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Introducing ‘Ebony Cinematherapy’: Black Students Deserve and Need Culturally Responsive School Counselors to Cope with Racialized Trauma

Living through a dual pandemic, COVID-19 and racism, Black children are experiencing traumatic events that profoundly impact their academic, physical, socio-emotional, psychological, and mental health - their overall well-being. These traumatic experiences can take the form of anxiety, depression, acting out in school, disengaging from the curricula, receiving lower grades, chronic absenteeism, and dropping out. Disproportionately, Black children are dealing with family members who have died from COVID-19, lost jobs due to the pandemic, increased food and housing insecurity, and financial hardships (Robles-Ramamurthy, 2021).

Black children are confronting bias and racism with over-policing and the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and, two months in to 2022, they now grapple with Amir Locke’s murder. As Black children have questions, fears, and stresses surrounding the aforementioned deaths, conversations are being blunted or silenced due to many states enacting laws banning such discussions under Critical Race Theory #CRT attacks. We cannot help but to recall what is referred to as ‘the talk’, an agonizing conversation Black caregivers must share with the children, especially boys. A popular TV show, Black-ish even weighed in, further highlighting that, in general White caregivers’ ‘talk’ centers on the birds and the bees as poignantly illustrated here: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/the-talk-white-americans-vs-african-americans/photos; for Black caregivers, the focus is on the harsh realities of anti-Blackness.

Urgently needed are home and school prevention and  intervention strategies and resources that will help Black children develop coping mechanisms, communicate their feelings, and express healthy behaviors to deal with the trauma in their lives. It cannot be denied that the focus of support must target White educators as they are the vast majority of school counselors. Therefore, we intentionally write first and foremost to and about White counselors while being mindful of the complementary urgent need to increase the number/percent of Black counselors #representationmatters. Stated another way, the demographics of counselors have been stubborn to change. In 2020, 74% of school counselors were White. Accordingly, as Moore and Ford stated in another issue of Diverse Issues, all of socio-emotional learning needs to be culturally responsive. Several recent papers in EdWeek add further justification or rationale for diversifying school counselors.

In the spirit of transparency, we write this paper as Black academicians, and family and community members. We have received ‘the talk’ and/or given it (often) to family members and friends to help decrease the colossal impact of trauma induced from socially-based and school-based racial battle fatigue (RBF, Smith, 2003) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Both RBF and PTSD result from constantly experiencing racially dismissive, demeaning, insensitive and/or hostile racial environments and individuals.

Culturally Competent School Counselors: #PreparationMatters

School counselors are trained to assist students to achieve in the areas of academic achievement, socio-emotional growth and development, and college and career readiness (Erford, 2019). More importantly, they acquire counseling skills, theoretical orientations, culturally competent practices, and conceptualization skills to improve the academic and mental health outcomes of students. They use data-driven approaches to determine the needs, issues, and challenges to  provide access, equity, and opportunities that are systemic and often use techniques such as individual counseling, group work, and classroom or school-wide approaches to help students (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2019).

To round out our discussion of culturally responsive school counseling with White professionals, we now address racial/ethnic matching – the need for Black counselors. Donald Easton-Brooks studies ethnic matching and achievement among Black students. He states:

“Ethnic matching is when you pair a student of color with a teacher of the same race/ethnicity. … students of color tend to perform better academically when they encounter at least one teacher of color. Similar research found this to be true in human resources, counseling, management/ supervision and higher education.” Accordingly, it behooves policy makers, leaders, and decision makers to earnestly recruit and retain minoritized school counselors. For this reason and to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline, we advocate for a decrease in resource officers and an exponential increase in Black and other minoritized counselors.

Introducing Ebony Cinematherapy. Dozens of strategies and resources can be adopted and implemented to decrease (and ideally prevent) racial trauma. Ford and Moore offer a culturally responsive counseling taxonomy to guide prevention and intervention work (e.g., theories, strategies, resources) with minoritized students/clients; the levels go from ‘cultureblindness’ to empowerment. Many counselors are familiar with bibliotherapy. Building upon this work, we turn to cinematherapy. More specifically, we hone in on what we call “ebony cinematherapy” – culturally responsive cinematherapy germane to the lived experiences of Black students. Why films? Because Covid-19 has increased TV viewing for all groups, and Blacks watch more TV than other populations. The Nielsen Company shared two noteworthy findings:

(1) The behavior speaks to the unique way in which Black families are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing racial injustice. Family is critical in the Black community, and without the ability to gather and socialize in the traditional ways, such as through family meals, worship services and visits to the salon, television has taken on a deeper meaning, especially when it comes to celebrating Black culture and Black identity. (Italics added.)

(2)   While television means more to Americans than entertainment, the sentiment is particularly relevant for Black families, who are readily engaging with TV as a source of information at a time of spiraling crises around racial tolerance, justice and equity. And compared with all children, Black children are spending more of their time engaged right alongside their parents. Rather than shielding their children from this content, Black parents are watching with their young, allowing the news to serve as a catalyst for family conversation. And when the recent riots were taking place during the week of Jan. 6, four of the 10 cable programs that Black children viewed were news programs. (Italics added.)

Just as Blacks want to see themselves reflected, mirrored in literature/books, they want the same from films. With cinematherapy, movies/videos are used instead of books/literature, and is deemed an impactful teaching and counseling technique. More specifically, cinematherapy is defined as:

A form of therapy or self-help that uses movies, particularly videos, as therapeutic tools. Cinema therapy can be a catalyst for healing and growth for those who are open to learning how movies affect people and to watching certain films with conscious awareness. Cinema therapy allows one to use the effect of imagery, plot, music, etc. in films on the psyche for insight, inspiration, emotional release or relief and natural change. Used as part of psychotherapy, cinema therapy is an innovative method based on traditional therapeutic principles.

 The goal of this culturally responsive technique is to promote engagement, achievement, agency and empowerment, racial pride, and skills to cope effectively with racial discrimination. Specifically, cinematherapy can be implemented through group counseling or classroom lesson plan formats. For example, school counselors have the knowledge and skills to engage in group work with Black students who are struggling academically by using a TV show like A Different World to discuss the benefits of academic improvement which may lead to benefits such as attending college. Having high school students see themselves as college students can increase their confidence and beliefs around academic performance. Moreover, school counselors can reinforce this example of cinematherapy by inviting Black guest speakers who represent various careers and former students who are in college (Hines et al., 2020). The films, shows, and videos must be selected by school counselors using guidelines we have created based on our personal and professional experiences as Black scholars who have walked in the shoes of Black children.

(1)   Topics and issues are not cultureblind and otherwise whitewashed;

(2)   The protagonist(s) and other main actor(s) are Black;

(3)   The characters/actors are authentic in representing Black cultural ways of being, without stereotyping;

(4)   The skin tones vary and all tones are valued; similarly, hair comes in many styles, lengths, and textures;

(5)   Topics and issues are relevant to the lives of Black students;

(6)   The content promotes and affirms socio-emotional and psychological well-being, particularly racial identity development and pride; and

(7)   The contexts vary, placing Black actors in multiple settings.

In summary, school counselors should use culture as a motivator for learning, and intentionally integrate students’ cultural interests as a bridge for learning concepts in the classroom and guidance sessions, and use a data-driven approach to understand the needs of their Black student population. School counselors can conduct needs assessments, examine student records (e.g., grade, attendance, etc.,), and review referral and discipline information to formulate a plan to effectively adopt and implement ebony cinematherapy. Importantly, school counselors should understand the communities in which their Black students live, as well as build relationships with their caregivers. In doing so, they can collaborate on not only using cinematherapy but also understanding how to best assist Black children/students with traumatic racialized experiences.

We also recommend that school districts recruit Black school counselors from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other minority serving universities, as well as encourage their teachers who desire to transition out of classrooms, to become school counselors. Ongoing training in multicultural, anti-bias, and antiracist education will be necessary to ensure that they are culturally competent, equity-minded, and anti-racist. This preparation paired with educators (in this case, school counselors) who reflect the race, ethnicity, and culture of students has been shown to produce optimal outcomes (Easton-Brooks, 2019). We end this brief treatise celebrating both Black History Month and National School Counseling week.


Dr. Erik M. Hines is an associate professor and program coordinator of counselor education at Florida State University. 

Dr. Donna Y. Ford is a Distinguished Professor of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University 

Dr. James L. Moore III is Education and Human Ecology Distinguished Professor of Urban Education and vice provost of diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer and executive director for Todd A. Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male at The Ohio State University 

Dr. Edward C. Fletcher Jr., is Education and Human Ecology Distinguished associate professor at The Ohio State University



Resources for Further Reading

American School Counselor Association. (2019). The ASCA national model: A

framework for school counseling programs (4th ed.). Author.

Easton-Brooks, D. (2019). Ethnic matching: Academic success of students of color.  Rowman

& Littlefield.

Hines, E.M., Hines, M.R., Moore III, J.L., Steen, S., Singleton II, P., Cintron, D., Traverso, K.,

Golden, M.N., Wathen, B., & Henderson, J.A. (2020). Preparing African American males for college: A group counseling approach. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 45(2), 129-145. https://doi.org/10.1080/01933922.2020.1740846

Robles-Ramamurthy, B. (2021, February 23).  How we’re failing children of color during

COVID-19. Association of American Medical Colleges, https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/how-we-re-failing-children-color-during-covid-19.

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