Counseling as a Science of Human Action

Introduction

Two years ago to this date, I authored a blog about human action and personal journeys (here). Since that time, my thoughts have taken on more shape as to how I think human action, an idea from the great economist Ludwig von Mises, readily applies to the field of counseling. Although a concept used by Mises in the field of economics, it equally applies to the field of counseling because Mises saw human action as an approach not only to economics but to life as a whole. Human action is not a conceptual tool merely for economists. It’s an idea that addresses how human beings approach life. In some ways Mises’ idea is similar to some of Alfred Adler’s work, and more contemporarily, to some of the ideas found in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Likewise, although Mises spoke about the science of human action, he held strongly to the notion that economics was not and should not be conceptualized as a science in the framework of the natural or physical sciences. Both Mises and F.A. Hayek, another great Austrian economist, addressed the notion of scientism, whereby fields that deal with human action seek to emulate the natural sciences rather than carving out their own domain utilizing the proper tools for the study of that domain. As such Mises was leery of the emphasis on strict empiricism, materialism, determinism, and reductionism in conceptualizing human beings and human action. Evaluation, meaning, and purpose ensconced in time set the human being apart from other animals. I concur with Mises, and I believe just as he viewed economics, that the field of counseling is not a hard science, as designated by the fields of physics, chemistry, and biology. Although these fields make their important contributions to understanding human nature, the human being is more than the sum of his physical and biochemical parts, and his existence should not be reduced to any material part of his being. The use of his mind sets him apart from all other animals. In agreement with Adler, Mises posits the human being’s teleological actions. Why I would employ notions garnered from Mises rather than being a straightforward Adlerian is because I think Mises captured what he calls the science of human action in a way that, at least for me, is more applicable than several Adlerian concepts from which I wouldn’t draw. Likewise, I believe ACT has similar concepts that contribute to my conceptualization of human action. Unlike ACT, however, I’m not a behaviorist.  This blog article builds on the earlier blog I wrote and delineates how I would use Mises’ concepts as a science of human action to guide me in my work with clients.

Human Action

Mises posited a simple axiom: human act. In his approach to the science of human action, he sought to explain what human action is all about and how human beings use action to obtain what they seek and hope for in life. From an economic perspective, Mises postulated that human beings seek to exchange one set of circumstances for another set of circumstances that they view as more valuable, providing them the kind of life they desire. Hence, human beings evaluate. They exchange something for something else that they value more. Although Mises was an economist, he was also a social scientist, so he didn’t view human action in merely economic terms as we think of that field today. He sought in the science of human action how we could better come to understand the truths of human nature. The human being is an idea generator. His ideas guide him through life.

Ideas, Beliefs, Values, and Actions

Individuals act toward certain goals based on ideas and beliefs they hold and evaluations they make. Hence the goals they set are generated by beliefs and values they hold, beliefs and values that will lead them to the kind of lives they hope for themselves. In seeking to carve out their lives based on what they believe and how they evaluate things in the world, human beings act on what they hold to be true and valuable to themselves. In other words, they seek certain valued ends. Ends or goals that human beings seek require means to get to those ends. The actions that human beings take are the means to bring about the ends for which they hope, aim, and value. Beliefs and evaluations mean we use our mind to carve out our existences, setting us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Time

As human beings we are ensconced in time. We possess only a limited amount of it to accomplish what we hope to achieve. In making plans or setting goals, we must take into account that to reach the ends we hope for, a certain amount of time must be expended. We cannot escape that human truth. Questions revolving around time cause other values to come into play. How much time am I willing to expend to reach a certain goal? Is the amount of time required worth the trade off for seeking that end? Are there means I can use to reduce the amount of time it takes to reach a specific goal? If not, then am I willing to embrace the value of delayed gratification. Time is an important consideration on several levels. Time is a resource with which we are limited. Time is the pressure cooker that heats up our willingness to expend energy that we put into seeking certain ends. It is human nature to want the things we desire as quickly as we can get them with the least amount of effort expended. Becoming aware of this characteristic in our nature, we can choose to do something about it. The something we can choose is delayed gratification. We exchange the discomfort of longer amounts of time and greater amounts of effort required for goals that we believe will be worthwhile in the long run. Long- run living as opposed to short-run living is an exchange we make in life based on values we’re willing to embrace. Obviously, the older we get, the more the factor time plays in our decisions. Time is always the pressure point in the decisions we make for how we want to live our lives.

Choice

One of the major characteristics that set the human being apart from other animals is the use of our mind in making choices. The choices we make are signposts regarding the beliefs we hold and the evaluations we make about things in the world. We choose our ends, and then we choose the means to accomplish those ends in the most efficient manner we can. If we come to realize that our chosen ends are not necessarily the ones we truly desire, then we change our mind, and thereby, change our course in life. These changes cost effort and time. If we come to realize that the evaluations we make are not necessarily the values we thought we held, then a change in valuation leads to life changes as well. As we navigate the sinuous path called life, we are constantly faced with choices we have to make. Do I truly value A instead of B? If I thought I valued A but came to realize I value B, then what does that mean in terms of means and ends? What if I set my mind on an end, and then realize it’s not an end that I truly desire? Such changes in beliefs, values, and goals can lead to particular tweaks applied to our navigations, or they may lead to revolutions as to how we determine to pursue life. Along the way, there are always the choices we make and the questions revolving around the payoffs and trade offs that go with those choices.

Individual Meaning and Purpose

Another major characteristic that sets human beings off from other animals is our desire to pursue a meaningful and purposeful life. We set ends for ourselves because we value those ends. Where we want to get to, what we want to achieve, and all we hope to accomplish means something to us on a deep level. A common experience we encounter is that as we set ends and accomplish them, those ends themselves can become means that keep us moving on toward what we consider greater and deeper goals. All in all, ends and the means we use to accomplish them hopefully will lead us to a place in life that is meaningful for us. Values, meaning, and purpose go hand-in-hand and drive each individual toward a set of goals. As such, they are highly individualistic as opposed to collectivistic. Each individual must decide what he or she wants from life. Although we are interconnected, no other individual can ultimately decide the course of our lives for us. If we give that decision over to someone else, then we have given over our life to someone else. In doing so, we become less than human. Mises was highly individualistic in his formulations, and so am I.

Conclusion

What does a science of human action mean for my work as a counselor? I too have chosen ends. I do not work in a hospital setting or in what may be considered severe mental illness settings. Although that kind of work is valuable, I leave it to those who choose to do it. I work in a private practice geared toward individuals who are experiencing certain transitions in their lives. Such transitions lead them to question what’s next in their lives. They may need to explore what means they can use to accomplish the ends they hope to achieve. Then again, they may not be that clear as to the ends they want to pursue. Or they may need to start with clarifying exactly what their values are before they begin moving forward in their lives. In their work with me they can take the time to reflect – to contemplate – how their beliefs and values interact with the goals they want to set for themselves. They may need to stare the pressure cooker of time in the face and deal with how much or how little of that resource they possess. Perhaps time is teaching them the lesson to exchange short-run living for long-run living in the form of delayed gratification. They may be faced with the struggle of radically changing what they thought they believed and valued. Perhaps it’s time for them to search for and reflect on what is ultimately meaningful and purposeful for them. This is the kind of work I do.

Science is a systematized body of knowledge. What Mises designated as a science of human action does not draw on the methods and tools utilized in the natural sciences. Counseling is its own domain and field of endeavor. It is not physics, nor is it chemistry. To seek to emulate those fields would entail scientism rather than being scientific. The field of counseling possesses its own value in what it offers individuals. The counseling setting is a space where people can reflect on what they want to do and how they can move toward what they desire for their lives. Humans act. One action is to enter therapy to reflect, clarify, contemplate, and then evaluate so as to move toward certain goals. This is all part of human action. The conclusions that people reach in counseling are not left at the door as they exit the counseling process. Like anything else that human beings engage, clients will decide what value counseling played in their lives. They will act on it accordingly as they see fit.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/July 14th 2019

PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING

Lessons In Time

Introduction

When we think beyond an ordinary watch or clock, Time becomes one of those mysteries that has drawn the interests of physicists, metaphysicists, and philosophers of all persuasions. Existentially, time can be both an ally and an enemy, depending on how we relate to it. Time should always be our ally, but it doesn’t always work out that way for us. I think the only reason we would view it negatively springs from the fact that we might not have used it in the most efficient manner. Time carries those lessons of life, some we wish we would have learned earlier, and others we wish we wouldn’t have had to learn at all. It stares us in the face whether or not we like it. We stand in its midst and are caught in its flow even when we would prefer that not to be the case. We would like the ability to slow it down and even halt its onslaught on occasions. Other experiences find us wanting to speed it up exponentially. Whatever the case, our not letting time be what it is – Time – is the main factor we don’t learn from it what we can.

Time as a Teacher of Wisdom

No doubt, most of us heard our parents and grandparents proclaim how fast time would pass, and suddenly we would be looking upon our pasts as the largest part of our existence. Having reached the mark of a septuagenarian, I can attest that everything my dad said about how quickly the decades, especially those following my school days, would speed by is true. It appears over the years that time exponentially speeds up. I’m certain that the twenty-four hours in a day are the same now that they were when I was twelve, but the way they fly by feels very different than when I used to wait impatiently at my school desk for the afternoon bell to signal the end of the school day.

Biblical writings teach us wisdom concerning time. Such wisdom is one of those things of life I wish I had learned earlier rather than later. Psalm 103 proclaims that human life is like a flower of the field, flourishing for a while, and then gone with the wind in the bat of an eye. The wind passes over this flower, says the author King David, and its place is remembered no longer. In Psalm 90, Moses compares the passing of years to the eternal God. A thousand years to God is like but yesterday when it passed. A millennium to God is but a watch in the night. This Psalm likewise compares the years of life to the grass or a flower in the field: like the grass that is renewed in the morning/in the morning it is renewed/in the evening it fades and withers. The Psalm goes on to say that the years of our lives are soon gone, and we fly away. Given this shortness of life, the Psalmist asks God: teach us to number our days/that we may get a heart of wisdom. Hence, time and its relation to our lives is viewed as something from which we can garner valuable lessons that can lead us to accrue wisdom if we so choose to relate to it in a way that allows it to teach us. What are some of the lessons that time can teach us if we are open to letting it be our teacher?

Time is Relentless

I’m sure that most of us have seen family pictures comprising family members with their young kids at preschool age and have read captions like, don’t blink, where did the years go, or turn, turn, turn, now they’re grown. Quite frankly, the decades of life do seem to pass in light-speed, especially when you look back on them. I can remember high school graduation night like it was yesterday, as the adage goes. The notion that in 2020, someone born in 1990 will be thirty years old is almost beyond comprehension. More emphatically, I remember how lively and fun my parents were when they were in their thirties and forties. Both of them died in their seventies although those fun-filled times seem recent, but they passed like the bat of an eye. Don’t blink is indeed a good lesson to learn about time. Savor the moments, don’t waste them, and don’t wish them away just so you’ll get to Friday faster. Wishing away time is like wishing away pearls of wisdom that you’re letting slip through your fingers. There’s no way to hold onto anything forever; all will pass. But you can find ways to savor the good tastes of life. Time will not prevent you from going old. Just the opposite, it will take you where you may not be ready to go. Time doesn’t care whether or not you’re willing to be in its flow. We can fight it, or we can learn to be at peace with it. Some of the saddest people I know are those in their sixty’s or older, looking back and believing that they have wasted their lives. That hard and harsh reality brings up all sorts of lessons upon which we can reflect regarding our relationship to time.

The Now Is Always of the Essence

I’m sure most of us think about certain plans that we had on which we never acted. Such a fact doesn’t have to be catastrophic, unless inaction represents a pattern throughout our lives. Another major lesson to learn about our relationship to time is to avoid getting caught up in the past or lost in the future to the point that such entanglements rob us of our present. For sure, there’s nothing wrong in reflecting on the past for the sake of good memories or learning lessons. And there’s nothing wrong with planning for the future with some vision of what we hope it may look like and bring. But if learning from the past and planning for the future doesn’t impact what we do in the present, then we’re wasting the valuable commodity of time. There’s a skill in embracing the existential now. The skill entails our ability to think and act in the moment so as to carve out our lives with which we’ll move forward. Such in-the-moment living doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes, miscues, and outright screw-ups. It simply means we take in and live with the hits and misses that make up our day-to-day living. The ability to navigate the now so as to build a life is one of the most important keys to obtaining wisdom. The lessons we learn by embracing the now are the ones that can protect us from wasting the commodity of time. There will always be those thoughts about events where we wish we would have done things differently. But those events don’t have to represent our lives at large. Even when we reach our septuagenarian years and older, the now is still with us. Thomas A’ Kemp, author of the classic work, Imitation of Christ, in one of his many aphorisms in that work stated that if there was something you wanted to do at a younger age and didn’t get it done, then do it now. If we have to come to grips at an older age that there were things we let pass by, it still is not too late to at least try them from a different perspective and age. We can’t be thirty and do them, but we can be seventy and do them in a manner that is fulfilling – or at least we can try. There is also the lesson that we can embrace whereby we settle in and understand that many of our choices have been made, and we must live with what those choices brought us. The fact that I chose a counseling career over an engineering field is done. The fact that I chose to stay in school for years to pursue a Ph.D. is done, and those years are gone, and they’ve brought what they brought. Although I can’t alter them, I can still make some alterations and decide on how to carve some new paths at this stage of life. They will not be and can’t be the paths that a thirty-year-old would have made with all the vigor and energy of a thirty-year-old. But they can nonetheless be new opportunities and exciting in their own right. Those are choices and possible paths that I face in my given now that make up my present.

Choices and Consequences

One of the things that we don’t like about time is that in its wake we have cast choices that have rendered consequences, both to our like and dislike. For the latter, we simply may have to embrace the fact that choices we didn’t like have been cast, and we can’t go back and undo them. Some choices hurt us and other people, and the simple fact may be that we are left to live with that reality. Some choices throw us so far off track, that we spend much of our commodity of time trying to get back on the right road. We have to live with the fact that some things we do take us places we would have preferred not to go. They make us face things about ourselves that we would prefer not to face. None of this means that people can’t change and overcome some bad choices. It does mean, however, that there are some things in our lives that we cast in the wake of time, and we simply have to let them lie there. Regret is a heavy-duty concept. But there are some actions we might have taken in life that we regret, even though we learned the lesson from them that we needed to learn. Ideas, beliefs, and choices based on those ideas and beliefs have consequences. Sometimes we choose to go against our beliefs and ideas, and those choices too have consequences. I’m sure that we have all known people, and that we have seen it in ourselves as well, where once choices are cast, we want to go back and undo those choices as though they never happened. We want everything to go back and be the way it was before we made the choice. Another valuable lesson about time is that it can’t be rewound. There are no do-overs. Overcome things, we can do by the power of the Spirit. Make things as though they never happened, that we can’t do. Consequences follow choices. Although they can be painful, consequences can also be valuable learning lessons. Whether or not they become valuable learning lessons is still another choice we have to make.

Delayed Gratification

Several times throughout this article, I have designated time as a commodity. Although our time is much more than a simple commodity, it at least is a commodity that we use wisely or unwisely. One of the major lessons to learn about time is delayed gratification. It is a lesson lost on many people today. Perhaps it always has been. Perhaps even it is one of the most difficult lessons to learn about time and human action. We all hope to carve out a certain kind of life for ourselves. Putting in the time to develop ourselves – knowledge, skills, experience, deeper understanding of things – is one of the most important investments we’ll make toward this commodity we all have called time. It is human nature to want what we want as quick as we can get it, expending the least amount of effort to get it. If we become aware of that fact, we can do something about it so that it doesn’t derail us all the time. The 10k rule applies here hard and fast. Putting time and concerted effort into self-development is one of the most important investments we can make. And such development is not simply about working skills. People skills, interpersonal relational skills, and the skills to learn from others are all part of the development. And then there’s the skill to learn from our failures. All such deepening requires time – reflection, study, effort, contemplation, and action. The results are what countless spiritual writers call wisdom. The great Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, in one of his works stated what I have come to believe is a simple truth: There are no shortcuts to wisdom.

Conclusion

Patience is a virtue .  .  . A stitch in time .  .  . Home runs are only for baseball .  .  . These are statements, adages, that I’m sure we’ve all heard or read. There are reasons that some ideas become adages. They are cast in the real stuff of life. Biblically, patience is not only a virtue, it is considered a fruit of the Spirit. A stitch in time is simply about facing the problems and struggles of the day so that one doesn’t have to face them over and over again down the road as though they are always something new. What we learn to solve today will mean we don’t have to spend valuable time on the same problem down the road. We learn lessons that contribute to skills that aid us on our journey in living. And yes, home runs are fun in a baseball game. Babe Ruth swung for the fence and held the home run record for decades. He also held the American League for strike outs five different times, totaling over 1300 strike outs. Too often, rather than taking the patient path of skill building, learning, and developing our selves, we want the payoff right now. Swing for the fence. There may be a time in life’s decisions to swing for the fence, but most often, it’s that slow slug paced effort toward building life skills that pays off in the long run. Yes, time is more than a commodity. But it is at least a commodity to which we relate all of our lives. What we do with it counts. How to rightly relate to and sow our seeds in time are some of the most valuable life lessons we’ll ever grow and build.

Time is always an ally if we choose to see it as such, and now is always with us so that we can begin to rightly relate to this ominous thing called Time.    

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/June 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY

Meaning-Makers

Introduction

We are searching today for many things. Whether it is connection, security, material wealth, or health and happiness, there appears to be a whole list of things that people believe will bring them some form of significance, recognition, and comfort. There also appears to be a desire to obviate the struggles inherent in living. We want those things that will enhance our personal nirvanas without having to get our hands dirty, experience some bumps and bruises, and perhaps go through some difficult times. I think these desires say something about human beings in that we basically have a longing within us for some type of personal meaning. Indeed, we are meaning-making creatures. Although at times we may not want to admit it, we long for something deep within us that will tell us that life is meaningful. We want to believe that this existence counts for something, that we’re not just merely here for a brief moment, and then gone like some meaningless vapor.

The Search for Meaning

One of the works that had the most impact on me when I was a student, and then later as a professional counselor, is Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning. I believe as he proffered in that work that we human beings are meaning-making creatures, regardless of how actively aware our search for meaning may be. Given that belief, some years back I began my private counseling practice that I call Contemplations. I sought to provide time and space for people to enter counseling so that they could explore what is valuable in life for them. More importantly, upon discovering what is valuable to them, how could they go about living out the values they claim to embrace? Obviously, such searching is never done once and for all in this life, but is indeed a life-long process full of sinuous paths that twist and turn in various directions with hills and dales along the way. One’s search for meaning in life is a quest that speaks to our being human. Our search is for something that speaks to our core that tells who we are and what we’re all about. What are some characteristics of this search?

Day-to-Day Living

An important realization about our search for meaning is that it addresses all facets of life. There’s not one big M (Meaning) that ends the search for everyone. Meaning and purpose are what drive us to face and live through each day. For many people such a drive may be found in their work. Many artists and entrepreneurs would claim that their work and creativity give them purpose to continue on each day. Others may find such purpose in connection and family. Still others may find such value in serving other people in some way. Some search for the meaning in some form of spirituality. Then others may find a meaningful and fulfillment existence in striking a balance in all the above – work, family, service, and spirituality. Some individuals believe that spirituality is what allows them to strike such a balance. Whatever it is that gives people meaning and purpose, it is that thing that allows them to face existence day-in-and-day-out. It allows them to face the challenges that come their way that may lead them to question their values and what they believe to be meaningful.

The Struggle for Existence

A second characteristic of our search is that it will involve struggles, questions, and doubts. If something is worth pursuing to a meaningful level, it will not all the time come easy. Existence and the experiences it entails have a way of testing what we truly value and desire in life. Values are formed through the tests of fire. We may find through particular experiences that we actually value something different than we originally believed. Likewise, we are faced with the question through the fire of experience whether or not we’re willing to pay the costs to carve out the life we believe to be meaningful. These struggles are the very things that lead many people to give up their search and live what Thoreau called lives of quiet desperation. The thing I’m not saying is that we should purposely search for difficulties, struggles, and pain in our lives. That’s called masochism. Life has a way of bringing about enough struggles without our having to look for them or create them. People’s struggles also vary from individual to individual. We all have our own level of difficulties and what they produce in our lives. The key thing to understand is that if we want something that is meaningful on a deep level to us, it will require something more than smooth sailing.

The Search for Meaning is Individual

The notion of individualism today is chock full of baggage, misunderstanding, and political correctness. We are all connected to others, and we have been since we were brought into existence via a family, society, and culture. Regardless, our search for meaning is something we must carry out individually, even if it entails how we hope to relate to others. For example, if one finds meaning in family or serving others, that person doesn’t lose who he or she is in the process. Indeed, following out what one believes to be meaningful enhances rather than annihilates one’s personal identity. No other human being can give you your meaning or create your life for you. For sure, we seek out those whom we believe to be wise and from whom we can garner understanding and wisdom. Ultimately however, individually we must decide our life’s path and follow it.

A Note on Spirituality

As a Christian, I believe that I will find my ultimate meaning in my relationship with the Triune God. Not everyone will agree with me here, but it is my personal belief. Some may ask if I’m not just looking for another form of the big M. In saying that my personal meaning is found in my relationship with God, that entails the way I am to live from day-to-day. From the Christian perspective, we call such daily living our sanctification, by which we seek to become conformed to the image of Christ. Like any search and hope, this involves daily living with struggles that challenge our faith, make us question things, and even doubt things about our faith. Such a relationship with God also entails a calling. Work, family, and service of some kind are all inherent in a personal calling, one that each of us must search out for him- or herself. Just as no one can give me meaning, no other person can have faith for me. My faith falls within my calling and personal relationship with God.  

Conclusion

Not everyone will agree with me regarding my spiritual beliefs as a Christian. My private practice is open to all. Contemplations is a space where anyone who desires can take the time to explore what they truly value – what is purposeful and meaningful for them. I deeply believe that we are meaning-making creatures. The struggles that life throws at us will make us question a lot of things. Life’s experiences will lead us to question our very act of making meaning. The depth of living comes at the risk of pursuing what we claim to value so as to live the way we hope to live, finding our meaning in the day-to-day battles and blessings of life.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/May 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY

Palm Sunday Reflection: Sacrificing Depth

Introduction

I make it a habit to journal in the mornings along with taking time for prayer and reflective thought. This past week the thought popped into my head, I have sacrificed depth. I’m sure that many people are no strangers to being haunted by the idea that they have wasted valuable time in their lives. Likewise, I’m sure that they also have felt the prick of conscience whereby they yearned to recapture that time. Metaphors about time hit home with a deep thrust. Time is a river that flows on and slips away. It is the wind blowing through our fingers that we can’t grasp and hold in place. As a counselor, I work with clients who are Christians. Since this is Palm Sunday, in this blog article I want to speak to two counterbalancing truths that always appear to challenge the capacity for human thought. There are truths cut into reality. Actions have consequences; and we can waste the time allotted to us. There’s nothing more frightening than a wasted life. A deeper truth, however, flows from another sacrifice that was made over two millennial ago. Although we cannot reclaim the time we let slip through our hands, or alter the consequences rendered by our choices, God’s grace nevertheless abounds as the most powerful force in the universe.

The Idea of Discipline

I’m sure by now that most people know about and have pondered what is called the 10k rule. There’s a lot of good common sense ensconced in that idea, and we would be foolish not to attend to its accuracy. The rule basically states that to become deeply skilled in an endeavor requires ten thousand hours of study, practice, and development. When we look back on wasted time that amounts to years, we recognize that we allowed many of those hours to vanish without sowing the opportunities for later fruit. We are left standing only with the now that faces us. Time for depth goes beyond the mere 10k rule, not in terms of hours, but in terms of habit, sticktoitiveness, and discipline. That latter word, discipline, truly captures the notion of time and depth. Often I reflect on what I’ve sown regarding several pursuits throughout my life, but I particularly think about it in terms of the pursuit to know God. Time spent with God surely leads to depth, but one must pursue. Growing in the knowledge of God and incurring spiritual growth is what the Bible calls sanctification. And it takes time and discipline. I became a Christian in the autumn of 1969 in a dorm room visited by a couple of members from Campus Crusade for Christ. This next September in 2019 will be fifty years since that evening on the campus of the University of North Texas. There are certain questions I find difficult to contemplate. One is: What have I done with those fifty years?

Appearance versus Substance

Alfred Adler spoke about the notion of appearance versus substance. To pursue mere appearance of achievement in the world is to sow to what is in fact shallow. Appearance can be manufactured. Substance has to be carved out of life through effort and skill development. As a Christian, the substance comes from God, knowing him, knowing his word, and engaging in prayer with him. He provides us with the gifts with which we can carve out our depths in obedience to him. Dallas Willard and Richard Foster have written extensively about the Christian disciplines. Like any discipline, the effort put into it can become either a legalistic duty or the meaningful pursuit of spiritual formation and transformation, a pursuit I call meaningful depth. Spiritual formation and continued transformation requires effort and time.

Effort and Time

We are always using time in one way or another. There is the kind of time that one puts into something. Call it quality time, disciplined time, conscientious time, or however one wants to label it. Whatever it is, it’s not simply watching-the-clock time. I can sit looking at a book for hours, mindlessly casting my eyes on the words. Or I can read it with studious intention. The pursuit of a skill requires effort, discipline, and time. Likewise, skill development consists of testing and measuring oneself as to how one is progressing. Spiritual development is the same with the added notion that from the Christian perspective, a relationship is developed with the one true Creator of all things. The Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are chock full of statements about how one develops and accrues wisdom. Biblical wisdom is about the skill – the depth – of living life, what the theologian B. B. Warfield described as not mere knowledge but that instinctive skill in the practical use of knowledge, that moral and spiritual insight. . . (1). Whatever I sacrificed during those fifty years, many of which I didn’t pursue my relationship with God, it entailed the ability to wisely live life. Additionally it entailed sacrificing substance for the shallowness of appearance.

Tensions: God’s Grace and Human Choice

So what do I do about those wasted years? Can anything be done about them? Am I left merely with the fact that there’s no remedy for having floundered them? Is there a way to overcome bad choices? There are tensions in life that we must simply hold although we cannot totally comprehend them. God is gracious and merciful. It’s not that he cannot give me my time back. It’s that he will not because such choices and consequences are fixed into life. The writer of the Book of Hebrews stated it is appointed for a man to die once. . . We have the life that God has given us. And daily, we have the choices in front of us that we make. His grace abounds nonetheless. If there is an overcoming, (and I believe there is), it lies in the grace he provides. Where he can take me now is beyond my imagination. He can take me beyond all the foolish choices I’ve made to destinations I could have never imagined. Wherever that place is, it will be more about changing me than the choices I made and my circumstances. I don’t know what that means or what it will look like. What I do know is that I am here now. Knowing that now is what counts. Part of spiritual growth no doubt entails facing the choices I’ve made. They are real, and there’s no unmaking them. Spiritual growth also entails constantly casting those choices on God’s grace. Spiritual formation and ultimate transformation can and will occur if I pursue knowing God. What I would say to Christian clients who are in the same boat that I scull is this. Welcome along for the ride. Let’s see where it takes us.

Conclusion

This is Palm Sunday. Perhaps today, we can embrace the full meaning of this time and next Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and think about the choices we’ve made, and the real consequences that come with them. Our choices and consequences are due to our fallen nature. A sacrifice has been made to cover that fallen nature and all it entails. Again, the writer of Hebrews tells us what we have available to us. He calls us to approach the throne of grace to find grace.

(1) Warfield, B. B. (1970). Selected Shorter Writings [Volume 1]. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/April 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY


Values & Counseling: Working as a Christian Counselor

Introduction

I am a Christian. I’m also a Licensed Professional Counselor with Supervisory Status [LPC-S], licensed in the state of Texas. Obviously questions emerge as to how I practice as a counselor with the belief system I hold in a field that, for the most part, has embraced a postmodern worldview. I am asked such questions as what do you do when your clients are not Christian? In fact, most of the people I work with report no spiritual beliefs at all while others have sought me out because I am a Christian. Others want to know do you seek to proselytize your clients? This is a question to which I can answer emphatically no. For a Christian who is a counselor, the goal of counseling is never evangelism. Still others inquire how can you help but judge your clients if you’re a Christian? Every therapist possesses values off which they operate. Given that fact, the question how can you help but judge relates to everyone who works as a professional counselor. Moreover, the question relates to how one lives life period while seeking to embrace his personal values. The conversation around values, particularly when it revolves around religious and spiritual values, is a delicate one indeed. I strongly take the position that not only can a Christian work with individuals from all walks of life who hold various and sundry values, but also I believe that no client has anything to fear working with a Christian counselor anymore than he would working with any other therapist.

The Dirty J-Word: Judgment

As a Christian counselor how can you help but judge your clients is the way the question is commonly put. Like many questions and statements, one has to peal back numerous layers of premises that underlie them. One premise is that Christianity is all about believers going around condemning and judging people. Like anyone else, I live in a world populated by countless and contrasting worldviews. Although I disagree with many worldviews, I don’t find that fact any more relevant for a Christian than I do for a pure rationalist, an Objectivist, or a radical atheist. Everyone lives in a context whereby they meet up with worldviews that counter their own. It appears many times that individuals tend to equate judgment with any disagreement whatsoever. That’s a tendency that adolescents fall into. In fact such short sighted views define adolescence. What’s more at stake here is the fact that people of all walks of life hold contrasting and even diametrically opposed moral values. Yes, people hold different moral standards. The question that matters is not whether people hold moral standards that are in opposition to one another, but how they go about holding such views while interacting with those with whom they lack common ground and disagree. Individuals who hold different moral values have assessed – judged – and have reached the position they in fact hold. If for that reason one believes that a person who holds a different moral standard from his is judging him, then is he not also judging the other by holding a different moral standard? The word judgment carries a lot of baggage that is wrapped in all sorts of caricatures. The fact is that most people will take a stand on what they believe to be right or wrong. We see someone beating a dog, slapping a helpless person around in public, or stealing money from someone. We have made a judgment – taken a stand – as to what we think about such actions and how we should respond. Our stance emerges from our worldview. But when most people talk about judgment, such matters are not what they are talking about. Suffice it to say, I believe that God will ultimately judge the world and its inhabitants. What that means for me is more about how I’m to live, knowing that I too will be judged. This notion segues into other questions that are posed to Christian counselors.

Counseling is Not Proselytizing or Evangelizing

I will gladly talk to anyone about my faith, why I believe the things I do, and who I believe Jesus Christ to be and what he has accomplished. Given that I hold a Judeo-Christian worldview, that is something that I simply do, no different than someone who talks about why they believe in Nirvana, Objectivist rationalism, or radical atheism. Like any counselor who abides by the Professional Code of Ethics, however, I do not view counseling as foisting my values onto my clients, seeking to either persuade or convert them. If I did such things as a Christian counselor, it would be equally but no more egregious than if someone sought to persuade his clients that God doesn’t exist. My job is to meet my clients where they are with what they are bringing into the counseling room. I hope to help them live out their own lives according to their own values whether or not I agree with them. To do otherwise I or anyone else would be violating the client’s autonomy. Some clients seek me out because I’m a Christian. Others do not. Sometimes clients may want to inquire about the belief systems their therapists hold. I’m willing to have that conversation as long as the client wants to have the conversation. The notion that Christian counselors somehow are the ones who are overly concerned with proselytizing their clients is a gross fiction, even given some of the stories that people may hear. In addition to those stories, I’ve heard additional ones regarding therapists who seek to persuade their clients to have certain outlooks on life. It’s a trap into which anyone can easily fall, Christian or otherwise.

Working with Clients Who Are Christian

Quite frankly, I enjoy working with clients who hold a Judeo-Christian worldview because of the common ground that we hold in seeking to navigate the world and all the struggles it brings our way. Common ground, however, doesn’t mean that believing clients and I agree on everything. Christians disagree on numerous things, and not just unimportant matters. In fact, Christians, like anyone else, have to conclude at times that they and their Christian acquaintances simply do not see eye-to-eye on some things and never will. Common ground exists between them however to which they can constantly refer as to how to interact when such disagreements emerge. My goal is to respect all individuals, Christian or not, simply because I believe they are created by God whether or not they believe they are so created. Otherwise, I would be treating them less than I’m called to treat them. Christians or otherwise, I believe people find it smoother sailing to work with those who hold similar worldviews to theirs because of the common ground that exist between them. I think that’s simply a part of being human. We can all learn how to better interact with those with whom we disagree. Such interaction is a constant learning process and one of personal growth.

Conclusion

Many people claim that it’s okay to disagree on the smaller matters of life, but not on the heavier issues regarding how to live. I couldn’t disagree more. In fact this is one area where those who claim such things and I would have to agree to disagree. I believe that it’s the mark of civilization to have the ability to disagree on the weightier matters of life and still coexist. I think today we are reaching a point where that ability is lacking more and more in our civilization. It is a weighty thing that you and I might hold totally diametrically opposed moral values. It’s no small matter at all. Such opposition however carries no apodictic conclusion that I wish you ill or hate you on some level. Hate is a word thrown around today in ways that makes one wonder how elastic a term can become and sill have any semblance of meaning. It appears that hatred as it’s commonly used now means that if you disagree with me on important matters, then you hate me. For sure, if we disagree, both you and I have taken a stand on something. We have made a judgment. There is no logical conclusion that we must hate each other because we fall on opposite sides of an issue. We may want to spend more time with other people who have similar worldviews to ours. Such is the nature of being human. To recognize that we hold diametrically opposed worldviews yet can still discuss and realize where we part ways is the mark of civilized people. Divisiveness appears to be ruling much of our dialogue these days. F. A. Hayek once said that a civilization can easily be destroyed. It does not follow that once destroyed it can easily be built again. If we cannot radically accept that the world comprises people who hold diametrically opposed moral standards and values, then we must question what that means for social interaction and ultimately, our civilization.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/March 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY       

The Feast of Saint Valentine

Introduction

Given that this blog is published the 14th of each month, it comes as somewhat of surprise even to me that over the five-plus years I’ve written here, I’ve never uttered a word about Valentine’s Day. Although over the years Valentine’s Day has become associated with romantic love, sending gifts such as flowers and chocolate, and engaging in fun dates, it may come as news to some that this day historically carries a religious significance. And I’m not talking about chocolate.

The Feast of Saint Valentine

Valentine’s Day began, as what is called in the Western Christian tradition, a feast day, honoring one or two early saints named Valentinus.  Saint Valentine of Rome was a widely known saint commemorated in 3rd Century Christianity. Martyrdom stories accompanied the celebration of this saint. For example, one story had it that Saint Valentine became persecuted for performing marriages for soldiers who were, for various reasons, forbidden to be married. Supposedly he was imprisoned for ministering to Christians who had been persecuted by the Roman Empire. Another story proffered Saint Valentine as a healer. As the story goes, he restored the sight to a blind girl who was the daughter of judge. He wrote a letter to her signed Your Valentine as a farewell letter before his execution. In A.D. 496, to honor Valentine of Rome, Pope Gelasius established the holiday, the Feast of Saint Valentine, on February 14th, the day of Saint Valentine’s death.

Valentine’s Day is an official feast holiday in the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Church. Many parts of the Eastern Orthodox church celebrate Saint Valentine as well, but on different dates during the summer months. Since the High Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day became associated with courtly love, as described by some of the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer. As the holiday continued to be celebrated into the 18th and 19th Centuries, it became associated with romantic love, the heart shaped symbol, doves, winged Cupid, and romantic nights out for pleasant dinners. Western Europe recognizes Valentine Keys that are given to lovers to unlock the giver’s heart. These keys likewise are given to children to ward off Saint Valentine’s Malady, also known as epilepsy. Interestingly, Valentine’s Day as a romantic event is celebrated all throughout the world, more than just about any other holiday. Though considered a holiday, it is not officially recognized as one whereby people get a day off from work. But from the Far East to Western Europe, and the Americas, Valentine’s Day is a celebration not to be forgotten by lovers without grave consequences.

Lovers and Relationships

I’ve never come across any statistics that point out whether or not relationship issues in counseling increase exponentially during the month of February. Since intimate relationships are one of the main reasons that many clients enter counseling, some doctoral student out there might generate some interesting research on couples’ counseling during the month of February. No doubt the month highlights the theme of intimate relationships. C. S. Lewis’ interesting work, The Four Loves, could provide some meaningful commentary on Valentine’s Day, as well as the nature of love itself. In this work, Lewis delineated four types of love: 1) Storge or empathy bond; 2) Philia or friendship bond; 3) Eros or erotic bond; and 4) Agape or unconditional “God” love. Obviously, Valentine’s Day has largely become associated with Eros, but could not all four types of love be celebrated on Valentine’s Day? And could a broader understanding of what it means to love bring about a well-balanced relationship among lovers, expanding our understanding of love beyond Eros?

The Four Loves

The empathy bond (Storge) occurs among family members, including the natural love that parents have for their children. It’s the type of love whereby familiarity and fondness lead people to meet the needs of those of whom they are fond. When needs cease, this type of love may play out, not due to selfishness, but due simply to the fact that needs are met and people move on. This love may be described via the notion of affection.

The friendship bond (Philia) is one that Lewis believes is a lost art in society. Friendship love is a strong bond that exists between those who share common values, interests, and activities. Think about a strong marriage where both husband and wife claim to have married their best friend. To some degree, I agree with Ayn Rand, who claims that it is next to impossible for people to become close friends when their values are diametrically opposed.

And then comes (Eros), and everyone knows what that kind of love entails. The erotic bond is what many mean by being in love. Yet Lewis offers a warning here. The goddess Venus holds sway over raw pleasure. But Lewis believed that Eros could broaden and deepen the escapades of Venus, making a distinction between what Lewis described as wanting a woman and wanting a particular woman. Eros turns the instinctual pleasures of Venus into the most appreciative of all pleasures whereby the reasoning angel and the instinctual angel meld into one. Moreover, Lewis warned of the dangers of turning Eros into a god, as he saw modern society doing. Venus through all her pleasures can urge us to evil, as well as good. Eros fills us with instinctual pleasure, but can lead us down a dark sway that can be the disaster and ruin for many a man and woman.

Unconditional, selfless love (Agape), Lewis considered the greatest form of love that holds regardless of one’s circumstances. The other three loves, Lewis designated as natural loves. Agape is God-love and sustains the other three. This form of love provides the foundation for the other three to exist. Unconditional love means that one stays with the ship regardless of the storms that rage around it. As human beings, we cannot naturally pull this kind of love off. It requires a spiritual strength, which Lewis believed to reside in the Biblical notion of Agape. Yet unconditional love can become a goal of the highest order, and is one that I suspect we all would admit down deep is a type of love we’re looking and hoping for.

Conclusion

I hope that everyone has a wonderful Valentine’s Day and Feast. No doubt, Eros will be in the air. How even more wonderful the experience of Eros might be if we consider all of the Four Loves that C. S. Lewis delineates as a package that by God’s strength we can attain. Such well-rounded love is a journey that goes beyond Valentine’s Day. In the meantime, enjoy. Then continue the journey through a full feast served up by the Four Loves.

John V. Jones, Jr., LPC-S/February 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY

Circle of Control

Introduction

I am sure that most people have read or know of the Serenity Prayer. The prayer speaks to a key element for our understanding that I believe is important if we are to navigate this life while trying to maintain some sense of sanity. That key element forms the foundation of Stoic philosophy, and is addressed throughout the wisdom literature of Judeo-Christian thought. If we are to be wise we must possess some understanding of what is and what is not in our control. Such understanding helps us act on the former while letting go of the latter. Such understanding is not solidified as such until we act on it. The Stoics distinguished between externals and internals. They stated over and over in their writings that we have little to no control over externals. The chaos that life throws at us via natural catastrophes, social and political upheavals, and the pain individuals close to us bring into our lives is beyond our control. Although we would prefer that these things would not occur and happen to us, we cannot escape the fact that they do.

According to the Stoics, what we have under our control is our reactions to these events when they happen. We can let such events upset us, bury us in depression, and even disrupt and destroy our lives. To the contrary we can by what the Stoics call reasoned choice respond to these events in ways that we encounter them, know their impact, then let them go and choose to move on with our lives. The Stoics have often been misunderstood in their position here. Reasoned choice doesn’t mean that events in life are not painful, catastrophic, and life altering. It doesn’t mean that we don’t get angry, cry, and feel remorse or regret. It does mean, however, that we do not let these emotions bury us. The Stoic is not Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. Life is a struggle, and through the pains of living we learn to let go of what we can’t control. To continue to hold on to what we can’t control leads to further agony, pain, and loss. The Stoics referred to what lies within our abilities to respond as our circle of control.

Reasoned choice is what the Stoics call mind. Mind is one of the key themes that I want to explore over the next few years while I remain on this earth. I have spoken of these various themes on this blog here and here. Stoicism is one form or way of thinking about mind. Given my faith as a Christian, I will add my spin on what the Stoics have to say.

Stoicism and Mind

In his Discourses, Epictetus informs us that we have a limited circle of control. If we seek to control all that lies outside that circle, we are trying to face life and its vicissitudes with abilities we simply do not possess. The ability we do possess is to control our reasoned choice. Stoicism tells us the one thing that lies in our circle of control is our mind. When you get right down to it, there’s a truckload of life experiences that lie outside our control while perhaps there’s a thimble full of effort that lies in our control. That doesn’t mean that thimble full of wisdom is not important. It’s very important that we sharpen our skills in the use of our mind, particularly when it comes to understanding our circle of control. In terms of our circle, even more than this is important for us to understand. While we have the ability to make choices, we do not possess the control to know where our choices begin and how they end. The consequences of our choices are part of the fallout of living in this world with all its beauty and all its pain. We hopefully seek to make the wisest choices we can, but we also fall short of that most of the time. Even when we do make wise choices, we have no control over where they lead. Epictetus calls us to live, “. . . giving up all outside of your sphere of choice, regarding nothing else as our possession, surrendering all else to God and Fortune.”

Fatalism Is Not Allowed on These Premises

Talking about the reality that we as human beings have an extremely limited circle of control might lead people to interpret Stoicism as fatalistic. Nothing could be further from the truth. An accurate understanding of our place in the world is the foundation of our ability to live wisely. Such understanding is a source of strength, stability, and wise action. It’s our way of not seeking to do and expecting more in life than we should. From a Christian perspective, the Scriptures speak to much of what the Stoics address, adding from my perspective more depth and comfort. The wisdom literature and the New Testament gospels appeal to the same understanding of surrendering to God. (I’m not sure who Fortune is 🙂 ). We have far reaching promises for a right relationship with God, but what the Bible does not promise us is that in this life we will get all that we expect and hope for. The moral will of God is given to us. Beyond that we do not know our paths. We do know that our paths are in God’s hands. I truly believe, although I don’t like it very much, that we have little in life that is under our control. I would even say to the Stoics, I don’t even have control over my mind the way they tend to proffer. So it behooves us to work as efficient as we can with what is in our control. From a Christian perspective, I need added power to even accomplish that feat. Such power is promised us. What is not promised is that life will give me all that I want. Rather than fatalism, one can take comfort in knowing what is under one’s control and what is not, thereby living accordingly.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of discussion in the counseling field regarding what leads clients to seek out counseling. Many times when people think of psychotherapy, they immediately think of mental illness, hospital wards, medication, and things like psychoses and debilitating neuroses. Although such cases make up many experiences for some therapists, numerous people enter counseling who would not be considered mentally ill or diagnosable. They simply are dealing with the struggles that life brings their way. Meaning, purpose, interpersonal relationships, and questions around identity drive people into counseling. One experience I see over and over again is people seeking to deal with things they can’t control, but not wanting to let go of the hope that they can find a way to control them. Why wouldn’t this be a common experience in counseling? It’s a common experience in life. It’s a common experience I face in my life everyday. Whether it’s dwelling on the past, or painting some magnanimous picture for the future I would like to see happen, I find that I’m losing focus on the present moment and not dealing in that small realm with which I can actually deal. Viktor Frankl came to grips with the reality of his limited circle of control when the Nazis ushered him into the concentration camps. In his work, Man’s Search for Meaning, he stated that the powers that exist could take everything away from him except one thing – his response to his circumstances.

I believe strongly that coming to grips what our circle of control is a constant battle that is the human condition.

 

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/January 14, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY

Meanderings: 2018

Introduction

Each year, I approach this final blog of the year to reflect upon the past 12 months, project some ideas into the future, and summarize my thoughts about things professional and personal. As I reflect back on the year, retirement mode, my private practice, and changes in the counseling field stand out. As I think about the future, readings in neuroscience, supervision methods, and building my clientele surface to the forefront of my mind. In terms of things professional and personal, I have a sense of being in a good place as a counselor but I need to pour more work into making my practice what I hope it to be. Writing still pulls at me, so I have set a goal over the next year to accomplish some projects upon which I’ve been reflecting for some time.

Retirement and Private Practice

I reached semi-retirement as a professor over five years ago. I have written on this blog about my thoughts on retirement, knowing that I was in the midst of that transition. Now retirement mode has come full force, and I’m completely retired from being a university professor, with that income no longer flowing into my bank account. Of course, that raises some anxiety, but presently I haven’t fallen into impoverishment. Although I may at times do some adjunct work for the university, for the most part, the identity of being a university professor has come to an end. Having lived in that identity for nearly thirty years (counting time spent teaching at the community college level), its finish brings on a strange sense of existence to say the least. But overall it’s a good sense.

Transitioning from university prof to professional counselor has its challenges although I’ve maintained a part-time private practice over the many years I’ve taught at the university. Building my practice is not something I have to start from scratch, which is a good thing. Because well-seasoned thought is difficult to accomplish, what will be more difficult for me is to conceptualize how I want to shape my practice going forward. What do I want my private practice to be about? The lingo used by some to reflect upon this question revolves around the notion of branding. When people see my practice, what is it exactly that I want them to see? Answers to these questions must be worked out over the next year because the time to truly solidify my thoughts on these questions is now. No doubt, supervision will remain part of the make up of what I do. Where I really need to put in the work is discerning what kind of clientele I hope to attract. I have written about that topic on this blog before, but now I need to put some shoe leather on making that come alive in my practice.

Of course, the above thoughts assume that I don’t want to fully retire from work all together. I don’t see not working as a part of my life. Even if I did fold the practice, I would want to see what I could accomplish with writing, which is another goal I’ve set for myself.

So I Want to Be a Writer

When my goals are put in a statement such as that, it sounds silly. A writer writes. He doesn’t sit around thinking about being a writer. Although at this point I’m not ready to make public my ideas about writing, I most definitely have some thoughts I want to pursue. Presently, I have over a hundred poems I’ve written over the past four or five years that I hope to self publish. I have some other ideas as well that I’m not ready to state publicly. Suffice it to say that I’m having some thoughts while reading Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer. Projecting into the next year, I’ll have more to say about this reading and what it means as well. For now, it’s important to say nothing until I’m more certain about things. Too often I talk, but do nothing. Now is the time for silence and to get things solidified. My personal faith will have a lot to say regarding how my future will be shaped. At least, I hope it does.

I’m not sure how much my ideas about writing will involve counseling. Obviously, at least to some small degree, this field in which I work will influence my ideas, thoughts, and conclusions in ways that will work into some of the things I might write. The major way in which counseling will play out in my writing is its contribution to my understanding of human nature. Presently, researchers and practitioners in the counseling field are experiencing the impact that neuroscience places upon the field. Given this pressure, I hope to do some reading and study in the arena of neuroscience. I’m not sure that counselors recognize what the full impact of findings in neuroscience mean for our field. I have already written on this subject to some degree. I believe more work is needed in this area because so many claims are being made on which we need solid and concrete clarification.

Conclusion: Things Professional and Personal

The name of this blog is Contemplations: Exploring the Life of the Mind: The Arts, Sciences, and Critical Inquiry. I want to fill out what that title means for this blog. I have written before about core areas in which I’m interested, one of which involves mind, exploring the core elements of human nature. I still strongly believe that we are meaning-making creatures seeking a life of fulfillment whereby we search out ways to live in alignment with our values, lining up how we act with what we believe. We are creatures with a worldview that we hope will guide us through the living out of our lives.

Presently, we live in a postmodern age where the idea of truth has been made so relative that it’s difficult for people to take a stand on what they believe to be true. Given the impact of postmodernism, a backlash in thought has occurred where the age of Enlightenment is seen as a remedy to the assault on science as a way of guiding us in thought and action. Although I agree with many thinkers who have come to be heavily critical of the postmodern age, there are also dangers in store from the new gurus touting a return to the Enlightenment. I value what the Enlightenment brought to human thinking and knowledge, but there are many questions regarding spirituality and the sacred for which neither postmodernism nor the Enlightenment offer a foundation. All of these ideas, thoughts, and inquiry I hope to explore and write about moving forward into the future, which begins with the New Year of 2019.

Highways and crossroads wait for us all. Hope to see you there.

 

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D, LPC-S/December 14th, 2018

GENERAL ESSAY

Foundations: Reflections upon the Holidays

Introduction

For as long as I can remember, the holidays have always been a fun-filled time for me. I’m glad during these septuagenarian years that I haven’t changed in that regard. Beginning with Halloween, the celebration is on. Of course, being a Christian, Thanksgiving and Christmas carry more import for me. No doubt my growing up in the family that surrounded me imbued the holidays with special meaning. Solid foundations that a loving and nurturing family can lay form springboard for moving on into life.

Home at Thanksgiving

Last year at this time, I penned a blog regarding my mom and her journey into becoming a professional nurse. I tend to become reflective about family at the beginning of every holiday season. Unfortunately, I believe Thanksgiving gets the short end of the stick when it comes to festivities. Everyone is wild about Halloween, and then the Christmas decorations start emerging in all the retail centers. One hears questions from various people like, what happened to Thanksgiving. Christmas decorations coming out in late October and early November appear to jump over Thanksgiving like a game of checkers. As for Thanksgiving, people can become more excited about Black Friday sales than the holiday with family interactions.

My family always celebrated Thanksgiving with the traditional dinner, joined by relatives and friends. Although there was plenty of turkey over the years, my mom enjoyed baked chicken due to its succulent and moist taste. She learned from my grandmother on my dad’s side how to cook, and she never disappointed. The aromas of food ready for preparation created a mien throughout the house beginning a couple of days before the big Thanksgiving feast. Over the years mom became more and more adamant about preparing holidays meals herself rather than letting other family members take on the task. She loved the big spread that covered a large dining table, and before she would let anyone take a bite, plenty of photographs had to take in the scene to commemorate each year’s feast.

I remember those times being about family, fun, and of course, food. Seeing relatives that otherwise lived miles away made the few days of Thanksgiving special. Cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents filled the times with memories. The Thanksgiving meals remained a Jones tradition for decades. During the time I was in school, Thanksgiving Day always fell on the last Thursday of November rather than the third Thursday as it does now. That meant that my birthday also fell on the Thanksgiving holidays. Ever so often, it would fall on Thanksgiving Day itself. So for me, that made Thanksgiving even more fun.

What made Thanksgiving, as well as the other holidays, truly special was the energy into which mom poured her self into preparing all the food, calling and inviting the relatives, and decorating the house. She truly loved those times and never saw them as something she felt coerced to engage. Was she exhausted when they were over? Absolutely. But she wouldn’t have changed a thing. I will always remember our home as festive during the holidays.

Time Moves On

When I was young, I had a faint sense that the future would entail the passing on of my parents. As I grew older, that sense strengthened into a full-fledged awareness, and eventually became a known reality. As a professional in the work-a-day world of counseling, I know the importance of family. My experience of my family, however, imbues that importance with a reality that counseling theories can never touch.

You see, I’m one of those corny guys who does not hold grudges against either my mom or dad. I didn’t grow up in a home where I regret anything regarding family. Any regrets I have are due to my own actions. I don’t have any repressed hostilities against family authority or something called patriarchy. Did my parents and I have disagreements? You bet we did. We had our disagreements and arguments like any family. The key thing for me, however, even in the midst of times where we vehemently disagreed on things, there was never a question regarding support and love.

As a professional counselor, over the years I’ve worked with people who didn’t grow up in the kind of family I was blessed enough to be a part of. So yes, I know the importance of family first hand. I know the importance of how core beliefs, values, and ways of taking on life emerge from family. I know, as well, that it’s hard to learn those lessons when a nurturing, supportive, and loving family is absent from one’s life. Learning about life is something that cannot be made up in a short time. Even with the supportive family I had, I’ve had to learn about time and heeding lessons. The foundations laid in family experiences will last a lifetime. That’s why those times are immensely important. They shape the way we view, engage and experience the most important relationships we have moving forward.

Time moves on whether we want it to or not. In many ways we become aware of its inexorable press forward when we would like to slow it down, hold it back, or shut it down for at least a little while. But we do not as finite creatures possess the power to stop or alter time. The one thing I would advise people to do, if I can take the position of a septuagenarian here who at least has some worthwhile advice to give, is to grab hold of your family experiences with all you have in you, and learn from them all that you can glean. Make memories. And then make some more. Family can be a foundation on which you can stand for all your life.

Conclusion

Time moves on. My dad died in 1999 of coronary heart disease. He would have been seventy-five years old that September. I watched esophageal cancer take mom when she was seventy-seven in 2007. I miss those days with them everyday that I move on with time. The lessons learned and forgotten are worthy, but the memories of love are forever and never relinquish in strength. Like so many, I was a rebellious teenager, a young adult who grew up in the 1960’s, and a person who changed with adulthood like anyone else who navigates life. Even during those changes, there was a foundation that never wavered. John Bowlby calls it secure base. I called it a home.

As I look back on those times now, I realize something very important. The energy and gusto that mom poured into Thanksgiving meals were not just about the holidays. Those happy times emerged from a solid and loving family that generated the festive times during the holidays, and not the other way around. My family was not what it was because of the holidays. The holidays were what they were because of my family.

I’ll never let go of all that those times meant for me. I’ll never let go of continuously learning what those times mean for my life now as a septuagenarian, who is still moving on in time.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/November 14, 2018

GENERAL ESSAY

Postgrads: Considerations Upon Entering the Field of Professional Counseling

Introduction

As a Licensed Professional Counselor with Supervisory Status, one of the most fulfilling components of my work entails both supervising and mentoring Licensed Professional Counselor Interns (LPC-I).

For those not familiar with the field of counseling, the supervision process requires graduates of counseling programs to undergo a postmaster’s internship, during which time they are designated as Licensed Professional Counseling Interns. Typically licensing boards within each state set particular standards by which interns undergo weekly supervision with their chosen supervisor. As part of those standards, interns must undergo supervision while logging so many administrative and direct counseling hours. Direct counseling hours involve any face-to-face time that interns meet with clients. Administrative hours entail hours associated with the work of counseling, involving anything from writing case notes and researching information about clients to hours spent in supervision. For most states the requirements for interns is that they log 3000 postmaster’s hours, with a minimum of direct contact set at 1500 hours. Although, these standards vary from state to state, many states are now moving to more uniform requirements due the accreditation process that university counseling programs must undergo. Additionally, interns are not allowed to complete this process in less than eighteen months. What that means for prospective graduates of counseling programs is that they are looking toward at least an additional eighteen months before they are fully licensed. They are also looking at limited income during this year-and-a-half due to their status as an intern.

Obviously, interns enter the supervisory process with a shipload of questions, not only about how to work with clients, but also how to think about their professional futures. In this blog article I want to proffer some possible guidelines that LPC-I’s can reflect upon if they find them helpful to do so. I will break down the discussion as follows: a) entering the process of supervision; b) undergoing the process of supervision; and c) exiting supervision – the transition from Intern to fully Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

The postmaster’s Internship is an onerous process, so I do hope both present and future interns will find some of these thoughts helpful.

Beginnings: The Transition from Graduate School to LPC-I

I can only highlight some general steps involving your transition from graduate school to the professional world of counseling. Each state has its own State Board for counselors, and several of the states have different names for their licensees. Some states, as the one in which I live, designate counseling professionals as LPC’s. Other states use the title Mental Health Licensed Counselor (MHLC), while other states designate similar titles. Due to the move toward common accreditation for university counseling programs, though the name for practitioners varies from state to state, the training is similar, as are many of the regulations for counseling professionals. I will use the nomenclature utilized by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Licensed Professional Counselors. Much of what I outline here will apply generally to all state designated licensed counselors.

When you graduate from a counseling program, now typically a 60-hour program with the curriculum delineated by the State Board, you will not step into the professional role of a fully licensed professional counselor right away. Instead, you will step into the role of the LPC-I. Note that the LPC-I is a license, so once you navigate the beginning requirements set by the the State Board, you will possess a license to work as an Intern. First you will have to pass a State Board Exam, typically containing 250 multiple-choice questions. There are several study guides and preparation workshops available for your study and prep for the exam. The postgraduate is allowed three shots as the exam before remediation is required, which typically involves repeating some graduate coursework. There is also a Jurisprudence Exam that you must complete, but it is not a pass/fail exam. You read through the regulations and answer the questions until you know the correct answers. Once you have completed the LPC and Jurisprudence exams, you begin your search for a supervisor. In Texas, LPC counselors with Supervisory Status are designated as LPC-S. The website for the State Board has rosters of all three levels of counselors – LPC-I, LPC, and LPC-S. The Board indicates where each counselor is located in the State, so interns looking for a supervisor can note those who live in their area. Interns cannot begin accruing their supervised hours until they pass the required exams mentioned above, have obtained a setting where they will work as an intern, and have a supervisor in place. Once the intern lines all that out, he or she can begin chipping away at the 3000 required postgraduate hours.

Choosing a Supervisor

Typically some graduates already know the LPC-S with whom they would like to work as a postgrad intern. Many new graduates, however do not, or the individual with whom they would like to work has no available space. Choosing a supervisor is an important decision for the postgrad. Here are some pointers I would offer. First, do not simply choose someone because you feel desperate to obtain a supervisor. Good reflection upon choosing a supervisor is an important process, and it’s an interview in which you interview the supervisor as much as he or she interviews you. The relationship between you and your supervisor will last for at least eighteen months, so you want a good working relationship with the LPC-S you choose.

Supervisor – Intern Fit

Second, you are looking for a good fit between you and your supervisor. The field of counseling is conceptualized and approached in terms of practice in a myriad of ways. One’s counseling theory is just one component that you look for in terms of fit. There is no reason, however, that you can’t work with a supervisor who holds a different theoretical model than you. Most practitioners these days integrate several theories as it is. I’m not saying that theory is unimportant, but I don’t believe it’s the single most important determinant for choosing a supervisor. But it is a start. For example, if you want to work from a behavioral or cognitive-behavioral model, a supervisor who practices from a psychodynamic perspective will view the work much different than you do. But that’s not a reason that you shouldn’t or couldn’t choose such a supervisor.

Supervision Atmosphere

Third, in terms of looking for a good fit, you want to try as best as you can to discern in your interview if the supervisor is someone with whom you would feel comfortable working. Though they may have some different conceptualizations, they may also have a style and a personality with which you feel at ease. Some supervisors simply don’t care to match on the basis of theory. Other components such as style, willingness to take and give feedback, and openness to continued learning as a practitioner are deemed more important than theoretical orientation, both by interns and supervisors. The type of clientele with whom the supervisor works may be the kind of population with whom you would like to work as well. So the context in which counseling work takes place can be an important and deciding factor for choosing both your worksite and supervisor. I meet with prospective interns for a free consultation so that both the intern and I can decide if the fit is a good one.

Know that there are a variety of components by which you can decide which supervisor will be a good fit for you. A few of these components are: theoretical model, counseling style, supervision style, personality, type of clientele and practice, setting of practice, and many more. You might want to make a list of what you’re looking for in terms of a supervisor before you begin the interviewing process. Obviously, supervision fee is an important consideration from your own personal financial standpoint. Some agencies or institutions may have supervisors on staff from whom you can receive free supervision if your place of employment offers that perk.

Engaging the Process of Supervision

Just as they have with their clients, supervisors have a supervisory style by which they work with interns. Although you can clarify that as much as possible during the interviewing process, there’s a lot regarding the day-to-day supervisory work that you will not know and see until you are in the middle of the process. Know that you can change supervisors at any time. At the same time, you want to be clear as to why you want to make a change in supervision. The ability to work with supervisors who conceptualize and see some things different from you can be good training if both you and the supervisor know how to navigate such differences.

Regardless of the specific supervisor’s approach and style, there are some things that you can decide that you want from supervision. First, do not approach the supervisory experience as a place where a supervisor merely tells you what to do with your clients. You want a supervisor who will work with you so that you can truly build your own approach and style as a professional. Thereby, second, you want a supervisor who will engage supervision as an exploratory process to help you come to your own conclusions about the way you want to approach the work of counseling and the manner in which you hope to engage your clients. Although you want challenges, questions, and an open exploratory process, you do not want a supervisor who merely tells you what steps and interventions to use with your clients. Although interventions can be a major discussion in supervision, you want that discussion to revolve around your training, skill development, and how interventions fit with your personal approach and style. In other words, the over-arching goal of the supervision process is to provide a pathway for you to develop your own professional approach and style. Supervisors should help you with not only some possible interventions to utilize, but also they should help you develop your own conceptualization as to why you work the way you do. Note that such conceptual knowledge and skill building will not end in supervision, but will be a continuing developmental process as you work in the field of counseling.

There are several questions you can reflect on during the supervision process that can help you decide how the fit and supervisory work is going for you. First, is the supervisor allowing you to develop your own way of working with clients, or is he or she trying to strongly influence everything you do, including adapting the theoretical model the supervisor holds? Second, does the supervisor challenge you in ways that will help you develop and grow as a professional? Third, do you get the type of feedback you’re looking for that is conducive to professional growth? Do you feel like you have room to grow and develop professionally in the way that you hope to do so? Does the supervisor meet his or her responsibilities as a professional LPC- S should? Do you sense that the supervisor has your professional interest and development at heart, or is the supervisor trying to simply reproduce the way he or she works?

There are some other emphases that I believe supervisors should engage in additionally to staffing the intern’s caseload. First, I think it’s important for supervisors to have an ongoing discussion with interns regarding their professional goals for the future. What kind of work does the intern hope to pursue? Is there a particular population with whom interns hope to work fully, or at least emphasize in their caseload? You want to find ways to broach these subjects as much as possible with your supervisor as you work through your required supervised hours. Likewise, you want to engage in research in areas of personal interests to discover what the type of work you hope to do actually entails. Hopefully, you have been able to engage this work at least to some extent during your postgrad Internship, although that may not be possible for all Internship settings.

Second, I believe it’s important to have thorough discussions with your supervisor regarding the Code of Ethics for professional counselors. You want to bring any ethical concerns you might have to supervision and to determine as clear an answer to them as possible. It is important that you constantly update your knowledge on ethical issues in counseling. It is also important that your supervisor recognize any situation that may bring up certain ethical questions.

Finally you want to trust your supervisor when your working with clients that really challenge you, and perhaps make you feel less competent than you would like. These are important discussions to have during the supervision hour. Supervision should be an open forum where you can voice your questions, doubts, and any feelings regarding the confidence you have as a developing professional. Work in this field has a way of challenging your sense of competency. You should not let that undermine your work and future goals. Although your supervisor is not your counselor, those areas where you professionally vulnerable are welcomed opportunities for professional development when working with a good supervisor.

Exiting Supervision: The Transition to a Fully Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

So now, you have made the transition from Intern to a full LPC. What’s next? This is the exciting part of your career obviously. As stated above, hopefully in supervision, you have been contemplating and reflecting upon the kind of professional you want to become. Your work can involve private practice, a practice that serves particular populations, or work that involves such settings as mental health institutions, professional clinics, or clinical mental health hospital settings. Likewise, hopefully you had the opportunity at least part of the time during your Internship to work in the areas you hope to develop. Moreover, as you begin nearing the end of your supervisory requirements, you began checking out settings and counseling professionals involved in the kind of work you hope to do. The best scenario is that you chose a setting where you will continue the kind of work you were doing under supervision. Note, however, that all the experience you receive as an intern will serve you in many capacities as you move on toward your LPC practice. Working with clients is the experience that will help build your skills and determine which direction you want to go post Internship. No experience with clients is wasted, even if it keys you to the kind of work you most decidedly do not want to engage.

Let me offer some advice as you move forward into your professional journey. There will be many other professionals who have a take on what they believe you should do as an LPC. That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with input and some guidance. What you must be aware of, however, and where you must draw the line is that the decision regarding your professional direction is yours and yours alone. It is important that you are honest with yourself as to the type of work you hope to do, and about the type of setting in which you hope to work. By all means, take in and listen to input, feedback, and advice; however, ultimately the decision falls in your court. The last thing you want to do is seek to live another person’s goal for your professional life. Working in a setting or with a population that is not a good fit for you is a short road to burnout. The work you want to do that truly comes from your mind and heart is as worthy as any work other people are doing.

Those who want to go into private practice particularly face pressure from others in the field about pursuing their own goals, way of living, and professional satisfaction. There are plenty of people who want to work in agencies, clinics, and hospitals. That type of work is admiral work, but it’s not for everybody. And the same can be said for private practice. It isn’t for everybody. Indeed to pursue private practice requires that you have somewhat of an entrepreneurial spirit about you. Those with such a spirit experience other pressures from the field regarding setting fees and the amount of money they hope to make. I hope individuals realize that becoming a professional counselor will most likely not make you a millionaire anytime soon. But what you should not feel is any pressure and guilt regarding your desire to make a decent living for yourself. If you are not income aware, or if you find it difficult to charge clients respectfully for your time in order to meet your personal needs, then you are on another short road to burnout. You are a professional, trained, and skilled, so you have a right to give it a shot to build a good practice and make a decent living for yourself.

There are a multitude of settings in which people can find satisfying counseling work in addition to private practice and agency work. Some counselors I know personally love their work in corporate settings. Again, it’s not for everybody, but it’s satisfying work for many. Others enjoy their work in Community College and University Counseling Centers. There are a variety of roads you can take as a professional counselor. Don’t cut off the paths and possible opportunities by looking only at what counselors typically do. You can be as creative and imaginative as you want in carving out a professional life for yourself.

The populations that experience severe mental health problems, and have little financial means to obtain the help they need indeed need people to serve them. And there are many agencies and clinical settings where one can find fulfilling work in meeting those needs. Like any setting, it’s not for everyone, but it is satisfying work for many. Moreover, you can seek out opportunities to volunteer your time at such agencies or clinics if your other work gives you time to do so.

Like anything else in life, you have to determine for yourself the path that you want to follow and responsibly do what it takes to set yourself on and travel that path. And like many roads in life, rather than a straight highway, you will encounter many sinuous pathways that will lead you to question, doubt, and possibly change the road you’re on. After all, these are the experiences that your clients engage as well. And the many questions and doubts they have about their journeys might well lead them into your counseling setting.

Conclusion

What is it to be a professional in any field of endeavor? Some of the things I think of include a body of knowledge, skill level, and the opportunities to pursue self-development, both professionally and in the way that one takes on life in general. Knowledge and its continued pursuit and growth allows us to reflect upon and think about how and why we work the way we do. Accruing professional knowledge should not end, and it should not only grow in some linear fashion, but also it should expand in ways we could have never realized when starting out on our professional journeys. Our own personal horizons should expand with our work. Skill development entails that 10k-hour rule that allows us to develop an expertise that is carved out over time. Skill development also has a way of taking us in directions we couldn’t realize before we developed the skills needed in our work.

Finally, work is one component of so many others that contributes to the kind of life we hope to carve out for ourselves. Although it is only one component, that is why it is important that we own the professional path we choose to follow. Over time, our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas will alter and might even dramatically change. The way in which we approach life with integrity in all areas of living should also inform the way in which we with integrity face, pursue, build and stand upon our professional endeavors.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/October 14th, 2018

PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING