Vivian Lee: Counselors Must Keep Pace with Globalization

By Jim Campbell

As the world’s population becomes increasingly interconnected through advances in technology, travel and communications, the role of the counselor is evolving to keep pace with these changes. Today’s counselors need the knowledge, sensitivity and skills to address challenges in mental health and well-being with a universal view that crosses national boundaries.

For Vivian Lee, who joined the faculty in July as an associate professor, the “transcultural counselor” should serve diverse populations and be free of any cultural biases.

“A transcultural counselor must be able to broaden his or her identity to think as a global citizen and be globally literate,” Lee said. “It’s important that counselors carefully examine their biases and engage in their own transformational process when working in another country, and realize that while there are different approaches it doesn’t mean one is better. It’s just different.”

Lee spent the previous two years teaching in the master’s program in transcultural counseling at the University of Malta. What began as a joint degree offering with the University of Maryland, and is now a collaborative degree with the University of New Orleans, the goal of the program is to prepare counselors with an international perspective.

Lee, who developed and taught a class in peace and conflict transformation, would like to see the profession have a broader perspective on issues affecting individuals and families worldwide, such as more training in human rights.

She was in Malta with her husband, Courtland Lee, a professor of counselor education at the D.C. campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and co-developer of the transcultural counseling program.  During her time there, the program attracted students from Finland, Germany, China., Japan, Ireland, India, Canada and the United States, as well as Maltese students.

While in Malta, Lee experienced first-hand the impact of the international refugee crisis. She went to Malta to assist the Department of Counseling in building their counseling program, but she quickly became involved in welcoming new arrivals from Somalia, Libya and Syria. Malta’s population grew by 17,000 in 2014, equal to 5% of its total population. (An equivalent number in the United States would be 17 million.)

“The training of counselors to work in the detention centers and open centers for refugees became a significant part of the focus of our work in the transcultural counseling program,” she said. “The transcultural preparation, with its emphasis on a global perspective, became important as we wanted our students to understand what these individuals, families and unaccompanied minors were experiencing. We wanted them to realize these refugees are struggling with the most basic needs of human existence—how to survive in camp, how to communicate, what does it mean to be in foreign land. Only then when you understand the depths of their anguish can you help them. “

As part of the School of Education’s counseling and human development area of emphasis, she will be teaching group counseling, a practicum and an internship focused on school counseling. Lee and her husband are planning to return to Malta next year as part of a visit by the International Association for Counseling.