Hi Psych2goers, today we had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Withers, a licensed professional counselor and case manager with a therapeutic foster care agency. He also runs the website: http://www.counselinginsite.com, which provides free mental counseling resources and information on substance abuse and treatment. Counseling Insite covers a variety of mental health topics and offers dozens of useful links to online services and tools, most of which are free to use. In our interview, we got a chance to cover the following 5 questions.
- Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your education/training background and what you currently do?
- How did you get started in psychology?
- You mentioned previously in our first email that you run a website called: Counseling Insite. Could you tell us a bit it and what you hope to accomplish with it?
- Can you tell us some current trends that you’re keeping up with at the moment in the field of psychology?
- What advice would you provide to our readers who may want to pursue a similar degree in the future?
Question 1: Hi Randy, first off, thank you for being a part of our interview. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your education/training background and what you currently do?
My name is Randy Withers. I’m originally from Jacksonville, FL but have lived in Tampa Bay, Tallahassee and three years ago I moved to Hickory, NC to get my second masters. I have a bachelors degree in Writing from FSU (1997) and a masters of science in Education from FSU as well (1999). I earned my MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in May of 2014 from Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC. I was a teacher and administrator for ten years at a military school in St. Petersburg, FL before, so I’ve been working with children and their families for quite some time. I have a solid background in college and academic counseling at the secondary level. For the last 4 years, give or take, I have worked in the mental health field. My first year I worked as a transition specialist at a juvenile detention center. Gang banging, attempted murder, rape, that sort of thing. For the past 2.5 years I have been a case manager with a therapeutic foster care agency. This is foster care for children with a mental health diagnosis. Most have been sexually abused and some have sexually abused others. I’ve been on call for the last two years. It is very tiring. I purposefully took that job while I was in grad school because it was a great way to learn how to apply counseling techniques in real world situations. There is textbook learning and there is real world learning. Working with abused children is not something you learn in a book. I am also someone who has battled mental illness for more than 20 years. Depression and anxiety are genetic issues in my family. I am also in recovery for drug addiction. I have been in recovery for almost ten years, since February 7 of 2005. While I do not have formal training in SA, I at least consider myself something of an expert in recovery, at least as far as twelve step type recovery is concerned. I also love dogs, am engaged, and have a 5 year old stepson named Benji, who is smarter than I am.
Question 2: How did you get started on psychology?
I have wanted to pursue a psychology degree since I was a college freshman. However, it was when I began working with teenagers as a college counselor (putting kids into college) that I realized counseling was for me. I worked at a military boarding school. When 9/11 happened, I was 15 miles north of where President Bush was when the planes hit. We were 20 miles from MacDill AFB, which is where lots of Middle East ops go out of. It was a scary time. That was the first time I was involved with crisis response. It was after my divorce in 2009 that I decided to get my masters in counseling. I was severely depressed and on the verge of suicide for 18 months. It was a horrible time. Nobody knew what to do. My parents had no idea how to help. Friends abandoned me. When I got better, I decided to enter a field where I could help others. Nobody should have to go through an experience like that by themselves.
Question 3: You mentioned previously in our first email that you run a website called: Counseling Insite. Could you tell us about it and what you hope to accomplish with it?
Counseling Insite is a work in progress. I plan to add a great deal of information to it in the coming months. I started it back in August of 2014. At first, I just wanted to blog about counseling. But I have an addictive personality, so I quickly got into web design, SEO, social media, to say nothing of research, and my goals for it have changed.
Primarily, I want to provide free resources for mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and recovery, and related issues. I’m currently working on an educational section. How to become a Counselor, that sort of thing. I want to add more about college and career guidance, but there are only so many hours in the day. Aside from some people I have hired to help with some technical stuff, I’m producing everything on the site. As you know, it takes time. Because this is basically a side project for me right now…. I am finishing up my current job and searching for a good place to practice therapy. While I wait, I’m working on the site.
In the future, I plan to offer life coaching and consultation services, but for the time being, it is informational in nature. I have created a forum and I encourage visitors to ask questions. Due to certain ethical issues, I have to shy away from actual therapy. However, I refer people to clinicians if they are in my area or I refer them to free resources available on the web. If I had limitless funding, Counseling Insite would grow and be able to provide free or reduced counseling services to anyone. This is a growing trend on the web. In 5 years, it will be a normal aspect of therapy. Right now it’s new, but that’s the direction things are going. But at the end of the day, the site helps me as I am constantly doing research, and I hope it helps others, because mental health is confusing to lots of people, and it’s not always clear where to get help.
For those who are interested in his website, here is the link and will be further provided in the end of the article along with 3 suggested articles:
Question 4: What would you say is the main difference between counseling and psychology since a lot of people seem to mix the two together?
I think there is an important distinction between the two. Psychology is the study of the mind. Counseling is more of a practical application of psychology. Even psychologists will say they are doing counseling or therapy, as opposed to doing psychology. I think it’s more accurate to say I’m keeping up with trends in counseling, new methods, theories, etc.
For example, I want to be trained in TBCBT (Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). TFCBT is the mode of choice when working with children who have experienced a specific identified trauma. However, what is traumatic to you may not be traumatic to them, so it can be tricky. You can do a great deal of damage if you’re not careful.
Once I had a 6 year old girl on my caseload. She had been molested by her father and her grandfather and probably others. It was a family thing. This is fairly common, which is appalling. But the thing is, she is so young, she may not be actually traumatized by it. She probably is, but in counseling, you start to look for patterns. You go where the client takes you. If she identifies it as a trauma, then you can use TFCBT. If not, you stay away from it. CBT is a popular modality used by the majority of therapists today. It confronts irrational or distorted thinking. The idea is that our beliefs influence our feelings. So if I think everyone hates me, then I FEEL like everyone hates me. If CBT is a sledge hammer, TFCBT is a laser scalpel.
But as I said, I’m not certified in TFCBT. It takes about two years to get trained on it. I’m not trained on it yet, but I work with kids all the time who are going through it. It is brief, like 4 months, and can be enormously effective. As long as the client is willing. In the broadest of terms, you identify a trauma and have the client do a narrative about that trauma in therapy. The process allows the client to take ownership of the event, make sense of it, and place it in its proper context. It is a cathartic experience if done right. I’ve seen several kids benefit greatly from it. It’s pretty much used exclusively with kids and not adults though. I’m not even sure what the adult equivalent would be. But children and adults process things differently, so different methods for different age groups. I want to work with trauma victims, but that takes special training. I’ll get there. But you usually begin as like a generalist – depression, anxiety, that sort of thing. Then you start to specialize. I’m not exactly sure what else I’ll do, but trauma is big on the list.
Question 5: Thanks for elaborating with us a bit about the distinction between psychology and counseling and where you saw yourself within the field. It was also nice to hear you talk about TBCBT which was new to me and probably my readers. On to question five, what advice would you pass down to students who may be hoping to pursue psychology as a degree?
I learned something interesting my first day of school. One of the professors asked us why we were in the program. A bunch of people, usually younger girls (no offense, but it was true) shot their hands up and said they love giving advice. Everyone always asks them about their problems and they love giving advice and fixing people’s problems. So the professor looks at them. He says, ladies, you are in the wrong profession. We don’t give advice. That’s not what we do. A good counselor doesn’t fix people’s problems. A good counselor empowers the client to fix them by providing tools and support.
I thought that was awesome, what the professor had said. My point is that counseling is not what people think it is. Yes, advice is inevitably a part of it, but by and large, giving advice is considered unethical. For example Tai says to me Randy, should I be a counselor?
Bad answer: Yes, or no
Good Counselor answer: So, is becoming a counselor important to you?
Tai: Well, my parents think I should…
Good Counselor: Is it important for you to please your parents?
And so on, and so forth, You empower the client to come up with their own answer. You don’t want them to rely on you. That’s a power thing. That’s ego.
You teach them to stand on their own two feet and you support them while they learn. But you don’t tell them what to do. We’re not gods. We’re just humans trained to listen and to diagnose. But what works for me may kill you. So I need to think twice before I tell you what to do about anything.
Real counseling, be it psychology or social work or whatever – Real counseling is a dirty, bloody mess. At least, emotionally it is. It’s not like it is in the movies. People can be total destroyed by events in their lives. Especially children. This is serious work, and one really needs to consider whether they are willing to do it. Everyone is interested in psychology. Psychology is fascinating. But it’s one thing to read about children being sexually abused, another thing entirely to have one sitting in your office asking for help. That’s where the metal meets the meat, as they say.
This concludes our interview with Randy. Hope you guys found this interview helpful.
You can connect with Randy Withers through his website here: http://www.counselinginsite.com/ (Mental counseling resources and information on substance abuse and treatment.)
Here are three of his suggested readings from his site:
Feel free to leave any questions below for Randy and he will answer them to the best of his abilities. It could be questions pertaining to his career path or the field of psychology as a whole 🙂