The Center for Multicultural Training in Psychology (CMTP) at the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center celebrated 30 years of training interns in the culturally competent practice of professional psychology with a conference in May that brought together many of the program's more than 270 alumni.

CMTP, which is housed in the Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center in the psychiatry division and was started in 1972 by psychologist Guy O. Seymour, PhD, prepares ethnic-minority and other psychologists to work with inner-city, low-income and racially and ethnically diverse populations, says program director Kermit A. Crawford, PhD. It strives for diversity in each of its intern cohorts so they learn from one another the true meaning of working cross-culturally, he explains.

The APA-accredited scientist-practitioner program operates on the philosophy that by teaching interns to treat people in a culturally competent manner, "you can improve services for everyone," notes Crawford.

Located in Boston's inner-city neighborhoods, the program serves as a gateway to health care and mental health care for many urban, low-income and ethnic-minority groups, Crawford says. In turn, he notes, that population allows students to develop their multicultural skills and also fosters much-needed cross-cultural research.

"There is research on cross-cultural psychology out there, but the base is slim," Crawford says. "I think it's up to the people who feel most passionately about it to do evidence-based research and share it with others. Those are the people who come into our program."

The program's research and services funding--from sources including the Boston University Division of Psychiatry, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a graduate education training grant from the U.S. Health Resources Services Administration--has increased steadily under strong leadership, helping it flourish and showcasing the benefits of cross-cultural approaches, says APA Chief Executive Officer Norman B. Anderson, PhD, who gave the keynote address at CMTP's 30th anniversary conference on multicultural psychology in May.

"The longevity and success of the center is a testament to the vision of Dr. Seymour and to the perseverance and dedication of its subsequent directors," Anderson says. "Dr. Crawford, in particular, has combined a commitment to multicultural training with an entrepreneurial spirit that has put the program on solid ground.

"What is fascinating to me about the program is that it has gone from being esoteric and marginalized to a point where the field of psychology has finally caught up with the philosophy it has had for 30 years."

An emphasis on culture

That philosophy includes objectives that mix traditional professional development with cross-cultural awareness, says psychologist Mari C. Bennasar, PsyD, a program alumna and current faculty member. For example, the program employs traditional teaching and supervising techniques while incorporating consideration of the particular needs and behaviors of diverse clients through an abiding social justice perspective, says longtime faculty member David Trimble, PhD, who teaches multicultural family therapy. Interns, he says, learn not to "psychologize" problems in populations with built-in environmental stressors.

The program also teaches interns to understand themselves in terms of ethnicity and culture, Trimble says, because "Cultural differences between you and your clients can affect the dynamic in the therapy room."

Interns, usually a group of seven, spend four days a week at inpatient or outpatient clinical sites and can choose outpatient placements that coordinate with their interests and research.

For example, current intern Shala Deleppo Siew, who focused on multicultural issues in her graduate work at the University of Denver at Boulder, works with Spanish-speaking Latino populations. For her dissertation, Siew plans to create a theory on how psychologists can incorporate Latino values when working with these populations.

"I look at how I relate to my outpatients and how they relate to each other, and I'm seeing what they need for positive, respectful interaction," she says. "My everyday work here is helping me conceive my research, and my role in the field."

The program also provides weekly didactic seminars by faculty and guests on topics such as "Community, politics and the media in psychology," "Cross-cultural psychology" and "Multicultural issues in the practice of professional psychology."

A tight-knit, diverse 'family'

Beyond the clinical and didactic work, the program emphasizes student exchange, encouraging students to get to know each other and learn from each other's cultural backgrounds. When selecting interns, Crawford says he attempts to establish a constellation of different cultures; this year's group includes interns of African-American, African, Chinese, Vietnamese, Colombian/Italian, Puerto Rican and Jewish descent.

"We are fortunate that a majority of applicants to CMTP each year meet or exceed our academic selection criteria. So, in addition to academic qualifications, we look at interest in a scientist-practitioner model, interest in working in multicultural populations and experience in multicultural populations," Crawford says. "We also feel it's key that the group itself be diverse racially, ethnically and culturally."

Psychologist John Brown, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow with Massachusetts General Hospital and 2003 CMTP intern, says the staff is invested in each individual's personal growth and specific professional development needs, which creates a deep sense of connection to the program itself and the goal of cultural competency.

"They put a lot of thought in to each area of training to make it everything we wanted it to be," Brown says. "I felt deeply respected and deeply cared for."

Bennasar adds that the emphasis on peer interaction and learning creates a sense of family that keeps alumni coming back to the program to teach, lecture and mentor. Large numbers of alumni also stay in touch, network and generally promote cross-culturalism in psychology, Bennasar notes.

"We don't have a mentality that you leave and never come back," she says. "There's a connection, there's a loyalty. It's collegial and it provides connections all over the country."

In fact, notes Trimble, the network is an essential part of the program's design and intent in that it connects prominent cross-culturally minded clinicians with the program's up-and-coming culturally aware psychologists.

Siew says she's proud and excited to be handed that torch. "We look to our elders who've done groundbreaking work in the past, and we know it's up to us to take the next step," she says.

Further Reading

For more information on the Center for Multicultural Training in Psychology, go to www.bu.edu/cmmh.