Tag Archives: Professional Counseling

The Other Side of the Couch – Best-Laid Plans  

 

I am a planner.  Identifying goals, making decisions about the best way to reach those goals, choosing among a variety of strategies are all easy for me.  I have rarely been a person who struggles with decision-making; in truth, it could be said that I sometimes make decisions too quickly – and reap the consequences!  However, in general I find the process of planning useful and rewarding.  I am comfortable with planning ahead; I like buying season tickets to the symphony or to a theater company.  I have rarely thought something like, “I don’t know whether I will want to do X in three weeks” – instead, if it is on my calendar and I have planned to do it, I do it.

I know that there are others in this world to whom the idea of planning what one is going to do in three weeks, or a week, or even tomorrow, is anathema.  “How am I going to know how I will feel at that point?”  “Let’s play it by ear.” (This last one is designed to make people like myself crazy.)  To these individuals the experience of spontaneity is of high value.  Checking in with one’s self in the moment, asking what is going on for you right now, being willing to listen to the moment-to-moment inner knowing that can guide decision-making, is paramount.

Most of us live somewhere in between these two extremes.  One of the dimensions measured by the Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI – www.meyersbriggs.org) is that of comfort with planning vs. comfort with spontaneity (the J-P dimension).  Not surprisingly, I am pretty far toward the J side.  One of the things I appreciate about the MBTI information is that neither of these positions is wrong.  The information about one’s self is helpful in understanding self and in understanding others.

A recent set of experiences, however, has helped me to challenge my own natural preference for planning.

I got a new knee.

Prior to this very significant surgery, I laid plans to manage what I perceived to be all contingencies.  Knowing I would be out of work for a time, I arranged coverage for clients who would need it.  I borrowed or bought equipment that I would need for recovery.  I estimated the time I would be out of the office and planed with my clients accordingly.  Everything was in order.

However – best-laid plans.

This phrase, well-known for its reference to the poem, “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns, essentially says that even the best-laid plans can be overturned by external and unexpected events.  The mouse’s nest was torn apart by an unexpected plow, and my plans for an easy and uneventful recovery were challenged by the realities of a very hard operation and some unexpected complications that have extended the timeline well beyond what I had hoped.

So – I am NOT yet back at work; I am NOT yet driving; I am NOT yet fully recovered after one month (which was my plan, even though I was told that the acute recovery period is generally six to eight weeks with a right knee replacement).  MY plan was to beat the odds, be the superstar patient who was off pain medication in two weeks, driving in three, and back to full functioning in four.

Well, my friends, today is four weeks, and I am not doing any of those things. While I am certainly on the road to recovery, the time line is longer, perhaps, even than the average recovery would be.

Today, therefore, I am living into the other side of the MBTI dimension – the side that focuses on present moment.  I am asking myself questions like – “What do you need right this minute?”  “What would help right now?”  While I still must plan such things as rides to Physical Therapy, I am much more in the moment than I am used to being.  I am finding it strange, but strangely comforting as well.

Perhaps I will grow through this experience into being a more balanced person, who both plans, and allows herself to know that sometimes plans don’t work out, and that’s ok.

Where do you fall on this continuum?

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – “What Thoughts and Prayers Look Like”

 

On Monday, October 2, 2017, I woke to the news of yet another mass shooting, the worst in our nation’s history.  My reaction to this news was disturbing, because at first I felt nothing other than a weary sadness and a sense of “another one”.  Where was the horror, the anger, the disbelief, the sorrow?  Have I become so desensitized to violence that I cannot react to such carnage?

I know that one of the first reactions to extraordinarily painful events is often shock.  We go on automatic pilot for a while, just to survive.  Trauma does that, both physically and emotionally.  As the week wore on, and the details of this event permeated the nation’s consciousness, as the stories of the victims and the lack of a known motive for the shooter became available, the protective walls came down.  The tears and sadness followed, along with the need/hope/wish to do something.

So many times when friends or acquaintances or strangers are in need, when a death has occurred, I hear people say – I say myself – my thoughts and prayers are with you.

My friend, Beth Pattillo, writes award-winning romance and women’s fiction. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a group spiritual director. She can be found online at www.bethpattillo.com.  Beth wrote a poem in response to the all the recent tragedies our world has experienced that spoke to me.  She has given me permission to share it with Her Savvy readers.

What Thoughts and Prayers Look Like

People lined up at blood banks
Texted donations
Cases of bottled water and container ships with MREs
Mosquito spray and goggles and strangers taking in strangers
More than words on a social media account
A kindness done every day
Not for the feel-good but for the other
Quiet, when we examine our hearts and listen for God
Who will tell us whether we are the problem or the solution
Refraining from violent thoughts, words, and actions
A displaced shelter dog adopted to a new home
A cake for a neighbor who is a first responder or medical provider
A refusal to engage in hatred
Hands and feet that do the work of goodness and walk the path with
Those who are in pain, in need, in turmoil
Love in action, in practice, in point of fact—
A giving of self, a giving up of self
Unsecured existence made secure
Not in ourselves but in something greater than ourselves

— Beth Pattillo

May we all find the way to love in action in these perilous times.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Done Dreaming

Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

By Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, c. 1994

I write today in honor of and in solidarity with the 800,000 Dreamers whose dreams have this day been shattered by the decision of President Trump to discontinue the Obama-era program that protected them from deportation.

I am not interested in the legalities of this situation.  I am interested in the humanity.  These are human beings, brought to this country as children – children who had no ability to object or to decide their own fates.  They know no other country.  Most were too young to remember another place or way of life.  They are in school, studying, becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers – and now our government, the government of the United States of America, is telling them that they are unwelcome.

My heart is breaking for these young people.  This action is wrong.  Whether the program expires in 6 months (which will happen unless Congress, which to date has been unable to act in a bipartisan manner for years, is able to act) or is extended or completely dropped, these young people are irreparably harmed.

They are harmed by knowing that some people in this country see them as aliens, as outsiders, even as enemies.  They are harmed by living constantly with fear and stress.  They are harmed most of all by broken trust.  Will they ever trust again?

And – It is not their fault.

I am writing my senators and congressman today about this situation.  I hope that you will, too.  It is about justice, fairness – but most of all it is about being a caring human being.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Why We Write   

 

What is it about writing?

Writing is not innate.  While speaking as a form of communication is part of the developmental trajectory of the human being, writing (and its companion, reading) must be learned.  That learning process takes years and requires practice.  How many high school students have labored over the five-paragraph essay or complained about learning expository writing?

The physical process of writing is becoming a lost art as more and more people who write depend on the keyboard and computer.  Experts debate both sides of this issue.  Some say cursive should continue to be taught; others say opting for print is the best.  A third group says the focus needs to be on keyboarding.  As a left-handed writer whose handwriting was already shaky, the final blow was taking speedwriting after college – the result is that anyone who attempts to read my handwriting often needs translation.

And yet – the process of using language to write may have therapeutic results. As a professional counselor I often recommend exercises that involve writing.  If you are a worrier, keep a pad and pen beside your bed, and if you wake up and are worrying, get those worries out of you and onto paper.  This process sometimes will help you calm down and return to sleep.  If you have unfinished business with someone that cannot be safely or reasonably addressed with the person, write a letter to that person – a letter that you may never choose to send –  to reach some degree of closure.  If you are engaged in a process of self-exploration, the experience of keeping a journal may help you deepen your journey.

For me the essence of writing is connection.  I write because I have a thought, an experience, or a way of seeing that I want to share with others.  Bringing whatever this is out of myself and into a form in which I share it with others who may be interested, may respond, may be touched or moved or shaken, is for me part of the larger journey of being in community with other human beings.

I write because I have something to say. Writing feels like the creation of something bigger than myself.  I don’t know where my words go, where they land, what impact they have, but in bringing them out of myself and offering them to a larger world, I am engaged in the process of creation.  I don’t assume that my words are great literature or that they are life-changing.  They may just be my words – and that is ok, too.   I offer them as they are – and for my reader, they can be taken in whatever way the reader chooses.

Solace, comfort, joy – struggle, pain, despair – writing can be all those things to the writer and to the reader.

Is writing a part of your life?  Does it play a role?  Has it helped you?  Harmed you?  Open the door to this process and see where it might take you.  You could be surprised!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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The Other Side of the Couch – Does Marching Matter? 


Following hard on the surprising election of Donald Trump, marches and protests have taken place across the United States and, indeed, across the world.  Beginning with the Women’s March, which took place the day after the inauguration, and which saw record crowds in almost all the areas in which it took place, most of these marches have been buoyed by a spirit of hope and connection.  The march in Nashville, Tennessee was described by the Tennessean as follows:

“About 15,000 people marched in downtown Nashville Saturday in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington.  Middle Tennesseans marched for one mile from Cumberland Park to Public Square in support of a myriad of social justice issues, including women’s rights, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, environmental justice and access to health care.”  The Tennessean, Jan. 21, 2017

Since that march, other events have taken place, including town hall meetings with legislators, such as the one held on February 21, 2017 with Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R).

The question for me is this:  Does any of this matter?

Andreas Madestam, Daniel Shoag, Stan Veuger, and David Yanagizawa-Drott say that it does.  In a paper quoted below, “Do Political Protests Matter, Evidence from the Tea Party Movement,” the authors suggest the following:

Abstract

Can protests cause political change, or are they merely symptoms of underlying shifts in policy preferences?  We address this question by studying the Tea Party movement in the United States, which rose to prominence through coordinated rallies across the country on Tax Day, April 15, 2009.  We exploit variation in rainfall on the day of these rallies as an exogenous source of variation in attendance.  We show that good weather at this initial, coordinating event had significant consequences for the subsequent local strength of the movement, increased public support for Tea Party positions, and led to more Republican votes in the 2010 midterm elections. Policymaking was also affected, as incumbents responded to large protests in their district by voting more conservatively in Congress.  Our estimates suggest significant multiplier effects: an additional protester increased the number of Republican votes by a factor well above one. Together our results show that protests can build political movements that ultimately affect policymaking, and that they do so by influencing political views rather than solely through the revelation of existing political preferences.

  1. Madestam, et. al. The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2013) 128 (4): 1633-1685

The authors’ analysis shows that protests increased the turnout in the following congressional elections.  Thus, protests and marches DO affect legislators and affect turnout.  Keep on marching – but don’t forget to do the work of organizing and getting out the vote!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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The Other Side of the Couch – Starting a Business

business-plan

When I first began to contemplate the idea of becoming a therapist I was not even aware of the differentiations among the mental health professions; nor was I aware of what creating a private practice in that field would require.  One of the mentors I consulted told me that It would take ten years before I really felt seasoned enough to open a private practice.  I told myself that she was mistaken, didn’t really know me and my intellect and determination – but as it turned out she was right on the money.  I began my first degree in the field of professional counseling in 1980, and I started a private practice in 1990 – with lots of school, two degrees, work in social services in Massachusetts, and in community mental health in Nashville, in between.

As a seasoned professional counselor, well-grounded in my ability to serve clients, to diagnose and treat, to create treatment plans, to help clients navigate the changes that they desired, I was in a good position.  However, clinical expertise is not all that running a private practice requires.

Nowhere in the experience that I had accrued did any course address the issues of starting a business.  In fact, the idea that private practice was a business was actively discouraged.  We were taught to see ourselves as professionals with a calling, and to hold the idea of “business” with some degree of disdain.  To acknowledge that we were in business and that we hoped to make money to sustain ourselves and our families was regarded with condescension.

I noticed that the few men with whom I trained had less difficulty with this issue.   The women, however, struggled.  What to charge?  How much was fair?  How can I help those who are struggling financially and who yet need my services?  The idea of a business plan didn’t even exist in my consciousness.

What I have learned over these years in practice is that the positives of private practice – no boss, flexible hours, working as much or as little as one desires – do not make the other side of running a business go away.  As a solo practitioner, I am responsible for EVERY ASPECT of my business. My first duty is to my clients, with FIRST DO NO HARM as the central ethical mandate.  I run my own schedule.  I return all phone calls.  I keep up with best practices in my field.  I attend conferences and make sure that I use continuing education to stay current.  However, I also market.   I recruit business.  I manage online and social media.  I create websites (or hire having them created).  I am responsible for keeping up with paperwork, for interacting with insurance companies.  I clean the office.  I vacuum.  I take out the trash.  I buy supplies – all the way from insurance forms to paper towels.  I also manage the bookkeeping and everything related to paying taxes, from quarterly assessments required for solo practitioners to Schedule C profit and Loss statements for income tax purposes.  This means keeping excellent records of everything related to the business.

If you want to start your own business as a private practitioner, I recommend the following:

  1. Talk to someone who has been in successful practice for a while.
  2. List the pros and cons.
  3. Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. Consider hiring others to do things that are not your strengths.
  4. Have a business plan, an attorney and a bookkeeper, at minimum.

Good luck!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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The Other Side of the Couch – What’s in a Name?

my-name-is

A question on Facebook recently sparked my curiosity regarding names.  The question was:  Were you named after someone?  I answered that question easily because I have always known that my name reflected a generational struggle perpetuated in my family from the early days of my parents’ marriage.

I was named “Susan” after my maternal great-grandmother, Susan Crawford White, and “Elisabeth” after by paternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Wilson Mosier.  Please note the “s” in my name and the “z” in my great-grandmother’s name.  Because of that difference in spelling, my paternal grandmother rejected the idea that I was named after her mother.  The way she saw it was that my mother’s family had “won” some unnamed contest.

This “contest” reflected the merger of two different cultures – that of my mother’s family and my father’s family.  Mimi, my maternal grandmother, came from a Nashville family that had acquired some success.  Mimi’s younger brother, Weldon White, was an attorney who later became a Supreme Court justice in Tennessee.  Her family highly valued education; she graduated from Hume Fogg High School, and after her husband suffered financial reverses after WWI, she became the stable family breadwinner, teaching first grade in the Nashville public schools for forty years. A pioneer in her own way, she pursued her own college degree and graduated from Peabody College for Teachers at the advanced age of 47.  She was a life-long Democrat and supported the Equal rights Amendment when she was in her seventies.

Mam-ma, my dad’s mother, came from a different situation.  Her father moved his family repeatedly, always in search of a better situation.  Mam-ma left school after 8th grade, in part due to this constant moving.  She married at 20 to a young man who had ambition to get off the farm, and my grandfather won a position as a railroad mail clerk, moving the family to Nashville in 1924.   Mam-ma was very proud of her home and her homemaking skills; her home was her pride and joy.  A product of extreme poverty (her family never owned land and farmed for others), she believed in very traditional family values.  My grandfather was a staunch Republican, and she never questioned his positions.  However, they supported and were completely proud of my father’s college and medical school successes, and they made sure that their daughter also went to college.

So, what was the struggle?  These two strong women were jockeying for what they perceived as inclusion in the household that I entered as an infant.   Mimi was often present, always a helper, always looking for something to do that would be useful.  Mam-ma and Poppy visited often, but were the “fun” grandparents who brought us treats, took us to do fun things, but were not helpers in the way that Mimi was.  Mimi saw Mam-ma as overly frank, too direct, and a bit uncouth.  Mam-ma saw Mimi as a snob who was hypocritical.  My parents, and to some extent the children as well, were aware of navigating challenging waters between Mimi and Mam-ma.   Never overtly antagonistic, they nevertheless were cut from very different cloths and called each by their last names for all the years of my growing up.

One letter of the alphabet became emblematic of a much larger issue.  Who is included?  Who is on the outside?  How does a family navigate the choppy waters of extended family life?  How do mothers and mothers-in-law manage the tasks of allowing room for the new family to emerge?  It took these two women many years; I was an adult with a child of my own before they called each other by their first names.

The stories of my grandmothers seem to me to be emblematic of the divide that is roiling our country today.  One strand focuses on equal rights and embraces change; the other strand highly values continuity and traditional values.  I loved both of them dearly, and I celebrated the day they finally reconciled themselves to each other and to the family that my mother and father created.  Both were born at the tail-end of the 19th century; both lived to see changes that were unimaginable at their births.

The important part of this story is that they found a way to respect each other.  It was a process that was grounded in love.

What is the story of naming in your family?

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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The Other Side of the Couch – It Just Happened    

shoulder-photo

Today I am almost one month post rotator cuff surgery.  I would never have realized how very frequent this surgery is until I have had to deal with it.  So many friends, co-workers, and other acquaintances, on learning what I am experiencing, are happy to describe their own journeys with this all too frequent injury.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for people in the many years prior to the availability of this kind of surgical repair.  Living with the pain and with the limitations forced by the inability to raise one’s arm above a certain level was extremely challenging.  Knowing that it could be repaired was hopeful.  Living without that hope could only be described as devastating.

Most people assume that this kind of injury is the result of a fall or of some kind of accident.  In fact I learned from my surgeon that the great majority of rotator cuff injuries “just happen.”  Perhaps it is because we are living longer or perhaps because we are compromising the shoulder joint by repetitive motion that wears out the muscle, or perhaps it is because we are neglecting to strengthen the small muscles that surround the shoulder and keep it functioning as it should.  Many of these injuries simply occur with no outside compromise.

My own case could be a combination of all of these factors.  I know that I tended to put my heavy purse, my satchel of papers, and anything else that I happened to need to use in a day in the passenger car seat; I would then drag these objects across the seat as I exited the car, using my arm and shoulder in a repetitive motion process many times daily.  These experiences add up!

So – I will say it “just happened” when asked – but what I really should be saying is that some degree of lack of self-care contributed to a difficult surgery.  I am on the other side of it now, and I am improving every day.  I hope to learn from the experience, and to protect my OTHER shoulder from something that “just happens.”

Is there anything in your life that is “just happening?”  Take a look – maybe you could influence it for good by making small changes.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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The Other Side of the Couch – Books That Have Touched My Life

reading-baby

I really cannot remember a time when I could not read.  I know that my mother read to me, even as a baby.  A family story chronicles me at three reciting “The Night Before Christmas” in its entirety to my two year-old sister. I remember at six dancing down the hall of the house, having received a set of the Bobbsey Twins series for my birthday.  Later the Cherry Ames, Student Nurse Series and biographies of accomplished women took center stage.  Wherever I went I had a book.  I was called out in class for reading under the desk during other classes.  In the summer I stacked books beside my chair in the living room and read voraciously.

Books took me to other places, other stories, other lives.  Books took me away from my own lonely life in middle and high school, becoming the friends for whom I longed.  Books widened my world, taking me to ancient Rome (Great and Glorious Physician), to Renaissance Italy (The Agony and the Ecstasy), ancient England (The Mists of Avalon), to a romanticized South (Gone with the Wind).   I climbed the moors with Jane Eyre, rejected and then fell in love with Mr. Darcy.  Discovering theater, I reveled in Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies.

As a professional counselor a whole other genre of books has become significant.  The stories of people’s lives embodied in historical and other fiction have been amplified by the professional literature of a lifetime.  Out of all of the hundreds of books and articles I have read over thirty plus years, three stand out as especially life-changing.

The first is On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers, in which he elucidates the three core conditions required for transformational change in a client (empathy, authenticity, and unconditional positive regard).  These foundational principles have informed my work from its inception.  Second is the amazing leap into a new way of seeing power, articulated by Jean Baker Miller in her seminal work Toward a New Psychology of Women, in which she describes “power with” rather than “power over” as a way to understand the relational process of transformation.  Third is the slim volume called Focusing by Eugene Gendelin, a book that opened the door into the centrality of the body-based knowing that creates change, if it is given a chance.

Whether fiction, biography, or professional literature, what all of these stories and experiences have in common is an arc of change.  Characters grow, develop, learn.  People live through struggle, learn new ways of being.  Through my profession I have learned how to be part of and witness to that process of change, informed by the touchstones of presence and witness.

Does your life story have an arc?  Have you considered how your story could be created?  What if you were an author, considering a biography of the life you have led?  What would you see?

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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The Other Side of the Couch – Speaking Tech

Locked Computer

Are you a digital native or an immigrant to the land of technology?

If you were born after 1987, you are most likely a digital native. You have grown up with technology and have little resistance to it.  You do it naturally, without a lot of thought.  If you are a digital immigrant, many things about technology can be overwhelming.  As the millennials grow up and move into the job market, more and more experiences require computer savvy.  If you want to apply for a job, you will most likely have to do so online.  If you want to find a phone number, forget about finding a phone book.  Need to apply for Medicare or social security?  Most help is found online.  Many of the day-to-day activities that used to be done through mail or through written application processes are not even available in these forms.

How do all of these changes affect professional counselors and other mental health professionals?

In a word, profoundly!  Technological familiarity is now often required to submit insurance forms, to sign up for conferences, to maintain awareness of changes in the field.  Journals which once were delivered through the mail now are delivered through digital means.   Practitioners have a wide variety of information sources available, but also can be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information flooding in-boxes.

The most significant changes that are affecting the mental health field are those related to issues of confidentiality and informed consent.  Confidentiality is the bedrock foundation on which the counseling relationship rests.  Anything that threatens confidentiality is a threat to both the client and the counselor.  Confidentiality requires very careful attention to any possibility of breach.  However, many individuals, both counselors and clients, are very used to using emails and texting in order to quickly and efficiently reach others.

How do professional counselors handle these issues?  The most important method is through informed consent – that is, through explaining the issues that relate to the use of emails/texting and social media to clients as soon as a counseling relationship is begun.  Professional counselors are urged through their ethical standards to maintain a social media and technology policy and to explain it to clients.  Counselors are also encouraged to use encrypted programs in sending and receiving emails or texts, if they actually agree to do so (some counselors do not).

Telehealth or telemedicine is another emerging area of concern.  Suppose I am a counselor in Tennessee and a client in another state finds my website (another necessity for current practice) and wants to work with me through a video platform.  First, unless I am licensed in the state where the client is, I cannot work with the client.  Second, if I am licensed in that state, I must use a video platform that is HIPAA-compliant (Skype is not).  Third, I must be knowledgeable concerning the resources in that client’s area in case of emergency.  Fourth, I must have enough ability to work with technology to be able to access the client through another means if for some reason the video bridge fails at a crucial moment.

Technology is both an incredible blessing and a huge burden.  My immigrant ability to speak tech is improving, but I will never be as adept at it as are millennials.  Nonetheless, I will keep trying, because it is where the world is going.

What are your stories about technology?  How do you manage the digital world?  I would love to hear about it.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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