Paul Pedersen

Paul Bodholdt Pedersen, considered by most psychologists to be the founder and major contributor to multicultural psychology and cross-cultural counseling and psychotherapy, was born on May 19, 1936, in Ringsted, Iowa. Located in a rural farming community in northern Iowa near the Minnesota border, the tiny community of Ringsted provided Pedersen with a strong, stable set of values that encouraged hard work, kindness, spirituality, generosity, compassion, and a respect for all living things. His family and community members were deeply religious; thus, many of his cherished childhood memories mirrored his experiences in the local Danish church. Pedersen traced his deep respect and appreciation for humanistic-spiritual perspectives to his family and community members of Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish ancestry. Much of his youth was spent working on the family farm in a secure family-centered environment. Pedersen’s parents were avid collectors of books and placed a high premium on reading and music. Although his father and sister were accomplished musicians, Pedersen struggled to master the violin. After 7 years of lessons, he put the violin aside and turned his interests to reading as many books as he could find.

After graduating high school, Pedersen enrolled in Grand View Junior College in Des Moines, Iowa, and completed his Associate of Arts degree in 1956. He transferred to the University of Minnesota and graduated in 1958 with a concentration in history and philosophy; in 1959, he earned a Master of Arts degree in American Studies at Minnesota. Following his interests in religious studies, Pedersen received a Master of Theology degree in 1962 from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Then, in 1966, Pedersen earned a Master of Science degree in counseling and student personnel psychology from the University of Minnesota. In 1968 Pedersen received his Ph.D. in Asian Studies, with a concentration in the fields of counseling, cultural history, comparative religion, and political theory, from Claremont Graduate School in Claremont, California. His doctoral dissertation was titled Religion as the Basis of Social Change Among the Bataks of North Sumatra, adapting the 500-item Church Youth Research Inventory to Chinese and Malay/Indonesian languages.

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Pedersen’s abiding interests and commitment to promoting the importance of culture in psychology were sparked by his early travels hitchhiking across Europe and his academic appointments, beginning in 1962 as a visiting lecturer in ethics and philosophy and the chaplain at Nommensen University in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia. He studied Mandarin Chinese full-time in 1968 in Taiwan. From 1969 to 1971, Pedersen was a part-time visiting lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Malaya; also, he was the youth research director for the Lutheran Church of Malaysia and Singapore. While in Indonesia and Malaysia, Pedersen quickly realized that what he had learned about conventional counseling approaches at the University of Minnesota and Claremont Graduate School did not accommodate the worldviews of Malaysians, Chinese, and Indonesians. The daily dose of rich deep cultural experiences combined with the challenges associated with understanding culturally unique life-ways and thought-ways quietly planted the seeds for his plans to develop, advocate, and promote the value and significance of considering cultural differences in the counseling and clinical psychology professions.

In 1971, Pedersen accepted the position of assistant professor in the Department of Psycho-educational Studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; he also held a joint appointment as an international student advisor in the International Student Office. Drawing mainly on his experiences in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan and his daily counseling sessions with international students at Minnesota, Pedersen’s growing concern for the relevance of conventional counseling approaches led him to consider more culturally sensitive counseling strategies. As an alternative to the use of conventional counseling education approaches, Pedersen devised and implemented his well-known and well-respected triad training model. Pedersen describes triad training as a self-supervision model where the counselor processes the positive and negative messages a client is thinking but not saying in counseling. Articulating these hidden messages and checking out their validity helps the counselor (a) see the problem from the client’s viewpoint, (b) identify specific sources of resistance, (c) diminish the client’s need for defensiveness, and (d) help the client develop recovery skills for getting out of trouble.

In 1975, Pedersen accepted an appointment as a Senior Fellow at the Culture Learning Institute at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawai’i. From 1978 to 1981, he was director of a large, predoctoral training grant from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health titled Developing Interculturally Skilled Counselors. With eight predoctoral trainees, Pedersen conducted training programs that emphasized cross-cultural counseling approaches primarily through use of the triad training model; the programs brought together counselors from several Asian countries, North America, and countries in Oceania to learn the fundamentals of the then-emerging field of cross-cultural counseling. Pedersen closely maintained his Hawaiian appointments and ties for the rest of his illustrious career by serving as a visiting professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and as a Fellow at the East-West Center.

In 1982, Pedersen accepted an appointment at Syracuse University as professor and chair of the Department of Counselor Education. In 1995, he received the professor emeritus title at Syracuse and subsequently accepted an appointment as a professor in the Department of Human Studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In 2001, after a year as Senior Fulbright Scholar at Taiwan National University and after marrying Doris H. F. Chang, Pedersen formally retired from academic life and moved back to his much beloved Hawai’i to continue his writing, traveling, and scholarly interests. He retained his appointment as a visiting professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Pedersen has three married children and five grandchildren in Minnesota.

Pedersen’s remarkable career includes the publication of more than 40 books and more than 150 book chapters and journal articles; the concept of culture is the common thread that runs through all of them. In reviewing Pedersen’s extraordinary accomplishments, one quickly realizes that he is imaginative and farsighted. Among many of his significant initiatives, in 1973 Pedersen organized and chaired the first symposium dealing with cross-cultural counseling and presented it at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Montreal, Canada. Symposium panelists, together with other authors, contributed to the first major book in the field of cross-cultural counseling; Pedersen was the senior editor and was assisted by Walter J. Lonner and Juris Draguns, and later by Joseph E. Trimble. Titled Counseling Across Cultures, the book is now in its sixth edition in an expanded version that is almost twice the length of the first edition.

Most scholars in the counseling and psychotherapy fields consider Pedersen’s edited book published in 1999 titled Multiculturalism as a Fourth Force to be a milestone in the history of psychology. The book surveyed the prospect of moving toward a universal theory of multiculturalism that recognizes the psychological consequences of each cultural context. Pedersen and his colleagues argued that the fourth force supplements the three forces of humanism, behaviorism, and psychodynamism for psychology.

Along with his commendable scholarly accomplishments, Pedersen has been actively involved in research activities, many of which received external funding. He was codirector of an intercultural communication laboratory for 60 Japanese/U.S. intercultural communication experts at Nihonmatsu, Japan, funded by the Lily Foundation; director of U.S. Department of Education-funded research on sex-role stereotypes in higher education; director of a 3-year National Institute of Mental Health mental health training program; and director of a 2-year Harvard Institute for International Development project in Indonesia to evaluate and upgrade training at Bank Rakyat Training Centers. Pedersen was awarded many grants, including a 6-year grant from the National Science Foundation to study the re-article adjustment of engineers returning to Taiwan after study abroad; a National Institute of Education grant to develop a measure of cross-cultural counseling skill; a State of New York Department of Social Services grant to develop mental health training materials geared toward treating unaccompanied refugee minors; and an Asian Foundation grant to co-organize a conference in Penang, Malaysia, on constructive conflict management in a cultural context.

Because service to the professional community is an important value for Pedersen, he has found time to serve on numerous boards and committees. His activities have included 3 years as president of the Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research (SIETAR); series editor for Sage Publications’ Multicultural Aspects of Counseling (MAC) Series; and advising editor for a Greenwood Press book series in education and psychology. Additionally Pedersen is a board member of the Micronesian Institute located in Washington, D.C., and an external examiner for Universiti Putra Malaysia, University Kebangsaan, and Universiti Malaysia Sabah in psychology. From 1999 to the present, Pedersen was a Senior Fulbright Scholar teaching at National Taiwan University. Within the American Psychological Association Pedersen was a member of the Committee for International Relations in Psychology (CIRP) from 2001 to 2003 and was invited to give a master lecture at the American Psychological Association Convention in Los Angeles in August 1994. Pedersen also is a Fellow of Divisions 9, 17, 45, and 52 of the American Psychological Association.

By all professional and personal standards, Pedersen is a visionary as he has contributed significantly to the emergence of multiculturalism in psychology and in related disciplines. Pedersen’s commitment to multiculturalism extends well beyond the mental health professions. In thinking about the future of multicultural counseling and social justice, Pedersen firmly believes that the multicultural perspective will evolve into a perspective that acknowledges how people may share the same common ground expectations, positive intentions, and constructive values even though they express those expectations and positive intentions through different and seemingly unacceptable behaviors. He also maintains that counselors and psychologists must generate a balanced perspective, wherein both similarities and differences of people are valued, and at the same time avoid partisan quarreling and get on with the important task of finding social justice across cultures.


  1. Connerley, M. L., & Pedersen, P. B. (2005). Leading in a multicultural environment: Developing awareness, knowledge, and skills. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. Marsella, A., & Pedersen, P. (Eds.). (1981). Cross-cultural counseling and psychotherapy. New York: Pergamon Press.
  3. Pedersen, P. (Ed.). (1999). Multiculturalism as a fourth force. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel.
  4. Pedersen, P. (2000). Handbook for developing multicultural awareness (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
  5. Pedersen, P. (2000). Hidden messages in culture-centered counseling: A triad training model. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  6. Pedersen, P. (2004). One hundred and ten experiences for multicultural learning. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press.
  7. Pedersen, P., & Carey, J. (2003). Multicultural counseling in schools (2nd ed.). Needham, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  8. Pedersen, P., Draguns, J. G., Lonner, W. J., & Trimble, J. E. (Eds.). (2007). Counseling across cultures (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  9. Pedersen, P., Marsella, A., & Sartorius, N. (Eds.). (1984). Mental health services: The cross-cultural context. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  10. Ponterotto, J. G., & Pedersen, P. B. (1993). Prejudice prevention: A developmental counseling perspective. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

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