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Allen E. Ivey: Transforming counseling theory and practice

Journal of Counseling & Development


Allen E. Ivey discusses the major influences on his life. He delineates and comments on his contributions to the counseling profession in the areas of microcounseling, developmental counseling and therapy, and multicultural counseling. He explores spirituality, social activism, and professional activities. The interview reveals Allen Ivey the person as well as Allen Ivey the professional.

As a new counseling student at Indiana University in the fall of 1971, I entered a small counseling lab to practice my counseling skills with a fellow student. A huge reel-to-reel Wollensak tape recorder stood ready to record our every word; my supervisor and classmates observed us from behind the one-way mirror. My anxiety ran high. The instructions about what to do had seemed simple enough: be warm, genuine, and empathic. As I began the 30minute session, I fantasized that I understood my teacher's instructions and knew how to translate them into effective helping. Afterward, a kind and gentle supervisor helped me realize the gulf that stood between my theoretical understanding and its practical application.

Four years later, as a new assistant professor, I began training my own students in counseling skills. Luckily, by that time, Allen Ivey's pioneering work Microcounseling and his textbooks and tapes for Basic Attending Skills and Basic Influencing Skills were readily available. My own students read about specific counseling skills, such as appropriate eye contact, verbal following, open and closed questions, and directives. They watched as Allen and Norma Gluckstern modeled each skill. Then my students practiced as I had practiced, but they did so with a distinct advantage. Although their anxiety was probably as high as mine had been, they were unquestionably benefiting from Ivey's written and oral explanations and his modeling of each counseling skill. Ivey's work in microcounseling revolutionized the teaching of counseling skills. No longer was it a matter of learning by trial-and-error to imitate master practitioners. Ivey made it possible to learn counseling skills both effectively and efficiently.

If Allen Ivey's pioneering and innovative work in microcounseling had been his sole contribution to the counseling profession, he would be recognized as a major figure in the history of counseling. But he did not stop there. Since the 1960s, Ivey has continued to make groundbreaking contributions in two other areas. He is the originator of an approach to counseling called Developmental Counseling and Therapy (DCT), a synthesizing of the best of diverse counseling theories and practices into an influential and potent developmental framework. His third significant contribution has been his relentless incorporation of multicultural awareness, knowledge, and competencies into the practice of counseling.

Ivey has been tireless in promoting his well-reasoned ideas that are based on solid research. He has written 25 books and over 200 additional articles, chapters, or monographs. His books have been translated into 14 languages. Since the late 1960s, his small company, Microtraining Associates, has produced videotapes focused on basic attending and influencing skills. More recently, his training videotapes have featured leading experts in multicultural counseling and development, groups, youth and violence, children, and brief counseling.

For over a quarter of a century I have been significantly influenced by Allen Ivey's contributions to our counseling profession. I considered it an honor to interview Allen because for years he has served, albeit at a distance of many miles, as a professional role model for me. (Thinking of a legacy to leave to his grandchildren, Allen arranged for Bruce Oldershaw to videotape our interview.) I began the interview with the hope that Allen would clarify for us, and for future generations, his contributions and the ways in which he has gone about making those contributions. I also hoped that the interview would shed light on Allen Ivey the person, in addition to Allen Ivey the professional. My hopes were realized.


John Littrell (JL): Allen, as I was reviewing for this interview, one of the things that I noticed on your Web page was a section that refers viewers to Cornwall in England. I am wondering if you could talk about your early years, family of origin, and what it was like growing up.

Allen Ivey (Al): The first thing I have to say is that Kernow [Cornwall]is not in England although the English would like to think so. I prefer to use the native language word "Kernow." My father's family came from Kernow; they immigrated around the turn of the century. The whole family came over to the United States and Canada and struck out in new directions. I'm basically second generation and I went through the classic issues of that generation. My dad tried to assimilate. It's not too important to him when I tell him of my involvement in tracing my family's roots. Actually, I am a member of Mebyon Kernow, the nationalist party of Kernow/Cornwall, Greater Britain. I've gone over to Cornwall and conducted consciousness-raising groups and other types of activities to support those who would like to see what they call devolution, which will mean more power to the people of Kernow, like the other Celtic nations of Scotland and Wales.

My mother's side of the family is a classic example of Manifest Destiny. It has positive and negative consequences; my own reading is more of the negative. We can trace my mother's side of the family back to 1631 when the ship Lion arrived in New England. My ancestors' general pattern was taking land from native peoples in Massachusetts, taking native land from people in Albany and Hartford, then moving on to Adair county in Missouri and again taking land from native peoples. Part of the family fought for the North, while part fought for the South. Then they moved out to the town of Mount Vernon, Washington, in about 1885. 1 have on my office wall in Sunapee, New Hampshire, the original statement of the land grant signed by President Ulysses S. Grant transferring land of the Swinomish Nation, without compensation, to our family. Since I've been involved in multicultural studies, I've thought about the Swinomish farmland that's been in my family for generations. How that land was initially acquired is a classic example of Manifest Destiny, and, to me, Manifest Destiny occurred because our government trampled on native rights.

JL: So reflected right there in your own background are many of those same issues that you're teaching about even today.

Al: Yes, it was the multicultural movement that finally got me looking at my own roots-where I came from and how I got to be here. Along with the Civil Rights movement, I picked up a real interest in multicultural material in about 1966. Someplace along the line, probably in the 1980s, I said to myself, "Well, what about me?" and I started retracing where I came from. And in that process, I began to see myself as a White individual. McIntosh (1989) was correct when she coined the term White privilege and I know I benefit from White privilege. At the same time, I discovered that I am at least bicultural. The cultural messages that come from the people of Kernow are represented by these three mottoes: "Be where you are," "Education is not that much of value," and particularly, "Don't put on airs." That would be more or less the message I got from my father's side of the family. I remember going back to Kernow and being asked by the family there, "Why are you flitting all over the world doing these things? Why don't you just come home and be?" I think the concept of being within Kernow's culture is central and necessary for survival under, I would argue, centuries of English- Norman oppression. Institutional racism, prejudice, and so forth exist in many parts of the world outside the U.S.

JL: So there is the being part of your generation, and yet it seems like there is the aspect of doing.

Al: And basically it's very American. We greet each other by saying, "How do you do?" and "How are you doing?" We are getting constant little reinforcers in U.S. culture that you better be doing something to be worthwhile-it's not who you are in terms of being, but it's what you do.

Well, my mother came from this particular Anglocentric pattern. Her grandparents-both in different ways-had relative wealth but lost it. And so one of my lifetime tasks I wondered about was: "Why is my mother pushing achievement so much? Why does she always want me to do something and do it so well?" I began to realize that one of her targets for me-this is my interpretation-is to regain what the family lost in various depressions. And so the struggle inside me often is that I am supposed to achieve (Mother's family message), but I am not supposed to achieve (Dad's family message). As I look at my body now, I do less of this back and forth motion [Allen moves his shoulders back and forth]. And, John, I carried that same double messaging body language into my doctoral program and early professional life. If you would have looked at me 20 years ago, this ambivalent body language was almost my basic motion in dealing with double messages from my family. I am beginning to realize now the extent that those double messages were based in their cultural experience.

JL: remember one of your early videotapes in which your body was literally moving back and forth. At that point, I thought I understood that more from a decision-making dilemma, but it sounds like there is that conflict even at the core of who you are.

AI: I don't know if it is true or not, but I think one of my minor contributions to the field is my approach to the microskill of confrontation, that is, confronting a discrepancy. I'll say, "On the one hand this, and on the other hand that," but that is kind of the way I grew up-on the one hand this and on the other hand that. I recall a lot of confusion and mixed messages as a child.

JL: But it's now coming together more for you than in the past.

Al: And I think part of it was getting in touch with myself I went through periods of blaming the family, the classic "Blame the mother." But then finally I started to understand her history. Both of my parents grew up in poverty, and I think maybe even extreme poverty. My dad, I need to ask this-in fact, I have almost been afraid to-but I think he actually grew up with hunger. At one point after my Dad's father died-my Dad was about 11, perhaps even younger- his mother almost put the children in an orphanage. She simply couldn't keep things together. She was taking in laundry and she was making her underwear out of flour sacks. I mean real serious poverty.

My mother came from a generation that had a lot of money, but my grandfather on her side of the family was a compulsive gambler. He was the owner/editor of the paper in Mount Vernon, Washington, and he gambled the money away at cards. He ended up being a Linotype operator-but the gambling addiction continued. My main recollection of my mother's childhood stories is her not having shoes for school and teachers getting after her because she didn't have the books she was supposed to have-there was no money.

JL: What difference has this background made in your life?

Al: I was born in 1933 at the very bottom of the depression, so I am a real depression kid. I basically was conditioned from a mentality of poverty rather than a mentality of abundance. A lot of kids born at that particular time had parents who experienced real severe difficult economic issues-like my dad lost his job 2 days before he was married. Those are stories I grew up with-like the stock market crash. So you end up, I think, being a little more anxious about the world and a little less trusting than perhaps you should. On the other hand, I've looked at my own confident kids and thought to myself, "Shouldn't they be a little more mistrustful?" I also wonder how much of that mistrust I passed on in different ways.

If you were to do what I call a community genogram, you'd see my dad's folks down the road just a quarter of a mile-my dad had a small grocery store-and a quarter of a mile down the other way were my mother's aunts and family. The two farms joined. So it's a very small and closed world-in that sense very family centered, but then very different families because they didn't have anything to do with each other. They had different conceptions of themselves. "I am just Cornish, and I can't do much" is a very common thing in my Cornish roots, and the other one is "We are English, and we are better than others," so I was literally getting both those messages. At that point, I had the idea that the Cornish people were English, and I got the same scrambled message and it puzzled me.

JL: What were your earliest influences?

AI: I'd focus on a preschool period which was incredibly family centered and certainly mixed messages were there, but it was wonderful in many ways. I can still see my grandmother singing her Methodist hymns as she was baking bread. It's a prominent image and aroma. I remember visiting my aunts' farm down the other way and every time going out-they still had horses when I was a kid-and being with them plowing the fields was wonderful. Developmental Counseling/ Therapy (DCT) talks of the importance of a sensorimotor foundation. I sometimes wonder if those powerful visual images of the farm, the sounds of my Grandmother's singing, and the aromas of the fresh bread weren't influential in bringing this area to equal prominence with concrete and formal thought patterns.

To complicate things, my dad ran a small grocery store in a rural area. All the other kids in the school (two rooms and approximately 25 kids in the entire school) had parents who were farmers. I grew up with endless racist epithets. The kids called me virtually every anti- Semitic, anti-Jewish name you could think of It was more or less a day-in-andday-out thing and I didn't understand what was going on; I didn't know who Jewish people were. I'd never met one. I never met a Jewish person until I went to college, and yet I was called anti- Semitic names. Of course, I immediately felt affinity for Jewish kids. Later, I shared this experience with some of my Jewish friends, and some have experienced similar things, particularly if they were minorities in their communities.

So I felt a day-in and day-out pressure. I knew that these children's comments were learned around the family dinner table from their parents-the talk about the owner of the grocery exploiting the farmers. So these same people/ parents would come to the store. I would be working in the store and I would have to be nice to them even though I saw them as my persecutors. Small wonder I am a little bit distant and can appear overly cool at times. You learn that you have got to keep to yourself and listen to what is going on-that is one of the reasons I got into listening skills. You have to watch what the other people are saying. I did the classic thing that kids do in that I never shared any of this with my folks-like the adult/ child protecting the parents. I internalized some of that anger and frustration, directing it at me rather than outward, as it should have been. A lot of Jewish kids have done this to protect their parents from prejudice and pain experienced at school.

JL: So early on you experienced prejudice even though it wasn't accurate; at the same time, you were still on the receiving end of it.

Al: Oh yeah, and that's kind of my basic model of growing up. Never really being able to trust. It's not a great way to be in the world. Small wonder I focused on doing in my early years.

JL: And yet when I have watched you working with people over the years on the videotapes, it seems like you have a tremendous trust in people, at least in other people's ability to be able to work on issues and to deal with those issues.

Al: Yes. Maybe we can figure out exactly what is going on in the process. Actually, I think of those who experience negative stuff There are a couple of ways that you could go. One is that you continue the oppression yourself, you continue to scapegoat; or maybe you can sublimate. Personally, I still get really angry with people being mistreated unfairly. Whether it is gays, lesbians, people of color, or poor people-it becomes a real internal experience for me. I don't show it, but I rage and sympathize inside. So I don't want to treat other people as I feel I was treated.

JL: What are key words that summarize your early schooling?

Al: I think the theme that comes to me is survival and alienation and feeling very much alone. Finally, moving out of that grade school and into the eighth grade, I finally got to the point in eighth grade that I was the only remaining person in the class. So finally my parents said that was enough. They sent me off to town and I actually developed some friends who were fun, and I enjoyed high school. But coming from that closed environment, it was tense, but my mother pushed, pushed, pushed-whether to become an Eagle Scout, go to the national jamboree, take music lessons, pushed me into a speech class, which is probably the smartest thing she ever did. I was-I still am- shy and could hardly speak at all to people. Coming from that petty, small, rural background, the speech class was marvelous in opening me up. Bless the teacher, George Hodson.


Allen Ivey was strongly affected by his undergraduate and graduate school experiences. In this part of our interview, he discussed key people and experiences that shaped his career choice. Stanford University, 1951-1955

JL: You mentioned even in the early 60s being aware and even starting to do some thinking and possible writing about that.

Is that what was happening at that point?

Al: I had an incredibly traumatic freshman year at Stanford. I should mention also I came from a fundamentalist Baptist orientation, and I held the idea that if a person drank one beer they would fall off the roof drunk. That is the way I started college at Stanford as a freshman. JL: Which probably meant some adjustment.

Al: That's some adjustment! They picked the two best roommates for me to adjust to because both of them flunked out in one quarter. Both flunked all courses. That doesn't happen very often, even then. They were doing everything that was miserable, but I survived. Stanford was a wonderful intellectual experience. I had to go through the phase of the "Fundamentalist Baptist Encounters Evolution"-Evolution wins. A little bit painful, but the professors were outstanding.

JL: How did you come to counseling?

Al: When I was a sophomore at Stanford, I wanted to figure out what my major was, so I went to see a counselor. He asked me what I wanted to do. I said, "Well, I think I might like to have your job." The counselor totally discounted it. I think I was supposed to be a journalism major. I should say, though, that before I thought about counseling, I didn't know what counseling was because they didn't have counselors in my high school. But I thought what the counselor did in the counseling center there in Stanford looked pretty fun and pretty interesting. Iam a failed music major. I started at Stanford as a music major-didn't make it and looked for something else.

Ernest Hilgard, a most distinguished past president of the APA American Psychological Association] taught my introductory psychology course. Dick Alpert, also known as Baba Ram Das, was one of his teaching assistants. It was a grand intellectual and personal experience. Hilgard was extremely advanced for a traditional psychologist at that time, and we spent time on usually taboo issues such as meditation and hypnosis. He opened the door for me with his ideas-it was quite marvelous.

I loved all the psychology courses as an undergraduate. I even liked statistics, and I took advanced courses. Sid Siegal, the founder of nonparametric statistics, was a teaching assistant. The Psychology Department at Stanford was just so outstanding. I mean the greats were up and down the halls at Stanford and you could talk to them.

Stanford just felt like home. I suspect, like everybody else, that my searching for myself is how I dealt with this confusion. I think a lot of us go into counseling or psychology to find ourselves. This was made clear to me years later by Alice Miller's (19 81) book, The Drama of the Gifted Child. I think anybody who goes into counseling should read her book, which helps explain how we meet our needs through helping others. I was seeking a way to sort out my cultural family confusion in the counseling field. There is no doubt that I was working on my issues. I wish we did more to help students become aware of things such as Why are you becoming a counselor? What is your motivation?

I remember one incident at Stanford. I was moving on campus my senior year, and it was one of those defining moments that enraged me. My friends came to me and said, "Well, the only room we can locate for you is with this fellow," and they said, "He is Jewish, you know. Would that be okay for you?" It was like three or four students came to me to ask if I minded moving-honestly-I think it says a lot for the mentality of the times, and I don't think those times have totally left. Anti-Semitism remains an important issue for me to combat. Needless to say, I enjoyed living with my Jewish roommate.

When it came time to graduate, I turned down a law scholarship to Stanford. I look at that decision now and say, "Oh, well." Diane Feinstein, U.S. senator, was on the Executive Council at Stanford with me and was a cheerleader while I was in the Stanford band. I said, "Hey, I could have been a lawyer and gotten rich fast." I turned down law school and accepted a chance to work with Ralph Berdie and that whole wonderful group in Minnesota. Technically, that is where I should have been except Stanford had an attitude-and I mean an attitude-toward what they call "dust bowl empiricism." So I ended up not going to Minnesota, but rather I went to Denmark for a year.

University of Copenhagen, Denmark, Fulbright Grant (1955-1956)

JL: What happened in Denmark?

AI: I received a Fulbright grant after graduating from Stanford in 1955 and that was critical in my developing a contextual approach to counseling. I traveled to Denmark and did my Fulbright on the topic of "Social Work: Deinstitutionalization." I learned there was another culture, another way of thinking. I came from an individualistic mode of thinking and found myself working in socialist Denmark, seeing a high standard of living and the absence of the poor. My advisor, Paul Perch, was a major figure in the Danish social ministry. Perch wrote about the psychological educator in the mid- 1950s, which led me in the 1970s to propose psychological education as a major aspect of the counseling field. It is a delight to see it now so well established. Perch's spirit, I would like to say, lives in me to some extent. Denmark was and is a very important place-a country we in the U.S. continue to ignore at our peril.

Boston University (1957-1959)

Al: Then on to Harvard with professors like David McClelland and Clyde Kluckholn. It was incredible. Harvard was very difficult but an incredible intellectual experience. I had the pleasure of working with Dave Tiedeman. While I was doing my doctorate at Harvard, I did a 2-year stint as director of student activities at Boston University and also was an instructor in guidance there. Of course, it was totally insane. I finished my doctorate at Harvard in 3 years. I worked full time in the guidance office at Boston University 2 of those 3 years and still finished exactly on target in 3 years, but that is the ultimate doing.


The social activism and excitement of the 1960s and early 1970s are reflected in Allen's professional life, as he became actively involved in outreach programs and groundbreaking research that led to microcounseling. Bucknell University (1959-1963)

Al: At the age of 25, I went to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and founded the Counseling Center at Bucknell University, serving as director of counseling. Too young? No way? But that was what I was doing! I had a wonderful position there and enjoyed it completely. I also visited Don Ford's Bureau Division of Study Council at nearby Pennsylvania State University. He had this incredible staff including Sam Osipow and lots of other wonderful people. He had started what he called the Division of Study Council, and he was starting to do outreach. I admired his work. It was the Bucknell period when I settled into the profession. I learned many ideas of outreach and prevention from Don Ford during that time.

Colorado State University (1963-1968)

AI: And then I went to Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, Colorado, as director of the Counseling Center from 1963 through 1968. I think CSU was the high point of my career. I worked with Burns Crookston, setting up with him and Eugene Getting, Weston Morrill, and Jim Hurst, the first student development center in a student personnel program. It seems particularly impressive to me that three Division of Counseling Psychology presidents have worked at the CSU Counseling Center and that Richard Suinn, President of the American Psychological Association is associated with their PhD program in counseling psychology. CSU's program has not been noted enough. Why? Because they are not publishing in the Journal of Counseling Psychology. I don't know why counseling psychologists can't publish in some other journal to become a good department, but that is the way that Division 17, Counseling Psychology, seems to want to construct it.

JL: You mentioned before our interview began that even in the 1960s you were aware of and even starting to do some thinking and writing about activism.

AI: During the time I was director of the Counseling Center, we discovered a government agent (we think the CIA) had come in as a client into our Center. I got a sense of the government's fear of change and the value of the whole social change movement of the 1960s. This was in the very early stages of Vietnam, and it was very clear to me that a frightened government was out there looking in every corner at what was going on. I said, "Geeze, if they are visiting our Counseling Center ......

When I got to CSU, I pushed the outreach dimension learned in Denmark and at Penn State with this wonderful staff we brought in. I think that perhaps the Counseling Center at CSU was the first to bring outreach to married student housing. We helped place psychiatric patients as they were released into the Denver economy. We had many outreach programs focused on prevention. Banff, Alberta, in 1965 was the location of the Counseling Center Directors' Conference and I proudly presented our innovative outreach program. However, Barbara Kirk, Counseling Center Director at the University of California-Berkeley, and Clay Gerkin, Counseling Center Director at the University of Iowa were national leaders at the time and attended my session. Both came at me with a sharp attack saying, "You should be sitting in your office seeing students one-to-one." And that is kind of the theme of my life-many professionals have asked me and criticized me with questions, such as "Why aren't you sitting in your office in the traditional way?" "What are you doing out in this community trying to be a social activist?" So it's been there a long time. Even today many still attack my interest in prevention and social action saying that counselors should sit in their offices.

I had a grant for developing a behavioral objectives curriculum for training counselors in 1966 while at CSU, and I picked racial understanding as a central dimension of the curriculum. We put this curriculum into practice for the first time in 1968. So I guess I must have been influenced at that point by the Black Liberation Movement, the Black Power Movement and the "system." I asked, "What does counseling need to do to speak to those issues?" So as early as 1966, I started asking those questions. That would have been in an all-White atmosphere. It's kind of shocking to go back, John, and realize I don't recall a single African American in undergraduate school or graduate school-not one. I didn't recall any Latinos. I do recall a very small group of Asian Americans at Stanford. None at Harvard.

Don Ford at Penn State was clearly a model for community involvement, but then why would I grab onto that rather than sitting in my office and focusing on the interview? Although, God knows, I had spent plenty of my time focusing on the details of the interview. I mean that has been the other center point of my career-the small details.

JL: So you are an activist in the community, and at the same time there is still the "you" who sits and analyzes for long periods of time.

AI: Long periods of time. I don't think there are many people running around the world who have looked at as many interviews in as small a detail, or classified as many interviews in asmany different classification systems as I have. The whole language process and the interaction that goes on in the interview fascinate me. The microcounseling framework has been very central to that investigation.

JL: What brought you to that? How did microcounseling evolve? What were the influences? It's clearly revolutionary in terms of the counseling profession to be able to have that.

Al: In one sense, it's real luck, John. A couple of things came together. It was 1966 when we got a small grant from the Charles F. Kettering Foundation, bless their hearts. They were interested in the idea of identifying the specific single skills of counseling. The Kettering Foundation had worked with Dwight Allen at Stanford in helping set up microteaching. We visited Stanford and viewed the microteaching framework in operation. At the same time, we also visited Albert Bandura, then doing his early work in social learning. These social learning roots became important throughout the whole process of discovery of microskills.

As we researched counseling skills, we had what I call the "boat anchor" Ampex machines with 2-inch videotapes. You could never get those machines to run more than 15 minutes without calling a technician to fix them. The whole project was a very cooperative endeavor involving Cheryl Normington, Dean Miller, Dick Haase, Eugene Getting, Weston Morrill, and later, Max Uhlemann. The so-called discovery of attending behavior was very much a mutual process involving me, our secretary, whom I credit a lot, and the whole team.

JL: As you worked with that team, it sounded like you also spent a large number of hours watching videotapes. What was that like?

Al: Well, we began that project by the classic method of first looking at the literature. I looked at W U. Snyder's work at Pennsylvania State University. Snyder had done a lot of interview analysis. We studied many videotapes, but 6 months into this project we hadn't identified a single skill. Finally I said, "Well, let's just try teaching it." We brought our secretary in to act as a counselor trainee. She was marvelous because she sat there as the interviewer with a "client" doing all the wrong things. She looked down, she topic jumped, she broke in, and she started talking about herselfvirtually anything a person could do wrong in an interview, bless her heart, she did. Then I think it was Weston Morrill and I who entered the interviewing training room-we were feeling good because finally we had something to work with. And I said to her, "Now what you need to do is look at your client and lean forward a bit." And the whole specific behaviors of attending behaviors were generated right there on the spot as Weston and I taught her. Our secretary then redid the interview and she did a very good job of interviewing. Her talk time was reduced; she maintained contact and listened. All wonderful stuff She came in the following Monday and said, "Allen, my life has changed. I went home and listened to my husband and he listened to me and we had a beautiful weekend."And I said, "Hey, we have really got something here!" I think "here!" is what we felt.

Dean Miller on the team came up with the word "attending behavior." Max Uhlemann and Dick Haase were there as graduate students making important contributions. Later on, Eugene Getting helped put microcounseling into a broader context. It was very much a team type of effort. It just kind of grew from then on. Those days at CSU were a marvelous experience. It was an exciting intellectual and personal environment.

University of Massachuseus-Amherst, School of Education (1968- 1997)

JL: What have been other intellectually exciting and challenging things that you have been involved in over the years?

AI: The first one that crosses my mind, which is influential in my thinking, took place here at the University of Massachusetts. I shifted my emphasis to the work of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and developmental therapy first came out of his influence. I took three courses in comparative literature on Jacques Lacan. It was incredibly important for me to reframe Freud, psychodynamic counseling, and the process of unconscious thought-particularly as related to multicultural issues. I do not write much about Lacanian thought, but I hardly go a day without thinking about Lacan and the philosopher Hegel. So that philosophical framework of very complex thought is there as backdrop to all my work over the last 15 years.

I also shifted my emphasis more to multiculturalism. When I first came to the University of Massachusetts, I began teaching the antiracism course-we called it "Black and White in Helping"-with Norma Jean Anderson. That was an incredibly valuable experience in learning for me. It reformulated and started to help me further understand the role of context as it influences people's lives.

JL: You are "scanning" the environment constantly. I get a sense that you're continually asking, "What is the cutting edge? What are things out there that somehow are going to make sense that I can incorporate?"

AI: Yeah. I have always pushed the edge, but tried not to get over the edge too much. I think that's probably true. I puzzle about that. I think it ties to my interest in listening skills. One way to be safe personally and psychologically is to anticipate trouble down the line. I seem to be incredibly skilled in getting myself into controversy. It's that dimension that gets me in trouble sometimes. But a lot of time it says, "I need to know it all to be safe." So whether it's an individual interview, a context, complex Lacanian thought, Freud, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or Viktor Frankl, I try to know pretty much what each of these people or areas are saying and doing.

JL: am hearing an immersion. If I am getting into an area, I immerse myself in that area or I get so involved that I somehow understand the depth and breadth of that area.

AI: Yeah. I started out as a rabid Rogerian [Carl Rogers], but very quickly I learned about Frederick Thorne who said directive counseling was a little more practical for working with vocational counseling in colleges. Basically, that is all you had in 1959-you chose between directive counseling and nondirective counseling or became a Freudian. But I was always interested in the outreach from my Danish experience. Later, I became a thoroughly committed behaviorist along the way and tossed away all the other ideas- "Rogers is wrong" and so forth-and I was into this stimulus/response and a very scientific approach. This was a useful phase. Then my boss, Burns Crookston, who is one of the great contributors to the student development area, sent me out to Bethel, Maine, for an encounter group, and I became an encounter group "freak" for a number of years.

JL: This would have been when?

AI: It would have been in the 1966-67 era out at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, with Will Schultz and his "Joy" movements. I got involved with alternative therapies very early and I immersed myself in that for a few years. Along comes microcounseling, and I said to myself, "Allen, you have been into Rogers; you have been into F. C. Thorne and E. G. Williamson; then you tossed that away and became a straight behaviorist." Also in that period I got into psychodynamics.

But then in an encounter group I said, "Hey, what is going on here? Why are you constantly changing from one 'best' theory to the next?" At that point I said, "Well, they all have value and rather than trying to find the right answer, I better start looking for some synthesis of understanding." At that point, I started moving slowly toward using microskills to break down sequences and skill strategies and various types of theories. One of the great things in microcounseling is breaking down skill strategies in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or some other theoretical framework so people can learn not just the skills but also how to manage specific strategies. I have found it pretty effective in my own teaching, but in terms of getting it out in the profession, it hasn't been too successful. Can't do it all. The idea of skill-based sequences for complex counseling and therapy strategies has not yet caught on.

JL: You have talked about the social activism from the 1960s. It sounds like that theme continues in a variety of different contexts.

Al: I was a very happy camper in the 1960s as students and professionals were much more aware of social contextual issues. But, along with that came considerable anger and frustration with the system. I loved the students of the 1960s; I loved their attitude. We were doing what is called "popular education." I would raise an issue, the students would raise an issue, and we started generating new ways of thinking about it together. I also had some wonderful, even nasty challenges from students. They could attack me and I would try to listen to them. For the most part, not always, we could come to an accommodation-particularly if I changed.

JL: How do you challenge yourself?

AI: One thing I have always done is tried to take one or two courses a year. I took a great course in Piaget with George Foreman, President of the Piaget Society, that was helpful in developing the DCT framework (Ivey, 1993, 1986/2000). I always try to learn. Also, I learn from students. Every time a student asks me a question, I learn something new. Probably for the last 10 or 15 years, I have realized that no matter what I talk about, there is somebody in that class or workshop who knows more about the topic of the moment than I do-very humbling. That means I can listen to them. So it's that scanning again. When students would raise challenging questions, rather than sitting there with my opinion, I'd listen. Some students get very frustrated with this professor who changes his mind in front of them, while other students find this particularly energizing and respectful. But if you ar\e the person who wants the correct answer, then I am not the person whom you want to listen to because I might change my position tomorrow based on new data.

JL: Well, I saw that openness yesterday in your classroomyour willingness to explore and to look at new perspectives.

AI: Yeah, I was thinking about it. My current new thing is poverty. I have done the multicultural stuff, but this term for the very first time I am trying to put a major emphasis on poverty as it interfaces with race and gender. I find that very exciting, yet I say, "Why am I changing my course the last time I am teaching it?" I am getting ready to retire. Ridiculous, but it's more fun that way.


Religion, spirituality, and liberation theology are topics seldom acknowledged or explored in counselor training programs. In this section of the interview, Allen reveals how these three areas have affected his life both personally and professionally.

JL: One of the topics you talked about in yesterday's class was the issue of spirituality. I am wondering where or when that started to become prominent? Also, what's happening for you that suddenly you are exploring spirituality in much more depth?

Al: Once a Baptist, always a Baptist. I argue that some Baptists don't understand what being a Baptist is. A Baptist makes a highly individual choice about spirituality and life. Being a Baptist is the individualist Roger Williams who sat there in the middle of Plymouth Colony and said, "You guys from Plymouth Colony are crazy. I am going to walk in the snow down to Rhode Island and think my own way." Clearly Roger Williams's ability to go against the herd mentality makes him a hero to me. How people can call themselves Baptist and then try to impose their ideas on someone else infuriates me. To me, the Baptist tradition is not imposition of external ideas, but rather encouraging each person to find their own beliefs.

So I have that individualistic Baptist tradition even though it's of fundamentalist origins. I think that most Baptists today would consider me a fallen Baptist. But when I was at Harvard, I did go to the Baptist Church where the minister was Sam Miller, who later became Dean of Harvard Divinity School. This Baptist Church represented a real liberal tradition. Liberal is a word that is often smeared now. It is a concept based on freedom of the individual and respect for all. At Harvard we had people such as B. F. Skinner speak to our youth group. So I learned a whole new orientation to the faith.

The Baptist Church in Amherst, Massachusetts, was a little more fundamental, more in tune with the one I grew up with, and a couple of things happened. It also says that sometimes I ask for trouble. I was teaching a Sunday school class of high school students, and one day I brought in a lesbian couple to talk about the lesbian/gay world- this was in the early 1970s. And the whole church went into a big uproar over this. The kids did fine, I did fine, and the lesbian couple was delighted that somebody in the church would listen to their story. I found this church not as liberal as my one at Harvard.

The second issue is that I was doing a line-by-line reading of the Gospel of Mark, and I am a theory/practice person. If there is a theory, how do you do it? So we are doing a line-by-line reading, and I am doing it with the adult Sunday class and I say, "Well, Christ gave away all His money, and if you are going to follow Him, let's be true to the poor." It didn't bother me that they didn't want to give away their funds, but it bothered me that this group of adults, fundamentalist adults, would not talk about the issue. They went so far as to comment that the Bible here was irrelevant. At the same time, they were doing a literalist reading of the Bible in other areas. That was when I gave up on the Baptist Church in Amherst. I said, "If you are not going to walk the talk, this Church is not for me."

Then along comes Mary [Bradford Ivey]. We are in a second marriage, and I see this person I value so much with her relationship to spirituality. She models this for me and despite my negative attitudes and so forth, she finally won. She served as a wonderful model. I am certainly nothing like her, but I'm listening more. She's a spiritual inspiration to me.

Professional work also led to spirituality. John, you've done Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and I've done NLP as well. I do a lot of live interviewing demonstrations when I go around speaking to groups. I like to use positive images. I like to anchor these positive images in the body to use as resources for the future. I began to notice when people were generating these positive images that about one third to one half of the time they were spiritual in nature. I said, "Hum. Interesting." Whether I was in Japan or Hong Kong or Australia, or during a live demonstration class, people without asking would often generate a spiritual image. So I had to understand that.

There is also an important multicultural issue that led me to examining spirituality in helping. Particularly important in this movement has been Native American Indian epistemology and counseling issues. The major characteristics for counseling Native American Indians are spiritualholism, connection, the nature of the person as related to spirit. Suggestions for counseling ideas rest in spirituality. The counseling issues of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Jews also related closely to cultural spiritual traditions. I began to realize the multicultural counseling requires an awareness of spirituality even though the client may not be active spiritually. The spirit tradition remains in the culture and the person.

Continuing this further, I began to realize that the individualistic orientation of counseling also rests in spiritual dimensions. Freud, Ellis, and others may fight the spirit, but religion and spirituality are very much in their construct systems. George Kelly reminds us that when one is opposed to anything, that issue is still a very important part of the construct and belief system. This has led me to the position that I say that all counseling is spiritual. I would argue that Albert Ellis does spiritual counseling, even if he doesn't talk about it, as he comes out of the Judeo-Christian individualistic construct system.

For me personally, I am struggling to continue to value my individualistic Baptist tradition, but I am also learning to value the relational and earth-centered spiritual traditions as well. I find I am enriched as I learn to respect and participate in other spiritual orientations.

And then, of course, we just plain have the data, such as that from Herbert Benson at Harvard or the Gallup polls, which says 80% of the people have a spiritual orientation and 10% of the people have had a profound encounter with the transcendent. I have not had a profound encounter with the transcendent, but if 10% of the people say they have and 80% of them have spiritual orientation, how can we leave this out of the counseling movement? So just plain professional logic says that spirituality is an important area we must consider.

The third dimension is liberation theology. South American liberation theology focuses on walking the talk and focusing on how are you going to live your religion in the present world. How does your spirituality relate to life? Liberation theology is a major challenge, which most Americans choose to ignore.

I've co-taught a spirituality course with Mary [Bradford Ivey] and also with Sister Rita Rabouin. Sister Rita is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame who has lived liberation theology by going barefoot into the community. She works with people to help them become aware of how their issues are "related to" external context and oppression. Rather than saying, "It's my fault that I am poor," Sister Rita and liberation theology focuses on helping the poor understand social relations, power, and domination.

So we are back to the issue in the Gospel of Mark of how do we work with the poor? I am thinking about my parents being poor; I am thinking about Sister Rita working with the poor; and I am thinking about liberation theology. One of my Irish students gave me Frank McCourt's (1996) memoir Angela's Ashes-I could not recommend a book more firmly that describes the conditions of poverty. Angela's Ashes describes conditions of poverty and context well. This led me to realize that we have got to look at social class and economics more in the counseling process. Which again may mean more walking the talk and community action. It becomes quite a challenge when we add issues of spirituality, poverty, and social liberation to the counseling process.


In the remainder of our interview, Allen candidly reflected on five additional themes: (a) his wife Mary Bradford Ivey, (b) previously unmentioned influential people and events, (c) involvement with professional organizations, (d) assessment of his professional contributions, and (e) his retirement and looking ahead.

Mary Bradford Ivey

JL: When Allen Ivey is not an educator, a counselor, a psychologist, and a researcher, who is he? How is that for a broad, open-ended question?

AI: My immediate response is: Lucky enough to be married to Mary Bradford Ivey. That relationship has certainly been central and wonderful and stabilizing. I sometimes say, "Well, Mary makes me laugh." I am not real great at laughing. I wish I had your sense of humor, John. And the grandchildren are really special and important.

JL: I remember seeing your grandchildren on your Web site.

AI: They are on my Web site.

JL: You've said of your wife Mary, "She makes me laugh." How has that changed you? How does that help define who you are?

Al: I think it has moved me to a little more time for being-a little more orientation to being-although Mary has h\er own set of achievement needs, that's for sure, but more time for fun such as skiing. In the old days I would go out and do a lecture and come home. Now I try to set it up so that she and I can go out and do it together. When we are there we can celebrate and explore the area so we can have a nice time in that way.

And whether it is skiing or walking or talking or endless discussions about professional issues, Mary is wonderful at forcing me to be clear. She'll ask, "What are you really saying? What do you really want to have happen?" She has taught me how to apply concepts to children. She also has a wonderful contextual background in terms of not including just an individual or group, but also including larger systems stuff We work together on a variety of multicultural projects as well. She has been central, and I just am delighted to have her as friend, scholar, lover, and a person just to be with.

Influential People and Events

JL: Allen, you've already mentioned a number of people as we've talked. Who have been the most influential people in your life?

AI: Well, variety is in the middle of that. I think about my dad and his courage-coming from such poverty and living through near total deafness plus blindness, caring for my mother when she had cancer-he kind of represents an impossible hero model for me. Very impressive. So he is clearly one.

JL: How does that theme play out in your life?

Al: Well, I think it leaves me striving because I think his model, in so many ways, is more than I can be. In that sense, I have to say my mother was quite wonderful and an inspiration multiculturally. We grew up about 8 miles from the Swinomish Nation, and people from there would often stop in at our store. A Swinomish child was named after my mother. My dad and mother were invited to several powwow's and given gifts and positions of honor. Their relationship with the Swinomish is a clear model. To the best of my knowledge, my parents were the first persons to hire a Mexican American to work in something other than the fields in that area. They hired him to work in the store with them. So they modeled openness to cultural difference-not a perfect model by any means-but that was clearly there.

These personal examples are part of what has led me to a more activist multicultural stance. Studying in Denmark taught me that counselor and therapists need to take action to prevent problems, not just sit and counsel victims in a cozy office. We have a major responsibility to think and act contextually and move into the community.

JL: It also sounds like some early multicultural examples in your life.

Al: Yes. I think a real critical person was Tandy Wilbur, who was a manager of the Swinomish Nation. He was the only guy who came in our store wearing a suit and tie. He was about the only person that I thought was really nice to me, so he ended up being a hero for me as a preschooler. It was kind of like, "Isn't he special," and that was an important thing. His son was an activist and was killed in the Seattle airport in a washroom. I am quite sure it had to do with the Bolt decision, a decision supporting Indian fishing rights in Washington State, which many Whites opposed. White people have difficulty in understanding the need to meet requirements of treaties with Native American Indians, even if demanded by law. For example, Slade Gorton, Senator from Washington State, has actively fought Indian rights and many believe that he has promoted a climate of divisiveness. Of course, he had nothing to do with the murder, but politicians without courage are dangerous. Another friend, Dan Jordan of the Baha'i faith was killed when he came into Kennedy airport and he was found stuffed in a garbage can. It's a small piece of trivia, but I am terrified when I go in an airport or public john-just terrified.

Tandy Wilbur was clearly an early hero. Also David Tiedeman, this wonderful model of scholarship. Robert R. Sears, the well-known past president of APA, was a hero when I was an undergraduate. As I learned more about the field over time, I discovered that he was not fully aware of contextual issues surrounding research and practice. E. F Dowley at Stanford and Burns Crookston, the Dean of CSU. Burns is a hero to me, and when he died earlier of a heart attack, I think we lost one of our greatest people. I've taught the multicultural course with Norma Jean Anderson and with Ernie Washington-both have been really important in my life. And Mary Bradford Ivey is a special hero. Those are some people who stand out.

JL: You have been alluding to them, but what are major milestones, events, or choice points in your life in terms of what you have accomplished professionally. You have alluded to many, but are there any others that we haven't covered?

Al: Moving is a general theme that has always been useful. I think I have always liked moving. I could leave the old mistakes, but I always recreate the problems where I go. Moving to a new setting has been wonderful, although I found, and still find, very painful leaving CSU and Fort Collins, a special place to me. Nothing will ever match those years at CSU. Other milestones were getting to Stanford, Harvard, CSU, and Denmark. So physical spaces, international travel, and the wonderful contacts we had in Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, and Hawaii have been incredible. I want to say locations and geography. I get concerned about people in counseling who just don't plan international, cross-cultural experiences. Denmark may be very White but it contains a new set of cognitions that will open your way of thinking. So it is movement and space that have been most important for me in terms of change.

JL: You used the phrase, "I sometimes get into trouble . . ." What have been some of the crises in your career and how do you resolve them?

Al: Basically, John, I have been very lucky. My crises have all been minor. I think one crisis was when I was working with a gay student-this was a point long before we saw gay as an alternative way of living. I was counseling a gay student, and we made the decision to bring in his parents to work with him as a support. Bringing the parents in turned out to be a disaster. I wish I could have been more helpful. I always felt badly that I wasn't. I can sit here intellectually and say I wasn't prepared and so forth, and how are you going to handle parents who come in like that. But I would like to have been better prepared so that scene went better.

JL: What was the time?

Al: That would have been 1961-62. Back in the days when being gay was considered a pathology. I go back so far in living history that when I took a summer job as a social worker prior to graduate school, they had gay kids locked up at SedroWoolley State Mental Hospital trying to "cure" them. I mean there were horrendous things in the history of the psychology profession. Shocking! At that point, I wish I could have helped more and known more. Heterosexism (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered oppression) really bothers me. It is an important multicultural issue that we all need to address. The helping fields of counseling and psychology have been all too often more problem than solution.

At CSU, there was kind of an amusing crisis. I was making lots of things happen, and I remember this little turkey of an administrator saying, "You can't administer." And I'm bringing in literally over a million dollars worth of grants and developing a nationally known staff I am quite confident we had the first so-called student development center in the nation doing proactive community outreach- and he's saying I can't administer. But, I'll admit I'm sometimes a little short on details and can frustrate others at times. It wasn't a crisis, but it is a thing that will happen as I will get into too many things and not pay attention to details. My crises are pretty minor.

I was divorced from my first wife, a very able and committed scholar/administrator. While she is an elegant person, we somehow did not fit. Anything that is not counted as trauma by DSM-rV was not a critical issue-it was all there-night sweats, guilt, etc I think that right now I am facing a life crisis as I move toward my last term of teaching. I find myself more stressed, grabbing onto things, taking on more than I should, and I realize people are asking more than usual of me. So it's kind of like hanging on when you ought to be letting go. I have been lucky in terms of crisis, and I consider myself exceedingly fortunate. I would do the same things again if I had to start over.

Professional Organizations

JL: Tell me about your involvement in professional organizations.

Al I have been President of Division 17, Counseling Psychology, of the APA 1979-80]. My involvement has been in phases. During my first 15 years as a professional, I went to every American Counseling Association (ACA) convention and suddenly I decided I wanted to do APA, and I did nothing but straight APA conventions until I became president of Division 17. Then I got elected to the APA senate, and I saw the horrendous politics as the APA split into practitioners and scientists forming the American Psychological Society. The real sad stuff that went on there soured me on APA. Then I moved to a primary commitment currently to ACA, although I still attend and try to stay alert within APA. Recently I was elected to the Executive Board of The Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic/Minority Issues.

JL: In looking at your involvement in counseling as a profession, you have mentioned both ACA and APA and your experience with the profession. What has that relationship been like for you?

Al: I think the highlight of my presidency of Division 17 was my appointment of Derald Wing Sue to head the Professional Standards Committee. He and his committee came up with the multicultural competencies. It was truly frustrating when the Division of Counseling Ps\ychology "accepted" rather than "endorsed" the Sue Committee's important report. After almost 15 years the Division 17 Executive Committee has finally approved them. It has always been a sore point in me as to why they would approve this, that, and the other thing, but why not these multicultural competencies? Finally, approval has happened.

Another thing I am doing currently is on a special assignment from Jerry Stone of Division 17 looking at ways we can implement those multicultural competencies. Having had a small part in the multicultural competencies was an important thing. When I was on the APA senate, Paul Pedersen and I worked toward inclusion of multicultural issues in the Guidelines for Mental Health Providers. Some of the language in there reflects the idea that counseling without knowledge of the culturally different is unethical. But still, the APA doesn't want to look at those issues. They would rather use the professional practice model; the cultural frame is still uncomfortable for APA. I believe this despite a lot of verbiage to the contrary.

I have certainly enjoyed ACA. I find it a very comfortable place to be. But I think a lot of people with their heads on straight still need to consider multicultural issues more seriously. It's nice to have those professional homes. Best of all for me is North Atlantic Regional Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (NARACES), which is a small group. I can go to a meeting and listen to somebody and learn and not be pulled in 15 directions.

JL: What are your thoughts on where the counseling profession is going? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

Al: In terms of direction, I think what has happenedagain at NARACES-it was a wonderful feeling to hear and see young people-at least young to me-assistant professors from various schools talking about multicultural work, cross-cultural work from a very centered frame, a very confident frame, and to see more people of color at NARACES, which when I began was all male. Now to see women and people of color and these young people taking over, and they can say things about multicultural, etc., studies which are obviously important to me. But they say it from a more centered and natural frame of reference, whereas I kind of struggle and work to get there. I like seeing these young professionals come in-I guess the profession will survive.

Professional Contributions

JL: Shifting gears. You've written lots of books and articles over the years-real professional contributions. What do you consider your most outstanding contributions? What may we have missed that you think is significant and meaningful?

AI: In terms of missed, I was doing work at the VA in the 1970s as a consultant with in-patients and started to apply skills training to psychiatric patients. That would be called "assertiveness training" now. I was doing it with videotaping patients, then identifying the skills, and then role-play the skills until they learned them. I found out they were using a lot of the microskills in the process, but we tailored it to their language. We developed a "Me Kit" for patients to learn microskills. We applied microskills to the therapeutic process. I was taking people who had been in the hospital 2 or 3 years and coming in once or twice a week, getting people out of the hospital in 4 or 5 weeks. It was an incredible project. I made the mistake of not calling it assertiveness training. That would have been a wonderful thing to call it, but teaching patients skills is enough to get them out of the hospital. You don't need all this Lacanian, psychoanalytic, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stuff All they need are skills. But, different in this project was that each individual patient decided his or her own path. We did not impose a framework on them.

I called that early article, "Media Therapy" (Ivey, 1973)for which I definitely picked the wrong title-in some ways it may be the best, most comprehensive piece I've written. I go back and reinterpret that now theoretically in a variety of ways because we did concrete skill training. We also used the sensorimotor level. Every time a patient came on the ward, we had patients running relaxation training teams and tapes. So we were doing body stuff and we were doing reflection on self and meaning at the formal level. Then it came time for the patients to get out of the hospital. I began to see that unless we involved the patient's family in the process, that the hospital would have a revolving door of admission, discharge, and readmission. I started working with families by bringing them in for therapy and education as well. The hospital didn't like that.

I also began to realize that you have to work on context as well as the individual. This was changing hospital methods. We saw Vietnam vets before we had the concept of posttraumatic stress, and I say posttraumatic stress (PTS) rather than posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I wanted to encourage the veterans to get together and talk about their experiences. I wanted the African Americans to get together and talk about their experiences in groups that I called at that point "consciousness raising." The hospital didn't like that either and finally closed down the project in the middle of data collection and moved me to another ward. They didn't want to change. I think it was the most exciting work I've ever done because I was doing at that point clinically all the work I have been writing about ever since. Because I still emphasize outreach and prevention...

©Copyright 2001, Journal of Counseling & Development

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