Daily Archives: November 3, 2010

What is a healthy family?

I believe a healthy family is based on a level of mutual respect for other members and themselves.  I believe that a healthy family should provide a level of support for its members, however, each family is a unique system (much like the individuals within it) and each individual will play “roles” within the family system that they are comfortable with.  Individual role-players may exert varying degrees of influence when change occurs (like death, illness, financial issues, or divorce).  Every member of the family should enjoy a sense of security or “belonging” to the family, and all members should share good interpersonal relations with each other.  Healthy families are loyal to each other, and ideally members offer each other unconditional love.  My universal definition of family extends beyond the nuclear family to include multigenerational and extended families… it might also include groups of people with whom you have come to cohabitate (like a college fraternity).

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I am less traditional than most (I suspect) in the respect that I do not narrowly define “marriage” as a relationship that can exist between a man and a woman.  In that respect, my definition of family is predominantly relationship based.  The reader could correctly infer that I am supportive of same sex relationships.  I could potentially see issues in the counseling relationship if I were to counsel someone who was critical of that lifestyle… I might be inclined to suggest that is more “normal” than some people are comfortable with.  All that aside, I would be the first to admit that I have not always taken such a liberal position… perhaps that’s proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks?


Reflections on Group Counseling

Based on your experiences and the readings how is group work different from other counseling in terms of ethical issues? Based on the chapter readings do you think any specialized training is need before doing group work?  In your experience do you think that most group leaders have the necessary training?

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There are specific ethical concerns that are raised and should be considered when we enter into the group counseling environment.  First and foremost, proficiency in individual counseling does not necessarily translate into competency in the group environment.  They are two different dimensions of service, and group leaders should be adequately trained to meet the specific needs of a group.  For example, co-leadership or co-counseling is not typically a concern in individual therapy, but can be a real cause of distress in the group which employs multiple leaders.

Group work gives rise to specific concerns regarding confidentiality, since confidentiality cannot be controlled to the degree that it would be in an individual counseling relationship.  It’s literally impossible for us to “police” multiple members to ensure that they do not divulge excessive information regarding group members, although we can take practical steps to encourage best practices among group members.

Member screening is not something that is typically conducted within the context of individual therapy, but it should definitely be a consideration for leaders of group therapy.  Ideally, members of a group should share common goals or issues, including a common motivation to help each other succeed.  Specifically, the text cites several types of individuals that may not be a good fit for group therapy, including “brain-damaged people, paranoid individuals, hypochondriacs, those who are actively addicted to drugs or alcohol, acutely psychotic individuals, and antisocial personalities.”  (Corey, Schneider-Corey, & Callanan, 2007, p. 489)

Aside from supervised experience and adequate education, the most important training that can occur is to engage in group members ourselves.  “One of the best ways to learn how to assist group members in their struggles is to be a member of a group yourself.”  (Corey et al., 2007, p. 482)  Specifically, the text recommends self-exploration groups, which is something I am definitely going to engage in as soon as possible.  Specifically, the text recommends at least basic training in “nature and scope of practice; assessment of group members; planning group interventions with emphasis on environmental contexts and the implication of diversity; implementation of specific group interventions; co-leadership practices; evaluation of process and outcomes; and ethical practice, best practice, and diversity-component practice.”  (Corey et al., 2007, p. 481)

I don’t believe I am in a position to judge whether or not most group facilitators have sufficient experience and training to conduct groups.  I have never personally had an experience with group therapy, but I am led to believe by the text that there is reason to be concerned.   I should be better able to answer this aspect of the assignment after engaging in group therapy myself, but it is my expectation that the facilitator process a certain degree of competence before they engage in leading a group.  On the whole, I think “we try” but there is certainly room for a great deal of improvement.

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Corey, G., Schneider-Corey, M., & Callanan, P. (2007). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Alternative Counselor Roles

The role of the “advocate” is one I believe counselors are naturally aligned to, and should consider.  One example where I currently serve as an advocate is vocational training for intellectually challenged adults.  The reality is that most of us, on or about the age of 16, were able to get a hiring manager to “take a shot in the dark” and hire us with no experience.  The unfortunately truth is that isn’t the case for the developmentally disabled or the intellectually challenged population, thereby necessitating the need for “transition placement” and subsequent advocacy on the behalf of that population.

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Understandably, the business establishment has good reason to be weary of something it does not fully understand… I think that is part of human nature and cannot be faulted to a certain degree.  Every hiring manager should have the reassurance that someone is capable of fulfilling their duties as an employee, and it’s not entirely unreasonable to ask the question of someone who is intellectually challenged (after all, they would ask it of a “normal” applicant).  Vocational training gives people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to prove themselves, and the opportunity to demonstrate that they “have valuable skills” and can make a “lasting contribution to a business.”

For example, I currently work with an individual who only 8 years ago was “pigeon-holed” by the developmental model.  It was assumed that this particular individual would never grow “beyond the capacity of a child” and, as a result, he was largely treated as a child.  Through a rigorous process of cognitive, social and skills training… he has become “one of the most productive people on the line” at a local business.  I recently spoke with his employer, and he “regrets even hesitating to pick him up, as he now considers him among the most competent employees he has.”   Granted, the work is pretty basic, but this particular individual is fiercely loyal, driven to succeed, and competent at most basic assembly tasks.  That kind of independence would not have been possible without our advocacy.

Despite the fact that I am not yet a full time paid therapist, I can play the advocate role today.  Even now, I have clients who are consistently told by family and friends that “they will never be able to do that.”  I endeavor to break as many of those molds as is possible, as I believe in the general premise put forth by Dr. Marc Gold:  “The behaviors our children show are a reflection of our incompetence, not theirs.”  With regard to the training I would need to fulfill that role, I believe it is already underway.  I would be better able to advocate for an individual as a therapist, because I could bring the weight of a DSM-IV diagnosis to bear, and speak with knowledge about “what’s typical” and “what’s realistic” for a specific individual.  I believe the role as an advocate, especially for people whom are intellectually challenged, is key role we as counselors can play in their development of cognitive, social, skills based functioning.

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