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No Emotion Allowed Here—Therapist at Work!

 

The Emotional Revolution

As therapists, probably most of us know only too well the queasy, anxious feeling we had as young practitioners (maybe even still have) when faced with a highly emotional client, perhaps sobbing uncontrollably in the chair across from us. Trained to believe that our job is to help that person feel better, we want to do something or say something that will provide comfort and ease that pain. But all too often, there’s been almost nothing in our academic education and survey of clinical theories to help us feel at home with our clients’ emotions, much less our own. 

And what about sitting face Emotional clientto face in a room with someone in a state of transferential rage—yelling, pounding the chair, blaming us for his/her problem? And couples! No wonder so many couples therapists favor coaching clients in highly cognitive skills-building and problem-solving techniques. In one interview of our upcoming webcast series on emotion, Sue Johnson remembers many years ago watching a therapist basically scold couples who seemed to be getting too upset, even sending one partner out of the room to calm down. The title of that session must surely have been, “No emotion here, please—therapist at work!”

This fear of out-of-control emotions, even among therapists who are supposed to be comfortable with “strong affect,” as we hygienically call it, reflects an old Cartesian prejudice in Western society against the “lower,” messier emotions—primitive, animal-like passions rooted in the body. For many hundreds of years, we’ve preferred the more respectable, “higher” faculties of logic and reason, products of the thinking, rational mind. From the very beginning, psychotherapy models, of whatever stripe, have shared this cultural bias. Rather than welcome emotions into the consulting room, they’ve tended to regard excessive expressions of emotion as symptoms of something awry in the psyche. The clinical goal has often been to get all that raw stuff under control. Freud’s directive—“Where id was, there shall ego be”—has been the implicit watchword for one hundred years of psychotherapy practice.

But, lo and behold, over the past two or three decades—even just in the last 10 years—we’ve been witness to nothing less than a revolution in our knowledge and understanding of emotion. Neuroscience research, for example, has demonstrated beyond all doubt that emotion is itself the driving force of much of our mental life, including our precious reasoning faculties. “We’re not necessarily thinking machines,” says renowned neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, “but feeling machines that think.” Without the literally moving force of affect—e-motion —we’re like high-IQ slugs in a sense, not likely to go anywhere or do much of anything except munch on whatever nutrients fall in our path. Without emotion, we’d be like disabled computers, with no desire, love, sadness, fear, need, impatience, anger, frustration, enthusiasm—those experiential states that literally turn us on, make us go. Without emotion, the wiring may be in place, but the power has been disconnected.

Luckily, therapists are also beginning to catch up to the neuroscience in their growing recognition that working sensitively and skillfully with clients’ emotions is critical to clinical success. In our new Networker webcast series beginning July 18th, “The Emotion Revolution: Harnessing Mind, Body and Soul in the Consulting Room,” I talk with 6 therapeutic innovators—Susan Johnson, Rick Hanson, Joan Klagsbrun, Jay Efran, Ron Potter-Efron, and Diana Fosha—about the latest developments in helping clients experience emotion as a coherent, vital, enlivening force in their relational lives.

But even more than that, this group of noted contributors to our field show us the importance of how navigating through the ebb and flow of emotion is at the heart of our therapeutic craft. As Damasio has written, “Most of what we construct as wisdom over time is the result of cultivating the knowledge about how our emotions behave and what we learn from them.” I hope you can join us as we explore that state of our current clinical wisdom about the role of emotion in effective psychotherapy.

Want to read more on emotion in the consulting room? Take a look at the May/June 2012 issue here to peruse articles from some of the field’s visionaries, including Susan Johnson.

The Emotion Revolution:
Harnessing Mind, Body and Soul in the Consulting Room

Starts Wednesday, July 25th

Click here for full course details.

06.29.2012   Posted In: NETWORKER EXCHANGE   By Rich Simon
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Learning to Drive Left: Breaking Out of Our Therapeutic Comfort Zone

 

How We Can Solve Our Most Challenging Cases

The desire to keep growing and improve our skills is a good part of what brought many of us into this demanding profession.  But once we’ve acquired some experience and achieved a certain level of competence, we may begin to fall into a routine, just repeating ourselves over and over again. After all, getting to the next level—transcending our own current performance—often requires us to leave our normal comfort zone, not something many of us relish doing. Nevertheless, getting to that next level of mastery doesn’t just improve our performance—it can make us feel renewed as human beings.

Let me give you an example from my after-hours life as a pick-up basketball player.  I’ve been playing basketball for clBasketballose to 50 years now—thousands of hours dribbling, running up and down basketball courts, working on my jump shot, pushing and shoving complete strangers. For a 63 year-old considerably beyond the usual age for a viable basketball career, I’m not a bad player. But over the last few years, I noticed that I was just repeating my old tricks, doing the same things I know how to do, over and over again. I still loved basketball, but there was getting to be a certain sameness about my game. I felt stale.

Last year at this time, I got inspired watching the Dallas Mavericks, one of the oldest teams in the NBA with a roster of geriatric 30-somethings, win the league championship. I was drawn to try for my own basketball breakthrough and see if I could get out of my benign rut.  I found myself a coach—a 25-year-old named Andrew who loved basketball even more than I do and seemed to have studied everything there is to know about the game. Since then, he’s become my basketball guru and taskmaster. Every week, I have a session with Andrew, who keeps pushing me to expand my game, after which I take notes and practice what I’ve learned. Andrew’s very nice, but very tough. Instead of telling me how great I am at stuff I already know how to do well, he relentlessly points out the limits of my game, and then shows me how I can improve.

A few weeks ago, for example, after observing how predictable my offensive repertoire was, he announced, “You always drive right, never left. You gotta expand your game.”  As a right-handed person, I naturally tend to dribble with my right hand, make jump shots to my right, pass to my right, and so on. So he started pushing me to focus on dribbling with my left hand, driving to my left, and hitting left-hand lay-ups. It felt unnatural, awkward, hard to do, but I practiced the moves he showed me again and again and again. One day, after a couple of weeks of this, I found myself playing one-on-one with a familiar rival who had the annoying habit of beating me. I was determined that, regardless of how awkward it felt, I’d make myself drive left. Quite familiar with my right-wing basketball tendencies, my opponent kept overplaying me to move to my right. Instead, I kept hitting left-handed lay-up after lay-up and won easily. But not only did I feel the fleeting joy of victory, I had that incomparable sense of suddenly discovering a new self, not bounded by my old limitations. It was thrilling.

As therapists, we all face situations and cases that tap into our particular limitations, make us feel frustrated and incompetent. We all tend to get into our ruts, avoid certain kinds of clients, or feel off-balance and uncomfortable in the face of clinical challenges that press our particular buttons. And in a sense, the presenters in our upcoming webcast series The 6 Biggest Challenges Therapists Face are like Andrew. They recognize what keeps us limited in our effectiveness and how routinized our practices can become. But, like Andrew, they have highly practical suggestions—offered in the context of very vivid case examples—for helping us get beyond our limitations.

Without Andrew, I’d still be avoiding what I didn’t feel fully competent doing. But he’s opened up a whole new range of choices for me on the basketball court. I hope you discover some new choices for yourself in our new webcast series and up the level of skill and excitement of your “game” in your consulting room. 

06.08.2012   Posted In: NETWORKER EXCHANGE   By Rich Simon
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The 6 Biggest Challenges Therapists Face

 

And How to Overcome Them

Everybody knows that therapy is basically about making people’s pain go away, right? Depression, rage, nagging guilt, obsession, anxiety, fear—these are the dragons that blight clients’ lives. And if the dragons can’t be vanquished outright, then they must be drugged or hypnotized into submission, or reframed into innocuousness. But as straightforward as it sounds, every clinician knows what it’s like to find yourself up against the brick wall of a client’s impervious suffering and seeming refusal to change—no matter how hard you huff or puff, you can’t blow the problem down.

HelpImageWe inhabit a field that thrives on hearing about brilliant clinical interventions and thrilling new treatment models. But the fact is that many of us regularly struggle with cases that don’t quite pan out the way we hope, not to mention the terrible cases that even years afterward have the power to make us cringe and make us wonder whatever happened to that client after he slinked away or stormed out of our office one last time.

So we decided to bring together a group of veteran therapists to take a candid look at the kind of cases and clinical situations that regularly take us to the edge of what we know and who we are as people and as would-be healers. Part of what’s fascinating about our upcoming webcast series Overcoming The Six Biggest Challenges Therapists Face is hearing from leaders in our field about what they identify as the challenge that most stands out for them and then asking yourself what your own most daunting clinical challenge happens to be.

But even more fascinating is the opportunity that this nuts-and-bolts, highly practical series offers to examine exactly how we as therapists often both create and foster resistance in our clients. Each of the interviews in this series goes beyond vague theory and therapeutic bromides to explore the fine points of clinical craft that make the difference between helping difficult clients as opposed to just hitting your head against the wall. Here’s a chance to learn how to make a difference with those cases—and you know which ones they are—that can seem proof against everything you think you know about therapy or human nature.

For more information about our new webcast series, just click here.
05.23.2012   Posted In: NP0021 The 6 Most Challenging Issues in Therapy   By Rich Simon
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Engaging Men in Therapy

 

What Clinicians Need to Know

Some time ago, my wife, Jette (who just happens to be the world’s best couples’ therapist) and I were about to begin one of the several couples weekend workshops we hold every year. As we met the assorted participants in a conference room of a local hotel, it became obvious that, as usual, it was mostly the women who had dragged their mostly unwilling male partners to the weekend. During the first break, one of the men in the group approached Jette during an early break, obviously in real distress.

“You must change the sign downstairs in the lobby,” he hissed in her ear. The offending sign, there in public for all to see, said, “Couples Therapy—Mayfair Room.” The fact that he was attending a therapy event—a word so obnoxious to him that he could barely spit it out—in his mind, clearly identified him as a total wimp, a low-testosterone failure of a man, a complete loser in the masculinity sweepstakes. God forbid somebody he knew should catch him in such humiliating circumstances—it was akin to marching publicly into a room boldly labeled, “Child Molesters Convention Here.” Male shame strikes again.

depressedman

The great secret that most men harbor is how often we feel incompetent, weak, vulnerable, and inadequate, not up to the seemingly impossible task of being a “man” (whatever that means).

And when we fail, however it looks on the outside, we experience the corrosive, toxic, intolerable feelings of shame. Just the threat of being shamed is so dreadful to us that we will go to any lengths to avoid it—we will yell at or stonewall our wives, get drunk, pick fights, drive our cars like bats out of hell, join a militia, have sex with as many women as possible—do virtually anything to avoid it.

It seems odd that after nearly 50 years of focusing on gender norms and how they affect women, the inner world of men would still remain as dimly understood as it is, even by psychotherapists. Until recently, a prime obstacle has been the ideological truism that, deep down, both genders want exactly the same thing from their relationships. But as we’ve made real advances in understanding some of the differences between the male and female brain as well as grasping the biology of other social mammals, we’ve had to take another look at some of our conventional therapeutic wisdom about commonalities between the sexes.

To explore further what some of our field’s most innovative contributors are discovering about working more effectively with men, here are two resources to check out. Just click here to preview the latest Networker streaming-video webcast series, Engaging Men in Therapy: Everything Clinicians Need to Know, beginning June 5th. And if you want some extremely thoughtful and provocative articles to challenge outdated clinical assumptions, click here to take a look at our May 2010 issue, The Secret World of Men. In either case, be prepared to discover how disconcerting—and illuminating—it is to embrace the possibility that men and women don’t necessarily want exactly the same things after all.

05.18.2012   Posted In: NP0020 Men in Therapy: What Clinicians Need to Know   By Rich Simon
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The Practice of Excellence

 

Becoming a Smarter Therapist

Once we’re past the early stages of our training, the accumulating evidence suggests that, despite our own favorable impression of our increasing therapeutic savvy, most of us don’t improve our clinical skills. With so many smart, devoted, hard-working practitioners in the field, how could this be? In “Is Psychotherapy Getting Better?” a provocative article by Diane Cole in the March issue of the Networker, Bill Doherty observed:

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04.16.2012   Posted In: NETWORKER EXCHANGE   By Rich Simon
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Celebrating the Networker’s 30th Anniversary!

 

Dear Colleagues,

In celebration of the Networker’s 30th anniversary, we’ve been taking some time to reflect on the past three decades: what have we been doing as a magazine? As a community? As a field? Where are we going?

Back in January, we asked subscribers to contribute their personal stories about how the magazine has influenced their development as therapists and as people. We wanted to know if there were any specific issues or articles that had a significant impact, led to an interesting experience, or really, anything that readers wanted us to know.

We were so honored by the responses that came pouring in, and would like to post some of these responses (many in an abridged format) here. We’d love to hear more, too. If you’re a subscriber of the magazine, we’d love to provide you with another opportunity for response and comments here.

If you’re not a magazine subscriber but still a part of the Networker community—a webcast participant, a Symposium attendee, or just a fan in general—we want to hear from you, too. How has the Networker community impacted you? And an even larger question, if you’ve gotten a chance to read our March/April issue on “Is Therapy Getting Better?”—what do you think? Where do you think this community, and the wider community of mental health professionals, is headed?

-Rich Simon

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03.19.2012   Posted In: NETWORKER EXCHANGE   By Rich Simon
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Can You Afford Not to Attend Symposium 2012?

 

We’re less than 2 weeks away from Symposium 2012 and in the frenzy of last-minute conference planning—honing my introductory speeches, rehearsing my Opening Night song and dance, checking and double-checking to-do lists, and more. Read more

03.09.2012   Posted In: Symposium 2012   By Rich Simon
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Andrew Weil and the Future of Psychotherapy

 

This year’s 35th-Anniversary Symposium will not only offer an up-to-the-minute perspective on the field’s recent innovations and advances, but a vision of its future. We'll be exploring how all the ferment of the moment--the exciting possibilities opened up by brain science, the growing understanding of the mind-body connection, the clinical influence of mindfulness practice, the emerging science of human performance--will shape therapeutic practice in the years to come.

In his Symposium keynote address, "The Vision of Integrative Mental Health," Andrew Weil, world-famous pioneer in the development of complementary medicine, will explore the new skills and knowledge the practitioner of tomorrow will need.  We interviewed him recently and here's what he had to say:
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01.30.2012   Posted In: Symposium 2012   By Rich Simon
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What’s Hot in Psychotherapy Today: The Symposium Top 5

 

Curious about the presenters and approaches attracting the most attention at this year’s Symposium? Here’s your chance to find out. In addition, with the early registration deadline just around the corner (February 6th), now’s a good time to consider workshop choices. You can peruse the Symposium program a number of easy ways—online, via our digital brochure, or in print—but we wanted to let you know about the workshops people seem most excited about so far. In reverse order, the 5 top workshops to date are:

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01.26.2012   Posted In: Symposium 2012   By Rich Simon
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What Is the New Wisdom?

 
When you ask a therapist about the single quality that distinguishes the young clinician from a weathered old pro who’s seen and heard it all, the answer is likely to have something to do with wisdom. It’s a word with enormous resonance that seems to get at the heart of what psychotherapy is all about. But what do therapists actually know about wisdom? Clinical theories, techniques, how to fill out insurance forms—sure, we know a lot about those things. But wisdom?
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01.17.2012   Posted In: Symposium 2012   By Rich Simon
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Couples Therapy, Session 5, Michele Weiner-Davis: Comment Board

 

michele_weiner_davisThank you for attending the final session of Couples Therapy: Today and Tomorrow. We hope you’ll come away from this course with relevant skills you can apply to your practice and a better understanding of couples work.

Today’s session with Michele Weiner-Davis, a leading expert on divorce, will cover methods for helping couples heal from infidelity, how much to encourage disclosure of details of the affair, and how to deal with intense emotions.

What struck you most about this session, and what was most interesting to you from the whole course? Please comment below about what was most important, relevant, and thought-provoking to you.

Thank you all for your participation in this series and for taking the time to share your comments.

03.07.2011   Posted In: P003 Couples Therapy: Today and Tomorrow   By Rich Simon
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Couples Therapy, Session 4, Susan Johnson: Comment Board

 

susan_johnson_headshotThank you for attending Session 4 of Couples Therapy: Today and Tomorrow. This session with Susan Johnson, the originator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) will explore the basic principles of EFT, the most empirically validated approach to couples work.

Johnson will discuss how attachment theory informs the underlying dynamics of couples’ issues, how to develop a systematic treatment plan with couples, how to help couples calm down, and how to interrupt destructive relational cycles.

We invite you to participate in this Comment Board to share your experiences with couples  therapy, comment on what was most interesting to you about Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and ask any questions you may have. What was most relevant about what you learned today?

Please include your name and hometown along with your comment. Thank you again for your participation and your comments.

03.01.2011   Posted In: P003 Couples Therapy: Today and Tomorrow   By Rich Simon
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Couples Therapy, Session 3, Harville Hendrix: Comment Board

 

harville_hendrix_p003Thank you for attending Session 3 of Couples Therapy: Today and Tomorrow. This session with Harville Hendrix will delve into the basic principles of the Imago approach to authentic connection between couples.

Hendrix, the co-developer of Imago Relationship Theory and the co-founder of Imago Relationship International, will discuss how to understand the resistance to love that was founded in childhood experiences, how to help partners learn to heal wounds from each other’s childhoods, the basic skills of mirroring and empathy, and how couples can validate each other--even when they disagree.

We invite you to participate in this Comment Board to share your experiences with couples  therapy, comment on what was most interesting to you about Imago Relationship theory, and ask any questions you may have. What was most relevant about what you learned today?

Please include your name and hometown along with your comment. Thank you again for your participation and your comments.

02.17.2011   Posted In: P003 Couples Therapy: Today and Tomorrow   By Rich Simon
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    Couples Therapy, Session 2, Terry Real: Comment Board

     

    terry_real_p003Welcome to Session 2 of Couples Therapy: Today and Tomorrow. During this session with Terry Real, you’ll get the opportunity to hear about how to help today’s couples develop the skills they need to achieve a high level of connection and emotional intimacy.

    Real will discuss how to deal with the differences between what men and women contribute to relationships, how to identify the techniques that disrupt relationships, and how to present your observations as a therapist in an honest way.

    As always, we invite you to participate in this Comment Board to share relevant experiences with couples therapy, comment on what was most interesting to you, and raise any questions you may have. What was most important to you about what you learned today?

    Please include your name and hometown along with your comment. Thank you again for your participation and your comments.

    02.16.2011   Posted In: P003 Couples Therapy: Today and Tomorrow   By Rich Simon
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      New Perspectives on Ethics, Session 5, Steven Frankel: Comment Board

       

      steve_frankelThank you for attending the final session of New Perspectives on Practice: Ethical Standards of the 21st Century. We hope you’ll come away from this course with a better understanding of how to handle ethical dilemmas in our practices, particularly ones created by new technologies.

      Today’s session with Steven Frankel will delve into how to avoid the most common ethical pitfalls and how to handle the most common ethical—and legal—situations. He’ll discuss role conflicts and deviations, boundary crossings and violations, and the three axioms of ethical responsibility.

      What do you think was most relevant to you about today’s session, and about the whole course? Please comment below about what was most important, applicable, and interesting.

      Thank you all for your participation and comments.

      02.14.2011   Posted In: P002 New Perspectives: Ethical Standards for the 21st Century Practitioner   By Rich Simon
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        Couples Therapy Today & Tomorrow, Session 1 with Bill Doherty: Comment Board

         

        william_doherty_lrgWelcome to Couples Therapy: Today and Tomorrow. During these next five sessions, we’ll get a valuable opportunity to hear a variety of perspectives, expand our skills, and learn ways of enhancing our effectiveness with couples. Today’s session with expert couples therapist William Doherty, “Bad Couples Therapy and How to Avoid It” will delve into the most common mistakes therapists make when treating couples and how to avoid these difficult situations.

        We’ll explore barriers that most frequently occur, how to effectively structure couples therapy sessions, and practical techniques for working with couples on the verge of divorce.

        Reading and participating in the Comment Boards provided after each session will help all of us process what we’ve learned by discussing important questions and sharing relevant experiences. Please make sure to take a moment to comment on what stood out for you during this session. What do you think will be most applicable to your practice?

        We invite you to please include your name and hometown along with your comment. Thank you again for your participation and for your reflections.

        02.08.2011   Posted In: P003 Couples Therapy: Today and Tomorrow   By Rich Simon
        51
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          New Perspectives on Ethics, Session 4 with William Doherty: Comment Board

           

          william_doherty_lrgToday’s session with William Doherty, the fourth in our ethics webinar course, will cover the subject of terminating therapy in an ethical manner, in a different format. He’ll use cases from HBO TV series “The Sopranos” and “In Treatment” to illustrate effective and ineffective ways to terminate therapy when clients are no longer benefiting.

          We hope that after this informative and entertaining session, you’ll have a clearer understanding of helpful and unhelpful ways to terminate therapy and how to handle it ethically.

          What do you think was most relevant about today’s session? We encourage you to take a few minutes now to share any related experiences, and to comment on what was most applicable to you or most interesting.

          Please consider what struck you the most about today’s session and to think about everything you’ve learned so far about ethics, and comment below. As always, we invite you to please include your name and hometown with your comment. Thank you all for your participation.

          02.07.2011   Posted In: P002 New Perspectives: Ethical Standards for the 21st Century Practitioner   By Rich Simon
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            New Perspectives on Ethics, Clifton Mitchell, Session 3: Comment Board

             

            clifton_mitchellThank you for attending the third session of New Perspectives on Practice, “Ethical Standards for the 21st Century.” Today’s session with Clifton Mitchell--“The Therapist’s Duty to Warn, Report Abuse and Rape, and Handle Self-Injurious Behavior” will cover the latest legal developments concerning therapists’ obligation to prevent clients from harming themselves or others. We’ll explore the responsibilities and the limitations of confidentiality and other ethical situations, such as how to handle clients’ self-injurious behaviors.

            We hope you come away from this session with a better understanding of what’s required of therapists ethically and how to better deal with situations like clients who self-harm. What do you think was most relevant from today’s session? What was most applicable to you in your everyday practice? Do you have any related experiences that would be helpful to other participants?

            Please take a minute to consider these questions and everything you’ve learned so far throughout this webinar, and comment below about what’s most striking to you.

            As always, we invite you to please include your name and hometown with your comment. Thank you all for your participation and thought-provoking comments.

            01.31.2011   Posted In: P002 New Perspectives: Ethical Standards for the 21st Century Practitioner   By Rich Simon
            6
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              Beyond Pills, Session 4, Michael Yapko: Comment Board

               
              michael_yapko-bigThank you for participating in the fourth and final, Q & A session with Michael Yapko. We hope that this webinar has been informative and inspiration and that it’s provided you with a new understanding and perspective on depression.

              Now’s your chance to ask all of the questions that you’ve been thinking about during the previous sessions, whether specific or general. What have you been wondering or waiting to ask so far? This is an opportunity to engage with expert Michael Yapko in order to answer any of the questions you may have about depression, hypnosis, or anything else he’s covered.

              As always, we invite you to please take a minute to consider your experience participating in this entire webinar and comment below about what has been most interesting to you. Please include your name and hometown with your comment, and thank you again for your participation.
              01.27.2011   Posted In: M002 Beyond Pills: Effective Psychotherapy With Depressive Clients   By Rich Simon
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                New Perspectives on Ethics, Session 2, Ofer Zur: Comment Board

                 

                ofer_zur_lrgThank you for attending the second session of New Perspectives: Ethical Standards for the 21st Century Practitioner. Today’s course, “Ethics in the Digital Age” with Ofer Zur covers some of the ethical challenges caused by technologies such as e-mail, search engines, and social media.

                How has the Internet Revolution raised professional boundary issues? How do you handle clients who research you on the web, and should you ever research them? We hope you come away from this session with the answers to some of these questions and more.

                Please take a minute to consider and everything you’ve learned so far throughout this New Perspectives webinar, and comment below about what’s been most interesting to you. What new strategies from today’s session do you think will be most applicable to your practice? Do you have any related experiences from your own professional or personal life that would be relevant here?

                We invite you, as always, to please include your name and hometown with your comment. Thank you all for your participation and reflections.

                01.24.2011   Posted In: P002 New Perspectives: Ethical Standards for the 21st Century Practitioner   By Rich Simon
                26
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