4 Strategies for Better Decision-Making

Individuals with “big picture” styles of reasoning make better decisions. Learn four strategies for “big picture” thinking to get optimal results.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

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A recent study found that individuals with a “big picture” style of thinking made better decisions. (“Better” decisions were defined as those resulting in maximum benefits.)

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If you took the Myers-Briggs (a personality assessment), and fell on the “Intuition” side of the spectrum (like me!), it’s likely you’re already a “big picture” thinker. If you’re on the “Sensing” side, you’re more apt to examine individual facts before considering the sum of all parts.

“Big picture” thinking is a practical and balanced method of reasoning. It suggests taking a step back (zoom out!)… and looking to see how all pieces fit together.

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The following strategies promote “big picture” thinking:

 

1. Get a good night’s rest

Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that sleep is essential for “relational memory” (or the ability to make inferences, i.e. “big picture” thinking).

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Before making a tough decision, sleep on it; you’ll wake up with a new perspective! In addition to healthy sleep hygiene, the following strategies have been found to improve sleep:

 

2. Don’t deliberate for long

Research indicates that when weighing out options, it’s ideal to take small breaks. Don’t deliberate for long periods of time or you’ll start to lose focus. If things become fuzzy, you won’t see the big picture.

 

3. Bay day = bad decision

One study found that a positive mood is related to a “big picture” thinking style. Good moods are associated with broader and more flexible thinking. A positive mood enables someone to step back emotionally, psychologically distancing themselves from the decision at hand.

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If you’re feeling salty, hold off on making that decision. Instead, try one (or all!) of the following research-based techniques for boosting your mood:

 

4. Get a second opinion

Ask around to learn how others’ view your situation. Every perspective you collect is another piece of the “big picture” puzzle.

Seek opinions from those you trust (only those who have your best interests in mind). Make sure you ask a variety of people (especially those with whom you typically disagree). The end result is a broader and more comprehensive awareness of what you’re facing.

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Employ all four strategies to optimize your thinking style and decision-making skills!


References

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2010, April 4). Maintaining regular daily routines is associated with better sleep quality in older adults. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100401085336.htm

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2008, June 12). Moderate Exercise Can Improve Sleep Quality Of Insomnia Patients. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080611071129.htm

American Chemical Society (ACS). (2012, August 19). Good mood foods: Some flavors in some foods resemble a prescription mood stabilizer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 10, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120819153457.htm

American Psychological Association. (2018, April 23). Let it go: Mental breaks after work improve sleep: Repetitive thoughts on rude behavior at work results in insomnia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423110828.htm

Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. (2012, May 14). A walk in the park gives mental boost to people with depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120514134303.htm

Berman, M. G., Kross, E., Krpan, K. M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlib, I. H., & Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. (2007, April 21). To Understand The Big Picture, Give It Time – And Sleep. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 17, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070420104732.htm

Black, D. S., O’Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances. JAMA Internal Medicine, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081

Curry, O., Rowland, L., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2016). Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Open Science Framework

Demsky, C. A. et al. (2018). Workplace incivility and employee sleep: The role of rumination and recovery experiences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, DOI: 10.1037/ocp0000116

The JAMA Network Journals. (2015, February 16). Mindfulness meditation appears to help improve sleep quality. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150216131115.htm

Labroo, A., Patrick, V., & Deighton, J. served as editor and Luce, M. F. served as associate editor for this article. (2009). Psychological distancing: Why happiness helps you see the big picture. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(5), 800-809. doi:10.1086/593683

Northwestern University. (2017, July 10). Purpose in life by day linked to better sleep at night: Older adults whose lives have meaning enjoy better sleep quality, less sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170710091734.htm

Ohio State University. (2018, July 13). How looking at the big picture can lead to better decisions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180713111931.htm

Spira, A. P. (2015). Being mindful of later-life sleep quality and its potential role in prevention. JAMA Internal Medicine, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8093

Stillman, P. E., Fujita, K., Sheldon, O., & Trope, Y. (2018). From “me” to “we”: The role of construal level in promoting maximized joint outcomes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 147(16), DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2018.05.004

Turner, A. D., Smith, C. E., & Ong, J. C. (2017). Is purpose in life associated with less sleep disturbance in older adults? Sleep Science and Practice, 1(1), DOI: 10.1186/s41606-017-0015-6

University of Michigan. (2009, June 3). Feeling Close To a Friend Increases Progesterone, Boosts Well-being and Reduces Anxiety and Stress. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090602171941.htm

University of Oxford. (2016, October 5). Being kind to others does make you ‘slightly happier’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161005102254.htm

Zisberg, A., Gur-Yaish, N., & Shochat, T. (2010). Contribution of routine to sleep quality in community elderly. Sleep, 33(4), 509-514.

 

 

3 Reasons We Keep Toxic People in Our Lives

Why do we keep toxic people in our lives? Despite the emotional costs, many people chose to remain in toxic relationships. This post explores the emotional reasoning behind not letting go.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

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Recently, an acquaintance told me about breaking up with his girlfriend. Listening to his story, I both cringed and laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of it. (Think The Break-Up meets Fatal Attraction.) His humorously-told narrative left me wondering, how on earth did it get to that?

It began when his at-the-time girlfriend “secretly” moved in with him. At first, she’d stay for a night or two, which eventually turned into weeks at a time, until all her stuff was there and my friend found himself with a live-in girlfriend. (It’s worth mentioning he’d seen a few “red flags” early on, but chose to ignore them… as we often do under the spell of infatuation.) Now living with her, he couldn’t turn a blind eye to the fact that she had some serious mental health and interpersonal issues. Furthermore, the relationship had taken a turn for the worse; they were constantly fighting.

So, my friend (wisely) broke up with her and told her to get out. And… she refused. (Really??) She claimed there was a law permitting her to stay since she’d been there for X amount of time. (Note: This is also when he found out she was homeless.)

He kicked her out of the bedroom (and she slept on the couch). To “encourage” her to leave, he took her parking pass, along with her new iPhone (which he undoubtedly bought in a more amiable era). To further “motivate,” he even shut off her cell service.

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Despite his efforts, weeks stretched on; she continued to live (rent-free) on his couch.

To make a long story short… she eventually left. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this blog) … but not until the apartment manager and police got involved. (It turned out her tenant rights claim, while valid, was not actually applicable to her situation.)

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My initial reaction to the whole fiasco was incredulity – Seriously, how could he let it go that far? – but after reflecting on past relationships… it was suddenly very easy to understand. (I’ve made my fair share of relationship mistakes.)

The reality is, it’s never as simple as “it’s over, get out.” Relationships require a certain level of emotional investment and commitment. Plus, there are multiple factors (such as debt, illness, or infidelity) that contribute to a relationship’s complexity.

Back to my friend… to be fair, the reason he remained in a toxic relationship was her refusal to vacate the apartment; his options were limited… but, instead of allowing it drag on, he could have taken action earlier.  Anyway, the story has a happy(ish) ending (for my friend, probably not his ex). He has his place back (hopefully a lesson learned) and got free blog inspiration. This post is 100% inspired by my friend’s toxic relationship. (Thank you for letting me share!)

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(Apart from “tenant rights”) what are reasons we allow toxic or difficult people (friends, family, and/or romantic partners) to remain in our lives? Why is it so hard to let go?

  1. Either you need them (or you can’t ignore them)

A recent study suggests we keep toxic people around simply because their lives are intertwined with ours. For example, your aging mother-in-law, who degrades and insults you, lives at your home, despite the negative impact this has on your life. Your options are limited because your husband is unwilling to put her in a nursing home (and you may also depend on her for things, like childcare or help with the bills).

Another example would be toxic co-workers; you don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to your boss or colleagues, and you can’t entirely avoid them or refuse to talk about work-related stuff (unless you’re okay with losing your job). If pursing a new position isn’t practical, your next best option is to find a way to effectively deal with workplace toxicity.

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That being said, you don’t have the power to change anyone else. To manage your reactions and interactions with toxic people, acknowledge the need for self-adjustment, including attitude and role. Examine your personal views. Lower expectations for others; accept that people will do and say things you don’t agree with… and it’s not something you can control. Once you’ve reached the point of radical acceptance, follow guidelines for effective communication (i.e. active listening, avoiding blame, being aware of tone and body language, reflecting for clarity, etc.) in conversations with toxic people, whether it’s your mother-in-law or your boss. By being proactive, you’re doing your part to avoid getting caught up in others’ toxicity.

In the face of unavoidable toxicity, I find switching to a “counselor role” to be a tremendous asset; I set aside my personal viewpoint, opening myself to alternative views, while seeking to understand (not judge) behavior. (You don’t have to be a counselor to do this!) I view individuals in terms of “what happened to you?” instead of assuming they’re malicious or intentional. (People act the way they do for some reason.) I don’t know what’s happening in a “toxic” person’s life or what they’ve been through. (Maybe that snarky co-worker is in an abusive relationship and lives in fear. Or maybe her son is in the hospital with brain cancer. Or, it’s possible she grew up in a home where her parents yelled and disrespected each other, shaping her view of relationships. The snarky attitude makes sense when viewed through different lenses.) While it’s never okay to be an asshole, I can understand why people are jerks. Somehow, this knowledge serves as an immunity when encountering a toxic person. Their behavior is the result of something bad that happened to them; it has nothing to do with me and I can choose whether or not to engage. They don’t have power to negatively impact me unless I give it up.

  1. It feels better to stay

When Joe Strummer of the Clash sang the question, “Should I stay or should I go now?”; he knew the answer. (Note: Firm boundaries and healthy decisions aren’t the stuff of chart-topping hits.) We stay in unhealthy relationships or continue to hang out with toxic friends because it feels good (at times, at least). The boyfriend who yells at you can also be incredibly sweet and caring. Or your gossipy friend who talks about you behind your back also happens to be the most fun person you know. Despite the sense that it’s unhealthy, you (like Strummer) can’t resist. And like my friend, you ignore the red flags because you crave the rush or the intensity… or maybe what you desire most is the feeling of being wanted. (Despite the toxicity, it’s worth it, just to feel wanted… or is it?)

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Beyond just feeling good, it’s entirely possible to deeply love a toxic person (no matter how wrong they are for you). You don’t want to give up on the person they could be; maybe you’re in love with their potential (or an idea of what the relationship could be). You believe it’s better to sacrifice your happiness (your dignity, your well-being, your independence) than to be without the person you love.

On the flip side, some people stay in toxic relationships because deep down, they believe they can’t do any better and/or the abuse is a preferable alternative to being alone. It could also mean they believe they deserve to be punished (which sometimes happens when a person remains in an abusive relationship for a long time). Or, they may reason that it’s better to hang out with a “mean girl” than sit and stare at the walls on a Friday night (with only the cat for company).

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If you can relate to staying in a toxic relationship because it feels good or are afraid of being alone, carefully consider and weigh out the long-term costs of a toxic relationship. There are far worse and more damaging things than being alone. If the idea of being alone terrifies you, maybe it’s an indication that something’s not right… that you’re not okay. It could be a sign of low self-worth or could point to an intense fear of abandonment. It may also signify a lack of understanding of what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Lastly, an intense fear of being alone is associated with some of the personality disorders and/or could be the result of trauma.

  1. It’s easier to stay

 Breaking up is messy and uncomfortable. In my experience, most people avoid conflict when possible. Despite conflict being a natural, everyday occurrence, it can feel unpleasant, even for those with expert conflict resolution skills. However, avoiding conflict in relationships does more harm than good. In a healthy relationship, it’s necessary to address problems in order to resolve them, thereby strengthening the relationship.

In a toxic relationship, conflict should not be avoided, but for different reasons. It may be easier to ignore the reality of your situation than to get honest, but this is detrimental (not only to you, but to your partner, who will never have the opportunity to change so long as you enable the toxicity to continue).

You may wish to avoid the emotional drain that accompanies confrontation, but in the long run, you’ll lose more emotional energy if you remain in a toxic relationship. (A steep, one-time payment is preferable to the ongoing, daily emotional sacrifices/abuses associated with toxicity; you’re slowly poisoned as time goes on.)

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If you choose to end a toxic relationship, be realistic; it’s not going to be easy… and it’s going to hurt. A lot. You may love this person a great deal (and maybe you’ve long held on to the hope they’d change). Go into it with low (or no) expectations. When things feel unbearable, remember that the easy things in life matter little; the difficult stuff is what leads to personal growth, success, and resilience.

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In closing, I’m sure there are multitudes of reasons people have for staying in toxic relationships; this post is by no means comprehensive. I’m also certain, whatever the reason, it seems justifiable to them. People don’t choose toxicity without some sort of justification (if not for others, than at least for themselves). Unfortunately, rationalizations don’t offer protection from harm. No matter the reason for remaining in a toxic relationship, it’s not worth the cost.

What are some other reasons people have for staying in a toxic relationship? Why is letting go so hard? Please share your thoughts in a comment!


References

Bar-Ilan University. (2018, January 17). Why we keep difficult people in our lives. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 14, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180117152513.htm

Offer, S., & Fischer, C.S. (2017). Difficult people: Who is perceived to be demanding in personal networks and why are they there? American Sociological Review, 000312241773795, DOI: 10.1177/0003122417737951

11 Self-Care Ideas You May Not Have Considered

Self-care is a vital piece of the wellness puzzle. This post is intended for the well-informed “self-carer,” who already knows about (and maybe even practices) deep breathing, massage, aromatherapy, etc. and wants to expand their horizons. This is also for people (like me) who don’t get much from your typical self-care practices (i.e. lighting a scented candle).

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

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Self-care is a vital piece of the wellness puzzle. As a mental health professional, I practice self-care to prevent burnout. (Once a counselor reaches burnout, he/she is no longer able to fully meet a client’s needs; if you’re not taking care of yourself, how are you going to help someone else?)

To illustrate the importance of self-care, consider a vehicle; it requires ongoing maintenance for optimal performance and safety. Similarly, we require self-care. It’s a concept that encompasses a variety of needs, including health, solitude, human connection, self-love, spiritualty, and more.

I’ve read many articles, posts, and books on self-care; there’s a wealth of information out there. Commonplace self-care tips, such as taking a bubble bath or meditating, make up the majority of posts on the topic; but unoriginal content has no place here. And to be honest, some (okay, a lot!) of the ideas make me want to roll my eyes. (Lighting a scented candle? Nope, not gonna do it for me.)

This post is intended for the well-informed “self-carer,” who already knows about (and maybe even practices) deep breathing, massage, aromatherapy, etc. and wants to expand their horizons. This is also for people (like me) who don’t get much from your typical self-care practices.

Here are 11 unique ideas:

1. Create an inspirational scrapbook or a “bliss book” 

Any time you happen upon something that makes you smile, inspires you, or motivates you, add it to your scrapbook (or journal or binder). Maybe it’s a photo, a happy thought you jot down, or a magazine article. Alternatively, you could create a “bliss board” on Pinterest.

Creating a bliss book (or board) has the potential to generate positivity and compassion. Whenever you need an emotional pick-me-up, flip through your scrapbook. Share it with others to generate a double dose of cheer!

2. Plan a trip 

If you can’t take a vacation, you can at least plan! Preparation is half the fun (for me, at least)! Look up places you’d like to travel and research things to do there. Create an itinerary. Set a tentative travel date (even if it’s years from now) so you have something to look forward to.

3. Poop in public bathrooms (without shame)! 

If you’re one of those people who avoid going number 2 in public bathrooms, stop. Holding in your poop is uncomfortable and may result in constipation. If you’re embarrassed about the smell, carry a travel-sized container of Poo-Pourri. If it’s the sound that makes you anxious, run the water or flush as you go. When your body tells you it’s time to go, listen! 

4. Treat yourself to a monthly subscription box 

I love getting mystery packages in the mail! It’s akin to receiving a care package when you’re a kid at summer camp. And when it comes to subscription boxes, there are many to choose from. Currently, I subscribe to four: Ispy (5 makeup samples in a cute makeup bag for $10), PLAY! by Sephora (5-6 makeup samples for $10), Trendsend (5-8 clothing items and no styling fee!), and StitchFix (a mix of 5 clothing items, shoes, and accessories with a $20 styling fee – fee is deducted from total).

Subscription boxes are fun and a great way for me to build a professional wardrobe and to try new makeup products. (Disclaimer: I receive a referral bonus if you sign up for a subscription service via one of my links.)

5. Sort through childhood toys or photos

Allow yourself time to reminisce. My sister and I recently went through a box of old dolls and stuffed animals; it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. It released a flood of happy memories and it felt great to laugh. (We chuckled over my Barbie dolls, which all had short, spiky hair; I was a very literal child, so when my sister declared “Barbie haircut day,” I took it to heart. My sister, on the other hand, only pretended to snip her Barbies’ hair. I cried rivers that day.)

I also enjoy looking at old family photos. See below for a pic from the year my mom went on a mission to create the perfect Christmas photo letter (the kind moms send out to impress relatives and old friends). “Fred the Christmas Goose” didn’t make the cut.

6. Create something

Practicing holistic self-care means stretching your mind; you benefit from the challenge. Avoid stagnation by stepping outside your comfort zone. Feed your creative side by building a chair, writing a song, painting a picture, knitting a scarf, or putting together a model.

Personally, I enjoy creating art; while not entirely lacking in talent, I’m no Picasso. Most of my projects are equivalent to the work one would accredit to a moderately talented 8-year old. Every once in awhile, I’m pleasantly surprised. (See below for a sketch I posted on Instagram.) Drawing or painting elicits a sense of accomplishment; it’s something I feel good about. Acknowledging your contributions builds self-esteem and confidence.

View this post on Instagram

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7. Engage with a stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, or a family member

Establishing meaningful human connection is essential for wellness. To make the most of this tip, try something you normally wouldn’t. (For example, chatting with a stranger is not my norm. To practice this tip, I’d strike up a conversation with my seatmate on a plane [providing, of course, that they’re open to friendly conversation.) Practicing self-care means building (or strengthening) connections. 

8. Go exploring 

As a child, nothing thrilled my soul quite like adventure; I explored by trampling through the woods behind my house, traversing streams and following hidden trails. My adventures often involved the discovery of “treasure,” an odd rock or ruins of some sort. Today, I’m just as adventurous; however, I spend less time crashing through woods and more time traveling the world.

Exploration promotes curiosity, which is essential for growth. If you’re not a fan of outdoor activities like hiking or backpacking, try exploring a city or neighborhood. Consider driving through unfamiliar developments. Explore restaurants or shops in your town. Whatever you decide, pursue it with the enthusiasm of the 6-year old adventurer you once were.

9. Redecorate your office or a room in your home to make it soothing, energizing, or inspiring

Every time you’re in the room, you’ll experience positive vibes. Paint the walls, add plants, declutter, hang a portrait, change the curtains, create a rock garden, etc. – whatever promotes positivity.

10. Change something about yourself

There’s a lot to be said for loving yourself, flaws and all. On the flip side, if there’s something you’re extremely unhappy with, consider changing it. If you’re overweight and have tried every sort of diet, but still can’t shed those pounds, talk to a doctor about weight loss surgery or schedule an appointment with a plastic surgeon. If you’re tired of feeling sluggish and lacking energy, adjust your sleep schedule, diet, and exercise routine (and make sure you see a doctor to rule out a medical issue). If you’re constantly broke, get a second job or find another way to bring in income; enroll in financial courses or schedule an appointment with a financial advisor.

Sometimes, self-care involves drastic change. If you’re deeply troubled over some aspect of your life, and it’s something you’re unable to accept, change it (while recognizing it will require work!) This is your life; take action.

Note: This tip is only for things you have control over; recognize what you can and cannot change. For example, I don’t like my flabby arms; if this bothered me enough, I could lift weights to develop muscle tone. I also dislike my neck; it’s not long enough. Unfortunately, short of brass neck coils (which border on self-harm), there’s nothing I can do. It’s not worth brooding over. (That being said, when contemplating any major change, especially ones involving surgery or substantial amounts of money, ask, “Is this change for me alone or am I seeking outside approval?” The essence of self-care is the self; it’s for you and you alone.)

11. Adopt a healthy habit (or quit a bad one) 

This idea embodies delayed-gratification self-care vs. instant-gratification self-care (i.e. sipping a mug of tea or gazing at the stars). And while both types of self-care are important, the rewards associated with a healthy habit are life-changing (vs. “mildly pleasant”).

According to research, there are five lifestyle habits associated with a low risk of illness and longer life expectancy. If you’re serious about self-care (and want more bang for your buck), adopt one (or all) of the following practices:

Eat a healthy diet

Exercise regularly

Maintain a healthy body weight

Drink alcohol in moderation (or not at all)

Don’t smoke

A healthy lifestyle is the foundation of self-care!

Share your favorite strategies for self-care in a comment!


 

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

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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!

 

Why “Playing Hardball” Doesn’t Work

How can you consistently get great results when dealing with customer service? Hint: “Playing hardball” doesn’t work. Instead, use seven basic counseling skills to get the best deal.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC

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Years ago, I was visiting new friends at their home to watch a college football game on TV. (It should be noted that I’m not a big sports fan, but my at-the-time boyfriend was.) The game couldn’t be viewed unless it was pre-ordered through the cable company, so the couple had had purchased the game ahead of time. We were all relaxing in the living room, eating snacks and chatting, waiting to watch some football. When the game didn’t come on as scheduled, they called the cable company… and much to my dismay, my male friend starting yelling and cursing at the customer service representative. I felt embarrassed, and couldn’t help thinking how awful it would feel to be on the receiving end of that call. (It’s not like it was the representative’s fault; they were trying to fix the problem!) At one point, my angry friend got too worked up and ended up handing the phone over to his female counterpart. I thought, Thank god! She’ll smooth this over. And then she proceeded to shout and cuss!

What is it that makes people think they can treat another human being like scum? Why do some believe that yelling, cursing, intimidating, or “playing hardball” is the way to go?

More recently, my husband and I went to a store to pick up an item he’d ordered online. He had previously called the store to ensure he’d be able to use a gift card for part of the balance, and was assured he could. However, upon arrival, we were informed that since his credit card had already been charged, there was no way to apply the gift card to his purchase. My husband was soooo mad! His typically easy-going, relaxed demeanor changed. He started arguing with the clerk; he was rude and sarcastic. Naturally, the clerk became defensive (and somewhat defiant). I wanted to disappear. My husband ended up paying full price for the item. The clerk’s day was probably ruined. I wondered if things would have turned out differently had my husband been his usual friendly self.

Why it is widely believed that “playing hardball” is the best approach for getting what you want?

Think about what motivates you to go out of your way to help; maybe you’re inspired to help someone because they’re friendly (and likeable). Or maybe you feel sorry for them. Maybe you want to help them because they’ve helped you in some way or shown you a kindness; you’re happy to return the favor. It’s less likely you’re motivated to help the angry guy who insults you. So why would it be different with customer service? Customer service reps are human, and therefore deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

In my experience, consideration and good manners (thanks, Mom!) go a long way. And I (almost) always get excellent results with customer service. Not once have I played “hardball” or yelled, cursed, or threatened. People typically want to help me. By utilizing one or more of the following therapeutic techniques, you can be more effective when returning an item without a receipt, requesting a lower interest rate, or asking your cable company for a better deal.

1. Unconditional positive regard

Instead of bracing yourself for the worst, anticipate that they’ll be able to help.

As a professional counselor, I value my clients while appreciating their unique perspectives and views. This principle can be applied to a conversation with a customer service representative. Approach them with respect. Be appreciative of their hard work. Treat them with kindness. Instead of, “I need this issue resolved,” try, “Hi [their name], how is your day going?” Instead of bracing yourself for the worst, anticipate that they’ll be able to help. Say, “I’m hoping you’re the person who can help me with…” It’s likely the person you’re speaking with will strive to live up to your expectations; they will be the person who can help you.

2. Empathy

Empathy, the ability to understand another’s perspective and sense their emotions, is crucial to all helping relationships. Empathy is not sympathy or feeling sorry for someone. Sympathy pities; empathy empowers.

Empathy has the potential to open the door for exploration and healing.

To illustrate, I’ll discuss empathy’s role in counseling. Imagine a client who’s afraid she’ll be deemed selfish or weak for contemplating suicide. She recently lost her job and is going through a horrific divorce. She feels worthless; she thinks the world would be better off without her. Empathy drops you into in her shoes and allows you to experience her anguish. To convey empathy, I’d say, “I can see you’re in a tremendous amount of pain. It’s gotten so bad, suicide seems like the only solution.” Empathy validates her suffering and recognizes that her pain is unbearable. Empathy has the potential to open the door for exploration and healing. (In contrast, the opposite approach would be to scold her, to tell her “it’s not that bad,” or to say she’s only looking for attention. All of those things are harmful and would invalidate her struggle.)

When applied to customer service, empathy acknowledges the experience of being a service representative. If you’re empathetic, you understand what they feel. You recognize the challenges of dealing with angry customers who yell or threaten (like my football-loving friends). Furthermore, it’s known that empathy promotes helping behaviors. Convey empathy by saying, “I can’t imagine what you must deal with.” Or “I imagine this job requires a lot of patience.” Empathy has also been linked to persuasiveness. On the flip side, if the customer service rep empathizes with you, you may have a better chance of convincing them to grant your request, at least according to one study.

3. Genuineness

With clients, I say what I mean. I share what I’m thinking or feeling. I’m myself, flaws and all. Genuineness promotes trust and strengthens the therapeutic relationship. When talking to a customer service rep, don’t put on an act. Don’t play tough and/or make threats. That’s not how you’d treat a co-worker or an acquaintance (at least, I would hope not?) And don’t play dumb. Instead of, “I had no idea my payment was late,” try, “My payment was two days late, but since this is the first time, would you consider waiving the fee?” You could also explain your situation: “Honestly, I’ve always been happy with your services, but since the rates went up, I’ve been thinking about canceling. I’ve researched [competing company] and they have better rates. I’m not sure if I can afford your services anymore.” The rep would probably be able to relate (and even empathize), which translates to a better outcome for you.

4. Using names

Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Using a name isn’t a basic counseling skill, but what it conveys is. Using a name conveys respect. It makes that person feel important and valued. Speaking a person’s name also commands their attention. In a counseling session, to make the greatest impact with my words, I’ll say the client’s name before sharing a thought. A name is powerful.

When navigating customer service, repeat the rep’s name after they introduce themselves to help you remember. (Write it down if you’re on the phone.) Use their name throughout the conversation. Someone who feels respected, important, and valued is more likely to help than someone who feels disrespected, unimportant, and unappreciated.

5. Patience

Patience is invaluable in counseling. I’m patient with clients who are guarded and with clients who aren’t ready to change. I’m patient in my sessions; I sometimes sit in silence, allowing for the time to process, contemplate, or sort through thoughts. I’m patient when a client isn’t progressing. (Change takes time.) Lastly, I’m patient with myself when I say the wrong thing or when it seems my efforts aren’t helping. (I remind myself that I’m human; I make mistakes. I can’t help everyone.)

Customer service requires patience. Hold times can be ridiculously long. It also takes time to connect with an actual human. And when you do connect, they could say you’ve reached the wrong department. They’d transfer the call to someone in a different department (who may then have to transfer you again). You’ll probably be placed on hold a few times (and have to explain yourself multiple times). The call could be dropped and then you’d have to start all over again. You may have trouble understanding a rep’s accent. They may be unable to help you if you don’t know your account number (or the first concert you attended, the name of the street you grew up on, etc.) They could ask for a PIN or password you don’t remember creating.

Alternatively, if you’re dealing with customer service in-person, the line could be long. There could be a crying baby nearby or a man with strong body odor standing in front of you. Or maybe the person behind you is in your “bubble”; they keep bumping into you. It could be too hot or too cold in the store. Once you get to the front of the line, the clerk could be new; they don’t know how to resolve your issue. You’d be asked to step aside and wait for the manager, which would take even more time.

Patience is an art; it can be cultivated through mindfulness and gratitude. To foster patience, anticipate that your customer service issue is going to take a considerable amount of time. Expect to run into some unforeseen snags. If you’re already rushed or in a bad mood, just skip it. Instead, make that call or trip to the store when you’re relaxed and have plenty of time to spare.

6. Humor

Okay, this one isn’t an official counseling skill, but it’s one of my counseling skills. What’s more, research suggests that when used appropriately (and never at a client’s expense), humor is a powerful tool for healing. In my experience, humor allows clients to open up and relax. It improves mood and helps clients to view their problems from an alternative perspective. Humor is an important coping skill and may reduce mental health symptoms. Humor connects us; laughing together fosters positivity. Also, never underestimate the power of laughing at yourself. If you can find humor in your flaws and life fails, you can forgive yourself and move on. (It’s refreshing to not have to take yourself so seriously.) Humor makes me a better counselor… and a better person.

Humor connects us; laughing together fosters positivity.

When talking to a customer service rep, use humor if possible. (“Does the warranty cover a four-year old’s mission to see if phones float?”) Poke fun at yourself or your inadequacies. If your issue is even the slightest bit funny, go ahead and laugh. For example, a year or so ago, I had a problem with my FitBit. According to FitBit, I was climbing hundreds of flights of stairs every day. I contacted customer service to report the issue. In my email I wrote, “Although I wish it were true, I can assure you that I have not been climbing hundreds of flights of stairs on a daily basis. Please assist.” They sent a new FitBit. Humor generates positive feelings; research suggests that a positive mood increases helpfulness. For in-person customer service, a smile may increase your chances of getting the help you need. A happy customer service rep is more likely to grant your request.

7. Remaining calm

Composure is the opposite of reactivity. An effective clinician is calm and serene; this promotes healing while reducing client anxiety. Moreover, it’s essential to remain calm in a crisis or with trauma work. Reactivity, on the other hand, is chaotic and ineffective.

When you react, you lose a small piece of your control. The more you react, the more out of control you feel. When fully escalated, you give up all your power; you’ve essentially handed it over to the person you’re reacting to. Furthermore, when emotions are heightened, the logical part of your brain becomes less active. You’re driven by your emotions.

In contrast, remaining calm enables you to respond instead of react. Maintaining composure will almost always benefit you in an argument. Similarly, it’s to your benefit to remain calm when talking to a customer service rep. If you get angry or upset, you lose effectiveness. Research indicates that when negotiating, people dealing with angry counterparts are more likely to walk away from the deal. Expressing anger has limited effectiveness when employed as a negotiation strategy. If you happen to anger the customer service rep, you won’t end up getting what you want, at least according to one study.

To increase your ability to regulate your emotions, practice mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises. Neurofeedback is another tool for training your brain to remain calm.

In conclusion, the best strategies for getting your needs met include respect, genuineness, and empathy. Use a customer service rep’s name throughout the conversation. Be patient. Increase your likability with humor; remain calm (no matter what). These methods aren’t infallible, but they’ll boost your odds for great customer service. (And if you still aren’t getting results, politely end the conversation, hang up, and call back to be connected to someone else.)

Do you have any tips for getting exceptional customer service? Share about it in a comment!

19 Unique Ways to Be More Charitable

Ideas for charity contributions that are easy, cheap (or free!), and fun. An awesome list for people who may not have a lot of money or time, but still want to give back.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC

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To build self-esteem, one must do “esteemable” acts.

I’m not sure who originally said this, but it’s something I (as a substance abuse counselor) often told my clients. I worked with adults who were worn down or broken from their battle with addiction; an individual with a substance use disorder often feels tremendous guilt and shame.

One of the best things a person can do to build self-esteem or live a more meaningful life is to help others…

I taught my clients to cherish themselves, to forgive, and to find a purpose in life. One of the best things a person can do to build self-esteem or live a more meaningful life is to help others; random acts of kindness, volunteering at a homeless shelter, reading to children at a library, donating toiletries or blankets to someone who has lost their home in a fire… There are countless ways to help. Research indicates that practicing compassion and volunteering build self-esteem.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to volunteer (or the resources to donate). The purpose of this list is to provide ideas for charity contributions that are easy, cheap, and fun. I created this list for people who may not have a lot of money or time. I found some awesome ways to give back that aren’t time-consuming; many of the ideas require minimum effort and/or are 100% free. Build them into your life and feel happy about helping those in need!


UNIQUE AND FUN

1. Purchase Who Gives A Crap toilet paper. 

Products are environmentally friendly and 50% of profits go to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world.

2. Donate your wedding dress for a cause.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Wish Upon A Wedding: A nonprofit organization that grants weddings and vow renewals for couples facing serious illness or a life-altering circumstance.

Adorned in Grace: All proceeds are used to promote awareness and prevention of sex trafficking as well as crisis prevention for trafficked victims.

Cherie Amour: Proceeds from dress sales help low income individuals get jobs.

Fairytale Brides: Net proceeds from all sales are donated to charitable organizations supporting women’s empowerment programs.

3. Save a life by joining a marrow registry such as Be The Match or Gift of Life. 

Your donation may save the life of a person with a blood cancer like leukemia and lymphoma. You must be in good health and you must be prepared to spend 20-30 (non-consecutive) hours of your time if you are chosen. Not everyone is chosen; according to Be The Match, about 1 in 430 members goes on to donate marrow or peripheral blood stem cells. If you join Gift of Life, you have a 1 in 250 chance of being a match, but then only a 20% chance of donating.

You can also donate blood at a blood drive. O-negative is the universal donor type because it is compatible with any blood type, but only about 5% of the U.S. population have this blood type. There’s a great need for O-negative donations (Source: https://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/blood-types.html)

4. With Kiva, lend as little as $25 to help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realize their potential. 

100% of every dollar goes to a loan. You can browse through different categories and attributes. According to Kiva, 97% of loans are repaid, but there’s no guarantee. You can read the borrower’s story before you submit your loan. (I loaned $25 to a woman in El Salvador to help her buy a sewing machine. Update: I received full repayment within three months.)

5. Help the homeless.

Keep a pack of bottled water in your car. Alternatively, you can provide someone in need with a small bag filled with toiletry items, socks, tissues, granola bars, etc. (Take the extra shampoo, lotions, and soap when you’re at a hotel and put them to use!) If the weather is cold, buy gloves or hats from the dollar store to hand out. Give $5 gift cards for Burger King or Taco Bell. Personally, I choose to not give cash. (Many of the “homeless” individuals you see are panhandlers.) However, if I’m in an area with a large homeless population, I buy a pack of cigarettes; when someone asks for change, I offer a cigarette instead. Lastly, because of the work I do, I have business-sized cards with a crisis line, a phone number for local resources (including shelters), and a number for a substance use program, which I pass out if needed.

6. Host a closet swap party!

Exy Castellanos, a social worker from Chattanooga, Tennessee, provided this idea. “My friends and I have a closet swap party. We swap clothes and stuff and whatever is left over we donate to a local thrift store (not Goodwill).”

7. Volunteer with Idealist.

It’s free to sign up, to search for opportunities, and to connect with others. Idealist is a global network of people and organizations that connects individuals with advantages to work, volunteer, or intern. To give you a better idea, here are examples of some volunteer opportunities: Reading partner at an under-resourced elementary school, judging a local competition, playing with homeless children one night a week, coaching a sports team, volunteer zoo guide, volunteering at a museum, cleaning up a national park, and interpreter.

8. Run (or walk/march/bike) for charity!

Pick a cause and raise funds.

9. An Internet search led me to Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled, which helps adults with spinal cord injuries and other mobility impairments in the U.S. to live more independent and engaged lives. 

This is accomplished by providing the individuals with unique service animals (at no cost): Highly trained service monkeys to help with daily tasks.

10. Janelle Bennett from Michigan suggested Charity: Water, a great organization bringing people clean water. 

100% of donations go to actually helping people. You can start a fun campaign to raise funds; one guy actually rented his face and let a stranger shave his beard on the street to raise money.

11. Every time you buy concert tickets, donate to charity.

At one point in my life, I decided that if I could afford concert tickets, I could afford a small donation ($25) for a good cause. (And it doesn’t have to be concert tickets; it can be anything you want! Buying a piece of jewelry, purchasing an electronic device, dinning out, etc.)

EFFORTLESS

12. Instead wedding favors, make a donation to your favorite charity for each guest. 

At my wedding, my husband and I picked a lung cancer nonprofit to honor his father, who passed away from lung cancer. You can buy cards on Etsy or, just make them yourself with pearl cardstock paper! (See photo from my wedding.)


13. Tabs for a Cause is a free browser extension.

Every time you open a new tab, a donation is made to your favorite charity.

14. Lyft has a “round up and donate” setting; opt in, and your fare will round up automatically with each ride. 

There are a variety of causes to choose from.

15. “Click to give” at GreaterGood. 

It’s completely free. You can click once per day, and there are multiple causes to choose. I first discovered GreaterGood through The Animal Rescue Site; a single click helps to provide food and shelter to animals in need. (You can also do some shopping and a percentage of the item’s retail price is donated to a cause. I bought a beautiful handbag with a jungle print!)

16. Shop at AmazonSmile at no extra cost, and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization.

You can choose from nearly 1 million charities, including local charities.

17. If you use Swagbucks, you can donate your Swagbucks to various charitable causes instead of redeeming for a gift card or cash. 

Similarly, some airlines will allow you to donate your miles to a cause.

18. If you’re a runner, download the Charity Miles app to earn money for charity for the miles you run. 

You can also earn money for walking and biking.

19. Play free vocabulary games at Free Rice and for each correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated to World Food Programme to help end hunger.

Free Rice has two goals: To provide free education and to end world hunger

Additional Ideas: 

Wands for Wildlife: Donate old mascara wands! They’re used to gently remove fly eggs and larva from the fur of wild animals. (Wash in soap and warm water before mailing.)

Coin Up: Download the app to round up on credit or debit card transactions. Your “spare change” is then donated to the charity of your choice each month.

CoinStar Coins That Count: Take your change to a CoinStar kiosk to donate to a charity of your choice. A printed receipt will be provided.

Rake a neighbor’s yard or shovel their driveway. 

Pay for a stranger’s coffee, dinner, grocery item, etc. 


 

Before making a donation, you can check a charity’s credibility (including a financial breakdown of funds) at the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. Alternatively, you can use Charity Watch, which grades charities and includes “red flag” information. The site also provides a list of the top charities. Also, Charity Navigator, which includes guides and tips for donating items, volunteering, informed giving, and more.


What are some creative and unique ways to donate to charity? Leave an answer in the “Comments” section!

Updated June 22, 2018



Karche, M. (2009). Increases in academic connectedness and self-esteem among high school students who serve as cross-age peer mentors. Professional School Counseling, 12(4), 292-299.

Mongrain, M., Chin, J., &, Shapira, L. (2011). Practicing compassion increases happiness and self-esteem. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(963).

von Bonsdorff, M.B. &, Rantanen, T. (2011). Benefits of formal voluntary work among older people: A review. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 23(162).

161 Questions to Explore Values, Ideas, and Beliefs

Open-ended questions are important in therapy. They allow a client to explore his/her values, ideas, and beliefs. A list of 161 questions for group therapy, journal prompts, conversation starters, icebreakers.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC

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The questions in this post ask about recovery, spirituality, personal growth, and other relevant topics. As a counselor, I’ve used the questions with adults who struggle with mental illness and addiction, mostly in a group setting. Asking open-ended questions is a basic counseling skill. Open questions invite the client to explore his or her thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. In contrast, closed questions can be answered with a yes or no.

The first section, “Conversation Starters,” is comprised of questions that can be used as icebreakers, at a party, or even on a date.  In a clinical setting, use a “Conversation Starter” as a group check-in. It provides an opportunity for group members to engage and to learn about their peers.

Additional ideas for groups

Choose 10-15 questions and either print them out or write them on small pieces of paper. Fold the paper slips and place in a container. Clients can take turns drawing and answering questions. Alternatively, they can choose questions for each other.

Select up to 20 questions. Pair the clients and have them take turns interviewing each other.

Select 5-10 questions. Each client writes out his or her answers. Read the answers to the group and have group members take turns guessing who wrote what.

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Conversation Starters

  1. What is the most interesting thing you heard this week?
  1. What’s the one thing you really want to do but have never done, and why?
  1. Would you take a shot if the chance of failure and success is 50-50?
  1. Which one would you prefer; taking a luxurious trip alone or having a picnic with people you love?
  1. If your life was a book, what would the title be?
  1. If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
  1. What is your favorite day of the week and why?
  1. What do you do when you’re bored?
  1. Shoe size?
  1. Favorite color?
  1. Favorite band (or artist)?
  1. Favorite animal?
  1. Favorite food?
  1. One food you dislike?
  1. Favorite condiment?
  1. Favorite movie?
  1. Last movie you saw in a theater?
  1. Last book read?
  1. Best vacation?
  1. Favorite toy as a child?
  1. One item you should throw away, but probably never will?
  1. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or Wonder Woman?
  1. Chocolate or vanilla?
  1. Morning person or night owl?
  1. Cats or dogs?
  1. Sweet or salty?
  1. Breakfast or dinner?
  1. Coffee or tea?
  1. American food, Italian food, Mexican food, Chinese food, or other?
  1. Clean or messy?
  1. What is your favorite breakfast food?
  1. What vegetable would you like to grow in a garden?
  1. Tell about a childhood game you loved.
  1. What’s your favorite dessert?
  1. What’s your favorite day of the week and why?
  1. Who is your favorite celebrity?
  1. Which celebrity do you most resemble?
  1. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  1. Share about one of your hobbies.
  1. What’s a unique talent that you have?
  1. Introvert or extrovert?
  1. Describe yourself in three words.
  1. Tell about a happy childhood memory.
  1. Name three things (or people) that make you smile.

Mental Health and Addiction Questions

  1. On a scale from 1 to 10, where are you at in your recovery and what does that number mean to you?
  1. Tell about a healthy risk you have taken this week.
  1. What brought you to treatment?
  1. How has your life changed since getting clean and sober?
  1. What do you miss the most about drug/alcohol?
  1. What would your life be like if you weren’t addicted to something?
  1. What makes your addiction possible?
  1. What are your triggers?
  1. Name at least three ways you can cope with cravings.
  1. Name three of your relapse warning signs.
  1. Tell about someone who is supportive of your recovery.
  1. What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about mental illness?
  1. Is it okay to take medications if you’re in recovery?
  1. Is it possible to get clean/sober without AA or NA?
  1. Do you have a sponsor? What’s helpful and what’s not?
  1. Do you think you’re going to relapse?
  1. What’s the difference between helping and enabling?
  1. Tell about a time you were in denial.
  1. Do you have an enabler? Explain.
  1. Is it possible for someone in recovery for drugs to be a social drinker?
  1. How have drugs and alcohol affected your health?
  1. Is addiction a disease?

Personal Development and Values

  1. Are you doing what you truly want in life?
  1. What are your aspirations in life?
  1. How many promises have you made this past year and how many of them have you fulfilled?
  1. Are you proud of what you’re doing with your life or what you’ve done in the past? Explain.
  1. Have you ever abandoned a creative idea that you believed in because others thought you were a fool? Explain.
  1. What would you prefer? Stable but boring work or interesting work with lots of workload?
  1. Are you making an impact or constantly being influenced by the world?
  1. Which makes you happier, to forgive someone or to hold a grudge? Explain.
  1. Who do you admire and why?
  1. What are your strengths?
  1. What are your weaknesses?
  1. Are you doing anything thatmakes you and people around you happy?
  1. Tell about a short-term goal you have.
  1. Tell about a health goal you have.
  1. Tell about a long-term goal you have.
  1. Tell about a value that is currently important to you.
  1. What do you like most about yourself?
  1. What do you like least about yourself?
  1. What in life brings you joy?
  1. What are you grateful for?
  1. Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
  1. Tell about one dream you have always had, but are too afraid to chase.
  1. What is something you want to change about yourself and what are two things you can do to accomplish this?
  1. Describe your perfect world. (Who would be in it, what would you be doing, etc.)
  1. Where were you one year ago, where are you now, and where do you want to be a year from today?
  1. Share about a character flaw you have.
  1. What kind of a person do you want to be?
  1. When is the last time you helped someone and what did you do?
  1. Tell about a problem you have right now. What can you do to solve it?

Family and Relationship Questions

  1. Have you ever failed anyone who you loved or loved you? Explain.
  1. Who is your favorite person?
  1. What was it like growing up in your family?
  1. What makes someone a good friend?
  1. What happens when you’re rejected?
  1. What makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy?
  1. Would you rather break someone’s heart or have your heart broken?

Education and Career

  1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  1. Tell about something you do well.
  1. What’s your dream job?
  1. What are your career goals?
  1. What classes would you be most interested in taking?
  1. Tell about a job you would hate doing.
  1. Would you prefer to work with people or by yourself?
  1. Would you ever do a job that was dangerous if it paid a lot of money?
  1. Would you still work if you didn’t have to?
  1. What do you want to do when you retire?
  1. If you have a job, what do you like about it? Dislike?
  1. How do you deal with difficult co-workers?
  1. What qualities would you like your supervisor to have?

Emotions

  1. When was the last time you laughed, and what did you laugh at?
  1. If happiness was a currency, how rich would you be?
  1. How do you express happiness?
  1. What are three healthy ways you can cope with anger?
  1. What are three healthy ways you can cope with anxiety?
  1. What does being happy mean to you?
  1. If your mood was a weather forecast, what would it be?
  1. Tell about a time you were happy.
  1. Tell about a time you were heartbroken.
  1. What is the difference between guilt and shame?
  1. Is guilt a healthy emotion?
  1. Can guilt be excessive?
  1. Is there a such thing as “healthy shame”?
  1. What makes you happy?
  1. What makes you mad?
  1. When do you feel afraid?
  1. When do you feel lonely?
  1. Share about the last time you felt guilty.
  1. What embarrasses you?

Spirituality

  1. How does one practice forgiveness (of self and others) from a religious point of view and from a non-religious point of view?
  1. What does it mean to forgive?
  1. Do you have to forgive to move forward?
  1. What brings you meaning in life?
  1. How do you define spirituality?
  1. What’s the difference between religion and spirituality?
  1. When do you feel most at peace?
  1. Do you meditate? Why or why not?

Additional Thought-Provoking Questions

  1. If you could travel to the past in a time machine, what advice would you give to the 6-year-old you? Would you break the rules because of something/someone you care about?
  1. Are you afraid of making mistakes? Why or why not?
  1. If you cloned yourself, which of your characteristics would you not want cloned?
  1. What’s the difference between you and most other people?
  1. Consider the thing you last cried about; does it matter to you now or will it matter to you 5 years from now?
  1. What do you need to let go of in life?
  1. Do you remember anyone you hated 10 years ago? Does it matter now?
  1. What are you worrying about and what happens if you stop worrying about it?
  1. If you died now, would you have any regrets?
  1. What’s the one thing you’re most satisfied with?
  1. If today was the end of the world, what would you do?
  1. What would you do if you won the lottery?
  1. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  1. How do you think others see you?
  1. What is your biggest fear?
  1. How do you get someone’s attention?
  1. What masks do you wear?
  1. Tell about a poor decision you made.
  1. When is the last time you failed at something? How did you handle it?

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