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Mar 28, 2022

Decolonizing Counseling and Counselor Education: Breaking the Systemic Hold of Traditional Methods of Therapy and Academia That Inhibit Black Males’ Ambitions By: Isaac Burt, PhD.,NCC

Democratization, demonetization and decolonization. In our quest to be multiculturally competent social justice advocates, these D’s are prominent in our approach to counseling. Democratization — the process of making an item widely accessible to everyone; demonetization — making things less expensive or free; and decolonization — dismantling the traditional methods implemented by a majority population. These three D’s constitute the essence of our clinical and academic work.

Thus, when COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement appeared, our minds raced not only to Black clients but to counselor as well. Without physical access to counselors, we wondered, how were clients faring? What about potential new clients encountering mental and emotional duress during these times?

While our clients are not fragile, they come to us for a reason. Without facilitation, they could experience adverse effects in their well-being. Additionally, Black counselors, counselor educators and counselor trainees (students), forced to struggle with witnessing occurrences of people who look like themselves choked, shot, killed and harassed routinely, then need to learn how to cope while simultaneously assisting others. Adding to this struggle is the tendency for white people to ask Blacks to be “spokespersons” by providing insight into the psyche of Blackness, which mainly serves to relieve those struggling with white fragility.

After contemplating these issues, we had an epiphany. Democratization, demonetization and decolonization — the very foundation on which we built our careers. Clients need to have strategies that are widely accessible (meaning little reliance on a counselor). During hard economic times, clients require methods that are cost-efficient. And counselors and counselor educators (including students) need to have resources that come from individuals who not only look like them but also underwent similar experiences. With the renewed emphasis on dismantling systemic inequalities, the profession must be flexible and break away from traditional/colonized methods that no longer serve clients, counselors, students or educators.

Succinctly stated, the profession, and academia, need to change the way we approach our Black clients, educators and students. That said, instead of relying on external elements (i.e., the entire counseling and counselor education profession), what about relying on ourselves? What if we — Black men and women — developed, built and implemented skills and tools to manage our situations, without relying on Big Brother? For example, does an emphasis on cognitive behavior therapy as the gold standard truly allow Black clients to become their optimal self? Do the traditional methods of leadership, teaching and research accurately encapsulate what Black men must navigate when they enter the professoriate?

With that idea in mind, we were overcome with joy when Dr. S. Kent Butler became the first Black male ACA President in over 20 years, since the great Dr. Courtland C. Lee held the position from 1997 to 1998. Adding to that exuberance was when Dr. Butler commissioned the Black Male Experience (BME) Task Force, whose goal is to highlight Black males’ mental wellness and promote positive growth in the profession of counseling and counselor education.

To attain that goal, Dr. Butler asked us to become the BME Task Force co-chairs. Our charge was to assemble teams into five distinct groups, consisting of the following: Rites of Passages, Mentoring, Leadership, Counselor Education and Stigma. These subcommittees all represent a pivotal characteristic of the Black male experience. The ultimate goal was for each unit to create a “deliverable,” and the BME co-chairs would amalgamate these products into a democratized toolkit, or depository. This repository of unique tools would comprise the three D’s mentioned previously, in that they would be widely accessible, free and break the status quo. Thus, it is an open-access tool to provide resources for not only Black men, but also counselors, colleagues, supervisors and professors who would like hands-on, innovative and practical methods to utilize.

Before continuing, however, some background information is critical. We (the BME co-chairs) are Black men deeply impacted by racial injustices. When COVID-19 appeared, we managed well enough during that time. However, when the George Floyd video and protests emerged, we noticed changes in ourselves. For example, we saw spikes in our heart rate. While watching the video, we saw ourselves metaphorically crushed by the knee of systemic racism and discrimination. We then took a step back and realized these incidents affected us severely. We share the preceding information to make it clear we are not just individuals empathizing with people impacted by racial injustices. We are those beings, and we are honored to be part of this initiative that seeks to right the wrongs of the past and focus on the health of Black men in counseling and counselor education.

We believe the creation of the Black male toolkit can be a powerful factor in people’s lives. Making it accessible (democratization) and not requiring additional funds to examine the material (demonetization) make it very inviting. Moreover, it is a viable method to use as a decolonizing tool in the counseling field.

We are more than proud to share these approaches created by the five subcommittees. We also express pride, happiness and admiration for Dr. S. Kent Butler, who is leading from the front by spearheading these initiatives to take us into the new decade with authority!

Article written by:
Isaac Burt, Ph.D., NCC at Florida International University
Associate Professor
Associate Editor, Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development
ADVANCE Faculty Fellow (2019-2021)
Associate Director, Office to Advance Women, Equity, and Diversity (AWED)
Director, Black Faculty Association (BFA) of FIU

For questions or comments please e-mail Dr. Burt at

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