is not associated with benefits such as free or cheap labor. You are a legal and ethical liability, an administrative burden and ultimately take time away from an individual who is likely otherwise paid for it. Yet and still, they have been in your shoes, so stick your chest out, hold your chin up, shake with a firm grip and present your essence.

Staying afloat. Lastly, have a plan that includes a sustainable income during both your pursuit of a site and your tenure at the site. The reality is that paid internships are not always available, couple that with the fact that your academic clinical experience likely lasts for a year (or more) and the understanding that locating a site may take a significant amount of time as well.

If you are already living on a strict budget, then the worst-case scenario includes having to pay for supervision. In some areas, this may be your only option. In any case, you must evaluate your living situation, means of income and your costs of living and plan ahead. The commitment you are about to embark on will likely change a great deal of your daily routine, absorb a significant amount of your energy and time. Prepare yourself, employers and loved ones and ensure you rally the necessary support from each.

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As mentioned earlier, each journey towards graduation in a helping profession is unique to the individual student, however each academic institution approaches facilitating education and evaluating competency in a specific manner. In this light, my particular experience with locating an internship site has been highly influenced by two facts: I attend an online academic institution which is located approximately 400 miles away and I am a relatively new resident of the area which I am seeking support. Notice that I refer to these two circumstances as “facts,” not disadvantages or excuses.

It is my personal belief that I learn through each of my experiences every day. The experiences I have had during my efforts to locate a site are no different. I have been granted an opportunity to question the very core of my pursuit, asking questions such as, “Why did I choose to pursue a career as a therapist?” and “Is this still really what I want to do?” These questions are warranted, as I actually began pursuit of my M.A. in MFT in the spring of 2007.

So here I am 7 years later, now with a wife, now with a daughter, now out of the Army, now a business owner, now a certified Life Coach, now having been awarded a Human Services graduate degree, still working towards the same goal. Perhaps I made compromises that have elongated this process; there is hardly a time when a person “could have done no more.” Yet and still, the desire exists and a certain priority remains incumbent to the same. In closing, I would like to encourage you to continue your effort at a steadfast and deliberate pace, while continuing to grow through the experience and achieve in other endeavors as well. No matter your course, be holistically prepared for the journey and understand that not all “helping professionals” are interested nor capable of helping you! Moreoverly, none can help you more than you can help yourself!!!

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Understanding the Clinical Training Required for your MFT Degree

That moment you realize that finding an internship site is much more of a daunting process than you imagined…

You feel like you have exhausted all options and the demands of life haven’t slowed down a bit. If you’re like me, you’ve amassed a great deal of lemonade from what seems to be an orchard of lemons. Now, if an opportunity actually does present itself, you’re worried that you’re too involved in other endeavors to attend to the demands of an internship with the necessary zeal. You are continuing to accomplish so many things, but the void left by what you ultimately equate to failure is notwithstanding.

As I continue in my effort to locate a site to complete the clinical requirements of the Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) graduate program I attend, I can’t help but to question my own efforts as I reflect on the experience. It is my hope that in some way the information I present hereafter will prove useful to those wishing to pursue a graduate degree requiring a concomitant residency, others similarly situated and additionally serve as a calling to those positioned to supply the necessities of this demand.

Similar to most careers, becoming a helping professional is possible through a variety of avenues. Despite the source of your motivation, the resources and support you have accumulated and the advantages of your genetics, you can be assured that the licensure process will create challenges that, despite any preparation, will test your fortitude.

The licensure process is the stretch of the pursuit that canalizes candidates to evaluate competency.

In many cases, the consideration of a graduate program is one of the first steps towards garnering the competency necessary to embark on your journey. While you carefully consider your options you may be taking into consideration the programs offered, the institutions proximity to your home or place of employment, tuition and associated costs and even the school’s reputation.

This thought process is normal, and is closely related to the process you went through during undergrad; however, consideration of a graduate program (especially a counseling related program with a clinical training requirement) requires specialized thought.

So, while you’re mapping out the coffee shops on campus, make sure that you take a moment to get your hands on some extremely relevant information.

Clearly understand the following:

The accreditation(s) held by the academic institution. Regional accreditation by one of the regional accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, ensures that specific standards are upheld at the institution, and that credits earned are more likely to be transferrable to another institution. Furthermore, the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) is a specialized accrediting body within the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) which accredits MFT programs at academic institutions. The COAMFTE is purposed with evaluating the level of competence of the graduates of institutions which volunteer for accreditation.

The requirements for internship sites and supervisors as set forth by your institution. You may find that aligning these requirements for a particular site is more difficult than you imagined. You may have to compromise concerning one or the other, or both. For instance, you would ultimately prefer to work with an approved AAMFT Supervisor but may find that there are few, if any, located within a reasonable distance.

Often when you do locate such an individual you find that they cannot take on any more interns or limit their expertise to interns who already possess the requisite degree. Though as a graduate student you are obviously striving for excellence, understanding your academic organizations minimal requirements for both the site and the supervisor is key to complete and careful consideration of potential sites.

If the academic institution has partnered with local organizations to provide clinical sites for its graduate students, you should spend some time learning about those sites and what is offered and expected. Understand that many academic institutions cannot guarantee placement at an internship site even in cases where partnered organizations exist. Also note that it is not farfetched to intern at a qualified site under the supervision of a qualified professional who is not affiliated with the site you are located.

The expectations concerning competency and the academic requirements of the clinical experience. The academic institution likely requires both clinical experience hours and supervision hours for completion of your clinical training. Understand that the site you choose should be able to provide the hours you need for your degree within the confines of your academic semester. During this planning process you must consider the likelihood of the unforeseen such as no-shows, changes in personnel at your site and the stability of specific programs at your site which may affect your ability to accomplish your academic requirements. You may find that, in order to meet your goals and the academic requirements, you may require support from multiple internship sites concurrently.

Your state’s licensure board requirements. In many cases state licensure requirements are similar; however, it is critical that you understand the requirements in the state(s) which you plan to practice. Consider the application process and transferability of licensure in reference to neighboring states and states you may plan to reside in the future.

Don’t save a review of these requirements for a later date, thinking that they only concern those who already possess a degree and are seeking licensure. The reality is that states often have educational requirements that specifically pertain to your graduate work. Through careful consideration, it is possible to align yourself with an organization and/or supervisor which can support you, not only through your graduate experience, but also throughout the post-graduate licensure process as well.

While this information is structured for those seeking a MFT graduate program, the processes and structures are similar to those associated with other helping professions as well. If you have read this and are wondering why such a review and careful consideration is necessary by the student, it may prove helpful to understand that my MFT academic experience has been online.

Thus, in my case, the pursuit of a site and supervisor includes a great deal of footwork, phone calls, emails and, ultimately, networking. I chose to attend an online program during active duty with the military, and this approach was the best (and realistically only) method for continuing my education at the graduate level concurrently with my military obligations. I do not regret taking the time to pursue a higher education while serving in the military.

I will admit that there were challenges during the pursuit; none greater than having left service with only the clinical portion of my degree remaining. Despite the rise in popularity of online courses, certifications and degree programs and the growing acceptance of these forms of education, clinical degrees present specific, unique challenges regardless of the institutions mode of education.

Continue to follow this blog to learn more about finding an internship site, approaching potential supervisors, the advantages provided through innovative technology and the unforeseen challenges of completing the clinical training requirements of your online MFT graduate degree.

 

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache Williams Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.