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Interview with John Skandalis, Licensed Mental Health Counselor

John Skandalis is a Seattle, Washington-based Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) who has practice specialties in counseling for men and couples counseling. He also leads group therapy sessions and counsels women and adolescents. In addition, he leads periodic psychodrama training workshops that are open to counseling students and practitioners. He earned his master’s in counseling from the Leadership Institute of Seattle in 1991.

1. You earned your master’s in counseling from Leadership Institute of Seattle (LIOS), and mention on your About page you researched many programs before deciding – what would you recommend that prospective students look for when choosing a counseling degree program?

john-skandalisWhen choosing a counseling program, I would look for ones that have a strong theoretical base. A future counselor needs to be well-grounded in theory in order to do effective work. Also, go to the school or university and meet with faculty and students to see how it FEELS to be in the classrooms, talking with staff, etc. You want to be with people you can connect to and are excited about what they are learning, etc.

2. What counseling theories most influence you?

The counseling theory that has most influenced me the most is called The Healing Circle. It was created by a therapist here in Seattle named John Mosher. This model and theory helps me diagnose a client’s early life traumas and how that correlates to their struggles in adult life. It also prescribes what kind of skills and awarenesses they need to gain in order to heal. It is an extremely useful way to understand my clients and help them grow and change. An example of its insightfulness is that all people are working on one of four things in their therapy. The four are:

  • A Quest for Love
  • A Search for Identity
  • A Quest for Meaning
  • A Search for Meaning

3. As a nationally certified trainer, educator, and practitioner (TEP) of psychodrama, sociometry, and group psychotherapy, can you walk us through the high-level principles and benefits of psychodrama from the practitioner’s perspective?

Psychodrama is a very beneficial method to use in group therapy and with individuals. It is a marriage of theater arts and therapy. From the practitioner’s perspective, it is an extremely helpful way to get clients out of their heads and into action. Childhood events can be reenacted in a safe way so the client can gain insight and, in the drama, rescue, sooth, and gain empathy for their younger self. The groups are lively and by doing psychodramas the group becomes more connected as they share their stories in action and play roles in each other’s dramas.

4. How did you come to add men’s counseling to your practice specialties, and what unique challenges are there in this practice area?

I have been doing men’s group since starting my practice over twenty-five years ago. It was a natural fit as I was exploring my difficult relationship with my father in my own therapy at that time. The men’s groups I run are vital and very interactive. A unique challenge in this setting is having people come into the group who are not ready for that kind of work. They usually self-select to leave. Another challenge is helping men break from the mistaken belief that vulnerability is not a show of weakness but an expression of their struggle that allows more connection to others. The men that stay say they find a safe and supportive community to work at becoming the healthiest men they can be. Often the focus is on how to be better partners, husbands, and fathers.

5. What methods do you recommend for building a dialogue with disengaged clients?

If a client is disengaged, I will often ask them why they are here in therapy? This way we can explore how we perhaps have wandered away from what they came in for. I let them know that they are the co-leader of our therapy work and their role is to bring to each session what they want to work on and so forth. I ask what I can do to engage them more and if that isn’t fruitful, I provide contact information for other counselors I think may be helpful to them.

6. What recommendations do you have for graduates to keep their skills current and continue learning and growing after graduation?

To keep their skills current and keep growing post-graduation I suggest they keep doing their own personal therapy. It should be written into the requirements to practice that each therapist have their own therapist. The right therapist will help them become more self-aware that benefits them in the therapy room or at home. Also taking workshops to learn new techniques and be exposed to new methods to stay inspired and energized.

7. Is there any further advice or information you would share with students considering counseling as a career?

Other advice or information I would offer is to be prepared to be tested by your clients. And the hot buttons your clients push are potential gold to focus on in your own therapy. I was propelled back into my own therapy after several difficult and painful interactions with clients. I learned a huge amount about myself that has helped me be a better counselor, husband, and human being. This profession is the most gratifying work you can do even with all the challenges that come with it.

Thank you to John for sharing his insights with us! You can read more about his practice on his professional blog.