Season three of Knights Do That, UCF’s official podcast, returns with its fifth guest, double Knight Gulnora Hundley ’04MA ’08PhD, an associate lecturer in UCF’s Department of Counselor Education and School Psychology. As an Uzbekistan native who speaks Russian and is a mental health counselor with nearly 40 years of experience, Hundley has stepped up to provide free teletherapy sessions to Ukrainian mental health professionals since Russia’s invasion of the region. The immigrant and former international student knows first-hand how culture can impact differences in approaches to and understanding of mental health.
Here Hundley shares how the importance of culturally competent mental health education and practices, her work with broadening mental health training internationally and why mental health is an important part of overall well-being.
Gulnora Hundley: Psychoeducation is really important. Explaining (it) in very simple terms, normalizing asking for help, talking about breathing techniques, meditation, mindfulness.
James Evans: Hello and welcome back to another episode of Knight’s Do That. Mental Health is a key component of our overall health but is still stigmatized in many cultures and societies.
This episode will be released on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, which is also World Mental Health Day. So who better to have on the show than Dr. Gulnora Hundley, an instructor and researcher here at the University of Central Florida, who has a focus in psychotherapy and counselor education.
On this episode, we’re going to discuss Dr. Hundley’s experience as an educator, former international student, and three-time doctoral degree earner. Dr. Hundley has also recently been in the news for her work, providing group counseling to Ukrainian mental health professionals.
Thanks for being here today, Dr. Hundley,
How are you?
Gulnora Hundley: I’m very well, thank you for inviting me.
James Evans: Yeah, of course. I’m glad to have you. You’re an extremely credentialed person. You’ve had doctor in front of your name for three decades or so.
What drew you to your continual pursuit in higher education?
Gulnora Hundley: I think it’s a link to my childhood. While we were very poor, I grew up with tons of books around me. We all read a lot and we had a separate room called library. It’s not the library that you see in the movies, like big, huge, beautiful, but it was a room of full of books. Edgar Allen Poe (Miguel de)Cervantes, Jack London. So I grew up with that. Because I was youngest, I always saw my siblings reading in that room. And my father spoke five languages, so it was supported by our parents being well-educated. And being in school was a very comfortable place for me. I loved being in school and I think that continued throughout my life.
James Evans: That’s amazing. So five languages —
Gulnora Hundley: He spoke five languages. Yes. I speak only three.
James EvansI mean, either way, that’s impressive. I’ve got the one. What led you to become a professor? You explained the lifelong learning and the continuing education, but why a professor?
Gulnora Hundley: My title is an associate lecturer so, I’m not on a tenured track. But it’s very helpful for me to do some other clinical work while I still do research. But I do many different things, which again is education being in academia, which is very exciting. It’s very, very stimulating environment.
When you run your colleagues and talking about different things and you share ideas,I love that. And then I think that passion for education also is noticeable in my teaching. I think if you ask my students, they will tell you that I’m very passionate about our profession.
James Evans: Is what got you started the same thing that keeps you going now?
Gulnora Hundley: I started in a medical field. But at that time there’s a little bit of history to that. I earned my M.D. and then I became a psychiatrist. I worked as a psychiatrist back in Uzbekistan
And looking back I’m realizing that I was looking for psychotherapy, not psychiatry, believe it or not. I was a little bit disappointed with psychiatry because all I did was prescribe medications and that was not enough for me. But in the former Soviet Union psychotherapy did not exist. It was prohibited for several reasons. In 1917, when communism came to power, Bolsheviks came to power. They started the revisioning process of sciences. And when it came to psychotherapy, they decided it doesn’t fit communist ideology for different reasons. The father of psychotherapy is Freud. He was a Jew. They didn’t like that. He talked about sex. They didn’t like that. And they closed the field for 70 years. So when I was in looking for my profession at that time I picked psychiatry, but it was definitely was not psychotherapy. So it took me a while to, you know, to immigrate to United States. So that’s where I found myself, my calling, pretty much.
James Evans: Yeah. So you’ve led us perfectly into the next thing I wanted to talk about, which is you have two degrees from UCF. You’re an international student. When you came here you came from Uzbekistan in the USSR. Why UCF?
Gulnora Hundley: well, one of the reasons is at that time was its closest largest university, so it was convenient. But also, the fact that it was so, and it is still, diverse and large and so many different opportunities. So I started here and just stayed and never left.
James Evans: Can you give us insight into your experiences as an international student?
Gulnora Hundley: Well, I came here as an international at that time I was already was a resident. And I think I even had citizenship at that time. It was challenging and my personal story related to challenges with the language, challenges with everything. The educational system is different and whatnot. I came from a communist country where opinions didn’t matter as a matter. It was kind of prohibited expressing your opinion. Secondly, I came from the medical field where everything was black and white. And here I am in a program and they asking, what do you think? And I’m like, “I don’t know.” That was very hard. And my reflection paper would be not a paper. It was a one sentence. I’m like, “I don’t know what to say.” And we had a professor, Mark Young, who is retired now. He understood why I’m struggling because that fear of expressing myself openly. That fear was in my blood and it took me a while. Now I have tons of opinions. But that was challenging.
Uh, there was tons of support. I was surprised how faculty and peers, students were very supportive and tolerant. I have an accent. I struggle. Past, present tense. English is hard language. I don’t know if you’re aware of that. So, there was a very great environment during my master’s and later on in the doctoral program.
So, I became very comfortable and it was fascinating journey for me writing a dissertation in English. That was very interesting.
James Evans: That was very interesting. I’m sure it was.
Gulnora Hundley: I still struggle with English every single day.
James Evans: So UCF has only gotten more diverse over time. Since you started here right? Do you have any advice for current students, current international students that are not only interacting in America and in American culture, but also now with other cultures and other peoples that decide to come here?
Gulnora Hundley: Yes, I like that. UCF is becoming more diverse. That’s fabulous. My recommendation for international students is to be patient with themselves to be patient with others because at the beginning is a definitely clash of cultures. Why Americans do this way? How come they not doing my way? So many people go through that because it is different compared to, let’s say to Pakistan. So be patient. Try to ask for help as much as possible. It’s OK to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you are not smart or something is wrong with you.
You need community assistance in this process. It’s hard to go through this alone because it’s pretty much, it’s quite a bit adaptation and adjustment to American culture. But I love American culture. Love that.
James Evans: Yeah, I think so, too. You recently had a trip with other UCF faculty to do some international teaching in Slovakia. Can you share your experience?
Gulnora Hundley: What I did, unfortunately another faculty member could not go with me, but what we did, it was a based on a grant Erasmus+ grant that was offered to us to train counselors in Slovakia. As a result they developed their first counseling program in Slovakia and in central Europe. And I think they launching the program Fall 2022. I did a lot of trainings there. And it was fascinating because establishing a new program, just has its own challenges, but it was great. I love that.
James Evans: Yeah. And what is that like when we’re talking on that bigger scale, developing partnerships and having those collaborations?
Gulnora Hundley: I think it, it can be exciting and challenging at the same time. That’s for sure. Because you’re talking about different cultures. You’re talking about different educational system. You’re talking about different educational laws. And especially when we talking about establishing new program or new profession in the country, I realize how many hoops they had to jump in order to convince everybody in the government that this is good for the country.
There are 400,000 Ukrainian refugees in Slovakia right now, and Slovakia needs counselors and any help that they can get. And that was a big reason that government or ministries of education said, “OK, yes, this is a good idea.”
And they approved it. So tons of challenges. And I feel compassion for the faculty who are working on that. And also that is a reminder how counseling program was established here in the United States. What in fifties and how many counselors I went through some challenges in order to have that identity mental health counselor.
But we are already established everything is moving smoothly. But in Slovakia they are fighting for their profession.
James Evans: Can you speak to that idea a little bit more about trying to establish this profession somewhere like Slovakia, right? But you’re coming from a place where you’ve had clearly a lot of accreditation in it. You’ve studied in the U.S., where we’ve had it for a long time. What’s that struggle like and how are we really putting pen to paper on that?
Gulnora Hundley: It’s a long process. And if you take that struggle in our profession, in the United States, when it started, when in the 50s, establishing new profession, it’s difficult. You need to prove that this is something that is helpful is practical. And at that time, of course, psychiatry already existed. Psychology existed. It’s natural that other professions, like why do we need another similar profession?
But at that time, what was happening is a lot of soldiers came from World War II, and they were looking for treatment with shell shock, or trauma we call it these days. They were looking for establishing themselves as successful members of the society. They were looking for jobs and there was a vacuum of help at that time. So, that’s how counseling profession was developed. And then it later established. It took years to do that. It’s not easy. We have, of course, medical professionals and physicians. We have nurses, and they all have their own identity in their role. What do they do in the profession? And then we have physician assistants. Why do we need them? Well actually, we do because these days when you go see a doctor you are most likely not going to see a doctor. You see a nurse or physician assistant. So, I think it comes out in need, first of all, in a society. And I’m quite a certain that establishing a physician assistant was not easy as well, but now they have their place in helping professions.
James Evans: Absolutely. And then there’s this work to take it beyond borders, right? There are some cultures that are going to struggle more with a concept like mental health and mental healthcare than other cultures. For the U.S. it’s been around. And yes, we still struggle with establishing that as something that’s important and relevant. But, in my generation, it is very much you must take care of yourself physically, but also emotionally and mentally.
And that’s not always the case in some other cultures. So when we’re talking about globalizing a profession like this, how do we balance the globalization of science — furthering the edge of academia — while also respecting those cultural differences and those cultural boundaries and slowly making those gradual changes that aren’t too extreme that then everything just shuts down?
Gulnora Hundley: That’s a great point. I think in other countries there is a stigma of mental illness. And people are afraid to think about it. People are afraid to seek help when we assisting, like I am doing with Slovakia. We share knowledge and it’s up to them how it’s going to be applied into their culture. I personally never impose anything. I always say, “That’s what we do here in United States. And you adjust it to your own culture.” They live in their culture and that’s what they did. Certain topics, they did not use in their curriculum. Certain topics they say, “Oh, why we need that?”
One topic of suicidality of assessment and assistance with suicidal thoughts was first perceived cautiously like, “Why do we need to talk about that?” And I explained that if you are assisting a person, if they have depression or anxiety, they may also have suicidal thoughts and students need to know how to approach that. So, I think I convinced them, but it was up to them what to do. I think they were little bit worried how it’s going to be perceived by individuals, by students, by faculty. But I said, “That’s the reality. People have suicidal thoughts. And in this line of work, you will face that and you better be prepared than be surprised.”
James Evans: Absolutely. And I think there’s even those applications that can put forth at higher education institutions, right? Where you have such diverse populations, all amalgamated together. We’re seeing that more and more, especially at the higher-level public research institutions, where we’re pulling the best of the best from the world.
And again, different people have different cultural backgrounds and may not have gotten the same conversations around mental healthcare, et cetera, and may have those same stigmas. What advice would you give to mental health counselors working specifically with college age students or working specifically within a college itself providing healthcare or mental healthcare specifically to the international population?
Gulnora Hundley: That is a great question. We are very fortunate at UCF. We have Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and this is the clinic that offers mental health services to our students. And I know CAPS does a great job in providing all sorts of services, including individual therapy and groups and providing psychoeducation.
I think the challenge with these services is that unfortunately they cannot provide long term care. That’s understandable. We have a lot of students at UCF. But I think overall CAPS is doing a great job. If I’m not mistaken, we have a separate office for addictions providing services. So I think this is great. For international students, that is a separate challenge.
First, it’s a language barrier. Secondly, it’s the culture. Sometimes they may not understand what counseling is. They may understand if you use, instead of counseling, psychology. In some cultures they, we call it, somaticize the complaint. Let me explain what that means. Instead of saying, “I have depression and anxiety.” They say, “I have headaches. I have stomach aches.” And that’s not unusual because the mental illness is so stigmatized. Psychoeducation is really important. Psychoeducation is really important. Explaining (it) in very simple terms, normalizing asking for help. And I think also introduce mental-health wellness into classes. Make it part of the classes that international students are taking. I think it’s a great idea talking about breathing techniques, meditation, mindfulness.
I think that would be very helpful to normalize it’s OK to be anxious. That you are in a different country. You’re trying to learn language. So, those are just few a things that came to my mind.
James Evans: You have a strong background in mental health research for college-aged students with recent research, focusing more on mental health counseling curriculum. Can you share more about how that research is adapted over time as you’ve kind of changed your focus from the actual mental illness itself to now more curriculum?
Gulnora Hundley: That grant is based on supporting paraprofessionals in mental health field. They provide a great support for mentally ill individuals and individuals with addictions. In reality at this time, most of them have high school degrees and there is not much education in that area. What our grant is doing is actually educating those individuals. And most of them earning minor in human services. Some of them have psychology background, et cetera., and we are providing supervision for them, and that is strengthening the entrance into the profession. It’s not easy to work with a mentally ill people. You need to know what’s going on. You need to have found some knowledge.
Most importantly, you need to have empathy and compassion. That grant is providing support education for paraprofessionals. And so far it’s been two years. I think we have some great results. And the purpose is to have these paraprofessionals ready to go into our local mental health hospitals, psychiatric clinics. And they are already prepared. Instead of training them at the clinics, we are training them and preparing them to enter the field. My colleague, Dr. Dayle Jones, prepared that grant and it was approved and we are working on it.
James Evans: We’re talking about training and development and bringing in the next generation of professionals. You also supervise the interprofessional clinic work for health students training to enter their respective field. How does that work? Can you give us more insight into what that is?
Gulnora Hundley: We have some other grants that our students, our master’s students, are involved with. And the medical school at UCF created a great program that invites students from different professions like our students, counselors, nursing students. I think there’s physical therapy students, and also pharmacology students. They all invited into one place. And these students teamed up and are challenged by a simulated client that they have to all, as a team, assist that client. So that is the integrated care and it’s a genius of medical school at UCF. And I think that is the future because when client walks into physician’s office, that doctor may not have enough knowledge and capacity to provide services.
So that team approach is a great idea, and we are training our students how to approach the client from that integrated perspective. Medical students are learning about mental health so it’s an all around exchange of information. And the main purpose is to provide better help for the patients.
James Evans: I’ve asked this question actually to several of my guests. Why is this interdisciplinary approach and practice so important in developing quality graduates, quality students, quality professionals?
Gulnora Hundley: The purpose of that integrated approach is to provide that holistic care for the patient, not one sided. “Oh I see, you have high blood pressure. I’m going to treat that, but I’m not going to ask you questions about how is your home life? Why do you have blood pressure? Do you have stress?” That is more or less kind of area of mental health counselors or psychologists. It’s not one sided. It’s a holistic approach.
James Evans: You were in the news not too long ago for providing free group therapy to mental health counselors in Ukraine. Can you share the story behind that?
Gulnora Hundley: When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, it was devastating. It was a scary way. I don’t have any family or any friends in Ukraine but it was, frankly speaking, shocking and not shocking at the same time knowing a little bit about Russian government.
As a Russian-speaking person, I thought that it would be a great idea to provide some sort of services. And of course I could not go there, but I thought that providing remote services to mental health professionals would be appropriate. And I just posted announcement on Facebook, in Russian. And, a lot of mental health professionals responded. And a most mental health professionals, they know how to self-regulate during the trauma work. And I decided to go with that first instead of providing services to just the general population. The response was great.
So far, I conducted, if I’m not mistaken, 10 online groups with about over 100 participants. And I provided these services again online almost every Saturday. Most of them were in Ukraine. Some of them already were in like Poland, Czech Republic. They already moved and migrated to those countries because of the war. And to our online trauma group, it was very effective in the sense that at the end of that second hour, they felt more relaxed.
They had different perspective about things and they were more optimistic and they had hope. And very often that’s all you need to have that motivation to continue whatever they do. And they all were active in their services. Most of them provided services in person, some of them provided services online to Ukranian population, some on the phone.
For me, it was humbling. One moment was very kind of chilling, but also it was realistic for me. One of the participants, she was in a bathtub and with the mattress behind her and it was dark. And I said I’m just curious, what is happening there? And I heard sirens in the background. She says, “This is the most safe place. I’m so eager to participate in this group that I decided to be in the tub, just in case if there is a bombardment.” And I said, “Where is your family?” And she said, “Oh, they are in a basement, but this is the closest safe place to the internet.” So that was the reality. She was very happy to be part of the group. So that was kind of very interesting to, to observe moments like that and hear stories. The purpose of the group is not to share their traumatic experiences. But those who wanted the shared briefly the purpose of the group is to instill the hope and optimism in moments like that.
James Evans: I think that’s so important, especially in such a dire situation. I obviously don’t have any experience with it, but I can imagine. And the work you’re doing around inspiring others, keeping the hope alive, helping them so that they can help others because they’re doing some really tough work,it’s inspiring to the rest of us.
And it, makes us wonder how we can do more in our daily lives? One of my final questions is how can we be more empathetic and more insightful and more aware, more hopeful in our daily lives?
Gulnora Hundley: Most students or facult y — and I think when I talk about faculty’s mental health is really important. There was a very brief article that I wrote about faculty’s mental health.
It’s important to be present. Life is not in the future. Life is not in the past. Life is in the present. Ut’s hard work in order to be present. That means that you need to be able to put all your thoughts kind aside and to see and observe what is happening now.
And I encourage everybody to ask for help, nothing wrong with asking for help. If you are asking for help doesn’t mean you’re crazy. We have tons of opportunities to get help here in the United States, here at UCF, in Central Florida. So I encourage everybody to take care of themselves because I tell our students who are in a master’s program, you are here because you are most likely Type A, you are sometimes overachiever you want to do well.
Sometimes you forget about your own self-care. So in our profession self-care for mental health professionals is so important. If you cannot help yourself, how are you going to help others?
James Evans: Absolutely. You’ve got to put your mask on before you put somebody else’s on, right?
Gulnora Hundley: Yes. That is a great metaphor. I love that.
James Evans: What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do?
Gulnora Hundley: It’s preferred that they have passion.
James Evans: Absolutely.
Gulnora Hundley: In our profession, you have to have that passion. It’s just you have to have that passion and empathy, professionalism. Ethical behavior is important. I think there are so many opportunities in our profession be patient with yourself. Be patient with the process. In my view, good things come when you’re patient
It’s rare when things come overnight, you know, it requires hard work. Hard work pays off. That’s my recommendation.
James Evans: Absolutely. What’s one thing you’re still hoping to do.
Gulnora Hundley: One thing that I would like to do, and I hope it’s going to happen is to develop a strong counseling program in Uzbekistan I’ve been trying. It was not successful. Slovakia came along, so I’m like, OK, they’re interested, let me do that. And of course, Uzbekistan is, again, different culture. It’s a Muslim country and mental health psychotherapy is not exactly priority of the government.
So there are some counselors and psychologists, they doing their work but in such a very small level, it’s very limited. And my idea to have a training clinic that we have here at UCF, training clinic for counselors and to establish a counseling program there. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, I hope it’s going to happen and we will see, but I am doing everything in my power to do that.
James Evans: It’s great. It’s great. Work from your volunteerism to what you still want do in the future and your focus. It’s inspiring.
Gulnora Hundley: Thank you.
James Evans: Of course. Thanks so much for being on the show today. It was really great conversation. We learned a lot and I’m looking forward for when it’s released.
Gulnora Hundley: Thank you very much.
James Evans: I want you to join me in thanking Dr. Hundley for sharing her wealth of knowledge and experience with us today. I’ve learned how important it is to be present in our everyday lives and to live with a sense of empathy and gratitude. We can make the world a better place by serving negatively impacted communities and destigmatizing topics of mental health. Next time we’re talking with Dr. Bethany Backus from UCF’s Violence Against Women Faculty research cluster.
As always, if you’re doing something cool, whether that’s at UCF or somewhere you took UCF that we should know about, send us an email at [email protected] and maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future. Go Knights, Charge On!
Bethany Backes: One person alone can’t solve an issue in a silo. I can’t do the work I do without an incredible team working with me, right? That team is made up of academics. Yes. But it’s also made up of people from the community. It’s made up of survivors, all who offer a really important lens to getting something done.