In the report card of life, nobody gets a mark for effort.
—Andrew Salter, father of conditioned reflex therapy
It sounded like a barking dog, only a heck of a lot louder, though I certainly knew they didn’t allow animals in the halls. After all, this was an institution for higher learning. As I rounded the corner I was no longer perplexed. The ruckus emanated from one Dr. Jack Furbis, head of the illustrious history department. He was red as a beet, perhaps even a tad purple, as I watched him read a fellow student the riot act. As he displayed his true colors I could see why the greater part of the student body referred to him as Dr. Vegetable Head.
Listen to me; those study guides are worthless… and… and, they are cheating. Yes, they’re trash, pure trash mister. If I had my way it would be illegal for the bookstore to sell that junk.
Two things ran through my mind. The first was that I thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have Doc Vegetable Head for a course. The second was that my curiosity about these so-called study guides was piqued. I wanted to find out just exactly what those devilish treatises contained.
The woman who ran the bookstore knew exactly where I could find the works responsible for Doc Furbis’s elevated blood pressure. They were conveniently located in the section designated “Study Guides.”
Seemingly, these purveyors of grade cards made in heaven covered every conceivable subject. Some analyzed short stories and novels. Others explained how to pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or a civil service test to secure employment at the post office. Another described how to pass an exam in order to receive advanced placement in college biology.
All I could say to myself was: “Thanks for the find, Dr. Furbis. These study guides are terrific.” I walked away with no less than four on that prophetic day—one for statistics, one for American history, and a couple of others pertaining to psychology and sociology.
For the next 18 years I doubt whether I came within shouting distance of a bona fide study guide, but then it happened. As part of my work in supervising some students for state counselor licensure I felt that in addition to providing guidance related to their clients it was my moral duty as their so-called licensing supervisor to help them prepare for the written exam that would be staring them square in the face when they finished their 3,000 hours of supervision with yours truly.
To be sure, the rumors were already starting to fly, and believe me, they were anything but pleasant.
“It’s a bear… I’ve never seen anything like it… the hardest test I ever took in my life.”
“We never covered any of that stuff in my counseling courses, that’s for sure.”
“Honestly, I never heard of half of the terms on the exam; I have no idea how I passed it.”
One counselor, who was treating clients for anxiety disorders, told me she was beginning to experience panic attacks herself and was having nightmares based on rumors and the anticipation of actually having to take the monster—excuse me, I mean the test!
The test responsible for the horrendous intimidation was the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE), which was and is the test used to evaluate counselors for the status of National Certified Counselor (NCC). Many states use this exam as the test for state counselor licensing; for example, the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential. The NCE and the NCC were creations of the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). One thing you discover in a hurry when you investigate counselor licensure and certification requirements is that the field is inundated with alphabet soup acronyms.
The interesting thing is that it is unethical for persons who have taken the exam to reveal any of the questions on the test. The way I figure it, the NBCC can breathe easy knowing that, at least in my case, the individuals I conversed with were so intimidated by the exam that it could have been written in a foreign language. In case I haven’t made my point, allow me to be a bit more explicit: The examinees I spoke with were so threatened by the test that they couldn’t even verbalize what they found so difficult; hence, they were in no danger whatsoever of revealing anything concrete—so much for the issue of test ethics violations.
Frankly, I was perplexed by the whole issue. For starters, I recalled that, much to my chagrin, I personally had taken the test. You see, when licensing came to my state, Missouri, I was grandfathered in, based on the fact that I had NCC status. I found out via the counselor licensing board that Missouri, like many other states, did not have a licensing test and thus was using the NCE. I even discovered that in Missouri the examinee could kill two birds with one stone, if you will, by scoring high enough to secure NCC as well as state licensure. In other words, since the NCE was the test used to determine NCC status, you could snare NCC.
My memory of the test was hardly a catastrophic one. Though I could remember truly struggling with a number of the questions, I was not mortified by them. True, I had several advantages. One was that I was doing some supervision of helpers and college teaching at the time. This might have meant that I was more familiar with a number of principles than your average, everyday counselor on the street, in an agency, or in private practice. Another issue was that the test was supposedly evolving, which was most likely a very diplomatic way of saying that it was getting more difficult with each update or version! Moreover, the required score to put a license number after your John Hancock was creeping up. Thus, the bottom line was that although my experience with the test had not been a negative one, I realized that times change and I needed to dip into my resources for a little accurate empathy to help those who would need to tangle with the NCE or one of its derivatives. I say one of its derivatives inasmuch as many states are using the NCE as a licensing instrument. Those states that are not doing so will still look to the NCE for guidance. Therefore, even if your state does not use the NCE per se, there is a very good chance that your exam will be very similar, to say the least.
Armed with this information I concluded that the answer to my supervisees’ dilemma was just a bookstore away. I imagined that I’d zip over to the nearest bookseller, peruse the study guide section, and return with a text on the NCE. I even rationalized that on the one-in-a-million chance that Dr. Furbis was taking in the bestseller list that day, he still wouldn’t recognize me behind the extra-dark sunglasses I made a point of wearing.
I had it all figured out. It was going to be easy—except for one minor snafu I hadn’t counted on: namely, that the store didn’t carry a book intended for LPC or NCE study. I was shocked. Since my glorious college days it seemed that the authors of these study guides had added nearly every title under the sun except a book to help with counselor licensure and certification. I was sure there was a mistake, yet the woman at the checkout counter assured me her faithful computer indicated that the store did not carry such a work. In disbelief I hit every major, minor, college, and university bookstore in our town (and believe me, there were plenty of them) without a success. I even offered to let them order it from out of town (“I don’t mind the six-week wait,” I told them) but was informed that I couldn’t purchase a book that didn’t exist. Tired and weary from having book dealers’ doors slammed in my face, I assumed a depressed posture and headed home empty handed. I got in my car, fired it up, put the car in gear, and popped a tape in my cassette deck and a giant light labeled “insight” lit up in my head.
It has been said that genius is often right in front of your nose, but in this case it was tugging at my ear lobes. A number of years earlier when I had to tangle with oral and written boards for my doctorate, I had recorded what I felt was key information onto cassette tapes. These cassettes then turned my home stereo, portable cassette player, boombox, and Walkman into veritable teaching machines. Best of all, I used the tape player in my car in order to convert boring traffic jams into worthwhile learning experiences. To be sure, I was the only road warrior traveling Highway 40 West who was using stalled tractor trailers as an excuse to learn that negative reinforcement was not the same thing as punishment. A bit eccentric, perhaps, but I breezed through my oral and written boards. I thus geared up to produce some cassette tapes for my students. Yet there was one little problem—I had no idea what was on the test!
Since I was a National Certified Counselor myself, I picked up the phone and called NBCC to see if they could point me in the right direction. Sure enough, they did. Within minutes after terminating my telephone conversation I was ordering a copy of How to Prepare: Your Guide to the National Counselor Examination. Though this booklet, published by NCC, explicitly states that the guide is not intended to enhance your performance on the exam, I would advise anyone taking the test to secure a copy. (Note: NBCC currently calls this the NBCC’s Official Preparation Guide for the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification.) The booklet gives vital information regarding the nature and format of the exam. There is also a practice test replete with answers. In my case, the work clarified the eight basic areas of the exam (more on that later) and gave me a fine bibliography that the authors refer to as “potential references.”
I then returned to my local college bookstores (still hiding behind my extra-dark shades, of course!) and began buying every brand of study guide available that helps students prepare for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in psychology. Using somewhat superficial logic, I assumed that there would be at least a moderate amount of overlap between the two disciplines (i.e., counseling and psychology). Sure the NCE was in the big leagues, the test intended for those who already possessed a master’s or a doctorate. Nevertheless, I hypothesized that many principles of behavior were relevant at all levels of education, though the postgraduate version might be a tad more precise or complex than the explanation given to students who had only completed a bachelor’s degree.
As I perused these guides there was something else I was trying to master, and that was the thinking process of the experts who put these types of tests together (the idea being that I could ultimately think like these folks). I could make some very good educated guesses about the questions my supervisees might have to reckon with come NCE time.
As I studied the guides, I began to actually feel that I was beginning to think like these authors. It then occurred to me that perhaps something else was transpiring. That “something else” was that the repetitive nature of the questions which appeared in study guides a, b, and c was not necessarily indicative of the authors’ respective cognitions. I began to see instead that the tendency for certain issues to appear again and again was most likely an indication that these were key points in the mind of almost any behavioral science scholar. Thus, armed to the teeth with an arsenal of GRE study guides, NCE-recommended textbooks, and a stack of books that represented my own 12-year stint in college, I headed for my trusty tape recorder.
Again, I took to the streets and cruised over the highways and byways of America’s heartland listening to myself babble on hour after hour. A trip to the office was no longer a trip to the office. Instead it became a lecture about Albert Ellis’s rational-emotive behavior therapy, Jung’s analytic psychology, or a few hints on distinguishing the statistical mean from the median or perhaps the mode.
While I was supporting my tape addiction, some of my students had enrolled in courses given by companies which marketed programs that were specifically intended to help students prepare for licensing or certification exams. From everything I heard and saw (i.e., the materials) the programs were doing a fine job. My only concerns were (1) the programs had pretty stiff price tags (e.g., one student I knew attended one which cost over $600—ouch!) and (2) many of them required the future licensed counselor to travel to the city where the seminar was being held. The combined cost of the seminar plus travel, room, and board added up to a fairly sizable chunk of change, not to mention the inconvenience. I spoke with a number of busy professionals who said they just couldn’t fit such programs into their schedules. Others didn’t want to break into their piggy banks.
I therefore continued to fine tune my tapes, analyzing feedback I received from a number of individuals. My final product consisted of nearly nine hours of material. Four of the tapes consisted of vital information and lecture material geared specifically toward the eight areas of the exam. Two of the tapes contained an innovative 225-question review which was like a practice test. I say “innovative” because I used the questions to convey information. For example, I might say, “Perls is the father of gestalt therapy. Who is the father of the Person-Centered Approach?” Moreover, on most of the questions I chose to expand on the answer, thus providing the listener with information which could conceivably help the person answer a number of other questions on the actual exam.
My tape program became an instant success and, since its inception, has been updated and expanded on several occasions. The current audio CD version has more than four times the information included in the initial tape series. If you have not yet secured the audio program and are interested in doing so—and by all means you should be—you can call the publisher toll free at 1-800-634-7064. The audio program contains lively lectures on all exam areas, over 300 audio tutorial questions and answers, and is intended to supplement this book. And to answer your question in advance: No, it’s not merely me reading this text into a microphone!
Mission accomplished—well, not quite. You see, about the same time my original tapes went on to the publisher my friendly college bookstore called to report that a miracle had taken place: They had several new books specifically intended to help counselors prepare for the state licensing and certification exams. I have little doubt that I was the first on my block to own and read these books. Quite frankly, I felt the books were well written and very helpful.
Why this book then, you may ask? It’s an excellent question, indeed. The first and foremost reason is that the above-referenced works, as well as the preparation booklet by NBCC, do not include explanations of the answers. Thus, the reader of such works may well pick the correct answer to a test question but may have answered it correctly for the wrong reason. This reminds me of something I once heard a prolific self-help writer comment on during a lecture. He stated that people would write him and tell him they were helped tremendously by using the principles he outlined in his books. Unfortunately, when they went on to explain, it was obvious they were not following the advice set forth in his books, and they certainly weren’t practicing anything that remotely resembled his self-improvement theories!
You’ve probably heard the story about the chemistry professor. First he puts a worm in a beaker of water and allows it to swim around. Next he places the worm in a beaker of alcohol and it disintegrates. The professor then turns to the class and asks the students to describe what they learned. “It’s obvious,” responds a student, “If you drink a lot of alcohol you’ll never get worms.”
And so I become a man with a mission—a mission to write a worm-free study guide. Now let’s see what’s in it for bookworms like you.
Now I must be honest with you and share the fact that there was another impetus for this book. From all reports, the tapes were a raving success. I began receiving calls and letters from across the country praising the merits of my audio study program. Many of the tape users began asking the same question, namely: “How can I get a copy of your book to go along with the tapes?” Unfortunately, I had to tell them that there was no book. Listeners liked my folksy, conversational, and sometimes humorous tutorial teaching style on the tapes, and now they wanted to see it in print. I knew the tape users were telling me the truth about the style because I had previously used this style successfully in an earlier book (Not With My Life I Don’t: Preventing Your Suicide and That of Others, Accelerated Development Publishers, 1988).
As I began the monumental task of putting together this text, I kept adding more and more critical information until it became obvious that this work would go well beyond the boundaries of an ordinary study guide. I ultimately created a master review and tutorial. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Joseph W. Hollis, a remarkable man who owned Accelerated Development, and was a pioneer in the counseling movement, insisted that I had actually written an Encycl...