July 14, 2017
Werklund School of Education Counselling Psychology doctoral student Alix Robinson is headed to Hollywood.
Robinson was recently awarded a one-year internship with the Institute for Multicultural Counseling and Education Services (IMCES). Based in the Hollywood neighbourhood of Los Angeles, California, IMCES provides mental health, primary care, substance abuse, social and supportive services to individuals of all ages.
“When I tell people that my internship will be in Hollywood, they assume I will be providing services for celebrities. In actuality, I’ll be working with some of the most underserved and diverse populations in the area,” she explains.
Robinson says previous placements in Calgary allowed her to engage in multicultural counselling with individuals from a range of ethnicities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses and religions, and the opportunity to continue her work with these communities appealed to her.
“The mission statement of IMCES to promote social justice and human rights through direct service to underserved culturally diverse citizens echoes the goals of my research and professional activities to date,” she says. “My work focuses on the impacts of psychosocial disparities between marginalized populations and the dominant culture as well as the mitigating influences of social support and other resiliency factors.”
The IMCES Doctoral Internship Training Program provides students with the opportunity to become skilled health service providers through seminars, case consultations, individual and group supervision, and leadership roles in group treatment sessions. IMCES delivers these learning opportunities within a culturally sensitive context, an approach Robinson fully supports.
“Marginalized populations, especially recent immigrant and refugee populations, face challenges of acculturation, loss of social supports and social status, difficulties finding employment as well as financial and language barriers. Many refugees have also experienced significant trauma,” explains Robinson. “It is important that primary care providers are aware of the unique challenges marginalized populations face and take these into consideration when developing a treatment plan.”
In addition to these personal hurdles, members of minority communities also face systemic barriers such as racial discrimination, difficulty accessing services in underserved areas, and prohibitive fees for mental health services.
To mitigate some of these issues, Robinson suggests providing free or reduced fee for services in areas that are underserved, advocating for clients and communities, as well as ensuring the privacy of individuals seeking assistance.
“In many non-western cultures, there is a stigma associated with accessing mental health care, thus assurance of confidentiality and using techniques such as validation and normalization as part of the intervention is a helpful strategy.”
Robinson believes IMCES is doing valuable work in supporting marginalized communities. “IMCES has been true to its mission to provide effective, culturally and linguistically proficient services to underserved populations. They value diversity and operate according to principals of inclusion to minimize disparities.”
After the internship ends in August 2018, Robinson says she plans to continue working with marginalized and underserved populations and believes the experience she gains in California will benefit her future clients, no matter where they reside.
“I love the idea of working in such a beautiful and interesting part of the world and, although some of the systemic challenges may be unique to the United States, training in culturally proficient assessment and intervention are skills that will be invaluable when working with diversity in any context.”