Professional Development for Mental Health Practitioners

20 professional development ideas for counselors, social workers, and other mental health clinicians

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Professional development encompasses all activities that provide or strengthen professional knowledge/skills. Ongoing professional development is a requirement for mental health practitioners in order to maintain competency and for keeping up-to-date on the latest research and evidence-based practices in an ever-changing field.

Listed below are several ideas for counselor professional development.

1 Find a mentor (and meet with them at least once a month).

2 Sign up for relevant e-mail lists. A few I find the most helpful/informative: Brain & Behavior Foundation, National Institute of Mental Health, and SAMHSA.

3 Become a member of a professional organization (i.e. American Counseling Association).

4 Keep up-to-date on the latest research. If you are a member of a professional organization, take advantage of your member benefits; you likely have access to a professional journal. You can also browse sites like ScienceDaily or use an app like Researcher.

5 Facilitate professional trainings or manage a booth at a conference.

6 Read counseling and psychology books (such as On Being a Therapist by Kottler or Mindsight by Siegel).

7 Practice awareness. Know your values, limitations, and personal biases.

8 Become familiar with local resources in your community.

9 Volunteer.

10 Join a professional counseling forum and participate in discussions. The ACA has several. You could also go the reddit route (i.e. r/psychotherapy).

11 Review your professional code of ethics on a regular basis. (Link to the ACA Code.)

12 Attend webinars, trainings, and conferences. Stay informed by subscribing to email lists, participating in professional forums, and searching Eventbrite for local events; search “mental health.” PESI is another source, but the seminars can be costly.

13 Network/consult.

14 Subscribe to psychology magazines like Psychology Today or Psychotherapy Networker.

15 Further your education by taking classes or earning a certificate.

16 Pick a different counseling skill to strengthen each week. (You can even use flashcards to pick a new skill or simply review!)

17 Write an article or book (or book review!)

18 Take free online courses.

19 Listen to podcasts (like Therapy Chat or Counselor Toolbox).

20 Practice self-care on a regular basis to prevent burnout. Why is self-care included in a post on professional development? Because self-care is crucial for counselor wellness; a counselor experiencing burnout puts his/her clients at risk.

Books and Resources for Therapists

A resource list for therapists and other mental health professionals, including book recommendations and sites that link to (free!) printable worksheets, handouts, and more.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Updated July 12, 2019

This is a list of books and websites for mental health professionals. Please check back as I update regularly. If you have a suggestion, use the contact form on this site to send me a message.


Armstrong, C. (2015). The Therapeutic “Aha!” Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck.

Belmont, J. (2015). The Therapist’s Ultimate Solution Book.

Finley, J., & Lenz, B. (2014). Addiction Treatment Homework Planner, 5th ed. Provides you with an array of ready-to-use, between-session assignments designed to fit virtually every therapeutic mode.


ACEs Connection

An ACEs community for connecting with others who practice trauma-informed care. You can also access the latest news and research related to ACEs; this site also has a huge resource section with guides, surveys, webinars, and more.

ACT Mindfully

A variety of free worksheets, handouts, book chapters, articles, and more. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique and creative model for both therapy and coaching; a type of cognitive behavioural therapy based on the innovative use of mindfulness and values.

Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

Info and clinical resources, including archived Webinars and podcasts

CBT for Psychosis & Trauma & Psychosis Handouts

A short list of helpful handouts; this site is also a source for blog posts on psychosis and trauma (by Ron Unger, LCSW)

The Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction – Tools and Resources

The Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA) is an internationally recognized research centre based at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. CARMHA conducts innovative and interdisciplinary scientific research related to mental health and substance use, primarily in the areas of clinical or other intervention practice, health systems and population health and epidemiology. Access free downloadable workbooks for stress in the workplace, depression, coping with chronic pain, and other topics.

Centre for Clinical Interventions

Free downloadable workbooks on anxiety, self-esteem, eating disorders, panic, perfectionism, and more

Evidence-Based Behavioral Practice

Information on evidence-based behavioral practices; includes tools, assessments, videos, and free online training modules

Guided Self-Change

A great resource for SUD assessments, group materials, and handouts

Get Self-Help – Free Resources

This website provides CBT self-help and therapy resources, including a large collection of worksheets and information sheets and self-help mp3s; a useful tools for therapists or individuals seeking to manage a mental health condition.

Kim’s Counseling Corner – Therapy and Self-Help Worksheets

Kim Peterson, LPC-S, specializes in child and teen issues, parenthood, play therapy and relationships. She provides links to online worksheets or PDF versions that she has collected over time as a therapist. Topics include abuse, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and more.

Marriage Intelligence: “Love Tools”

Free downloadable worksheets for surviving infidelity, forgiveness, communication, etc.

Mind Tools

Free management, leadership, and personal effectiveness worksheets and tools. (Join the Mind Tools Club for a fee to access additional tools and online courses.)

National Center for PTSD for Professionals

Free handouts, toolkits, online trainings, and more

Oxford Clinical Psychology: Forms and Worksheets

A vast collection of forms, handouts, and assessments on anxiety, OCD, depression, parenting, substance use, and more

Personality Lab

Articles, assessments, dissertations, etc. on personality intelligence

Positive Psychology Program

This site contains a wealth of free assessments, PDF printables, activities, handouts, worksheets, and more. Search by category or browse blog posts.

PsyberGuide

A nonprofit organization that discovers and reviews mental health apps, which are rated as unacceptable, questionable, or acceptable. You can also search target conditions and treatments. Use this site to make recommendations to your clients.

Psychology Tools

Psychology Tools is a leading online resource for therapists. Download free worksheets, assessments, and guides.

PsychPoint

Articles and worksheets

Self-Care Starter Kit from University at Buffalo School of Social Work

Designed to prevent/treat burnout, this kit includes info on vicarious trauma, assessments, meditations, and helpful links to additional self-care resources

SMI Adviser

Search topics and find resources for SMI. You can also access a variety of free online courses to earn CE credits.

Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy

Articles, book reviews, and more on relevant topics

Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12)

A division of the American Psychological Association, this site provides an up-to-date list of evidence-based treatments, and includes links to free assessments, manuals, handouts, etc. for many of the treatments

Therapist Aid

An extensive collection of free evidence-based education and therapy tools. Download customizable worksheets or access articles and treatment guides. An invaluable resource for therapists.

TherapyAdvisor.org

A searchable database of empirically supported treatments for SUD and MH

Ultimate Solution Handouts

Free printable handouts for therapists (from Judith Belmont)

UW Medicine: Harborview Medical Center (Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress)

Handouts/worksheets for clients on coping with challenging thoughts, anxiety, anger, etc. The site also includes a list of assessments.

Worksheets, Activities, & Guides for Individual or Group Therapy

A list of free PDF printable worksheets and activities to use with clients in individual or group sessions

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Updated April 16, 2019

This is a list of worksheets, activities, and discussion guides I created to use with clients my clients. Feel free to print/reproduce/share. Please check back frequently as I will update regularly!


A list of ideas for group facilitation. Perfect for substance use treatment.

A list of check-in prompts to use with each group member at the beginning of a group

Each group writes a mini-autobiography that can be read in 3-5 minutes. Group members take turns presenting. A good icebreaker activity.

Icebreaker activity – good for newly formed groups. Each group member writes down other clients’ names. The facilitator then reads each “impression” and group members have the opportunity to share their answers. Group facilitator can link this activity to how addiction and mental illness are “invisible” (optional).

Another group icebreaker activity! Print/cut the cards, fold, and place in a bag or box. Group members take turns drawing the cards and answering the questions.

More icebreaker questions

Give group members 15-20 minutes to find signatures. The first person to collect 20 signatures sits down. (I usually give prizes.) The group facilitator then reviews the questions. (If short on time, use the short version.)

Cut up the cards and place in some sort of container to pass around. This activity is more appropriate for group members who feel comfortable around each other.

Print/cut these cards, fold, and place in a bag or box. In group, have clients take turns drawing cards and answering the questions.

A recovery worksheet for clients to explore what makes their drug/alcohol use possible and how to eliminate those things from their life

A recovery worksheet for clients to explore how they will find pleasure and fulfillment in recovery from addiction

A goal-development worksheet

A worksheet for developing goals for different life areas, such as emotional, spiritual, intellectual, etc.

A relapse prevention writing assignment

A tool for developing a relapse prevention plan

A writing assignment for an individual who is in treatment and has relapsed on drugs or alcohol

A worksheet for developing self-esteem

A guide for clients to explore their true selves

Characteristics of an Effective Clinical Supervisor

“It was the bad supervisors who taught me what NOT to do.”
Are you an effective clinical supervisor? What is helpful… and unhelpful in supervision? Read about Reddit users’ experiences with clinical supervision, including the traits of “bad” supervisors.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Shortly after being trained and approved as a clinical supervisor, I took on my first supervisee (whom I’ll call “DM”). I was confident in my abilities and knowledge as a counselor, but quickly learned it takes more than skill or expertise to provide effective supervision.

In one of my first sessions with DM, I inadvertently offended her (and thereby damaged our newly forming rapport). We were discussing personal and professional growth, which led to a “bucket list” discussion. I shared how I’d always wanted to do a police ride-along; DM immediately stated that as an African American woman, this was distasteful to her. Unfortunately, I missed my cue and continued to talk about how exciting it would be. Meanwhile, she felt disrespected. In this instance, I got carried away with talking about myself and my interests, ignoring her feelings on the subject. I came across as ignorant, in the least, and at worst, culturally insensitive or uncaring.  

Another time, I suggested that DM (who held a doctorate degree in counseling) stop referring to herself as “Dr. ____,” as it caused confusion when coordinating with outside agencies. Once again, she felt upset and misunderstood. She later explained that I failed to take into account all she had overcome to earn that degree. It was more than a title to her; it represented triumph in the face of adversity. Furthermore, it was a piece of her identity as a helper and as a role model to African American women. Although well-intended, my suggestion was offensive on several levels. In hindsight, I could have explored how she viewed herself as a professional or simply asked why she called herself “Dr. ____” before commenting.  


Self-awareness is crucial for effective supervision and self-care is essential for coping with stress.   

More recently, a different supervisee (whom I supervise both clinically and administratively) told me that I had been acting out of character by “harping” on her about completing various assignments. I checked myself and was able to recognize my high level of stress was indeed impacting our interactions. Self-awareness is crucial for effective supervision and self-care is essential for coping with stress.   

Reversing roles, looking back on supervisors I had in grad school and as a new counselor, I can recall what was beneficial and what wasn’t (or was annoying/upsetting/disturbing… even unethical). What helped the most was direct feedback, along with specific suggestions for improvement. Constructive criticism, while unpleasant, made me a better clinician (and probably a better person). Feeling supported and having my doubts or fears normalized was also helpful.


The bad supervisors taught me what not to do.

On the flip side, unhelpful, “bad,” supervisors were the ones who rambled on about their clients, micromanaged, were punitive, or who never met for supervision. There was even one who called me a hurtful name; the comment came from a misunderstanding, but I took it to heart. It was inappropriate and unprofessional; I carried it for a long time. The bad supervisors taught me what not to do.  

This post was inspired by my desire to learn more about what makes supervision effective. I looked to Reddit for others’ experiences and opinions and asked what’s most (and least) helpful in clinical supervision.

Gr8minds is a master’s student and MFT trainee who wrote, “For myself, what I find most helpful is when my supervisor shares questions I may have not thought of about the client’s case. This really helps give a second pair of eyes and I can take those into the next session.”

Questions are as fundamental to supervision as they are to the counseling process. A question inspires contemplation and may lead to a new understanding. An effective supervisor asks thoughtful questions about the client, their upbringing, their beliefs, etc., providing the supervisee with valuable tools to use with their clients.

RomeRawr, a doctoral student, shared about a self-centered supervisor who used sessions to talk about their clients instead of promoting the supervisee’s growth. “What I’ve found least helpful is my supervisor complaining to me about clients. Not conferencing, or asking my opinion, but just complaining to unload.”

A supervisor who complains/vents about clients should not be in a supervisory role. It’s one thing to consult, but to complain shows a lack of empathy and professionalism. It makes me question why that person is even in the field.

To an extent, I can relate; I previously mentioned a “bad” supervisor who, while he didn’t complain, regularly discussed his difficult cases in group supervision. This is how it would go: Dr. BS (Bad Supervisor) would present a case and then seek our (the students’) opinions. He had the audacity to take notes. When we were provided with (rare) opportunities to talk about our clients, he’d make comparisons to his private practice… and seek advice (un-cleverly disguised in the form of, “Well, what do you think you [I] should do?”)

While it can be helpful for a supervisor to share client stories, it should only be as a teaching tool (or to convey empathy). Similarly, a counselor should self-disclose for the client’s benefit, never their own.

grace_avalon, clinical counselor, holds a master’s degree and has been licensed in Minnesota for over a year. “I’ve had so many supervisors. The best ones worked me hard, required consultation with every DA (a word-for-word transcript of a counseling session)… [were] highly involved and observed me closely, tirelessly… and responded neutrally and understood my tears. We met privately, which was pivotal to growth.”


A supervisor can’t be a gatekeeper if they don’t know to close the gate.

An effective supervisor expresses empathy; they’re not reactive. An effective supervisor is also dedicated; they strive to help the supervisee by observing his/her interactions with clients and/or reviewing lengthy transcripts. A lazier supervisor might give advice/feedback based solely on the supervisee’s report, which is subjective. There’s a place for this in supervision, but it can’t be the only method of assessing a supervisee’s skill. Reviewing recorded sessions or transcripts is time-consuming (and, not gonna lie, boring), but imperative for a counselor’s growth. (It should also be noted that a supervisor can’t be a gatekeeper if they don’t know to close the gate.)

_PINK-FREUD_ is a clinical psychology doctorate student (with an MA in clinical psychology) who provides therapy to children, adolescents, and families. “My most helpful supervisor taught me to examine how my history comes into the room with clients. For example, my very first client told me something painful about a learning disorder and I responded with humor. Basically achieved the polar opposite of attunement. The footage was cringeworthy af. She didn’t shame me about it (of course, I was shaming myself anyway), but just inquired as to why I did that I realized I’ve dealt with my own LD with humor and by “laughing it off,” which led me to automatically and inappropriately apply that same response to my client… That supervisor showed me to move past the shame of making mistakes and towards understanding why I made that mistake. She led me through that process of self-examination countless times, and it taught me to do it independently.”

Being aware, both self and of what the client/supervisee is experiencing, is a vital component of counseling and supervision. In fact, many of my early (and more recent) mistakes could have been avoided had I been more attuned.

_PINK-FREUD_  also shared, “Another good supervisor trait IMO is someone who does not guess why a mis-step was made. I’m currently working on interrupting my clients more instead of letting them ramble –something I think mainly stems from the very common newbie clinician fear of invalidating or injuring the client. That supervisor pointed out my mis-step, then spoke about my need to “be friends with clients,” which felt off to me. When I tried to express that, I was perceived as defensive about having poor boundaries. It really broke my trust with that supervisor. I felt that he had made blind judgments about my underlying motivations for responses without listening to my explanation. It made it difficult for me to go to him for help with tough cases as I was afraid of the conclusions he would jump to. ASK, don’t tell your students for their motivations. It builds trust that you seek to understand them and also teaches them how to do this independently.”

Similarly, it broke trust when one of my “bad” supervisors called me a name. She made an assumption based on a blind judgment. Assumptions, sometimes true, but more than often not, have no place in supervision (or counseling). Going back to awareness, it’s important for a supervisor to recognize when they’re making assumptions.

alfredo094, an undergraduate student, shared that as a supervisee, “having [a supervisor] that knows me very well and listens to everything that happened to the session in detail is important.”

As counselors, we listen to what our clients say. By listening, we learn and are able to provide support and guidance. The same is true for supervisors. Listening and being fully present with the supervisee will help him/her to become a better counselor.

What are some of your experiences in supervision? Share in a comment!

Free Printable PDF Workbooks, Manuals, and Self-Help Guides

A resource list for mental health professionals and consumers. Free PDF manuals/workbooks for group and individual therapy or self-help purposes.

Compiled by Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Updated July 19, 2019

The following list is comprised of links to over 100 PDF workbooks, manuals, and guidebooks that are published online and free to use with clients and/or for self-help purposes. Some of the manuals, including Individual Resiliency Training and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Psychotic Symptoms, are evidence-based.

Substance Use Disorders and Addiction

12 Step Workbooks
Addiction Free Forever Workbook
ASI-MV Worksheets & Handouts (for Addiction Recovery)
Brief Counseling for Marijuana Dependence: A Manual for Treating Adults
Client Workbook (from the Substance Use | Brain Injury Bridging Project)
A Cognitive Behavioral Approach: Treating Cocaine Addiction
Co-occurring Disorders Treatment Workbook
Empowering Your Sober Self: The LifeRing Approach to Addiction Recovery
Life With Hope: 12 Step Workbook from Marijuana Anonymous
Mapping Your Recovery (A Peer-Based Model)
Matrix Series (Intensive Outpatient Treatment for People with Stimulant Use Disorders): Client’s Handbook
Matrix Series (Intensive Outpatient Treatment for People with Stimulant Use Disorders): Client’s Treatment Companion
Matrix Series (Intensive Outpatient Treatment for People with Stimulant Use Disorders): Counselor’s Family Education Manual
Matrix Series (Intensive Outpatient Treatment for People with Stimulant Use Disorder): Counselor’s Treatment Manual
Matrix Series: Using Matrix with Women Clients
Motivational Enhancement Therapy Manual: A Clinical Research Guide for Therapists Treating Individuals With Alcohol Abuse and Dependence
Motivational Enhancement Therapy with Drug Abusers
My Action Plan for Relapse Prevention
Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit
A Provider’s Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals
Reaching out to a Hurting World: Christ-Centered Workbook on Recovery and Coordinating Twelve-Step Meetings
Recovery Maintenance Workbook
Relapse Prevention Workbook
SMART Recovery Worksheets
Steps by the Big Book
Strengthening Your Spiritual Self
Substance Misuse Workbook

Anxiety, Depression, & Stress

Anxiety Toolbox: Student Workbook
Basic Anxiety Management Skills
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression: Activities and Your Mood (Individual Treatment Version) Provider’s Guidebook
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression in Veterans and Military Servicemembers: Therapist Manual 
Comprehensive Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Social Phobia: A Treatment Manual
Coping With Anxiety
Dealing With Distress
Depression Self-Management Toolkit
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Patient Treatment Manual
Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression: Thoughts and Your Mood
Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depression in Veterans: Therapist Guide
ISLAMIC INTEGRATED COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY: 10 Sessions Treatment Manual for Depression in Clients with Chronic Physical Illness (Therapist Manual Workbook)
Manage Stress Workbook
Mindfulness and Acceptance-Based Group Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder: A Treatment Manual
The Mindful Path through Shyness
REBT Depression Manual: Managing Depression Using  Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
Self-Care Depression Program: Antidepressant Skills Workbook
Self-Help Workbook: Calming Tools to Manage Anxiety
Understanding Depression

Schizophrenia & Psychotic Disorders

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Psychotic Symptoms: A Therapist’s Manual
Illness Management and Recovery: Practitioner Guides and Handbooks
Social Anxiety in Schizophrenia: A Cognitive Behavioural Group Programme

Trauma & PTSD

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for PTSD: Group Manual
Engaging Women in Trauma-Informed Peer Support: A Guidebook
Guidebook on Vicarious Trauma: Recommended Solutions for Anti-Violence Workers
Survivor To Thriver: Manual and Workbook for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Who Want to Move On with Life
The Trauma-Informed Supervisor
Women Healing from Trauma: A Facilitator’s Guide

Suicide & Self-Harm

After an Attempt: A Guide for Taking Care of Yourself After Your Treatment in the Emergency Department (Spanish Version)
After an Attempt A Guide for Taking Care of Your Family Member after Treatment in the Emergency Department (Spanish Version)
The ‘Hurt Yourself Less’ Workbook
A Journey Toward Health and Hope: Your Handbook for Recovery After a Suicide Attempt
Working Through Self-Harm: A Workbook

Grief

Back To Life: Your Personal Guidebook to Grief Recovery
Grief Counseling Resource Guide: A Field Manual (from NY State Office of Mental Health)
On the Wings of Grief: A Bereavement Journal for Adults
Remembering For Good: Wholehearted Living after Loss
Treatment of Individuals with Prolonged and Complicated Grief and Traumatic Bereavement

Anger

Anger Management for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Clients: Participant Workbook (Spanish Version) (Provider Manual)
Anger Management Workbook

Meditation & Mindfulness

Adult Coloring Book for Mindfulness and Relaxation
The Fundamentals of Meditation Practice
How To Meditate
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Authorized Curriculum Guide
The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook
Self-Compassion and Mindfulness
Your Guide to Meditation

Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Anonymous Step Workbook
Self-Help Manual for Bulimia Nervosa

Health, Wellness, & Personal Development

Creating a Healthier Life: A Step-by-Step Guide to Wellness (Spanish Version)
Determine Your Destiny (Self-Determination Series)
Happiness 101 Workbook
Happy for No Reason Workbook
HERO: Healthy Emotions and Improving Health Behavior Outcomes (Veteran Workbook)
Hope Focused Self-Help Workbook
Individual Resiliency Training
Nutrition and Exercise for Wellness and Recovery Leader Manual and Participant Manual
Personal Brand Workbook
Refine Your Life Workbook
Think Good – Feel Good
Wellness Self-Management Personal Workbook
Wellness Worksheets, 12th Edition
What Do You Want to Do with Your Life? Your Life Plan to Find Your Answer
Working Toward Wellness
Your Best You: Improving Your Mood

Children & Adolescents

The Adolescent Coping with Stress Course: Leader Manual and Workbook
Dealing With Trauma: A TF-CBT Workbook for Teens
Favorite Therapeutic Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Interventions
Lemons or Lemonade? An Anger Workbook for Teens
STEADY: Intervention Manual and Adolescent Workbook
Trauma and Resilience: An Adolescent Provider Toolkit

Marriage & Relationships

Healthy Relationships Toolkit
PREPARE/ENRICH Workbook for Couples
The Stages of Divorce

CBT Manuals & Workbooks

CBT Worksheet Packet, 2017 Edition (Beck Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
Cognitive Behavioural Interpersonal Skills Manual
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi): Treatment Manual
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Skills Training Workbook
Cognitive Processing Therapy Veteran/Military Version: THERAPIST AND PATIENT MATERIALS MANUAL
Cognitive Psychotherapy Workbook
Simple CBT Worksheets (from Autism Teaching Strategies)
A Therapist’s Guide to Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The Think CBT Workbook

DBT Manuals & Workbooks

A Modified DBT Group Therapy Manual
Open-Minded Thinking (DBT Workbook)

Motivational Interviewing

MIA: Step (Motivational Interviewing Assessment: Supervisory Tools for Enhancing Proficiency)
Motivational Interviewing Worksheets/Activities from MINT

Additional Manuals & Workbooks

The Complete Set of Client Handouts and Worksheets from ACT books by Russ Harris
Co-occurring Disorders Problem Gambling Integrated Treatment Workbook
Family Psychoeducation Workboook
Forgiveness Workbook: A Step by Step Guide
Hoarding Self-Help Manual
Johari Window Workbook
Just as I Am Workbook: A Guided Journal to Free Yourself from Self-Criticism and Feelings of Low Self-Worth
Recognition | Insight | Openness Workbook
Social Emotional Activities Workbook
Social Skills Training for Severe Mental Disorders: A Therapist Manual
STEP AHEAD Workbook: Career Planning for People with Criminal Convictions
Tobacco Cessation: An Abbreviated Mini-Workbook (A Resource for Veterans)

Please comment with links to additional PDF resources for therapy or self-help!

What Counseling Has Taught Me (Part Two)

Learn to be more effective in your personal and professional life! This is the second installment of how counseling has led to a better understanding of people. Working with addiction and mental illness has gifted me with the capacity to better recognize why people do what they do, which in turn enhances how I relate to others.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

updated what counseling has taught me.png

This is the second installment of how counseling has led me to a better understanding of people. (In Part One, I discussed calmness, silence, active listening, partial truths, and hidden agendas.)

Working with addiction and mental illness has gifted me with the capacity to better recognize why people do what they do, which in turn enhances how I relate to others. As a result, I’m more effective in my personal and professional life. I have a sense of peace and “okayness” in the world.

One thing I hadn’t previously considered was brought up by Quora user and mental health professional, G. Bernard (MA Counseling); he shared that counseling revealed the truth about change. “It has really reinforced that idea that people who want change will work harder to achieve it; those who are forced (legally, by parents, spouse etc.) probably won’t.” I agree with this 100%. People can’t be forced into change; and when they are, their efforts lack fortitude and it doesn’t last. Those who are internally motivated will fight for change, making it worthwhile and enduring.

Here are some additional truths and realizations that I gained through my counseling career.

What counseling has taught me (the second installment):

1. A new perspective

The DSM – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the “Bible” for mental health professionals) – uncovered a whole new world for me. Sure, I was familiar with mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, and anxiety before grad school. I took Abnormal Psych in college and even before that, I’d read books on schizophrenia, eating disorders, and other mental disorders. (Guess who did their middle school science project on schizophrenia? Me!) But my fleeting knowledge was laughable compared to what I found in the DSM; it provided me with information on every single diagnosable mental disorder. When I started working with clients, I was able to see how mental illness manifests in real life.

The more I learned (and saw), the more I was able to make sense of behaviors. Consequently, this led to me looking back on people I’ve encountered throughout the years. I realized how many of them had been struggling with a mental illness. (At the time, I probably just thought they were just a jerk, or acting inconsiderately.)

I also became more aware of the prevalence of severe mental illness and the way it presents in society. This led to increased tolerance and patience regarding behaviors I’d previous found annoying; I learned to recognize them for what they were.

Mental illness can easily be interpreted as something it’s not. By having an awareness, I’m more compassionate. Instead of judging, I observe. Someone who seems snobby may have social anxiety. That coworker who calls out sick every Monday may be struggling with addiction. A friend who never wants to go out anymore could be depressed.

Mental illness is everywhere if you know what to look for. I strive to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, which is better for my mental health.

2. Don’t give money to the homeless

I knew a client at a residential program with a talent for making clever signs. He’d use markers to write his message (“Will dance for food!”) on a piece of cardboard before grabbing his pail to hit the streets. He didn’t need the money; he received government benefits (funded by taxpayers). The money he earned panhandling funded his K2 habit or the occasional beer.

Many of the “homeless” people you meet are not homeless; they’re con men (or women) who make a profit on your sympathy. Most are either addicted to drugs/alcohol and/or severely mentally ill; they need treatment, not the crinkled dollar bill in your pocket. Giving your spare change isn’t helping that person. Instead, offer to buy a meal, give them a pair of socks, or hand them a bottle of water.

3. Telling someone what to do is not helpful

Giving advice rarely leads to lasting change.

There are a few different reasons why advice, no matter how well-meaning, isn’t helpful. Firstly, it doesn’t account for the person’s full experience or struggle; it could seem ignorant or insensitive. (For example, “Why don’t you just get a divorce?” is not helpful to a woman struggling with her husband’s infidelity; the problem is more complex than just getting a divorce. Children could be involved. Maybe she’s financially dependent on her husband. Maybe she’s still in love with him. Or maybe it’s against her religious beliefs.)

Advice also robs a person of the ability to solve their own problem. We need to learn to find solutions in life in order to grow and to be effective. If someone is always told what to do, they’re not going to learn to function independently.

Lastly, if advice is taken, and it works, the credit goes to the advice giver, not the taker. The results are less meaningful. Alternatively, if advice is taken and it doesn’t work, it becomes the advice giver’s fault. Advice deprives a person of being able to take full ownership of their actions.

If you own your decision and fail, the blame falls on you (helping you to grow as a person) or if you succeed, the triumph is yours alone. Either way, you’re better off finding your own solutions; this allows you to feel capable and you’ll become better at solving problems in the future.

4. The value of transparency and honesty

People like to know what’s happening and what to expect. I get better reactions from clients when I explain why I’m doing or saying what I am. I’m honest, and when I can’t be (or believe it would be inappropriate to do so), I tell clients exactly that. For example, if a client asks about my religion, I’d let them know I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal aspects of my life.

Personally, I prefer the company of others who are straightforward. I don’t like having to guess if someone is upset with me. I don’t like it when someone is nice to my face, but gossips when I’m not around. Those types of games are played by people who are insecure or who are attempting to manipulate you. Life is complicated enough. With me, you’ll know if your fly is down, and if you ask for my opinion, you’ll get it. (There’s much to be said for tact though!) Gentle truths are worth more than flattery. 

5. You can’t demand respect

It’s something that’s earned through words and actions, not freely given. Forced respect is not true respect; it’s fear or deception. And while I believe in treating everyone with respect, I don’t truly respect someone until I know what kind of person they are.

Furthermore, I’ve learned that if someone chooses to disrespect me, it’s not a threat. Respect is powerful, but disrespect? Feeble and pathetic. If someone is disrespectful, it won’t harm you or make you less of a person (unless you give it that control).

Throughout my career, I’ve been disrespected on many, many occasions by clients who don’t want to be in treatment (and even by colleagues with differing opinions). But my sense of self-worth is not dependent on how others treat me. As a result, disrespect from angry clients (or rude salespersons or drivers who cut me off, etc.) doesn’t faze me.

In sum, being a counselor is life-changing. I imagine many professions are to a degree, but I can’t picture any other job leading to such a deep understanding of humanity. Entering the mental health field is like having horrible vision and then finally getting glasses (except it happens over the course of years). I have an enhanced awareness of who I am along with an unforeseen sense of serenity. 

Every single client who’s shared a piece of their story has contributed to my awareness (and to my own personal growth), and I owe them each a gratitude. I’m more cautious in life, yes, but I’m also more compassionate. Instead of having high expectations, I have high hopes. I don’t attempt to control things I have no control over; and I don’t get angry over the decisions, views, or actions of others. Instead, I channel my energy into something more productive; I’m passionate and I’m an advocate. My beauty pageant answer to the stereotypical question is not “world peace”; it’s for everyone to have a deeper understanding of each other.

What insights have you gained from your chosen career? Please share in a comment!

 

What Counseling Has Taught Me (Part One)

Counseling is generous in that it’s supplied me with the tools needed for not only professional growth, but personal success, emotional well-being, personal development, and effective communication. It’s also taught me about various aspects of human nature, from the brightest to the murkiest.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

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In grad school, I learned theories and techniques of counseling. I learned basic and advanced counseling skills; I practiced various interventions and methods. My professors taught developmental theories and multicultural competence. I took classes in career counseling, family counseling, and couples counseling; I studied research and ethics.

And when I accepted a substance abuse counselor position at a drug and alcohol treatment center… I had no clue what I was doing… or how to be a counselor. I went into my first year as a clinician with self-doubt and uncertainty.

Negative thoughts consumed me. I questioned myself and wondered if I was in the right field.

“Do I have what it takes to be an effective counselor?” 

“Should I have pursued a career in research instead?” 

“Should I have pursued anything instead?” 

“Am I capable of helping others?” 

Furthermore, social anxiety crippled my ability to relate to clients; being genuine was difficult. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to other “seasoned” clinicians, which only made things worse.

Gradually, my doubts and fears subsided; I felt more comfortable in my role. I accepted and settled into my new identity as a professional counselor; it was a good fit. I stopped trying to “fix” or control clients.

Anxiety no longer dictated my actions; I found a way to take ownership of my mistakes and accomplishments. Moreover, I learned to be okay with making mistakes. I accepted that I would never have all the answers. I let go of irrational beliefs that had previously plagued me. I thrived.

Today, I can reflect on my journey and on the positive changes I’ve made throughout the years. My chosen career is generous in that it’s supplied me with the tools needed for not only professional growth, but personal growth — success, emotional well-being, personal development, and effective communication.

I’ve learned a lot the past ten years. This post explores the discoveries I’ve made and how I apply that knowledge to my life. But before delving into what I’ve learned, here’s what a few other clinicians have said on the topic:

Nancy Lee, MA, LPCC, Psychotherapist in Aurora, CO

“Being a counselor has shown me that it’s possible to live on the edge of what I know and don’t know. In a single moment, I can feel strong and confident, yet small and humble. Counseling isn’t about fixing problems. It’s about believing in my client’s capacity to connect with their own solutions, insight, and growth.”

 

Robert Martin, M.Ed Early Childhood Education & Counseling, Francis Marion University

“There is no learning … if there is not a relationship… The foundation of counseling and teaching is [the] relationship. There must be a connection. The student must know that you care about them personally and it is ok to make a mistake … Consequences and corrections can be given, but always directed at the behavior [and] never the person … That you are only talking about their behavior when you correct them … and not them. They must feel that you respect them … and if you make a mistake say, “I’m so sorry. I made a mistake.” … [Always respect] their differences, their hopes and weakness, their failures, their dreams, their divinity. There is nothing more important than this…”

 

Bridget Cameron, Artist, Depth Psychologist, Stress Counselor (1992-present)

“To accept people as they are, to be non-judgmental, to be directed by compassion, and to know how to be impartial so that I am fair-minded with all people and do not project any of myself into my client’s history and am non-attached to the outcome.”

 

In comparison, while I’ve learned much about compassion, connecting, and being okay with being wrong, I’ve also learned how to use counseling to be effective, both personally and professionally… and I’ve learned to be more guarded due to the darker aspects of human nature.

Here’s my list of small wisdoms, or, what counseling has taught me (the first installment):

1. How to remain calm

Emotion regulation was difficult for me as an adolescent and young adult. My emotions ruled me – lorded over me, even! Then, as a counselor, I observed emotion disregulation in clients. I realized how truly counterproductive (and ridiculous-looking) it can be.

I made a choice to stop engaging in negativity, with both self and with others. Feeding into an argument solves nothing, but the effort leaves you emotionally and physically drained. Luckily, my personal transition from chaos to calm was painless. By the time I learned how to remain calm, I was in my mid-20s; the intensity of my emotions had already naturally subsided. Today, calmness is my natural state.

2. Comfortable silence

In grad school, I learned to use silence as a counseling technique. Instead of filling up every minute of a session with reflections, open-ended questions, and paraphrases, we were encouraged to use “comfortable silence.”

Silence allows the client time to process and/or collect their thoughts. To me, it always felt horribly awkward (remember, social anxiety!) and wrong. I wanted to rush on to the next topic or to ask a question or… anything.

I’m not sure when it finally stopped feeling awkward. I just knew that one day I was sitting in silence with a client and it felt natural. Today, I use silence in my professional and personal life all the time. It feels nice to sit quietly and not feel pressured to talk.

3. Active listening

Counseling taught me to really listen. I learned to quiet my internal dialogue to hear and comprehend what’s being said. Instead of thinking about how I’m going to respond, I give my full attention to the speaker. I’m aware of body language and other nonverbals. Counseling has strengthened my communication skills.

4. Partial truths

Counseling taught me that people don’t always say what they mean. They often tell partial truths. There are many reasons for this: Fear of being judged, not fully trusting the therapist, feeling embarrassed, etc.

For example, a client who isn’t ready to change their drinking probably wouldn’t tell me they drink three bottles of wine every night. Instead, they’d offer a partial truth. “I usually drink a glass of wine with dinner, but that’s it.”

Partial truths are not lies; they allow for a certain measure of comfort. (A lot of people feel uncomfortable with lying because they were taught it was wrong, or possibly because they view themselves as honest – and honest people don’t lie.) Partial truths, on the other hand, don’t feel wrong (or less wrong, at least). Plus, they’re safe. A person can be partially truthful and still protect their secrets.

When I realized how common partial truths are, I changed the way I listened to clients… and to everyone. Instead of taking things at face value, I listen to what is being said while recognizing that much more is not being said.

5. Hidden agendas

I also discovered that there are plenty of people out there who seek counseling with hidden agendas. For example, a man sees a therapist, stating he wants to learn anger management techniques. What he doesn’t reveal is that he’s abusive to his wife. He recently lost control in an argument and pushed her down the stairs. She gave him an ultimatum: Therapy or divorce. He doesn’t believe he needs counseling, but he’ll do it to save his marriage. And he doesn’t tell his therapist this (of course). Why would he? It’s none of her business.

Both partial truths and hidden agendas happen outside of therapy (and for similar reasons). Words paint a very limited piece of the entire picture. People often show only what they want others to see while keeping their true motives hidden.

Because of counseling, I have a better awareness and understanding of why hidden agendas (and partial truths) exist. It’s not cynicism, but a form of acceptance. I recognize that half truths and hidden agendas serve a purpose. While I may never understand their purpose, I’m okay with it.

This awareness fosters caution; I’ll never be caught off guard.

There’s more to tell, but for the sake of keeping this post to a reasonable length, I’ll save my remaining insights for the second installment of this post (in which I’ll discuss giving money to the homeless and demanding respect, among other “lessons” from counseling).