As the cameras rolled, a new mother adjusting to returning to work shared with Russ Curtis, associate professor of counseling, how writing in a “gratitude journal” helped her focus on the positives amid her challenges. “When I would journal at night, I was much more grateful for some of the smaller things,” said Heather Thompson, WCU assistant professor of counseling.
Thompson was playing the role of a client in one of the vignettes filmed in December for an instructional video designed to demonstrate how to incorporate positive psychotherapy strategies into one-on-one counseling sessions.
Produced by Alexander Street Press, the video highlights a range of WCU talent. Leading the mock sessions and providing commentary are Curtis and fellow positive psychotherapy advocate Katie Goetz, a WCU alumna. Many of the mock clients are WCU students and alumni. In addition, the crew that filmed and is editing the footage are students, alumni and a faculty member from WCU’s Motion Picture and Television Production Program.
The project originated when Alexander Street Press contacted Curtis after viewing a video about integrated care developed to accompany a textbook Curtis co-edited with Eric Christian, also an alumnus of WCU’s counseling program. A conversation with Elizabeth Robey, senior editor for counseling, psychology and education with Alexander Street Press, turned to positive psychotherapy, the application of evidence-based cognitive and behavioral strategies that improve health and well-being. Despite availability of books and research on the topic, videos demonstrating techniques are uncommon, said Curtis. So he, Robey and Goetz, the lead recovery coordinator of the Recovery Education Center with Meridian Behavioral Health in Waynesville, agreed to collaborate to create a video to demonstrate positive psychotherapy skills with a variety of clients.
“This video will be an outstanding training resource for students and professors in counseling, psychology, social work and other helping-profession graduate programs,” said Robey, who anticipates the video will be released this spring.
Curtis said he first became interested in the topic – although he did not have a name for it – when he was 12 years old and his dad gave him a book called “The Achievers,” which included a qualitative analysis of leadership styles.
“After reading the book, I was hooked,” said Curtis. “It was about how to help people thrive, and that’s what positive psychotherapy is about. We spend a lot of time helping people move from illness to neutral, depressed to less depressed, or anxious to less anxious, but we have not done a good job of looking at helping people thrive and leading their best lives using their strengths. That has been a fascination of mine for a long time, and it wasn’t until the term positive psychotherapy gained momentum in the ‘90s that I knew what to call it.”
Goetz, who is licensed as a professional counselor and clinical addiction specialist, said people naturally gravitate toward many positive psychotherapy skills but that putting them into practice takes intentionality. “When supporting someone in working on these skills, you get to help them find ways to practice things that are already meaningful to them,” she said.
She and Curtis planned vignettes on topics including forgiveness, integration of flow in counseling, optimism, meaning through adversity, happiness as a work ethic, savoring or appreciating the small things, strength-based supervision and “satisficing,” which is a decision-making strategy that combines the words “satisfy” and “suffice.” Volunteer actors for each vignette rehearsed and developed talking points to make sure the mock one-on-one sessions would demonstrate what Curtis and Goetz aimed to demonstrate while also allowing the segments to develop naturally, said Curtis.
Meanwhile, Arledge Armenaki, associate professor of cinematography, served as director. Armenaki worked with Motion Picture and Television Production Program students to paint, dress and light the office set for the vignettes. Katherine Bartel, a senior, served as the production coordinator and set designer. Seniors Tim Rudisil and Jason Ledford and alumnus Trey Campbell operated the cameras. Andrew Dyson, a junior, was the sound mixer, and alumnus Jesse Romine is editing the footage.
“It was a complicated production, but the students got into a groove and never missed a beat,” said Armenaki. “Even though we were filming with three cameras and working with four wireless microphones, by the middle of the day we were ahead of schedule.”
Curtis said seeing the project come together has been exciting.
“It is extremely fulfilling to collaborate with such talented students, alumni, faculty and colleagues from other WCU disciplines to produce a product that could potentially help many people,” said Curtis.
By Teresa Killian Tate