Thoughts. The ever-present voice in our head that we often only pay much attention to when there’s a problem. Even then, we often hand the bulk of the blame to our emotions and don’t give much thought to our thoughts- the litany of words constantly running through our minds. In this series of articles, I want to highlight a few key points and observations I’ve made about our thoughts from my personal life and my work as a therapist.

First, let’s talk thoughts “versus” emotions to clear a little air here. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way thoughts and emotions, to some extent, have been philosophically pitted against one other- as if they’re enemies or on different sides and we have to pick one. This simply isn’t realistic. If that were true, we’d all have to choose to be either emotionless robots or puddles. We can easily look at people on either extreme- of over-identifying with thoughts (more on that in a later article) or with emotions- and clearly see that they aren’t interacting with the world around them in a balanced, healthy way. But, even so, often when I ask someone about their emotions, I hear claims about preferring to be a “more rational person.” To me, that seems a bit like your physical therapist asking you how your legs are feeling and you tell her you prefer to concentrate on your arms. Both thoughts and emotions are on the same team. We need them both and they work best together, assuming we can separate them at all. As I wrote about in another article- “The Truth About Pain”– we can no more separate thoughts and emotions than we can fully separate emotional and physical pain. I bring this up to clarify that in this series when I’m writing about thoughts I’m doing so under the assumption and understanding that thoughts and emotions are not completely separate entities.

The next part in this series will focus on the topic of self-talk so here I want to only touch on this idea as it relates to the power of our words. It is hard to argue with the fact that words have power. Words play a part in much of what inspires us. Speeches by charismatic leaders have started revolutions (think Hitler, for example) and have converted people to religions or ideas they never considered (think brilliant authors like C.S. Lewis). They’ve convinced people to change entire perspectives. We see this on both the positive and negative ends of the spectrum. Either way, it’s difficult to deny that words have power.

I see this present itself in a few different, very significant ways in my work as a therapist. First, there have been countless articles, books, and research studies since the dawn of the field of counseling about the effects of our thoughts and internal beliefs on our mental health. In fact, there is an entire model of counseling called “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy” (CBT) that posits that our thoughts directly impact our behavior. To put it simply, you can significantly change behaviors by changing the thoughts that drive them. Without getting into a theoretical debate regarding Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, I believe most of us in the field of mental health counseling would agree that our thoughts (the beliefs we’re rehearsing and justifying in our heads) have a significant impact on our behaviors and our general well-being.

The second and probably most compelling way I see the power of words work in my counseling office is when they are spoken, often for the first time, by my clients. Sometimes I even feel a bit guilty about how much this continues to amaze me. As a therapist, I know that so much of the power of therapy lies in the clients’ courage to talk about and through things in a way they haven’t done before. I say I feel guilty at times because, deep down, I know this to be true- that there is something nearly magical about talking through something difficult and vulnerable in the presence of a non-judgmental witness (whether this is a therapist or a friend), especially for the first time. However, I’m still amazed each time I hear a client say, “Wow, I feel so much better/lighter/freer.” when I’ve essentially only sat as an actively-listening, empathetic witness. It’s such a beautiful part of how we are foundationally social creatures who, at our cores, are ready-built for relationships. Peter Levine (1997), the originator of Somatic Experiencing, speaks to this profound truth by stating, “Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.” The opposite of this, then, also holds true. Hurt that happens in relationship can be healed in relationship.

Third, on a personal level, working as a counselor has changed my view regarding the impact of the spoken word. Before, honestly, I don’t know that I’d given a lot of thought to the topic. Yes, I was a sensitive kid so I was keenly aware of how others words could affect me but had never considered this on a more global level. I had given little thought to how my words affect others and, then even more so, how words have such power to heal, to harm, to stick to the insides of our heads, and to even lay the groundwork for lifelong beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. John Eldredge, author of Wild at Heart, speaks to the power of words by calling the detrimental words spoken over us, especially as children, as “wounds of the heart.”  He goes on to explain that if we hear a “message” enough times, we’ll eventually start to believe it to the extent that I believe my eyes are green (they are, by the way). We can come to believe it so wholeheartedly or so unquestionably that we accept it as fact. Once we then accept something as fact, the tint of our worldview lens tends to confirm rather than deny this “truth.” My colleague Allan spoke to this beautifully in his recent article about how these messages can play a part in our parenting. Some of the most powerful moments I’ve been a part of in my therapy office have been those in which I have had the opportunity to speak truth to obvious lies. Sometimes it’s the first time that person has heard (or better yet allowed) someone else to speak against their wounds masquerading as “facts.” From time-to-time, I think about that original moment(s) when the wound was first inflicted. I wonder whether or not the speaker had any clue the impact they were having on that person (often a child) and whether they would have said what they did if they had known. In his wonderful little book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz (2008) writes, “The human mind is like a fertile ground where seeds are continually being planted. The seeds are opinions, ideas, and concepts. You plant a seed, a thought, and it grows. The word is like a seed, and the human mind is so fertile!” This is true whether the words spoken are harmful or affirming. I believe it is best for us to remain aware of just how fertile this soil is in ourselves and each other.

Words are powerful. As I said at the beginning, our thoughts are essentially the words we’re constantly speaking to ourselves. While I won’t argue that spoken and written words may differ in some ways than our thoughts, I think the backbone of the matter is the same. Words are powerful, even if no one but us hears them. In part two of this series, we’ll delve into the huge impact these specific types of words can have on our overall well-being.


Eldredge, J. (2011). Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. Harpercollins Christian Pub.

Levine, P. A. (1997). Waking the Tiger. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Ruiz, D. (2008). The Four Agreements. Thorndike, Me.: Center Point Pub.

While the weather seems to be unsure about it lately, the holidays are indeed upon us. Unfortunately, along with all of the blessings and joy that can come with the holiday season, the season also, paradoxically, offers its own unique set of stressors. I often have people ask me if my counseling practice slows down during the holidays due to so many people traveling. When I tell them that often people are more likely to seek out therapy around the holidays, I generally get a quick nod of understanding.

One of these seasonal stressors, for many of us, can be centered around extra time with extended family. You don’t have to look far to find books on the self-help shelf dealing with the topic of families and conflict. And you don’t have to ask too many people about how to deal with family conflict before you get similarly conflicting advice, even from therapists. We’re certainly not going to cover the entire topic of conflict with family in one blog entry, however there are two basic guideposts that, I think, can help us mentally and emotionally prepare for smooth(er) family interactions over the holidays.

1. The holidays really aren’t the best time to bring up conflict. One of my favorite tag lines for dealing with conflict is “strike when the iron is cold.” Having all your family together for a special and inherently somewhat stressful event is not an emotionally cold-iron-type of situation. When the water is already hot, it doesn’t take much for it to start boiling. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to recommend that you deal with your conflict head on (generally in a one-on-one situation, by the way) but how about we pick Valentine’s or Columbus day if we’re really dying to deal with our family business on a holiday.

I’d recommend taking a moment to reflect on experiences of conflict that have gone reasonably well for you. Was it during an already heated or stressful moment- whether it be positive or negative stress? Was it in the presence of a lot of other people? Did the conflict occur in a setting or around a set of circumstances that rarely occur? I’m going to guess that the answer is no for at least one of those (and I didn’t even mention the eggnog). If we think about the specific factors involved in past successful conflict resolution, we might recognize that the harvest is rarely ripe for conflict at holiday gatherings.

2. One of my favorite metaphors to use in therapy centers around our expectations in relationship. It can be summed up in the statement “Don’t go to the hardware store looking for a loaf of bread.” Essentially, the wisdom in this saying is that we shouldn’t expect what someone can’t/won’t/hasn’t ever given us. It’s simply not realistic for us or fair to that person. If you walk into the hardware store and throw a fit about there not being bread on the shelves, you’ll get some deservedly weird looks and likely very little sympathy. Now this doesn’t mean we should boycott all hardware stores; they have their place and are really great when you need to build or fix something. We all need hardware store-type people in our lives. But when you’re hungry? Go somewhere else. Don’t bring up a political hot topic with your uncle who loves to say absurd, upsetting things; don’t try to get your empathy fix from the worst listener in the room. The reality is, when we do this, the unhealthy interaction which ensues is our responsibility more than theirs. After all, in that scenario, our faulty expectations and our desire to change people into someone they’re not is to blame.

Change is tough for all of us and we all know we’re not perfect and neither are any of our family members. We all know- at least intellectually- that we can’t change other people. However, it is still tempting to think that we are capable of bringing about change in other people through the sheer force of our expectations via our disapproval, disappointment, and sometimes emotional punishment when someone doesn’t live up to them. In that moment, I believe we need to take a long look in the mirror and deal with what lie we’re believing about our role in our relationship with that person. If my role is ever to change or fix someone, something has gone awry for us in that relationship. We’re always better off meeting people where they are, not where we want them to be. After all, that’s usually what we want from others too, right?

The beautiful thing about assuming this posture in our relationships is that these boundaries allow us the freedom to have true, deep, meaningful relationships with those around us. Having a relationship with someone who you feel over-responsible for is daunting and generally not sustainable for long-term relationship health. But when we assume a posture with those we love that says “You may not be a bakery so you may not be able to help me when I need a shoulder to cry on. But when my car breaks down, you are the first person I know I can call and I’m grateful for you for that,” we are giving that person the freedom, relationally, to be their authentic selves with us. Isn’t that what we all, sometimes desperately, desire to receive in our relationships?

When it comes to changing our interactions with our family, we are wise to remember, “When we are no longer able to change a situation- we are challenged to change ourselves” (Frankl, 1984). The amazing part about that is we often find that when we start by changing ourselves it can make all the difference.
Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster.


It is important to note that neither I, nor anybody else, can be responsible for your licensure application. The requirements and specifics change periodically and no two people have exactly the same experience, even in the same year. The information in this post is intended to help you understand what is going to happen and roughly map out the process in practical detail. This post is not legal advice and it is not a replacement for reading carefully through the Board website and everything else the Board sends you.

Since the process changes so frequently, and the list of requirements is so confusing, no one wants to be responsible for messing up anyone else. Unfortunately, this means that there isn’t much information out there about timing, sequence, or content of steps to take in applying for a license to do therapy in Arkansas.

To that end, I am going to try to document here what I have learned as I have navigated the process of applying for both the LAC and LAMFT licenses in Arkansas. I hope it helps at least a little. The following information was accurate as of 2017.


I was often told that I should turn in my paperwork on the first day of my last semester of graduate school. One misunderstanding I had in the beginning was that there was just one pile of “paperwork” that was turned in all at once. This isn’t the case. There are several batches of documents that have to be turned in in order. If you are hoping to make the gap between graduation and licensure as short as possible, it would be a mistake to wait until you are in your last semester to submit your first documents to the Board.

The reason for this is that there are some steps (fingerprint/background-checks especially) that can take a very long time to process (up to 6 months) and you don’t want to get caught waiting on them at the end. But you can’t start that step until the Board responds to your first set of documents.

In theory, you could do the very first step as far as 12 months out from when you expect to be licensed. Any further out than that and you might be charged fees by the Board to renew your application. But there are reasons not to start even that early. You might change your mind about which license you want, which courses you’re going to take, or which areas of therapy you are going to focus on. All of these things have to be declared in your very first documents and having to correct these documents later would only prolong the process.

If I had known what I know now, I would have turned in the first documents at the beginning of my next to last semester. The first three steps in this outline can be completed before your last semester starts.

The whole licensure process can feel a little like a mail order scavenger hunt. You can’t progress to the next stage of the game until you’ve deciphered requirements and responded appropriately. If you answer correctly, you’ll receive another set of clues and challenges. You will have a desperately limited window of time in which to decipher and respond at each stage. No pressure, it’s just your future.

Sound stressful? It is. It should be. But having some idea of what’s coming might help.


In order for the Board to begin accepting all of the documents needed for your license, they need to open a file in your name. To open a file with the Board, you must turn in 5 documents (simultaneously) along with a check for $200 (at the time of this writing).

You can do this literally anytime, but they will reject the packet if all 5 of these documents are not present. This is important to do first because if you start having transcripts and letters of recommendation sent to the Board in your name before they have a file for you, there is a risk that those documents might get lost in limbo and force you to have them sent again. Save yourself the embarrassment of asking a professor to rewrite your letter by getting your file openned first.

These first 5 documents are sometimes called your initial packet. They are as follows: (links may not work if they have changed since this writing)

If you are applying for both licenses, then you will have 6 documents in this first packet because you’ll use both course requirement forms.


After the Board has received your initial application packet and everything is in order, they will open your file and respond by sending you 1 email and 1 mailed envelope.

The email has everything you need to begin the process of registering to take your exam(s). More on that in a bit.

The envelope is super time sensitive. Inside the envelope, among various notifications and reminders, you will find 3 critical documents and another pre-labeled envelope:

  • Fingerprint Card
  • Fingerprint Card Verification Form
    • Before you can get your fingerprints done, you must take this form to a public notary to fill it out and have it notarized.
  • Form AR920180Z
    • Make sure you sign the back.

These documents are the reason for starting this whole process as early as possible. It can take 3 to 6 MONTHS for the FBI to process and return your fingerprints and background checks to the Board. I don’t think it always takes that long, but the FBI says that it can and sometimes does.

Once you have these three documents ready, you must go to the Arkansas State Police headquarters to get your fingerprints processed. After they apply your fingerprints to the Fingerprint Card and they have signed off on your Verification Form, put those two documents, along with the AR920180Z form and two checks made out to the Arkansas State Police (one for $12 and one for $25 as of this writing) inside the pre-labeled envelope and give it to the clerk at the police headquarters. She must seal it and mail it herself.

You’re done. Walk away empty handed. The FBI will process the forms, run your background check, and send the results to the Board directly.

NOTE: Some students have reported that they would not mail the envelope for them at the police headquarters. Maybe this depends on who’s running the counter, or maybe the rules change frequently, or maybe those students sealed the envelope themselves first. Who knows. If they won’t mail it for you, you’ll have to do it yourself ASAP. Insured or certified mail might be wise.


The email that you received from the Board after they accepted your initial packet contained important attachments needed to register for the exams. The NCE and the MFTNE have their own unexpectedly complicated processes for registration. Lots of emails. Lots of codes. Lots of waiting.


If you told the Board (in your initial application) that you are applying to be an LAC, then the email will have included a PDF letter declaring the Board’s approval for you to sit for the NCE. You will need this letter to register.

Buckle up, this gets complicated.

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) is charged with oversight of the administration of the NCE. So you’ll need to go to their website to register and upload the approval letter you got in the email from the Board. Registering included a fee of $195 at the time of this writing. Within 4 weeks of registering, you will receive an email from the NBCC containing an account code which you will need to actually actually register for the exam.

The NBCC doesn’t administer the test itself. Instead, they contract that job out to a group called Pearson VUE. Take the code that the NBCC emailed you and go to Pearson VUE’s website to complete the registration there and schedule a time and place to take the exam.


  1. When you’re on Pearson’s website, you have to search for the NBCC rather than the NCE to find the exam you need.
  2. Official NCE scores are sent to the board on the 3rd week of the month after you take the exam. So, for example, if you take the exam on the first day of a month, it will be 7 weeks before the Board gets your official scores. If you take if just a few days earlier at the end of the month, it will only take 3 weeks. Something to keep in mind.


Registering for the MFTNE is similarly gymnastic. If you check the LAMFT box on your initial application packet, then the email you get in response also instructs you to email another employee of the state, letting them know that you have been approved to take the MFT exam. I just forwarded that original email to this person and asked if there was anything else she needed from me.

A few days later, she replied with an attachment containing a code that I could use to register. Take the code they give you and go to this website to begin your “application” to register.

Completing the application will involve paying the fee ($350 when I did it) and picking a date window to take the exam. You are given the choice of several week-long date windows to register for. You won’t find out what day in that window you are actually taking the exam until about a month before you the exam itself.


Ok, take a deep breath. Once you’ve gotten this far, most of the super time sensitive stuff is out of your hands, for better or worse. Now the game is to get everything else the Board needs in order to schedule you to sit for the Oral Exam. That’s the finish line!! There can be a waiting list as long as two months to take the Oral Exam, so you want to get scheduled as fast as possible. Here’s what remains:

  • Letters of Recommendation
    • Have letters of recommendation sent. The Board must receive 4: two from faculty and two from personal references.
  • Exam Scores
    • Once you’ve completed your exam(s), send a copy of your scores to the Board so that they can schedule you for your Oral Exam. The official scores will be automatically sent to the Board for you, but they will accept a copy from you while they wait for the official scores so that you can go ahead and get scheduled.
  • Supervision Agreement
    • Go ahead and find a supervisor for your LAC/LAMFT supervision. The agreement itself isn’t valid until after you sit for your exams, but they won’t issue you a license until they have one on file.
  • Transcripts
    • Before your Oral Exam is scheduled, they need a final transcript demonstrating that you have earned your degree. I had been told that they would go ahead and schedule you with a partial transcript and a letter stating that you were enrolled in your final classes, but this is apparently incorrect. You don’t need to send any transcripts until after your final semester is complete and your degree is conferred.
  • The Oral Exam
    • This is the final step of the licensure process. You can always call or email the Board office to check on the status of your application and make sure that you have everything you need. BE NICE. The staff who run the front office are amazing and very generous. I have heard the same horror stories you have about interacting with the office staff. Those stories are either about people who haven’t worked there in ages, or they are apocryphal. My experience, and the experience of my classmates, is that if you are polite and courteous, there is apparently no end to their willingness to help you stay informed and pointed in the right direction.
    • Once the Board has received everything above, they will schedule you to take the Oral Exam. You don’t get a say in when that is (you can decline and opt to do it later than they initially schedule you, but that would mean taking longer), so don’t plan post-graduation vacations until you know when you’re scheduled. Once you pass the Oral Exam, the Board will issue you a license. Congratulations!!

If you have any questions about this post or the subject, feel free to email We may not have the answer, but we promise to sympathize.