Camille Lafleur discusses cultural diversity, mental health issues


During the sixth annual Tony Jurich Lecture on Social Justice, Camille Lafleur, Kansas State alumna, said mental health issues affect people from all cultures and therapists should diversify themselves to better help their patients.

Lafleur, professor of marriage and family therapy at Oklahoma Baptist University, talked about the Margin to Center Theory in her lecture. The theory suggests that there is a center and it has margins, Lafleur said. The people in the center have more power and control, and the people in the margins lack control and don’t have the agency to influence in their situations.

“A lot of times, those people of color are marginalized and anytime they try to move to the center, ideally the group reconfigures in order to maintain that power that they have,” Lafleur said. “In order for us to change that we have to challenge the understanding of the center, to be able to diversify.”

Lafleur said there are things the center and the marginalized can do to diversify, starting with communication and connection.

“So, we cancel people who make mistakes and what we have to do in order to continue to diversify the center is allow people to explain what happened and repair that,” Lafleur said.

Lafleur said people must adopt an anti-racist ideology and increase their knowledge about different groups in order to diversify themselves. It also involves a commitment to introspection and intentional personal growth.

“Building our cultural identity and understanding what our relationship is to the dominant culture and the ways in which it accepts others or if our beliefs are actually ways in which we’re not accepting of others,” Lafleur said. “This requires us to continually, over time, be able to self-examine where we are and what we believe.”

Students who attended said Lafleur’s lecture reminded them to be intentional and understanding of the cultural differences they may experience in their future careers.

“It has really kind of started to make me question a little bit of how I address culture in the room with my clients,” Abby Doerksen, graduate student in family studies and human services, said. “Being more intentional about asking how they see their culture, their race, their ethnicity coming into the room and impacting the things that they’re struggling with and recognizing how that impact can alter treatment and how that can change things in the room.”

Brooke Balderson, graduate student in family studies and human services and human ecology, said Lafleur reminded her that in the family counseling field, cultural diversity and barriers to cultural diversity doesn’t end with college.

“You have to check yourself, you have to be aware of what your trigger is and where you’re coming from and why you believe what you believe to be effective in a room,” Balderson said. “That process never ends.”

Marcie Lechtenberg, the clinic director in the family and therapy program, said she was thrilled to have Lafleur back here as her work “just fits in with the mission of the lecture series.”

Lafleur currently hosts a podcast, “Melanated Information that Empowers Change” which focuses on the connection between black life and mental health.