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“I don’t think I mentioned it before, but I really think your partnership with Ivana made some lasting, positive impressions. She was already a super academic writer and analytical thinker, but she is very modest and had a great deal of trouble starting her common app essay, partly because she did not know how to talk about herself. She also had no experience with creative writing. After your exercises, brainstorming techniques, and encouragement, she worked very hard on her common app essay and felt extremely good about the finished product. More important, she gained a new sense of confidence about expressing thoughts about herself and also enjoyed finding various, creative ways to write, including the framing work you talk about in your book.  She was able to quickly write all of the other college essays, including the supplemental ones, and I noticed how well she expressed personal insights. Her creativity, as found in her writings, also increased significantly. Best of all, I noticed a new sense of joy she feels writing papers of all kinds. I really appreciate the impact you had on her. I am sure that the added skills she learned will be valuable in her studies at Columbia.”


—Parent of a student whose essay, If Ink Were Ants, can be found in College Essay Essentials (now available on Amazon).


1. Listening

"Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people can’t tell the difference.” - David Augsberg

I try to listen in my sessions more than I speak. But what kind of listening? I like the term musical listening, which to me means hearing both what’s being said and what’s not being said.

3. Accurate empathy

If a student says to me, “So… I broke up with my boyfriend last week,” I try not to say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, that’s awful,” because I don’t actually know if that’s awful. Maybe it’s awesome. [note] I try to practice accurate empathy. How? By staying curious. So I’ll ask something like, “How’s that going for you?” Because I never know what’s happening in their world. And I’ll learn a lot more if I’m curious about their movie rather than simply projecting my own.

5. Student-Centered Counseling

I like to think of my role as a driver’s ed teacher: I try to imagine a student in the driver’s seat while I’m in the passenger seat. I have a steering wheel, a brake, and an accelerator, so I can steer, slow down, or ramp up a session when necessary. But ideally the student does the driving.

7. Silence

My friend Nicole once told me, “When someone is sharing their Truth, you shut up.” It can sometimes be tough to tell when someone is sharing their Truth, but if you sense someone might be doing so, I try to shut up.

Also, it can sometimes feel awkward to simply sit beside a student while s/he is writing. But sitting is great. In fact, sometimes it’s exactly right.

These two situations have one thing in common: “The being is the doing.”

Allowing someone time to process–either aloud or while writing–while I sit and simply hold space is a gift. And it’s enough.