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Bullying behaviors among youth in the United States are epidemic. Professional counselors need effective interventions founded upon evidence-based practices to help truncate perpetrator bullying behaviors. The “Reflecting As If” (RAI) intervention provides a relatively simple to implement, evidence-based intervention that holds significant clinical promise. Keywords: bullying, school bullying, maltreatment, Reflecting As If
Article 813
Using the Reflecting As If Intervention to Reduce Bullying Behaviors
Gerald A. Juhnke, Brenna A. Juhnke, Richard E. Watts,
Kenneth M. Coll, and Noréal F. Armstrong
Juhnke, Gerald A., EdD, LPC, NCC, MAC, (NC)LCAS, ACS, is a Professor at
The University of Texas at San Antonio. His clinical expertise is specific to Life-
Threatening Behaviors.
Juhnke, Brenna A., is a Reagan High School Winners’ Circle Member. Her
research interests include bullying and anxiety among middle and high school
aged youth.
Watts, Richard E., PhD, LPC-S, is a Distinguished Professor of Counseling and
Director for the Center for Research & Doctoral Studies in Counselor Education
at Sam Houston State University. His research interests include Adlerian,
cognitive, and constructivist theoretical integration and applications.
Coll, Kenneth M., PhD, LCPC, LPC, NCC, MAC, is Professor and Dean of the
College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno. His research interests
include addictions and clinical counseling applications.
Armstrong, Noréal F., MS, LPC, is a Doctoral Student at The University of
Texas at San Antonio. Her research interests include counseling hearing-impaired
Bullying behaviors among youth in the United States are epidemic. Professional
counselors need effective interventions founded upon evidence-based practices to
help truncate perpetrator bullying behaviors. The “Reflecting As If” (RAI)
intervention provides a relatively simple to implement, evidence-based
intervention that holds significant clinical promise.
Keywords: bullying, school bullying, maltreatment, Reflecting As If
Recent bullying research suggests approximately 25% of 6th through 12th grade
students in the U.S. are bullied (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012;
DeVoe & Bauer, 2010; Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). Bullying
negative effects are well documented throughout existing literature (Dao et al., 2006; Due
& Holstein, 2008; Pozzoli, 2009; Rivers & Noret, 2013; Srabstein & Piazza, 2008).
Given bullying frequency among U.S. students and bullying’s documented negative
effects, professional counselors need helpful bullying interventions that are both easy to
implement and based upon evidence-based practices. The Reflecting As If (RAI)
Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2014
intervention provides such an intervention. RAI is founded upon proven, widely
accepted, evidence-based practices (Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2012;
Watts & La Guardia, 2013). This article will provide a general RAI description and
explain RAI’s three phases. It will then use a clinical vignette demonstrating RAI’s use
with a bullying perpetrator.
General “Reflecting As If” Description and Phases
RAI is based on ideas and procedures from Adlerian therapy and constructivist
and social constructionist perspectives (Watts, 2013; Watts & La Guardia, 2013; Watts &
Phillips, 2004; Watts, Williamson, & Williamson, 2004). Specifically, RAI is relationship
focused, optimistic and anticipatory of positive change outcomes, present and future
oriented, and places emphasis on existing client strengths, skills, and abilities (Watts,
2013; Watts & La Guardia, 2013). The intervention invites clients to both identify and
implement new or alternate behaviors. Clients perceive these new and alternate behaviors
as potentially helpful in changing current negative behaviors and relationships. Given the
new or alternate behaviors are created by clients seeking counseling and neither created
nor forced upon clients by their counselors, clients have a greater propensity to feel
ownership of the new behaviors (Watts, 2013; Watts & La Guardia, 2013). Thus, clients
have greater potential to commit to the implementation of the behaviors and expect
positive outcomes when the behaviors are utilized. Furthermore, given clients completely
control if and when their newly devised behaviors are utilized, clients will likely utilize
the new behaviors when they believe these new behaviors will bring about desired and
intended outcomes.
RAI is comprised of three distinct phases. Each phase has a specific task to
complete. Phase One is brainstorming with clients. Here clients identify new or altered
behaviors they believe would be beneficial in changing their perceived negative
behaviors. Watts and La Guardia (2013) encouraged professional counselors to utilize
thought provoking questions such as, “If you were acting as if you were the person you
would like to be, how would you be acting differently?” or “If a good friend would see
you several months from now and you were more like the person you desire to be, what
would this person see you doing differently?”
Phase Two of the RAI is what Watts described as a “plausibility check” (Watts,
2013; Watts & La Guardia, 2013). Here, clients and professional counselors work
together to help clients refine their identified new or altered behaviors. Counselors help
clients ensure the new or altered behaviors are specific, behaviorally oriented,
measurable, and relevant to the desired outcome. Once the plausible new or altered
behaviors are behaviorally described and measurements for the behaviors are devised,
clients then rank order the behaviors form easiest to most difficult to implement.
RAI Phase Three has three separate steps. In Step One of Phase Three, clients
select two of the easiest behaviors from the list generated in Phase Two and initiate these
behaviors during the upcoming week. Step Two is discussing clients’ experiences with
the new or altered behaviors. Specifically, professional counselors focus on successful
behavioral attempts and discuss how the client may see and experience others, their
interpersonal relationships, and themselves differently. The last step of Phase Three
includes encouraging clients in their continued pursuit of change, focusing on clients’
Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2014
strengths and abilities, differentiating between what people do and who people are, and
communicating affirmation regarding client efforts (Watts & Pietrzak, 2000).
Bullying Case Vignette
Andrew presents as a 15-year-old, Caucasian male. He is a junior at Central High
School. Two weeks ago, an incident occurred in the high school cafeteria. Andrew
shoved a smaller freshman student and poured milk on the student’s lap. Given the school
district’s zero tolerance bullying policy, Andrew was suspended last week from school
and is now required to participate in weekly counseling sessions beginning today. RAI
Phases One, Two, and Three are provided below, as well as a summary description for
each phase.
Phase One:
Counselor: Andrew, based upon what you said, you don’t want to get suspended
again. One counseling intervention clients have found helpful is called,
‘Reflecting As If.’ Would you be interested in learning more about how to
use this intervention as a way to stop bullying?
Andrew: Yes, I want to go to college. If I get in trouble again, I will be permanently
expelled from school. Then, I’ll never get into a college. How does
Reflecting As If work?
Counselor: I’m glad you asked. If you were acting as if you were the person you want
to be, who doesn’t shove or bully, how would you be acting?
Andrew: I guess I would be acting friendly.
Counselor: So, how would acting friendly look, Andrew?
Andrew: I would be smiling rather than acting all tough and angry.
Counselor: Makes sense. How would you not be looking all tough and angry?
Andrew: I don’t know. Maybe I would be walking so my hands weren’t clenched
into fists.
Counselor: What else would you be doing?
Andrew: I would say “hi” to people rather than being silent.
Counselor: Okay. So you would be smiling, your hands wouldn’t be clenched into
fists, and you would be saying “hi” to people. Is there anything else you
would be doing if you were acting like the person you want to be who
doesn’t shove or bully?
Andrew: Nope. Those would be the things I would concentrate on.
As we read above, we understand Phase One is brainstorming how Andrew would
act if he were acting like a person who does not bully. Although the above responses are
limited for demonstration purposes, they describe how to ask bullying perpetrators to
identify new, nonbullying behaviors. It is critically important to ensure responses are
behaviorally described. Andrew first reports he would be acting friendly. The
professional counselor then asks, “So, how would acting friendly look?” The intent of
this question is to have Andrew behaviorally describe how he would be acting. He does
this by saying he would be smiling and not clenching his fists when he walks. The
counselor then asks what else Andrew might do. Andrew reports he would say “hi” to
Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2014
people rather than be silent. This brainstorming helps Andrew envision the behavioral
manner in which he can choose to act, and it provides a template of options from which
he may select.
Phase Two:
Counselor: Andrew, how plausible is it that you would actually smile when you walk
around the school?
Andrew: It wouldn’t be that hard to do.
Counselor: But on a scale from 0 to 10 with 0 indicating that you likely won’t walk
around the school smiling and 10 indicating that you will be smiling as
you walk around the school, how realistic is it that you will be smiling.
Andrew: I think about a 6. I will be smiling more than half the time I walk around
the school.
Counselor: So, I’m hearing you would be willing and able to smile more than half the
time you are walking around the school. How can you check yourself to
see how often you are smiling?
Andrew: Well, I could write ‘smile’ on the back of my hand and every time I look
at my hand, I can remember to smile.
Counselor: You seem pretty dedicated. I bet you would do that.
Andrew: Yup.
Counselor: So what could you do to remember not to clench your fists when you
Andrew: If I am smiling, I probably clench my fists. Every time I look at the back
of my hand and see ‘smile’, I will also relax my hands and make certain
they are not clenched.
Counselor: That’s a good idea. How about saying ‘hi’ to people? How will you do
Andrew: I bet if I’m smiling, people will smile back. That shouldn’t be too hard to
Counselor: Smiling, nonclenched hands, and saying ‘hi.’ Which will be the easiest for
you to do and which will be the most difficult?
Andrew: I don’t think any of these things will be hard to do. I think smiling will be
easiest, followed by keeping my hands from making fists, and saying ‘hi.’
Counselor: So we would order these behaviors from easiest to hardest by saying
smiling is easiest and number one, walking with your hands open and not
clenched into fists would be second easiest or number two, and third
easiest would be saying ‘hi.’
Andrew: You got it!
Phase Two above demonstrates how professional counselors can create a
plausibility check by asking if clients will use their newly self-identified, anti-bullying
behaviors. Above, the counselor challenges Andrew by asking if Andrew actually will
use the anti-bullying behaviors he identified and how Andrew will monitor his use of
these behaviors. Andrew verbally reports the anti-bullying behaviors will be useful. He
then devises a method to measure or monitor his compliance. Specifically, Andrew
reports he will write ‘smile’ on the back of his hands. Andrew claims he will smile each
Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2014
time he sees the word on the back of his hands. Finally within this Phase, the counselor
has Andrew rank order the behaviors from easiest to most challenging.
Phase Three Step One:
Counselor: Given that the anti-bullying behaviors you identified are pretty
straightforward, which two behaviors will you want to begin this week?
Andrew: I can do all three this week.
Counselor: I really believe you could. However, let’s identify just two that you will
use and practice this week. Once you are successful with those two new
behaviors you can add your third anti-bullying behavior the following
week. Which two will you want to utilize this week?
Andrew: I know I can smile and walk with my hands open rather than clenched into
Counselor: Good. Between now and the next time we meet next Monday, why don’t
you smile and walk with your open hands, the way you have identified as
helpful. Keep track of how that goes and tell me how things improve
between now and next week.
Because Phase Three has three separate parts, this Phase will be broken into three
Steps for demonstration purposes. Step One demonstrates how the professional counselor
asks Andrew which two anti-bullying behaviors he will use. As is often the case with
relatively easy to implement, anti-bullying behaviors identified by clients, Andrew
reports he can implement all three. Although it is highly plausible Andrew could
implement all three of these very simple behaviors, the counselor wants Andrew to have
a high probability for success and focus on two limited behaviors that can quickly
become an ingrained habit. Thus, the counselor reports her positive belief that Andrew
could successfully implement all three. However, she encourages Andrew to focus on
two behaviors in the upcoming week, and then report his success at the next scheduled
counseling session. It is also important to note that the counselor sets an expectation for
success. She does this by stating, “. . . tell me how things improve between now and next
week.” This statement has significant therapeutic implications. It implies the counselor
believes in Andrew and his ability to implement these new anti-bullying behaviors.
Furthermore, her statement establishes her expectations for Andrew’s success.
Phase Three Step Two:
Counselor: Welcome back, Andrew. Tell me how often you smiled and walked with
open hands last week?
Andrew: It was easy. I smiled wherever I went and kept my hands open the whole
Counselor: Cool. So on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 meaning you never smiled or walked
with your hands open and 10 meaning you were smiling all the time and
walking with your hands open all the time, what kind of score would you
give yourself?
Andrew: I’d say an 8. Most days I smiled and walked with my hands open.
Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2014
Counselor: An eight is a pretty high score and tells me you smiled and walked with
open hands a lot. What kinds of things did you do to remind yourself to
keep on smiling and walking with open hands?
Andrew: I really didn’t have to do much. I wrote ‘SMILE’ on the back of my hands
the first day. But after I started smiling and walking with my hands open,
it was easy to continue and I didn’t write ‘SMILE’ on my hands anymore.
Counselor: So will you continue smiling and walking with open hands this next week?
Andrew: Yes. I plan to.
Counselor: Tell me how smiling and walking with open hands helped reduce or
eliminate the previous bullying behaviors?
Andrew: It changed how people acted towards me.
Counselor: How’s that?
Andrew: Well, when I smiled and walked with open hands people would smile back
and talk with me.
Counselor: You also wanted to say ‘hi’ to people. Are you ready to do all three this
Andrew: No problem. I can do that.
Above, the professional counselor asked Andrew a scaling question to learn his
smiling and walking with open hands frequency. She also asked how Andrew reminded
himself to smile and use open hands. She then asked if Andrew planned to continue his
new behaviors and whether or not the two behaviors helped Andrew reduce or eliminate
the bullying. When Andrew reported the new behaviors helped, the counselor asked how
the behaviors helped. Andrew reported that his smiling and walking with open hands
resulted in people smiling back at him and speaking to him. Given the favorable outcome,
the counselor then asked if Andrew was ready to implement the third anti-bullying
behavior (i.e., saying ‘hi’). Andrew reported he was ready to establish the third behavior.
Hence, the counselor encouraged him to start saying ‘hi’ and monitor all three behaviors
in the upcoming week. Had Andrew reported he was not ready to begin saying ‘hi’ to
others, the counselor would have asked something like, “What things will you need to do
before you start saying ‘hi’ to others?” Once Andrew identifies the things that he must do
before utilizing the new behavior, the counselor will help Andrew establish a plan and
timeline to accomplish what needs to be done. Had Andrew reported his newly
implemented behaviors ineffective, the counselor would ask something like, “How can
you modify the smiling and open hands behaviors or identify new behaviors that can help
you reach your goal of non-bullying?”
The intent is to help Andrew understand he ultimately controls his behaviors and
can identify and establish behaviors that will reduce and eliminate his bullying.
Phase Three Step Three:
Counselor: Andrew, I am impressed with the progress you have made and your
commitment to be free from bullying. You have really set your mind to
stopping the bullying behaviors and becoming the neat and caring person
you are.
Andrew: Thanks. I want to go to college and bullying will keep me from getting
Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2014
Counselor: You have many strengths and abilities, Andrew. You are a good
communicator, you are intelligent, and you have many excellent
interpersonal skills. I know you can be very successful. It is fun to see you
becoming the person you are and to watch your dedication to continuing
the change you want to achieve your goal of college.
In Phase Three Step Three the professional counselor does many things. She
verbally praises Andrew, reports his progress and begins to differentiate between Andrew
and his former bullying behaviors. The counselor also describes a few of Andrew’s
strengths and abilities. She concludes by communicating her perceptions of Andrew’s
future success and her belief in him.
The authors of this article described the RAI intervention and its three phases.
RAI is a proven, evidence-based intervention based on an integration of Adlerian and
constructivist ideas. Heretofore, RAI had not been linked within existing literature as a
viable intervention to address the U.S. bullying epidemic. The clinical vignette
demonstrates how to utilize RAI with a high school bullying perpetrator. Based upon the
lead author’s experiences, RAI is an easily implemented and effective bullying
intervention that has broad potential for professional counselors working in a variety of
settings including, but not limited to, school, community, and private practice counseling.
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Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2014
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Note: This paper is part of the annual VISTAS project sponsored by the American Counseling Association.
Find more information on the project at:
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