Counseling can be a tough profession, and one that requires rigorous training and continuing education.
On a day-to-day basis, it can also be an isolating one. It’s often not easy for a counselor to find a forum to informally explore ideas or ask questions of others in the profession.
That’s the impetus behind a new publication created by three Capella University faculty members in the Harold Abel School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, called Therapeutic Speakeasy. Speakeasy is a quarterly email publication available to members of the counseling profession. Co-founders Dr. Sarah Stewart-Spencer, Dr. Andy Brown, and Dr. Mindy Heher recently told us why they launched Speakeasy and what value it serves.
Q. Where did the idea for Therapeutic Speakeasy come from?
Brown: It was an intersection for us. The counseling department urges us to publish and present often. When we worked at brick-and-mortar universities, there were all kinds of casual conversations where people would gather around spontaneously, talk about the industry, etc. We didn’t have that as much in the online environment, except for things like residencies.
Stewart-Spencer: Also, the written discussion in the field is heavy on research and clinical results, very thick and dry. We wanted Speakeasy to be more of a light, concise discussion, like we would have around the water cooler, but in print form. We wanted it to be a more informal way of addressing things in the field, a sort of “This is what I’m thinking about on this topic today, what do you think?” type of approach.
Brown: It’s not focused on formal research. We would love people to talk more. Research needs to begin with open-ended questions and discussion to truly find out what is needed.
Q. Tell us about the publication.
Stewart-Spencer: It’s a bit hard to describe. It’s recognized as an actual publication by the Library of Congress, but it’s not really a newsletter, not really a magazine, and not really a journal. People submit contributions that open a discussion point, and we give feedback. The discussions are presented in short essay form, sorted into what we call columns on the website. Columns are different broad topic areas.
Heher: There are very few places where counselors and educators have a forum to share what’s going on. You might be out in the field and think of something you’d like to discuss, but aren’t sure you should for various reasons. Speakeasy becomes that place to discuss. It’s a place to share experiences, and also a place to offer suggestions on how to resolve issues that arise.
Stewart-Spencer: Although we have specific topic areas, we still cover a wide variety of issues. The publication can also include things that wouldn’t normally be included in an academic journal. Research studies are helpful in determining approach, enhancing our understanding of clients and sharpening our skill set. But they don’t give a voice to the counselor’s world or create community.
For example, we recently had a piece by a counselor who had worked with a retired counselor who had cancer. The writer gave us an inside view of therapy along with his insights, growth, and reflections on that experience. He shared what he gained from these therapy sessions as the counselor, which provided insight for other counselors.
Q. Do you think Speakeasy will have value for Capella students?
Brown: Students love insights into the practical applications in counseling and therapy, so I’ve assigned discussions from Speakeasy to my students. For example, I used a previous discussion on self-care. I find that caregivers tend to do a great job of taking care of others, but they struggle with taking care of self. I used the article combined with a true burnout story and had the class discuss their ideas of self-care and what really worked for them. This seemed well-received and appreciated by the students.
Stewart-Spencer: Students seem to appreciate what we’re doing. They’re saying, “You guys are out there, having a positive impact in the field.”
Q. How has Speakeasy been received in the field?
Stewart-Spencer: We launched in January 2015, and we were excited about the possibility of getting maybe 100 subscribers, but now we have 200. Our website has had more than 3,600 hits so far this year. We also started a Facebook page, where we have more than 160 likes, and have found readers of Speakeasy like to go to the Facebook page and chat, ask questions about what they read in Speakeasy and discuss further.
Q. Besides teaching at Capella, do you continue working in private practice?
Stewart-Spencer: I really love to work and am always on the go. But I had a child and needed to slow down. I’m teaching and co-authoring a book right now. I’ll go back to counseling after the book is done, but I’ll still teach. I found I like teaching much more than I expected, and I love the flexibility and the connection with students.
Heher: I’m still in private practice. Private practice informs my teaching, and teaching informs my practice. I can talk about my cases in the courseroom (with all names and identifiers removed, of course) and walk students through how to diagnose and write a treatment plan. It’s a two-way street. Teaching keeps me up-to-date on what’s new in the field. I love the interaction with learners in the courseroom and residencies. I think the quality of our learners at Capella is as good, if not better, than any brick-and-mortar school.
Brown: I’ve continued my private practice. I find the courseroom makes me more relevant for practice, and practice makes me more relevant for the courseroom. Knowing what’s actually happening in the field today keeps me current. I didn’t know I would like teaching online as much as I do. It’d be different if I didn’t believe in what we’re doing.