Judith C. Durham, Ph.D.

Professor Emerita Joined USJ:
Academic Degrees B.S., Alfred University
M.A., Antioch New England Graduate School
Ph.D., University of Connecticut
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Adapting to Cultural Differences

The counseling profession is increasingly recognizing that working with diverse populations necessitates changes in approach — cultural values are embedded within each of us, as well as in the counseling profession. Most of counseling was born out of the white-male Euro-American tradition. This often does not work with women or people from other cultures or ethnic backgrounds. “One size does not fit all,” says Judith Durham, a psychotherapist with three decades of professional expertise who was a few steps ahead of her profession in focusing her research on multi-cultural counseling and advocacy years ago. “This is not a field like science or math, where the emphasis is on learning facts. Multi-cultural competence improves by exposure to diverse populations — you amass a body of knowledge over time.”

Awareness, Knowledge and Skills

“Awareness, knowledge, and skills are the three essential elements in effective multi-cultural counseling,” Durham explains. Students are transformed in the process of learning — they become more connected to who they are and how you got to be who you are, and that is what helps in developing the skills necessary to effectively counsel others.” In most Counseling programs, the multi-cultural dynamic is introduced from the outset. She takes great pride not only in her research but in “helping students develop the passion I feel for translating counseling across cultural groups.” Often an experiential component is included in her courses, from having students meet with new immigrants to volunteering at community agencies advocating for clients needs.

Advocacy At Home and Abroad

Advocacy is an another important component of her professional work; empowering clients to understand that external factors — such as their living environment, social policies discrimination or marginalization — may be contributing to their emotional issues. Then the task is to help them identify where changes can realistically be made, and empower them to make some of those changes. Durham has also researched the degree to which ethnocentric bias in counseling is changed by an immersion experiences, and brings her “real-world experience” into the classroom, urging students to “think complexly,” as they encounter and address issues.

She has extended her work to Guyana, traveling with USJ students to provide them with an opportunity to use their counseling education in another culture. She has also spent time in Bhutan, a small Buddhist nation at the base of the Himalayan mountains. “There is a huge lack of services available to a population that — because of rapid urbanization and the recent introduction of television, radio and the internet — has been catapulted into this century, and is experiencing all the stress that accompanies such a transition.” Working with a Counseling organization from the U.S. in collaboration with Bhutanese hospitals and universities, the goal is to begin a more formal education program at a university in Bhutan to build a cadre of trained professional counselors to address local needs.