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How Dr. Jesse Owen Helped Shape Skillsetter

As a respected researcher and psychologist, Dr. Jesse Owen is partially responsible for introducing the concept of cultural humility to the realm of psychotherapy education.

by Skillsetter on November 15, 2020

For a guy who was just awarded $2 million, Dr. Jesse Owen is remarkably down-to-earth. He’s speaking on the phone from his home in Denver, Colorado, about the weather, the hikes he’s done this summer, and what it was like growing up in Indiana. It’s the type of conversation you’d enjoy with a neighbour, but in this case unique phrases such as “confirmation bias” and “cognitive complexity” are being used liberally. Also, your neighbour would probably be more interested in talking about the multi-million dollar grant they were given versus the unseasonably warm temperatures.

Jesse Owen is a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Denver and this past Spring he received a three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study how psychotherapy can contribute to people being able to live more meaningful lives. “I am excited for the possibilities to explore client and therapist flourishing,” he said after learning he was awarded the $2 million, “[and] to promote what we all truly want – to live the good life.”

It’s this fundamental interest in bettering people’s lives that has set the course of Owen’s career. While attending Ball State University for his Bachelor’s in Science he says, “I had the opportunity to do some counselling at a prison in my senior year and I really liked it: the human connection; seeing people improve. I thought, this is what I want to do.” He then got his Masters degree at the University of Miami, his PhD from the University of Denver, and he did an internship at the University of California, Davis, where “I was allowed to survey clients over years and collect a ton of data,” he says. “There’s lots of ethnic diversity there, which allowed me to dive deeper in cultural processes.”

Today, Owen teaches at the University, has his own psychology practice, and works as the editor of the journal Psychotherapy.

Owen’s Role in Bringing Forward the Concept of Cultural Humility

Some of this research from the University of California, Davis, ended up being used in the book he co-authored called “Cultural Humility: Engaging Diverse Identities in Therapy,” which helped bring to the fore the concept of cultural humility as it applies to psychotherapy. There’s another article on this site that is entirely dedicated to the topic, but in short, cultural humility is the understanding that everyone has beliefs, values and biases and once that’s acknowledged, we’re in a better place to help people heal.

Although it sounds basic, cultural humility is a hugely important topic because without it, clients of ethnic or racial minorities might not get their needs met in psychological treatment. It’s also a rather difficult concept to teach in a practical sense because of a “fear of giving offense, or because cultural differences or similarities between client and therapist make it difficult to view the client objectively,” as Owen’s book states. Before Owen came along, instructors struggled with how best to educate psychotherapy students on cultural humility in a safe yet effective setting.

How Owen Has Impacted Skillsetter

While working as a postdoc intern, Owen was introduced to Dr. Bruce Wampold, one of the co-founders of Skillsetter, and the two became friends. When Owen described some of the videos he was producing to help educators convey the concept of cultural humility, Wampold mentioned that Skillsetter was also creating videos for the psychotherapy realm. He introduced him to co-founder Kurt Shuster and soon it became clear they could work together on a module under the Skillsetter banner dedicated to cultural humility and produce videos to use within it.

Called the “Cultural Humility” module, it uses video and records the reactions of students and participants to simulated scenarios involving clients of various cultural backgrounds. The intent is to demonstrate how therapists can learn to acknowledge their own cultural biases, and to view them as opportunities to better connect with clients.

“With Skillsetter, Kurt has done a ton of work to produce a plethora of videos with a wide range of complexity,” Owen says. “As far as I know, there is no other system like it. I used to have to set up a camera and get people to come into my office but now, thanks to Skillsetter, people can hone their skills in the comfort of their own homes. You can get people to react to challenging, diverse clients and they can say the dumbest things and make mistakes and there isn’t a negative impact....I’ve used Skillsetter in my processes and I’ve also promoted it when I do talks around the country.”

To learn more about Skillsetter, it’s cultural humility module, and to book a demo, click here.

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