Sunday, May 19, 2013

The School Counselor and the Dreaded Drama Triangle...How to Play the Game

Sunday, May 19, 2013
Recently one of my students graduated, but it was not an easy road. A month before graduation I noticed the student's grades began to decline significantly, he was chronically late to class, and I found out he had a confrontation with a staff member. Because this behavior was unlike him, I called a conference with his parents. During the conference, we discussed his behavior and what he needed to accomplish to graduate from high school. Everyone seemed to be clear on what he needed to do to graduate from high school--pass all his courses (a no brainer). 

Two weeks passed and many of the student's expectations were still unmet. Again, I called his parents in and spoke about the reality of what would happen if he did not pass all his required classes. Naturally being upset, one of the parents said that this could not happen as the student had been through too much and would "do something crazy." I told the family that I understood, but he must complete the mandatory graduation requirements. The parent was unfazed and continued saying that he had been though too much and this wasn't right! Again, I emphasized with their situation, but reiterated the facts...the meeting ended.

A couple of days later I was walking down the hall to my office and another staff member told me the county office called about a complaint they received from a family who was recently informed that their son will not graduate.  Immediately, I was to provide all documentation regarding all meetings with the family. we go. I went to my office and retrieved all my notes and talked to the student's teachers. That afternoon our team assembled to meet with a county official, the student, and his parents. At the start of the meeting, the family was on the defensive and began to share that their good kid had overcome devastating odds to reach graduation. They shared copious stories about his service to the school and his great plans for the future after graduating from high school. One of the parents said it was devastating to just find out about his failing classes and felt the school owed the student for his great service and benevolence. The team sat silent after the comment until one member of the team emphasized that community service could not take the place of course work for graduation. After a look of disbelief from the family, the team established the student's expectations with specific dates. The parents were unhappy, but compliant and the meeting ended. Once the parents left,  the team debriefed about how we felt the meeting went. In spite of our surprise over the parents' comments about compensating their son, the team felt confident that we had set clear expectations and kept our boundaries. However, the biggest relief for me personally was our ability to stay out of the Drama Triangle!

Karpman's Triangle of Transactional Analysis or better known as the Drama Triangle is a game of personal and professional manipulation that includes three roles: persecutor, villain, or meanie;  savior, rescuer, or genie; and  victim, martyr or weenie. Karpman found that when people become entangled in the Drama Triangle, they can assume all three roles.  Children learn very early the trap of the Drama Triangle from fairly tales. For example, take the story of Cinderella. The step-mother takes on the role of the meanie, the fairy godmother is the genie, and of course, Cinderella is the weenie.

Another fairy tale that demonstrates the Drama Triangle is the story of the Pied Piper. In the story of Pied Piper, the piper assumed all three roles of the Drama Triangle: genie, weenie, and meanie.

As genie, the Pied Piper saves the town from the evil rodents and then is betrayed by the towns people transforming him into a weenie. To retaliate against the towns people, he becomes the meanie as he leads their children out of the village by his musical pipe.

The Role of Fairy Tales on Psychological Lives

Today, soap operas, comic books, TV dramas, video games, and reality TV all display characters who are involved in the Drama Triangle.
Since children learn from role models and their environment, they often emulate these behaviors in real life: relationships with friends, classmates, teachers, parents, etc. As children mature, they often carry this type of relationship pattern into marriage, childrearing, work, and friendships if they do not develop appropriate conflict resolution skills.

The Drama Triangle

The Drama Triangle is represented by a triangle with savior and villain in the superior position and the victim represented as the underdog. However, Alain Cordone (2008) postulated that the victim wields unsuspected  power. Without the victim, the other two parties would have no reason to meet.

Gary Harper, Conflict Resolution

Roles in the Drama Triangle

The savior believes that the victim cannot solve his or her issue and needs the savior to take care of the problem. As in my story, the parent believed that the student was too fragile to complete all his course work by graduation because of all his challenges; therefore, the parents called the county office to express concern that the school was persecuting their son. The parent took on the emotional anxiety as it belonged to him/her. In addition, the parents triangulated out to the county office becoming a victim as well.
The villain is willing to escalate communication in order to get to the bottom of the issue. The villain may discount the victim as not mattering, but needs someone to pay or be held responsible for the situation. The county office representative was called in to make sure that the school performed its due diligence in making sure the student was informed about his status in a timely manner.
The victim lacks conflict skills and has trouble communicating in a challenging situation. The victim often acts as if their "neediness" prevents them from solving the problem. Often the victim will flip to villain if the savior does not meet his or her expectations. In our meeting, the student just sat there without taking any responsibility for the failing grades. When asked about his missing work, he floundered and smiled admitting he forgot to turn in his assignments. When one of the parents continued in his defense, he turned to his other parent and made a face as he became embarrassed by their protests.

The Drama Triangle Game
Jan Jacobson

The Drama Triangle is subtle and steals a person's energy. In deed it is like a soap opera where each character changes roles from villain to hero to savior. In fact, the greater the drama the more the truth becomes irrelevant to the players. In taking sides, everyone forgets to find the core issue. In the drama triangle, no one wins because there is an emotional price everyone pays.

Now a word from Captain Jack Sparrow regarding conflict...

Emotional Costs of the Drama Triangle from our Story:

  1. Cost of isolation or criticism from the group-the parents of my student can be seen by the school as troublemakers.
  2. Lack of trust-in the future I will be cautious and continue to keep detailed notes.
  3. Impact on relationships-the relationship between the parents and the school personnel was negatively impacted. The family began to talk about how their child was mistreated by the school.

What is the Role of the School Counselor in the Drama Triangle?

Although I love to avoid these types of situations, it is often impossible to evade some type of triangle as a school counselor. So, it is imperative to avert becoming a player in a drama triangle. To accomplish this goal, a school counselor must always remember that rescuing students is not the same as empowering them. Our role is to help students learn how to communicate appropriately, develop conflict navigation skills, and remain objective when a student is involved in a problem. Instead of participating in the drama, the school counselor takes on a new role, the role of supporter. Although we are often triangulated in by one of the parties, our new role should include:
  • allowing venting without taking on the problem.
  • not offering advice, but allowing the parties to brainstorm.
  • helping the victim to speak for himself or herself.
  • showing the victim that conflict is essential for change.
When the school counselor takes on the role of supporter, the victim can become more open to participate in conflict, to problem solve issues, to manage emotions,  to avoid shutting down or using explosive emotions, and feels more assertive. In addition, the villain becomes more willing to listen, engage in a discussion, and avoid power plays.
Even though the school counselor may be the only one skilled in this type of awareness, he or she can change the dynamics from drama to discovery of the core issue or problem.

Gary Harper, Conflict Resolution

What Skills are Needed in Order to Shift from the Drama Triangle

  • Conflict Resolution
  • Communication
  • Active Listening
  • Facilitation Skills
  • Perception Taking
  • Setting solid boundaries
If you become involved in a drama triangle and all best efforts seem to be not working, here are some additional strategies you can implement:
  • Introduce a new player to take on your role (i.e. an administrator).
  • Avoid the relationship entirely, if you can (i.e. run the other way).
  • Wait to respond to the drama game by using silence to calm the situation.
  • Stay positive, professional, and detached from the situation.
  • Use humor.
  • Pull the players away from an audience to calm the situation.

Involved in drama triangle with students, parents, or co-workers, use these resources to assist you.


School Counselor and the Drama Triangle-a large file, but has great information on the school counselor's role in the drama triangle. 
Painful to Respectful Communication-handout that explains the Drama Triangle.
A Warm Fuzzy Tale-great story to use about the Drama Triangle.
Blog about the Drama Triangle
Conflict Drama-Victim, Villain, & Hero
Poster-poster reminding us to live our own lives not through the lives of actors on television.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The New Meaning of Kicking Back with your Friends

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Several weeks ago two students tracked me down in the lunchroom and asked to speak to me about a situation that happened over the weekend.  Truly, weekend parties, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other types of social media can be a real pain when they are the cause for a lot of drama at school.  So, I postponed my plans and sat and listened to their problem. One girl explained that she was at a "kickback" over the weekend and was accused of sleeping with her friend's brother.  Since this rumor was now all over school, the brother's girlfriend wanted to beat her up.  I looked at the other girl and asked her if this was true and she nodded. I told both girls that I needed for them to stay in the lunchroom while I go to speak to the assistant principal about a potential fight.  After a couple of minutes, I found the assistant principal and told her about the situation.  She told me that she was aware of the rumor and she had spoken to the girlfriend who was very upset about her boyfriend going to this kickback.  Fortunately, she had planned to speak to all three of them before the situation got out of hand.

Next, our conversation shifted to this phenomena of the kickback. Apparently, as innocent as the name sounds, it is truly not somewhere you want your 9th grader going to hang out with their friends.

The Urban Dictionary defines a kickback as...

"always hosted at an individual's house, a kickback consists of friends getting together to engage in party activities such as drinking etc., without the hassle and drawbacks of a big party. although an invite verbal or otherwise is not necessary it is understood that a kickback is friends only and is not to exceed 20 or 30 persons. a good option for those not wishing to get their house trashed. not to be confused with a party or rager".

In fact, I downloaded the "so called rules" for a kickback without the expletives and I put some of them in my own words.  You can see the original at the web address below (Source Unidentified):

KickBackRule 1

No ruining another guys chance to get some booty...these acts are punishable up to death. 

KickBackRule 2

Put money on the liquor, no matter if you are a woman, Viking, avatar, or space creature.

KickBackRule 3

If you know you are not able to pay, we take sex payments as well (women only).

KickBackRule 4

Know your limit. We ain't taking care of nobody. Every man, woman, or minor (how did u get here?) for themselves.

KickBackRule 5

Why come to a kickback if you have an attitude. Be prepared to mingle or get off my sofa?

KickBackRule 6

You have sex at kickback, so you can have a ride home in the morning… No sex = No Bus Pass. (women)

KickBackRule 7

We don't care which one of us you sleep with you, as long as one of the guys gets some.

KickBackRule 8

The kickback is like Vegas. “What happens at the kickback stays at the kickback” rather you got a train ran on you, you use the bathroom on the floor, or fell and busted your butt...all that is


Anybody that can’t keep their mouth closed about what happened at the kickback is a worthless female.


Don't invite worthless females to the kickback. You already know they ain't bout that having a good time life.

- See more at:
Okay, I am scratching my head at this point...

What makes a kickback so dangerous is that anything goes at these gatherings. Whether it is unprotected sex, drugs, drinking, oral sex, or multiple partners.  The assistant principal went on to share that one particular 9th grader became the stud of the kickback and refuses to use a condom. He took his reputation up a notch by having sex with any female who walked in the room; therefore, his name is Dirty D&#k. 

My heart sank! I thought of all of the potential pregnancies, STDs, overdoses, and rapes among these 9th graders, but I am sure there are younger students attending these gatherings as well. After speaking to the assistant principal, my next stop was to the school social worker to tell her what I had learned.

The school social worker and I have worked on many different types of cases together and there is not much that we have not experienced.  I walked in her office and sat down across from her desk. After exchanging pleasantries, I began telling her the news about the activities that our young students were allegedly participating in over the weekend. Her head dropped, she shook her head, and at that point she reminded me of a similar set of circumstances that occurred in the 1990's in a community not to too far away. This community was faced with a syphilis outbreak from illicit unsupervised sex parties. She told me that no one knew how bad the epidemic was until PBS filmed a documentary about the students, who ranged from 12-18, having unprotected sex with each other. From that group of students, over 80 became pregnant and around 200 were treated from syphilis.  We both agreed that helping professionals, parents, schools, and the community, are failing to educate our families about the outcomes of these high risk behaviors. At that point, our discussion shifted to how we could effectively educate students and parents about the dangers of STD's, unwanted pregnancies, the possibility of being charged with statutory rape, parents being charged with delinquency of a minor, and the effects of drugs and alcohol on the adolescent brain.

We came up with a initial plan that we will develop over time. Here is the plan...
1. Train and use students as Peer Educators

The National Association of Peer Program Professionals offerings multiple training and certifications in the area of peer helping and education. 

NAPPP Website-training, free information, and certification.
Peer Resources Training, San Francisco, CA-Ira Sachnoff  conducts a two day training in San Francisco.
Alaska Peer Education Program-example of a peer education program in action.
The Bacchus Network-Higher Education program, but a lot of great information.

Book Resources

Peer Power, Dr. Judith Tindall
Peer Programs, Dr. Judith Tindall


Peer helping is a valuable tool for any counseling program. In fact, Dr. Barbara Varenhorst wrote in The Peer Facilitator Quarterly that peers are one of the most under utilized resources for helping other students. In fact, there are copious studies that have provided evidence that peer helping provides the external assets that are important of healthy development in students.

Why Peer Helping? Dr. Barbara Varenhorst

The Search Institute found that adolescents need certain external and internal assets to inhibit high risk behaviors like substance abuse, sex, dropping out of school and to rebound from these crises. On this list of assets is using youth as resources.

You can download a list of the 40 Development Assets and receive free materials from the Search Institute.

40 Developmental Assets (Adolescents ages 12-18)

CASEL found that Social/Emotional Learning reduced risky behaviors by increasing attachment to school and helping students resist negative social influences. In addition, CASEL found that there is a need for universal rather than selective approaches to prevention. Benefits of SEL:
1. Improves student positive behaviors
2. Improves student perception of school and academic performance
3. Prepares students for adulthood
 Benefits of SEL
Social/Emotional Learning-What is it and how does it work?

SEL Implementation Kit-How to implement SEL in your school.

2. Parent Education Workshops

Unfortunately, many parents are unaware of the consequences for hosting a unsupervised activity in their home.  There are many brochures and information available to post on your website and/or provide to parents at events or workshops.

Grand Island Senior High School - Unsupervised Parties

State of Virginia Parent Guidelines to Teen Parties

Teen Party Guidelines

Oregon City Schools-Parents Who Host, Lose the Most

Legal Resources for Parents

Statutory Rape Laws by State

Not My Kid Action Plan

Parents Guide to Teen Parties

A Parent's Guide to Teen Parties

3. Counselor Education on the Culture and History of the Hookup and Prevention Strategies

Benoit Denizet-Lewis in the New York Times article, Friends, Friends With Benefits, and the Benefits of the Local Mall about the history of hooking up wrote about the evolution of the teen hookup. During the late 30's and 40's, teens were encouraged to have multiple dating partners.  A teenager was seen as a loser if he or she was stuck at a dance with only one partner.  Going steady with one person was seen as a negative social activity and the popular kids were encouraged to have a different a date each week.

World War II changed society with the media announcement of the male shortage and the desire for marriage dramatically increased.  Not only did marriage increase, but courtships at an earlier age were common. Then, in the late 60's and early 70's,  the feminist idea of relationships became popular and  lasted until the early 80's. A more conservative period emerged where going steady with one person was highly coveted (this is the era that I grew up in).

Suddenly, in the 90's, internet happened and teens took to it like a moth to a flame. Teenagers began to use the internet as not only a hangout, but a place to meet romantic partners.  The practice of the hookup was born and countless websites were created for meeting others.  An online hookup includes meeting someone online (i.e. and then meeting that person for a sexual encounter without any romantic ties or obligations. Now a days, many teens feel that they do not need to be in a relationship because sex is so easy to find.

Friends, Friends with Benefits, and Benefits of the Local Mall

Prevention Strategy Ideas for School Counselors

Here are several resources you can use to educate students, parents, staff members, and colleagues regarding risky behaviors and unsupervised activities.

Seven Strategies to Preventing Risky Behaviors in Teens

Teen Pregnancy

Parent Guide to Teen Pregnancy

Facts about Date Rape

What is a Healthy Relationship

Making Healthy Decisions about Sex

Male Birth Control

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

This infographic outlines key statistics on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among youth. 
The first graphic shows that youth bear disproportionate share of STIs – in fact, Americans ages 15 to 24 make up just 27% of the sexually active population, but account for 50% of the 20 million new STIs in the U.S. each year. 
The second graphic shows that consequences of STIs are particularly severe for young women. In fact, undiagnosed STIs cause 24,000 women to become infertile each year. 
The third graphic shows that young people account for a substantial proportion of new STIs. Americans ages 15 to 24 account for 70% of the 820,000 gonorrhea infections among all ages; 63% of the 2.9 million chlamydia infections among all ages; 49% of the 14.1 million HPV infections among all ages; 45% of the 776,000 genital herpes infections among all ages; and 20% of the 55,400 syphilis infections among all ages. Finally, Americans ages 13 to 24 account for 26% of the 47,500 HIV infections among all ages. 
The fourth graphic shows that many youth do not know they’re infected because STIs often have no symptoms. In fact, among youth ages 15 to 24, 200,000 cases of gonorrhea are diagnosed and reported, while the estimated total number of new infections is 570,000. One million cases of chlamydia are diagnosed and reported among youth ages 15 to 24, while the estimated total number of new infections among this population is 1.8 million. 
The fifth graphic shows that unique factors, including insufficient screening, confidentiality concerns, biology, lack of access to health care, and multiple sex partners place youth at risk. Many young women don’t receive the chlamydia screening CDC recommends. Many youth are reluctant to disclose risk behaviors to doctors. Young women’s bodies are biologically more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections. Youth often lack insurance or transportation needed to access prevention services. And many young people have multiple partners which increases STI risk. 
The final graphic outlines the steps young people can take to protect themselves against STIs, such as getting tested, reducing risk behaviors, and getting vaccinated against HPV.

Teaching Guide to the Syphilis Outbreak of 1996

STD Videos from the CDC

Drug Abuse Prevention Begins with Parents

Resisting Peer Pressure to use Drugs

Substance Abuse

Talking to Teens about Drugs and Alcohol

Teaching Resistance Skills

The School Counselor and Student Risky Behaviors

Counselor's Role in Preventing Risky Behaviors

Student Success Skills and the School Counselor


She's Too Young Discussion Guide - Hannah is a 14 year old high school freshmen who wants to be popular.  In her quest for popularity, she gets more than what she bargains for.

Steubenville Rape Case -ABC news program about the sexual assault of a teenage girl at an unsupervised party in Ohio.

PBS Documentary of the 1996 Syphilis Outbreak-Documentary of the spread of syphilis in 1996 among teens in a Georgia suburb.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Normalization of Sexual Harassment in Schools

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Personally for me, the spring brings many challenges as a high school counselor.  There is often a rise in suicidal threats, an increase in student pregnancies, an escalation of fights, and warm weather entices students to skip class for some additional socialization. However, this spring there was an additional concern that emerged from our student body: National Feel a Boob Day. Now that I have your attention, let me elaborate on the real meaning of this day and how it was celebrated at my school.

National Feel a Boob Day is a national awareness program that encourages women to perform self evaluations for lumps in their breast. In addition to each woman checking her own breast, her partner is persuaded to perform breast evaluations on her as well. This day originated as part of a movement to promote self breast examinations among women and their significant others; however, its meaning was lost in the hallways of my school.

So, I guess you are wondering how National Feel a Boob Day played out at my school?

See the reason for National Feel a Boob Day Below...

National Feel a Boob Day

Honestly before last week, I did not even know that this awareness campaign existed. That is until one of my frequent flyers came into our counseling suite with another girl looking very annoyed.  I asked the girls why they were in the office during their lunch and they began to describe their difficult day. Both girls explained they had been fondled and groped all morning by acquaintances and decided to hide out in our office so they could catch a break. Of course, I was not happy about the idea of two girls being touched inappropriately and I asked them if they would be willing to write down the names of these guys so that I could report this to the administration. One of the girls said it was no use because we would have an office full of people. She then went on to inform me that it was National Feel a Boob Day.  Okay, I thought, this has got to be a joke! However, later that afternoon, one of our assistant principals walked by my office and shared another similar story with me.  This time, a female student got into trouble for fondling another girl’s breast in front of the whole class.  The assistant principal asked her why she did it and she informed him that it was not a big deal because it was a holiday, National Feed a Boob Day.  In both incidents, the students were very matter of fact about all the inappropriate touching and explained that this behavior had been going on all day without much concern by the faculty or students.  Really? 


The Normalization of Sexual Harassment

Why I am so surprised this is not a big deal? Wake up girl…just look at the messages from Hollywood.  From our media and pop culture, students are trained at an early age to ignore harassment and then engage in this sexual behavior.  With songs like “My Humps”, “Milkshake”, and even the oldie but goodie, “Brick House”, students are inundated with sexual messages. Even at this year’s Oscar, Seth MacFarland earned many laughs for his song, “I saw your boobs.” The song was about the exposition of actresses’ breast in popular films like The Accused, Monster, and Monster’s Ball (many from violent rape scenes).  There was some backlash from Hollywood feminists, like Jane Fonda, regarding MacFarland’s song; however, many of the younger actresses, like Jennifer Lawrence, found it enjoyable. 

Celebration of Rape


As school counselors, we have an enormous task when it comes to educating students about sexual harassment and an even bigger obstacle on how to prevent it from occurring in schools. In fact, our schools often contribute to the perpetuation of harassment by failing:

·         to provide clear expectations of behavior

·         to teach interpersonal and social skills

·         to effectively correct rule violations

·         to supervise and monitor student behavior

The School Counselor as Educator

As a school counselor, it is important to educate yourself so you can aid others.  From 2003-06, I was very involved in the group, American Association of University Women.

AAUW Website Site

This organization is very committed in educating women and promoting gender equity. From the American Association of University Women site, school counselors can download free resources to help educate their students, particularly young women about harassment. One great resource to download is the 2001 study called, Hostile Hallways: Bullying, Teasing, and Sexual Harassment in School. The study identified two types of harassment in schools:

 Quid Quo Pro Harassment -includes when school employees explicitly or implicitly entice students to participate in voluntary or non-voluntary sexual acts.

 Hostile Environment Harassment-includes sexual harassment between students.  

In addition to defining harassment, the study gives examples of sexual harassment.  Sexual harassment is defined as the unwanted or unwelcomed sexual behaviors that interfere with life at school.

Some examples of harassment include:

·         Sexual comments/jokes

·         Sexual rumors

·         Touching or grabbing another in a sexual way

·         Brushing against another person in a sexual way 

See the chart below from AAUW

When addressing the issue of sexual harassment in schools, Julie Smolinski stated in an AAUW post that harassment is hard to recognize when it is normalized. Smolinski believes educators, like counselors, can help protect students from sexual harassment by talking to them about establishing healthy boundaries and refusing to give their consent to sexual behaviors.  In addition, it is important for school counselors to know which groups are more susceptible to accepting sexual harassment as normalized behavior. In her research, Holly Kearl found that female perceptions about harassment were based on factors like race, age, and socioeconomic status. Girls are twice as likely to experience harassment as boys and African Americans are more likely to be touched or grabbed than Hispanics or Whites. AAUW found that 8 out of 10 students experienced sexual harassment in schools and 35% of that harassment was performed by an acquaintance. In addition, 62% of girls said they would be upset if they were grabbed by another person and 47% of students felt upset directly after an incident of harassment. In the same study by AAUW, students were asked why they chose to harass other students.   

Some of the reasons for the harassment by students included:

·         it is part of the school culture

·         they thought the other person would like it

·         they wanted to date that person

·         their friends encouraged them

See chart from AAUW