Thursday, January 12, 2012

Counselor Cognitions: General and Domain-Specific Complexity

Researchers: Laura E. Welfare, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and L. DiAnne Borders, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Source (Journal name, date of publication):

Counselor Education & Supervision—March 2010—Volume 49

What was the purpose of this research?

The authors explored general and domain-specific cognitive complexity of counselors as it relates to their counseling efficacy.

If applicable, who were the participants, and what were they asked to do?

Counselors-in-training and post master’s-degree counselors from CACREP-accredited programs in Illinois, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia completed a demographic questionnaire, the Counselor Cognitions Questionnaire (CCQ), and the Washington University Sentence Completion Test, a measure of Loevinger’s theory of ego development.

Major findings or points:

Domain-specific measures of cognitive complexity were found to be more informative than general measures of complexity. Counseling experience, supervisory experience, counselor education experience, and highest counseling degree completed were identified as significant predictors of counselor cognitive complexity.

Major caveats:

The majority of participants were master’s-level students or doctoral students rather than post-master’s-degree counselors. Response rates cannot be calculated due to convenience sampling, and only a small number of participants had supervisory or teaching experience, which limited regression confidence.

What does this research mean for counseling practice, settings, and/or training?

It seems as though counseling experience can contribute to increased levels of cognitive complexity, which is most effectively investigated through domain-specific measures. Supervisors could utilize the CCQ in order to identify areas of cognitive need and teachers could focus on mastery of domain-specific concepts. Teachers and supervisors with domain-specific cognitive complexity could have a substantive impact on the cognitive growth of their students and supervisees.

Prospective First-Generation College Students: A Social-Cognitive Perspective

Researchers: Melinda M. Gibbons, University of Tennessee - Knoxville, and L. DiAnne Borders, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Source (Journal name, date of publication):

The Career Development Quarterly—March 2010—Volume 58

What was the purpose of this research?

The authors identified differences in self-efficacy and outcome expectations between prospective first-generation college students (PFGCS) and their non-PFGCS peers.

If applicable, who were the participants, and what were they asked to do?

In a single southeastern state, 272 seventh graders from four middle schools completed the College-Going Self-Efficacy Scale, the Perception to Educational Barriers Scale, the Child and Adolescent Social Support Scale, and the College-Going Outcome Expectations Scale. Participants also provided demographic data and their parents completed a short survey.

Major findings or points:

The authors found that PFGCSs were more likely to be Hispanic/Latino, much less likely to be in a higher level math course, and experienced lower college-going self-efficacy than their non-PFGCS peers. PFGCSs identified more barriers to college-going expectations, less parental support, and lower positive outcome expectations than their non-PFGCS peers. The authors suggested that social-cognitive career theory should be modified to account for the effect of PFCGS’s perceived barriers and supports.

Major caveats:

This study was conducted in just one U.S. state and the response rate was relatively low, which limits generalizability. Also, the study relied upon student self-report data, which might not have been completely accurate or truthful.

What does this research mean for counseling practice, settings, and/or training?

In general, PFGCSs experience higher education differently from their non-PFGCS peers and the finding can be used to better assist these students. When working with this population, counselors should pay close attention to students’ perceived barriers and supports in addition to their sense of self-efficacy. In order to improve PFGCS’ intentions, interests, and goals, counselors should work to increase their positive outcome expectations and take care to challenge negative outcome expectations.

A Measure of College-Going Self-Efficacy for Middle School Students

Researchers: Melinda M. Gibbons, The University of Tennessee- Knoxville, and L. DiAnne Borders, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Source (Journal name, date of publication):

Professional School Counseling—April 2010—Volume 13

What was the purpose of this research?

The authors developed and tested psychometrics of the College-Going Self-Efficacy Scale (CGSES), designed to measure middle-school students’ college-going beliefs.

If applicable, who were the participants, and what were they asked to do?

Data was collected in three phases. First, 22 Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades completed a short demographic form, four surveys related to college-going beliefs, including the CGSES, and readability surveys for each survey. Second, a sample of 272 seventh-grade students from four middle schools returned consent forms and parent surveys and completed the CGSES. Third, 18 seventh-graders took the CGSES and then re-took the survey three weeks later.

Major findings or points:

The validity and reliability of the CGSES was found to be adequate and participants reported that the measure was clearly-written and an appropriate length.

Major caveats:

Although this study was conducted on a diverse group of students, additional studies would further support use of the CGSES. One question on the instrument had a complex sentence structure and was removed sue to low correlation with the other items.

What does this research mean for counseling practice, settings, and/or training?

The CGSES can be used as a needs assessment for early identification of students who have lower expectations of their college-going abilities, which is a negative indicator of college success. Analysis of individual response items allows counselors to identify specific areas of concern related to college-going self-efficacy and can be used as an individual planning tool. Counselors could work to improve students’ overall self-efficacy or challenge low scores on individual items.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Supervision in Career Counseling: Implications for Practice

by Melissa Wheeler

In practice, career counselors must balance addressing a client’s presenting concern with personal issues and considerations that may influence career choice. Due to the changing nature of the world of work, career counselors must stay abreast of workplace trends, unemployment numbers, and emerging career fields. Practicing career counselors must also continue to learn about emerging career theories and techniques that will influence their work with clients. How do practicing counselors receive this type of support when they may be far removed from educational settings?

Expressed Supervision Needs of Career Counselors

Ongoing supervision can be a tool for professional development and lifelong learning for career counselors in the field. Researchers have found that career counselors see the benefits of supervision, but they do not feel that they get enough supervision time (McMahon, 2005;Reid, 2010). Career counselors report wanting to receive the following from supervision (McMahon, 2005):

· Confirmation about their case conceptualizations

· Feedback on counseling techniques

· Affirmation of their counseling skills

· Suggestions for techniques to use with clients

· Additional perspectives on client conceptualizations and treatment plans

· Clarity regarding a difficult client’s presenting issues

· Support regarding issues that could lead to burnout

Special Considerations for Supervisors

Finding an appropriate supervisor can be difficult in professional settings. For career counselors in rural settings, supervisors may be in cities too far away to drive in regularly for face-to-face supervision sessions. In career counseling settings, supervisors may well be the superiors also in charge of performing performance evaluations. Furthermore, many counselors find it difficult to find a supervisor who has had training in supervision, much less training in supervision of career counselors. To ensure counselors and supervisors receive the most from supervision, supervisors of career counselors should keep the following in mind:

· Issues of power and possible dual relationships should be addressed at the beginning of the supervisory relationship so that counselors can be made to feel more comfortable discussing difficult cases with supervisors (Reid, 2010).

· Supervision time should be set aside as soon as possible and follow a set schedule. Supervision times must be protected, even when the work week becomes hectic (Reid, 2010).

· Expectations should be set in advance that both supervisor and counselor will prepare for the supervision session (Reid, 2010).

· Supervisors should be sure counselors not only are addressing a client’s presenting issues for career counseling, but also personal circumstances that may be affecting career decisions (Prieto & Betsworth, 1999).

· Supervisors should be attuned to a counselor’s beliefs surrounding career assessments and possible overreliance on assessment results for client conceptualizations (Prieto & Betsworth, 1999).

· Supervisors of career counselors should also receive supervision to enhance their skills (Reid, 2010).

· For supervisors who may not have expertise in career counseling, additional professional development opportunities should be sought (Reid, 2010).

For Further Reading:

McMahon, M. (2005) Clinical supervision in school counseling and career counseling: Is it time to develop a new story? Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 15, 105-116.

Prieto, L. R., & Betsworth, D. G. (1999). Supervision of career counseling: Current knowledge and new directions. The Clinical Supervisor, 18, 173-189.

Reid, H. L. (2010). Supervision to enhance educational and vocational guidance practice: A review. International Journal of Educational and Vocational Guidance, 10, 191-205. doi: 10.1007/s10775-010-9184-x

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ending the Cycle of Trauma: Reducing Vicarious Trauma through Trauma-Sensitive Supervision

Laura K. Jones

Clinicians often report feeling underprepared to work with trauma survivors. Well over half of the clients being seen at community mental health clinics report having experienced at least one traumatic incident during their lifetime, however, so trauma work is nearly inevitable. Supervision affords a unique opportunity to help prepare and support counselors working with traumatized clients. The supervisory relationship as well as the structure and content of supervision can be used as tools to prepare and ensure the wellbeing of both the client and the counselor.

Hearing stories of abuse, neglect, violence, and loss can be exceedingly difficult for counselors, especially counselors who themselves have a history of personal trauma (Baird & Kracen, 2006). In fact, many counselors who work with survivors can experience symptoms analogous to the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) faced by their clients, with nearly 20 percent of counselors developing clinically diagnosable PTSD as a result (Meldrum, King, & Spooner, 2002, as cited by Sommer, 2008). The potential for such vicarious trauma (VT) is one of the predominant considerations in tailoring supervision for trauma counselors. Supervisors can reduce the potential for VT by providing a collaborative, strengths-based supervisory relationship that integrates ongoing discussions about VT and provides time and space for supervisees to discuss personal feelings and reactions to their work. The use of stories and metaphors has also been suggested as a possible means of facilitating discussions of vicarious reactions and helping supervisees make meaning of their feelings and experiences (Sommer & Cox, 2006).

Trauma-sensitive supervisors should likewise continually monitor supervisees for signs of VT and promote self-care both in and out of the supervisory context. Use of guided imagery, progressive relaxation, and breath work can be used during supervision for supervisees who are expressing considerable stress (Sommer, 2008). Furthermore, given the predisposition for counselors with a personal history of trauma to develop VT, there is considerable debate as to whether supervisors should or ethically can inquire about the trauma history of supervisees (West, 2010). Supervisors are cautioned to weigh strongly the advantages and disadvantages of such an inquiry, taking into consideration the particular circumstances of the individual supervisee.

A second overriding concern in trauma-sensitive supervision is the specialized knowledge needed to effectively assist trauma clients (Etherington, 2000; Sommer, 2008; West, 2010). Information related to trauma assessment, trauma-induced changes in physiology and arousal, dissociation, treatment models, recovered memories, and countertransference are integral to efficacious and beneficent work with traumatized clients. The most prevalent misstep untrained trauma counselors make is pushing a survivor to work with traumatic memories before the client is emotionally and physiologically ready. As such, one of the roles of a trauma-sensitive supervisor is to assess for gaps in the supervisee’s knowledge within these six core areas and provide avenues for training in deficient areas (Etherington, 2000). An assessment of supervisees’ knowledge of trauma theory should occur prior to contracting for supervision so requisite training can be integrated into the supervisory agreement (West, 2010). Assigning regular readings and case presentations covering areas needing further development can facilitate continuing education. In order for supervisors to adequately assess and train trauma counselors, however, supervisors themselves also need to be literate in trauma theory and practice.

Organizational factors also influence the wellbeing of both the trauma counselor and client and thus should be addressed within the supervisory context (Sommer, 2008). Dual relationships whereby the supervisor is also a boss, inadequate time for supervision, supervision not being valued, and caseloads too heavily based in trauma clients can increase the potential for VT and negatively impact the client and counselor. Given the American Counseling Associations Code of Ethics (2005), counselors are obligated to take action when agency policies and practices are damaging to clients or influence the effectiveness of counselors. Therefore, discussions of organizational impediments should occur early in supervision and efforts should be made to mitigate the difficulties.

Ongoing supervision is integral to the wellbeing of trauma counselors and beneficent care of their clients and should be tailored to the particular pedagogical and emotional needs of this population. Balancing traditional supervisory goals with the core components of trauma-sensitive supervision and the individual supervisee’s needs and developmental level can be difficult, yet additional support systems outside of the supervisory relationship can help manage the more restorative, self-care needs of trauma supervisees. Supervisors can assist supervisees in finding and building such networks and in doing so better address the multifaceted demands of trauma-sensitive supervision.

For further reading:

American Counseling Association. (2005). ACA Code of Ethics. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Baird, K., & Kracen, A. C. (2006). Vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress: A research synthesis. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 19, 181-188. doi: 10.1080/09515070600811899

Etherington, K. (2000). Supervising counsellors who work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 13, 377-389.

Sommer, C. A. (2008). Vicarious traumatization, trauma-sensitive supervision, and counselor preparation. Counselor Education and Supervision, 48, 61-71.

Sommer, C. A., & Cox, J. A. (2006). Sexual violence counselors’ reflections on supervision: Using stories to mitigate vicarious traumatization. Journal of Poetry Therapy, 19(1), 3-16. doi: 10.1080/08893670600565587

West, A. (2010). Supervising counsellors and psychotherapists who work with trauma: A Delphi study. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 38, 409-430. doi: 10.1080/03069885.2010.503696

Use of Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques in Clinical Supervision

Edward Wahesh, MS, LPCA, NCC

Beginning counselors often struggle with self-defeating thoughts and negative emotions related to counseling. “I cannot make mistakes as counselor!” is a common example of a belief held by counselors that can contribute to anxiety or other negative emotions. If not addressed, such thoughts and emotions can negatively influence the counselor’s ability to establish robust therapeutic relationships with clients.

Clinical supervision provides an opportunity to assist counselors in identifying the underlying irrational beliefs that diminish their ability to conduct effective therapy. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has demonstrated efficacy through numerous outcome studies to treat personal problems such as depression and anxiety. The focus of CBT on how beliefs influence mood and behavior can inform the supervision of counselors. Specifically, the philosophy and techniques of CBT can be adapted by clinical supervisors for use with supervisees to increase their self-awareness and to identify and modify beliefs that interfere with their role as counselors.

An example of a CBT technique that can be adapted for use in clinical supervision is the Thought Record. Developed by JS Beck (1995), the Thought Record (originally referred to as the Dysfunctional Thought Record) provides a set of prompts that allow clients to challenge unproductive thoughts as they occur. Clients are instructed to fill out the Thought Record when they notice their mood getting worse. They record the specific situation, related automatic thoughts, associated emotions, alternative responses, and outcomes. The purpose of this exercise is to teach clients how to recognize and dispute self-defeating thoughts. Following an introduction to CBT during supervision, this exercise can be assigned as homework for supervisees to monitor and modify their problematic thoughts related to counseling. The following is an example of how a Thought Record can be completed by a beginning counselor:

Thought Record (JS Beck, 1995)

Date/Time: 11.23.2011 at 2:30pm


1. What actual event or stream of thoughts, or daydreams, or recollection led to the unpleasant emotion?

Preparing case presentation for supervision

2. What (if any) distressing physical sensations did you have?

Felt my heart beat faster, difficulty concentrating

Automatic Thought(s):

1. What thought(s) and/or image(s) went through your mind?

I am never going to become an effective counselor

2. How much did you believe each one at the time?

80% (scale of 0-100%)


1. What emotion(s) did you feel at the time?


2. How intense was the emotion?

80% (scale of 0-100%)

Alternative Response:

1. Use the following questions to compose a response to the automatic thought(s) and

2. How much do you believe each response?

a. What is the evidence that the automatic thought is true?

My client shows no sign of improvement (70%)

b. Is there an alternative explanation?

Change may take longer than I assume, the client may not be ready to change (50%)

c. What is the worst that could happen and how could I cope?

Over the course of counseling, the client not only does not change, but also gets worse (40%). I can cope by speaking with my supervisor (60%)

d. What is the effect of my believing the automatic thought? What could be the effect of changing my thinking?

My thoughts make me feel anxious whenever I think about the client. My anxiety can interfere with my counseling approach. Changing my thoughts can make me more responsive to the needs of the client (60%)

e. If (friend’s [colleagues] name) was in the situation and had this thought, what would I tell her/him? What should I do about it?

I would tell my colleague that counselors cannot make clients change (70%)


1. How much do you now believe each automatic thought?

50% (I am never going to become an effective counselor)

2. What emotion(s) do you feel now? How intense (0-100%) is the emotion?

60% (Anxiety)

3. What will you do? [Behavioral activation]

Consult with my supervisor

Continue to monitor the presence of this and related automatic thoughts

Cognitive-behavioral techniques used in supervision can aide counselors in developing self-awareness of self-defeating beliefs and negative emotions that can hinder their clinical skills. Prior to incorporating these strategies into supervision, it is critical that supervisors possess competence in the philosophy and techniques of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. The following recommended readings provide supervisors with resources regarding CBT and the appropriate use of CBT in clinical supervision.

Recommended Readings for Practitioners:

Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford.

Fitch, T. J., & Marshall, J. L. (2002). Using cognitive interventions with counseling practicum students during group supervision. Counselor Education and Supervision, 41, 335-342.

Kindsvatter, A., Granello, D. H., & Duba, J. (2008). Cognitive techniques as a means for facilitating supervisee development. Counselor Education and Supervision, 47, 179-192.

Newman, C. F. (2010). Competency in conducting cognitive-behavioral therapy: Foundational,

functional, and supervisory aspects. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 47, 12-19.

Rosenbaum, M., & Ronen, T. (1998). Clinical supervision from the standpoint of cognitive-behavior therapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 35, 220-230. doi:10.1037/h0087705