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University, Psychologists Look to Diversify

SALT LAKE CITY – A population shift in Utah which includes more GLBT and sexuality-questioning students has universities and professional associations re-examining the diversity of their own staffs, looking to ways to educate counselors and psychologists while also offering programs for minorities.

Minority students on the University of Utah campus, for instance, will soon have a place to seek counseling that is specific to their individual backgrounds.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports the school counseling center is launching a new therapy group called iChat- Integrating Culturally Honest and Affirming Talk.

In response to the changing demographic, the counseling center’s staff also is increasingly encompassing a blend of racial backgrounds and sexual orientations.

“We’re not going to be seen as a very safe place if all the faces they see are white,” said center director Lauren Weitzman.

She said in addition to staff changes, the center has also increasingly been seeing a more diversified mix of people coming through the doors.

During the 2010 school year, almost 100 clients said they were gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning their status. Twenty-one percent of the 924 clients identified themselves as something other than solely Caucasian.

“We typically see more students of color than are proportionally represented on our campus,” Weitzman said.

The Utah Psychological Association also wants to see changes statewide as the ethnic backgrounds of clients change.

Teresa Bruce, the association’s executive director, said she’d like see more information available on the ethnic backgrounds of the roughly 860 licensed psychologists in Utah. That information currently isn’t collected by the state.

“I often get phone calls from someone saying, ‘I need a counselor that speaks Spanish’ or ‘I need a counselor that is versed in Buddhism,”‘ Bruce said. “It would help us match the clients needs to the psychologists best suited to work with them.”

She said the association hopes to offer diversity training next year to psychologists and other mental health professionals.

“If I as a white female am a therapist and a Latino or Muslim comes in,” Bruce said, “I need some sort of background and understanding of what their culture is like.”

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