Adler University integrates culture into counselling education

Dr. Pamela Patterson says that it’s critical for counsellors to understand different cultures.

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      Dr. Pamela Patterson recognizes that her field, counselling psychology, has a “western oriented” heritage. Moreover, the academic institution where she teaches, in Vancouver, is named after one of the great 20th-century western theorists in the field, Alfred Adler.

      In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Patterson noted that this has led to some fascinating discussions in Adler University’s Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology thesis program. Some students have questioned how to make clinical counselling relevant to more collectivist cultures.

      “We have had a number of students who’ve really pursued that through theses as well,” Patterson said. “It’s a really important area of training and research.”

      Adler was an Austrian medical doctor and psychotherapist who advanced the idea that building strong communities can enhance mental health. At Adler University, this idea manifests itself in a curriculum that places a major emphasis on social justice and social responsibility.

      “When you think of counselling—with its history of two people sitting behind a closed door—it doesn’t particularly have a social context to it,” Patterson explained. 

      Professors at Adler University, on the other hand, address how mental health can be linked to a person’s capacity to engage with their community. This, in turn, focuses attention on how overall community health can foster that engagement.

      “That brings it right down into the counselling program—this necessity to think about counselling with reference to social justice and social responsibility—which is really what we’re all about,” Patterson said.

      All students at Adler University must spend 200 hours on a social-justice practicum, which begins in the first term. They work with organizations in the community to address social issues that have an impact on people’s mental health. 

      “We have a striking array of students coming from all kinds of backgrounds,” Patterson said, “and that creates really interesting and compelling conversation—and social dynamic—right in the classroom.”

      In addition, the school offers extensive training in socially responsible practice to ensure students graduate with sufficient sensitivity and empathy around issues of Indigeneity, culture, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender expression.

      “It’s critical,” Patterson declared. “Because when you are sitting with someone, those things are typically very personal.”

      Thesis topics in the program have ranged from probing deeply into the grieving process within families who’ve lost a child to how to support South Asian families or individuals seeking counselling. Other theses have focused on counselling families with disabilities and counselling in connection with polyamory.

      The Master’s in Counselling Psychology is a two-year, full-time program, though Patterson said that it can be extended for those writing a thesis. Some students attend on a part-time basis.

      Patterson is proud of how Adler University integrates culture and diversity into an evidence-based approach to counselling theory and practice.

      “I think our students are well recognized at the end of their program,” Patterson said. “The last we heard, we had 100 percent employment at the end of our training. Our students are well respected and well received.”

      In addition to a Master’s in Counselling Psychology, Adler University in Vancouver also offers a Master’s in Counselling Psychology: Art Therapy, a Master’s in Counselling Psychology: School and Youth Concentration, a Master’s in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and a Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. 

      For more information about Adler University, visit .