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What gets in the way?

What gets in the way? Addressing barriers to providing culturally responsive services

This keynote sessions identifies historical and present systemic and structural barriers in the social work professions that limit and/or prevent the provision of culturally-responsive trauma care.


  1. Participants will learn to identify and discuss structural factors including trauma education and training that negatively impact the provision of culturally responsive care.

  2. Participants will have the opportunity to consider how personal factors including their own cultural background, have informed their work.

  3. Participants will apply their understanding of the psychological principles of defense mechanisms to understand and recognize individual, communal, societal and systemic racism.

  4. Participants will interactively strategize around ways to deconstruct and limit/mitigate the negative impact of factors that negatively influence their ability to provide culturally responsive care.

Speaker: Deborah Levans

Deborah Levans is a social worker with a BSW from St. Thomas University and a MSW from Boston College. Deborah’s family is Guyanese on her father’s side, and Nova Scotian on her mother’s side. Deborah grew up in Ottawa, Canada and her first career was in languages. As a therapist, Deborah specializes in trauma and has served clients who have experienced various forms of violence including the loss of a loved one to homicide, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and community violence. Deborah worked at a Level 1 Trauma hospital at the time of the Boston Marathon Bombings and provided individual and group counseling to those impacted as well as workshops on Critical Incident Debriefing for staff. Deborah is Adjunct Professor in Palo Alto University’s Master of Psychology Program, and regularly teaches/consults/speaks around working across differences in professional settings. One of Deborah’s passions is working across difference. To date, Deborah has provided therapeutic services to people from over 55 different countries. Currently, Deborah is employed at Harvard University where her duties include the provision of individual and group counseling to undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students for a number of presenting concerns including; grief and traumatic loss, sexual assault and intimate partner violence, cultural concerns and trauma. Deborah has guest lectured at Harvard Law School, speaking on themes of Power and Working Across Difference, and Vicarious Trauma in the Legal Profession.

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Download: Presentation slides