Derald Wing Sue is undoubtedly one of the most prominent figures in the area of multicultural counseling and research. Throughout his career he has challenged the ethnocentric monoculturalism of Western psychology. He pioneered the field of multicultural counseling through his vision, courage, and tireless efforts. Among his contributions are conducting research on Asian Americans’ mental health, creating courses on multicultural counseling, addressing President Clinton’s Race Advisory Board, forming the Asian American Psychological Association, serving as the president of several professional organizations, organizing a national multicultural conference and summit, authoring seminal books, editing several journals, and developing the criteria for multicultural competencies. He has authored or coauthored over 80 journal articles and book chapters, 12 books, and 15 media productions. Sue is currently a professor at Teachers College of Columbia University, professor emeritus at California State University, and the president of A Psychological Corporation, a consultation firm. He continues to conduct research and write in the area of racism and racial microaggression.
Sue was born in Portland, Oregon, the second oldest of five brothers and one sister. His father, who emigrated from China around the age of 13, and his Chinese American mother never received formal education beyond third grade. His father’s pride in his cultural heritage and his mother’s hard work in raising six children and working at various jobs shaped Sue’s early years. Society’s prejudice, discrimination, and racism toward him and his racial, ethnic identity also left their imprint on his early years. His family experienced financial hardships, and all the family members worked to contribute to the family budget. His parents emphasized the importance of a strong work ethic and the power of education, and all Sue children eventually received degrees from institutions of higher education. Sue’s initial experiences with racism and discrimination came through institutions of formal education and the attitudes of childhood peers. His grade school teacher scolded him for speaking Chinese with his brother, the high school guidance counselor discouraged him from pursuing a career in social science because Asian Americans lacked social skills, and his peers teased him about the way he looked. These experiences eventually fueled his passion to understand the effects of racism and seek system-level change. Sue was also able to challenge his own attitude regarding his ethnic and racial identity, free himself from the limitations set by the society, and pursue a challenging yet successful career in psychology.
Early Career Years
At a time when multicultural issues and racial equality were rarely, if at all, discussed, Sue was a true pioneer in bringing such issues to the attention of counseling psychologists. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University, and his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Oregon, Sue worked as a counselor at the University of California at Berkeley’s counseling center. He became known as the counselor who supported and helped Asian American students. During his years at Berkeley, he conducted studies on the mental health of Asian Americans. Inspired by his early work and research with Asian Americans, he coauthored the books A Theory of Multicultural Counseling and Therapy and Understanding Abnormal Behavior. Realizing his skill and joy in teaching, writing, and research, Sue transitioned into a tenure-track academic position at California State University at Hayward. He developed and taught the first multicultural counseling course and received the Outstanding Professor award in 1973.
Major Contributions to the Field
During his undergraduate and graduate training, Sue was influenced by the teachings of the Black leaders of the civil rights movement, such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. During the years following his graduation, he witnessed the formation of Black, Latino, and Native American professional organizations. He was inspired to form the Asian American Psychological Association in collaboration with his brother Stanley Sue in 1972, and he served as the first president of the association. The following year, he was asked to serve as the guest editor for a special issue of the Personnel and Guidance Journal, and 3 years later he was appointed as the editor for this journal. During his editorship, he introduced changes to the format and content of the journal and emphasized cultural issues as well as prevention issues. He broadened the existing Black-White focus to encompass a more inclusive multiculturalism, addressing other ethnic groups. Although his vision for the journal was revolutionary in doing so, it met with considerable resistance from more senior members of the profession. He was reminded how difficult it can be to go against the status quo and bring about much needed change.
Despite the struggle of bringing changes to the field of counseling psychology, Sue continued to make major contributions to the field. In 1997 he was invited to address President Clinton’s Race Advisory Board. He discussed issues regarding racial equality and invited his countrymen and women to look at personal and institutional sources of racism. The same year he was also elected president of Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues) of the American Psychological Association (APA). During his presidency he collaborated with other presidents to organize a national multicultural conference and summit in 1999. This conference and summit, now held every other year, facilitates a dialogue on issues of race, privilege, culture, and diversity among diverse groups of people and is now sponsored by professional organizations due to Sue’s efforts to secure external funding.
Sue’s book Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice was another major contribution to the field of counseling psychology. His book was one of the first textbooks that organized and integrated information on cross-cultural counseling and is considered a seminal book in graduate counseling training. In fact, it is used in approximately 50% of all counseling psychology training programs. His more recent publication, Overcoming Our Racism: The Journey to Liberation, was geared toward the general public in order to challenge individuals to acknowledge their racism and consider ways of moving toward societal equality.
Sue also theorized and defined multicultural competencies for more than 20 years. He chaired the committee instrumental in developing a list of multicultural competencies for counseling psychologists in 1980. Despite his continued efforts in this area for years, the criteria for multicultural competencies were not put in practice until 22 years later. In 2002 the APA adopted policies regarding guidelines on multicultural education, training, research, and practice.
In 2007 Sue’s recent work has focused on racial microaggressions and the Asian American experience. He believes that overt expression of racism has evolved into more subtle, ambiguous, and unintentional manifestations toward Asian Americans in American social, political, and economic life. Racial microaggression describes racism that occurs daily in the lives of individuals who are ethnically different from the mainstream. People of color experience subtle insults, comments, or put-downs that happen automatically and unconsciously.
Asian Americans are often perceived as the “model minority” and as successful and exempt from racism. This stereotype has often pitted Asian Americans against other people of color. Using qualitative methods, Sue gleaned various themes and created a taxonomy of microaggression. These themes provided support for the notion that microaggressions continue to affect the lives of Asian Americans. Once again, Sue continues to push multicultural research forward by delving deeper into the various aspects of subtle and implicit racism and the impact it has on people of color.
Sue has held various roles as an educator, researcher, scientist, and social justice advocate. These roles have been fostered by his other roles as son, brother, husband, and father. Sue’s work has continually challenged the current social status and incorporated other worldviews. Personal reflections on Sue by his colleagues and students often emphasize the effect that his science and his search for justice have had on the field of psychology. Sue continues to promote the goal of social justice, which incorporates full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet the needs of all groups. The commitment to social justice includes a vision in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members of society are physically and psychologically safe and secure. It is evident that Sue’s lifelong work has focused on this goal by informing and educating academicians, practitioners, and business about the importance of rights and privileges for all groups.
- Romero, D., & Chan, A. (2005). Profiling Derald Wing Sue: Blazing the trail for the multicultural journey and social justice in counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development, 83, 202-213.
- Sue, D. W. (1998). A personal look at psychology in my life. In L. T. Hoshmand (Ed.), Creativity and moral vision in psychology (pp. 106-125). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Sue, D. W. (2001). Surviving monoculturalism and racism: A personal and professional journey. In J. G. Ponterotto, J. M. Casas, L. A. Suzuki, & C. M. Alexander (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural counseling (pp. 45-54). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2003). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice. New York: Wiley.