Tag Archives: Multiculturalism & Diversity

Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies: Practical applications in counseling

By Manivong J. Ratts, Anneliese A. Singh, S. Kent Butler, Sylvia Nassar-McMillan and Julian Rafferty McCullough January 27, 2016

During the past three decades, counseling scholars and practitioners have argued that multicultural competence is a central concern to working effectively with diverse clients and to providing culturally responsive counseling environments. Counselors and clients both bring to the therapeutic relationship a constellation of identities, privileged and marginalized statuses, and cultural values, beliefs and biases to which counselors need to attend. Furthermore, clients increasingly bring to counseling issues of inequity that lead to unhealthy risk factors.

The Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies (MSJCC), developed by a committee consisting of Manivong J. Ratts, Anneliese A. Singh, Sylvia Nassar-McMillan, S. Kent Butler and Julian Rafferty McCullough in 2015, seek to address these issues. Carlos Hipolito-Delgado commissioned the committee during his tenure as president of the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD), a division of the American Counseling Association. Both Branding-Images_justiceAMCD and ACA have endorsed the competencies, which can be found at counseling.org/knowledge-center/competencies. Their endorsement signifies the need to integrate multicultural and social justice competencies into all aspects of the counseling profession.

Built upon the original Multicultural Counseling Competencies (MCC) developed by Derald Wing Sue, Patricia Arredondo and Roderick J. McDavis in 1992, the MSJCC represent emerging multicultural and social justice factors within our global society. The original MCC focused on attitudes, knowledge and skills as the foundation of multicultural competence and were geared toward “majority” counselors working with “minority” clients.

Nearly 25 years later, however, it is clear that the range of diversity, particularly considering the salience of intersectional identities, is truly endless. For example, it is not uncommon for marginalized counselors to work with privileged clients in today’s world. The MSJCC provide a framework for addressing the constellation of identities that clients and counselors bring to the therapeutic relationship. The MSJCC also set the expectation that counselors address issues of power, privilege and oppression that impact clients. Moreover, the MSJCC require counseling professionals to see client issues from a culturally contextual framework and recommend interventions that take place at both individual and systems levels.

In this article, we are highlighting the practical application of the MSJCC in counseling and share how they may be used in conjunction with other ACA-oriented multicultural and social justice competencies. We also emphasize implications for the use of the MSJCC. The January issue of the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development (JMCD) provides a more detailed description of the theoretical underpinnings of the MSJCC.

Conceptual framework

The conceptual framework of the MSJCC illustrates the major concepts related to developing multicultural and social justice competence. At the core is the belief that multiculturalism and social justice should be at the center of all counseling. This conceptual framework also introduces new terminology with which it is important for counselors to familiarize themselves: quadrants, domains and competencies.


Quadrants: Quadrants reflect the complex identities and the privileged and marginalized statuses that counselors and clients bring to the counseling relationship. Clients and counselors are both members of various racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, economic, disability and religious groups, to list a few. These identities are categorized into privileged and marginalized statuses. A client or counselor may hold either status or both statuses simultaneously. These statuses are prevalent depending on how each individual is experiencing the current interaction.

Being attentive of these statuses highlights how issues of power, privilege and oppression play out between counselors and clients. The interactions are categorized into four quadrants:

  • Quadrant I: Privileged Counselor–Marginalized Client
  • Quadrant II: Privileged Counselor–Privileged Client
  • Quadrant III: Marginalized Counselor–Privileged Client
  • Quadrant IV: Marginalized Counselor–Marginalized Client

Conceptually, client and counselor interactions may fit into the quadrants in numerous ways. They reflect the fluidity of identities and how the dynamics of power, privilege and oppression impact the counseling relationship.

For example, a gay male counselor of color and a heterosexual female client of color may experience their interaction through various lenses. They both may perceive their interaction to stem from Quadrant IV because of shared racial identities — a common experience with respect to issues of racism. Alternatively, the client may consider their interaction from a Quadrant I perspective because of gender differences. The client may feel displaced and at a disadvantage because of the counselor’s male privilege. Another possibility is that the counselor might identify with Quadrant III because of their differences in sexual orientation. In such a scenario, the counselor may be placed at a disadvantage because of the client’s heterosexual privileges.

Domains: Domains are intended to be developmental in nature, and they focus on progressive levels of multicultural and social justice competence. The domains are:

1) Counselor self-awareness

2) Client worldview

3) Counseling relationship

4) Counseling and advocacy interventions

Counselor self-awareness is important for identifying one’s cultural values, beliefs and biases. This insight assists in identifying one’s worldview and hot-button issues that may interfere with helping clients. Second, being cognizant of a client’s cultural values, beliefs and biases may help counselors understand clients’ worldviews and identity development. Next, being aware of the extent to which shared and unshared identities; privileged and marginalized statuses; values, beliefs and biases; and culture influence the counseling relationship may be important in determining appropriate evidence-based treatment interventions. When counselors possess self-awareness, are attuned to clients’ worldviews and are cognizant of how this shapes the counseling relationship, they are better equipped to respond to client needs.

To respond effectively, the MSJCC set the expectation that counselors understand the sociocultural systems that are affecting their clients’ sense of well-being and address the corresponding issues appropriately. To this end, the socioecological model is embedded within the counseling and advocacy interventions domain to provide a framework for interventions and strategies at the interpersonal, intrapersonal, institutional, community, public policy and international/global levels. Moreover, the levels allow counselors to see client issues more contextually and aid in determining whether targets for health promotions need to occur individually or systemwide.

At the intrapersonal level, counselors who are multicultural and social justice competent discuss their own cultures and identities, inquire about their clients and provide open conversations related to how, collectively, privileged and marginalized identities might work to enhance or barricade the counseling relationship. It is essential that counselors are willing to authentically bring this discussion into the room. Such discussions can help counselors gain rich insight into their clients’ cultural backgrounds. Clients and counselors who engage positively in this dynamic may increase mutual trust and enrich the therapeutic alliance.

An important factor at the intrapersonal level is the exploration of client experiences with microaggressions and discrimination. Counselors can help clients develop critical consciousness around experiences with racism, sexism, ableism, classism, religious oppression, homophobia or transphobia and so on. This, in turn, helps clients externalize their oppression. Using culturally appropriate, empowerment-based frameworks and techniques to help clients express powerful feelings of anger or despair resulting from frequent experiences with discrimination and oppression is crucial to improving one’s mental wellness.

At the interpersonal level, counselors who are multicultural and social justice competent take initiative to explore client relationships with family, friends, co-workers and their communities. This work may occur inside or outside of “the office.” For example, counselors may step out of the comfort of their office settings to talk directly with individuals in their clients’ lives (with client permission). This approach may help to identify individuals who support or obstruct client progress.

Relatedly, it is critical to help clients develop networks with caring individuals who share a similar privileged or marginalized identity and with whom they identify. Examples include helping an African American client to connect with an African American student group such as a sorority or fraternity. White clients might find it beneficial to be in an organization in which other White individuals are doing anti-racism work. This exploration process may be enhanced when counselors take the time to attend these meetings with clients. Stepping outside the office setting and working alongside clients will likely create discomfort for counselors who are traditionally trained.

At the institutional level, multicultural and social justice counselors focus their efforts on institutional rather than individual change. Counselors may initially inquire about the climate within a client’s workplace, community organizations or school. For example, a counselor can ask a client, “What is it like being the only Latina woman in a predominately White workplace?” or “How is it to navigate your workplace as a person with a disability?” Counselors could take it a step further by conducting needs assessments of their clients’ workplaces or schools to determine the extent to which these organizations are supportive of the clients. This strategy involves collaborating with clients and their workplaces or schools to conduct a climate survey.

Counselors may also advocate for clients by connecting them to supportive people within institutions who may be instrumental in helping to reduce inequities that clients experience. As change agents, counselors can work to improve climates within agencies, schools or organizations that inhibit client growth and feelings of well-being. For example, a professional school counselor might advocate with, and on behalf of, students who miss valuable instruction time because they use wheelchairs and cannot get to class on time due to overcrowded hallways and a lack of automatic doors. Similarly, a clinical mental health counselor might attend a meeting as an ally at the client’s place of employment to discuss equity issues affecting the client’s work environment.

At the community level, multicultural and social justice counselors focus their attention on the norms and values in society and the influence of these factors on clients’ well-being. It is important for counselors to discuss how clients believe that others perceive them and if they think that society holds negative stereotypes or attitudes about their membership in a privileged or marginalized group.

For instance, a counselor might explore, through societal lenses, the difficulties that a nontraditional female student faces when she doesn’t feel that her mostly male cohort takes her seriously as a medical student. The counselor could explore with the client the societal perceptions of women in science and math fields and the added pressure of having to prove herself repeatedly to male classmates. Creating informative websites may be another positive way to bring the issue to public awareness. Counselors may also use broader social advocacy strategies to vocalize support for women in general or back their participation in male-dominated careers, thus transforming public perception of their strengths and capabilities. Lastly, counselors can conduct research that identifies societal perceptions of particular women groups, explore the impact of these discernments and investigate how to mediate negative attitudes toward them.

At the public policy level, multicultural and social justice counselors focus on the rules, laws and policies that impact clients and other members of their group. This work may involve altering oppressive laws and policies or helping to create more-inclusive policies. An example could include focusing on issues faced by a female transgender client who is forced by city or state laws to either use the public restroom of the gender recorded on their birth certificate or face legal consequences. The counselor might advocate with, or on behalf of, the client by using the counselor’s cisgender (person who is not transgender) privilege to work with city officials to alter policies and practices that are oppressive toward transgender people. Furthermore, counselors, along with their local counseling organizations and legislators, may help to create policies and laws that do not discriminate against the transgender population and other sexual and gender minorities who constantly feel the brunt of stigmatization.

At the international/global level, multicultural and social justice counselors stay current and understand the impact that international activities may have on clients. For instance, the November terrorist incident in Paris involving the Islamic State may create toxic conditions in which Middle Eastern clients in the United States experience a significant increase in discrimination. In addition to discussing the impacts on clients, it would be essential for counselors to increase their knowledge and seek professional development that furthers their understanding of the political and historical contexts surrounding such occurrences. This knowledge may in turn equip counselors with the ability to work with other community leaders to create programs that ward off potential hate crimes.

Competencies: Counselors who are multicultural and social justice competent are in a constant state of developing attitudes and beliefs, knowledge, skills and action (AKSA) that allow them to effectively work with clients from a multicultural and social justice framework. The AKSA competencies are embedded within the counselor self-awareness, client worldview and counseling relationship domains described above.

Attitudes and beliefs refer to possessing awareness of the values, beliefs and biases that counselors possess about themselves and their clients. Knowledge denotes counselors being well-informed on the complexities surrounding counselor and client identity development, worldviews, the nuances of culture and the positive and negative effects of privileged and marginalized statuses. Skills refer to counselors’ abilities to tailor interventions that align with the cultural worldview of clients. Action refers to counselors taking steps to operationalize attitudes and beliefs, knowledge and skills with clients. The action component, also endorsed by Allen Ivey, Mary Ivey and Carlos Zalaquett, is based on the belief that possessing attitudes and beliefs, knowledge and skills is not enough if these competencies are not operationalized.

Using the MSJCC in tandem with other competencies 

Counselors can use the MSJCC alongside other ACA competencies to provide culturally responsive counseling and contextually appropriate interventions. The ACA Advocacy Competencies, which emerged out of Counselors for Social Justice, another division of ACA, were developed to describe how counselors might advocate with clients or on behalf of clients. These competencies further delineate the micro (e.g., student, client), meso (e.g., school, community) and macro (e.g., public arena, public policy) levels of advocacy that counselors may use.

As discussed earlier, the MSJCC embed action within counseling competence, with the expectation that counselor awareness, knowledge and skills are linked to counselor action in addressing issues of privilege and oppression when working with a wide variety of social identities espoused by clients. Therefore, in essence, the MSJCC extend the advocacy competencies to a more comprehensive approach that works with clients and continues outside of the duration of counseling. However, the advocacy competencies still have value, and counselors can consult these competencies together with the MSJCC to identify the most effective levels of action intervention. Interventions should be in collaboration with clients (e.g., developing self-advocacy skills) or on behalf of clients (e.g., advocating for gender-inclusive bathrooms for transgender people).

The Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW), another ACA division, developed the Multicultural and Social Justice Principles of Group Work to revise an earlier document titled “Principles for Diversity-Competent Group Workers.” Similar to the need to revise the AMCD multicultural competencies, ASGW was supportive of efforts to integrate multicultural and social justice principles into one document guiding the development of competence in leading group work. Counselors may use the MSJCC to guide both individual and group work with clients, using the MSJCC model to identify social identities of similarity and difference with clients, while also using the three domains of the ASGW Multicultural and Social Justice Principles of Group Work to explore the specific development of multicultural and social justice competence when facilitating group modalities. The three domains of these principles include the awareness of self and group members, strategies and skills (with two sub-domains: group worker planning and group worker processing), and social justice advocacy.

The MSJCC focus specifically on awareness, knowledge, skills and action that counselors should develop in multicultural and social justice competence. Meanwhile, the ACA Competencies for Counseling With Transgender Clients and the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling Competencies for Counseling LGBQQIA Individuals explore this competence within CACREP training domains (e.g., social and cultural foundations, assessment) when working with transgender and lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, intersex and ally (LGBQQIA) clients. Counselors may therefore use the MSJCC model to identify the privilege and oppression identities of counselor and client, while using the transgender and LGBQQIA competencies to examine these identities specifically within sexual orientation and gender identity.

Other ACA division competencies also exist (see counseling.org/knowledge-center/competencies). The extent to which these competencies specifically address or embed multicultural and social justice competencies varies. When using these competencies, the MSJCC will help counselors specifically give attention to the multiple issues of privilege and oppression that influence counselor awareness, knowledge and action competence.


The MSJCC provide:

  • A comprehensive framework for viewing one’s attitudes about newly emergent populations
  • A fresh start for looking at the worldviews of populations with whom one may come in contact and provide counseling services for daily
  • An opportunity to examine the impacts of these internalized attitudes and, taken together with client worldview, delve into the influences those dual dynamics have on the counseling relationship, both in traditional and broader senses

Thus, the aspirational quality of the MSJCC is critical in every single counseling encounter. In mental health and school settings, we may continue to serve clients from marginalized groups, and they may continue to overrepresent traditionally beleaguered populations. However, the way oppression is manifest in today’s world is ever-changing. For example, recent immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, face daily persecution. Others might belong to refugee groups that have been oppressed in their countries of origin and come to the United States only to face new subjugations.

Moreover, the expansion of the counseling role, beyond the actual traditional relationship and into a role of advocacy and social action as an expectation of the profession, creates room for stretching and growth on the part of counselors and their delivery models and systems. For example, should a counselor note an inherent bias within the agency structure, a learning curve might exist in terms of figuring out whom to talk to or what actions to take to create change. Consequently, some personal risk to one’s job security may be present in taking such action.

Regarding community action, this role involves a new set of activities on the part of counselors to identify and network with community leaders and become involved with community action networks. Finally, the policy level is often intimidating and overwhelming for counselors in terms of understanding policymaking players and processes. However, consider what could happen if counselors were to become activists in changing managed care, for example, through lobbying and other large-scale education efforts. Not only would clients be better served if that were to happen, but counselors could also avoid becoming caught up in their own webs of helplessness or hopelessness that often lead to professional burnout. Additionally, training gaps often exist between newly trained and veteran counselors who have served in the field for longer periods of time. With the benefit of renewed multicultural competence training, successes and changes may inadvertently serve to engage experienced counselors at new levels, inspiring them to continue striving for multicultural and social justice competence.




Manivong J. Ratts, Anneliese A. Singh, S. Kent Butler, Sylvia Nassar-McMillan and Julian Rafferty McCullough served on the committee that developed the Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies.

Letters to the editorct@counseling.org

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