Professor, Department Chair
Dr. Leah Brew is currently the Department Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling. She has co-authored books and journal articles in her areas of research: diversity, basic counseling skills, and supervision. She is particularly interested in researching the experiences of multiracial people, in understanding prejudice, and in teaching social justice. She has also worked as a biofeedback therapist working in two primary areas: peripheral biofeedback for stress-reduction and neurofeedback to treat attention deficit disorder. This experience has created an additional interest in understanding the connections between the brain, emotions, and overall wellness. Currently, Dr. Brew is excited about the new brain research and how healthy brain functioning seems to be related to and can be modified by attachment style.
When I was a young child, I made the decision to get a doctorate in psychology. I wanted to help children and adolescents deal with the ignorance associated with prejudice and discrimination. As a biracial Japanese-American, I was the only minority in my elementary school for about three years at a time and place where racism was still alive and well. A teacher helped me overcome the prejudice and helped to build my self-esteem by asking all students to read any self-help book. I read I’m Okay, You’re Okay, and that sealed my path; I wanted to write books to help others. I also valued the role of teachers and always appreciated the impact this one teacher had on my future.
I received all of my degrees at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, as I am essentially a native Texan. My undergraduate major was in psychology, and my minor was in business. I chose this combination at the recommendation of professors who said that organizational behavior was the wave of the future. I found out quickly after graduation that if it was the wave, I was too early to catch it. Burned out from working full time while going to school full time, I decided to take some time off and worked in management in a mortgage company. Unsatisfied with corporate life, I quickly returned to school and started volunteer counseling with rape survivors. I initially went into vocational rehabilitation fearful of working with more severe disorders, but my advisor educated me on the multiple possibilities I would have with a degree in counseling. I learned that I did not have to work with more severe disorders on a regular basis. She also turned me on to the field of biofeedback-assisted relaxation. Eventually, I earned my Master's degree in counseling specializing in biofeedback and with six additional courses because I enjoyed school so much. When I finally did my internship working with HIV/AIDS survivors, I found that I missed the academic aspect of school, and I applied to the doctoral program in the same department. I worked on my Ph.D. in counseling with enthusiasm and completed five more courses beyond my degree plan. Graduation was bittersweet. I was happy at the prospect of making money, but I was equally sad to leave this school family that had developed over eight years of coursework (and I still had other courses I wanted to take). I am now excited that I can combine both of my passions of therapy and teaching into this one field.
My areas of research have evolved over time. My initial experiences are in biofeedback. I have research and clinical experience working with children who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I provided brainwave biofeedback (neurotherapy) to reduce or eliminate symptoms associated with this disorder. This treatment has about an 80% success rate for treating this disorder without the use of medication. I have also provided biofeedback-assisted relaxation to pregnant women at risk for premature births. In my doctoral studies, we completed a pilot study that seemed to indicate biofeedback was helpful in increasing gestational age and birth weight of the babies as compared with a control group who did not receive any additional treatment. My professor and I presented the results of this research at the European Health Psychology Conference in Vienna, Austria in 1998 and at the International Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB) conference in 1999. AAPB also recognized our paper/presentation for an award for outstanding research.
In 1998, my doctoral coursework included a course on supervision, and as part of that class, we were required to help supervise Master's students in their practicum. After watching several sessions, I noticed a trend of common mistakes from beginning counselors and developed a video series showing examples of bad and good relationship building skills with the client. What makes this video unique is that I used an Interpersonal Process Recall (IPR) model developed by Kagan where I interviewed the client after the session to let them express how they experienced the bad or good sessions. I presented this tape at the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) conference, and copied the tape for several other professionals. In addition, when I present this tape to my classes, my students seem to gain a much clearer understanding as to why asking too many questions or giving advice, for example, can diminish the relationship with the client. Brooks/Cole (now Cengage) was excited about this project and published this video/workbook called Building the Relationship in 2005.
I have also had the opportunity to place several career courses on the Internet for web-based teaching. Therefore, I gained some understanding on career counseling as well as web instruction. This led me to work with a professor on a book chapter on how web-based courses can be used for distance learning or in combination with traditional classroom instruction.
I have co-authored 3 books with Dr. Jeffrey Kottler. The first was a book for pre-practicum courses called One Life at a Time, and the second was a chapter called Blind Spots and Ruts in the Road: The Limitations of Self Supervision in a book called Doing Better that was edited by Dr. Kottler. Finally, we co-authored a new pre-practicum book called Applied Helping Skills: Transforming Lives. The common theme in these publications is the importance of using empathy to establish and maintain a strong relationship in therapy.
With regard to journal articles, I have co-authored two articles with Dr. Cheryl Crippen on intercultural parenting. The first article reviewed the literature on intercultural couples and parenting, which continues to be scant. The second was based upon qualitative data collected by Dr. Crippen on how intercultural couples navigate parenting.
I have had the opportunity to teach at all levels within the university system. Within our department, I have taught more the half of the courses we offer in the program. My philosophy of teaching is congruent with my theoretical orientation and philosophy of therapy. I am a gestalt therapist by training, and so I model open and honest communication and value the full experiencing of the moment. This also means that I hold students responsible for their own learning. In addition, I work to provide empathy to my students to validate their perspectives and feelings while attending to cultural differences that may contribute to their ways of being. That is not to say I agree with everything I hear, but I can honor many different perspectives while also providing other points of view. A new area of interest for me has been the intersection between attachment styles and how the brain functions. These topics are often integrated in my teaching. My primary goal is to not only teach students the content of a particular course, but to also teach them to be better people in their lives by honoring and accepting everyone.
I have a habit of wanting to “fix” things, and since therapy is more complicated than simply fixing problems, I find myself committing to a variety of service projects. Within the university, I tend to take on short term projects that have a deadline, such as hiring committees or tasks forces to analyze new processes. Currently, I view my role as Department Chair as service to help the administrative functioning of our unit.
More often, though, I work to improve the profession of counseling. I will highlight some of my more major roles here. I have served as Secretary and President of the Western Association of Counselor Education and Supervision (WACES), which is an organization that supports professors who teach and supervise in counseling. I sat on the California Coalition for Counselor Licensure (CCCL) board for 7 years until we were able to get legislation passed for counselor licensure. I have served as President of the California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (CALPCC), which was the transition from CCCL to a membership organization to advocate for LPCCs. I have been the Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) representative on the California Board of Behavioral Sciences since 2012 and my term expires 2020. Finally, I often provide training and workshops at local agencies in my areas of research and teaching. I find my service activities relevant to my role as a professor and more importantly, I find my participation highly rewarding.