I feel inspired when I see the powerless gain power, when those without privilege gain rights they should have always had, and those in distress feel peace and relief.
Derrick A. Paladino, Ph.D., LMHC
40 years old
Department of Graduate Studies in Counseling – Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida
What inspired you to do what you do?
I really started off in college. I was just interested in the idea of a person or one’s personality being a puzzle. Over time, this fascination evolved to a passion for assisting people with their healing and understanding, as well as finding themselves through both the counseling I provided and by teaching others to become counselors. During my time providing counseling and crisis services, working in academia, presenting, and writing, I find myself enthusiastically gravitating towards viewing all of these activities though a social justice and advocacy perspective. I feel inspired when I see the powerless gain power, when those without privilege gain rights they should have always had, and those in distress feel peace and relief. Examining my life as a biracial child who experienced—and as an adult still experiences—discrimination, I see moments where I didn’t hold power and I did not feel peace. Those experiences give me a keyhole into the pain that those without privilege hold. This will always drive me. My podcast, “Freudian Quips,” is a recent endeavor to advocate in the specific area of mental health. It allows me to be an ally for those living with mental health issues and struggles and sometimes act as a voice for those who cannot have one.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face (or have faced) in doing this work?
Being a work in progress and being ok with it. Recently I was walking on campus to give a talk on gender equality to some Resident Assistants (RAs). As I approached the building where I was going to speak, I overheard two males say what sounded like a derogatory comment about women. It was something like, “A women HAS to have a good man behind her.” I felt incredibly uncomfortable hearing this, didn’t say a peep, and continued to my presentation. I internally beat myself up during the rest of my walk, while I was waiting to present, and it was in the back of my mind during my presentation. How could I not say something? Especially with the topic I’m presenting on. How can I call myself an advocate with a straight face? I eventually shared what I heard these males say to the group, almost as if I wanted to be exposed. I was asked, “What did you say to them?” Owning the moment, I replied, “Nothing” and told them that I felt horrible about walking away. There were eye rolls and nothing I could say would change those particular students’ perceptions of me as a fraud. I talked about myself as a work in progress and how advocacy work is not always easy.
As I mentioned previously, I grew up facing discrimination and that those experiences are what partly fuel me to want to assist those without power. Well, those same experiences and memories sometimes take over and protect me from real, or in this case, “perceived” danger. Of course I was in no real danger, but in that moment while overhearing those guys, for some unconscious reason child Derrick froze me and said, “Nope! Keep walking.” The students don’t know this about my experience and they only have what I shared in my presentation. I spent a lot of time reflecting on and struggling with my non-reaction and now use it as a teaching moment. We are works in progress and it’s ok to slip. Slipping helped me learn more about myself and I am grateful for that. I can live with a few eye rolls.
Are there any men (past or present) you particularly admire or who have influenced you?
Carl Rogers. Dr. Rogers was a psychologist who is known to be one of the fathers of humanistic theory and approach to counseling. He created person-centered/client-centered counseling. He truly believed that a relationship between two people that holds genuineness, warmth, accurate empathy, respect, and unconditional positive regard can create an experience that allows a client to move towards betterment and becoming oneself. His belief in the spirit and power of relationships is really inspirational to me as a husband, father, counselor, and professor. I admire his concept of being vulnerable in order to stimulate growth. One of Rogers’ quotes underscores that for me: “It’s an awful risky thing to live.”
What advice would you give to other men interested in doing what you do, or otherwise make a difference in their community?
Truly have awareness of all the privileges you hold before advocating or speaking up.
For example, I was a stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) for the first year of my son’s life and through that time realized that I did not fully fit in this world being a male. At times I was explicitly viewed as a babysitter or a nanny, I was occasionally treated like the “bumbling dad,” I was not fully accepted in all the “mommy and me” group experiences I entered, and of course I came across the dirty diaper/no changing table in the men’s restroom incident on more than one occasion. As a result, I became increasingly frustrated and took to social media about how SAHDs are generally ill-treated and extended it to, “Working Dad should be in our vernacular.”
Currently, when I teach about gender-sensitive theory and therapies, I always tell this story and pose the same question to my students, “Why was I wrong?” My eventual answer is, “because it’s my fault.” If we look at gender roles historically, it’s our (men’s) fault that staying home with a child is not viewed as a masculine and normal endeavor. My colleague entitles it, “Internalized Male Supremacy.” My discomfort with SAHDs being “oppressed” by society is a result of male privilege and historical male domination dictating gender roles. It is my fault – in a way – and if I’m going to advocate for SAHDs and Working Dads, I need to acknowledge that in my advocacy if I hope to shift the narrative.
Do you hope your son carries on the work you are doing?
I don’t expect him to follow my footsteps, but rather discover who he is. My hope is that he will become an emotionally intelligent male that has strong awareness of all the privileges he holds and how that impacts those without privilege. That he will be kind, compassionate, loving, and have empathy – even if that’s not indicated for the stereotypical male. My hope is that he will be genuine and congruent in his interactions with the world. Also, I kind of want him to learn how to tap dance, but that’s neither here nor there (Full disclosure: I took tap dance lessons during my graduate studies and wish I had never stopped. So … maybe he could follow my tap-steps?).
How can others learn more about you and your work, and get in touch?
I am on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/dapaladino/, listen to the Freudian Quips Podcast at http://wprk.org/category/freudian-quips/, and I am the co-author (with Richard Henriksen) of Counseling Multiple Heritage Individuals, Couples, and Families.