Set the World on Fire

“Set the World on Fire” – The Reverend Brian F. Linnane, S.J., Ph.D.

Graduation Day!! I had looked forward to that day since my very first class at Loyola and what a glorious day it was! Sharing that celebration with so many of my classmates added to the joy. Even with such great emotions there was also a sense of uncertainty. What happens next?

President Brian F. Linnane had a suggestion: Set the world on fire!

He made this statement during his closing remarks and those words still resonate with me. As graduating students our time at Loyola has been an incredible and enlightening experience. Yet if it only remains an experience, a moment in time, then I believe that we have not fully embraced what has been taught. We went through this experience so that we could change ourselves and also assist others in the process of positive change. Whatever theory you use, from CBT to Adlerian, positive change for the client is the goal. Well your client is the world and it is in need of some positive change!

Many of us will move on to different parts of the country and in some cases, even the world. I hope that we resolve to do our part to make the world a better place. It may sound like a cliche’ or a song lyric, but that is the goal. It may be through an incredible counseling session with a client or sharing an encouraging word with a stranger. Whatever the case, know that, as graduates, we are being sent out into the world to make a change. And I am confident that we will. (You can contact Dr. Ralph Piedmont for the exact probability within one standard deviation, but trust me it is high!) We have endured reading the equivalent of the Library of Congress, we have used United Nations level cooperation to make group presentations, we have written papers of biblical proportions, and have meticulously prepared APA citations. In addition to all of that, we have also completed years of clinical internships. And we have not only survived; we have thrived.

The world needs our hope, our faith, our service and our presence. It has been my honor to have shared this journey with you, my fellow classmates. I have been enlightened by your conversations and encouraged by your lives. You are truly wonderful and exceptional and I am excited about the great impact that you will have on others. So to echo the words of President Linnane: Set the world on fire!

When Things Fall Apart

“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test of each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.”

– Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Many clients come to us with their own versions of “falling apart” and it is our privilege as counselors to share in that space with them and to not flinch, (or to flinch but still not run). In that space and with the understanding that there may not be a specific “destination”, but a belief that the counseling journey will produce movement, a more enlightened person or both. And it is that universal love for the client that allows the counselor to be in that space without agenda, impatience or predetermined result. If universal love is the foundation upon which the counseling relationship is built, then acceptance would then be the framework of that counseling relationship. The universal love can lead to an acceptance of the client for who and what they are, which is many times far beyond their actions and behavior. That growing space of acceptance, supported by the universal love, allows the client to feel safe enough to open those dark doors and shine light on dark hallways within them. But acceptance also requires that the counselor accept a few things as well. The first acceptance is that of the counselor’s limitations. Even with the best techniques, theories and counseling presence, there is a limit to how much can be accomplished. That limit is based upon many factors, a good number of which are outside of the counselor’s control (client willingness, client support systems, environment just to name a few). There is also an acceptance of the fact that the effective and productive counseling process is not free of pain or discomfort. Many times I have found myself shying away from asking questions that may cause the client discomfort or even pain. And I have had to realize that the client was ALREADY in pain and discomfort. So yes a portion of my reluctance was based upon that concern for the client, but a portion of that was also for me. I wanted to avoid the pain and discomfort that I would feel, so I avoided certain lines of questions and inquiries in part because of my lack of acceptance that discomfort on both sides (the client and the counselor) are a natural and essential part of the process of truer healing.

 

 

Hope-FULL


Psychologist Irvin Yalom stated that one of the most important agents of change that the therapist can use to assist the client is the instillation of hope.

While I am not an expert in the process, I did want to share a few lessons that I have learned that hopefully will be of benefit to you.

 

We instill hope, not install it

We are not the therapy versions of the Best Buy Geek Squad. We don’t install hope, like they would install high-definition television sets. During the counseling sessions we strive to “instill” hope. Instilling is defined as the process of “gradually but firmly establishing”. In therapy we try to “gradually but firmly” connect the client to the hope that is already inside them. It took hope for the client to even come to the counseling session. So they already have the hope, we just have to help them increase it.

We bring the belief of hope with us

Even though we don’t install hope, we do bring the belief that the client has hope inside them, which can be built upon. We bring the hope that the time spent in counseling will bring about a positive result. We bring the hope that we have been educated and prepared to journey with our clients through whatever challenges life has given them.

We hope in God

As great as our clinical skills may be, I personally believe that God is in the room as well. And that other person is God. I recognize that everyone may not embrace this hope and I understand that. When I feel lost in session, (and even when I don’t), I try to stay constantly aware that God is in the room and His love and grace are present as well. I also have hope that His love for the client, (and for me), is operating even more than my clinical skills and techniques. This is not to absolve me of being prepared, present and focused in session, but it is a sense or comfort.

Also as the semester begins, realize that hope is for you too! There may be times when you will feel that you are losing hope yourself. It may be after an unfruitful session with a client or after getting a bad grade. It may even be when the rest of your life intrudes and you are started to feel overwhelmed. When that happens remember this anonymous quote, “When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time”.

Can We “Rule-Out” the Dream?

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” –
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

 

To be extremely transparent, this has probably been the hardest blog post for me to write. I have started, stopped, reconsidered, rewrote, and second-guessed almost every word. The topic is so sensitive, and the possibility of being misunderstood is so great, even attempting to grasp it with one blog entry seems impossible.

To say nothing would be negligent with the Trayvon Martin murder trial verdict just a few weeks in the past and the commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington and the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King literally days away. Can we definitely say one way or the other that as a society we judge people by the “content of their character and not the color of their skin”? I think there can be some consensus that we are not in that place yet.

Can we “rule-out” that the dream that Dr. King talked about will ever come to fruition? I don’t have enough information to make that diagnosis. I am hopeful that in the future months and years, our nation will take strides to listen to each other and not make the erroneous assumption that we have arrived in a “post-racial” utopia that does not presently exist.

It starts with less talking and more listening. It continues with people being less concerned with being right and more concerned about being compassionate. It is realizing that I can’t really put myself “in your shoes.” I have to listen to you and hear you when you tell me what wearing your shoes is like. It starts with something as simple as looking at each and every person and giving them the respect of being an individual regardless of their differences.

In less than a month, we will be back in classrooms with our fellow classmates. I encourage you to have the tough conversations and ask, respectfully, the questions that may be sensitive. That is how we will grow as individuals and as a society.

Why should this even be a concern for counselors? It is a consideration because the client sitting across from you or in your counseling group or your colleague or friend has a dream, too.  That dream may be a part of the American Dream, a part of the dream of equality or another dream entirely. Listening to, respecting, and even advocating for their dream may be the help that they need from you.

 

Roll Like a Ball

Each summer since I have been at Loyola, I have concocted a “Summer Bucket List.”  The list includes those activities that I always wanted to do, but didn’t have the time because of class and clinical internship. One of the items on this year’s Summer Bucket List was to take up yoga. I have heard many great things about the benefits of yoga from fellow students, professors, clients, and even my doctor and I finally decided to give it a try.

My local gym had daily classes so I picked a morning one, showed up early, sat down on my newly purchased yoga mat, and prepared for fifty minutes of bliss.

It started out so well, a few stretches here, a few twists and turns there, and soothing music playing in the background. Then we really began, and it was not pretty. My “Downward Facing Dog” died mid pose, my “Warrior Stance” was AWOL, and I won’t even mention the horror which was my “Pigeon Pose.”  In fact, with the few exceptions of the “Mountain” and “Chair” poses, the relaxing morning of yoga was looking to be an ego-bursting, reality-bashing exercise in frustration. Then, the instructor led us into “Roll Like a Ball”. It turns out that in this I was a natural. My technique was perfect and I was able to balance mid roll on every occasion to my surprise and delight.

In some ways, my first year of clinical internship was very similar to my yoga experience. In the introductory phase, I approached clinicals with not only anticipation, but to be honest, also a slight sense of untested confidence. After some initial great sessions, I started working with the “real” clients and often felt like I did in yoga, wondering what in the world was going on. But, just like yoga, I stuck with it and improvement started to occur. Thankfully, there were “Roll Like a Ball” moments when there was a significant breakthrough with a client, or an effective treatment plan was written, or a highly productive supervisory session was held. These are the moments that you look forward to, but the other arduous moments are just as important for our growth and development as counselors.

I have no doubt that, if I continue, mastering a true “Tree” pose will be in my future, but until then I will keep showing up to yoga class. Each day I try to make the best of that time.

If we, as counselors, apply the same lesson in clinicals and try to make each day, each session, the best that we can, we will be “Rolling Like a Ball” in no time.

Namaste.

The Rest that Comes After

Aside

“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” ― Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

The other day I was abruptly reminded that I needed to rest. I had just gotten home after a long day and somehow between turning off the engine and opening the door, I dozed off for 20 minutes. I might still be there if it had not been for the sound of a car door slamming somewhere else. I got inside the house and a familiar chorus ran through my mind, “I will rest after . . . .” After the treatment plan is done, after the chapter is read, after the email checked and after the project for work is completed. Rest for me did not come until after midnight.

I have talked to many of my colleagues, and my experience (with the exception of the car incident) is typical. Rest becomes the thing that comes after. Rest will come after work, after class, after meetings, after homework, after family responsibilities, and after essentially everything else. Quite often, the “after” does not come. We all know that we need rest, but making that rest a priority is a significant challenge.

A 2012 CDC study reported that more than 40 million U.S. workers get fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night. This obviously is less than the 7 ½ to 8 hours that is generally recommended. Just take a moment to reflect over the last month of your life and think of how many times you have gotten proper rest.

To make matters worse, our society often applauds persons for working themselves to the point of exhaustion.

So, we have exhausted counselors sitting across from exhausted clients. We have to do better and also have to encourage our clients to do better as well.

Rest always comes “after” something, but make sure that rest doesn’t come after everything!

Don’t Say Goodbye . . . Say Thank You

Another semester is almost over and the familiar routine begins. The furious rush to finish all papers, projects, and assignments that you knew about from week one. Then, that oft-repeated vow: that you will never wait so late start . . . again. The perfunctory filling out of class evaluations that you know you should spend more time on, but you don’t, and the lightning-fast goodbyes that we give to teachers and students alike as we dash toward the parking lot.

It is the last part of the routine that I take issue with. We say goodbye too easily. We often talk about “terminating” with clients and how much care is needed because of the emotional bonds that have been created. Yet what about the bonds created with that person who sat beside you for countless morning and evening hours? Saying goodbye to them should not be so easy. Take the time to thank them for their presence, their camaraderie, for their commiseration with you about the long nights, for their listening ear about the woes of your internship. And, of course, thank them for all the times that they agreed with you that your paper did deserve a better grade. Don’t just say goodbye, say thank you.

If the events in our country over the last few weeks have taught us anything, it is that life is precious and every day is a gift. Just like we can’t take life for granted, we also can’t take the relationships with our classmates for granted either. These are our present peers and our future colleagues, fostering and maintaining relationships with at least a few persons will produce unimagined benefits.

I have heard it said that part of what makes Loyola great is the students, and I would definitely agree. Even the students that I have disagreed with have added something to me. They have helped to clarify my voice, my views, and my beliefs and, in some cases, even my faith. That is a gift and I am thankful for it. And, to you who are reading this blog, I thank you as well for journeying with me and all the other writers as we have shared with you.

To the students I have met, the professors who challenged me to grow, and the friends I have made, I have been blessed by the gift of your presence.

I am not saying goodbye. I am saying thank you.

Showtime

By the time you read this blog, millions of people will have already attended an Easter service on Sunday. Many parishioners will have purchased new clothes, and numerous churches will have spent money to make sure that their buildings and the worship experience are as attractive as possible. There will be plays, dramatizations, special guests, and special effects. In an overheard conversation, one pastor even called Easter Sunday, “Showtime”.

I thought long and hard about that statement. What exactly are churches offering on “Showtime” Easter Sunday? And why is that offering not compelling enough to encourage persons to come back before Easter of the next year? Is that an indication of their lack of religious conviction or an indictment of the relevance of the Church? Many churches are reporting that attendance is dropping and it is not beyond belief to wonder if eventually Easter will just become another Sunday.

I don’t think it has to be that way. Even in our age of smartphones, tablets, and virtual-almost-everything, I still believe that the community church is relevant and necessary. There are challenges that the Church must address. How does the Church really feel about marriage equality and why are so many Church marriages failing? What does the Church really think about issues like gun control, poverty, and equal rights? Has there ever really been a separation between Church and State and, if so, what are the boundaries? These are questions that need answers and not all of those answers are easy to obtain. And most of the people who found their way into Church doors on Easter cared more about the love they felt rather than the answers to those questions.

So maybe rather than Showtime, it is “time to show” the love of Jesus in a relevant way. It is “time to show” that church members are not perfect, just persistent. It is “time to show” that wearing the right attitude is more important than wearing the right clothes and that what you are driving is far less important than what is driving you. For the Church it is time to show that compassion, forgiveness, redemption, hope, and love are really the most impressive things that can ever be shown. So is it Showtime? Yes, every single Sunday; hopefully, the Church will make sure to show the right things!

The Nerve of Some Clients

My client was not listening.

Yes, I know it sounds inconceivable, but that was the case.

I had listened to his story in session one, diagnosed all of his issues by session two, and formulated a treatment plan by session three that even (in my modest opinion) should be framed in the hallowed halls of the ACA (American Counseling Association) to be gazed upon with awe and reverence for the rest of antiquity.

That was a month and a half ago.

And now, here I sit in session nine and the client has yet to make progress on even one of the treatment goals that I created. Not one. Every session we reviewed them and every session there was no progress.

Doesn’t this client know that I have years (well, at least semesters) of the best counseling education that money can buy?

Doesn’t the client know that I have read (well, at least heavily skimmed) the great works of Adler, Freud, Perls, Erikson, Jung, Rogers, and others?

Doesn’t the client know that I am just years away from being published in every major counseling periodical and publication?

The nerve of some clients — to actually have their own ideas about how to run their lives.

************************************************************************************

Yes, this was a facetious and totally fictitious rant, but I would suggest that some of these same thoughts have or will dance in our heads.

Clients make their own decisions, because it is their life!

We can come up with the best treatment plans, but the client has to agree and want to carry them out.

We may like our clients, have empathy and high hopes for them, but we cannot LIVE for them or – even worse – try to live THROUGH them.

At times, as counselors we can forget that God alone has the patent on perpetual wisdom.  We do the best we can for the client, but that is all that we can do, which is a blessing, because who would want to have the power and responsibility of other people’s lives in your hands? (I will ignore the people who actually did raise their hands).

The client has given you the gift of their presence and you give them the gift of your care and your service.

We must respect that fact that the client is probably nervous, vulnerable, unsure, and wounded, and they still came in the door to ask for your help.

That takes courage, trust, hope and, well  . . . nerve.

The nerve of some clients . . . :)

WWJP: What Would Jesus Practice?

Vernon WareWho is someone that you look up to as a counselor? Adler, Frankl, Freud, Perls (yes, Fritz and Laura), Ellis, Beck, May? The list of names goes on and on, but I wanted to suggest one name that you might not have considered. Jesus. One of the many titles that is conferred upon Jesus is “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6) and I would hope that at least being “good” counselors is something that all of us have as a goal. So with that in mind, I wondered this simple question, WWJP? What Would Jesus Practice? Can we look at the life of Jesus and detect a partiality to a specific theory of counseling?

Would Jesus be considered a proponent of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) when he counseled a rich young ruler to consider giving up all of his riches to the poor, so that he could truly be fulfilled?

Would Jesus’s time with his disciples be considered a very intensive Reality therapy session since Jesus asked them to make the choice to be in relationship with him and the other disciples to change their lives?

Would Jesus be considered a proponent of Person-centered therapy because of his brief group therapy session with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) and the men who accused her, where he asked very few questions but changed the behaviors of both the men and the woman?

Would Jesus be considered an Adlerian because of his transformative meeting with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9)? Jesus met with someone who was hated, even by himself, and in one conversation changed his thinking about himself and fostered Zacchaeus’ social interest so much that Zacchaeus said that he would repay those he had cheated four times over.

Jesus broke many of the conventions of that time: working on the Sabbath, having conversations with women and having connection with Gentiles, just to name a few.  So could we conclude that he was a proponent of the Existential approach since he championed the freedom of persons to choose their own direction in life?  

And while it is uncomfortable for me to put Jesus and Sigmund Freud in the same sentence, I do have to admit that Jesus did have a skill at getting through other’s Ego-defense Mechanisms.

There is obviously much more that can be said on this topic and I hope that you will respond and do just that! I would love to hear your feedback and get your answer to WWJP – What Would Jesus Practice?