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Authentic contextualized learning, emotional safety, and inclusive process have grown out of and characterize my studies, personal interests and professional roles and responsibilities.
Interview as Bio
The following interview occurred as part of a PD activity and the end result provides a nice overview of my approach to work and life, in general, so I’ve replaced a typical bio with it. – Adam
Q – What’s your current role in education?
AC – I’m an international school counselor for middle school and high school students at Yokohama International School in Yokohama, Japan. I’ve been a social emotional counselor for all ages in secondary education but more recently have been able to make my main focus middle school. I also teach wellness for grades 9-10, and Theory of Knowledge (T.O.K.) as part of the I.B. Diploma Programme for grades 11-12. I work with a few individual adult clients and currently am facilitating an online professional development seminar for parents and educators.
Q – That all sounds really interesting. Is there anything you are particularly excited about?
All of it really but, as one specific, I have more recently expanded my involvement in service learning with middle school students. For a number of years now I’ve overseen a MS club that volunteers and supports a free lunch program in Yokohama. With my background in experiential education, service learning provides what I think is an ideal context for authentic social emotional learning. Rather than learning about empathy in a classroom environment, for instance, we learn about empathy in the context of engaging the seniors at an assisted living home or when participating in different activities with the students at a partner school for children with special needs. This year I’ve been able to further extend the social emotional learning lens beyond the middle school service club into all year levels and for all students in our middle school and that is really inspiring. The students are responding beautifully to what’s been happening.
Q – I want to hear more about that but from what you have described so far it sounds like you are spread pretty thin.
AC – I can see why it could appear that way and there are certainly nights when I hit the pillow without a drop of gas left in the tank but I find I am most able to help people cultivate well-being by working across a variety of areas. I’d say the balance feels both very effective and rewarding for me so the pace isn’t a problem.
Q – That’s good to hear. Would you mind sharing a bit about your philosophy of change or approach to counseling?
AC – Sure. My work is based on an integrated approach. I draw on a variety of counseling models depending on the needs of the person I am working with and what seems likely to be most beneficial for them. As a fundamental, however, I’d like to think I enact a lot of what Carl Rogers advocated for in Person Centered Therapy (PCT) with conditions of empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence or genuineness. While there are certain caveats to my use of PCT, I do think these conditions are essential as a basis for change.
Q – In addition to PCT what other approaches do you use?
AC – I find Solution Focused (SFT) approaches to be really useful in a school context because it nicely suits the time frame I have to work with students. I think an SFT approach helps shift an initially problem-focused discussion to one about strengths and current patterns of success that can be built upon. I rely similarly on a Cognitive Behavioral Approach to design weekly tasks related to social emotional change or in cases where thoughts and behaviors, as conceived of in CBT, appear to be sustaining problematic patterns. I’ve also been able to talk with people who have a close relationship with a story of themselves or their lives that nourishes less useful approaches. In those cases some aspects of narrative therapy can be really helpful in order to re-author more adaptive versions of ourselves and our experiences. I’m always learning about other approaches, too, which just adds to the options….Can I say one more thing?
Q – Sure, go ahead.
For me it’s in these unique combinations where the artistry of counseling really comes alive. Going back to Rogers, I also think the flexibility that comes with a combination of approaches is one of the things that underpins the congruence and genuine care that allows people to experience true acceptance and emotional safety. I don’t enter into conversations with a pre-set agenda other than finding the most effective way to help someone. At the same time, being able to use a variety of proven approaches allows me to offer support in a more efficient and coherent fashion than what someone would experience without it.
Q – While I can see the professionalism, that sounds pretty abstract. Is that really useful for middle school students?
AC – (Laughing) I guess it would sound that way. Maybe the best way to put it is that these ideas are what are infused into my counseling not that I’d spend much time discussing any of it with someone I’m working with. I think at this point in my career much of this is intuitive anyway and these frameworks guide me as I ask questions or consider avenues to pursue.
Q – How about Theory of Knowledge or TOK? Where does that all fit in to your role as a counselor?
AC – Thanks for asking about that. I really love teaching TOK in part because it links back to my undergraduate degree in Philosophy and the desire I felt to be encouraged to think when I was a high school student. I remember getting really excited when finally I could start to think for myself in a course called, believe it or not, “Dominant Ideas of Modern Man”. Fortunately we’ve moved beyond that level of explicit sexism in our course titles but it is, still, very satisfying for me to be with young people as a part of a more skeptical intellectual stance with regard to knowledge and information.
On a counseling related note, however, a physician named Aaron Antonovsky, who worked after WWII up until his death in the mid 90s, identified 3 conditions for resilience with the first being an accurate understanding of the world around us. The second and third, respectively, are a feeling of empowerment that an individual can make changes and that it is worthwhile to do so. Theory of Knowledge is one of the components of the IB Diploma that is focused on developing informed and accurate understanding with the significance of topics and implications from analytical thinking baked right into the assessment criteria. It’s almost as if TOK was designed, in part, to support the development of Antonovsky’s theory called Sense of Coherence (SOC). As an aside, Antonovsky’s over-arching theory of wellbeing, called Salutogenesus, nicely aligns with SFT because of his emphasis on factors that promote health and well-being as opposed to factors that contribute to illness and disease. In my mind, he was one of the pioneers of modern day wellness.
Q – Predecessors of modern day wellness was something else I wanted to ask you about but wasn’t sure how to bring it up. You are also interested in Zen Buddhism right? You mentioned in a prior conversation that this is something that is a part of both your personal life and also your work. Would you tell me a bit more about that?
AC – Oh no…I hope I can talk about this in a way that is useful. There is an expression in Zen circles of something “stinking of Zen”. I find Zen thought and practice to be truly amazing but as that expression sums up, when you talk about it you’re not really talking about Zen and, if anything, you’re just dressing yourself up in gaudy Zen language. With that as my disclaimer, I’ll give it a try.
To be completely honest and as absurd as maybe it sounds, my interest in Zen was sparked in the late seventies with the release of the original Star Wars film. I was in grade 3 or 4 of elementary school but remember seeing the film in the theater with my dad and being enthralled by the mutually arising relationship of good and evil and the depiction in the film of “the force”. Fortunately and perhaps unfortunately, in some ways, Zen was already a fairly mainstream concept in America with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snider, Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, Shunryu Suzuki, Ruth Fuller-Sasaki, among others making Zen thinking accessible to western audiences.
I think, like many, my interest in Zen was also furthered by Robert Pirsig’s book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. While clearly a western adaptation of some aspects of Zen, this book contributed to me studying Zen more formally as Eastern Philosophy while at the College of Wooster and more experientially while rock climbing, racing mountain bikes, and motorcycling. To this day I go in and out of periods of fairly intense focus on Zen and having lived in Japan for nearly 20 years, this is even more a part of my day to day existence.
Q – How does that influence your counseling work?
Where I see this impacting my counseling work is as a secular framework for working with hardship and struggle. So much of what I see inhibiting people’s wellbeing is a pervasive striving for control in circumstances where control is impossible and uncertainty a given. Zen offers a number of ideas and practices that, when integrated, alleviate these tensions and insecurity. Given this background, society’s current focus on wellness, as evident in the positive psychology movement, the number of us meditating, contemplating equanimity, etc, seems timely, at best, or surprisingly late given the thousand plus years of Zen, not to mention, Taoism. Either way is of little consequence as these timeless practices continue to help us manage modern day manifestations of the human condition.
Q – Would you be able to give a specific example?
AC – I was afraid you were going to ask that. Thanks for holding me accountable for decent answers. I think the best examples from counseling can probably best be shared with regard to coping. This is a bit of an old example but it’s still pretty relevant today. Back in 2011 my school community was just over 200 km from the epicenter of Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami. While we weren’t impacted anywhere near the extent of the communities in the Tohoku region, the earthquake itself quite severely shook our school and homes with aftershocks for weeks following. This was greatly exacerbated by the meltdown in Fukushima and subsequent fear of exposure to radiation. There was so much going on!
The aftershocks were relentless and a constant and regular reminder for all of us of the danger we were close to or perhaps in. The origin of that fear and emotional anguish can be see to reside in the belief that land is stable and that our homes should not move. From Zen, however, it is more accurate to consider everything in flux and our task is to accept and therefore cope with a literally shifting landscape. It was amazing how once we accepted a different paradigm of the land as unstable how much peace of mind resulted. As our expectations and the reality we live in become more congruent we are able to cope much more effectively because rather than craving stability (arguably impossible) we can focus on how to best live in homes we expect to shake.
In similar but differently nuanced ways, Zen offers a lot to experiences of grief and loss, failure to obtain goals, relationships among countless others. Bringing the paradigms of what-we-think-should-be more in alignment with what-actually-is therapeutically is very helpful.
Maybe I’ll leave it like that before I start to stink of Zen. Hopefully there is something useful in what came to mind to say there.
Q – I think so. You have written some poetry on this subject, as well, right?
AC – True enough, I have found poetry and photography a way of trying to express and share ideas and inspiration related to Zen. I’m not sure if I have written anything explicitly about counseling and Zen but I’m sure the links are there. If someone really wanted to understand what this is about with me, please join me in playing with my dog or riding a twisty mountain road on my motorcycle. Those times are maybe when equanimity appears closest at hand.
Q – I think that’s as a good a place as any to wrap this up. Thanks for explaining a bit about your role as a school counselor among a few other things. Was there anything else you wanted to say?
AC – Nothing specifically comes to mind. Thanks for talking with me, I really enjoyed it. International School Counselor
October 5, 2019
August 2006 – Present: International School Counselor, TOK Teacher – Yokohama International School, Yokohama, Japan (link)
Provide social and emotional counseling support for middle and high school students.
Oversee student counseling case management for grades 6-9.
Developed and implement authentic social emotional learning opportunities and curriculum
Lead parent workshops centered around parenting in a digital age among other contemporary parenting topics
Delivery of the Grade 9 and 10 Wellness Program.
Work closely with form tutors to ensure effective pastoral care for all students.
International School CounselorInternational School Counselor
September, 2001- July, 2006: Senior Training Advisor and Consultant – Project Adventure Japan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (link)
Trained teachers in experiential curricula and adventure based counseling, programming, and advanced group facilitation skills.
Authored organization training resources and publications.
Presented at international adventure related conferences in Japan, Europe and North America.
September, 1999- August, 2001: Staff Trainer/Consultant – Project Adventure, Inc., Beverly, MA (link)
Delivered teacher professional development training in experiential learning, programming, and facilitation.
Presented at international, national and regional conferences.
Taught peacemaking (conflict management), multiculturalism, and leadership skills to middle, high school, and university students.
June 1994- September, 1999: Founding Program Director
Adam Kreiger Adventure Program, Hopkins School, New Haven, CT (link)
Managed all aspects of indoor and outdoor programming including outcome based design, staffing, and facility development.
Implemented experiential learning curricula within Hopkins School for grades 7-12.
Served as an adviser for students grade 10-12 and numerous student organizations.
Lead annual wilderness based programs to the American Southwest for high school students.
Served the greater New Haven area including corporations, Yale University, regional hospitals.
Participated in the Leadership Greater New Haven professional development program as offered by the New Haven Chamber of Commerce.
Awarded 40 under 40 Top Community Organizational Leadership Award.
April, 2012 Graduate Center for Applied Psychology, Athabasca University, Edmonton Alberta, Canada
Master of Counselling in Counselling Psychology
Final Manuscript Title: Advocating for an Emotion-Focused Approach to Develop Resiliency in Third Culture Kids
May, 1994 The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio (link)
Bachelor of Fine Arts Major: Philosophy Phi Sigma Tau
Awarded departmental honors and received the John F. Miller Prize
Independent Study Thesis – “Experiencing a New Morality: Experiential Education and Ethics”
International School CounselorInternational School Counselor
International School CounselorInternational School Counselor
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