In the Therapist's Chair Is Clemmont E. Vontress: A Wounded Healer in Cross-Cultural Counseling

By Moodley, Roy | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, January 2010 | Go to article overview

In the Therapist's Chair Is Clemmont E. Vontress: A Wounded Healer in Cross-Cultural Counseling


Moodley, Roy, Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


In this interview, Clemmont E. Vontress, a pioneer of cross-cultural counseling, reflects on his life and work. He shares personal stories about the people and events in his life that had a major impact on his theory formulation; research and clinical work; and publications in culture, race, ethnicity, and counseling.

En esta entrevista, Clemmont E. Vontress, un pionero de la consejeria transcultural, reflexiona sobre su vida y su trabajo. Comparte historias personales sobre la gente y los acontecimientos de su vida que tuvieron un impacto significativo en la formulacion de su teoria; investigacion y trabajo clinico; y publicaciones sobre cultura, raza, etnicidad, y consejeria.

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Clemmont E. Vontress has been an intellectual force in the field of cross-cultural counseling. In all of his research and publications--more than 100 articles, chapters, and monographs on counseling culturally different clients--Vontress has emphasized the critical interplay of culture and ethnicity as key variables in the process of empathy, compassion, and healing (see, e.g., Vontress, 1962, 1971, 1979, 1982, 1991, 1999, 2005, in press). His work has had a significant impact on multicultural counseling theory, research, and practice, influencing numerous counseling academics, researchers, and students, as well as many counselors and psychotherapists working in clinical practice. For nearly 50 years, he has written on five main themes: self-hatred, cultural difference, existential counseling, historical hostility, and traditional healing (Vontress, 1996, p. 157). His ideas are growing in significance in counseling psychology as scholars, researchers, and practitioners search for new paradigms to represent the complexity of a dynamic multicultural society wherein clinical practice must engage. Vontress's work has been instrumental in providing the starting point for many discussions regarding cultural diversity, diaspora, immigration, class, sexual orientations, and disability.

Vontress's personal and professional life has been epitomized by the radical prose of Frantz Fanon's (1952/1967) Black Skin, White Masks and the contrapuntal rhythms of Ralph Ellison's (1952) The Invisible Man. In Ellison's quintessential American novel, the protagonist is in search of a personal identity that is beyond the racialized and ethnicized constructions of subjectivity that have been consciously and unconsciously imposed by the events of U.S. history. In 1952, at the time that Fanon was writing Black Skin, White Masks, Vontress was graduating from college, perhaps experiencing the exact thoughts of Fanon: "It is not I who make a meaning for myself, but it is the meaning that was already there, pre-existing, waiting for me ... waiting for that turn of history ... I am a potentiality of something" (Fanon, 1952/1967, p. 135). In an interesting turn of history, Vontress was sent to Europe when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Although based in Germany, he also spent time in Paris, where he could have sat in the same cafe as Fanon, listening to Jean-Paul Sartre, each being so close but never physically meeting. In the collective unconscious, there may have been a meeting of the mystical and the spiritual part of each of them. Indeed, Vontress's own search for a subjective identity beyond race and ethnicity has led him to become one of the most significant figures in the culture and counseling movement. Yet, being a cross-cultural counselor in the West, especially in the United States, has been a culturally wounding experience for Vontress. Perhaps the very notion of cross-cultural counseling itself is a wounding experiencing for those who engage with it, either as therapists or clients. Vontress has become culturally wounded (as a healer) and been made invisible, or rather, as a result of being invisible he has become wounded culturally. Throughout his 40 years of infusing culture into counseling, he maintained a strong position of therapeutically working with clients in a way that transcends race, culture, and ethnicity, so that their subjectivities can reclaim their universal humanity. …

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