The Blind Leading the Blind

For many human service professionals, state licensing boards require the completion of a certain number of continuing education units in order to maintain licensure. Personally, I’m required to attend 30 hours of continuing education programs every 2 years in order to renew my license as a mental health counselor. Some of these presentations are excellent and the best of them (anything involving Elsa Abele for instance), have changed the way I work with kids. Alternately, there are other workshops I’ve attended that have left much to be desired. Gary Steinberg, my co-Director at Academy MetroWest, has an idea that if you go to a 6 hour presentation and leave with 1 or 2 facts that you can use from time to time, you’ve had a successful experience. Now, 1 or 2 worthwhile facts over the course of 6 hours doesn’t sound like a big hurdle to get over but believe me, after some workshops, the only thing I’ve learned is that I’ve just wasted 6 hours of my life and I’ll never get them back.

What made me think about these workshops is the really wonderful one I attended this past weekend. I took part in a 3-day intensive course on becoming an ADHD Coach in Alexandria, Virgina. According to the International Coaching Federation,

ADHD Coaching is a designed partnership that combines coaching skills and knowledge of the neurobiological condition known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD coaches assist the client to develop, internalize and integrate his/her own tools, education and self-knowledge to direct and manage life and work challenges.

Coaching incorporates aspects of counseling, teaching, and other disciplines but does so in a focused, goal-directed, client centered way. The incomparable Jodi Sleeper-Triplett of JST Coaching, ran the workshop and, start to finish, it was a great experience. Jodi was energetic, knowledgable, and engaging. We had a great mix of educators, counselors, psychologists, parents, coaches, and even a lawyer comprising the student body. We clicked and learned a lot from each other.

For awhile now, I’ve been thinking that adding a coaching service to Academy MetroWest would be a great addition to our practice. Most of the kids we see have some type of executive function delay that creates barriers to their success in academics, social skills, and family life so coaching is something that could benefit many of them. Any reticence I had about taking the plunge had to do with the fact that I can be incredibly disorganized myself. There were times when I thought “Who am I kidding? They’re going to want ME  to help them be more organized and accountable?” In school, feedback about my organizational skills – or lack thereof – started in first grade and never ended. Even in my first internship in graduate school, my evaluation cited my strong clinical skills but also stated “Bruce could stand to be more organized.” My mom and I had a good laugh over that particular understatement.  With all this in mind, I thought that if I ever do start a coaching practice, it would have to be called The Blind Leading the Blind Coaching. Somehow, I’m not sure it would inspire much confidence in prospective clients. For what it’s worth, my organizational skills have been good enough to help sustain a private practice for nearly 20 years so maybe I’ve learned something since grad school.


Possible logo for my coaching practice

Aside from the training that Jodi provided, there was also ample opportunity to revisit the bane of every counselor’s existence – role playing. If you’ve never had the pleasure, role plays involve one person playing the part of a client and one playing the part of a practitioner – in this case a coach. I did my first role play in 1982 when I was in college. For 3 years, I worked for Student Outreach, the crisis intervention hotline at Hofstra University where I went to school. Training to become an Outreach counselor involved role playing – lots of role playing. “Clients” would present with any number of issues ranging from substance abuse, academic issues, relationship problems, to just good old fashioned craziness. I did plenty of role plays in grad school as well but, until this weekend, it had been awhile since my last one.

This weekend, I found myself doing some intense method acting during my role plays as a client. I tried to draw on and really inhabit my long years of experience as a space shot and really get into the roles I played as a client. My first one went well. The problem I presente  was that I had too many demands on my time and my organizational issues weren’t allowing me to do justice to any of them. My second one drew directly from my experiences during my freshman year in high school. I was bored. I’d come home from school every day and plop down on the couch and watch cartoons. I couldn’t figure out how to break that pattern. During the role play, the interactions between me and my colleague who was playing the coach reflected the depth with which I threw myself into my character. As my coach began to explore what after-school activity options there might be at my school, he asked me about my interests. I drew on the fact that during my freshman year in high school, I had a brief flirtation with the world of photography. I told him that I was interested in photography but that my organizational issues made it hard for me because I was always sloppy in the darkroom with all the chemicals. At that point, he broke character and looked at me quizzically and said “Well that might not be an issue any more because there’s this new thing called DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY you might have heard of that doesn’t use chemicals!”

Supposedly, Robert DeNiro went to great lengths – gaining 60 pounds and immersing himself in his character’s life – to get into character for his role as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. That’s nothing. I journeyed from 2014 back to 1978 for one role play!

Another role play that I watched had one participant playing the part of a college student who was having trouble with the long papers required in college. He did fine with papers that had to be about 5 pages long but had trouble organizing the bigger ones. When the “coach” inquired about whether or not he had contacted the writing center at the college, his response was “No! They’ll only take my f$%#$ing poetry and turn it into sausage!”  After I finished laughing, I couldn’t stop thinking about how many kids I work with who have made remarks just like that one.

In addition to all the laughing, I learned a tremendous amount at this weekend’s training. Not only did I take away way more than one or two facts that I’ll be able to use in my work, it gave me a whole new perspective on how to structure counseling sessions with kids who have executive function issues. Whether or not I continue on to become a fully certified coach, attending this training with JST Coaching was an incredibly valuable experience for me and I’d recommend their services to anyone who wants to learn more about this exciting field!

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