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Jul 11, 2023

Welcoming Dr. Edil Torres Rivera (English version)

Announcer: Welcome to The Voice of Counseling from the American Counseling Association. Today we are going to listen in on a conversation with Dr. Edil Torres Rivera and Dr. Manuel X. Zamarripa. In celebrating cultural diversity and language inclusivity ACA is proud to air its first Spanish-speaking episode.

Dr. Edil Torres Rivera is the 72nd president of the American Counseling Association. He is a Counseling professor and the Latinx Cluster Coordinator at Wichita State University, Kansas. Dr. Torres Rivera specializes in multicultural counseling, group work, chaos theory, liberation psychology, supervision, multicultural counseling, prisons, Puerto Rican studies, identity development, and gang-related behavior. His primary research focuses on complexity and how indigenous healing techniques are necessary when working with ethnic minority populations in the United States.

Dr. Manuel X. Zamarripa is the co-director and co-founder of the Institute of Chicana/o/x Psychology & Community Wellness based in Austin, TX where he conducts community workshop platicas as well as professional development training for educators and mental health professionals on issues related to Chicana/o/x wellness, cultural identity, and mental health from a Chicana/o/x framework. His work respects and integrates mesoamerican wisdoms as a form of cultural reconnection toward overall community wellness. Dr. Zamarripa is a trained psychologist, clinician, college dean, and danzante. He has been a student and teacher of Chiciana/o/x Psychology for 30 years.

Dr. Manuel Javier Zamarripa: Good morning, Dr. Torres. How are you?

Dr. Edil Torres Rivera: How are you, Manuel?

Dr. Manuel: Good, thank you.

Dr. Torres: Excellent.

Dr. Manuel: My name is Dr. Manuel Javier Zamarripa. It is a special honor for me to interview Dr. Torres Rivera. He is a respected colleague and a very good friend. To respect the mission of cultural and linguistic inclusion, this interview will be completely in Spanish. Is it okay with you?

Dr. Torres: Yes. My first language is Spanish. Born and raised in Puerto Rico. I have always been a Spanish speaker.

Dr. Manuel: How do you introduce yourself? I know there are some people from Puerto Rico who would like to say Boricua or Taíno. What is your preference?

Dr. Torres: My preference is Puerto Rican. It's a little more native than the idea of being Hispanic or the idea of being Puerto Rican. After the island is seen I'm fine.

Dr. Manuel: Welcome to all, all, all our listeners. Let's start. Yes?

Dr. Torres: Yes.

Dr. Manuel: Dr. Torres, I would like to start by asking if you could tell us a little more about yourself and your path to being president of-- I'm going to say ACA.

Dr. Torres: Yes, that's fine. In Puerto Rico, they call it ACA, but that's okay. This journey began when I was in the United States Army. I think it was in the '80s that I was presented with the opportunity to become a member of what was formerly the Association for Personal and Guidance, counseling. Later it became ACA, American Counseling Association. I have always stayed in and out. For the past 35 years, I have been a constant member of the ACA.

At one of the conferences, at the ACA conventions, Judy Lewis invited me to be part of her leadership. She had a leadership summer, and she invited me to be a part of it. After that, I began to be very active with ACA, with Patricia Arredondo. Eventually, I was invited to run for ACA president, and I won. After that, a little bit later, I was also invited to run for president of Counselors for Social Justice, CFJ. I also ran and won.

In this way, I have always remained quite active. It has been an interesting race because, as you know, we Latinos, although we have a presence in the United States, we usually don't have a presence in terms of ACA membership. With Patricia, with Carlos Hipólito, you were also a member of ACA at some point. We have tried to maintain that high presence and that visibility of us Latinos in ACA. That has been more or less my trajectory.

Dr. Manuel: Thanks for that. On this question, first of all, I want to thank you for all the years of fighting for social justice and the decolonization of mental health. Firstly, what are your thoughts on where things are in these areas? What steps do you think we should take to achieve more, to progress more?

Dr. Torres: In some areas I think we put, for example, the horse in front of the carriage. We began to speak, for example, of cultural or multicultural competencies. Then, we talk about social justice. Lately, we are talking about decolonization. For me, I thought that one of the things that we should have done at the beginning was to talk about decolonization, because decolonization is extremely tied to discrimination, oppression, to social justice, to racism.

If we had started from that moment, I think we would be a little more advanced. We never look at the effects of decolonization in front, because in America we have a habit, good or bad, of just looking at ourselves. Never look outside, where is the other knowledge.

I think that, when we are talking about what you are asking me specifically, where we are at this moment, I believe that we are at a crucial moment, where we can do important work, lasting work in terms of starting to dismantle the systems, colonialism, and to dismantle racism, oppression, and particularly the idea that there is only one knowledge. That knowledge has to be expanded.

We directors are in a good position to begin that work.

Dr. Manuel: Thanks for that. What are his hopes for the ACA as the 72nd ACA president here in 2023?

Dr. Torres: My hopes are that we can begin to sit at the table. I think that, in the United States, we have something that’s very interesting. We know that we have a need for mental health providers, professional mental health providers, but at the same time, when we talk about people who can provide mental health, we only look at three or four different professions. Usually, the advisors are not at the table.

I believe that professional counselors should be at the table because professional counselors have a long history in terms of fighting against social injustice. I think that this is the moment in which we can begin to occupy that place at the table; not just occupy a place at the table, but also to say where we can sit.

Remember that this is something that we Latinos know very well. That sometimes they invite us to sit at the table, but they tell us which chair we have to sit on. I think it's like a metaphor to see where counseling is right now in terms of that. We have a lot to offer, particularly because the biggest difference between counselors, for example, from the other professions is that counselors can, at least, be licensed at the master's level immediately.

Usually, we don't have scholarships. Usually, we are people who are working at the same time that we are going to school. We have a mix between what we do in terms of practice and in terms of what we do in terms of education and theory.

Dr. Manuel: What can we do so that the other professionals can see us, the counselors, as we need that place? How can we do it? How can we achieve that goal?

Dr. Torres: It is that, it is very interesting, Manuel, because one of the things that we always talk about, for example, we have that of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but when we talk about that we do not have that same perspective with the professions. I learned a lot from clinical social workers. By the way, social workers in general have a history in social justice that is much longer than many of the other professions.

In Puerto Rico, right now, something very interesting is also happening, that only clinical psychologists are the people who can work with mental health. For me, that is very interesting, because they do not give us enough. Why not open up? I think that one of the things we can do is walk-to-walk, walk, walk, and not talk and talk. We can model how we across different professions can talk and collaborate.

That's the best way to do it. You know that you are a psychologist, I consider myself an educational counselor, and we have always had a very close, very good relationship. We never look at our professions as one being better than the other. We've just always looked similar. I believe that this is what we can do, begin to open the doors and not say that one is better than the other.

But simply how can we supply the need for services in terms of mental health to the public, to the people who need it?

Dr. Manuel: Yes. You're right about that. Thank you. I want to ask. During his speech at this year's conference in Toronto, he talked about how to transcend the status quo. Also, what do we need to do, as you were saying, other than talk? What are some of the areas where you see this need? Also, what are some actions that counselors can take to help with these needs in the profession at this very important time?

Dr. Torres: I believe that the first thing we have to start doing, in terms of making this a reality, is to begin dismantling what knowledge is. You know that within the idea of what is valuable in terms of knowledge and what is not, we have this notion that only certain things hold value while others don't. We need to start considering that our past, sometimes, dictates our present and our future.

We need to start looking at what things hold value. You know this firsthand. We have a wealth of knowledge that comes from our past, from our grandparents and great-grandparents, from the beginning, and it has never been considered something valuable. The first thing we need to do is figure out how we can incorporate that knowledge into what we do. It doesn't mean that one is more valuable than the other. It simply means addressing the client's needs.

We have always said that the way the client defines their illness is also how they will define the cure. We have been talking about this for over 20 years, 30 years. We need to start doing it. How do we do it? By starting to question why things remain the same. We sometimes talk about deconstructing things that were built on something that is not a reality.

We start looking, for example, at history. Who wrote history? The history of counseling, the history of psychology. How did these things come to be?

We start questioning and helping our clients do the same. Helping them accept themselves as they are. When they look at themselves, they should know that their identity as a person of color, as a minority, or as a Latino person, is valuable and that they have something to contribute.

We start with that. Questioning, moving, deconstructing.

Dr. Manuel: What can counselors, ACA members, do to help in this issue, this goal? What can they do not just within ACA, but in their own places, in their own areas of influence? What can counselors do?

Dr. Torres: Remember, we have always said that you can only take someone to a place where you have been. If you haven't been to that place, you can't take anyone there. Using the teachings of Lilian Comas-Díaz, Ignacio Martín-Baró, and the teachings of Maritza Montero, they tell us that the first thing we have to do is try to liberate ourselves.

What does that mean? The first thing I have to do, before I start working with clients, is to examine what things are holding me back from being truly myself, because to teach something, I have to know what I'm teaching.

That's the first thing you have to do. Start practicing that within yourself. When I was a master's student, a long time ago, one of the things we had to do was go to therapy, even if we believed we didn't need it. It's quite interesting because, during the therapy process, we learned what the process is like. We didn't learn it by reading about it; we learned it by practicing it.

We learned it because we felt it firsthand. That, for me, is the first thing that needs to happen with all counselors. They need to start experiencing for themselves what it means to be liberated, what it means to be yourself, and what it means to accept yourself. Once you understand that, the process that you go through, you'll be able to understand a little more how to apply it to your clients.

Dr. Manuel: Your groups, because I know you work a lot with counselor groups, are very important to me because, also in the cultural aspect, a group is like circles, and it's something very important for our people, for example. How can we use this type of therapy at this time?

After all, I believe that this type of therapy will be more important in the future, when we are working with people from different cultures, who think more about life as, "Life is a circle. We need collectivism." What can ACA do to advance this type of therapy? How can we use groups more at this time?

Dr. Torres: The first thing to mention, as you have mentioned a couple of times, is that, for example, liberation psychology was born from collective settings. We always mention Ignacio Martín-Baró, but also Eduardo Durán from the United States talks about liberation psychology. Virgilio Enrique from the Philippines talks about liberation psychology. What do these people have in common? Native Americans are collective, Latinos are collective, and Asians are collective.

From the perspective I see it, this is natural for our cultures. Cultures are collective. The idea that we sit in places, start talking, telling stories, making jokes, or playing dominoes, all these little things are collective processes.

The important thing during this process, for me, from my point of view, is that when we start advancing liberation psychology, at least in these groups, the idea is that within these spaces we serve not only as members but also occasionally take on two or three different roles.

The first role is sometimes that of a coordinator. The second role is that of a member. The third role is that of a student, and the fourth role is that of a teacher. If we can, when we conduct our group therapy, try to introduce these concepts, which are concepts that help us understand that when I work with others, what I am looking at is simply a reflection of who I am.

When I'm making my interventions, I'm not just making interventions, but I'm making interventions because the self and the other are expressing themselves. That is a reflection. That reflection needs to be based on the idea that, when I do something for others, I'm also doing it for the group and myself. The same goes for the idea of family. You know that family is very important to us. What is family? It's another group.

We need to start presenting these concepts as fundamental concepts that are good. I believe that one of the things we haven't done in the last 20 years is to try to revisit the theories. We still rely on the old five theories. Even though liberation psychology is not new, it is a theory that at least starts moving us from a different point, using native techniques that, again, come from the collective.

They are not new, but they are not married to the same five theories that we have always been looking at, which are based simply on middle-class, white men of European descent. We need to start noticing the existence of a little more diversity. We have to start recognizing that diversity enriches us, not just that it helps us, but it enriches us to make connections with one another, which is a very important aspect.

We also never talk about spirituality, about the idea of having a connection with someone. Those parts, for me, are a very important part when we do group therapy.

Dr. Manuel: Thank you. Let's continue. What excites you about this profession? Also, what are the challenges for the profession that need more support from ACA?

Dr. Torres: Repeat the question again, Manuel. The first part.

Dr. Manuel: What excites you about this profession? Also, what are the challenges for the profession that need more support from ACA?

Dr. Torres: What excites me the most about this profession is that I have been part of it for 35 years. I have always felt that I am part of this family. Like in any family, you have your ups and downs, and you have your obstacles. I have never felt expelled from the family. I have never felt that I have to try to be someone I'm not. That is a very important part for me. That's what has kept me in this profession for so long.

You always come across one person or another who-- you know, but that's part of it. For me, that has been a very important thing. The challenges of the profession are that, sometimes, when we are moving in a direction that we know is a direction that-- For example, right now, we have things happening in Florida, happening in Texas, happening in many states, where they are trying to invisibilize many of the oppressed people.

Sometimes, we can't close our eyes, we can't cover our eyes with our hands. We have to see that something needs to be done. One of the strongest challenges that ACA faces now is how to work and help the members in each of those states, members who are minorities. What can we do in the capacity of a national organization?

At the same time, we need to maintain the idea that we aren’t only working for those minority groups but for all counselors. For me, that's a balance that is sometimes a little difficult to maintain. Sometimes, we move to help one group, and in the movement of that group, we are simply pushing another group to the side. That balance is a balance that needs to be maintained. For me, that is a tremendous challenge.

The other challenge is also maintaining ourselves, within these moments when the economy is quite interesting, how do we continue to provide what we need to provide to ACA members without cutting back because we lack funds? It's simply about trying to maintain that balance, continuing to provide the service they need without trying to increase the price because we know they are suffering, while the rest of the nation is suffering as well.

Those, for me, are the biggest challenges, financially. The other challenge is trying to maintain that balance, that we are helping those who are oppressed without alienating the other members of the association.

Dr. Manuel: I think this is the last question for us today. Don't you want to say or ask anything, Edil? I know we are brothers in the fight for the people. We've been in this profession for many years now, working to improve all members but also our people at the same time. Now, there are many new counselors all the time. New counselors are entering the profession. I want to ask, at this point in your career, what do you want to say to the newcomers? What do you want to tell them from your heart?

Dr. Torres: Very simple. The most important thing I can leave them with is the idea that, when you're doing something right, you will encounter many obstacles. Don't give up. Don't simply surrender. In my career, one of the things I have seen is that, when I'm doing something right, I will always encounter a lot of obstacles. I used to enjoy boxing. They told me that it wasn't about how many times I fell but how many times I stood up.

I won quite a few fights, but in the context of newcomers entering the profession, it's important to know that it’s not all roses. In fact, if you're going to do a good job, the idea of encountering obstacles has to be part of it. If you don't encounter obstacles, something is not happening. Don't give up. Don't surrender. Keep moving forward. Also, very importantly, one of the things that has always helped me is looking at the people who came before me.

I have always watched a lot-- I have admired Patricia a lot. Even though our relationship sometimes comes and goes, Patricia has always helped me. Wherever I am, Patricia has always helped me. Manny Casas, [unintelligible 00:28:46] are people you can call at any time. I understand that I am reaching the age where anyone can call me, and I can do the same for them.

Dr. Manuel: Dr. Torres, thank you very much for this interview. As always, a pleasure to talk to you again. Good luck with your presidency this year, with all the work you’re doing and will do in the future. Thanks a lot.

Dr. Torres: Thank you, Manny. I’ll see you in Chicago, anyhow.

Dr. Manuel: Yes. See you there.

Dr. Torres: Yes. See you there. Take care of yourself.

Dr. Manuel: Come along.

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