My Harrowing Experience of a Critical Social Justice-Informed Counseling Psychology Training: Part 1 – Abusive Pedagogy

I am a nontraditional student in the last half of my Graduate level Clinical Mental Health Psychology program in the Midwest of the United States. I believe my background is important to mention. I recently studied Biology, Pharmacology, Pre-Med/Pre-Law, and have also spent much time in a different Master’s program in Psychology which is heavy in science and research. I have worked in higher level positions in biotech with researchers and doctors from around the globe by designing and managing projects to produce the treatment plans formed from custom made biologics they envision to help children and adults with genetic diseases and cancer. It was a bucket list item of mine to work for a company to support the treatment of acute lymphocytic leukemia, as that is what my grandmother died from–the most amazing woman who helped so many. She was poor in money, but rich in life! I miss her dearly.
            I also obtained a degree in Community and Environmental Sociology with a large focus on the intersectionalities of environmental and social injustices, the disparities between rural and urban health, human rights, and regional and international law in PhD level classes–flavored with Marx, Foucault, and other classical sociological theorists. Never was anything taught in a “woke” fashion. I also imitate cartoon characters for kids and spend time singing and performing for the elderly and those with dementia to help improve their mood and memory.

While invigorating and enlightening, it was a depressing program! But it changed me. I went on to give some public speeches at the Capitol and have continued the work when I can to help people–sans “wokeness”. It is a long story why I made the switch to Counseling Psychology, but here I am.

With all of that under my belt from two very known, extremely rigorous, “flagship” universities, the first program in Psychology I participated in does not appear on the list of the state licensing department’s approved programs to open my own clinic, which I was unaware of!  I raced and applied at more than one school on that approved list, and I transferred out.

 I had high hopes when I moved here, in the middle of the pandemic, without knowing a soul.  Only some of my credits were allowed to transfer in, despite easily being quadruple in breadth and far more advanced than anything I have witnessed taught here–even if nothing was amiss. I am in double full time credit hours this summer semester. It is nothing like the punishment of three science labs at the same time with the adjacent lectures, my friends! Do you want to read a book that will make you cry? Try reading Organic Chemistry! Also, almost 70% of my Calculus classmates failed out of classes which are graded on a curve, unlike some Humanities classes. I was a lifeline for some of my younger classmates, and I gave them advice on talking to their parents and hugs (they wanted a “Mom” hug–I am a woman, and they lived far from home) before they had to call their parents to tell them they were failing. I remember stopping one of my very tired classmates from accidentally putting his hand into the vacuum incinerator! I saved another who forgot to put on gloves when dealing with a highly volatile organic compound that eats through black nitrile gloves in minutes! Science classes are not just different in complexity and scope, but safety is an extreme concern when you are fighting to complete three-hour labs and you have not slept in days. I was about to face a different kind of injury in my new Psychology program.
            I was told I would need to retake a few classes that did not “transfer in”, including Developmental Lifespan Psychology. Piece of cake, I thought to myself–I already took that class and aced it. I looked forward to learning something new and advancing my repertoire! My grandmother often said, be careful what you wish for!
            I moved here in the Fall of 2020. My first semester included two classes taught by the same professor. I will change names. Dr. Weber is a self-identified transgender non-binary person. The rest of the class assumes this person to be a male due to their appearance—my classmates do not have a clue what this means. Dr. Weber would share this with me privately. I wonder if it was to gain trust. That trust has since been obliterated. Dr. Weber teaches Lifespan Development and Multicultural Counseling. We initially spent time on Zoom–the last few weeks classes would be held in person. I demanded in our first Zoom class that nothing be recorded–I did not give my permission. I was told by Dr. Weber my request was denied in front of the class–that data was being recorded for academic purposes. I would later discover why.

The Developmental class did not have a textbook–instead, a Positive Psychology Counseling workbook full of extremely personal questions was employed. The Multicultural Class used two main reading sources—books by the authors Casas and Hays.

The professor insisted these spaces were safe for all to share–this was reiterated throughout. These spaces were for opening up and sharing personal information with each other. We were also called a family. The material in these classes overlapped.
            In the Developmental class, we barely went over anything related to Developmental Psychology. It felt more like therapy, except a version which is twisted, abusive, politically charged, and emotionally torturous. We were compelled for a grade to journal and share with our classmates our earliest personal memories, how we felt about looking at ourselves in the mirror–the questions demanded of us would become far more personal and private as time advanced. Additionally, a handful of us were taking the Multicultural class together. Similar things would be asked of us, but we would be shamed for it, in both classes.
            Things would become aggressive, highly emotional, volatile, abusive, harassing, and would instill fear in several of us. It is important to note that there is a mix of people of different age groups and demographics in these classes–a handful are of LGBTQ+ and not Caucasian.
            I and three others shared, as we felt safe in the first week after the professor shared that they are transgender, that we are part of the LGBTQ+ group. Others would share they are part of this group, and a few are of mixed-race backgrounds. At first, that felt safe. One classmate used “they/them” pronouns, and they labeled themselves with a dozen words resembling a Starbucks coffee order. Instead of saying, “Double ristretto venti soy nonfat decaf organic chocolate brownie iced vanilla double-shot gingerbread Frappuccino with foam whipped cream upside down double blended, one NutraSweet, and ice…”, they defined themselves with half a dozen gender identities, sexual orientations, and possible clinical disorders, with their ethnicity at the end–with an “x”. Yes, at one time I did partake in standup comedy! It initially felt like a relief to share personal things about oneself. That quickly shifted.
            In every class, we had to write about our trauma, but how that was acceptable because we are white, and part of the dominant groups. At first, I hesitated, and was asked why I was being quiet, and it was demanded for my class grade that I share more intense things. The class would then fracture–some people from the area who openly state they are Catholic shamed the people who stated they are LGBTQ+, while defending the professor who is transgender, and stated anyone LGBTQ+ would burn in hell. The professor not only did not intervene, but they would also advance it. If some of us resisted, we were told we had to share, were called out by our classmates, and were told to do so again, for our grade. The non-Caucasians would be used as objects and asked to share their personal trauma experiences. Those students would become angry and rightly so, and lash back out stating they were “tired of being indoctrinated by White people”. The “Starbucks coffee order” would declare White people to have “less empathy and compassion than BIPOC”, and therefore they “only dated and were friends with non-Whites”. Others agreed. People sat in segregated groups. It was a free for all rumble, and the professor encouraged it. We were forced to watch videos, one a known video from the 1990s of men of different ethnic backgrounds in a group with two very ignorant and bigoted Caucasian men. The Caucasian men insulted the other men. This video is close to over an hour in length, and it was extremely difficult to watch, as people were yelling and angry. I agreed with the feelings of the men of different ethnic backgrounds, but not that all people who are Caucasian are like that.  But it was used to communicate exactly that.

When a few people like myself spoke out about abuses that occurred to us after we were asked about them, the professor flipped the script stating they supported the trauma. Case in point–I previously lived in a very metropolitan area and as a tall white woman, I was attacked, called pale skin, and worse. I used to volunteer with middle schoolers who are not Caucasian to bridge the education gap. I was jumped and mugged. I was told this is a good thing that happened to me by my classmates, that I am the oppressor, and I had no business living in that area. The professor encouraged the attacks on me and my classmates.  I was also told that the people who attacked me physically, had “every right to attack white people”, as I was “invading their spaces”. I was told that in every situation because I am white, I have power, no matter where I am on the planet Earth. I was told I am guilty of committing crimes, not just against non-whites, but “non-cis” people. I am privileged. I balked sharing my own trauma history, stating I might be the oppressor, but I am also oppressed. Being a woman does not give you the right to say you are oppressed apparently, in these classes. You should hear what they said about the men in the classes! Conversely, one of the men who is white, would attack African Americans who are Democratic saying they are more Conservative, and gave a presentation on that and said they are insufferable. Cancel culture was brought up and celebrated.  One woman who identified as half African American, and half Caucasian, read a letter sent to the parents from the High School stating they are now supporting LGBTQ+ students. She demanded this to be an insult, and that as she, an African American, should be given money and reparations, and that LGBTQ+ should not be given protections. I became filled with anxiety, dread, and was highly upset. I was exhausted. It goes without saying. I sought out a therapist who helped me during this time. She was horrified by the things I shared, and we agreed I needed to report this.
            Separate attacks began to occur on campus on Martin Luther King Day–students started committing hate crimes against students of color and LGBTQ+ by attacking their living spaces and in the dorms. This is the odd twist. Some of the Catholic students supported this–they stated they were friends with the people who committed the hate crimes, and that “their religion does not tolerate people of color or LGBTQ+”. Again, at the same time, they supported people who are transgender. Others went on to say they will never work with anyone who is gay, and that if a woman came to them who is pregnant, they would insist that abortion is murder, and that they will not go along with anything other than keeping the baby, even in cases of rape and incest.

At the end of each class—a very peculiar thing happened. We were demanded to engage in “right brained” activities using craft materials to draw and make something about ourselves–it was always about ourselves. And we were asked to think about that artful creation. Materials were supplied to us.

The gender unicorn would be presented, and we would be told that sex is a spectrum. Several times I was corrected for saying “pregnant women”, and it was demanded I say, “pregnant people”. We were told not to use any instances of any kind of gendered language–only when addressing someone by their pronouns and to enforce gender ideology at that time for someone who is transgender or non-binary. A list of dozens upon dozens of genders would be presented–all happening in Clinical Mental Health counseling classes! “Gender Outlaw” is a gender, my friends.
            The shaming and harassment continued. I emailed the professor stating I could not continue with the class–I questioned the material in the Developmental class. I stated in a direct email I was being harmed. I was simply told that this “is not a Socratic learning environment, but experiential”. After class one afternoon, two other students and I would talk–they also sent emails to Dr. Weber stating they were being harmed and were simply told “it is experiential ”. We shared our outrage–as all three of us came from more advanced universities. More than one of us would go and talk to Dr. Weber in person, demanding we not be used as pawns to advance the inadequate cultural competencies of Midwest people who think gay people should be hung up by a noose with African Americans. The professor stated nothing wrong was happening in the classes, but that this is also a Catholic area, and brushed it off. My other classmates sought out advice from their former Psychology professors who are steeped in Jung, one a known Jungian Psychology professor who gave some riddled statement as advice which sounded like something out of the Tao Te Ching, talking about archetypes. I am no stranger to that wing of Psychology, but my education is focused on helping people with developmental, personal, and attachment trauma.

In one of the classes, Dr. Weber mentioned calling the APA with ethical questions, and advised us to do so if we ever had a question in our practice. I thought about this, and I wondered where this professor had worked prior. I did a simple Google search for Dr. Weber’s name. The only result—this professor’s dissertation, which included a research study of students in a graduate level clinical mental health counseling program in Psychology. Buckle in for this!
            The dissertation, which I downloaded, in several pages quotes the same exact materials we used in class by Casas and Hays specifically. The syllabi mirror what this dissertation states, sometimes almost verbatim.  It was broken into sections in the beginning discussing “multicultural and social justice counseling competencies…”, “neuroeducation and neurocounseling”–which speaks to the use of neurological networks and neurobiology to access the “unconscious and social and emotional learning centers in the brain”. More science is quoted in this dissertation speaking to the “emergence of unconscious emotions ”, and the “demand for processes to be used and to begin by implementing neuroeducation in the counseling classrooms”.

It dawned on me, after reading this dissertation, a couple of hundred pages repeatedly, that this is a research study on employing psychological abusive tactics on students to elicit a subconscious physiological and psychological response–while softening the emotions and “closing” the experience as one would in an EMDR/PTSD inducing session with a right brained activity (the art)! Our identities were being revised to change us into social justice counselors who believe our own personal experiences to be oppressive while shaming and demonizing our trauma, our experiences, and our entire identities. Our autonomy, our agency, and our entire beings, were attacked–intentionally.

I made the call in February of 2021 to the APA (American Psychology Association) Ethics board and emailed them every detail I could. I received a call back stating that THREE APA violations had occurred, the first being a research study–regardless of if it was ongoing or not, was replicated on us without our consent. The other two violations involved the professor acting as a therapist and dual roles. I was encouraged to call the Accreditation Board for CACREP.

I reached out to multiple lawyers–almost all in the Midwest I find support businesses and institutions–not patients or students. One lawyer would reply to everything I shared. His words exactly, “  You may have tort claims against the particular faculty member and the university. Examples are intentional infliction of emotional distress and harassment. These types of claims are exceedingly difficult to prosecute, take years and cause yet more emotional turmoil with no certainty of a positive outcome. If you are considering suing, you would want a personal injury attorney practicing in this specialized area to evaluate your case. As you note, colleges are insular and protect their own. How far do you want to push, at what cost to you? You need only look at the topic of whistleblower regret for background. Like any bad situation, you can remove yourself from it. Of course there is a cost; there is no justice; but moving on has immediate and lasting benefits. If your personal safety is threatened, you should make a report to law enforcement.”

I was fearful to come forward, with my time and money invested in this program. I am not able to transfer again–the money is just not there, and it makes no sense to do so. Odds of landing in a similar mess are high. I have spent $125,000 on my schooling, and I am not done yet! More is happening along the CRT lines in other classes, but nowhere to this degree. I will write about that hopefully in upcoming pieces. That lawyer advised that the university may try to eject me and to lay low. The other two students I initially talked to backed down and wanted to keep their heads low–until this summer semester began.

While discussing conversion therapy (our professor brought this up) and the abuse of teens in an Ethics class with some of the same students who were outright abused with me in the other two classes, myself and these same students spoke up in the middle of a lecture about what happened to us without planning it! Half a dozen of us shared what happened here in our Ethics class in front of other students who had no clue. The Ethics professor pulled our group aside after class and states he is going to speak to the Director on our behalf two weeks from now.

Since then, I told the Ethics professor about the research study conducted on us, and I have informed other students. The look on his face—he believes it.

I have emailed the Director as well asking for a meeting. I do not feel the anxiety I felt earlier, although I still feel unsafe on this campus. I also am very concerned about the actions of my classmates, who are also here to become therapists. I am appalled by the things that have come from their mouths in other situations. They seem very concerned with shaming people still, but also only standing up or pointing fingers whenever they see fit. They are adept at moving goal posts. The ones who stood up are the same ones who also stated Caucasian people have less empathy and compassion compared to other groups and took part in the shaming. I do not feel I can trust them. I am going to the Director myself, but I was able to get screenshots of them agreeing at the same time they are against the abuse which happened to us. It is so extremely polarized, and I feel as though I am the only one in the group who is against CRT. Some of my classmates are in favor of it and joined in the attack like the book the Lord of the Flies–they just oppose that they were used in the process and demeaned. I feel like I am in a phantasmagoria of a science fiction movie. I am employing multiple methods of caring for myself including mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques that I am thankfully certified in, breathing exercises, imagery, and other things while in my remaining classes before I graduate to maintain my sanity.

For anyone who would like to kidnap me, I am an excellent cook having managed restaurants, can play instruments and sing to you, and I know how to make science-y things to earn my keep! Stay tuned.

C. G.’