Tag Archives: Multiculturalism & Diversity

Race talk and facilitating difficult racial dialogues

Derald Wing Sue December 22, 2015

Over a five-year period, my colleagues and I have conducted a series of studies to explore the psychology of racial dialogues or “race talk” in the training of counselors and other mental health professionals. As we become an increasingly diverse society, it is impossible for counselors not to encounter clients who differ from them in terms of race, ethnicity and cultural background. The Branding-Images_Rosesinability to honestly dialogue about race and racial issues can serve as a major hindrance to effective multicultural counseling. Although our research has been conducted in an educational and training context, I believe our findings are equally applicable to all racial dialogues, whether they occur in education, employment, health care, public forums, the media or among neighbors.

In our studies, we specifically focused on:

  • The characteristics of race talk
  • Ground rules or guidelines that explicitly and implicitly dictate how and when race is discussed
  • Whether people of color and Whites perceive the rules differently from one another
  • The impact of race talk on participants
  • How educators could create conditions conducive to successful outcomes

Each of these areas has formed topics in my most recent book, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race (2015).  

What is race talk?

Race talk is a dialogue or conversation that involves topics of race, racism, “whiteness” and White privilege. Race talk is generally filled with intense and powerful emotions, creates a threatening environment for participants, reveals major differences in worldviews or perspectives and often results in disastrous consequences such as a hardening of biased racial views. Unless instigated in some manner, the majority of people in interracial settings would prefer to avoid such topical discussions or to minimize and dilute their importance and meaning.

Our findings suggest that difficult dialogues on race:

  • Are potentially threatening conversations or interactions between members of different racial and ethnic groups
  • Reveal major differences in worldviews that are challenged publicly
  • Are found to be offensive to participants
  • Arouse intense emotions such as dread and anxiety (for Whites) and anger and frustration (for people of color) that disrupt communication and behaviors
  • Are often instigated by racial microaggressions
  • Involve an unequal status relationship of power and privilege among participants

In 1997, President Bill Clinton’s national dialogue on race concluded that open and honest conversations about race lead to positive race relations. If racial dialogues are an important means to combat racism and discrimination, how can we make people more comfortable and willing to explore racial topics? And if racial topics arise in counseling sessions, how can counselors and clients engage in an honest therapeutic dialogue rather than avoiding it? Answering these questions is especially urgent as difficult dialogues on race become unavoidable and as well-intentioned people of all races find themselves unprepared to deal with the explosive emotions that result in polarization and hard feelings.

Poorly handled, race talk can result in misunderstandings, increased antagonism among trainees and students, and blockages in learning. Skillfully handled, however, race talk can improve communication and learning, enhance racial harmony, increase racial literacy and expand critical consciousness of one’s racial/cultural identity. In this article, I share some of our findings regarding a few of the ineffective and effective strategies in facilitating difficult dialogues on race. Space does not allow discussing the other many strategies I have identified in my book.

Ineffective and successful strategies

Race talk is often not about the substance of an argument but rather a cover for what is actually happening. To facilitate difficult dialogue about race in a productive manner, instructors and trainers need to understand not only the content of the communication but also the process resulting from the interpersonal dynamics. Exploring ineffective and effective race talk strategies will lead to more positive outcomes in workshop and classroom settings.

Five ineffective strategies

1) Do nothing

2) Sidetrack the conversation

3) Appease the participants

4) Terminate the discussion

5) Become defensive

Our studies indicate that instructors and trainers who have not developed a good sense of who they are as racial and cultural beings tend to use ineffective race talk strategies. These behaviors generally lead to negative outcomes in race talk but are of value in demonstrating what not to do and revealing possible solutions.

Do nothing

Many people will commonly opt for silence in the midst of heated race talk. In classrooms or a supervisory situation, for example, they allow students or supervisees to take over the conversation, exhibiting behavioral and emotional passivity in their own actions. Studies suggest that although facilitators are experiencing powerful emotions and anxieties when dialogue on race occurs, they attempt to conceal these feelings for fear of appearing inept. Feeling paralyzed, lacking racial consciousness and experiencing confusion about how to intervene leads instructors and facilitators to a deep sense of personal failure. More problematic is that their actions or inaction suggest to students and trainees that race talk should be avoided.

Sidetrack the conversation 

Consider the following scenario of an unsuccessful racial dialogue.

The context: An educator-training workshop

The topic: Past discrimination and oppression against people of color

White female trainee (stating her thoughts angrily): Why aren’t we also addressing issues like sexism? We women are an oppressed minority group as well! I always feel training like this makes women invisible and that our needs are ignored. Women are paid less than men, we are treated as sex objects … I mean, everything is about race and racism, but what about us? What about our situation?

Instructor: Yes, I … I … I … can understand that, but I can’t cover every single group that has been oppressed, and this training is about the oppression of people of color and the harm they experience from oppression.

Trainee (raising voice): Women are harmed too. Why does it have to be like that anyway? Why use an arbitrary decision in deciding which group to address? I just don’t believe you can relate to my situation as a woman!

Instructor (becoming defensive and attempting to appease the trainee): Well, it’s … it’s … not really arbitrary. There are many reasons why I concentrate on racial oppression … but, let me see … OK, maybe we can … let’s talk about the plight of women as an oppressed group. It’s not my intent to ignore discrimination against women. In fact, many of our studies on discrimination have dealt with gender microaggressions like sexual objectification.


The preceding difficult dialogue displays a prime example of a trainee, in this case a White female, attempting (most likely unwittingly) to sidetrack the conversation from the topic of race to gender. In classroom settings, race talk is often uncomfortable for trainees and instructors alike. Avoidance takes many forms, and an instructor may unintentionally collude with the participant in avoiding race talk for many reasons, the ultimate result being diversion from discussing the real issues.

Appease the participants

Some trainers and instructors avoid deep discussions of race to maintain what they perceive as group or classroom harmony. They are sensitive to how the school, college or organization perceives the workshop or class and attempt to elicit positive feelings and opinions from participants at the expense of productive discussion.

Appeasement may take many forms:

  • Allowing the conversation to be sidetracked
  • Not confronting the points being made by the participant
  • Stressing commonalities and avoiding differences
  • Discussing superficial issues without exploring deeper personal meanings

Maintaining harmony can negate deeper explorations of biases, stereotypes and deep-seated emotions.

Terminate the discussion

When instructors are concerned that a racial dialogue threatens to get out of control and are unable to determine how best to handle the situation, one of the most common actions is to terminate the dialogue. It may not be intentional, and it may involve the following strategies:

  • Placing conditions on how the dialogue should be discussed, thereby quashing the natural dynamics involved
  • Tabling the discussion and not carrying through on the promise to return to the issue in the future
  • Asking the parties involved to discuss the matter with him or her outside of the workshop or class
  • Stressing that the parties involved should calm down, respect one another and discuss the topic in a rational manner (negating the expression of feelings)

Become defensive

Race talk between instructors and trainees operates on the principle of reciprocity. Whether instructors are White or people of color, defensiveness or having one’s buttons pushed is a common phenomenon. To deflect perceived criticism or uncomfortable feelings, trainees may directly or indirectly attack the content of the communication or the credibility of the communicator. When confronted with a defensive challenge by trainees, instructors of race talk may also

become defensive, especially when they find their message being invalidated or their credibility assailed.


These ineffective reactions provide us with clues about the facilitative conditions that need to exist and the types of interventions most likely to help trainees move from racial obliviousness to racial consciousness of themselves and one another.

Five successful strategies

1) Understand your racial/cultural identity

2) Acknowledge and be open to admitting your racial biases

3) Validate and facilitate discussion of feelings

4) Control the process, not the content, of race talk

5) Validate, encourage and express admiration and appreciation to participants who speak when it feels unsafe to do so

Dialogues on race commonly exhibit clashes between the racial realities of one group (people of color) and another (generally Whites). The conflicts between racial groups and their hidden meanings tend to emerge in the context of race talk. Having critical racial consciousness formed from a nonracist/anti-racist orientation is key to developing and using successful race talk strategies.

Instructors and trainers can conduct positive race talks with the aid of effective facilitation strategies. However, these suggestions and strategies are based on the assumption that instructors are enlightened individuals who have done the necessary personal work to develop nonracist and anti-racist identities.

Understand your racial/cultural identity

Effective facilitators must understand themselves as racial/cultural beings by making the invisible visible. A lack of insight and awareness will only perpetuate ignorance in the trainees they hope to help. Facilitators cannot be effective instructors unless they are aware of their own worldview, including their values, biases, prejudices and assumptions about human behavior.

For example, what does being White, Black/African American, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Latino/Hispanic American or Native American mean to them? How does their racial identity affect the way they view others and the way others view them? Understanding oneself as a racial/cultural being goes hand in hand with how well-grounded and secure one will be in a racial dialogue.

Acknowledge and be open to admitting your racial biases

On a cognitive level, facilitators must be able and willing to acknowledge and accept the fact that they are products of the cultural conditioning in this society, having inherited the biases, fears and stereotypes of the society. When facilitating a difficult dialogue on race, most instructors are wary about communicating their own prejudices and will respond in a cautious fashion that may be less than honest.

Publicly and honestly acknowledging personal biases and weaknesses to self and others may have several positive consequences:

  • Experiencing freedom from the constant vigilance exercised in denying their own racism or other biases
  • Modeling truthfulness, openness and honesty to trainees about race and racism
  • Demonstrating courage in making themselves vulnerable by taking a risk to share with trainees their own biases, limitations and attempts to deal with their own racism
  • Encouraging others in the group to approach the dialogue with honesty, seeing that their own instructors are equally flawed

Validate and facilitate discussion of feelings

Validating and facilitating the discussion of feelings is a primary goal in race talk. The facilitator must create conditions that make the expression and presence of feelings a valid and legitimate focus of experience and discussion.

Studies in classroom settings indicate, almost universally:

  • The importance of allowing space for the strong expression of feelings
  • That allowing participants to talk about their anxieties or anger helped them understand themselves and others better
  • That it was important to create conditions that allowed for openness and receptivity to strong emotions

Trainees in these studies greatly appreciated instructors who were unafraid to recognize and name the racial tension and the feelings emanating from the discussion because it helped them demystify its source and meaning. It can be helpful for the instructor to ask, for example, “How are you feeling right now talking to or being confronted by this Black person?”

Control the process and not the content of race talk

When a heated dialogue on race occurs, the conversation between diverse participants is typically on the content level, but the true dialogue is taking place on a less visible level (White talk versus back talk). Common statements (content level) when White talk occurs include:

“My family didn’t own slaves! I had nothing to do with the incarceration of Japanese Americans.”

“Excuse me, sir, but prejudice and oppression were and are part of every society in the world, not just the U.S.”

“I resent you calling me White. You are equally guilty of stereotyping. We are all human beings.”

The substance of these assertions has validity, but to deal with them strictly on the content level will only result in having race talk sidetracked, diluted, diminished or ignored. Understanding the subtext that generates these statements is critical for both the instructors and trainees to deconstruct.

Consider the earlier vignette. The instructor attempted to control the content of the discussion rather than the process of the dialogue. An important education exercise is to practice analyzing these statements from both the content and process levels.

Validate, encourage and express admiration and appreciation to participants who speak when it feels unsafe to do so

Participants can feel threatened when engaging in race talk. Accordingly, instructors should express appreciation to those who take a risk and demonstrate courage, openness and the willingness to participate in this difficult dialogue. Examples of what an instructor might say:

“Mary, I know this has been a very emotional experience for you, but I value your courage in sharing with the group your personal thoughts and feelings. I hope I can be equally brave when topics of sexism or homophobia are brought up in class.”

“As a group, we have just experienced a difficult dialogue. I admire you all for not ‘running away’ but facing it squarely. I hope you all will continue to feel free to bring up these topics. Real courage is being honest and risking offending others when the situation is not safe. Today, that is what I saw happen with several of you, and for that, the group should be grateful.”

Let’s return to the earlier vignette. As you recall, we opened with a dialogue that was less than successful. Let’s close with an example of a successful racial discussion.

Female trainee (stating her thoughts angrily): Why aren’t we also addressing issues like sexism? We women are an oppressed minority group as well! I always feel training like this makes women invisible and that our needs are ignored. Women are paid less than men, we are treated as sex objects … I mean, everything is about race and racism, but what about us? What about our situation?

Instructor: I’m glad you brought that up. You make excellent points. Yes, women are definitely an oppressed group, and we can talk about that as well. (Instructor acknowledges legitimacy of comment and lowers potential argument on the issue.) Before we do that, however, I’m picking up on lots of strong feelings behind your statement and wonder where they are coming from. (Instructor controls the process by refocusing exploration on the trainee.)

Trainee: What do you mean?

Instructor: You seem angry at something I’ve said or done.

Trainee: No, I’m not … I’m just upset that women get shortchanged.

Instructor: I can understand that, but the intensity with which you expressed yourself made me feel that my points on racism were being dismissed and that issues of racism were unimportant to you. (Instructor indirectly distinguishes between intention and impact.) Being a woman, you clearly understand prejudice and discrimination. Can you use the experience of having been oppressed to better understand the experience of people of color? (Instructor aids trainee in using common experiences of marginalization to bridge, rather than dismiss, another group’s oppression.)

Trainee: I guess so … I … I guess racism is important.

Instructor: You don’t seem very sure to me. You still seem upset. (Instructor makes a process observation.) What is happening now? Can you get into those feelings and share with us what’s going on?

Trainee: Nothing is going on. It’s just that, you know, it’s a hot topic. I guess, talking about racism, it seems like you are blaming me. And I don’t like to feel wrong or at fault or responsible.

Instructor: Tell me about feeling blamed. In what ways do you feel blamed?

Trainee: Well, maybe there are feelings of guilt, although I’m not to blame for slavery or things of the past. (Trainee begins to address real issues related to her defensive reactions.)

Instructor: Good, let’s all (referring to entire workshop group) talk about that. Now we are getting somewhere. (Instructor turns to entire group of trainees, who have been transfixed by the interaction.) I wonder if some of you can tell me what you see happening here. Do any of you feel the same way? What sense do you make of the dialogue we just had here? (Instructor involves the entire group.)


As educators and counseling professionals involved in racial conversations, whether spontaneous or planned, we will continue to be confronted in our teaching, training and counseling with challenges about how to turn tricky discussions into teachable moments rather than failed exercises. Will we opt for a journey of silence, avoiding honest racial dialogues? Or will we choose to effectuate real change — starting in our classrooms, workshops, supervisory sessions and counseling sessions — by following the path of racial reality and honesty, which may be full of discomfort but guarantees to offer benefits to all groups in our society?



Knowledge Share articles are developed from sessions presented at American Counseling Association conferences.

Derald Wing Sue is professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is author of Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race (2015), Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation (2010) and Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice (2013).

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

College enrollment boom expected in 10 years

By Bethany Bray December 14, 2015

If current trends hold, the fall of 2025 will bring the largest and most diverse freshman class to colleges and universities across the U.S.

U.S. births surpassed 4.3 million in 2007 – a number not seen since the post-World War II baby boom, when rates of college enrollment were much lower. If current college admissions trends continue, these youngsters – who are now third-graders – will be America’s largest-ever college Graduation!freshman class.

They’ll also be the most diverse. Increased enrollment of Hispanic and Asian students is expected due to rates of immigration and births of second-generation immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center. Last year, U.S. public schools reached a watershed moment as the number of students of color, overall, surpassed the number of white students for the first time.

The predictions for 2025 only increases the need for college counselors to be fully aware of and able to meet the needs of a culturally diverse student body, says Amy Lenhart, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and president of the American College Counseling Association, a division of the American Counseling Association.

Colleges should prepare for the 2025 enrollment boom with diversity awareness training for all staff, as well as ensuring that campus counseling centers have enough practitioners to meet the needs of a much larger student body, says Lenhart, a counselor at Collin College at Preston Ridge in Frisco, Texas.

“I believe that many colleges will need to focus on having the adequate number of [counseling] staff to address the needs of more students, focus on a more diverse counseling staff, continue to be aware of the needs of more diverse students [and be] aware of the needs of first-generation students,” Lenhart says. “I think that it is and will continue to be important for all counselors to continue to understand the needs of a more diverse population and [the idea] that we are all there to attend to those needs in the best interest of the student/client and work together as professional counselors to ensure the future of mental health and academic success in the college setting.”

It is imperative for counselors who work with college students to be trained not only in student development and mental health, says Lenhart, but cultural competencies as well. College counselors, in turn, can assist in educating college students, faculty and staff about the needs that a more diverse student body may bring to campus.

The Pew Research Center reports that the overall makeup of the nation’s public school graduating class is becoming more and more diverse. In 1995, 73 percent of American public high school graduates were white; that percentage decreased to 57 percent in 2012. For 2025, Pew projects that demographics will shift to a nearly half-and-half ratio, with 49 percent of the graduating class identifying as nonwhite.

Current trends indicate that roughly 70 percent of high school graduates enroll as full-time students at a two- or four-year college, according to Pew.

“How can anyone know what college enrollment will look like a decade into the future?” writes Richard Fry, a senior researcher with the Pew Research Center. “No projection is perfect and there are many unforeseen factors, such as the economy’s performance and how successful parents and schools are in getting students to graduate from high school. But generally, the number of first-time, full-time college freshmen tracks closely with the number of births from 18 years earlier.”

According to Pew, the last peak in college enrollment – 2.5 million first-time, full-time freshmen – occurred in 2009, 18 years after 4.1 million babies were born in 1991. Since then, America’s freshman college class has decreased slightly, to 2.4 million students in 2013.

The 2007 spike in U.S. births did not prove to be a long-term trend, however. Since then, the U.S. birth rate has decreased to less than four million babies annually.





Find the American College Counseling Association online at collegecounseling.org


From the Pew Research Center: “Class of 2025 expected to be biggest, most diverse ever


ACA members: For resources on college counseling and multiculturalism, visit ACA’s VISTAS collection of peer-reviewed articles: bit.ly/1ODgAQN




Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org


Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday

Revisiting Ferguson

By Holly Wagner, Christina Thaier and Brian Hutchison November 17, 2015

[Editor’s note: Roughly one year ago, CT Online wrote an article about the initiatives the counseling department at the University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL) was engaging in as protests and turmoil rocked the city of Ferguson after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was fatally shot by a white Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson.

This fall, we’ve asked some of those counselors to reflect on what they have experienced and learned since serving as witnesses to history and trying to help others find their voices as “storytellers.”

Brian Hutchison is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and associate professor at UMSL; Holly Wagner is an LPC and assistant professors at UMSL; and Christina Thaier is a provisional licensed professional counselor (PLPC) working on a doctorate in counselor education and supervision at UMSL. They are all American Counseling Association members.]


As a St. Louisan, I [Christina] have started to mark time — or perhaps how I recognize myself or my city — as before, during and after Ferguson. Post-Ferguson, one of the things I’ve come to understand is the power of the storyteller. I’d heard many times in history classrooms (which were not my favorite) that history is determined by the one who is telling the story. I believed it then, I’m sure, but I’ve come to understand it differently post-Ferguson, in a know-it-in-your-bones sort of way.

And so, as the three of us do our best to honor this opportunity to serve as storytellers about our experience of Ferguson, we do so recognizing the weight of such a privilege, knowing there are voices more worthy than ours to do so, and hoping to honor the young man (Michael Brown), our fellow St. Louisans and the city the story truly belongs to.

From Holly Wagner: A time to respond, a place to be heard and a space where crisis and growth convened

Timing can mean a lot in life. When someone is asked why a certain decision was made or a sequence of events occurred, the response is often about timing. For example, we often hear folks say, “It’s time for a change” or “It’s about time” or “It just wasn’t the right time.”

As I reflect on the events that led up to the crisis in Ferguson in August 2014, as well as the community responses following Michael Brown’s death, the concept of timing and time seem significant. For the people of Ferguson and the surrounding North City of Saint Louis, it was “past time for a change.” The time had come for their voices to be heard. In our own small, unique way, the faculty and students at UMSL showed up to listen.

August 2014 was my first semester as a faculty member in the UMSL Department of Counseling and Family Therapy. I had literally just arrived on the UMSL scene when it was time to respond. It was time to act, to do something helpful, and there was no time to be hesitant about it. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the energy and intention that surrounded me as my new colleagues and students leapt into action, driven by a desire to be helpful, yet unobtrusive. We talked about how to show up in ways that would truly benefit the people who were hurting. The idea of the sand tray naturally emerged as a potential medium for expressions to come forth during the crisis.

Through previous experiences with sand tray work with both children and adults, I felt innately that it could be the conduit needed for peoples’ voices to be heard. We were intentional in framing our work as an expressive technique to facilitate storytelling rather than sand tray therapy. We approached the events simply with sand and figurines, as well as open ears and hearts. What transpired made it evident that this simple approach was truly all that was needed at that time.

I have often heard that the Chinese symbol for “crisis” also contains aspects of the word “opportunity.” At the time of the Ferguson crisis, it seemed difficult to hold those two words or truths together. It was hard to imagine something good coming from the pain and struggle that was so palpable at the time. As counselors, however, we understand that healing is a process that takes time and space during which meaning can be made. Over time, if we are given the space to create insight and meaning, we can adapt and grow in response to the trauma or crisis we experienced. Thus, this was our intention as we showed up to the various events surrounding the Ferguson crisis. We witnessed the immediate effects of freely expressed emotions, meaning making and insight, and relief and validation related to a story being told.

While it is more difficult to ascertain any long-term effects that our engagement may have had on our community members, it has truly been amazing to hear the accounts of the impact this participation has had on our own students’ growth, awareness and counselor development. For many students involved, working with a sand tray or responding to a community crisis had been solely discussed theoretically up until that time. Responding to our community’s needs allowed students an opportunity to experientially engage in ways that they found meaningful to their development as persons and [as] counselors, while igniting a passion for social justice work. It was a time we will never forget.


From Christina Thaier: Showing up

On a sleepy, snowy afternoon when I was 18 years old, I was complaining to a friend’s mom about how I didn’t want to get dressed up for a family member’s wedding that evening. She looked at me gravely, in that “I’m about to say something really important” sort of way, and offered some unrequested advice. As if it were an absolute truth, she declared, “You honor the people you care about by showing up” — she was talking about weddings, funerals, birthday parties, dinner parties and probably even church — “and you should take the time to look nice. It tells them that their celebration matters to you.”

In other words, go put on a dress and a smile, and act like you know better than to think you are the center of the universe.

Though I’m stubborn, and it took me longer than it should have to understand the wisdom of her words, they eventually became part of who I am and what I do. In August of 2014, when our city was in a state of crisis, when we had no idea what was going to happen next, what was the right thing to do or how to go about it, her words offered a familiar solace — you show up, where you are invited, if someone matters to you.

As school was opening, many of us were asking the same questions: As counselors-in-training, what is our role? What do we do? How can we be helpful? Dr. Brian Hutchison and Dr. Holly Wagner offered us an answer. They asked our chapter of Chi Sigma Iota, of which I was currently serving as president, to consider showing up with them.

They taught us how to build a mobile outreach unit made up of sand trays, story stones, paint and symbolic figurines. They told us there was no manual, no evidence-based protocol, no textbook or peer-reviewed article with the answers we needed. They were willing to let us see that they didn’t really know what healing tents at a protest might look like — but they went anyway.

I remember being afraid as I drove to the first protest with a car full of sand and figurines. Were we crazy? Was it safe? Did I have anything to offer? Would I say the wrong thing? Did I know what I was getting myself in to?

Viktor Frankl said that despair is suffering without meaning. We had hoped to offer others, in our own small way, an opportunity to discover something meaningful for themselves during this crisis. The truth is, we might have been the ones most moved by the experience.

It turned out that the few hours I spent with my colleagues, holding a space for strangers to tell their stories, was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. We laughed and cried and mourned and hoped and, most of all, we witnessed human beings seeing and hearing each other as we truly were during Ferguson. To say it was beautiful is not enough.


From Brian Hutchison: Who am I?

I remember the last time I was called a racist. It was approximately 11 years ago. I believe at the time that this fact was no longer true, but it shook me deeply because I knew that at one time, early in my life and into my late teens, it was. At that time, I had never known a person of color, nor had I read the works of Baldwin or Biko or Douglas or Coates or any of the myriad authors who have shaped my worldview over the past 25 years.

Having been asked to reflect on my personal experience while working with residents and protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, following Michael Brown Jr’s death, my thoughts go back to that moment when I was last called a racist. I had already decided that much of my work would focus on issues of social class, urban poverty and black people, yet that wound — inflicted by the social experience of my youth and not the person who called me a racist — throbs with raw pain still today. And I am a person who is able to set that acute pain aside, who can deflect by focusing on the power of choice and mastery I feel in my life. In essence, I am a person who is male and white and straight and educated living in the United States in the early 21st century.

Who am I to be asked to be helpful to the mostly black community of Ferguson? Who am I to be asked to be helpful to the mostly black community of protestors? Who am I to be asked to help the mostly young, black community of organizers? More than anything else, being asked to reflect on my personal experience of being asked to help in Ferguson makes me think, “Who am I?”

My answer does not feel elegant enough to put to the page, yet I am compelled. I am a person who did not ask to be male, white, straight, able-bodied, and to have an opportunity to be this educated. The choices I have been given were not mine to decide when the seeds of their possibility were first planted. These choices are my privilege, but the choices for most whom I have met in the schools, community centers, tents and streets of the St. Louis community do not look like mine. They are not made with an ingrained sense of mastery and power. They are choices made despite the circumstances of their lived experience.

What I did choose was to say yes. I did choose to ask if I could be helpful versus demanding to help (from my privileged worldview in my privileged way). I did choose to show up as often as I could when asked but never to ask if I could show up. I did choose to do what was asked instead of what I wanted to do. These choices were simple, yet did not come to me easily because of my 44 years of accrued habits lived within my bubble of privilege.

The gifts I received were the knowledge that I can step outside of myself and be led by others, do have the capacity to work through my own history of guilt to be helpful and that there is something to be gained by counselors — all types of people who are counselors — if we simply say yes, be humble and show up when asked.



(Clockwise, left to right) UMSL students Jeremy Kane, Korey Lowery, Emily Muertz, Christina Thaier, UMSL assistant professor Holly Wagner and Gabrielle Fowler create story stones during a protest in downtown St. Louis in October 2014. The group used story stones, sand trays and other therapeutic tools with protesters.



As you can probably tell, the three of us can be taken back to during Ferguson quite easily. We look back at that time of crisis in our city and shudder at images we can’t unsee — violence and grief and so many raw emotions on every television, computer screen and headline. We see breaking news and front pages that paint a portrait of St. Louis as divided and conquered. All of that was part of the story, yes. But somewhere in the wreckage and loss, the black and white, the debate and the protest, mourners came together and explored what it meant to be a St. Louisan during, and then after, Ferguson.

In the last year, in post-Ferguson St. Louis, what have we learned? We know that history-making happens in the present. We know that art and connection have the potential to be transcendent. We know that words like “race” and “privilege” are easier to say with practice but not nearly as important as words like “value,” “worth” and “dignity.” We know that holding a space for someone else is a gift for both parties. We know that people will surprise us — for the good and the bad. We know that our city needs more change and that we love her despite her imperfections. We know that we want to continue being part of that change. We know we don’t really know what that looks like, and we can’t find the answers in our textbooks or journals or empirical truths. But we think it might start by showing up. And listening.


The UMSL sand tray team (left to right), Brian Hutchison, Katy Leigh, Brianne Overton, Jennifer Culver, Susan Kashubeck-West and Holly Wagner, pictured at a wellness night event organized soon after the 2014 protests began. Leigh, Overton and Culver are UMSL doctoral students; Hutchison, Kashubeck-West and Wagner are UMSL faculty. The wellness night was sponsored by the Organization for Black Struggle and the Hands Up Coalition to provide those who had been sleeping out at night for days a place to rest, eat, get a massage and do some sand tray storytelling, says Hutchison.

The UMSL sand tray team (left to right), Brian Hutchison, Katy Leigh, Brianne Overton, Jennifer Culver, Susan Kashubeck-West and Holly Wagner, pictured at a wellness night event organized soon after the 2014 protests began. Leigh, Overton and Culver are UMSL doctoral students; Hutchison, Kashubeck-West and Wagner are UMSL faculty. The wellness night was sponsored by the Organization for Black Struggle and the Hands Up Coalition to provide those who had been sleeping out at night for days a place to rest, eat, get a massage and do some sand tray storytelling, says Hutchison.




See Counseling Today’s article from one year ago, “Storytelling and hope in Ferguson” at wp.me/p2BxKN-3L6





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AMHCA plans educational trip to Cuba

By Bethany Bray October 5, 2015

Nine professionals from the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), a division of the American Counseling Association, will depart for an educational trip to Cuba later this month.

The group, a mix of counselor practitioners, doctoral students and one counselor educator, will spend six days on the island, meeting with medical and mental health practitioners.

“I’ve heard wonderful things about the Cuban people, and I want to engage and learn from them,” says AMHCA President A. Keith Mobley, who is leading the trip. “Cultural competence is an ever-Depositphotos_10094697_l-2015transitioning brass ring to achieve. The more I and others are able to engage with those who are culturally different [from] us, the more we are able to expand our own cultural identity. I’m looking forward to enhancing and continuing my own cultural competence.”

This marks the association’s second trip to Cuba in recent years. AMHCA also sent a delegation to Cuba in 2010.

The current group will depart for Havana Oct. 18 and return Oct. 23.

While there, the counselors will visit numerous medical and mental health centers to meet and speak with practitioners. The group’s schedule will also include a visit to a psychopedagogical center and an HIV prevention center, where they will meet with a mental health team that was dispatched to Haiti to help with relief work after that country’s devastating earthquake in 2010.

“Achieving cultural competence happens best when we are able to get out of our own comfort zone and encounter cultural dilemmas,” says Mobley, a licensed professional counselor supervisor (LPCS).

Mobley explains that cultural dilemmas serve to challenge an individual’s or group’s cultural assumptions by allowing people to compare and contrast a system, belief or value that is different from their own — in this case, the Cuban health care delivery model. In the process, Mobley says, perspectives are expanded; people become more inquisitive and are less likely to take things for granted.

“[We hope to] engage with our own cultural identity and understanding in order to make us, as practitioners, more culturally competent,” he says.

The trip is purely educational. The group was granted visas to visit strictly for professional research purposes, explains Mobley, a clinical professor in the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Department of Counseling and Educational Development.

The AMHCA group will be going to Cuba at a special time, Mobley says. Although relations have begun to thaw between the United States and Cuba — with the U.S. embassy, closed for 54 years, reopening in Havana this past summer — the island nation is not yet open to American tourists.

“It’s a unique opportunity in that the [Cuba-U.S.] relationship is evolving, but it’s not yet possible to hop on a flight and get there on your own [for Americans],” he says.

AMHCA has planned the trip through Academic Travel Abroad, a company that specializes in professional work/study trips. The company will be providing a local guide who will help with logistics and serve as a translator during the group’s time in Cuba, Mobley says.

Academic Travel Abroad also planned AMHCA’s 2010 trip to Cuba. That trip was such a success that AMHCA didn’t hesitate when the company approached it and proposed a second trip to the island, Mobley says.





Find out more about AMHCA’s trip to Cuba here.


Read AMHCA’s announcement about the trip here.





For more on Cuba, see “Forging counseling connections in Cuba,” Counseling Today‘s interview with Eddie Moody, a counselor who has been making professional trips to Cuba for more than a decade.




Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org


Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday



Forging counseling connections in Cuba

By Bethany Bray June 1, 2015

There has been a good measure of animosity mixed into the complicated relationship between the United States and Cuba over the past half-century.

Yet Eddie Moody, a counselor who has been making trips to Cuba for more than a decade, says one of the first things he saw on his first trip there in 2004 was a man walking down the street wearing a

Eddie Moody with a taxi driver and his classic car, one of the pre-1960's vehicles the island is known for.

Eddie Moody with a taxi driver and his classic car, one of the pre-1960’s vehicles the island is known for. (Click on photos to see full size.)

9/11 “We Remember” T-shirt.

The Cuban people are warm, inviting and “eternally optimistic,” says Moody, a licensed professional counselor supervisor (LPCS) and professor of counselor education at North Carolina Central University. “You can’t go to Cuba and not notice how jovial and happy people seem to be,” he says. “Part of it is taking difficulty in stride.”

Moody, an American Counseling Association member, travels to Cuba roughly once per year to teach, give talks on counseling topics and meet with mental health practitioners. Over the years, he has forged connections with the psychology department at the University of Havana and with Alexis Lorenzo Ruiz, president of the Cuban Society of Psychology.

Moody was one of a handful of Americans at the society’s most recent conference in 2013, where he gave a talk on the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

What started for Moody as an intended single trip to teach basic counseling classes at a Cuban seminary has blossomed into a decade of return trips and friendships. Through the years, Moody has learned to navigate the complicated process of gaining permission to travel to the island that sits 90 miles south of Florida. He has had to seek travel licenses from both the Cuban and U.S. governments, he says. It’s a process that will hopefully get easier as relations between the two countries warm, Moody says.

Not surprisingly, in some ways mental health care in Cuba is very different from mental health care in the United States, says Moody. For starters, the terms “counselor” and “counseling” aren’t used or known in Cuba. All mental health counseling is known as psychology, says Moody.

However, many similarities exist between what Cubans refer to as “psychology” and counseling as it is practiced in the United States, according to Moody. For instance, Cuban psychologists rely more on therapy than testing or medication to treat clients. Moody says these professionals’ training and

Moody with Alexis Lorenzo Ruiz, president of the Cuban Society of Psychology.

Moody with Alexis Lorenzo Ruiz, president of the Cuban Society of Psychology.

work are more closely aligned with American counseling than with psychology.

“It’s like counseling because it’s very practical,” he says. “They’re more open to using counseling methods and interventions. … It ranges from psychoanalytic all the way up to cognitive behavioral therapy. To me, it looks more like a counseling setting.”

Most Cuban psychology practitioners hold master’s-level degrees, just like American counselor practitioners, Moody says. Students who attend university for psychology in Cuba get both a bachelor’s and master’s degree together in the span of roughly five years. After graduating, they complete a one- or two-year practicum internship to determine their specialty.

Moody uses the term “rigorous” to describe the psychology degree programs in Cuba. “Once they [psychology students] graduate, they are equipped to work in any specialty,” he says.


In the mainstream

There are also a few things that the United States could stand to emulate from the way that mental health care is embraced and practiced in Cuba, Moody says. For example, psychologists and therapy are part of mainstream culture in Cuba — much more so than is the case in the United States, says Moody.

All psychologists are employed through Cuba’s national health system; there are no individual therapy offices or private practices. Every hospital and clinic has psychologists on staff. Often, Cuban patients are seen by both a psychologist and a medical doctor in the same visit, Moody says.

For example, a patient might come in with a physical ailment, such as stomach pain. If the doctor thinks the pain might be connected to a mental health issue, such as stress or depression, he or she may have the person meet with an on-staff psychologist during the appointment.

This holistic approach to care is a good thing, says Moody, and something from which the United States could learn.

Cuba’s national health system also ensures that every school and large business has an on-staff psychologist for students and employees.

Because these practitioners are so visible, available and part of everyday life in Cuba, meeting with a psychologist there carries much less stigma than does seeing a similar mental health practitioner in the United States, Moody explains.

Psychologists are valued — even looked up to — in Cuba, he says. The profession is truly accessible and integrated into the community, he adds.

The profession has been made even more mainstream thanks to a very popular TV show that features Manuel Calviño Valdés-Fauley, president of the Latin American Union of Organizations of Psychology (ULAPSI). Cubans tune in weekly to hear Valdés-Fauley answer questions and talk about psychology’s application to everyday life, such as dealing with anger or workplace stress, Moody says.


Moody (top right) participates in a presentation on the DSM-5 to faculty and students in the School of Psychology at the University of Havana in May 2013.

Moody (top right) participates in a presentation on the DSM-5 for faculty and students in the School of Psychology at the University of Havana in May 2013.

A two-way street

Through his travels to Cuba, Moody says he has gained an entirely new perspective and appreciation for his chosen profession of counseling. Although he travels to Cuba to give talks and teach, he acknowledges that he has learned a significant amount from the Cubans in the process.

Moody (third from left), with faculty from the University of Havana School of Psychology:  M.Sc. Reynaldo Rojas, the vice-dean of foreign relations and research; Professor Marta Martínez, an industrial organizational psychologist (who often serves as a translator for Moody); Dean M.Sc. Karelin López Sanchez, Dr. Eduardo Cairo, professor of neuropsychology and clinical psychology; M.Sc. Greter Saura, a vice-dean of distance education and professor of developmental psychology.

Moody (third from left), with faculty from the University of Havana School of Psychology (left to right): M.Sc. Reynaldo Rojas, the vice-dean of foreign relations and research; Professor Marta Martínez, an industrial organizational psychologist (who often serves as a translator for Moody); Dean M.Sc. Karelin López Sanchez, Dr. Eduardo Cairo, professor of neuropsychology and clinical psychology; M.Sc. Greter Saura, a vice-dean of distance education and professor of developmental psychology.

Most of all, he has learned from their example of taking hardship in stride and “doing a lot with a little,” he says. For example, Moody brought one copy of an English-language version of the DSM-5 to the University of Havana during his most recent visit. The entire psychology department will share it – and devour it, he says.

“[The students] are going to get everything they can out of it [the single copy of the DSM-5], much more so than a student in the U.S. who is carrying one around in their backpack,” Moody says. “We complain about a school counselor having 700 students. That’s their [Cuban psychologists’] world too, but they have even less resources. Their love for learning, hunger for study and research – they have a desire to learn that we just don’t have, to be frank.”

With each visit, Moody says he can plainly see that the Cubans with whom he works are making use of the knowledge he shares and find it important. That, along with the warmth of the Cuban people, keeps him coming back, he says. It has also made him more appreciative of the resources he has as a counselor educator in the United States, including “the little things,” such as conversations with colleagues.

“A book means so much more [in Cuba], a lecture means so much more. … That’s part of why I keep going back,” he says. “I may be there, and someone pulls out a handout I gave them 10 years ago. That gets me every time.”


Introduction to Cuba

Moody has also worked as a pastor in the Free Will Baptist church denomination in the United States. It was this connection that first brought him to Cuba.

A member of Moody’s church, a missionary who had worked in Cuba, piqued his interest and helped him to get the numerous governmental approvals needed to travel to Cuba.

Moody initially traveled to teach basic counseling classes at a Free Will Baptist seminary, the Cedars of Lebanon in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. The connections Moody made with people on that first trip, and every trip thereafter, have led to additional opportunities to teach, meet people and plan return trips.

“Once I got there, I really fell in love with the place,” he says. “Truly, you’re always working [while there].”

In addition to teaching, Moody meets with mental health practitioners and local people who approach him with questions. Any counseling he provides during the trips is more like consulting, not in-depth therapy, he explains. He administers psychological first aid and tries to connect people with local resources.

On average, there is a hurricane in Cuba every two years, so there is a significant amount of lingering trauma and an associated need for psychological first aid, Moody explains. He often gives talks and basic training on these topics at churches associated with the Cedars of Lebanon seminary.

Moody (second from right) with students at the Cedars of Lebanon Seminary in Pinar del Rio.

Moody (second from right) with students at the Cedars of Lebanon Seminary in Pinar del Rio.

Moody was introduced to Alexis Lorenzo Ruiz, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Havana and president of the Cuban Society of Psychology, through another professor he met during one of his church visits.

With each subsequent trip, Moody has worked more and more with Ruiz, including speaking at the university and at the society’s conference, Hominis. He plans to return for the next Hominis conference in May 2016.

Moody does not speak Spanish, although he has picked up some words and cultural cues, such as body language, during his decade of travel to the island. But he mainly relies on translators, which he says is something that is second nature to Cubans. In addition, many Cubans are learning English in anticipation of increased relations with the United States.

Hominis conference sessions are translated into myriad languages. Moody compares it to a United Nations meeting, with attendees from all over the globe listening to translations via headphones.

Hominis 2013 featured presenters, panelists and participants from 23 different countries, including Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Spain, France, Germany, Canada, Russia and Australia, says Moody. Kenneth J. Gergen, president of the Taos Institute in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, delivered a keynote address on the relationship between social constructionism and psychology.


Future opportunity

Moody hopes the number of opportunities for American counselors to travel to Cuba, and vice versa, will only grow and get easier as relations warm between the two countries. This spring, President Barack Obama removed the U.S. designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“There is interest there. They [Cubans] want us [American counselors] to come and study,” Moody says. “They want to collaborate.”

For counselors who want to get involved and travel to Cuba, Moody suggests attending the Hominis conference as a first step. “It will be eye-opening,” he says, describing it as a natural forum to forge friendships and make connections.

Above all, Moody emphasizes that American counselors and mental health professionals should keep an open mind if they travel to Cuba and go with “an attitude of learning.”

“Don’t impose our way on them. Look at their situation, learn from it and listen. If you do that, they’ll open up, and it will be a two-way street,” Moody says. “Don’t think of them as poor folks in need of rescuing. They’ve got some pretty good stuff going on, and we can learn from it.”





The Cuban Society of Psychology’s next Hominis conference will be May 9-13, 2016, at the Havana International Conference Center.

For more information, visit hominiscuba.com





Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org


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