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Texting, Technology, and Triangulation

By Denise Purvis, LCPC, CRADC, MISA II, AMHCA Midwest Regional Liaison

My take on the use of technology in counseling differs from recent articles in The Advocate that have presented it as a great idea. 

As a graduate-level counseling student back in 1995, I had no idea that texting and technology would become the primary form of communication for many of my clients. We learned strategies for working with families and concepts of triangulation, hierarchy, and power. Bowen family systems theory and Minuchin’s Structural Family Therapy were two of my favorites. 

In my private practice, I continue to use both theories on a daily basis. However, now I have to consider computer use and texting as part of the family system. 

How does a device take over the third leg of Bowen’s concept of triangulation in family relationships? How does a teenager rank on top of the hierarchy when the parents only communicate through text messages? 

The answer is: “Only if we let them.”

As counselors, we must address the pressure our clients feel to use technology to speak to the people they care about, as well as people they have never met. I am not willing to let a cell phone or a computer be an excuse for my client and their family members to verbally abuse or avoid each other. 

I don’t use texting, Facebook, or email to contact my clients. They can learn the social etiquette and boundaries of speaking to a real human being, and I can model that behavior to them. 

If we allow technology to replace direct communication, we will continue to see individuals with a lack of compassion and empathy for one another. I tell my clients that texting is for things like “I will be 10 minutes late,” or “pick up milk.” They don’t really follow through with my advice, but I will continue to fight for direct communication. 

We are responsible for educating families about the pros and cons of how technology affects their relationships. Help clients create opportunities to emotionally connect with others by putting down the phone and looking them in the eye. 

We have the ability to influence families with role-plays and modeling behaviors in counseling sessions that do not include technology. Supporting families with direct communication will lead to more responsible social behaviors with one another, and ultimately society.

My daily contribution to society is the expectation of compassionate and empathetic communication in real life. I urge you as counselors to take the time to call your clients directly and discuss issues in person. If we can’t model compassion, empathy, and kind communication—who can?

Graduate Student Members Are Invited to Apply for AMHCA Awards
Two Awards From the AMHCA Foundation
  • The AMHCA Foundation Student Travel Scholarship recognizes an outstanding graduate student in clinical mental health counseling and awards a $1,000 travel grant to attend the 2013 AMHCA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., July 18–20, 2013. The deadline for applying for the Travel Scholarship has been extended to April 7, 2013, at 5 p.m., Eastern Time
  • The AMHCA Foundation Graduate Student Research Award recognizes a doctoral student in clinical mental health counseling for conducting outstanding dissertation research. The new program includes one grant of $1,000 to a student whose dissertation research furthers the field of mental health counseling. The deadline for applying for the Research Award is May 17, 2013.
For more information on the two AMHCA Foundation Awards, please contact Sharon Cyrus–Savary, AMHCA Foundation Trustee, at

Two Awards From AMHCA
  • Graduate Student of the Year: Recognizing a student AMHCA member who exemplifies the ideal mental health counseling student through outstanding scholastic and academic performance, outstanding counseling practice, or outstanding writing contributions to the field of mental health counseling. As part of the Donald Mattson Scholarship, a $500 grant accompanies this award.
  • Poster Session Award: Recognizing an outstanding Poster Session entry based on subject originality, presentation clarity, appropriate research design and methodology, and advancement of the profession. Only poster sessions selected for presentation at the conference will be eligible for the award; the award winner also receives free registration for the 2013 conference. Judges for this award will be AMHCA’s Conference Planning Committee.

The final deadline for nominations for the two AMHCA awards is Friday, May 17, 2013. Mail all nominations and required documentation for the two AMHCA awards only to AMHCA, Attn: Melissa Hobson, 801 N. Fairfax St., Suite 304, Alexandria, VA 22314.