Many of us are cognitively aware of the importance of reflective practice in our work with clients. Reflective practice allows us to stop for a moment and look back at our past actions and experiences in a critical and effortful way. Although reflective practice is beneficial when working with clients in general, I believe it especially important when working with clients from cultures much different than our own. According to the American Psychological Association, it is imperative for psychologists to recognize themselves as cultural beings and as such hold attitudes and beliefs that may inadvertently influence clients that come from a different background. Psychologists, like others, are shaped by their worldviews, ethnicity, culture, heritage, past experiences, family dynamics, nationalities, age, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, media influences, education and other significant culturally related dynamics. Hence, it is advisable to recognize this phenomenon when working with clients in general, but particularly with those who may have a cultural framework that is vastly different than the therapists’. This allows counsellors to be more cautious of their own agenda in the counselling relationship. Additionally, it increases the likelihood that the client will feel comfortable and heard in therapy.
If counsellors fail to view the client relationship from a cultural lens, then some detrimental consequences may occur. A common cultural error that many western therapists make is applying individualistic ideologies to clients who come from collectivistic cultures. For example, in many collectivist cultures the family and the group are more important than the individual himself/herself. Hence, if a therapist were to be working with an individual from a collectivist culture and attempted to counsel this client in ways that were more in-line with an individualistic standpoint, then this could potentially really harm not only the therapeutic relationship, but possibly interfere with that client and his relationship to others in his life.
I am aware that it is impossible to take “ourselves” completely out of the therapeutic process, therefore it is of utmost importance to engage in reflective practice and understand our presence during interactions with clients and how our own worldviews and ways of being may interfere with the therapeutic process. Once we do this we begin to learn more about ourselves; about how our culture is influencing our work with others; and ultimately how we can be more culturally sensitive and present for the clients that we serve. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
I’m not sure how it works for others, but for me, being and feeling a part of a community of like-minded therapists on a journey of experiential learning and good fellowship is an important thing. I am referring to the mindfulness meditation group that I meet with the second Friday evening of every month. Therapists in other cities maybe doing similarly already – they call it ‘convergent evolution’ – but, if they aren’t already, I put it out there as something to consider.
Here’s how it’s been looking so far these first few months. Each in our group of ten take a turn hosting. The host mcees the evening and introduces whatever suggestions for ritual they’d like to put in place. After a number of meetings now we’ve adopted a basic structure for how we like to do the evening. We begin with meditation for fifteen-twenty minutes. Always so nice after a busy week, I have to say. We then breath into a ‘mindful sharing of the moment’ check-in, that is surely guided by the spontaneous impression, perhaps gestalt, of the moment that emerges. Being therapists it is not hard to imagine that there is a level of open and natural sharing of ‘what’s up’. Most of us can’t but help ourselves here. We meditate a second time for twenty minutes. Share ‘mindfully’ a second time, this time usually with a guiding theme, question or consideration. We then meditate a third time before we smile a deep inner satisfaction, and move into the closing of the evening – the mindful ‘breaking of a little bread’, potluck style. This past group we ate in mindful silence!
Continue reading → *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
When we talk about diversity in our counseling practice, I think it’s not just working with diverse culture or diverse population but it’s also having an understanding of the cultural diversity of the materials we choose to use. Whether it’s a piece of fabric, a story or even an activity, each has its own unique characteristic; its unique symbolism and its unique healing purpose. Diversity is also found in some of the cultural rituals that we celebrate. I find that spring is one of the times when there are many such rituals take place. For me, spring is one of the strangest season and time of the year. While it is a time for birthdays, celebrating cultural New Year, anticipation of what am I going to plan in my vegetable patch, it is also a time to mark anniversaries of heartbreaks. It is during this time that I also get to go back to reading one of my favorite books by Clarissa Pinkola Este: “Women Who Run with the Wolves”. In one of her chapters, she mentions a grief exercise called “Descansos”, which is basically markers of the changes, the turning points, the deaths (literal and figurative) in one’s life. She says, “Descansos are symbols that mark a death. Right there, right on that spot, someone’s journey in life halted unexpectedly. There has been a car accident, or someone was walking along the road and died of heat exhaustion, or a fight took place there. Something happened there that altered that person’s life and the lives of other persons forever.”
I have been creating my own Descansos at various life transition events as they can also be seen, metaphorically, as crossroads where choices need to be made.
My background is not from Latin America where Descanos are the roadside shrines that mark the memory where an accident claimed a life. I can, however, relate to the archetypical images and the symbols and what Jung shares as a part of the collective unconscious. For me working with images from diverse cultures helps me to feel connected not only to the materials but also to the psyche of the experiencing the knowledge of the client and the community. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
I recently had an interesting conversation with a young client from Bhutan, which is a small country in the Himalayan mountains bordering India and China. In Bhutan the government measures prosperity- not through the GDP (gross domestic product) like most of the world, but through GNP: Gross National Happiness. 33 indicators which are classified under 9 main domains, are used to come up with a single number which measures the peoples’ gross national happiness. Data is gathered through questionnaires. These domains are: psychological wellbeing, use of time, health, cultural diversity, education, good governance, ecological balance, community vitality and living standards. To sum it up, a combination of these factors measures life satisfaction. Each year the government, non-governmental organizations and businesses strive to increase the measure of a good life, through policy changes and new initiatives. One such simple initiative is a common road sign seen on the many beautiful mountainous roads – no it’s not about speed limit but rather: “life is a journey……complete it!”
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the GNP index in Bhutan started dropping sharply in 1999 – the year when TV was first introduced in this country. More recently, the use of technologies such as smart phones and computers has also been linked to a drop in the national happiness index. People who for centuries followed traditional, collectivist and spiritual Buddhist values (such as nurturing real relationships, modeling respect, and actively practicing patience and gratitude) were now plugged in like the rest of the world – to influences that very often degrade the above mentioned core values. The result has been people reprogramming themselves to needing instant gratification and stimulation, leading to a state of being that is not in harmony with nature, but rather disconnected from it.
The 9 domains used to measure happiness in Bhutan remind me of positive psychologist Martin Seligman’s model of wellbeing: PERMA. His five factors for happiness were positive emotions, engagement in life, relationships that are authentic, meaning in life, and accomplishment. If we have a balance of these going on in our lives, then chances are we will be happier. My client wholeheartedly embraces this. After finishing grad school he plans to return to Bhutan (along with a high percentage of his peers), even though salaries are considerably lower there. Why? Simply because psychological wellbeing is more valuable than material wealth. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
Reflections on the Suicides of Chinese International Students
Recently stories about two Chinese international students committing suicide circulated on Chinese We-Chat. Both students were regarded as excellent students in the eyes of their parents and the others: they were outgoing, active in the community and academically driven. So what led to this tragedy? Who should take the responsibility? What are the causes? And what can we learn from those tragic?
Such questions linger in the minds of parents, friends, teachers and many others- we want answers. Some people may blame the family’s lack of parenting education, some may blame society’s ideology around success and some may blame the victim for not being tough enough.
Case one: YuanYuan from Nangjing China, committed suicide in Feb 2009. She was a second year economics student at Amsterdam University. The three notes she left behind disclosed: “I am so, so tired. For the last eight years I have been trying to calm down the upheaval of inner turmoil; when it hits me I felt so helpless. Sometimes I have to endure and wait for the turmoil to fade and recover slowly. Life is so busy; I simply do not have time to deal with it anymore. I cannot sense any joy in life, and life itself has become unbearable. I am really tired of this.” She also disclosed that she had battled with OCD for the last eight years.
This case was brought to the limelight by Yuan Yuan’s mother. In her mother’s eyes, her daughter was very considerate, independent, warm hearted, decisive and academically driven- a person who had always presented herself as positive and cheerful. The death of her daughter devastated the mother, what had gone wrong? As a teacher herself she asked what can be done to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.
Case two: Guo Yanjun, 28, immigrated to America in 2001, graduated with an Honors BSc in 2006, worked in investment banking in New York, then registered at MIT (麻省理工学院),majoring in management – a journey much admired by many Chinese students. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
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As we begin to wrap the year up, I thought of sharing two books with you.
Diversity, Culture and Counselling: A Canadian Perspective: by Geoffrey Hett, M. Honoré France, Maria del Carmen Rodriguez is based on the belief of diversity and the importance of culture, that multicultural counselling offers an approach to working with people from different ethnic, racial, religious backgrounds and sexual orientations. Understanding the causes and costs of stereotypes and biases is vital if counsellors are to bridge the ethnic and racial divide. Being secure in one’s own identity, culturally and racially, can only help to ensure that people accept and respect individual and collective differences. This book provides necessary background information relative to many of the diverse cultural groups in Canada .Canadian society encompasses a variety of cultural, ethnic and religious groups. It is essential for the counsellor to understand the beliefs and thought processes of individuals within these various groups in order to establish rapport and understanding, as well as to make the counselled individual feel comfortable.
Using as a starting point the pioneering work of Clemmont E. Vontress, the contributors to Counseling Across and Beyond Cultures trace the evolution of multicultural counseling and discuss remaining challenges for practitioners. Essays include a personal reflection by Vontress himself, critical analyses of the growth of multicultural counseling, considerations of his influence in Canada and the UK, and African and Caribbean perspectives on his work. Throughout, the importance of Vontress’s accomplishments are celebrated, while critical analysis points the way towards further work to be done in the field. The book focuses on the fact that professional counseling is a dynamic field, necessarily changing to reflect shifting societal norms and client needs. In an increasingly multicultural and globalized society, there is a growing need for counselors to be sensitive to the diverse needs of clients expressing different cultural and ethnic beliefs and facets of racial, gender, sexual, age, ability, disability, or class identities. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
I have been watching some interesting videos on You tube while trying to bring different kinds of didactic presentation materials into these blogs. So in the coming months, I would like to share different drama, theater, visual art, dance and other art forms which are being used as counselling techniques in various parts of the world. Some of the techniques are unusual while other are well know tools of the trade.
These two featured presentations talks about using the dance/movement forms as counseling technique. As a drama and movement therapist myself, I am always looking for unique and traditional dance forms that can be used in various combinations while working with clients groups.
The first feature goes on a journey to India and talks about combining Yoga and Dance into a cutting edge format for expression as well as performance. This feature pulled on my heart strings as I come from India and have myself at many times incorporated my Indian classical dance background in my counselling work.
Continue reading → *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA