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Columbia College Chicago
Creating Culturally Aware Counselors

Creating Culturally Aware Counselors


Dance with strangers. Discover one’s culture. Form a new culture. Students do this and more during their first week in the Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling MA program at Columbia College Chicago.

The Department of Creative Arts Therapies MA program kicks off with a unique week-long Social and Cultural Foundations “boot camp,” which focuses on developing students’ cultural awareness. This course addresses social and cultural competencies necessary for best practice in the fields of counseling and dance/movement therapy (as required by the Illinois Board of Financial and Professional Regulations and as necessary content per the standards of the American Dance Therapy Association).

Students begin by examining their own cultural backgrounds. For example, students create a genogram—documenting their cultural heritage—then learn a folk dance belonging to one of their cultures. According to first year and international student Karissa Martens, who recently completed the course, “Culture is embodied through dancing.  I learned that there is more to a cultural dance than simply the aesthetics of it.  You can learn a lot about the culture when looking at the stance, the type of movement, and the dimension of the movement.”

From October 5, 2011

The incoming class creates “a dance of their cultural cohort”
conveying their most important shared values: openness, respect,
support, authenticity, and humor. CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW.

After students identify their own cultures and learn about each other’s cultures, the group begins to discuss and establish their group culture. The class determines their shared values and uses the most important values to create “a dance of their cultural cohort” (see video). Representing the group's expectations, priorities, and boundaries, this dance sets the stage for the next two years of their studying together.

Students are exposed to others’ cultures not only through their peers but also through one of Chicago’s many cultural events. Students take part in the Summer Dance festival across the street from the department. There, they learn cultural dances, dance with strangers, and observe the culture of Chicago.

Through these experiences and more, students learn to understand culture verbally and non-verbally, cultivating well-rounded therapists who are prepared for the diversity that awaits them in the field. Martens agrees: “I know I have a lot more to learn from each person in my class, and I know these interactions will help me immensely as a counselor.”

ARTICLE BY BETHANY BROWNHOLTZ