Elon Musk will be responsible for the divergence of Homo sapiens

Why will Elon Musk be responsible for the divergence of Homo sapiens? Sometime in the near future, humans will board spaceships built by SpaceX and venture to Mars. These people will not be coming back. On Mars, there will be an opportunity for humans to begin a new experiment with consciousness, human relationships, and societal structures.

One of the benefits of SpaceX being a private company is that missions to Mars can be undertaken privately. As a result, no Earth-nation can make claims to the planet. Mr. Musk will have the opportunity to do something amazing–create an autonomous planet not under the control of any governing body on Earth. (Though without ion cannons for defense of the settlements, invading humans from Earth may wipe it out before it begins.)

Our current brain situation

On Earth, one only needs to spend five minutes on Twitter to realize that currently, human beings are very emotional and very caught up in identifying with our views. For example, much of the discourse in United States is something like, “Hillary’s a criminal. No, Trump is a criminal. Capitalism is destroying America. No, social justice warriors and socialists are destroying America. Atheists are evil. No, Christians are evil.” We seem to care more about our ideas and the strong emotions associated with them than we do about other people. We haven’t seemed to have grown the parts of our brains that really bind us to each other more than we are bound to our symbols, beliefs, and ideologies.

As long as humans are wired with our current brain structures and as long as we continue to foster the behaviors we currently exhibit on Earth, there are no political systems or religions that will function much better for us than the ones we currently have. As long as Homo sapiens are in charge of a system or ideology, our corrupt, unevolved minds will ruin it no matter how perfect it may be in theory.

What might an evolved brain look like?

Brain science has discovered much about significant structures of the brain. We know that people who are highly altruistic have amygdalae about 20% larger than average. We know that those who exhibit sociopathy have amygdalae about 20% smaller than average. We know that the prefrontal cortex is responsible for regulating behaviors with what is known as executive functioning and that it’s also the relational part of the brain. This part of the brain gives us what Dr. Dan Siegel calls “Mindsight.” This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we have learned about the subsystems of the brain, what they are responsible for, and how to measure them.

How big are Starman's amygdalae?

Homo alter

Imagine if Elon Musk sent as the settlers to Mars only those with altruistic amygdalae but also highly developed prefrontal cortexes–those who have a profound ability to see themselves as a part of a greater whole and genuinely want to participate in this greater whole. Those settlers would be driven to help one another even in extreme circumstances (see this Ted Talk). With highly developed prefrontal cortexes, they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by their emotions either. They would be profoundly in touch with their emotions and those of others but would have the brain structures necessary to still make excellent decisions. Over tens of generations, imagine how this group of settlers’ brains might diverge from the brains of those homo sapiens on Earth who may continue to devolve into something resembling Idiocracy.

I imagine a planet full of beings capable of more connection and relational abilities. Homo alter would be empathetic, altruistic creatures capable of deep interpersonal connection and sensitivity to others’ distress. Homo alter would still need the older parts of our brains to keep them alive and aware of dangers–and they would retain them. However, instead of being primates of aggression, dominance, and stress, homo alter would be primates of altruism, consideration, and calm clarity.

If it happens, thank Elon Musk.

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

The nihilism of profit-driven companies

One time in a typical meeting in a typical small company, a business consultant said this, “the company had the same profit last year as it did the year before but twice as much revenue. If the company is growing, but profits are staying the same, then what’s the point?” What’s the point indeed?

If I create a company with the sole purpose of generating profit and nothing more, there is in fact to point to it at all. The people who are there are only there for a paycheck. Those angling for promotions are looking to improve their resume. And of course, those who own the company are only wanting to maximize profits. Nothing more. All of the actions of the company are hollow of anything meaningful. There’s no compassionate mission to improve humanity. There’s no drive to innovate in some area that could ease suffering or advance society in some way. Its existence is to be a machine designed to churn out bigger numbers. All those who work there are as cogs in that machine that generates more and more profits but nothing else. They aren’t rallying behind a leader’s passionate vision. They know they are there to put in their time, collect the pay, and that’s it.

To answer the wise business consultant’s question, if I have a company that’s growing, but profits are equal, in many situations this isn’t a problem. If I have created a company to do something meaningful, to manifest my passion, then the point of growing–in spite of flat profits–is that I’m fulfilling my destiny and my passion is flourishing. If my purpose is unfolding with the growth of my organization, then I’m not concerned about flat profits. There is still in fact a point.

If I’m passionate about making software to improve outcomes of those in treatment facilities because I care deeply about helping people with addictions and my company doubles in size but profits stay the same, then I would certainly be excited because I’m helping that many more people. The extra difficulties are worth it because I’m having an impact on something meaningful for me. However, if the soulless, pointless purpose of generating more profit isn’t occurring and yet the organization is growing and expanding, then yes, I suppose there’s no point.

When Viktor Frankl was in the death camps and realized that those without meaning were perishing sooner than those who summoned meaning in each day, he created for himself a way to survive that rose above the despair and genocide that surrounded him. How long do you think he would have survived if all he was concerned with was whether or not he would ever have his jewelry returned to him?

Nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral principles, a belief that there is no purpose for anything. With that as your position, then all there is left is accumulation of wealth. I doubt very seriously that the owner of this company would call himself a nihilist. Nevertheless, a business consultant came in and convinced the owner that the problem with his company is x, y, and z without ever considering that the problem with the company is that the owner hasn’t imbued the company with what he values, with what he feels his purpose is. I know for a fact that the owner is passionate about things that are far different than what the business consultant has convinced him his company should be about. The owner has abandoned his passions, what is meaningful for him, and accepted that his business should be about being the sort of company that can generate more profits doing something he really doesn’t care about. What could be more important than generating more profits?

That’s the nihilism of building a profit-driven company.

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

Personality Analysis: The Control Freak

With this post, I’m going to kick off a series that examines some behaviors that in my experience are common in IT. I will talk about these behaviors from the perspective of various models. I will also try to provide strategies for dealing with each behavior.

What does a control freak look like?

First, we will examine the “control freak.” What behaviors does the “control freak” exhibit? They need to be included in every discussion. They want to be CC’d on every email. If they miss work, which they rarely will, they will tend to be extra controlling when they return because they will feel like their grip on things has slipped. They will interrupt others if they are threatened by what they are hearing. They will try to use a critical laser to point out the tiniest of flaws in anything suggested by someone who is even remotely threatening to them. They will do this even though no one is even remotely as critical to the suggestions they make. They will make subtle or overt comments to make others feel they aren’t as capable. This serves two purposes, first he is sending messages to others that he, the control freak, is in charge, and two, he is pacifying his own insecure ego. This behavior can vary from slight to outright bullying depending upon the severity of the ego insecurity and the sophistication of the “control freak.”

Attachment theory

Now we know some of the behaviors we can use to identify a control freak, but why are they this way? Insecurity is one reason. John Bowlby studied what is known in psychology as attachment. Attachment describes how we bond with our parents and others. One reason the control freak may behave as they do is if he didn’t securely attach as a child. If a child didn’t form secure bonds with the mother, or mother figure, the child may not know how to form healthy attachments with others. As a result, the control freak might not know how to form healthy relationships with others. In the end, they feel like they can only depend upon themselves. The mind of the control freak might be saying, “I can’t depend upon others, so I must take charge so that their neglect doesn’t hurt me.”

The Big Five

Can there exist control freaks who are securely attached? Certainly. We can look at another model of psychology to describe why a control freak is the way they are that doesn’t involve looking at childhood experiences with a mother figure. One model of personality is called The Big Five. This model considers most of people’s personality of consisting of five factors. The Big Five Personality Traits can be remembered as OCEAN. Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Within this model, perfectionism is extreme conscientiousness combined with neuroticism. The control freak, to satisfy the ideal self-image they maintain, must exactingly control their environment.

Agreeableness may also be problematic with people we perceive as being control freaks. Agreeableness is composed of six facets, one of which is trust. If someone has low levels of trust in others, they may see others on their team as incompetent. As a result, the control freak believes they are the only person who can do it and do it right. They will look at everything through the lens of their competence and others’ incompetence. It will be tough to convince a control freak that the effort can survive without them. They likely perceive the situation as requiring their constant presence to prevent everything from falling apart.

Another facet of agreeableness is cooperation. Someone with low levels of cooperation will not like working with others. Combined with low levels of trust, low levels of cooperation will imply the presence of the stereotypical ivory-tower developer. They want to wall themselves up in their tower where it’s just them and their thoughts. They will emerge from time to time to grace everyone with their accomplishments.

Narcissistic wounds

But why do some people have grandiose images of themselves where others don’t? A wounded grandiose self-image is a symptom of what Freud and other psychologists call a narcissistic wound. A narcissistic wound or wounds suffered earlier in life can be so deep, that the person experiencing them no longer has a healthy ego strength. Without their constant cultivation of perfection, they feel they are just the broken little boy or girl that was injured so long ago. This is certainly a reason to feel compassion for them, even if working with them is incredibly painful. We all have some narcissistic wounds to some extent, the control freak just likely has more, or deeper ones than most, or they are particularly susceptible to them.

Childhood development

There’s also another psychological model that wouldn’t necessarily see the control freak of a victim of childhood wounds, or genetically predisposed to hyper-conscientiousness combined with neuroticism. From a developmental model, the control freak may have been overly indulged. Child psychologists recognize that when a child is shown preference over his siblings and has every wish and desire catered to, parents can create little God-emporers. Over time, this treatment is internalized. The little God-emporer will grow into an adult and feel entitled to anything they want. Some of you are likely imagining someone familiar who fits this description.

Dealing with control freaks

How does one deal with a control freak? In psychotherapy, we challenge the irrational thoughts they have. The irony of the perfectionist is that their way of thinking isn’t perfect at all. They suffer from cognitive distortions, usually around black-and-white thinking. If something isn’t perfect then it is horrible. There is no in-between with them. This all-or-nothing thinking can sabotage every aspect of the control freak’s life. For example, the control freak may tire of tending to every detail. In this state of exhaustion, they may start acting like a martyr, or complaining that others aren’t doing as much as them. This will be their perspective even though when others try to help they are either heavily criticized, or pushed away for fear that their influence will wrest some control away. Others can’t win with the control freak because too much contribution is seen as threatening, but then eventually the control freak tires from tending to everything. No one will be able to find the just right balance of what the control freak determines is help and what they determine is overreach.

But co-workers aren’t therapists and can’t typically find it inappropiate, or too risky to directly confront the perfectionist with their behavior. However, subtly pointing out other alternatives can have some impact. For example, often times if I suggest an idea when a control freak is around, they will start attacking the idea from the fringes, giving reasons why is won’t work. Many times, these are very extreme examples or rare events. So I might start by saying something like, “That is a very valid point.” This validates the person with the narcissistic wound. I might follow-up by saying, “I wonder though if that isn’t a very unlikely occurrence. I might get hit by a car walking to get coffee, but I wouldn’t let that keep me from doing so because the odds are so low. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t stay aware of that possibility though.” This is an attempt to iron out the cognitive distortion that the perfectionist is communicating. He is saying, “There is a tiny risk in your proposal so it has no value at all.” I respond with something along the lines of, “Yes, no situation is perfect, yet we keep on living and doing things we need to do to live a satisfactory life.” They might resist this, they might not, but it’s one way to attempt to take some of the air out of what they are saying which is that anything less than perfect is unacceptable.

The main thing to remember is that the control freak is wounded. Any reaction or attempt to handle the situation by saying or doing anything that causes even the slightest bit more harm, will only further disturb the hurt little boy or girl inside. That being said, it’s not your job to take care of the control freak’s psychic wounds. Take care of yourself by not engaging them on their controlling level of functioning. Steer clear of them as much as possible. If you need to engage them, use kid gloves and be gentle with them. If you validate them, but also make your points clearly and firmly, you might be able to get through to them.

Many times, if you are wounded also, dealing with another wounded person can prove very difficult. If both people are rubbing up against each other where they are raw, the outcome isn’t going to be great. This is why it’s very important to learn and discover more about oneself by doing one’s own reflection and insight building. Understanding others’ personalities and behaviors does little good if one doesn’t know anything about one’s inner world and why one behaves the way they do. Keep this in mind before judging others or feeling like you have one up on them. Others are able to see through you as well, so if you don’t know what they are seeing, then your position is tenuous.

Take care,
Ian Felton - The Coder Counselor

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

How to get a couple more productive hours by getting the kids to go to bed and stay there

If you have kids in your life, you likely have little time to keep up with your coding projects or drone upgrades (or just your favorite video game). If this precious time is interrupted regularly because you can’t get the kids to bed, or if they won’t stay there, try some of these tips recommended by the American Psychological Association.

Here are the basic steps (originally posted on Division 42’s blog, used with permission):

  • Establish a bedtime routine: bath, brush teeth, story time, a few minutes of a back rub or snuggles and then a kiss goodnight and leave.
  • Leave a nightlight on in the room if your child wants. The door can be opened or closed. New parents… remember not to try to be totally silent when you put your babies to bed. That way children learn to sleep even with noise in the background.
  • Let your child know how things are going to be. If your child cries let them cry it out. They may scream, try to come downstairs. But just return them to bed calmly.
  • Reward the positive…they can earn a small prize like a sticker for each night they go to bed without a fuss. Follow this with a slightly bigger prize for a week and then something special for two weeks of appropriate bedtime behavior.
  • Use the same principles for kids coming into your room in the middle of the night. Promptly return them to their room. It is okay to sit with them in their own room for a few minutes until they settle down. But be careful you don’t just climb into their bed and go to sleep. Sit in a chair or on the floor.
  • Use the reward system. Again…2 weeks of parents being able to do this every night and the problem is solved.

The key thing is to do this consistently and as early as you can with your kids. Once you’ve established habits and routines with them that you don’t want, it will be difficult to get them to consent to something else. You will have to tolerate protests by the children and be firm. If you aren’t, you will not be able to get those coding hours in or complete your drone upgrades!

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

What is Career Counseling?

Career counseling is a division of counseling that centers on helping people discover suitable careers. Suitability considers many factors including a person’s strengths, interests, cultural background, family situation, and more. A trained career counselor may be useful to someone who knows that they want a change in career, but, because of the significant impact on their life and those close to them, want to be careful and thorough before making a change.

Most of the time, career counseling involves the use of various assessments to try to help sort out various aspects of a person’s personality, interests, and work-style. The career counselor will go through the results of the assessment with their client to determine what makes sense and what doesn’t. The results of assessments are considered to be the cold, hard facts of who a person is. They are starting point for discussion. By using the results as topics for exploration, the counselor and client can generate possibilities and also rule out other possibilities.

Examples of assessments

Some of the most common assessments are the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) and the California Personality Inventory (CPI). The SII results ranks the person’s interests into six categories: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. These six categories are matched with various jobs in the real-world. By looking at where someone’s interests lie compared with how much of those interests will be a part of a particular role, clients can gain insight into potential career paths that they may haven’t thought about prior to seeking career counseling.

The CPI measures positive aspects of personality and determines what type of roles might be more suitable for someone depending upon their personality type. For example, the CPI estimates people fall into one of four categories: implementer, innovator, supporter, and visualizer. Someone who is an implementer is likely to do better in some sort of leadership role, whereas someone who is a visualizer typically does better in more private, or solitary positions. By working with a career counselor, CPI results can be a great aid in helping sort out not just what field might be interesting to work in, but role will be most satisfying within that field.

If you’re interested in career counseling,

Contact me

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

Book Review: Influence - Science and Practice

For those who’ve read “The Social Animal,” by Elliot Aronson, much of the research in “Influence” will be very familiar. What Cialdini does is take the research in social psychology and show how it is applied against you in the real world. He informs the reader how sales people and businesses use the knowledge of how people behave as social animals to get us to react in predictable ways most of the time.

Most of the time, Cialdini uses simple scenarios to illustrate his points. These are the best parts of the book. He also includes letters from people who’ve experienced his work with explanations about how he has helped them. The weakest parts of the book are the occasional deep-dive into specific experiments. For example, he covers a widely known experiment by Phillip Zimbardo, commonly known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. While certainly relevant, the inordinate amount of coverage it received was disproportionate to other research in the book. Not a big deal, though. If you know that one, just skip those four or five pages.

Most of what we learn from “Influence” is how those who want to manipulate us use subtle cues to get us to open up. They slowly get us to be on their side with techniques such as contrasting the items they want us to buy with someone extremely expensive so that it looks like a bargain. Or, mailing us a donation request with a pen inside the mailer so that we feel like we are obligated to return a favor.

Essentially, we need to understand that our brains make shortcuts as we go through the world. We don’t have time to examine every encounter we have from every perspective. What Cialdini teaches us is how others try to take advantage of these shortcuts so that our decisions seem reasonable. Marketers and con artists alike, (or friends and family) may be adept at pushing our buttons to gain compliance. Having this knowledge is vital in this society with messages coming at us from every direction. If you haven’t picked up this book, you’re likely being maneuvered in ways completely outside your awareness. If that’s the case, do yourself a favor and read this book.

Influence: Science and Practice - Cialdini

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

Career Counseling in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities, and Minnesota

Are you in Minneapolis or the Twin Cities and looking for career counseling? If the confusing and overwhelming number of options are freaking you out, I can help ease the discomfort and try to shine a light down a path that you may enjoy heading down.

Who am I?

My name is Ian Felton. I’m a trained career counselor and psychotherapist. I’m a member of the Minnesota Career Development Association, a state affiliate of the National Career Development Association (NCDA). The organization aims to provide professional growth and community, and promote the field of career development.

Who is it for?

My career coaching is designed for anyone. Whether you are still in high-school, or seeking a career change later in life, we will work together to try and answer your questions and make a plan for change.
More about career counseling

What will we do?

We will work together to understand your background, including multicultural perspectives, interests, and strengths. We will explore different options by examining various assessments and how you feel regarding what they indicate. Helping people find meaning in their lives almost always involves finding a meaningful career. A meaningful career must provide the rewards that are important to that individual and be a good match with their abilities.

No, specifically, what will we do? (skip this if you don’t want the details of my theoretical approach)

I believe an emerging theoretical approach can best serve the needs and goals of my clients in the realm of career counseling. Specifically, I want to investigate the Career Construction Theory and Life Design Paradigm of Mark L. Savickas. The Career Construction Theory is based upon Super’s theory, but branches off toward a postmodern understanding of career in order to better handle the 21st Century’s globalized work-force and fluid nature of work and self-concept. “Critical to this theory is the notion that careers do not simply unfold but rather, they are constructed by individuals” Goodman (2015). The career paths and self-concepts of the 20th century were more stable. This has changed drastically and the Career Construction Theory aims to adjust a traditional model to account for how society has changed. “No matter how stable individual characteristics might be, the environment is rapidly changing. Therefore, theoretical models are needed that emphasize human flexibility, adaptability, and life-long learning. Moreover, future methods of career counseling should take a dynamic approach that encourages individuals’ imaginative thinking and the exploration of possible selves” Savickas et al. (2009).

The first variable of interest is self-construction. This variable is operationalized with stories. This shift is a critical change in this theory of career counseling. These client stories drive the counseling process rather than traits. The stories are obtained through the Career Style Interview. Heckman (2006) says, “The Career Style Interview elicits self-defining stories that enable a counselor to identify and appreciate the thematic unity in a client’s life. In addition to revealing the life theme, data from a Career Style Interview also manifest the client’s vocational personality and career adaptability.”

The next variable is career adaptability. “Career adaptability is about how individuals implement their storied self into work roles,” says Del Corso & Rehfuss (2011). Savickas describes career adaptability as being comprised of the ABC’s of: attitudes (for coping), beliefs, and competencies. These three attitudes influence four dimensions: concern, control, curiosity, and confidence. These variables want to address how concerned someone is about their path, their level of self-efficacy over controlling it, their level of curiosity about new paths, and their level of confidence about doing specific tasks, according to Del Corso & Rehfuss (2011).

Del Corso & Rehfuss (2011) discuss how each variable has an opposite variable. Opposite career concern is career indifference. Lack of career control leads to career indecision. Opposite career curiosity leads to unrealism. Lack of career confidence leads to career inhibition. A fifth variable, consultation, attempts to capture how much a person wants counseling about their career versus a more independent style.

The five variables are operationalized using a revision to the Career Maturity Inventory, called “The Adaptability Form.” Savickas & Porfeli (2011), the form’s designers, wanted to apply Savickas’ Career Counseling Theory to Crites’ inventory operationalizing the variables according to the following:

The end result for the CMI Form C is that each respondent receives five scores. The first score is a total score for career choice readiness based on the 18 items in the Concern, Curiosity, and Confidence Scales. It measures an individual’s degree of adaptability in career decision making and readiness to make occupational choices. The next three scores are for the Concern, Curiosity, and Confidence Scales. The Concern Scale measures the extent to which an individual is oriented to and involved in the process of making career decisions. The Curiosity Scale measures the extent to which an individual is exploring the work world and seeking information about occupations and their requirements. The Confidence Scale measures the extent to which an individual has faith in her or his ability to make wise career decisions and realistic occupation choices. The fifth score is for the Consultation Scale, which measures the extent to which an individual seeks assistance in career decision making by requesting information or advice from others. Higher scores suggest a more interdependent relational style and lower scores suggest a more independent relational style. The profile of five scores provides a good view of an individual’s attitudes toward career decision making and readiness to make occupational choices. (p. 360)

My part in the Minneapolis, Twin Cities, and Minnesota communities

I believe that counselors should first be suitable models. As it relates to career counseling, counselors should be engaged with the state of their art and continue to grow in their role by attending conferences and networking with other local counselors. Counselors should perform ethically in their role at work and outside of work. In the community, this means acting as a considerate neighbor, patient commuter, and engaged citizen that seeks to make their immediate environment a more hospitable place for all who live in it. I believe this also means speaking in ways that seek to lift up the community rather than tear it down.

I’ve tried to be a contributor to the Minneapolis, Twin Cities, and Minnesota communities specifically by founding a nonprofit in 2008 that seeks to donate musical instruments to schools in distressed areas that need them. For example, in 2015 and 2017, my project donated many instruments to Olsen Middle School in North Minneapolis where almost the entire student body is eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Beyond these aforementioned roles, counselors can be central to communities by acting as healers. Through their engagement with the community they can help to inspire hope and even imbue the community with a kind of healing spirit. When engaged, a counselor’s presence can help provide grounding to the community and perform a valuable role for those seeking assistance and clarity.

I hope I can continue my service to Minneapolis, the Twin Cities, and other communities in Minnesota by helping people find careers and roles that are meaningful to them. If you’d like me to try and help you…

Contact me

References

Del Corso, J., & Rehfuss, M. C. (2011). The role of narrative in career construction theory. Journal Of Vocational Behavior, 79334-339. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2011.04.003

Goodman, J. (2015). Handbook of career development: international perspectives. British Journal Of Guidance & Counselling, 43(3), 367-369. doi:10.1080/03069885.2015.1036230

Guindon, Mary H.; Giordano, Francesca G. Capuzzi, David (Ed); Stauffer, Mark D. (Ed). (2012). Career counseling: Foundations, perspectives, and applications, 2nd ed., , (pp. 399-428). New York, NY, US: Routledge/Taylor &

Francis Group.
Heckman, L. (2006). Encyclopedia of Career Development, vols. 2. Library Journal, (14). 178.

Savickas, M. L., & Porfeli, E. J. (2011). Revision of the Career Maturity Inventory: The Adaptability Form. Journal Of Career Assessment, 19(4), 355-374.

Savickas, M. L., Nota, L., Rossier, J., Dauwalder, J., Duarte, M. E., Guichard, J., & … van Vianen, A. E. (2009). Life designing: A paradigm for career construction in the 21st century. Journal Of Vocational Behavior, 75239-250. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2009.04.004

Swanson, J. L., & Fouad, N. A. (2010). Career theory and practice : learning through case studies. Los Angeles : Sage,.

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

Social Media is Helping Create a New Generation of Smokers

Cigarette smoking has been in decline in the United States since the 1960’s. The most recent data shows that there has never been fewer teens and adults who smoke since data has been collected. Nevertheless, tobacco use leads the way as the number one cause of avoidable disease in the United States. The U.S. spends more on treating smoking-related illness in adults each year than the federal government spends on education. Recent research has shown social media’s role in perpetuating this public health crisis.

After being alarmed at the lack of research into how social media may influence young adult non-smokers, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, designed a study to do just that. The researchers recognized that social media images are absorbed and digested differently than messages in traditional media. Much of the information taken in while young adults are online is considered passive. Those using social media often aren’t deliberately seeking specific information in a concentrated manner. The term used to describe this cognitive process of taking in social media is “information scanning.”

The researchers found that tobacco companies routinely use various social media platforms to create and perpetuate pro-smoking culture. Whether they create cigarette and cigar smoking groups, or join existing groups and subsequently post messages in support of smoking and smoker identity, researchers found prolific instances of tobacco companies leveraging social media for amplifying their message.

871 students at the university from 18-25 years of age participated in the study. The racial breakdown of the participants was 60.4% white, 18.5% Hispanic American, 12.7% Asian American, 4.3% African American and 0.8% Native American and other races. More than half of the participants were male, with females making up about 40% of the study.

The research followed the Integrative Model of Behavioral Prediction (IMBP) to attempt to understand the smoking behavior of young adults who use social media. This model seeks to understand the intentions of those under study to act out specific behaviors. Furthermore, the model posits that people’s intentions regarding behaviors are influenced by several factors including how socially acceptable the behavior in question is perceived to be by peers and others.

After gathering information regarding the students’ perceptions about their own ability to resist smoking, their smoking history, and their beliefs about societal views around smoking, the researchers attempted to gather how often the participants scanned pro-smoking social media over the next three months. Researchers found, unsurprisingly, that the more students engaged with social media platforms, the more often they were exposed to pro-smoking information. The researchers followed-up with participants six months later to assess their smoking behavior. The IMBP prediction model accurately assessed that “those who reported frequent pro-smoking information scanning using social media were more likely to smoke at follow-up.” The model controlled for other predictors such as students’ pre-existing intentions to smoke.

The researchers concluded that seeing pro-smoking messages while scanning social media influences students’ memories by indicating where, when, and how smoking could be seen as socially acceptable. In addition, they believe that young adults who don’t smoke, may change their views and attitudes toward smoking as a result of exposure to pro-tobacco messages while using social media. The researchers urge policy makers to use the study’s findings to update their strategies for using social media to counter the pro-smoking media being proliferated.

References
Zhu, Y. (2017). Pro-smoking information scanning using social media predicts young adults’ smoking behavior. Computers In Human Behavior, 7719-24. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.08.004

This article originally appeared on Psychreg

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

Tattoos as a life coaching strategy

When I was 18, my friend Mike and I went to get tattoos. He went with a Native American feather peace symbol. Mine was inspired by my passion for playing bass guitar. In the latest Bass Player magazine, a feature article on Flea had a tribal swirl background. I thought it looked cool and it was associated with one of my bass guitar heroes. I made a design that incorporated the swirl with the bass clef symbol situated in the center. It symbolized for me how bass guitar was the sane, stable place for me in a chaotic, mad world. Recently, I decided to get a new tattoo. Inspired by events in my own life that I don’t want to forget, this tattoo will be inspired by the classic Japanese woodblock print, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” I also worked with my Chinese language teacher to come up with two idioms that will be part of the final design. The first, “感恩图报” means “to cherish the moment.”” The second “珍惜当下” means “to owe a debt of gratitude and hope to repay it.”

What does this mean in relationship to life coaching? We need symbols that represent the deepest meaningful things in life in order to live life fully and each of us has to determine what those symbols and meanings are. Viktor Frankl wrote about how important it was for him to create meaning each day in order to survive the Nazi death camps. In our everyday lives, we need the same. Even when living comfortable, relatively stress-free lives, in order to maximize our well-being and sense of purpose, we must create symbols of what our lives mean.

With clients, I go through the process of designing a tattoo that truly represents the deepest, most valuable meaning or meanings in their life at this time. The meanings should be somewhat durable, not a name of a new dating partner, or favorite video game of the month. We are looking for symbols that can survive a lifetime, even if new symbols are more relevant today. For example, my bass guitar tattoo still means a lot to me today. It reminds me of my chaotic childhood and how throwing myself passionately into something that I shared with close friends allowed me to survive. My new tattoo will also always have meaning until the day I die.

At the end of this exercise, clients may or may not actually get the tattoo. Whether they do or they don’t, the point is to put an extensive amount of self-reflection into creating a symbol that can instantly ground and center your mind. It must make you remember what it is you are trying to do with your life at this time. We need these symbols to carry us through the ups and downs of life and to give us strength during challenging times.

If you’re interested in learning more about life coaching with me, please visit this page.

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

The best recuiter I never had

Today I spoke with a recruiter I’ve known for several years. Every time we’ve spoken, she has talked with me warmly, and expressed a lot of interest in my life, not just with what technical projects I’ve worked on. She has taken me to lunch, and even sent me a Christmas card with a personal note attached along with a message very relevant to me personally. The thing is, she has never placed me on a contract or made a dollar off of me, yet she’s continued to invest in this relationship over the long-term even times when I’ve said that I’m booked up for the year. Yes, she is the best recruiter I never had (place me on a project).

When I compare her approach to the hundreds of others I’ve had contact with in a time period lasting over a decade in the Minneapolis software market, she stands out to me in a way that makes it difficult to believe that she and other recruiters are doing the same job. And in fact, technically they aren’t.

She is relationship building the way quality relationships of any type happen: slowly, patiently, over long periods of time, many times with outcomes less than ideal. Compared to the brief, transactional, fake approach that most recruiters use; her’s is a unique way of working. And that’s sad.

The others are making a common mistake regarding others. The mistake is having a mindset of “what can I get out of this?” instead of “what can I put into this?” There’s risk involved in investing time if nothing ever comes from it. But there’s also risk involved in treating interactions as business-like, impersonal, self-serving, or a matter of convenience & superficiality.

What’s the risk?

For example, every time I’ve had to work with a recruiter–and this isn’t unique to me–I feel that the percentage of my bill rate that goes to the agency is a painful pill to swallow. As I grew in my experience and learned more about the industry, I consistently found ways of securing work without using recruiters and felt much happier about it. I didn’t want some person who did nothing but talk about how great their company is and showed no interest in me at all other than what technical skills I have, to make a significant cut of my earnings, no matter how hard they worked to close the deal. I felt this way because it was clear it was all about the money and not about me at all. It conveys a spirit of being unappreciative, lacking gratitude, and a lack of respect. Inevitably, the entire recruiting industry grew to have a very negative reputation among almost everyone in the industry who used them. By risking not investing in individuals and quality relationships, an entire industry made the people they depend upon for income feel animosity toward them. Essentially, those being recruited reflected those negative feelings back onto the industry.

Seeing the person in front of you

However, if my favorite recruiter, who has been so thoughtful and persistent–even while having never made a penny off of me–ever found me a contract, as long as I was making my rate, I wouldn’t care if she was making a killing. In fact, I would want her to make a killing for how dedicated she has been while building the relationship and investing in it over the years. The difference in her approach and others is that she sees the real me, treats me like I’m a real person, and has believed in me. I can’t say the same thing about any other recruiter I’ve worked with, although one or two others have come close.

What is the essence of this approach?

  • Foster the relationship first.
  • Talk to the other person like they are a person, not an opportunity, resource, or object.
  • Don’t pressure the other person, but keep in touch.
  • Understand what’s important to that person, (don’t just ask about what you need to make a sale).
  • Listen more than you talk, and listen actively.
  • Believe in the person (not just their skillset).
  • Get in touch even when you have no other reason than to foster the relationship.

What if we treated all of our relationships this way?

If this sounds simple, it only sounds simple because few in the recruiting industry are doing this. But is it really just the recruiting industry? No. It’s across the board in our professional and personal relationships. People are in a rush to accomplish goals and do the things they need to do. Who has time to notice others, people we really don’t know? We barely have time to notice our own loved ones as we dash about running errands, making appointments, and frantically checking social media. I will guess that if each one of us had one friend who consistently exhibited the skills listed above, we’d likely consider them a best friend, and a cherished part of our life.

The thing is, you can’t exhibit these behaviors with everyone you know casually or whose resume you have access to. We don’t have time to build relationships like this with our 500 Facebook friends or 150 Twitter followers. We have this much time to foster these types of relationships with a select few. And those select few are worth more than a database of contacts or a thousand social media likes. I’m not suggesting that people don’t hustle, build lists of contacts, or followers, we have to do all of that in this world. But when it comes time to make human contact, make sure it’s human contact. Express warmth, gratitude, and respect toward the person that you clearly need. Hopefully, they will do the same. If they don’t, that says a lot about them and you have to ask if you’re certain you want to spend your time investing in them.

Right now, think about someone you value and see if you can start building a relationship with them using the approach I described. Do it for a year and notice if anything changed with the relationship, or maybe even with yourself. Even if the outcome isn’t what you hoped, I wager that you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the other relationships in your life.

And O.A., if you’re reading this, thanks for the inspiration for this post.

Take care,
Ian Felton - The Coder Counselor

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

Book review: Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Dr. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, tells the tragic, but inspiring story of his time as a Nazi prisoner in “Man’s Search For Meaning.” The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, Dr. Frankl tells his story about the time he spent in the four different death camps, as well as the time immediately after being freed. In the second part, Frankl describes his model of psychotherapy called logotherapy.

Viktor Frankl, Man's Search For Meaning

Though some criticize Frankl’s prose that describes his time as a prisoner as lacking in emotion, I found it rich in emotional descriptions. How many passages like this does one need to get a sense of the horror he went through?

I had always been especially sorry for people who suffered from fearful dreams or deliria, I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do. At that moment I became intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him.

Throughout Frankl’s narrative, he tells us about his internal dialogue and will to create meaning during the absurd horror he lived through. He imagined being with his wife again (who didn’t survive the concentration camps), or standing behind a podium giving a talk about how he survived his ordeal (which he ultimately did and to much larger audiences than he’d imagined.) He proffers many insights that he learned and held onto during his suffering so that he may write about them when finally free. One of his most famous lines reveals the deepest truth he discovered when in the darkest hours of his imprisonment.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Others include:

He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.

and

As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy.

The text is plentiful in inspiration.

Frankl’s background in psychiatry leads him to construct the second part of the text as a semi-formal model of logotherapy, the name he gives his approach to helping patients find meaning in their lives. This section may be less interesting to those outside of the mental health field, but it isn’t so technical as to not be accessible to most readers.

If you are looking for a text that is a stark reminder of what humans can endure, as well as ways of dealing with those hardships, try this classic. It truly is a testament to the potential strength of the human spirit in terrible times.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

The Evolution of Psychotherapy 2017

The Evolution of Psychotherapy conference began in 1985, ostensibly 100 years after psychotherapy itself began. Occurring every four to five years, this year was the eighth conference. Its goals are to summon those at the forefront of various psychotherapeutic disciplines to explore in a spirit of conciliation and integration, the fundamentals of psychotherapy.

Stress and health: Lessons from a wild primate

Primate researcher and Zach Galifianakis look-alike, Dr. Robert Sapolsky, delivered a keynote concerning lessons we can learn from his studies of baboons. Taking a detour from the traditional “rats in labs” approach, Dr. Sapolsky spent decades in the African bush. “If a lab rat is a good model for your emotional life, you’ve got problems,” he says, explaining his decision to leave the comforts of civilization for science.

We know that too much stress breaks down the immune system. It makes people sick. The problem is that we live in a world much different than the one in which we evolved. We get stressed for psychological reasons: trying to find parking, reactions to advertisements, pressures from family and social circles, meaningless tasks, traffic, and so on. Our stress response didn’t emerge in a world with endless psychosocial stressors. As a result, we suffer more chronic stress than our pre-civilized ancestors. While they died from bacteria, predators, starvation, and accidents, we typically die from the long-term effects of chronic stress: heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diseases due to the litany of methods we modern humans use to cope (smoking, drinking, eating bags of Oreos).

The primate studies revealed some important data that hopefully can be extrapolated to our lives. Dr. Sapolsky determined that certain baboons suffered less stress-related damage than others, even less compared with baboons of higher status and fewer aggressive encounters. What he gave us was the personality of a healthy primate.

The personality of a healthy primate

  1. Can discern a threat from a non-threat. In other words, doesn’t get stressed out at the smallest thing, or even not so small things. The baboons with healthy personalities only get worked up when they are seriously threatened. Yep, don’t sweat the small stuff.
  2. Doesn’t passively abdicate. Look at this as being assertive, not just giving in, but also not being overly aggressive.
  3. Winning results in bonding behavior. Some baboons after winning a fight would continue to show aggressive, out-of-control behavior. Not good. The healthy baboons would engage in grooming or other bonding behaviors after coming out on top. This would be something like showing grace after winning an argument in a meeting, rather than pettiness or rubbing the other person’s face in it.

Humans aren’t baboons, but we are much more like them socially than rats or other lab animals. If you are a Type-A person, take some tips from the healthy primates and you might live a longer, healthier life.

New, brief, respectful and effective approaches to treating post-traumatic stress disorder

This three-hour workshop led by Bill O’Hanlon wanted the audience to learn a way to treat trauma without retraumatizing the patient repeatedly with a voyeuristic exploration of all the details of their experiences of horror.

Most of the techniques center on focusing on the present and the future to help guide the client to a better existence.

  • Use phrases that create expectancy, such as “yet,” “so far,” “up to now,” and “when.”
  • Turn problem statements into goal statements.
  • Ask people to envision a future in which the situation is better, a problem is resolved or a goal is reached. Then work backwards from that future to the present.
  • Use “The Miracle Method” and ask people to imagine that the barriers to reaching the goal are eliminated by a miracle while everyone is sleeping.
  • Ask people to tell you what the first signs of change will be that will indicate that they are moving in the direction of the goals, the crystal ball vision or the miracle. [Hint: The first signs may already be happening.]
  • Write a letter from your future self to your current self. Looking into the future six months, one year or five years (or whatever time period you sense is appropriate). Describe where you are, what you are doing, what you have gone through to get there, and so on. Tell yourself the crucial things you realized or did to get there. Give yourself some sage and compassionate advice from the future.

Read more from this workshop

Treatment of a suicidal patient with a long history of victimization: A constructive narrative treatment approach

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy with Donald Meichenbaum is a demonstration of arguably the most frequently used therapeutic approach by one of its cofounders. Dr. Meichenbaum uses cognitive-behavioral therapy with a constructive-narrative perspective in which he looks at the stories patients tell about themselves and considers ways that the patient could develop a different, more positive story. If this sounds more to you like narrative therapy than CBT, you aren’t alone.

In this session, Dr. Meichenbaum worked with a young woman who is depressed and anxious and has attempted suicide seven times. She has undergone multiple traumas in her life, including rape and several suicides in her immediate family. Dr. Meichenbaum accentuates the patient’s strengths, skills and support system. Then he gently confronts the patient by helping her to see that, although one of her strengths is her willingness to forgive others, she has not been able to forgive herself for the things she has done.

Dr. Meichenbaum, in speaking with the woman, tapped into what is meaningful for her, including her concern for the step-father who raped her as teen, because he’s all the family she has left. It’s situations like this where the clinician can be tested in profound ways. Of course, our instinct is to want to create space between our patient and her victimizer, but if she is suicidal and he is truly the only family member left in her life, do we try to take that away and then watch her succumb to her daily suicidal ideation? The answers are troubling and seeing Dr. Meichenbaum handle the situation gracefully and gently showed that CBT has a heart bigger than it’s given credit for having.

Read more from the handout

Masculine/feminine: Then and now

In this talk, Dr. Marilyn Yalom and Esther Perel discussed how masculine and feminine appear in their clinical settings. Much of it had to do with how gender identity is more commonly presenting as a topic of concern. They also discussed the dynamics in gay couples where gender roles are clearly not based upon sex, but are still present and contribute to problems in the relationship.

Developing an atlas of emotion

Dr. Paul Ekman and daughter, Eve, presented on their work sponsored by the Dalai Lama. The goal of the project is to map emotions so that we can better develop a calm mind. According to the Dalai Lama, calm mind is destroyed by fear, anger, suspicion, lust, greed, and ambition. For example, even if one possesses the entire world, if one is filled with greed, he will be restless and still want Mars and the moon. The Dalai Lama states that to have a calm mind, one must possess self-confidence and psychological health.

Why a calm mind and not a joyful mind? Ecstatic joy isn’t stable. We need to cultivate awareness to have a calm mind, according to the Dalai Lama. Emotions are fleeting and complex, and facial expressions alone ignore the rich inner world that happens along with emotions. This is why the Dalai Lama engaged the Ekmans to produce “The Atlas of Emotions.” Check it out at The Ekmans’ Atlas of Emotions

Why some psychotherapists are more effective

Dr. Don Meichenbaum, part detective Columbo and part comedian, ( OK?! ) entertained a packed room with his take on what it takes to be the best healer you can be. While he delivers a one-liner every minute or two during his presentations, Dr. Meichenbaum takes his work seriously. His handout for the conference came in at 352 pages.

First, he told us that the psychotherapy alliance is five times more important than any approach or orientation. Then he self-deprecatingly sold us CBT because “being a CBT therapist decreases depression for the therapist.” He also let us know that the only thing that increases for most therapists after graduation is their confidence and bill rate, not their outcomes. In fact, he showed us data that beginning therapists have lower confidence, but better outcomes than more experienced therapists. Why? Because for most therapists the deliberate practice they undertook for years as a student comes to an end once the diploma is in hand. Dr. Meichenbaum advises, “love yourself as a person, doubt yourself as a therapist.” The point being that research shows that those therapists with a positive sense of self, but uncertainty about how to best deal effectively with a patient, have the best outcomes.

As an extension of this humility, Dr. Meichenbaum asks us to have patients provide two-minutes of assessment and feedback on each session. He also let us know that the only way to improve is to maintain deliberate practice. This can’t be undertaken alone. It must be done within a practice group or community of practitioners who are seeking to grow as therapists. “Attending workshops doesn’t change performance or improve skills,” he says, encouraging us to do the hard work throughout the year, not just during a long weekend retreat.

He also provided a list of specific behaviors that detail exactly what helpful and unhelpful therapists do according to their clients–you know, the experts on whether treatment was successful or not.

Helpful psychotherapists did the following

“Listened respectfully and took me seriously.”
“Believed my story.”
“Helped me see if I was still in danger and explored with me how I could deal with this situation.”
“Helped me see my strengths.”
“Helped me understand the impact of traumatic events on myself and on others.”
“Helped me plan for change.”

Unhelpful psychotherapists did this instead

“Did not listen and did not have an accepting attitude.”
“Questioned and doubted my story.”
“Dismissed or minimized the seriousness of my situation.”
“Gave advice that I did not wish to receive.”
“Blamed or criticized me.”

Finally though, he left us with one more juicy bite to chew on. Delivered using classic Dr. Meichenbaum humor, he advised us that if we really want to succeed as a therapist, the most important thing we can do is to choose our clients. And the ones we might prize most are YAVIS’s: Young, attractive, verbal, intelligent, and successful. “They are going to get better with or without your help.”

Read more from the handout

The initial interview

Three heavyweight names in therapy joined this panel: Dr. Otto Kernberg, Dr. William Miller, and Dr. Michael Yapko. The purpose of the panel was for each clinician to discuss the way they conduct the first session with a new patient. Their approach to the initial interview were strikingly different.

Dr. Kernberg treats many types of patients, including severely mentally ill patients. He takes a detailed clinical approach that requires the patient to complete many intakes questions and interviews. He said depending upon the patient, it may take up to four hours. He wants to know as much as he can up front: how the patient is doing at work, sex, love, and other important areas of life and functioning. His theory is that the patient wants to feel their problem has been understood. Immediately digging into the tiny details of a patient’s life is how Dr. Kernberg hopes to make a patient feel their problem has been heard.

Dr. Yapko, a CBT-oriented practitioner, went next. He wants to find out each client’s strengths and availability to resources. He also want to know how each client is keeping their symptoms at bay. He also wants to find out what the client wants. He cynically, if not accurately, mocked the web sites of many psychotherapists concerning what they will give people coming to them, “clients never come in and say, ‘I want to go on a journey.’” They want help with a specific problem or problems.

Dr. Yapko and Dr. Miller clearly had some disagreements that they were working out through the panel. As you likely know, Dr. Miller is the father of Motivational Interviewing. Early in Dr. Yapko’s explanation of his approach he made the statement, “It doesn’t matter how motivated people are, without skills, they can’t accomplish goals.”

Ouch.

Of course, Dr. Miller wasn’t going to let this slide and in his portion of the panel, he made it clear that “people already have a lot of skills and we overestimate the extent to which clients need our time.” His approach encourages the therapist to consider first contact very important. He wants to create a welcoming environment and to give a client something useful during the very first session. He said we shouldn’t bog down the first session with tons of questions, an opposing stance to Dr. Kernberg’s very formal intake. He also took a parallel tack to Dr. Yapko in diminishing the role of motivation, but contrasted with a different therapeutic element–hope. Dr. Miller said, “If you create motivation, but no hope, you haven’t done anyone any favors.”

The clinical application of mindfulness and compassion

“Any man who can drive safely while kissing, is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”

Dr. Jack Kornfield led us on a live application of using mindfulness in a therapeutic session. First, he led the entire room through a guided meditation, which is how most of his sessions begin. “I just want to give them the experience of quieting down,” he said.

He spoke for some time before bringing up a volunteer and doing a mindful, compassionate session with her. He was very gentle and sweet. He held her hand for much of the session. His approach was so tender and soft, that I wonder what approach he takes with men, who would certainly not be so receptive to the approach he demonstrated with the older woman.

Much, perhaps all, of his philosophy is Buddhist, although Dr. Kornfield promises that using his approach “doesn’t have to be a weird, spiritual, religious way of teaching quiet.” He emphasized that mindfulness isn’t passive. By using loving awareness, we become a loving witness to our experience and learn to bring a receptive quality to what is present.

His most powerful statement, “We do all of these things to manage what we cannot bear,” illuminated with deep compassion the suffering, maladaptation, and inconsistency we bring forth as humans when confronted with situations that we can’t face directly.

Hexadancing: A demonstration of the liberating impact of process-focused evidence-based therapy

Is it a bit long of a title? Yes, but watching one of my psychotherapy heroes, Dr. Steven C. Hayes, actually perform his Acceptance and Commitment Therapy live on-stage was worth every syllable. Seeing his slender, bald, nervous-but-confident presence on the stage got me very excited. It was the first talk where I made sure to find a seat in the front row.

But what the heck is a hexadance and why would I want to see it? ACT involves six core-processes that makeup the psychological flexibility model. These six are: Acceptance, cognitive defusion, being present, self as context, values, and committed action.

ACT is an approach to psychological intervention defined in terms of certain theoretical processes, not a specific technology. In theoretical and process terms we can define ACT as a psychological intervention based on modern behavioral psychology, including Relational Frame Theory that applies mindfulness and acceptance processes, and commitment and behavior change processes, to the creation of psychological flexibility. Association for Contextual Behavioral Science

Ian Felton and Steven C. Hayes

ACT’s roots are behavioral, but far more rich philosophically. ACT shares common philosophical roots with constructivism, narrative psychology, dramaturgy, social constructionism, feminist psychology, Marxist psychology, and other contextualistic approaches, but its unique goals leads to different qualities and different empirical results than these more descriptive forms of contextualism. Association for Contextual Behavioral Science

Dr. Hayes wanted to demonstrate how flexible the psychological flexibility model is by having each of the six processes individually displayed on a presentation slide. Every thirty seconds the slide would automatically change and he would work on that particular aspect of the model with a volunteer sitting with him on stage. The end result would be a brief therapy session driven by random slides as Dr. Hayes hexadanced with two different volunteers.

The manifestation was not jarring. He smoothly glided from one facet to the next, using metaphors, visualizations and more to pry loose the stuck wheels of the client. This approach requires more talking than many other approaches. It also requires a lot of creativity in delivering metaphors that can help shift the perspective of the client.

The cognitive roots of this approach come out in questions like, “What stops you? What thought stops you from taking that step?” when a client states clearly what they want to commit to, but still can’t.

By the end of each demonstration, each volunteer had a lot of movement with their problem. The first young man committed to calling his father and being honest with him about his feelings even knowing that his father might not reciprocate. A married woman decided she was going to pursue an opportunity for career advancement against the demand of her husband that she not and instead support him in his schooling.

When the talk was over, I made sure to stick around to have a chance to ask Dr. Hayes a question and take a photo with him.

Going off the deep end: Rediscovering our magickal roots in healing and psychotherapy

“Focus more on healing and less on psychotherapy,” said Dr. Scott Miller. His point is that we have become so caught up in our theories, models, and research that we have forgotten what resonates in our clients. People still crave magick.

Six dimensions of magick

  • Symbol - Connects people with core archetypes. Think Jung. Think deep human subconscious and the hero’s journey (if you are a writer).
  • Use of space - How the environment is shaped
  • Voice - tone, rhythm, and words
  • Movement - Structure and form
  • Drama - a narrative tension and release
  • Wonder, amazement, and surprise

Much of Dr. Miller’s work relates to treatment outcomes. Most people who need help don’t seek it. Many who do don’t come back after their first visit. “After meeting with us, people decide ‘I’d rather be mentally ill,’” he says. His research, including a large longitudinal study (see references) found that many psychotherapists don’t improve over time. That’s right. They don’t get better with experience and in fact, they get slightly less effective as they gain experience.

After burning the state of lethargy and disconnect in many practitioners, he encouraged us to connect more with the people in front of us. “Your clients want you to succeed in helping them. They will help you to be observant. Whatever presents to you in the office, you really ought to use,” he says. Psychics and other non-psychotherapeutic healers are in an industry worth billions that grows bigger economically each year. They only observe the person before them and give them advice based upon what they are seeing and experiencing in the other person. They keenly transmit all of the information the person in front of them is transmitting back to the person. He wants therapists to do learn from that.

“We are like islands in the sea – separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”

The purpose of his talk is to get us to reconnect with the core of our humanity, the one that emerged before civilization and science. He encourages us to be sensitive to the vibrations in the other person. If we are, the connection we will feel will serve to transmit what we need to know to help the other person. Connect with the other person, not our theories and models.

“It’s all about empowering the patients to believe in the magick within them,” he says.

Read the handout from Dr. Miller’s related talk on training new therapists

Positive psychology, positive interventions and positive education

Dr. Martin Seligman of positive psychology fame explored our current situation regarding suffering and well-being. Since the gains of the 20th century, we have reached an upper-limit in decreasing suffering but we have yet to increase happiness. We are very comfortable, unhappy creatures.

Dr. Seligman wants us to realize that well-being is something over and above the absence of misery. “Why are our kids unhappy when the objective world has never been better?” he asks. Schools don’t teach well-being as they should. His research has shown that in schools in various world regions, where a program of well-being was implemented, not only did well-being increase but also standardized test scores.

The model for well-being is contained in the acronym PERMA.

PERMA

  • Pleasant emotions
  • Engagement “flow” (me sitting for hours at the computer writing this in a joyful state without time)
  • Relationships that are positive and supportive
  • Meaning and purpose in life (think Viktor Frankl)
  • Accomplishment for its own sake (not money, ambition, fame)

He also wants us to realize that pessimism is bad for our health. Cardio-vascular disease’s biggest risk factor is chronic negativity. To counter the negativity in our society, Dr. Seligman suggests resilience training. “We can be positive creatures,” he declares.

love is a place

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

– E. E. Cummings

And then we will find out for the very first time, what kind of creature we truly are

“We will go out into the world and plant gardens and orchards to the horizons, we will build roads through the mountains and across the deserts, and terrace the mountains and irrigate the deserts until there will be garden everywhere, and plenty for all, and there will be no more empires or kingdoms (…) no more slavery and no more usury, no more property and no more taxes, no more rich and no more poor, no killing or maiming or torture or execution, no more jailers and no more prisoners, no more generals, soldiers, armies or navies, no more patriarchy, no more caste, no more hunger, no more suffering than what life brings us for being born and having to die.”
Š
– Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt

Read more from the handout

References

Goldberg, S. B., Miller, S. D., Nielsen, S. L., Rousmaniere, T., Whipple, J., Hoyt, W. T., & Wampold, B. E. (2016). Do Psychotherapists Improve With Time and Experience? A Longitudinal Analysis of Outcomes in a Clinical Setting. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, 63(1), 1-11. doi:1O.1037/cou0000131

Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

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