Mehmet Akkurt’s overriding goal is to advance the profession of counseling in his home country of Turkey. Eventually, he also hopes to serve as a bridge between Turkish and American counselors and counseling techniques because he believes there are “great opportunities for mutual learning.”
Akkurt, a member of the American Counseling Association, is currently pursuing his doctorate in Duquesne University’s counselor education and supervision program thanks to a scholarship he received from Turkey’s Ministry of National Education. Upon graduating in 2014, he will return to Turkey and teach counseling students at Ege University in its department of psychological counseling and guidance.
Akkurt received the scholarship, known locally as the YLSY or the Graduate Study Abroad Program, in 2009. He began his master’s degree program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) in 2010.
“Studying abroad was one of my goals, and this scholarship seemed like a great opportunity [that would allow me to do so],” says Akkurt, who is also a member of ACA’s International Counseling Interest Network. “My family is a lower-middle-class family, so I could not even afford a plane ticket to the United States. This scholarship made my dreams come true by providing full financial support.”
The scholarship provides full financial support to students interested in pursuing their graduate studies abroad, with the understanding that they return and work as professors at Turkish universities. The YLSY also provided Akkurt with training in English as a second language.
Upon being accepted to UTSA, Akkurt recalls feeling “very excited. I remember having a big celebration with my friends. It was a big achievement for someone who had been learning English for less than a year.”
Akkurt hails from Midyat, a city in the province of Mardin located in southeastern Turkey. He first realized the great need for counselors in his country during undergraduate internships in primary schools.
“When I was doing my internships, not every school had school counselors,” he says. “That lack was [what] made me realize the need.”
Akkurt’s initial perception of counseling was limited to career counseling, which he had planned to pursue so he could help children make positive career choices. “However, when I was introduced to [other aspects of] counseling, I fell in love with the profession,” he says. Akkurt ultimately chose to pursue a master’s in community counseling.
Akkurt was raised in a small town, but he says at least four languages were spoken there and at least three different religions were being practiced. “I developed an interest in the areas of multicultural and global counseling,” he says. “I am specifically interested in global counseling, and I believe international students play an important role in the globalization of our profession. They do that by creating bridges between the United States and their home countries.”
Currently, the counseling profession in Turkey is known as psychological counseling and guidance. It is mostly taught at the undergraduate level, though master’s and doctoral programs are available at some universities. Upon graduating, most of these students work in school settings (typically public schools) as school counselors.
“Turkish professionals have established close relationships with the professionals in the U.S.,” Akkurt says, “and many Turkish counseling professionals are also members of ACA. However, counseling licensure is not a developed area yet, and counselors are not allowed to work in private practice settings.”
In addition, the practice areas of community counseling and mental health counseling have yet to be developed in Turkey.
“It is unfortunate that counseling is not a commonly known profession [compared with] other mental health professions in Turkey,” Akkurt says. “[In addition], there is a stigma associated with mental health in Turkey. However, counseling professionals are advocating to change that and to increase people’s awareness of psychological counseling.”
He finds it easier to understand the state of counseling in the country when put in the context of Turkey’s collectivist culture.
“Turkish people have close family relationships,” Akkurt explains, “and it is easy for people to find support when they need it. That is one of the reasons … why community mental health counseling does not exist.”
One of the most important things that Turkey can learn from the United States is the practice of multicultural counseling, Akkurt says.
“There has been a great amount of development in the field of multicultural counseling in the U.S., and Turkish professionals can definitely benefit from this knowledge base,” he says. “Turkey has a population of approximately 74 million, and there are several groups of minorities. Multicultural counseling is a new concept for Turkey, and I believe the U.S. has a lot to offer to assist Turkish professionals in this transition.”
However, on the basis of his experience, he thinks more also needs to be done to perpetuate multiculturalism and cultural competence within counselor preparation classrooms in the United States.
“Students usually travel to the U.S. because universities claim that they provide global education,” Akkurt says. “However, specifically in our profession, classroom discussions are mostly stuck in the U.S. borders. Most of the students do not seem to be interested in global issues. So, it becomes an issue for international students who are planning to return to their homeland after graduation, because the education they receive here is not necessarily [related] to their countries’ needs. Also, it is unfortunate that international students are stereotyped in the classroom. For example, I believe that I am always seen as a Muslim male, and all my statements are seen through that window. This is the main cause of misunderstandings because people do not seem to listen to what I have to say; they mostly hear what they expect from me.”
He believes American universities could learn much from Turkey’s welcoming attitude toward international students. “International students are usually invited to homes of Turkish families so they can experience the culture,” Akkurt notes. “I also think Turkish academics are more aware of the advantages of having international students in the classrooms, as they contribute to global education by bringing different perspectives into the Turkish university classrooms.”
“I think one of the responsibilities of faculty [in U.S. counseling programs] is to make students feel welcome and encourage them to share their ideas in the classroom,” he continues. “Faculty members that serve as mentors of international students play a big role in their success. Therefore, faculty members should make themselves accessible to international students, and they also need to remember advisory time spent for an international student is more likely to be higher than the time spent for a domestic student. The importance of international students’ role in the development of global counseling cannot be disregarded. Therefore, supporting international students is not only going to ensure their success, but it will also contribute to the something bigger: global counseling.”
Given the United States’ diverse population, counselors are extremely likely to encounter clients who have emigrated from other countries. For this reason, Akkurt says, “It is essential to know how counseling is perceived in other parts of the world. Explaining the nature of counseling and challenging any stigma associated with it would be a good start when working with clients from other nations. ACA has emphasized and contributed to the development of global counseling, and the process of globalization in counseling should be perceived as a mutual learning process. The U.S. counseling profession has a lot to offer and a lot to learn.”
Learning and living abroad has given Akkurt many ideas for enhancing the counseling profession in Turkey. Upon returning home, he would like to start an “international exchange student program, begin licensure and accreditation intuitions, [do more to] ensure that school counselors provide more than just guidance lessons … and develop supervision for students embarking on clinical [experiences].”
Though his experience in the United States has not always been easy, Akkurt looks forward to applying what he has learned to Turkish counseling students and the profession as a whole.
“Making the decision of traveling to another country and pursuing a graduate degree in a different language requires a lot of courage,” Akkurt says. “It was a risk I took, but I am glad I did it.”
Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.