Staff Member, Former Post-Doc, Develops Influential Guide on Cultural Responsiveness in Telehealth
In the earliest weeks of the pandemic, telehealth (counseling or client services provided over the phone or Internet) emerged as a critical platform for service delivery for mental health care. As the use of the technology spread, despite its accessibility, Dr. Aleesha N. Young, then a postdoctoral student and now staff member in the Center of Excellence for Children Families and the Law (CECFL), noted gaps that remained present regarding treatment and cultural differences.
“While [telehealth was] easily accessible (for some), it was necessary to point out that multicultural and diversity issues were still present, even if not as apparent, through remote technology,” she said. “I wanted to focus on concrete, culturally responsive skills within the digital platform. At the time, it appeared that no such guide existed in the literature.”
Young, who at the time was the 2020-2021 Eleanor Rosenbloom Fellow at the Massachusetts Psychological Association (MPA), developed the aptly named “Guide to Providing Culturally Competent Behavioral Health Services via Telehealth,” to address practice issues that aligned with the psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; considerations, and impact of telehealth including telehealth during the pandemic; and cultural and ethnic issues bearing on providing psychological services to individuals and groups.
“I wanted to create a product congruent with my values and commitment to interrupting oppressive paradigms in clinical practice,” she said. “By that, I mean that clinical interventions in the U.S. were developed within the historical context of sexist, Caucasian, Western values and thus cannot be applied to all individuals in the same way.”
Although the pandemic landscape has begun to change, and providers are again seeing clients in person, telehealth is likely here to stay, and the advice outlined in the guide remains relevant. “Attention to multicultural and diversity issues is crucial to child and family forensics work,” she said. “Evaluators must be committed to understanding complex inter-relationships among individual, parent-child, family, community, and social systems.”
For Young, the Rosenbloom Fellowship solidified a commitment to state, regional, and national advocacy and expanded her network and coalition of supportive colleagues. She said it also gave her a way to make a bigger impact in the field on matters of importance, something she’d been seeking following some trying experiences in her prior academic settings. Before coming to William James College, Young characterized herself as an ‘actively involved graduate student and masters-level practitioner who collaborated with peers to examine critical program elements of her doctoral training program,” but those efforts, she said, took a toll.
“I risked my experience as one of a few Black Women targeting influential stakeholders, including core faculty members and college administrators, to address systematic issues and needed changes to program elements that adversely affect those from marginalized groups,” she said. “The cost of speaking truth to power was accompanied by gendered and racial stereotypes, microaggressions, and invalidations (even if unintentional) that hurt. Nonetheless, I was persistent and continued to ‘show up.’”
By the time Young reached her postdoc year, she said she felt emotionally and psychologically drained. She even hesitated initially to apply with the CECFL, in part due to geographic limitations but also because she feared she would not be “good enough” for such a competitive program. “Imposter Syndrome,” she said, labeling the feeling.
Young’s interview with Center Director Dr. Jessica Greenwald O’Brien and Director of Legal Training Jennifer Durand changed that. “They were transparent and demonstrated a genuine interest in learning about me, my personal, professional experiences, interests, and fit for the program.”
Joining the CECFL as a postdoctoral fellow, and working with Greenwald O’Brien, Durand, and with Drs. Lauren Pershing and Robert Kinscherff, Young said she found an environment where it is acceptable to address diversity, inclusion, and belonging issues without fear of retaliation. “Although the power differential always exists, they were white supervisors who remained approachable, demonstrated predictable and trustworthy patterns, and have welcomed open and honest conversations about multicultural and diversity issues within our relationships and child and family forensics work.”
Greenwald O’Brien said Young brought a compelling combination of personal experience and professional wisdom that inspired the team to become better, adding, “By keeping conversations of privilege and oppression, bias and open mindedness, whiteness vs. a sense of otherness at the forefront of our clinical and forensic work, Dr. Young has helped CECFL hone our attention and skills to the needs of clients from many walks of life.”
Today, Young is on the CECFL staff and works as a Forensic Evaluator, where she continues to seek ways to reinforce the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). “The nature of CECFL’s work means that the focus is on the family dynamic. Dr. Young has encouraged all of us to be mindful of the cultural issues that are involved in each case and to make sure that CECFL is aware of and addresses the cultural issues in each case,” Durand said.
Greenwald O’Brien and Durand remain Young’s primary supervisors. About the pair, Young said, “They are brilliant and have a wealth of knowledge and expertise that they are humble enough to share with the next generation of practitioners without making trainees feel incompetent. To know them is to adore them; they are humble leaders and have reinvigorated my professional purpose and sense of value in the field.”
The feeling is mutual. “Dr. Young has such a bright future in the forensics world,” Durand said. “I look forward to seeing all that she will accomplish.”
Young is also a member of the Massachusetts Psychological Association’s finance committee (following a nomination from Dr. Gerald Koocher) and of APA’s Council Caucus for Optimal Utilization of New Talent (COUNT). Additionally, Young recently accepted a nomination to join the Massachusetts Board of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC).
“Dr. Young is an impressive, early- mid-career psychologist, who approaches new learning with fervor and tenacity,” Greenwald O’Brien said. “A later convert to the field of forensics, she has taken up the mantle of providing scientifically sound evaluations with an eye toward social justice concerns, inclusivity and meeting the needs of children and families in the court system.”
As she continues her professional path, she said she hopes to contribute to gaps in the literature around multicultural and diversity issues through her work, including racial and gender disparities in family courts, criminal, civil, and probate matters. She plans to provide experiential diversity trainings that address microaggressions and oppressive patterns as the occur in real time. “Cultural responsivity is a never-ending, lifelong process that involves recognizing and respecting diversity through our words and actions in all contexts,” she said.
Young recently received the APA’s Steven O’Walfish Award (APA, Div. 42), which promotes and supports the next generation of student and early career practitioner psychologists to expand the knowledge base in the practice of psychology. Young hopes to continue to grow in active roles within APA governance. She also reported that the telehealth guide she developed was recently accepted for publication in APA’s Practice Innovations Journal.