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Cultural Awareness Essay Discussion Responses
RE: Cultural Awareness
In the field of human service, integrating culturally competent practices into one’s work is essential and responsive services should be provided to clients of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Cultural competency refers to the ability to effectively apply cross-cultural skills and it is an ethical obligation (Sue, Zane, Nagayama Hall, & Berger, 2009). It is important that counselors reflect on their own cultural background and experiences to prevent potential biases from impacting their practices. Implicit bias is a concept that all counselors should make themselves aware of. Implicit bias can occur when people act on underlying prejudices or stereotypes without intending to do so (Brownstein & Zalta, 2015). Therefore, as a practitioner, cultural competency should continuously be developed through gaining knowledge to avoid generalizing services to a diverse population. Throughout various work experiences and my education, I have been able to reflect on my own cultural identity. During my practicum experience, I also had the opportunity to work with several clients and colleagues from backgrounds and cultural identities that differed from my own.
In reflecting on my own cultural experiences, growing up, my parents would often share that my ancestors were Ukrainian and German and therefore these are cultures that could be identified with. However, other than being Caucasian and Catholic, two demographics traditionally associated with Eastern Europe, there was not much I knew about the cultures in these countries. After several generations of immigration to the United States, it became apparent that cultural values and customs have shifted and new ones have emerged. Therefore, being raised in central New Jersey, American traditions were mostly all I knew. However, culture is often defined as more than just tradition; it is a set of values, beliefs, customs, achievements and norms (Smith, 1966). While I lived in a very large, diverse community, in reflecting back, I have found that people my immediate family and even in the community were generally accepting of treatment and mental health. Therefore, an area that I have found will require more development is understanding how people from various cultural contexts view mental health.
When considering my own cultural experience, I was fortunate that seeking help was generally encouraged. While this may be a blanket statement, it was generally accepted that treatment may be necessary when someone is experiencing a mental health or substance abuse issue. Even so, it is important to be aware that every culture and every person has their own view of mental health services. In some cultures, receiving treatment and support may be viewed negatively. In other cases, a person’s religious beliefs may influence their decisions surrounding how to approach mental health. Essentially, as a counselor, it is necessary to be sensitive to everyone’s worldview and be attentive to these differing views on counseling as clients may be reluctant to pursue services or continue services (Sumari & Jalal, 2008). Therefore, a client that may be perceived as resistant may just be uncomfortable in a therapeutic setting as based on their cultural background and values, they may have various beliefs on this type of care. Overall, I feel as though I will need to continue to seek more knowledge surrounding how different cultures perceive counseling. I intend on continuing to pursue training opportunities and gain this knowledge through interactions with colleagues and clients.
Brownstein, M., & Zalta, E. (2015). Implicit bias.
Smith, G. (1966). Communication and culture(Ed.). New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston.
Sumari, M., & Jalal, F. H. (2008). Cultural issues in counseling: An international perspective. Counseling, Psychotherapy and Health, 4(1), 24-34.
Sue, S., Zane, N., Nagayama Hall, G. C., & Berger, L. K. (2009). The case for cultural competency in psychotherapeutic interventions. Annual review of psychology, 60, 525-548.
Initial- Cultural Awareness
While reflecting on my own cultural identity, I have realized that my lack of culture could impede my work as a counselor. While many of my classmates have discussed interesting upbringings in which parents embraced their heritage in diverse settings, I was raised in an admittedly boring, culturally inept town. I grew up in a middle-class area of central Connecticut. I am a white female with married parents who did not push religion on my brother or me. My K-12 experience was very undiverse, which many adults handled by teaching us to be “colorblind,” which is well-intentioned, but only serves to dismiss cultural differences instead of learning more about them. This can be seen as one of the most significant obstacles that I will need to overcome when addressing clients.
One article I read by Monnica T. Williams (2013) discusses the issue with acting “colorblind.” By pretending that they do not notice physical differences in a client, a therapist is already ignoring a major part of that person’s existence. It also makes the counselor seem dishonest, as it is human nature to quickly evaluate a person’s appearance, which includes the color of their skin. Williams also adds that it makes the client feel like they are irregular (Williams, 2013).
When minority clients were asked about their experiences with white therapists, participants in one study said that they actually felt more comfortable with therapists who discussed their racial differences within the first few sessions (Meyer & Zane, 2013). This was very eye-opening to me. In the future, I feel that by acknowledging a client’s racial differences, I am essentially saying, “Tell me more about your experiences. I am a different race than you and would like to learn more about anything you have been through as a result of that.” Not only will this make the client feel more comfortable, but it also shows how I acknowledge that their race could play a role in how they are feeling during a session. For example, if a client is experiencing depressive symptoms after national news of a racial injustice, it would be beneficial for both of us to discuss those feelings and how the event could be affecting their mood. By creating an environment in which a client feels understood, therapists can play a role in the patient continuing mental health services (Williams, 2013). If counselors do not consider the race of their clients during their sessions, it could potentially ruin the client’s view of therapy forever, thus putting their overall health at risk if they do not seek the appropriate services. Overcoming the “colorblindness” I’ve been taught since childhood will be crucial for me to develop more cultural awareness.
Meyer, O. L., & Zane, N. (2013). The influence of race and ethnicity in clients’ experiences of mental health treatment. Journal of community psychology, 41(7), 884–901. http://www.doi.10.1002/jcop.21580
Willams, M. (2013 June 30). How therapists drive away minority clients. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201306/how-therapists-drive-away-minority-clients
RE: Cultural Awareness
Striving to become culturally competent is a critical component of the human service profession. In my opinion, it is impossible to be truly competent, given the vast amounts of different cultures and their differences. Instead, I believe developing cultural sensitivity is more achievable. Recognizing cultural differences and accepting them without passing judgment or generalizing is the best way to avoid inadvertent discrimination and offending others. I plan on increasing my knowledge and awareness of cultural differences by being accepting of others. If something is unfamiliar to me, I will simply ask or inquire about one’s culture. I think too many times people are afraid to ask for clarity if something is different and as a result, they remain ignorant to other cultures. By embracing differences one could break down barriers and become more educated on other cultures values, beliefs, traditions, and perspectives.
To improve cultural awareness, it is important to be honest about their own worldviews and recognize that their perspectives are shaped because of their culture. Likewise, counselors need to realize that their client’s perspectives were shaped because of their worldviews and experiences. I think the more knowledgeable that practitioners are of differences, it will allow them to be more efficient and effective, no matter what culture they counsel. Personally, I think it would be a good idea to offer clients a chance to explore the impact of culture (including historical and generational events), acculturation, discrimination, and bias, and allow clients to examine how these impacts relate to or affect their mental and physical health (Sue, 2001). This would provide a better insight on their experiences and give context to their cultural perspectives.
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Cultural Awareness Essay Discussion Responses