Book Review—Surviving and Thriving in Your Counseling Program

by Julius A. Austin and Jude T. Austin II

This is the book I wish I had when I started graduate school.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The authors of this book present the material in an authentic voice that makes the reader feel accepted and understood at whatever stage of the process they are at in the counseling program. The authors readily present their own fears and expectations when they began graduate school. They are humble and honest about things they wish they had done differently, and they embody a calm and considerate approach with a welcome addition of humor.

The authors begin with an informative section that touches on all the normal concerns and fears you may have as a student just starting a counseling program, and the book progresses through every stage of a counseling program from your first year all the way through graduation and your first job. The authors touch on core concepts in each section, common fears, and resources for success. They even provide perspective on pursuing a doctoral degree and skills for choosing where you would like to start your first job after graduation.

The book’s structure makes it flow easily from chapter to chapter, giving light to the gradual progression of course work and your own personal development and self-care. In each chapter, the authors blend in voices and stories from people currently in the profession. Sharing examples, struggles, development, and successes helps to give credibility to the process and normalize expectations and concerns.

The authors also provide a section on emotional maturity in the book. I found this section to be a welcome addition in that it defines several examples of emotional immaturity and characteristics of emotionally mature students. This section provided insight into emotional stability, emotional intelligence, and the self-awareness that is beneficial to success in a counseling program.

In addition to this, the authors also provide a section on dealing with setbacks and managing conflicts. Both sections contain valuable information to consider, and I don’t believe these topics are discussed frequently enough without judgement in other texts. Setbacks and conflicts are bound to happen in any setting. Normalizing this and looking at skills and reflections to approach these conflicts are a welcome addition to strengthening the effectiveness of this text.

Overall, I think this book is valuable, and students should consider reading this book in full when considering entering into a counseling program. This book would have also been beneficial as an assigned text during my first semester of graduate school. It is an easy and informative read that does an excellent job of reflecting on all those questions that either I was too scared to ask, only asked in my small group of equally confused classmates after class, or quite honestly, didn’t even have enough information to know I needed to ask.

This book gives amazing insight into not just the information about a counseling program, but also manages to grasp how it changes you as a person and how it changes your perspectives, your family dynamics, and your own value system. It normalizes the stress of a graduate program but also highlights the journey and the beauty of those outcomes.

 

Austin, J. A., & Austin, J. T., II (2020). Surviving and thriving in your counseling program. American Counseling Association.

Reviewed by: Megan Ries, NCC

Book Review—Becoming a Counselor: The Light, the Bright, and the Serious (3rd ed.)

by Samuel T. Gladding

Dr. Samuel T. Gladding’s third edition of Becoming a Counselor: The Light, the Bright, and the Serious offers a genuine and insightful reflection of his experiences both as an individual and as a counselor.

In Becoming a Counselor, Dr. Gladding (PhD, NCC, CCMHC, LPC) describes his experiences in counseling through a series of vignettes. These brief but comprehensive stories are cohesively told through his personal lens as a counseling professional. These vignettes range from Dr. Gladding’s impressions from his experiences growing up in Decatur, Georgia, to teaching within a counseling program, to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The book is divided into 17 sections, which contain a series of vignettes and stories pertaining to the section’s specific theme of counseling and Dr. Gladding’s experiences. Each section begins with a poem, composed by Dr. Gladding, which gives a brief glimpse into what the following section will entail. The third edition expands on previous editions to include an additional 35 vignettes, as well as an introduction that explains Dr. Gladding’s personal worldview. In this introduction, Dr. Gladding specifically acknowledges his own biases and experiences that shaped him as a counselor, providing crucial self-disclosure prior to delving into his personal experiences.

Limitations for Becoming a Counselor include the highly personal nature of the majority of these vignettes. Although the themes established within this volume assist with generalizing this knowledge outside of Dr. Gladding’s experiences, this book tends to take an autobiographical tone, rather than an educational one.

Nonetheless, fellow mental health professionals can use this book as a useful tool to guide their own journey through professional development and leadership. Dr. Gladding’s conversational tone guides the reader toward a deeper understanding of seemingly superficial events.

The primary strength of this book is within the universality of its themes. Through interweaving brief stories about his experiences, Dr. Gladding shares both ordeals and successes in vignettes that can easily be incorporated into a class lecture. Practicum or internship courses would doubtlessly find short stories detailing Dr. Gladding’s experiences as useful material to discuss within the classroom. Another strength of this book includes its organization of seemingly enormous and intimidating topics, such as finding success in academia, and then taking the teeth from these topics by including fun, good-humored titles for the individual vignettes. Although many books are professional in nature, it is rare to find one that also carries a sense of humor. However, Dr. Gladding does not shy away from the more serious topics of counseling.

If you read this book, you will undoubtedly find it difficult to put it down. This book reads more as a story than a text at times, which will more than likely lead to you finishing it by the end of the day.

Although not entirely educational in nature, Becoming a Counselor carries lessons from an autobiographical standpoint that many counselors can value. This edition was one of Dr. Gladding’s final works prior to his passing in December 2021. Within the latest edition of his book, Dr. Gladding encourages the reader to carry a level of levity, insight, and seriousness as both a counselor and an individual through their own experiences.

 

Gladding, S. T. (2021). Becoming a counselor: The light, the bright, and the serious (3rd ed.). American Counseling Association Foundation.

Reviewed by: Katie Michaels, MA, NCC, ALC

Book Review—Complex Integration of Multiple Brain Systems in Therapy

by Beatriz Sheldon and Albert Sheldon

 

Beatriz Sheldon, MEd, and her partner, Albert Sheldon, MD, describe their novel therapeutic approach, Complex Integration of Multiple Brain Systems (CIMBS), in this new publication. Throughout the book, references are made to the Sheldons’s 20 years of working together, 15 years of clinical experience, and 10 years of training other practitioners in CIMBS therapy. The authors emphasize that they “are practical, empirical therapists” (p. xvii). The book is seeded with references to scientists who inspire the duo, especially Daniel J. Siegel, Joseph LeDoux, Antonio Domasio, and the late Jaak Panksepp. It must be noted that CIMBS therapy as laid out in this text contains no peer-reviewed qualitative or quantitative studies; instead, the authors utilize vignettes to discuss their methods.

The brain systems referred to in CIMBS are organized into sections much like those of the triune brain model, with an additional peripheral system in the heart, lungs, and intestines. What the triune brain model labels the lizard brain relates to the primary level, the mammal brain is the secondary level, and the human brain is the tertiary level. The Sheldons assign awareness, attention, authority, autonomy, and agency (the “A Team”) to the conscious tertiary level. The secondary level holds nonconscious, inhibitory systems of fear, grief, shame, and guilt. The primary level, also nonconscious, contains the systems of safe, care, connection, sensory, assertive, play, and seeking.

The patient accesses the hidden strengths of the nonconscious mind via the CIMBS therapist’s use of techniques like Transpiring Present Moment, Go the Other Way, and Initial Directed Activation. Transpiring Present Moment is reminiscent of Fritz Perls’s emphasis on the “here-and-now.” Go the Other Way asks the patient to avoid getting bogged down in traumatic memories and instead reach for personal strengths. The CIMBS therapist cultivates the therapeutic alliance using the Therapeutic Attachment Relationship, which includes physical postures that suggest safety, reminding us of Egan’s SOLER stance taught in many counseling programs. This intervention also recommends intense focus on the patient’s micro-expressions as a guide to their conscious and nonconscious processes. Ultimately, the patient will integrate all 20 brain systems effectively and reach Fail-Safe Complex Network, a new, durable neural structure generating improved mental health.

Although the authors refer several times to the text’s internal contradictions or incongruence, the writing has the same appeal as the work of the Sheldons’s mentor, Dan Siegel, who wrote the Foreword. The book asks readers to lean on their intuition, often reminding them to “trust the process.” Nicola Swaine has provided line drawings to clarify central concepts, much as Siegel uses a curled fist to describe the triune brain. The authors relate that this text was written expressly to provide an overview of the Sheldons’s 16-part CIMBS training series (recorded and live) for students and trainees, who will find the glossary and bibliography especially useful.

In the Foreword, Siegel refers to the “cross-disciplinary framework known as interpersonal neurobiology . . . [using] universal principles discovered by independent pursuits of knowledge” (p xii). It would be useful to know which principles are considered universal in this book. Psychology sits forever on the fence between hard and soft science; some declarations of fact are based on microscopic studies of physical structures, and some are useful models that are at least partly philosophical. This text contains both. Neurologists have observed neural repairs and rerouting; thus, neuroplasticity is a demonstrable fact. The Sheldons describe 20 brain systems while noting that “one could certainly make the case for more or fewer systems” (p. 26). Clearly the number and definition of these brain systems can be thought of as helpful metaphors, a bit like Marsha Linehan describes a “wise mind” that is not a physical structure existing in the brain.

Professional counselors who like eclectic methods and enjoy pulling inspiration from many sources will appreciate CIMBS and this flagship text. The authors caution practitioners not to use CIMBS for patients who struggle with borderline personality disorder or dissociative, bipolar, or psychotic disorders. Although the Sheldons encourage clinicians to practice with their highest-functioning patients, the wise professional counselor will first disclose methods and procedures to patients.

 

Sheldon, B., & Sheldon, A. (2021). Complex integration of multiple brain systems in therapy. W. W. Norton.
Reviewed by: Christine Sheppard, MA, LCPC, NCC
The Professional Counselor
http://tpcjournal.nbcc.org

Book Review—Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy: A Therapist’s Guide to Creating Acceptance and Change, Second Edition

by Andrew Christensen, Brian D. Doss, and Neil S. Jacobson

 

Any counselor working with individual clients should also develop competence for working with couples. Because we have instinctual needs to love and be loved, relationship issues are not foreign to the dialogue counselors have with patients in individual therapy sessions. Even when individual treatment plans do not delineate clear objectives for improving a relationship, counselors often explore solutions for relationship issues with their individual clients. So, why not look for those solutions in the work of three esteemed mental health experts with over 40 years of research and clinical practice in couples therapy?

The book Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy: A Therapist’s Guide to Creating Acceptance and Change by Andrew Christensen, Brian D. Doss, and Neil S. Jacobson, includes a description of theoretical principles of Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT) along with differences and similarities to other evidence-based treatments. The authors’ description is supported by evidence of the efficacy of IBCT and the application thereof. IBCT is a contingency-shaped application rather than rule-governed. Christensen, Doss, and Jacobson encourage clinicians to use their best judgment when applying IBCT principles. For clinicians working under any capacity of experience, the IBCT concepts are thoroughly explained for the advanced practitioner and the intern therapist or practicum student.

Introduced in the book are two core concepts that promote acceptance and change: empathic joining and unified detachment. Empathic joining facilitates acceptance by kindling compassion and empathy. This leads to forgiveness and support from both individuals of a couple. This is described strategically through observing couple interacting patterns with intention to shift partners away from dissecting actions of the other and toward looking at their own reactions and feelings. Then, using empathic listening skills, IBCT therapists sensitively summarize “hard” and “hidden” emotions to the couple. With unified detachment, partners reduce negative affect by engaging in discussion in the sessions, and then thereafter, about salient incidents and issues in a nonjudgmental way. This kind of dyadic mindfulness allows for a safe, non-blaming analysis of problematic communication and behavior between a couple. IBCT happens in phases, but the core concepts are drawn upon through the entire course of IBCT therapy.

Phases include Evaluation and Assessment—joint session then individual sessions for formulating a DEEP analysis (Differences, Emotional sensitivities, External stressors, and Pattern of communication); Feedback session—conceptualizing problems and description of the intervention; and Intervention sessions. Interventions are both acceptance-focused and change-focused and executed by employing empathic joining and unified detachment, tolerance building, dyadic behavioral activation, and communication and problem-solving training.

Limitations for the IBCT guidebook and the counselor using the principles are that although the knowledge of the theories explained in this work are clearly presented, they still require training, consultation, and supervision to administer. The book includes many case examples of real issues (patient names have been changed to protect identities) presented in real IBCT therapy sessions (some with session videos on the American Psychological Association’s video library website). The case examples cover a rainbow of issues (including clinical consideration for diversity, violence, sexual problems, infidelity, and psychopathology); however, they do not replace the valued learning experience from working with a certified IBCT trainer (which the authors imply). Certified IBCT training involves “extensive observation” of actual sessions. More information is available at https://ibct.psych.ucla.edu/, another online tool that has a chapter devoted to IBCT in brief format using the OurRelationship program—an IBCT website intervention for distressed couples (OurRelationship.com).

 

Christensen, A., Doss, B. D., & Jacobson, N. S. (2020). Integrative behavioral couple therapy: A therapist’s guide to creating acceptance and change (2nd ed.). W. W. Norton.

Reviewed by: Evan P. Guetz, MA, LPC

The Professional Counselor

http://tpcjournal.nbcc.org

Book Review—You Are the Sheriff of Me Town: Where You Have All the Power

by Dr. Julia Bain, LPCC, NCC, CEAP

 

You Are the Sheriff of Me Town: Where You Have All the Power, by Dr. Julia Bain, is a book that explores the various aspects of our self-dialogue and self-image, especially areas that are sometimes overlooked. The author begins by introducing her metaphor that we are all the sheriffs of “Me Town,” and as a result, we have control over the choices and beliefs that run this town. The book progresses into the different aspects of our lives that we have control over and the ways that taking ownership of these areas can empower us. This involves diving into our beliefs, thoughts, values, and self-image. 

A strength of this book is how the author breaks down and organizes the sections. When working with a multi-layered metaphor, readers can become overwhelmed with the different terms and ideas presented. Dr. Bain has sectioned the book in a way that introduces and explains topics while also moving the narrative toward more complex ideas.

Another strength of this book is the underlying philosophy driving its message. We are not static beings, and Dr. Bain reminds the reader that change is both possible and necessary to achieve our goals. In pursuit of these goals, Dr. Bain puts a strong emphasis on checking in with oneself.

I greatly enjoyed the resource section at the end of the book. The author uses a key phrase or idea for each letter of the alphabet and describes these ideas in a paragraph or two. These sections are condensed versions of topics discussed in the book and provide a brief summary of Dr. Bain’s points. I saw these sections as mini pep talks or even prompts for journal entries.

An area of improvement for this book would be a stronger recognition of external factors. Yes, we are in control of the choices we make, but oftentimes those choices are influenced by elements outside our control. Being able to separate the various motivators in our lives, whether internal or external, can be a powerful step toward change.

Fellow professionals may see this book as a good resource for clients who are hoping to improve their levels of self-esteem or confidence. Being able to identify different strengths and characteristics in our lives can be an empowering step toward change and growth.

I frequently utilize imagery and metaphors with my clients; I believe it helps build rapport and can help explain difficult or complex topics. I could see other professionals, myself included, using the idea of being “the sheriff of Me Town” as a way to empower clients to take charge of their lives.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I could see its usefulness in and out of the counseling session. It breaks down aspects of our identify and helps the reader find ways of nurturing these areas. Although a good starting point, I would encourage readers to use this book as a springboard to dive into deeper areas of reflection and study.

 

Bain, J. (2021). You are the sheriff of Me Town: Where you have all the power. Walton Publishing House.
Reviewed by: Amanda Condic, MA, NCC, LPC
The Professional Counselor
http://tpcjournal.nbcc.org

Book Review—A Quiet Cadence: A Novel

by Mark Treanor

 

Winner of the 2021 William E. Colby Military Writer’s Award, Mark Treanor’s first novel, A Quiet Cadence, deftly illustrates the interlacing dichotomies of humanity, both the compassion and malevolence, when hurtled into war and the deeply entrenched wounds that remain long after. Treanor depicts a brutally honest portrayal of the war in Vietnam from the perspective of 19-year-old Marty McClure. Touting a negligible amount of college credits and a hurried enthusiasm to do his part, McClure enlists in the Marine Corps. Treanor’s novel chronicles McClure’s tenebrific descent into darkness during the months he spends in the bush with his platoon and the seemingly insurmountable challenge of returning to the world afterward.

Throughout Treanor’s novel, he outlines several poignant and salient issues on military trauma during and after the war. Treanor’s characters discuss the courage necessary not just to be physically courageous in battle but to have the fortitude and valor necessary to make difficult decisions. As McClure and his fellow Marines begin their descent, Treanor is exacting in his depiction of the brutality these men are capable of in how they view the Vietnamese and their inability to distinguish civilians from the enemy. As McClure’s friends are injured and killed, the necessity of compartmentalization becomes clear, “Bad things went in boxes, some of which never got opened again until after we were back in the World.” In addition to boxing up his trauma, McClure begins to question his faith, wondering how God can do nothing as his world burns. He further questions his sacrifice, feeling as if he is not worthy of recognition or commendation, as his sacrifice pales to those made by others. While this maelstrom of conflicts rages on, the seemingly elusive and irrelevant concept of a world outside of the war comes into focus, elucidated by both a complex and innocuous question: “How are you doing?” As McClure returns to the world, Treanor illuminates the hardships of reintegration and the inconvenient truth of how Vietnam veterans were treated by their countrymen once on native soil.

Treanor’s depictions of the war in Vietnam are both vivid and gruesome, undoubtedly bolstered by his own experience in the Vietnam War. Readers familiar with the theater of war will undoubtedly recognize the nuanced descriptions, harkening them back to the sights, smells, and emotions tied to those memories. While the potential for triggering a reaction from the limbic system looms large for some readers, others may benefit from the knowledgeable insights offered by the author. Treanor paints a clear picture of a lived experience, providing a concise outline of expectations for those readers who may follow afterward. Admirably, Treanor conveys, in animated language, the importance of talking with others about their trauma and the benefit of seeking help sooner. As a Marine Corps veteran himself, conveying the advantages of seeking support is both significant and refreshing.

Regrettably, Treanor falls short of connecting with audiences who are not associated with the Marine Corps. The absence of footnotes becomes a significant hurdle for non–Marine Corps readers. The abundance of military jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations soon alienates readers, requiring them to discern meaning from contextual clues, which even then can be difficult to parse out. At times, the pacing of the novel while in Vietnam and afterward moves in a somewhat disjointed fashion where significant plot devices are stitched together without fluid transitions, making it difficult to become engrossed in the story. Not to detract from the book’s ending, it is poignant and powerful, and it will surely draw tears from even the most rigid, stoic individual.

To the counselors seeking ancillary texts to provide to their clients, A Quiet Cadence consistently conveys the value and long-term benefit of being open and emotionally vulnerable to others. Treanor delicately presents the real face of post-traumatic stress without the sensationalizing embellishments characteristic of Hollywood’s interpretations. This accurate portrayal makes tangible the elusive, unnamed emotions that so often inundate veterans returned from war. The value of Treanor’s descriptive meaning-making is enormous to those unconversant with the counseling profession, enabling them to find a foothold and contextualize their ever-abrupt torrent of emotions. Restraint, however, should be applied by counseling professionals working with clients not yet stable in treatment. The sometimes too elaborate depictions of carnage, enmeshed with language that stimulates a sensorial reaction, may provoke harmful manifestations. Alongside therapy and with an experienced counselor, this novel delivers the framework for a conversational agenda, potentially helping clients to identify subject matters to address during therapy they may have otherwise minimized or overlooked entirely.

 

Treanor, M. (2020). A quiet cadence: A novel. Naval Institute Press.

Reviewed by: Ashley E. Wadsworth, MS, NCC, LCMHC, LCAS-A

The Professional Counselor

http://tpcjournal.nbcc.org