Crash: Using a Popular Film as an Experiential Learning Activity in a Multicultural Counseling Course

By Villalba, Jose A.; Redmond, Rachelle E. | Counselor Education and Supervision, June 2008 | Go to article overview
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Crash: Using a Popular Film as an Experiential Learning Activity in a Multicultural Counseling Course


Villalba, Jose A., Redmond, Rachelle E., Counselor Education and Supervision


Crash (P. Haggis, 2004) depicts the intersection of race, ethnicity, religion, and social class in a culturally and politically charged environment. The result is a film that places the viewer in situations that are void of simple right and wrong solutions. The authors describe an experiential learning activity that is based on using Crash to stimulate student awareness and reflection as a part of their affective development. Reactions from students to the use of Crash as a teaching tool are shared. Implications for counselor educators and supervisors electing to use this film to address multicultural counseling competence are presented.

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Promoting the relationship between multicultural counseling competence and standards of professional practice to counseling students is a critical component of counselor education. The importance of multicultural counseling competence is further substantiated by curriculum recommendations from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP, 2001) and the counseling literature (e.g., Stadler, Suh, Cobia, Middleton, & Carney, 2006). In an effort to facilitate student understanding of multicultural counseling competence--personal awareness, knowledge of diverse others, and integrating diversity and personal awareness into clinical counseling skills (Arredondo, 1999)--counselor educators who teach courses in multicultural counseling use a variety of traditional teaching strategies (e.g., professional and popular readings, examinations, research papers) and nontraditional teaching strategies (e.g., reflective activities, cultural immersion projects, group activities and discussions, and mixed media such as music or movies; see also Hill, 2003; Pinterits & Atkinson, 1998; Tyler & Guth, 1999). These nontraditional or informal teaching strategies, which focus more on affective development than cognitive development, tend to be categorized as experiential learning activities (Epstein, 1994).

According to Kolb (1984), experiential learning is a method of acquiring knowledge whereby the individual learns through lived experiences, experimentation, simulations, role plays, or viewing videos and film. For Kolb, experiential learning is a natural match to lectures, readings, and examinations. In addition, Kolb stressed the importance of reflecting on feelings, values, and thoughts related to the experiential activity. Nagda, Gurin, and Lopez (2003) indicated that classroom discussions, debriefings about experiential learning activities, and keeping a journal were effective methods for self-reflection and increasing understanding of individuals who are different from oneself. As a consequence, instructors using experiential learning activities expect students to critically and emotionally analyze information presented, using self-reflection and awareness (Achenbach & Arthur, 2002; Nagda et al., 2003). Classroom discussions, small group discussions, and journal entries are all ways to further expand and process experiential learning activities (Arthur & Achenbach, 2002). Using popular films in counselor education, including but not limited to multiculturalism and diversity, is a common experiential teaching method advocated in the literature (Koch & Dollarhide, 2000; Pinterits & Atkinson, 1998; Tyler & Guth, 1999).

This article specifically addresses the use of the film Crash (Haggis, 2004) in a master's-level multicultural counseling course. This film, set in present-day Los Angeles, presents a series of interconnected narratives over a 24-hour period in which the lives and events of economically, religiously, racially, and ethnically diverse characters overlap and "crash" into one another. We have used this film to elicit counseling students' self-awareness regarding diversity and cultural issues. Although the subject matter and personal/cultural discomfort depicted in Crash are intense and somewhat visceral at times, we believe that the use of this film in counselor education can serve as a starting point for increased multicultural counseling competence.

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