Thinking about Teaching? Here’s Some Things to Consider

teaching

I work as an adjunct teacher, work with many clients who are adjunct teachers, and have had the pleasure of knowing many friends and family who are in academia and have also been in adjunct positions. I have never known a teacher to do it for the money, but simply the love of teaching. I decided to explore how such a profession adds up in the career field as far as pay structure, security, and values.

The results?

For those who have had a college teacher they loved, give them a shout out. I assure you they are not doing it for the money, the security, or the insurance – most of these things never happen. They are doing it to help pass the torch of knowledge – to you.

According to data released in 2010, there are over 10,000 institutions of higher learning in the United States (US Department of Education, 2012). This number, of course, is growing every year. According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT, 2012a), adjunct teachers are becoming more concerned about their working conditions, lack of job security, and the inability for job growth. Adjuncts now make up more than 75% of the teachers in higher education. Less than 40% of those have insurance or retirement benefits offered through their employers (AFT, 2012a). Nearly 60% are being paid less than their counterparts (AFT, 2012a). For those who teach in adjunct positions, it is not unusual to not know if one has a job from one semester to the next. Employers have no obligation in assuring a job position and they can chose to not renew a contract with no reason given. Raises do not happen and the pay for a 3 credit class is significantly lower than the salary of a full time teacher. It is not unusual to not know what classes an adjunct teacher will be given when they will be, or if they are guaranteed to take place at all, sometimes waiting until the day the class begins to know for sure. Often times, classes an adjunct thought they could count on get cancelled at the last minute. Whether teaching online or in brick and mortars, adjuncts are expected to hold office hours, tutor students, answer emails, stay late if a student needs guidance, grade papers and various assignments, and attend office functions and meetings.

The impact this has on adjunct teachers, students, and the institution is complex. Often, adjunct teachers’ morale is low and the insecurity in the job can create undue stress.  Many teachers scramble to find work at three to four different colleges each semester or teach in concordance with another job to secure a steady paycheck (AFT, 2010). A survey completed by the Center for the Future of Higher Education (AFT, 2012b) indicated that 94% of adjunct teachers have little institutional support from department heads, very little access to office materials such as copy machines and teaching materials, and often have very little preparation time for new classes. This, in turn, affects the students’ learning environment.

In understanding the complexity of the issue, one must be sure to understand the hierarchy of events and the obscurity of such a bias viewpoint (Cooper, 2012). Certainly, there are other areas to consider when looking at the institutional as a whole. To define the problem of adjunct teachers so narrowly is irresponsible. In fact, out of 500 interviewed, 70% indicated they were satisfied with the support they received from their institutions (AFT, 2010). However, when money was investigated, over 45% indicated they made less than $15,000 per year and only 28% had access to health insurance (AFT, 2010). Most hoped to make it a full time job in which those things might improve. They hoped for this becasue they loved the job itself – interacting with students, sharing knowledge, and using their degrees as a way to give back. In fact, 57% of adjunct teachers indicated they teach simply for the love of teaching.

So, give a shout out to those who teach. And when considering going into teaching yourself, know that you will do it for the true love of teaching and not much more than that. You won’t get rich in dollar signs, but you will get rich in knowing you are making a difference.

References:

American Teachers Association (AFT). (2010). A national survey of part-time/adjunct faculty. American Academic, 2, http://www.aft.org/pdfs/highered/aa_partimefaculty0310.pdf

American Teachers Association (AFT). (2012a). New report blasts conditions of adjunct faculty. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/newspubs/news/2012/082412adjuncts.cfm

American Teachers Association (AFT). (2012b). AFT Survey Looks at Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty Issues. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/newspubs/news/2010/032210ameracad.cfm

Cooper, T. (2012). The Responsible Administrator. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

United Nations. (1998). Fiftieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/rights/50/decla.htm

To Disclose or Not Disclose?

Be quiet, my friend. You can't tell my secrets.

Kennedy and Charles (1997) discussed how important it is for therapists to “employ the instrument of their own personality” (p. 53) when counseling others. Furthermore, Corey (1996) explained how valuable it is for therapists simply be ourselves in the therapeutic process. It is incredibly vital for each therapist, as an individual, to find their own style when working with clients. What works for one will not work for another. Disclosure – or sharing information about him or herself with clients – works along the same guidelines.

Disclosure can be incredibly helpful in the therapeutic process but it can also be detrimental. Yalom (1995) declared that therapists should not freely express their feelings. He stated, “A therapist must model responsibility and appropriate restraint as well as honesty” (p 115). He encouraged spontaneity but cautioned therapists to always keep in mind the need of their clients. A therapist must always decide why he or she is choosing to disclose personal information and it must necessitate benefitting the client (Corey, 1996). It is a constant ego check.  Therapists must always ensure that disclosure is not for selfish reasons – to impress a client, to demonstrate worthiness to a client, or to confirm to a client that they are also human (Corey, 1996).

Some therpists are reluctant to disclose – they may want to avoid emotional involvement, maintain focus on the client, and/or keep over-identification to a minimum (Kennedy & Charles, 1997).  Balsam and Balsam (1984) explained that disclosure is a way for a therapist to show a client they care. They felt that this “caring” could just as well be shown in other forms that may be much more effective to some clients – by listening assiduously, being present in the moment, being emotionally available, and being on time (Balsam & Balsam, 1984).

Another pitfall of therapist disclosure is creating a friend vs. therapist situation.  In order to have a good working relationship with a client, it is important that the client feels accepted and understood. In doing this, some therapists make the mistake of becoming buddies with their client and lose the common treatment goal that was set forth in the beginning. Guidelines must be set and adhered to, ensuring this does not happen.  Being a friend is nice, but is neither productive nor helpful in a therapist/client relationship.

On the flip side, when disclosure does not occur at all or in very small, unproductive ways, a therapist may be conceived by a client as passive or uncaring. Some clients might be incredibly disturbed if reciprocal disclosure is not involved in therapy (Yalom, 1995). It can also create a distorted view of a therapist as some superhuman being. Farber (2003) stated that therapist disclosure especially in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) enhances positive client expectations and strengthens the therapist/client relationship. By not disclosing, open dialogue can be lost and can stunt real growth (Corey, 1996). Proper self disclosure can model to a client that this is the way therapy is, thus paving the way for many  productive sessions. By modeling disclosure in a therapy session, it replicates appropriate interpersonal functioning (Farber, 2003).

Corey (1996 recommended that a therapist must disclose persistent feelings that are directly related to the present transaction. If an idea or thought is constantly coming up that nags at a therapist in session, most likely it is something that needs to be disclosed. Corey also suggested distinguishing between disclosure that is related history and disclosure that is an unrehearsed expression of the present experience.  Rehearsed disclosure can seem forced and inappropriate. However, when used to confirm or express understanding of a client’s current incident, it can be extremely helpful.

Disclosure is a balancing act, as are all facets of the therapist/client relationship.

So, what is the point here? Another buyer beware, if you will. If you are a client and your therapist talks way too much about themselves, think about why that is. Is it helpful to you? Or is it stifling your own growth and treatment goals? Or on the flip side, does your therapist not say enough? If you ask a direct question that relates to the topic and the therapist shrugs it off as not important, does that leave you feeling rejected? Self disclosure is a balancing act and there is no right way to do it. But, if you feel comfortable with your therapist, most likely, there is just the right amount for your needs. If you don’t, then it may be time to think about what you need from your therapist. Talk to your therapist about it and see if you can find the balance. If not, do find a therapist who understands your needs – and puts your disclosure, not theirs, first.

References:

Balsam, R.M. & Balsam, A. (1984). Becoming a psychotherapist: A clinical primer. Chicago: The Univerity Chicago Press.

Corey, G. (1996). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. (5th ed.) Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.

Farber, B. (2003). Self-Disclosure in psychotherapy practice and supervision: An introduction. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 59(5), 525-528. Retrieved Sept 6, 2005 from Academic Search Premier.

Kennedy, E. & Charles, S. C. (1997). On becoming a counselor. New York: Cross Road Publishing.

Yalom, I. (1995). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy. (4th ed.) New York: BasicBooks.

What We Do as Therapists that Others Do Not: Postmodern Approaches

counselors

I have been doing a lot of reading lately about those who call themselves “life coaches.” Now, not all life coaches are bad. In fact, some are quite good. But one in particular has ruffled my feathers, to say the least. One woman, who will remain nameless as I just simply can’t inspire others to look for her, has written a book indicating that counselors should be killed – that they are not doing any couple or individual any good. I still can’t decide if she is saying this to be funny or not. She claims that all that is really needed is for people to take her advice, as she has been married for twenty plus years and her experience is all you need. She claims that all you have to do is take her advice based on her experience and you will live a wonderful life in a wonderful marriage. She writes about numerous couples who have taken her advice and lo and behold, it simply works. What’s interesting is she uses no evidence based practices, has had no academia or field training except of her own volition, and uses no scientific backup for her claims and technique whatsoever.

So, kill me and use her marriage as your catch all for you and all other couples and individuals everywhere and we’ll all be good.

This kind of thinking makes me cringe and, if truth be told, makes me angry.

She is a writer, and tours constantly as a motivational speaker, and has more money than I can even imagine thinking about having.

Good grief.

Some may call jealousy. A little. Sure. I’m not a saint.

But, what really irks me is how she is derailing the work that therapists do as a whole. I am also concerned about what the heck she’s selling and how she’s bamboozling clients who trust her.

I use techniques that have proven to work under scientific scrutiny that experts in the field have studied and revamped and made available for all sorts of diverse couples and individuals. The techniques I use are upheld by multiple associations, doctors, and scientists that have worked with hundred upon thousands of people to make sure we, as a field, are doing no harm. I went to school for two Masters degrees and am getting my PhD to be able to make sure I am doing no harm. I have had over 1700 hours of training.

Did I mention she made her technique up with no studies to show for it? Or that she has no degree? Or is not held accountable by any governing bodies? I could go on and on.

I worry that she is doing harm.

I worry that she does not understand constructivist narrative perspectives or what those in the field call CNP. This is when a therapist and client focus on the stories that clients tell about themselves and others about significant events in their lives. By knowing these stories, clients appreciate how they construct their realities and how they author their own lives. The client, not the therapist, is the expert and the interaction of dialogue between the two is used to elicit perspective, resources, and unique client experiences. I worry that this life coach does not understand the role of questions that therapists are taught to ask that empower clients to speak and express their diverse positions. The therapy based on such evidence based practices supplies optimism and support in the process. The goal is to generate new meaning in the lives of clients and co-develop, together, solutions that are unique to the situation while also enhancing awareness of the impact of various aspects of the dominant culture on the individual.

Such a therapeutic technique helps people develop alternative ways of being, acting, knowing, and living. The key concepts of this narrative perspective derive from a social constructionism theory in which the assumption is that there are multiple truths and that reality is subjective and based on the use of language. Such an approach is considered postmodern as it strives for a collaborative and consultative stance. Does this life coach know this?

There are so many theories that I would gather to think this life coach does not utilize. She only talks at people, making her solution all encompassing, making each couple and individual the same. Therapists realize this is not the case. This is never the case.

For instance, does she know that solution-focused brief therapy is grounded on a positive orientation whereby people are considered healthy and competent? That the past is downplayed, while the present and future are highlighted? This therapy is concerned with looking for what is working and the therapist assists clients in finding exceptions to their problems. There is a shift from problem-orientation to solution-focus and emphasis is on constructing solutions rather than problem solving. There is the assumption that people can create their own solutions and that small changes lead to large changes. Here, the client is again the expert on his or her own life and the therapist merely collaborates. Questions from the therapist allow clients to utilize their resources while focusing attention on solutions. Questions are geared to create change that can be useful and help clients to take note when things were and are better – it helps them pay attention to what they are doing and open up possibilities to do something different.

There are three kinds of relationships in solution-focused therapy. There is the customer-type relationship whereby a client and therapist jointly identify a problem and a solution to work toward. There is also the complainant relationship in which a client describes a problem, but is not able or willing to take an active role in constructing a solution. Lastly, there is what is called “visitors” – the clients who come to therapy because someone else thinks they have a problem. There are many techniques/questions used in these relationships depending on so many variables. There is no one way to do it all. A therapist has to consider everything from the type of questions to ask to how much to ask. There are pre-therapy change questions whereby a therapist may ask “What have you done since you made your appointment that has made a difference in your problem?”  There are also exception questions such as when the therapist directs clients to times in their lives when the problem did not exist. There is also my favorite – the miracle question. This is the one by which a therapist asks “If a miracle happened and the problem you have was solved while you were asleep, what would be different in your life?” Therapists may also ask scaling questions – “On a scale of zero to 10, where zero is the worst you have been and 10 represents the problem being solved, where are you with respect to the issue now?” Does someone who had not studied these therapies and theories and more along with the rigorous tests behind them know truly how to help someone that will create lasting change and do no harm?

Narrative Therapy is another postmodern approach in which the therapist listens to clients with an open mind while encouraging them to share their stories with curiosity and persistence. How does that happen when you are lecturing someone and making everyone the same? The truth is, you simply can’t. The focus of narrative therapy is that the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem. The therapeutic process in narrative therapy involves collaborating with the client in identifying and naming the problem, separating the person from his or her problem, and investigating how the problem has been disrupting or dominating the person. Then, there is a search for exceptions to the problem. Therapists may ask clients to speculate about what kind of future they could expect from the competent person that is emerging. The functions of a therapist in narrative therapy is to become an active facilitator and demonstrate care, interest, openness, empathy, contact, and fascination. A therapist must adopt a not-knowing position – image that! This allows for the client to guide by his or her story, helping them to own their story and their life. This helps clients construct a preferred story line and creates a collaborative relationship between the therapist and the client. The client is the senior partner – they are in charge.

Questions in narrative therapy are used as a way to generate experience rather than to gather information and they are always asked from a position of respect and curiosity. By asking questions, therapists assist clients in exploring dimensions of their life situations which can lead to taking apart problem-saturated stories. The focus is to relate to problems in life but not be fused with them, a process call externalization. Externalization is a process of separating and freeing the client from identifying with the problem. Externalizing conversations can lead clients to recognizing times when they have dealt successfully with the problems in other ways. This can occur through deconstruction and creating alternative stories. New and alternate stories that are co-created indicate that clients can continually and actively re-author their lives. Questions that explore possibilities enable clients to focus on their new life and the way they want it to be.

You simply can’t get that kind of collaboration, that kind of care, that kind of respect from a step by step guide book from a woman whose only claim is she has been married for 20 odd years. And you certainly won’t get it from someone who touts that her way is the only way.

So, my point? Please, buyer beware. When looking for help, when looking for someone to walk with you through your life, make sure they know what they are doing. Make sure they are there for you – not simply to make a buck or a book. A good therapist – even a good life coach – will not tell you their story and give you a one solution for all gimmick. They will ask for your story. Then, you will work on it together, with your story leading the way.