UWS Faculty Insights from the American Counseling Association Conference

By: Dr. Amy O’Hana, UWS clinical mental health counseling professor  

Professional organizations are pivotal to any profession, but they are especially important in the counseling profession. The American Counseling Association (ACA) is the professional organization for counselors, providing many resources for continuing education, one big resource being the annual conference. After two years of the ACA conference being held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year it was in person April 6-9 in Atlanta, Georgia.

One of the things I love about being a faculty member at University of Western States (UWS) is how the university supports professional development. Attending a conference is not just useful for learning – it’s dynamic for networking with fellow counselors and educators, professional connections and resting while simultaneously becoming re-inspired and re-energized for our work. Dr. Michelle Cox, program director of the UWS clinical mental health counseling (CMHC) program and I went, and wow, did we have the Best. Time. Ever!

What did I learn? Well, I learned not to be culturally competent.

I learned the term “cultural competence” more than 20 years ago when I was a graduate student in counseling. It’s a standard that I’ve strived for, researched and taught students to practice. But with recent world events, especially racial tension and cultural genocide, at the ACA conference I learned a new standard of care: cultural humility.

Cultural competence implies a standard to be mastered – a way of doing. As someone that identifies with the dominant and privileged class, there is danger in this mindset. In an egoic (yes, big egos are rampant in academia) and a potentially unaware state, I have the propensity to cause harm—and not take responsibility for it—if I’m basing my actions on a theory I learned in graduate school.

In contrast, cultural humility is a way of being. It’s a humble, curious and open mindset, wherein I quietly join my clients and students, and I affirm their lived experiences without imposing my own. It’s an ability to admit that I don’t know everything, especially what it’s like to be the other. It’s a desire to learn what it’s like to be the other. I don’t have to solve or fix; I simply join and allow them to be my teacher.

Cultural humility is a quality of all great counselors. I suspect it also makes great sport and performance psychology (SPP) consultants, educators, coaches, parents, friends, citizens and world-sharing humans. I wouldn’t have learned that, had I not gone to my professional conference. I would have been stuck thinking and teaching something I learned in graduate school 20 years ago.

This is exactly why it’s important to go to your professional conferences, counselors and SPP consultants!

In addition, I learned some other cool things:

  • New skills for facilitating difficult conversations, especially around social justice themes.
  • Inspiration for qualitative research, in which I’m currently engaging in with UWS students.
  • What a great sense of humor Gerald Corey has (Dr. Corey is an icon in the counseling profession – actually snapped a photo of him presenting!).
  • How transcendent chicken and waffles are (as a born and raised West-coaster, it was the first time tasting that amazing-ness).
  • How UWS students are great golfers (exemplified at our student reception at Top Golf Atlanta). 
  • The construct of “Black Joy” (unique to peoples of African descent) as it relates to core personhood and counseling of Black-identifying students and clients.

I really want to encourage students, faculty, and professionals new and seasoned to go to your conferences. The next big one is the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) conference, October 26-29 in Ft. Worth, Texas, and there are rumors that ACA will be in Toronto in spring 2023. I’ll see you there…and in the meantime, I’ll be practicing my cultural humility and my golf swing!


The UWS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee provides the following definition and some readings below on cultural humility in literature:

  • Cultural humility is a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about another’s culture, but one starts with an examination of their own beliefs and cultural identities. (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998)

Reference:

Tervalon, M., & Murray-García, J. (1998). Cultural Humility Versus Cultural Competence: A Critical Distinction in Defining Physician Training Outcomes in Multicultural Education. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 9(2), 117-125. doi:10.1353/hpu.2010.0233.

Cultural Humility in the literature: