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Big Idea: Decolonizing Mental Health Education

Insights drawn from interviews with seven Antioch faculty members who have firsthand experience decolonizing counseling, psychology, and therapy education.

Episode Notes

As mental health professionals grapple with racism and exclusion in some of their foundational texts and concepts, a movement of reformers is working to decolonize the field. But what does that look like? And how will it impact our communities? In this episode, we gather the voices of seven different faculty members from across Antioch University’s counseling, psychology, and therapy programs—and hear their insights into this important work. 

This Big Idea episode pulls clips from interviews with Jude Bergkamp, Beth Donahue, Mariaimeé Gonzalez, Catherine Lounsbury, Mariela Marin, Amy Morrison, and Syntia Santos Dietz. We invite you to listen to the full interview episodes featuring these faculty members:

Visit Antioch’s website to learn more about the Clinical Mental Health Counseling programs in which Catherine Lounsbury, Mariaimeé Gonzalez, and Syntia Santos Dietz teach, the MA in Clinical Psychology in which Mariela Marin teaches, the PsyD in Clinical Psychology in which Jude Bergkamp teaches, and the Art Therapy concentration in which  Amy Morrison and Beth Donahue teach.

This episode was recorded on February 20, 2024, via Descript and released on February 28, 2024. 

The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University

Host: Jasper Nighthawk

Editor: Johanna Case

Digital Designer: Mira Mead

Web Content Coordinator: Jen Mont

Work-Study Interns: Carrie Hawthorn, Stefanie Paredes, and Georgia Bermingham.  

A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland

To access a full transcript and find more information about this and other episodes, visit theseedfield.org. To get updates and be notified about future episodes, follow Antioch University on Facebook.

Transcript – S6 BONUS-Decolonizing

Transcript – S6BONUS-Decolonizing

[00:02] Jasper Nighthawk:This is the Seed Field Podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity. I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk. And today we have a Big Idea episode about how across Antioch, faculty are working to decolonize mental health education and build a more inclusive, anti-racist, and socially just mental health care system that serves everyone. Today, the US is experiencing overlapping mental health crises. Our opioid addiction crisis is overlapping with rising reported cases of anxiety and depression, a long running problem that was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. And just this month, the Surgeon General released an advisory warning of an epidemic of loneliness. By a lot of measures, we are not doing very well. At the same time, there are positive forces working against this. The biggest one is, as a society, I don’t think we’ve ever taken mental health so seriously. The stigma that kept previous generations from addressing their traumas and mood disorders are falling away. And more and more people are deciding to seek treatment from trained therapists, counselors, and psychologists. I’m one of them. I think it’s a good sign that I have felt comfortable addressing my own depression and anxiety with the help of professional therapists. I also think that it’s a good sign that I can talk about it here in my workplace without fear of judgment or reprisal. But this is relatively easy for me to say. I’m a white man with an advanced degree. The mental health system was literally designed by and for people who look a lot like me. For black folks, indigenous folks, and people of color, interacting with the mental health care system, either as a patient or as someone training to be a provider, can mean encountering so many assumptions and attitudes that function to exclude. This can disrupt treatment, and it can also cause brilliant people to turn away from careers in this field. And it’s not just BIPOC folks who find themselves excluded like this. The LGBTQIA+ community, folks with disabilities, people from other cultures, there are so many things that can put you on the outside looking in. This is morally wrong. Like obviously, excluding people from healthcare is an injustice. I also think it’s really bad for the field on the level of being effective for everyone. As the field of mental health care has started to grapple with these problems, which often trace back to the very roots of these fields, like these foundational texts and ideas, I am so happy to know that there are a lot of people working against these forces. They’re working to decolonize mental health care. And here at Antioch, these efforts span our PsyD programs, our clinical mental health counseling programs, our couple and family therapy programs, and our MAs in clinical psychology. Faculty from all of our programs and across all of our campuses have been working to change curricula, to decolonize the way they teach, to root out white supremacy, and sometimes to challenge the very foundations of their fields. And over the last three years, we have had the luck here on the Seed Field podcast to get to interview so many of them about their work. Today, we’re pulling together clips from all of those interviews to learn more about the work of decolonizing and to see where it’s leading. So let’s go to our first clip. In this one, Catherine Lounsbury, a professor of psychology and Dean of the Counseling Division gives a great definition of colonialism. And as you’re listening to it, I wanna draw your attention specifically to the humility she’s approaching this with, the way she presents her understanding as her understanding, not the only or necessarily the quote unquote right answer.

[04:07] Catherine Lounsbury: As I understand it from my perspective, colonialism is the structure through which one group of people subordinates and exploits another, and then justifies the subordination, exploitation, and really attempts at erasure of the culture by claiming to be the intrinsically superior group. And so the history of colonialism as related to this land that we now call the United States is really one of brutal subjugation of indigenous people, enslavement of African peoples, and carving out these racial categories as a way to justify white supremacy, asserting that there’s a legal and a religious obligation to take over the land and culture and appropriating the land and resources for their own use.

[05:02] Jasper: I’m glad to have that definition and also that reminder of all of the different ways that oppression has and continues to exist in our country. From there, I wanna go to a clip from our interview with Mariaimeé Gonzalez, a professor of counselor education and chair of the clinical mental health counseling program at Antioch’s Seattle campus. Here she talks about how, as someone with a Latinx identity, from the start when she began studying counseling, she saw that there was a lot there to learn from, but also so much she was going to need to challenge. 

[05:44] Mariaimeé Gonzalez: When I first started learning about counseling, the theories of it in my MA program, they’re incredibly individualistic. And I think because I have seen differently in my own community, in my own experience, I knew that there was cultural capital that we can bring to this profession. And I thought to myself, wow, this is great to learn, and these are foundational theories, and there are so many places that we can evolve our profession. And this profession can evolve by learning from other communities and cultures. In a way, I had to navigate what would be appropriate to use with my own clients, my own community, and find theories or work that really lend to Latinx collectivist cultures. For me, I understood that there is a lot of work to be done to dismantle some of the really colonized theories that we use in this country. And that’s why I like to say, not just counseling, but I use the words mental liberation. Because throughout all these experiences, whether it was witnessing my parents, my brothers, my communities, my mentors, they were all doing different kind of liberation work. And so when I was trying to think of my place in this, I thought to myself, this is all liberation, but as a mental health professional, specifically, I was learning liberation work, mental liberation work. Specifically liberation psychology, which came out of South America, right? Latinx roots. The power of a community is within the community, the power of the stories within our stories. And the same with education.

[07:21] Jasper: Another guest, Jude Bergkamp, the chair of the PsyD program in Seattle, gave a great explanation of the ongoing struggle to make psychology more socially just. And he starts off by describing a past movement towards these same goals. This was called multicultural psychology. And he explains why Antioch’s programs are moving away from multicultural psychology and towards a new paradigm.

[07:53] Jude Bergkamp: I think that most of psychology, both at the master’s and doctoral level, are stuck in what we call like the multicultural era of psych. So it’s really about the clinician understanding themselves as cultural beings and trying to, as best they can, with some humility, also have a fund of knowledge about the general culture of their clients. What’s been taught is these sorts of general ideas about the culturally different other. So you’re gonna get chapters on Asian Americans or African Americans or Native Americans, and it boils down into, do they like eye contact or are they really big in family and what kind of food do they like in music and how can you relate? But I think that word culture is conveniently used as a bypassing effort to not really understand that you and I are contextualized within societal, institutional, systemic, and historic context.

[09:05] Jasper: So much of this work comes down to recognizing each other and seeing the power dynamics that underpin our society. In the next clip that I wanna play, Syntia Santos-Dietz from the New England Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program talks about how colonialism has a context, not just for people in the US, but for pretty much everyone in our globalized world. And many of our colleagues and classmates have had different experiences of it than we have.

[09:36] Syntia Santos-Dietz: Colonialism is not only something that happens in the United States alone, that’s something that has been happening throughout history around the world. So that includes my country. So I have my own view of what that looks like and how my own country has been dealing with the consequences of that. So in my case, I see my history or the history of Honduras as the people that has been colonized by others. And that includes Spain and Europe and the United States too, one way or another. So I have a lot of stories about that, Jasper. But I think that the important thing is to be very aware that this is a worldwide thing. And that right now the United States have, of course, a very big position in it, a very big role in what’s happening and how colonialism is developed and what does that look like in current age.

[10:32] Jasper: It’s clear that these problems are prevalent across all of these different fields within mental health care. The next question is, what does it look like to challenge some of these patterns in the classroom? Here’s Mariaimeé Gonzalez again. And I really love the way that she describes turning to her students and asking them to participate in deciding what voices get heard. 

[10:54] Mariaimeé: Education needs to have our narrators, to have our stories, to have what helps regarding our definition of wellness and healing. And I realized that as an educator, I could be part of the voices to bring that narrative into the learning experience. On the first day of class, I asked my students, who do we wanna bring into the space with us while we are working together in this class? The people who have made an impact on us of why we are here today, let’s acknowledge that, let’s acknowledge our elders, the generations that came before us, the people who have stood beside us, who are here today as we’re learning from one another. Because they are also part of this journey one way or the other, correct? And so how do we honor that in this experience? And that’s a collectivist in itself, right? To acknowledge that even within the learning experience as students and creating the culture together in that classroom. And there’s a lot of honor and power in that. 

[12:00] Jasper: I love this invitation to treat students as a source of knowledge, rather than as empty vessels that the instructor needs to fill up with the knowledge that they alone control. It really makes me think of another thing that Mariela Marin from the Santa Barbara MA in clinical psychology said in our interview about how this work calls on instructors to engage in cultural self-assessment, to think of what experiences and biases, but also insights they bring to the table.

[12:34] Mariela Marin: Doing this work and teaching classes over and over again, I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I wake up and go, “Oh gosh, I don’t know what else I could tell folks today about who I am or how many times I’ve looked at myself.” And yet when I show up in class, just even based on who’s looking at me and the faces of who’s looking at me and the assumptions I’m making about who they are and that I assume they’re making about me, it’s an opportunity to go, “Oh, wow, okay, there’s something I missed or there’s something that’s new and different for me today.” And that ongoing self-assessment is not only in service of the relationship with another, but it also, I have often come home and gone, “You know what? I learned this new thing about how I feel today, about what I think of myself, about how I see myself in the world, that I wouldn’t have known had I not gone there and been asked to go there with some intention.”

[13:34] Jasper: I want to turn now and hear some of the ways faculty are explicitly changing curricula and syllabi with the goal of decolonization. Here’s Jude Bergkamp again.

[13:54] Jude: There is a big clear move. We’re doing this in our program too, of constantly auditing our syllabi and making sure we’re bringing in voices that offer a more critical perspective of things. And really to just assist our students and our graduates in that habit of critical consciousness and a critique of what’s the system, how am I participating? What’s the outcome? What’s the impact?

[14:23] Jasper: I love how when Jude talks about this, he has a humility. Like he doesn’t assume that he has the right answer or even that there is one right answer that exists out there.

[14:34] Jude:  We’re at a place where I think some trainers and folks in the academic field might be waiting for a clear model to be brought down from above. And then others like myself are fumbling with how do we do that in a way that makes sense? And for us, I think at Antioch, because of our clear social justice mission, I believe it is my responsibility to fumble and struggle and try to find a way towards that ideal.

[15:05] Jasper: I think it’s so interesting to get to hear faculty describing the nuts and bolts of developing curricula and all of the decisions that go into making a program in a socially just way. To continue that theme, I wanna play you a couple of clips from my interview with Amy Morrison and Beth Donahue. They talked about their thought process as they created a new art therapy program in New England. This clip starts with Amy and then Beth jumps in.

[15:39] Amy Morrison: Beth has been my partner in this development and that alone is a social justice piece is that we come together to have conversations and discussions. We’re really thinking about our curriculum development. We’re thinking about whose voices we’re including and we’re asking ourself about what voices are missing. But even before that, choosing to have a program online is a socially just decision in that people don’t actually have to move to New England, which is an extremely expensive place to live, and people don’t have to move to Seattle or at the West Coast. 

[16:19] Beth Donahue: Yeah, along with what Amy is talking about, once we thought about the delivery, we also thought about the admissions process and how the traditional application process to a graduate program often makes graduate school inaccessible for people. We thought about changing the ways in which people can express their desire and interest in a program and how they can express their particular gifts and talents, what they hope to bring to the field. Usually that traditionally has been done through essay questions, right? You apply to grad school, of course you have to write these essays. And we do find that that is an important part of an application, but we also included a video response. One question is asked and we ask for students to submit a video that allows people to communicate with us in a way that isn’t writing, which is not everyone’s strong suit. We also opened up the letters of recommendation that we require. We made that more expansive. So we’re interested in hearing from people that can speak to applicants’ skills and passions and desires to become art therapists.

[17:34] Jasper: And in this conversation, the theme of humility came up once again, this idea that any curriculum that you could come up with should be seen as really a draft and you always have to look out for blind spots. Here’s Beth again.

[17:49] Beth: This is also an ongoing process, right? Like it’s not possible to design a socially just graduate program and then say, okay, we’re done, that’s it. We’ve had it nailed down. One thing that we did explore and are continuing to explore is changing the material that is delivered in class, changing the readings and the assignments that we offer to students to promote and assess learning. We did change texts, we did change articles that are assigned, but we also expanded our definition of graduate school material to include not just peer reviewed articles and textbooks, which are important parts, but also those leave out a lot of very important voices that are talking about things that we want our students to learn about and things that Amy and I also want to learn about. So we include vlogs and blogs and social media posts, TikToks and Instagram. We want to make sure that we are giving a place for the voices of people who are talking about the issues that are important to our students. So those things are all included in our classroom experiences as well.

[18:57] Jasper: For a last clip, I want to share something Mariela Marin said in our conversation, where she talked about how she’s seen in Santa Barbara the real tangible benefits when previously excluded populations get access to culturally competent care and when students are educated to specifically address their community’s needs.

[19:20] Mariela: I’ve been in Santa Barbara for over 20 years and so working in this community. From my experience, what I’ve definitely seen is there’s been an increase in monolingual Spanish speakers receiving services. And to be honest, the community has recognized the need and responded. More programs have created more programming and more services for folks in this area for modeling Spanish speakers, which is fantastic. And which is why Antioch recognized folks need to be heard and held in their language, in their culture. Not that someone who isn’t bilingual or Latinx can’t do therapy with someone, but there are moments where that is what would make someone feel safe and to give folks that opportunity. And the Latinx community has a lot to contribute to the therapy world in terms of growth and possibility and creativity. So having students who really focus on the Latinx experience has opened up the availability of services for folks in this community.

[20:27] Jasper: Hearing about the real life impact that these efforts to decolonize mental health care can have to literally bring therapy to a community that historically has been excluded, makes me proud of the work we’re doing here at Antioch and the work that our alumni are doing all across our country and wider world. Sometimes I think that it can be too easy for us to celebrate Antioch University’s rich 172 year long history as a social justice leader. And it’s true, there’s a history we inherit as leaders in higher education, but to be worthy of that history, we have to continually embody it and renew our dedication to doing better. These efforts we’ve been hearing about today so clearly fulfill that task. Across the university, faculty are grappling with our curricula and teaching methods and really they’re challenging the foundations of the fields they’re working in. I find it inspiring and hopeful. Thank you for listening to this Big Idea episode. We’ll be back with a new interview episode in two weeks. In the meantime, if you wanna listen to any of the episodes that we played excerpts from, we’ll link to them in our show notes. These conversations are full of so many ideas and insights and stories that we didn’t have space for here. So I heartily encourage you to check those out. We post these show notes on our website, theseedfield.org, where you’ll also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes and more. The Seed Field podcast is produced by Antioch University. Our editor is Johanna Case. I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk. Our digital designer is Mira Mead. Jen Mont is our web content coordinator. Carrie Hawthorne, Stefanie Paredes, and Georgia Bermingham are our work study interns. A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland. Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode. We hope to see you next time. And don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause, and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been The Seed Field podcast.