Psychology & Social Justice, with Lauren Shure, Ph.D., LMHC | EDB 301


Dr. Lauren Shure discusses social justice in the field of psychology, and the importance of inclusive mental health care.

Lauren Shure is a Professor of Counseling at Barry University. She is also a Past-President of the Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ). Dr. Shure holds a B.S. in psychology, M.Ed. and marriage and family counseling, and Ph.D. in counselor education with a specialization in clinical mental health counseling from the University of Florida. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in Florida with extensive experience in crisis intervention and the treatment of trauma, as well as a Qualified Supervisor for Registered Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy Interns. 

Ever since serving as a Qualified Social Worker (QSW) for the National Health Service (NHS) in London, England in 2005 with a very diverse group of colleagues and clients, she has pursued education, training, and experiences to learn how to most effectively create spaces to promote justice, equity, inclusion, and belonging for all. This includes using her professional counseling skills and knowledge in a progressively decolonized way to promote connection, healing, and wellness through the utilization of interventions, such as restorative justice, community needs assessments, trauma-informed care, and other strengths-based approaches to promote social justice and empowerment.  

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Note: the following transcription was automatically generated. Some imperfections may exist.   

DR HACKIE REITMAN (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman. Welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. And today, we’re so lucky to have with us Dr. Lauren Shure., who is the professor of counseling at Barry University. Welcome, Lauren.

DR LAUREN SHURE (LS):  Thank you so much. It’s so exciting to be here.

HR:  Well, I’m very excited. I mean, you’ve got more degrees than I did not I got hair on my head. And you’re always doing stuff to promote justice, equity, inclusion, and belonging for all. So it’s an honor to speak with you, Lauren. Thank you. I’m honored to be here. First of all, could you introduce yourself to our audience properly and tell us how you got into psychology?

LS:  Thank you. Well, I appreciate your kind introduction. And I guess what I would like to say about myself is I started my career, I was pretty young, I worked in a crisis center for the first years of my career. So it was really like jumping right in, I worked in a crisis stabilization unit, I also worked at a, a crisis center that was funded by the like the county, local government. So I’ve been doing that since I started working with clients in 2003. And then I went to London, I worked as a qualified social worker, and I worked with people from all over the world. So that’s really where my passion for, I’ll say, like social justice, diversity, equity inclusion, however, you want to say it really started working with families who were from all over the world, you know, moving their children to London, a very western cosmopolitan city, there were just so many interesting cultural justice Equity Diversity pieces that came up, I guess, I got into psychology originally, because when I finished undergrad, I was very young, I was 21 years old, I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor. But I think I was too young to really be able to commit to that. So I worked in a medical office, and it just felt so rushed. I was a medical assistant. And so you know, every 1015 minutes, there were more patients coming through the door. And when I was taking the medical histories, I would get so intrigued by people’s stories, and I worked for an ear, nose and throat doctor. So what I started realizing to at least reflecting back on the intersection between physical and mental health, because so many of these people were coming in with these, like chronic conditions, had a lot of psychological issues and challenges. And I got really fascinated and wanted to talk to them. And then when I would get yelled at by the doctors for taking too long, I said maybe this isn’t the field for me, maybe what I really want to do is work with people. And that’s when I applied to become a marriage and family therapist. All right, I started looking at programs to do that. And that changed really the trajectory of my career completely.

HR:  Did you find yourself biased at all?

LS:  Oh, for sure. I mean, I think as human beings, we all have biases, you know, it’s hard for me to remember looking back what my biases were exactly. But I think what I can say, you know, at this point in time is I grew up in the South in Florida, but in a very white, predominantly Christian, southern suburb. And I am Jewish. And so I think for me, certain messages that I received as a child made me a little bit, maybe bias towards some people who are very, who sort of have this idea of, what do I say, like missionary work, right, that, you know, Christianity is the religion that everyone should be. And so, you know, just being very open and transparent. That’s a bias that I continue to work through. And of course, I have clients who are Christian and very faith based. And so I have to really check my biases, in particular, with people who are very religious from the south. So that’s personal and professional work that I do, I would say on an ongoing basis.

HR:  So you feel that that’s a part of care providers, is their natural biases?

LS:  Yeah. I think it’s just the way the human brain works, right? I mean, we get so much information coming at us every moment. And the brain is always making decisions about what to pay attention to, and what to process based on our prior experiences and other factors to perhaps right, like genetics and different things. So I think, you know, I know with my students when I’m working with counseling students, we are always talking about biases and and I’ll share very openly what I see as my biases in the hopes that they will also not feel shame about it, but also just be very honest with themselves about what their biases are, and then start that process of reflecting and working on, you know, minimizing them.

HR:  So no shortcuts to get things to change from having biases without working through them.

LS:  I think so I think it is I think it’s hard work. And I think that that’s part of what we’re called to do. as service providers is to do our own. And the thing is it’s, it’s a, sometimes I’ll say it’s a blessing and a curse, perhaps because it requires us to do the work. And it is so personally enriching as well. I mean, the person that I am now after this many years of doing mental health work is so vastly different than the person I was when I began this career,

HR:  And you like this person a lot better?

LS:  Yes, I think I’m a lot more loving, I’m a lot more available to receive love. I’m a lot more curious, I think I’ve always been a curious person, but a lot more open. And it enriches you, right? When you can just see all of the diversity and differences among people among the world and really appreciate it and take something valuable from anyone and anything?

HR:  Well, you certainly look on the positive side, because let’s look on the flip side of let’s call it stigma. All right, tell me your thoughts on the stigma involved?

LS:  Wow. So stigma with mental health in particular? I think. I mean, you know, when I think about stigma and mental health, I think about how we frame people who have different ways of experiencing the world. So I mean, mental health is such a to me, like a broad concept. And so I really think about stigma as a justice issue, in terms of, you know, why is it that when people maybe have emotions that are, you know, bigger, more intense, and other people or people who perceive things in a different way than other people do? Why do we think about that is so negative. And by the way, I think that’s also that’s also very cultural, because there are cultures who deal with things very differently. For example, even with psychotic disorders, there are places around the world that see, like hallucinations and delusions as more of like, our connection with the spirit world, as opposed to like someone having an illness and pathologizing it. So I think, you know, I don’t know exactly where stigma comes from. But when I think about it is like a social justice issue. And position it in that context, I just think about this idea that in society, we tend to, you know, people have privilege or disadvantage based on certain identities and certain ways of being. And when people maybe don’t fit into a society, like, for example, our society is very capitalist, we tend to be valued largely on what we produce, and what we do and how much money we can make even. And so when people have maybe any kind of disability, and they need accommodations, or they have other things in their life that are prioritized, I tend to think sometimes the stigma comes from that, that they don’t necessarily go with the flow, so to speak of the dominant culture, and that can be stigmatizing. But I think we lose a lot when we do that. Because even recently, I became aware of, I think, on social media someone was talking about, and I don’t even know what you call them, but like on ramps, they have like, the little like gradients, so that maybe someone who’s blind or…

HR:  Or in a wheelchair.

LS:  Thank you, in a wheelchair, right? They kind of know where they’re going. And this, this woman on social media was saying, you know, people make these statements and I think this is where some of the stigma comes from? Why do we have to accommodate so few people who are blind or who do get around a wheelchair, so why do we have to accommodate them? But then what actually ended up happening as she’s reporting is that people with strollers people carrying you know, when when people are, have like loads that they’re carrying, it’s actually beneficial for like most or many of us. Um, so, you So your question was about stigma. So I think the stigma comes from maybe going against the grain of like the dominant culture, perhaps. But what we miss when we stigmatize mental health are all of the fantastic things that people who maybe can be diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD, whatever it is, that by understanding their experiences and accommodating their experiences, we can all win we can all learn things and benefit from that.

HR:  So that’s a that’s a segue to your I know that you’re a big fan of how all of this fits into the broader culture, and the role that the culture has on each of the individuals whose brain might be a little bit different. Could you expand on that a little bit?

LS:  Sure. Absolutely. So you know, one of the things that I teach all my students like all my students know in every class that they take with me, they’ll get what I call like systems of oppression one on one. So what I like to teach is critical consciousness. This is like you know, Paulo for that day from results, probably my favorite philosopher of all time. And so I really love this idea of critical consciousness. So this idea that you’re based on identity based on life experiences, certain things, especially identity, you know, cultural groups that we belong to, for example, gender, you know, will seek to privilege us to give us advantage or disadvantage. So, in the context of that ability is a big piece of that. So whether it’s a physical disability or a mental health issue that someone has, those things tend to put us like what I’ll call below the line of social justice right below that line, where maybe people aren’t automatically going to help us reach our potential, they’re not necessarily going to see us and think that we are going to succeed at everything that we want to do. So in that context, the other so critical consciousness is understanding that we’re being positioned right, that there are these dynamics of privilege and disadvantage. And that we can take actions to dismantle that, that we can do things to level those, those differences, those inequities. So for example, even like having conversations like this, that woman on social media, talking about the benefits of the and the gradings, or, you know, whatever you call them, but just awareness about these things, I think can be part of that.

And then also, we can teach people. So this is a big part of what I do with my clients. And what I’ll teach my students is we can also teach people, you’ll see if this resonates with them, like Do you understand that? For example, like hysteria, right was literally a diagnosis in our diagnostic manual, the DSM that we use to diagnose mental health disorders until I think, like 1980. And a lot of what a stereo was, it was only for women, only a diagnosis that women received. And it was basically looking back, I think a lot of scholars say, you know, stereo became a diagnosis because women were experiencing oppression disadvantage in a patriarchal society. And as they spoke out about it, or as they experienced ailments as a function of it, instead of looking at the culture and saying, Hi, I wonder why all these women are acting this way, having paralysis and, and screaming and having these symptoms, they just said, you know, this is a disorder, and these women are disordered, and they have a problem. So just teaching people about these histories, you know, the history of psychology, for example. And the fact that these dynamics exist, can also help people transcend them and realize, Oh, this isn’t like a meat problem. This is a societal issue, a cultural issue. And perhaps they can even feel empowered to do something about it, not just for themselves, but for other people as well.

HR:  So what are some of the tools that you use? Aside from your direct counseling and teaching that are so important, that are helping change the calculus that are helping social justice into the mainstream in trying to tackle these problems?

LS:  Well, definitely my teaching, I would say is probably the biggest tool that I use. I mean, again, my students all know who I am, they know what I’m about. And that that’s something they’re going to get in the class, you know, whatever class it is, I’m going to work that in somehow. I also like to write I do some research to I’m really into this kind of research right now. There was a book that was written some time ago called positive deviance or the power of positive deviance. So really looking at you know, among these groups, so we can look at like queer communities, we can look at communities of color, and where are people thriving, despite the fact that you know, in Florida right now, we see so much discrimination, even on a legal basis, especially amongst people who are transgender people who Yeah, I would say identify as queer LGBTQIA plus, however you want to say it. So looking at communities who are thriving despite that, what is it that they’re doing? So this is the kind of research I’m really interested in doing to is really going to communities and people who are impacted, I would say, you know, discriminated against who are experiencing some disadvantage because of who they are, how they’re positioned in society. But despite that really thriving and doing amazing things. So those people really inspire me, and I love to be able to share their stories. And so doing qualitative research, in particular, with groups like that is something that I really enjoy. Outside of that this is a very new realm for me, but I’ve gotten involved in legislative work lately. I’m writing policy statements, organizing, I just was not elected. I was appointed to the chair of the public policy and legislative action committee for Florida Counselors Association. So looking at how we can build coalitions and I think public awareness is just so important because I feel like I run into so many people who really don’t understand how these laws like they don’t say gay bill and anti woke really negatively impact people. And when you start to talk to people and allow, you know, Senator people’s voices, let young people for example, talk about how this impacts their education and how it’s not really what they want. I think that that those are things too, that I think can make a big difference.

HR:  Well, you know, it’s great to be a champion of the underdog, like you are. And it’s also, as we mentioned before, if you use the strength based model, as opposed to the opposite, you can get much further, you want to talk a little bit about the strength based model, for instance, in the Autistic community, embrace the positives and not just focus on all the negatives.

LS:  Yeah, I think that’s an incredibly important part of empowerment. And one of the things that we have to use as a tool in professional counseling is a set of advocacy competences. So teaching students also. So it has basically three levels, so we can advocate with our clients or on their behalf, depending on the situation at the individual level, at the community level, and the society at large, the public arena, they call it. So I think that’s important, too, to think about how we can, you know, work with people and encourage people to get involved in their communities to get involved with the public, you know, in public spaces, or in a larger societal level. And so at the individual level, in particular, that strength based approach and personal empowerment is like written into the advocacy competency. So I think you’re really onto something with that.

HR:  Well, I really admire so much what you’re doing, because you’re doing one of the most important things, which is being a teacher, but then you’re into advocacy. And then you’re into policy, and changing government. I mean, you’re hitting the whole trifecta, really, in your involvement. And that’s, that’s great. And you’ve inspired your students, one of whom I know, Pati Fizzano has really been inspired by by this and is going to make a difference, too. So you’re, you’re multiplying yourself, multiplying yourself?

LS:  Thank you. Well, I have to say one of the greatest thrills that I have is, I do get to teach an advocacy and leadership course to PhD in counseling students, and now I’m supervising them in their internship, and to see the projects they’re doing. And like you said, the impact they’re making really is just a thrill for me. And definitely, with the legislation stuff, it’s new for me, I’m still really learning. And that’s fun for me too, because I, you know, I decided to stay in school all these years. So I love to learn and be a student as well. And there’s so much of an impact that you can make, through politics through legislation. But I think for a long time, I stayed out of that realm until it just keeps coming up, you know, things just keep coming up that sort of, I think, just I felt like it was required, right? If I’m really an advocate, this is a realm that I just I have to get involved in.

HR:  What message would you have for anyone out there who wants to become a counselor that runs an inclusive practice?

LS:  Ooh, that’s a great question. Well, I would say that’s a good place to start is to know the history. And even in this, I feel like it’s become so contentious, right? So many of the laws and the politics right now are about right, who we are as a nation, how do we teach ourselves about who we are and where we came from. But to me, the reality is that the roots of our profession of psychology are, are limited. And some would say even, they were harmful. So there’s a great book called even the rat was white. And it talks about some of the roots of psychology and how and I think it was, you know, because at the time, late 1800s, early 1900s, the reality was there, there was systemic and institutional racism, just right permeating the culture. So psychology became a tool of white supremacy, you know, they use intelligence test to say that white people were smarter. Even when you go back to Freud, you know, we tend to say, Freud was the father of psychology. So what I tell my students is, listen, the book might say this, and you can call him the father of modern psychology. But that’s not where mental health treatment started.

So I think one thing that’s important, if you want to have an inclusive practice is to learn about your history, the history of the profession, and also honor and learn about indigenous and ancient practices of health and wellness that came long before and find a program that does that, you know, find a program, find faculty who are about that, or about indigenous practices who are about I’m going to say not even cultural competence, but culture and being culture centered. And I think you were maybe alluding to this too, when you talked about autism and being strength based. So you know, there’s this whole conversation in the field about like cultural competence, right? At first, it was all about cultural competence. We have to have awareness, knowledge and skills to work with cultures that are different. I think we’ve moved past that now to where we’re talking about cultural humility. And you talked about this earlier, right? Knowing our biases, being aware of ourselves and the limits of our understanding of other people based on who we are and the things we’ve been through in life. And so being humble enough, right to like, acknowledge that and learn from our clients and not make assumptions.

I want to offer kind of a third, you know, what I hope is the next step. And I learned this from my mentor. And there are people who came along before me who are doing this work of culture centered practices. And so this is really the idea of finding out from our clients and their communities, and their people and their role models, right. And their ancestors, what did healing and wellness look like for them? And how did they achieve that healing and wellness? And how can we embed that in our practice? And so part of our assessment process and part of our treatment process becomes finding out from our clients, and maybe doing some research and inviting them to do some research on? Well, who is a role model for you of healing and wellness? Who has done that before you? And how do people who came before you do that? And how do you want to do it for yourself. Um, anyway, I might be kind of rambling at this point. But I think there’s a piece of making sure that the education that you’re getting at a starting point is inclusive. And then there’s also the piece of making sure that you’re honoring your clients and their communities and where they come from, and the practices of healing that came before them and belong to their ancestors.

HR:  What’s one thing you would like our audience to remember what to know, about social justice and mental health?

LS:  I think what I would like to offer is that, you know, we can talk about social justice. And I think the conversation of social justice can be divisive. If for no other reason, because we have to talk about our differences, right? We’re kind of talking about these dynamics and differences we have and how that positions us maybe to be have advantages or disadvantages. But at the end of the day, I think there are things that we all need as human beings. And you know, Carl Rogers talked a lot about this, you know, the the father of humanistic psychology, and he talked about growth, facilitating conditions. And there are certain conditions that human beings seem to thrive under. And I think there’s at least two pieces that are really important for everyone. Number one is connection and community, right, we all want to belong. And then the other piece is we all want to figure out who we are, right? We want to have purpose and meaning for ourselves. So I think when I think about mental health and social justice, I’m thinking about maybe just social justice in general, but I can apply this to mental health. How can we create communities, families? How can we be stewards of allowing people to live within growth, facilitating conditions? How can we promote community and connection? And how can we honor everyone where they’re at? How can we help people to figure out who they are? What’s important to them, what they believe in, find purpose and meaning in life. And so looking at mental health and social justice, it’s like, people who experience have different brains, right? People who experience the world in a different way. Wow, there’s so much that we can learn from them. So as opposed to looking at, you know, how it costs us, oh, you know, mental health treatment costs money, it costs time. Maybe people who have mental health disorders aren’t going to be as productive. How can we flip that I want to encourage people to flip that script and really think about it. First of all, you can look at so many famous people, scientists, scholars, theorists, musicians, comedians, who had very different brands. And so maybe that’s a place even to start is to really dig into people’s stories, people who made huge contributions and had who are diagnosed with mental illnesses, to really better understand how we can support people’s mental health as opposed to stigmatizing them because maybe they experience the world in a different way than you know, the quote unquote, average person does.

HR:  Where can our audience learn more about you?

LS:  Well, most of my professional life these days, is connected to Barry University so they could always check me out on our faculty website and my emails there. I’d be happy to receive emails and to connect with people. I also do have an Instagram, it’s healthy, happy life hacks. I did a radio show a health and wellness radio show the University last spring, so I’m working on editing the episodes and creating a podcast, but they can find me on Instagram @healthyhappylifehacks is my handle.

HR:  Well, Professor Lauren Shure. It’s been a pleasure to have you here. Keep up your great work at Barry University and teaching and supporting and doing all that you do. And being a great advocate. It’s been a pleasure to have you and we hope you’ll return for more. So we can learn more from you here at Different Brains. Thank you so much.

LS:  Thank you. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.