Happy places meditation video #1

It’s been a challenging couple of years

Challenging.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

It’s been a challenging couple of years

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

The last two years have been a time of overwhelming change.

As the end of 2021 rapidly approaches, I think it’s a good time to look back at all the things we’ve been through. I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, but I do think the holiday season is a good time to reflect on what’s happened over the last year and what direction I want to take for the year to come.

I lump the last two years together because 2020 and 2021 have been a blur in my head. I suspect these two years will blend together as we move forward. A lot of the things I think of as the sixties actually happened in the early nineteen seventies.

The pandemic certainly has affected everyone regardless of their feelings about Covid or the vaccine. What we have been through has changed a lot of people and changed the way we do things.

I’ve become convinced that some of those changes are likely to be permanent. I’ve made many changes in my life over the last two years. Some were because of Covid, and some for other reasons. Many of these changes were already in the works even before the pandemic. I want to summarize those events briefly here. Some of these I’ll write about in more detail in future blog posts.

Online education has become a viable option.

Over the years, I have taught five separate classes at two different colleges. Over the last two years, I have taught online classes for both colleges. Moving in-class material into an online format turned out to be quite a bit of work. Some students struggled with the online instruction. But a great many of them reported that it was preferable to the way we used to do it. I taught all but one of my online classes as an asynchronous class. Many said that they benefited from being able to do the work on their own schedule.

The feedback I’ve gotten from teachers who are working at the lower grade levels has been more mixed than my experience at the college level. Some students worked enthusiastically on their own and completed more assignments in less time than they would have in class. Other students struggled with discipline and fell behind. I’ve also heard multiple reports that students with anxiety disorders frequently turn off their cameras or refuse to attend online classes if they must be on camera. It will be interesting to see how the shift to distance education plays out.

I am now certified as an online teacher.

The early shift to online education was a rapid movement out of necessity. Then, as it continued over a longer time, the colleges began to emphasize distance education. Over the last two years, I have taken a series of classes and become fully certified to teach online courses. Personally, I prefer teaching online classes. It takes me a lot more work to create the materials. Still, it allows both the students and myself to go online and work on things whenever we have the time available rather than all of us having to make the long commute and fight for parking spots in order to be in a small classroom for the same three hours each week.

Both faculty and administration seem to be divided over whether we should continue to offer classes in the online distance education format. While some students will continue to benefit from the discipline of studying while a teacher stands over them, I think most college students would greatly benefit from the online format.

Counselorssoapbox is now a YouTube channel.

Part of the shift to teaching an online class was converting my PowerPoints and lecture material into a series of videos. I’ve learned a lot, and the quality of my videos continues to improve. One of the things I want to do in the coming year is become even more proficient at creating videos for the counselorssoapbox YouTube channel.

Some of my in-person trainings may become online classes.

In addition to academic classes of the last few years, I’ve done several in-person trainings for various groups. Putting on a training involves a lot of travel and leaves me tired for a week after. I have become increasingly aware of the number of online trainings or classes people are taking, many of which are taken for the knowledge rather than for college units or CE’s.

Over the last two years, readership on my blog has declined, while viewership on my YouTube videos has continued to increase. While I’ve been a lifelong reader, I find myself watching more and more videos. If there’s a topic you think I should cover in a video, please leave a comment.

The way we do therapy is changing.

When I first became a counselor, there was one predominant paradigm. Therapy should be done with one therapist and one client in their room behind a closed door. Many people avoided therapy believing that it was only for the seriously mentally ill. Today more and more people are going to see therapists for help with solving life’s problems.

Those who read my blog in the past are probably aware that I am engaged in a great many activities. For example, I do group supervision for a local nonprofit. Because of Covid, group supervision was moved to an online format. Although a few of the trainees reported missing the human interaction we had when we met in person, most report they prefer the online format for supervision. While a few long for a return to the days when we met in person, most enthusiastically want to continue meeting remotely.

It has been interesting to see the various reactions that beginning counselors and therapists have had to see clients online. While I think we were all initially skeptical most of us have developed the skills to work effectively using distance methods. For some clients, talking to their therapist over the Internet or by phone has made therapy more effective and more readily available.

More people are interested in mental health than in mental illness.

During the pandemic, I’ve done some work for several online counseling and therapy companies. This online practice of counseling seems to be moving in two separate directions. First, therapy that is paid for by an insurance company is becoming more medicalized. There’s an increasing emphasis on making sure the client meets the full criteria for a mental disease. I’m seeing more of an emphasis on having the therapist talks the client into taking medication. Insurance companies are also trying to reduce the number of therapy sessions the client may have unless they have been diagnosed by a psychiatrist or medical doctor and are on medications.

People who self-pay are more interested in reaching their goals.

To get treatment by a counselor or therapist paid for by an insurance company, you pretty much need to have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Most of the people who voluntarily seek counseling are looking at solving the problems of everyday living.

Several counselors have asked me whether it is okay to continue seeing the client who no longer meets the criteria for a particular mental illness but just really needs someone to talk to. My answer is that it’s not okay to bill medical insurance if the client no longer has a mental illness. However, I believe it is okay for a counselor to talk to a client each week if the client is paying and finding the sessions helpful. Sometimes this gets close to being coaching rather than counseling.

There’s a difference between being discouraged and being depressed.

They are having a problem finding a job; they would like to be more productive or better at reaching their goals. Medical insurance pays to treat someone who is depressed until they’re not depressed. Unfortunately, there’s a whole lot of distance between being not depressed and having a fulfilling, happy or contented life. As a result of working with clients who are not mentally ill but do want to have a more fulfilling life, I’ve shifted away from taking on more insurance clients and seeing more clients who are willing to pay for private counseling. If you live in California and think that talking with me might be helpful, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. Besides being licensed in California as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT.) I recently took a class to get certified as a life coach. In future posts, I want to talk more about the differences in what those three professions do.

I’ve concluded there’s too much focus on illness and not enough on happiness.

Over the last ten years, I’ve written over 1900 blog posts. Many, but not all, of those posts, have focused on specific diagnosable mental illnesses and their treatment. I’ve also written a lot about substance use disorders and how those interact with mental illnesses, a condition known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnoses. In future posts, I want to focus more on how to have a better, more productive life. If there’s a topic that you would like to see covered, please email me using the contact me form.

Were you wondering what happened to my fiction books?

Getting through the pandemic and making this career pivot derailed my plans for writing more novels. I have one nonfiction book and six fiction books, which continue to be available from Amazon. I’ve taken a couple of classes in fiction writing over the last two years and hope to get back to a series of novels I had planned to write, which got crowded out by learning to be an online teacher, learning to make videos, and all the other skills I’ve been developing over the last two years.

Increasing my emphasis on personal relationships.

Over the last two years, I have spent less time in the classroom, office, and consulting room. Instead, I have found it important to put more time and effort into maintaining my friendships and close relationships. As I have gotten older, a handful of close personal relationships have become increasingly important to me. I hope that all of you are putting effort into maintaining your relationships with those who are the most important in your life.

Sorry for the long post. Stay tuned for more to come.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

I have returned from my long absence.

By David Joe.l Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

So much to do and so little time.

A lot of things have taken place over the summer, which has cut into my time for creative pursuits. Despite my best efforts, I found it difficult to keep up on everything over the summer. Initially, I thought that with the pandemic working from home would result in an increase in productivity, and while it did, sort of, increase my productivity in some areas, some of the things have had to go on to back burners. So, here’s a little bit about what I’ve been up to and what I hope to get to as we move into the fall and winter months.

I’ve completed my online teacher certification classes.

When the pandemic first came on the scene, no one had any idea how we would need to react to it. There’s still a lot of confusion and disagreement that we are all having to muddle through.

One result was that the community college I teach at moved almost all of its classes online. Learning all the ins and outs of a new online platform, we are using Canvas, has been a challenge.

In addition to learning the platform, I had to create new material and convert the material I had been using for online use. I’ve added sound to all my PowerPoints and converted most of them to videos. I’m still working on slicing some of the longer videos up into shorter segments to make them more watchable and adding some of the material I would have talked about had you been in the class.

With more people vaccinated and more people used to the idea of taking certain risks in order to go back out into the world, more and more of the classes which were moved online will be back in the physical classroom.

Will I be returning to the classroom?

This is still up in the air. While I’ve had two vaccines and probably will get the booster as soon as it is available, I do know that vaccinated or not, the older you get, the more the risks if you do catch Covid. Well into my seventies, I’m aware that my risks of dying should I catch Covid are a lot higher than a faculty member who is in their thirties or forties. Having spent five days in the Covid ICU last November, the realities of the risks are very much on my mind. Fortunately, last November, I did not have Covid, and I recovered relatively quickly. I’m fully aware; however, that should I catch Covid, I probably would not be so fortunate next time.

Will I continue to teach online?

I certainly would like to. I’m hopeful that the classes I taught in the classroom in the past will be approved as online classes in the future. Additionally, exploring the possibility of teaching online courses either in substance use disorders, mental health, or simply having a happy life for another college or university.

I’m exploring the possibility of creating some online classes.

A lot of exciting new things are happening in the online education field. Not every class necessarily needs to come with units leading towards a degree. This is an exciting time in which to live. I have been investigating several platforms for creating online classes and considering what topic I might want to teach. I know there’s going to be some time needed to create that class, especially to make it interesting and engaging. As I progress with my plans for online courses, I’ll keep you informed.

If you have any ideas for a class you would like to see me teach, please leave a comment or use the contact me form. As my ideas get firmed up, I intend to conduct a survey and get all my readers’ input on the ideas I’ve come up with. Hey, if I’m going to teach a class, it ought to be one that my current readers would like to take.

Whatever happened to my YouTube channel?

Ever since Covid, all my efforts on YouTube have been directed towards short videos on substance use disorders. I stayed with a simple format and produced videos that were primarily for my students in the substance abuse counseling classes. Surprisingly to me, anyway, the number of viewers I’ve had on YouTube has continued to increase, and many of those new subscribers were not students in the classes I taught. That tells me that some of you would like to see videos on mental health topics rather than read long blog posts. Any ideas for a video you’d like to see?

Some of you have asked what happened to my writing?

My writing time has been extremely limited over the last year. I did manage to turn out a few blog posts. But my nonfiction and my novels have been on hold. Typically I write a first draft of a novel every year during the NaNoWriMo writing contest. I hope to start another novel this year, though, with less than a week to go till November. My ideas still aren’t fully developed. Maybe this year will be my year to write a half-baked novel.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Change of direction? Or am I just lost?

Change – Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com   

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Someone seems to have turned up the speed on the merry-go-round.

If you are a subscriber to the counselorssoapbox blog or a regular reader, you probably noticed that I missed posting my regular Monday mental health posts for the last few weeks. I have been posting pretty regularly on Mondays ever since 2012. But with all the changes over the last year and having produced more than 1800 posts, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to come up with new topics every Monday. If you have questions you’d like to pose, please send them to me, and I’ll try to work that into future posts.

Now seems like a good time to tell you about some of the changes I’ve been through over the last year. Some of these changes, I think, are predictors of what life will be like in the future. My future anyway.

Moving my classes online has been a challenge.

I typically teach 2 to 3 classes per semester. A little over a year ago, when Covid was raging, and any solution to the pandemic seemed far off in the distance, the safest thing to do, particularly for somebody my age, was to hunker down and avoid going out where you might be exposed to the virus.

Just for the record, I think of myself as a relatively young 73-year-old. While I am now fully vaccinated, I am still being cautious. If you’re wondering, I took the two-dose Moderna vaccine. The only side effect I experienced was a minor muscle soreness at the injection site.  I usually get the flu shot every year, and the Covid vaccine was not much worse than my annual flu shot.

So, what’s different about teaching online?

Some of my students did exceptionally well in the online format, and others did not. If you’re internally motivated, online education has a lot of advantages. Online education varies considerably. Since I teach for two different colleges, I experienced at least four different ways of doing online education. To further complicate this picture while converting my own classes to an online format, I was busily taking several courses in how to teach online.

Synchronous versus asynchronous classes.

One of the classes I taught was synchronous. Every Monday night, I met online with a group of graduate students, and I ran through my PowerPoints and delivered my lecture via Zoom. The students were asked to read the chapter in the textbook before that night’s class session. After I was done, there was plenty of time for students to ask questions, and occasionally, we even had a lively discussion.

Two of the classes I taught at the City College were set up as asynchronous. Each week’s work began at 12:01 Monday morning and was available to students until midnight Sunday night. Just as in the regular classroom, the students had a section in the textbook to read each week. I also used a weekly discussion question to see if students were participating. Students frequently got into lively discussions with each other about the weekly discussion question. Answering the discussion question counted as attendance in class. If you didn’t comment on the question, you are absent that week.

Students in the asynchronous class also had a brief quiz each week. The material on the quiz or similar questions reappeared on both the midterm and the final. I hoped that if I tested a student often enough, they would retain the material even after the class was over. Quizzes and tests had time limits though most students didn’t require the full allotted time. Initially, I had some worries about students googling or checking the textbook for answers to the questions. But I quickly realized in the time they had to do it; they couldn’t be doing much looking for answers.

How did the students do when learning online?

When we got to the end of the classes, both the synchronous and the asynchronous, the grade distribution was pretty much the same thing I had seen in my regular in-person courses. Students who read the book, answered the discussion questions, and submitted the required paperwork, received relatively good grades. Just as when we were in the classroom. Students who failed to participate during several weeks, did not do the assigned quizzes and discussion questions, or did not turn in the required term paper, receives substantially lower grades.

What was the biggest challenge I experienced in teaching online?

The largest challenge both for students and me was technology. Between taking online classes and teaching online at two different colleges, I had to learn many different technologies.

Just a short list of the new technologies I had to learn. I’ve used Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, Canvas companion, and Zoom. Each one had a learning curve, and switching from one system to another in the same week sometimes gets confusing. But if an old guy like me can figure it out, I think college students and high school students should be able to.

What have I learned about online classes?

My conclusion about online classes is that if the students are motivated to learn the material online learning can be every bit as beneficial as in-class sessions. Some students need in-person or individual encouragement, which is easier to do when you see them each week in class. If someone is taking an online class and needs help, they should reach out to their instructor and let them know they’re having difficulty. Of course, having reliable access to technology platforms and the Internet is essential. I also think both teachers and students need more help in learning the platform they’re going to use before they launch into remote education.

Is online education a second-class method?

Not at all. I think I learned just as much, possibly more, in the online classes I took as I used to learn using in-class education. I found it very convenient to teach online, and many of my students reported that it worked better for them than having to drive to and from campus. I can see from the logins that some students worked on their assignments during the day, some worked late into the night, and some students primarily completed their assignments on the weekend. The flexibility in learning when you have the time and for me in grading assignments when I had the time was very beneficial.

Like all the other technological advances, I think it will take some time for this to be absorbed into our culture. It was a real challenge for me to learn to use a cell phone and then learn to receive and send texts. But now that I know how to do all those things, I’m not sure how we ever got by without them. I firmly believe that we will see a time in the future when online–distance learning is just as common, maybe even more common, than in-class learning.

Were the main changes in my life over the last year moving into the field of online education?

Don’t I wish? Just as the pandemic impacted education, it has also had an immense effect on the counseling field. Over the last year, I’ve been doing online or distance counseling and doing group clinical supervision remotely. Because of not being physically present, I’ve also learned to pre-record material and create videos. If you’d like to look at the videos I’ve produced so far, please check out Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel.

The frantic pace of the last year has also significantly influenced my writing. I’ve had less time for writing blog posts, and the two books I was working on have not made it to completion at this point. I’ve been seriously rethinking what I want to write, given the limited time I have and the messages or themes that I want to write about.

In future posts, I’ll talk to you a little more about all these other changes.

Please feel free to leave comments about this blog post and about how this last year living in a time of Covid has affected you. You can either use the comment box or send me a personal message using the contact me form.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel