Dr. Brandé Flamez’s commitment to the counseling profession and social change was in the spotlight at this year’s American Counseling Association (ACA) conference in Honolulu in March. Not only did the Walden University School of Counseling faculty member make two presentations, but she also received the organization’s Kitty Cole Human Rights Award at the conference for her efforts in Mexico, Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania that promote human rights and dignity.
Over the past few years, Dr. Flamez has been collaborating with community leaders in Tanzania on a variety of local initiatives, such as building a well and a secondary school for children with disabilities. She also volunteers and travels to Tanzania each year with Dr. Judy Green to teach a 30-hour mental health facilitator training course for teachers, nuns, nurses, and priests. The curriculum they use was developed by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) to provide basic counseling skills to community workers around the world in regions where counseling is not yet an established profession.
“Service is an honor and a privilege. I have so much respect for the leaders before me who are the recipients of this award. Although I am honored to receive the Kitty Cole award, the real credit goes to the people who are working daily to promote human rights in these countries,” says Dr. Flamez, who was nominated for the award by her peers.
A licensed professional counselor, author or co-author of numerous book chapters and journal articles, and frequent presenter at professional conferences, Dr. Flamez also serves as a member of the ACA’s Governing Council, chair of ACA’s Publications Committee, and is president-elect for the national division of ACA: the Association for Humanistic Counselors. She won the ACA’s Gilbert and Kathleen Wrenn Award for a Caring and Humanitarian Person in 2012.
For Dr. Flamez, a focus on social change is an outgrowth of lessons learned as a child in Texas when she accompanied her mother across the border to help communities in Mexico. She says, “My mom always taught us that service is part of daily life, not something you do later.”
As an adult, Dr. Flamez has provided medical support and equipment in the Congo, worked for a nonprofit organization that built a school for girls in Rwanda, and joined her Walden faculty colleague Dr. Judy Green in conducting the mental health facilitation training in Tanzania. This led her to suggest to Dr. Green that they take on a social change project in that country.
“Originally, we identified a couple of social change projects. Due to need as well as the overwhelming support from our family, friends, and colleagues, we currently have seven social change projects we are working on,” says Dr. Flamez, who this year is working with Dr. Green to establish a kindergarten program, collect medical supplies, and raise funds for several projects benefiting orphans and students in Tanzania.
In addition to her work in Rwanda and Tanzania, she was also honored for coordinating fundraising efforts that provide more than $20,000 in medicine for AIDS victims in Congo and for social change projects, from 1998 to 2003, that collected more than 1,000 new eyeglasses as well as clothes and toys for children in Mexico City.
Dr. Flamez spoke about her experiences working in Mexico and Africa as part of a panel presentation at the ACA conference on family counseling in other countries. She discussed differences in family counseling across countries and how counselors can work in ways that respect local cultures and laws.
“I hope to encourage others to think outside of the box, push the envelope in terms of one’s comfort zone, and enter social change and community service through a circle of observation, discovery, reflection, and equality,” Dr. Flamez says.
In a second presentation at the conference, Dr. Flamez addressed the role of counseling in helping families cope with the challenges of celiac disease. A person with this digestive disorder needs a gluten-free environment, which requires changes in diet, household products, and day-to-day activities that affect every member of the family.
“There’s anxiety in living a completely different lifestyle. Counseling can help families and young children as they go through this, but there are psychological development and behavioral issues therapists need to be aware of so they can be effective counselors,” she says.
Dr. Flamez was joined in this poster presentation by one of her students, Ph.D. candidate Ashley Clark. They’re also the co-authors of a related journal article, the first in the fields of counseling and psychology to address celiac disease and its impact on families.
“I always try to involve students in a publication or presentation. Ashley had an interest in writing about health, so I asked her if she wanted to work on this with me,” Dr. Flamez says. “It is extremely beneficial for doctoral students to publish in order to increase their opportunities after graduation, so this is something we do regularly as faculty members. Our department emphasizes mentoring, and we all enjoy cultivating students.”