Men & Trauma: 5 Dynamic, Solution-Focused Questions to Use in Therapy

7 09 2017

Guest Author:

Daniel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC

man in therapy

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” –  Karl Jung

Jung penned these words in 1965, and I find myself returning to them often in my work. The intention of this blog post is to provide clinicians with tangible and pragmatic tools to enhance treatment effectiveness with men who have with trauma histories.  As a solution-orientated therapist, the tools I use are questions.

My hope is that in using these questions effectively with the men you serve, they become more of who they are, and less of who they aren’t.

QUESTION 1: “What has been the greatest accomplishment of your life?”

Whenever I do an initial intake, I spend at least five to ten minutes at the beginning of the appointment with this question.  Asking your client about what they have achieved, builds awareness of their patterns of success.  This also helps the client feel at ease and competent.

Naturally, this question also helps men build confidence.  Confidence in many ways is a requirement for successful goal formulation.  Confidence also decreases men’s fears about treatment and making change.

Sometimes, the client may respond saying that they have not achieved anything great in their life.  As the therapist, it’s important to add, “not yet.”  If a client gives that response, it becomes a very appropriate time to talk about goals and ask, “Well, what would you like to say someday is one of your great achievements?”

QUESTION 2:  “What helped you survive?”

Often times our work as a therapist is to reframe the experience of our client.  This question alters the client’s perception from a place of being a “victim” to being a “survivor.”  This creates different expectations and also allows the client to see that in fact they have done something valuable.  It may also allow them to see other strengths that they possess as well as ways to build upon them.

It is important to note that male trauma survivors may habitually destroy their own self-worth, abusing themselves and ruminating on past failures. This question subtly harnesses the power of positive blame, demanding the client to take responsibility for their success and good decisions.

QUESTION 3: “How do you think other people have gotten through something similar to you?”

One crucial element in maintaining the therapeutic relationship and achieving positive treatment outcomes is respecting the client’s theory of change.  This question begins a conversation about what the client believes about their diagnosis/prognosis and their preferred method for recovery.  This also empowers male clients, offering them a way to collaborate and contribute to their own treatment process.

Sometimes the answers clients give reveal the client has very little hope in therapy in general.  In those cases, it becomes more important to explore ways to increase hope before more recommendations are made.

Clinicians can also use this as an opportunity to task clients to do some “research” and identify people who have recovered from similar situations.  Stories of others’ success increase hope and motivation for change.

 QUESTION 4: “Since this all happened, when have you felt at your best?”

Traumatic experiences can alter our observational skills.  Often times, periods when symptoms are less intense (or absent) remain outside of our client’s awareness.  If a client has no clearly defined goal, or they seem to “complain” habitually in session, it is very useful to provide the client with observational tasks.

This question increases the client’s awareness of what is working in their life and has a meditative quality, allowing them to be more present for greater periods of time.  It also enhances confidence and hope that may set the groundwork for the client to begin communicating about future goals for therapy.  Remember that attention is a limited resource, so whatever your client focuses on gets bigger.

 QUESTION 5:  “Who do you feel closest to in your life?”

David W. Smith coined the term “Friendless American Male” during the 1980’s recognizing the consequences associated with disconnected men.  Many healthy men prefer to connect and socialize with each other through experience rather than dialogue.  In building a positive post-traumatic identity, men can benefit from the company and friendship with other men.

This question helps to identity places of support and connection already in place in the client’s life.  Each client is different and therefore patterns and preferences for connection may be vastly different.  However, this is a respectful way to enhance the client’s support network and enhance their awareness of their process of connection. Once recognized, it may be replicated.

Sometimes, clients may respond saying that they are close to no one in their life.  In those cases, it may be useful to ask them if there was anyone they were close to in their past. If so, how did they go about that process?

CONCLUSION

Remember that all people are patterns that persist.  Change the pattern you focus on, change the life you lead.  Have the courage to ask better questions with your clients.  Our lives are the answers the questions we ask.  Better questions can mean a better life for your clients.

SELECT RESOURCES

Post Traumatic Success: Positive Psychology and Solution-Focused Strategies to Help Clients Survive and Thrive by Fredrike Bannink 2014 (book)

101 Solution-Focused Questions for Help with Trauma by Fredrike Bannink  2015 (book)

American Psychological Association “10 Factors of Resilience”

Based on TIP 56: Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men KAP Keys for Clinicians (SAMHSA)   

 TIP 56: A Treatment  Improvement Protocol Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men 

 Grit: The Power of Passion and Purpose by Angela Duckworth (book)

Essential Research Findings in Counseling and Psychotherapy, the Facts are Friendly by Mick Cooper (book)

Video-“Facts are Friendly Pt 1” – Mick Cooper

Video-“Facts are Friendly Pt 2” – Mick Cooper

Video-“Facts are Friendly Pt 3”  – Mick Cooper

1001 Solution-Focused Questions by Fredrike Bannink (book)

Quick Steps to Resolving Trauma by Bill O’Hanlon (book)

BRIEF, an SF training institute in London

ICCE, a worldwide community dedicated to promoting excellence in behavioral healthcare services

Pennsylvania University  Positive Psychology Center (Seligman)

Penn University with positive psychology questionnaires (VIA Character Strengths Survey)

 Author Bio: Daniel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC, works in private practice in Buffalo, NY. He specializes in working with men to overcome issues with relationships, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, death of a child, childhood trauma, or feelings of anger. Dan is a passionate, eclectic practitioner and bases his practice heavily on a solution-focused approach to therapy.  As a result, many of his clients see the results they are looking for in less than six sessions. Dan also uses DBT, positive psychology, mindfulness, CBT, existential, motivational interviewing, and narrative therapy. When working with men, he focuses on restoring hope and connecting them to their ability to do what it takes to heal. In every session, clients leave with a plan to begin improving their life. In addition, Dan also specializes in supporting Catholic men and woman. He effectively combines his faith with his psychological training to provide therapy deeply rooted in Catholic Theology and Philosophy. Dan is a balanced professional and works effectively with his clients regardless of their spiritual/religious beliefs.  Prior to starting a private practice, Dan worked at Horizon Health Services for ten years. In addition to his clinical experience, Dan has experience in training provision and clinical supervision services.  Visit his websites for information at:

http://catholictherapysolutions.com

www.counselorscorner.net/clinicians.html

 

 

 





Therapeutic Relationships: What more do you need?

17 09 2013

Help puzzle freeditigalphotos.netID-100124223

I spent a day with Scott D. Miller, PhD, watching him training people on the power of the therapeutic relationship and how to assess client satisfaction and outcomes with performance metrics for session and outcome rating tools. Since then,  I have been fascinated by the healing power of the therapeutic relationship and its relationship to treatment. There are  evidence-based practices related to establishing therapeutic relationships at the SAMHSA Evidence-Based Therapeutic Relationships page. Yet at the same time, there needs to be a solid treatment approach. I have seen people not heal even though they had a good relationship with their therapist. And I have heard therapists say that they don’t like evidence-based practice because it takes away from the relationship and choice of the client. Perhaps fear of the unknown talking.

Good therapeutic relationships + effective treatment approaches + assessment of sessions and outcomes by the client=  the road to success and healing. And these are all essential in a trauma-informed service environment so that clients receive services within the the five-guiding principles of Trauma-Informed Care (Fallot, 2006): safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment.

Recently, trauma therapist  and founder of the Trauma Institute and Child Trauma Institute, Ricky Greenwald, PsyD, wrote a great blogpost about the  Therapeutic Relationship vs. Treatment Model. Here is an excerpt from the post that has already received 147 shares to date from his blog site.

“When I call therapists in other locations to check them out for a referral, I briefly describe the case and ask what their approach would be. Quite a number of these therapists have said something like, “I mainly focus on the relationship, since that’s where the healing comes from.” In a recent survey I saw a number of similar comments. One question focused on choice of technique in a particular context, and a number of respondents wrote some version of, “The technique is irrelevant – it’s the relationship that heals.” Based on my nonscientific sample, I suspect that this position is not uncommon among therapists.

The way it is expressed indicates that this view of the relationship’s primacy is not about psychodynamic theory – in which the therapy relationship is systematically utilized for healing. Psychodynamic people tell you that they’re psychodynamic; they’re clear about what they’re doing, and about the role of technique. No, these therapists are saying that they’ve extracted the essence of the so-called “common factors” research, and concluded that as long as they develop a good relationship with their client, everything else falls into place.

The common factors research – focusing on factors such as empathy, warmth, and positive regard, that may be common across treatment approaches – is quite important, and the centrality of common factors to therapy’s effectiveness has become ever more widely recognized and embraced (e.g., Duncan, Miller, Wampold, & Hubble, 2010). However, this valuing of the relationship over treatment approach reflects a profound misunderstanding of the common factors research.

Duncan & colleagues’ (2010) recent synthesis of the common factors research emphasized the integration and inextricability of the various factors. That is, you can’t just add more empathy or therapeutic alliance to an otherwise non-viable treatment approach and suddenly have a viable treatment. Rather, the common factors are necessarily grounded in a coherent and credible treatment model – itself a common factor – that is embraced by therapist and client. Such a treatment model serves as the foundation for the explanation of the problem, the plans for rectifying the problem, and the hope for successful change. These constitute much of the basis for the therapeutic alliance, the most important predictor of treatment success (Norcross, 2010).

Although it is heartening to see that the common factors literature has reached the practice community, it is concerning to see that it has been commonly misinterpreted in such a way that many therapists may be disregarding the importance of using a coherent treatment approach.”

via Ricky Greenwald, PsyD, Once Upon A Time… TI/CTI Blog–  Therapeutic Relationship vs. Treatment Model, August 6, 2013.

Like this post? check out our other posts on Behind the Human Curtain.

Author for the introductory paragraphs: Lesa Fichte,  LMSW, Director of Continuing Education

Photo Credit: Help Puzzle by Stuart Miles, www.freedigitalphotos.net





Dueling Disorders- the battle inside…

30 08 2013

Dueling

No, the title is not a typo. I know that Dual Disorders   and Co-occurring Disorders  are the correct terms for the combination of substance abuse and mental health disorders. I think a better term to bring home the power of this comorbid brain and body chaos is “Dueling Disorders.”  That’s what killed my brother. The mental health issues and addictions battled within him, each fueling the fight until he finally surrendered. The treatment he was given did not help him stop the battle.

I do not believe he had any hope that the behavioral health and medical system could help him. Maybe it was the lack of hope for healing that really killed him and not the Dueling Disorders? Our family will never know for certain.

In our work, I ponder if we too easily  compartmentalize people’s needs and address only their parts we are most comfortable with?  If yes, does this impair our ability to see the whole person in front of us- their strengths, their joys, their dreams, their level of confidence, their history of trauma, their façade or “curtain” that they put forth to hide behind, as well as the parts of themselves with addictions and mental health challenges? Humans hide in plain sight so what does it take to create a good therapeutic relationship so you can have a chance to  see the whole person and engage them in treatment?

Why was I inspired to write this post?

Obviously, my brother is always on my mind. But also because the title of an article in the August 2013 publication of Counselor: The Magazine for Addictions Professionals stopped my breath: Dual Diagnosis: Expectation, Not Exception.   The point being that we should expect that our clients come to us with a Dual Diagnosis and not just expect a single diagnosis.  And working at a school of social work with a trauma-informed curriculum and trauma continuing education programs, I am acutely aware of the need to see the whole person. I don’t know if any care provider ever saw the whole of my brother. I think they only saw his successful facade and the little bits he would reveal that he needed help with. 

According to SAMHSA, approximately 8.9 million adults have co-occurring disorders.  And approximately 90% of those seen in public behavioral health settings have a trauma history. I find these numbers horrifying, a sad statement about the world we live in.

Thoughts on how to begin to help people more effectively

  • Is your agency or practice current with evidence-based treatment for co-occurring disorders? Does it adhere to the principles from SAMHSA for an integrated screening and assessment process?
  • Does it offer a trauma-informed environment that follows the guiding principles of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment? Are services person-centered? Is there universal trauma screening? How do staff effectively build  therapeutic relationships?
  • If your organization has clinicians who are highly skilled in working with those who have a co-occurring disorders, is there anything more that can be done to share their skills with less experienced clinicians?
  • If your clinicians lack sufficient skills and knowledge to best meet the needs of this population, what is one step you could take to begin to address this need?
  • Is lethality assessed and if there is risk, is it part of the treatment plan?
  • If you or your agency are in state of “overwhelm” from workloads, complex client needs, and rapidly changing regulatory expectations, what is one step you can take to best serve this population? If you woke up tomorrow, and clients were better served, what would be different?
  • if your services are not where you want them to be and you do not know what to do first, start by asking the “5 Whys” to get to the root issue.
  • Have you reviewed your strategic plan  for needed updating to better serve people’s needs?
  • Do you collect program evaluation data so you know what service  outcomes are?

Some days, we just need to stop and take a breath to celebrate how much we already do to effectively help people heal, and identify the steps to get us to enhanced skills in evidence-based and best practice so that even more people can have that chance. And remember that hope is one of the most powerful things we can give our clients in a therapeutic relationship. Resource information is listed below.

Hope and belief in the ability to heal is a lifeline.

Author: Lesa Fichte, LMSW, Director of Continuing Education

Selected References & Resources

 SAMHSA

TIP 42 Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons with Co-Occurring Disorders http://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-42-Substance-Abuse-Treatment-for-Persons-With-Co-Occurring-Disorders/SMA12-3992

Based on TIP 42 Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons with Co-Occurring Disorders http://www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/topics/healthcare-integration/CODQGAdmin.PDF

Effectively serving individuals with co-occurring mental and substance use disorders requires integrated screening and assessment processes.http://www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/topics/screening-and-assessment/index.aspx

Evidence-based Practice for Dual Disorders  http://www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/topics/training/OP5-Practices-8-13-07.pdf

Jacobs, D. & Brewer, M. (2004).  American Psychiatric Association Practice Guideline: Provides recommendations for Assessing and Treating Patients with Suicidal Behaviors. Psychiatric Annals 34:5 (373-380). Also on line at www.stopasuicide.org/downloads/Sites/Docs/APASuicideGuidelinesReviewArticle.pdf

Trauma-Informed Care

National Center on Trauma-Informed Care  http://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/

Trauma-Informed Assessment and Screening PowerPoint http://view.officeapps.live.com/op/view.aspx?src=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.theannainstitute.org%2FDTSA.ppt

Trauma Assessment for Adults – Self-Report Version (one tool from the above PowerPoint) http://www.istss.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=TraumaAssessmentandDiagnosisSIG&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=3227

Greater Buffalo Trauma-Informed System of Care Community Plan http://www.hfwcny.org/Tools/BroadCaster/Upload/Project327/Docs/HFCWNY_Trauma_Report_Interactive___Final.pdf

Online Trauma-Informed Clinical Foundation Certificate Program, University at Buffalo School of Social Work Office of Continuing Education http://www.socialwork.buffalo.edu/conted/trauma-ticfc.asp

University at Buffalo School of Social Work Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care http://www.socialwork.buffalo.edu/research/ittic/

Treatment Outcome Evaluation

Scott D. Miller, PhD. Free Session Rating Scale and Outcome Rating Scale. http://scottdmiller.com/performance-metrics/

Therapeutic Relationship

Evidence-based Therapeutic Relationships http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/Norcross.aspx

Therapeutic Relationship vs. Treatment Model blog post by Ricky Greenwald, PsyD http://www.childtrauma.com/blog/therapeutic-relationship-vs-treatment-model/

Videos

Video from TedX: 11 minutes of a powerful story from a young man who tells a “stop in your tracks” story about what depression feels like. A must listen for every human service professional. http://www.upworthy.com/this-kid-thinks-we-could-save-so-many-lives-if-only-it-was-okay-to-say-4-words?c=ufb1

Video: 5 minutes from Claudia Black Ph.D. – Double Jeopardy: Addiction & Depression http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xean4EFGjC0

Photo Credit: Free Photos from www.morguefile.com

 








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