You Are Not One Of Us

Posted by: Priya Senroy on May 6, 2011 8:54 am

A few years ago, I was trying to set up a focus group of lesbians for a counselling project and yes I did face many challenges in getting this project going. Working in a Scarborough community, after months of doing outreach, we finally got a group of four women interested. That number does not accurately reflect an estimated 450,000  gay or lesbian residents of the GTA. When trying to find out from this core group of women as to what was stopping the lesbians in Scarborough to take part in a focus group-my preconceived answer was met with the statement- “You are not one of us.”

Here I was thinking about society stigma, taboo being the reason but I had never thought my personal gender orientation would become a barrier in delivering a much needed service in the area.

Trained as a Creative Arts Therapist, we were taught about cultural diversity from a counselling perspective, but no one told me that I had to be of a specific group in order to work with them. And I know that at this point in time, I do not have the option to change my gender orientation or have a specific disability or have suffered a specific medical condition just to work as counsellor with any group.

So my question is: As counsellors working with diverse clientele, do you have to come from the same ethnic, cultural or even diverse background? If you are not one of them, can you not offer your services?

I find solace in knowing  that effective helping relationships are grounded in empathy, communication, and understanding – shared attitudes, values, and abilities to discuss complex topics (Neault 2009), can break down such barriers and  differences between clients and helping professionals can also be helpful, as it is often through exploring different perspectives that change occurs (Treviño, 1996).

So how does one install trust in their clients through professional competence and credibility than just being seeing as – you are not one of us.

(Neault 2009)  a career management professional  cites several examples , that can be transferred into the tool box of any cousenllor who work with a diverse client group. Here are a few:

1) Be Curious. Visit local community centres and attend cultural events to consciously learn about diverse cultures, our questions will be endless

2) Read. Use search engines to find multiple perspectives about your clients’ cultures.

3) Take courses. Most training programs for counsellors include courses addressing multicultural issues. Many organizations offer diversity training to employees and managers. Conferences and professional associations provide opportunities to enhance cultural competence.

Even though I might not be of them, I think if I have the ability to base my sessions on empathy, communication, and understanding, I think I will be able to break down some of the barriers in working with a diverse client group

Speaking of the core group-they stayed and helped us to set up a pilot project which can hopefully be implemented in the near future.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

0 comments on “You Are Not One Of Us”

  1. Tracy Duffy says:

    Thank you for sharing this —
    I agree that building on empathy can break some of these barriers, but I also think it’s important to think about why diverse groups may, at first, try to identify with others in this way. Having had a similar experience with groups of women who survived Sexual Assault– I was first asked the question ” have you experienced this trauma?” before there could be open discussion of issues. It was a question I never had to directly answer– as I realized that asking this question was how I was being ‘tested” for trustworthiness. Instead of answering, I focused on earning their trust by acknowledging that I wanted to learn about their experiences, and respected them for wanting to know.
    The women who I worked with, thankfully, were open to sharing their stories with me, and later expressed gratitude that I could help advocate for their rights, whether or not I was truly “one of them”… this took courage and empathy on both parts– a true example of how counselling skill can transform relationships. I have certainly carried with me the advice and wisdom of the lessons I learned in grad school about multicultural/diverse sensitivity, but more importantly, I continue to learn much more from “real life” and those who are open to teaching me.

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