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Jane Nelsen

Marriage, Family and Child Counselor
Utah, USA

What inspired you to become a Marriage, Family and Child Therapist?

Actually, I got a teaching degree first and then a degree in pupil personnel to become a school counselor.  I learned that I had enough classes to get a MFCT license by doing an internship -- which I did while I was an elementary school counselor.

What education is required of someone in your field?  What path did you take through upper education?

I received some wonderful advice when I had two small children.  Someone told me that it would be wise to take one college class a semester so that I would have a degree by the time my children were raised.  I did that and it took 11 years and 5 children for me to get my B.A. degree.  I decided to continue and get a M.A. and had my 6th child in the middle of that degree.  When my 7th child was 10 months old I decided to go on for my Ed.D. degree because I was then the director of a federally funded counseling project that included an experimental model (two experimental schools and one control school -- and a paid evaluator).  It seemed to me that the hard part would be taken care of.  It helped, but that program took 3 1/2 years to complete.  I had a very supportive husband.

What subjects did you enjoy most in school?

In high school I enjoyed Spanish and English.  In college I loved my psychology and counseling classes.

Were any subjects particularly difficult for you?

Math and statistics classes were difficult.  I got through them by studying hard, but never did understand algebra and statistics.  The best advice I have for struggling students is to think of the long-term goals.  Sometimes we do what we don't like so we have more options later in life.

Which subjects prepared you the most for your career?  Did anything you learned in school prepare you to raise seven children?

Absolutely.  The reason I became and author and seminar leader is because of one class I took in college where I learned the Adlerian/Dreikursian concepts and how to use them for practical application as a parent.  It helped me so much that I started sharing these concepts with others in small study groups and lecture to small groups.

What are the joys and trials of raising a large family?

This question is too big.  I could write a whole book on it.  For now I will just say that my family (7 children and 18 grandchildren -- and my husband) are my greatest joy.  My children are my best friends.

When did you start writing and speaking professionally?  Did the methods in your Positive Discipline series of books come from your studies or from the real life experiences as a mother?

This is the most interesting question.  I'm not one of those people who had a goal to write books some day.  In fact, I didn't believe it was possible.  However, as director of the above-mentioned project, I was sort of forced into it.  The three-year experimental project went so well and our statistics were so impressive that we received funds for three years to disseminate the project to other schools in California.  I had to develop a two-day workshop.  At first I wanted someone else to do the opening lecture, but my staff convinced me (kicking and screaming all the way) that I could do it.  So I did - and I kept getting better and better.

We were using another book as a text for the workshop.  It went out of print.  By then I had been teaching the workshop for 2 years and had lots of stories to tell.  So, I sat down and wrote Positive Discipline in two months and took it to a local printer for self-publishing.  I had 2000 copies printed and was sure I would be storing 1200 of them in my garage forever.  I knew I could sell 800 because I had that many people lined up to take workshops in the next year.  Much to my surprise, all 2000 were sold (by word of mouth and people using the order blank in the back of the book) within a year.  So, I printed another 5000.  Those were gone in another year.  After selling 80,000 as a self-publisher, I was approached by Ballantine, a large New York publisher, who wanted the rights to publish the book.  They did and have now sold over 600,000 copies.  I also self-published Understanding: Eliminating Stress and Finding Serenity in Life and Relationships (which is now titled From Here to Serenity: Four Principles for Understanding Who You Really Are), and Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World.  Both of those books were picked up by Prima Publishing which was recently bought out by Random House.  Prima also published 14 other books -- the latest of which is Positive Discipline for Working Parents.

Do you still practice as a licensed therapist, or does writing and speaking take up the major part of your time?

I don't have time for private therapy and I don't have an average day or week.  Sometimes I write (still working on two new books) and sometimes I travel and do lectures and workshops.  Sometimes I do office work or yard work or spend time with family.  I love going to the grandkids' volleyball or baseball games or dance recitals -- or whatever else they do.

What does your family think of your work?  Did you ever have your books "backfire" on you?

I could also write a book on this question.  Many times I felt bad that I didn't "practice what I preached" 100% of the time.  My husband would remind me that 80% wasn't bad.  Also, I kept remembering that Rudolf Dreikurs said, "Have the courage to be imperfect."  I made many mistakes.  The great thing I learned is that the Positive Discipline principles really worked when I used them.  When I didn't, I would create a mess.  The great thing is that all I had to do was apologize and go back to the principles to clean up the mess.

After receiving an EdD, have you continued your education or was receiving a PhD the end of formal education for you?

My formal education will never end.  I'm a life long learner.  Most of my learning now is from good books and/or good workshops.

What do you do in your spare time?  Do you have hobbies you particularly enjoy?

I love to read and to walk.  I especially like walking on the beach and am fortunate to have a beach condo in San Clemente, CA where I spend 4 to 6 months a year -- and which is close to 5 of my grandchildren.

If you could live your life over again, would you have chosen the same career path or would you have done things differently?

I can hardly believe how blessed I have been to have my career path sort of fall into my lap.  All I did was find something that helped me so much and then started sharing it with others.  I did not set goals, but I followed many opportunities.

What advice do you have for children who are "in trouble" more often than not?

People who get into trouble are often living their lives for or against someone else.  Living your life for someone else eventually leads to resentment.  Living against someone else leads to rebellion and/or revenge.  Live your life for yourself.  Design your own life and then do what you need to do to create the life you want -- for yourself.

What suggestions do you have for students interested in pursuing a career in counseling?  What type of personality characteristics are best suited for this type of job?

I wouldn't worry at all about the "right" personality characteristics for becoming a therapist or an author or a speaker.  Just pursue your interests.  Do what you love or follow opportunities and success will follow.

Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share with students around the world?

"Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn.  When you make a mistake, don't beat up on yourself.  Learn from it.  Figure out what happened, what caused it to happen, how you feel about it, what you can learn from it, and what you can do about it now."

"Do what you love and success will follow."

- 27 April 2003


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Last Updated:
27 April 2003

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