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Culture Like a Way of Life

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Culture is a group’s way of life that is passed from one generation to the next. It is what people make, think, value, and do to ensure their existence. It determines what is appropriate to eat, drink, wear, and much more. However, it is not static. Each generation acts upon it, causing modifications, even though the basic components such as language, religious practices, and system of government usually resist significant change. Like a river, culture has many sources (Mosterín, 1992). There are at least five tributaries that merge to make us who we are. The first one is our biology and its instincts, needs, impulses, and destiny. For example, our genders and sexual attraction generate a host of human behaviours that cut across national boundaries. A primary universal phenomenon is the family and the many behaviours it requires. Parents nourish, protect, and socialize their offspring to assume adult roles already defined by previous generations.

Multicultural counseling characterizes the counseling practice that offers effective interventions to culturally diverse clients. Race, ethnicity, and culture influence a client’s identity and life circumstances. Other factors, such as gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, religion, and ability may also play into the context of a given client’s mental health, and relational or personal issues.

“While some therapists argue that highlighting differences between individuals may offend some clients, and therefore damage the therapeutic relationship, it is generally believed that openly showing respect for someone’s culture and beliefs can result in more effective treatment and a more positive outcome for both client and therapist,” according to Psychology Today.

Counselors strive to create both a trusting relationship and a comfortable environment with all their clients so that the difficult task of healing therapy can begin. Today, clients seeking counseling come from an array of backgrounds, requiring counselors to know and understand the various ways culture impacts the counseling relationship. A lack of sensitivity to a client’s unique background and experiences can result in miscommunication, a client’s refusal to participate, and ultimately, an ineffective counseling relationship. These consequences can open the door to accusations of negligence, leading to discipline from your state licensing board or professional organization, or even a lawsuit.

Cultural competence is one of only a few competencies required of counselors. The American Counseling Association (ACA) set forth specific guidelines for providing counseling services to ethnically and culturally diverse populations in their ACA Code of Ethics. Sue and Sue (1990) have highlighted three important characteristics of counselors dealing with clients from diverse backgrounds

· First, a culturally skilled counselor is one who is actively in the process of becoming aware of his or her own assumptions about human behavior, values, biases, preconceived notions, personal limitations, and so forth.

· Second, a culturally skilled counselor is one who actively attempts to understand the worldview of his or her culturally different client without negative judgments.

· Third, a culturally skilled counselor is one who is in the process of actively developing and practicing appropriate, relevant, and sensitive intervention strategies and skills in working with his or her culturally different clients.

Language barriers are often the biggest challenge between ethnic clients and counselors. A communication problem left unexplored could lead to allegations of mistreatment or abuse. Counselors can help avoid this by always documenting the counseling session, and noting the steps you taken to understand and adjust to the client’s individual culture. Also, remembering that the goal of therapy is to understand the individual as a whole (not just his/her ethnic background) is key.

We don’t make assumptions about clients. For example, some cultures avoid eye contact as a sign of respect, but we need to understand whether the individual in counseling is not looking at us out of respect, or if s/he is feeling ashamed or uncomfortable, or being dishonest. If we assume clients’ behavior stems from culture without asking questions about how they’re feeling, we may miss an opportunity for healing and set ourselves up for liability. A good way to avoid misassumptions is to be educated about the culture of our clients. The same is true for counselors everywhere. If you can’t find literature sources about specific cultural expectations, seek the advice of other colleagues in your area who may have experience counseling within your client’s culture. During a counseling session, it’s also important to determine your client’s level of acculturation. Clients with low cultural assimilation may not understand that some of the behaviors you’re counseling them about aren’t acceptable in this country. Culturally competent counselors invite open and honest dialogue about race and ethnicity in their therapeutic sessions and use professional resources and activities to develop their counseling skills with racially and ethnically diverse clients. As counselors, we understand that all our clients come with unique needs. Creating a treatment approach that respects the client’s cultural identity as well as his/her individual characteristics will meet those needs.

As an intern working in Banyan I get the opportunity to work diverse clients. They belong to different parts of country and speak different languages. Every day I get to learn about their culture and try to learn their language to communicate with them. Clients feel a sense of belonging when they find people speaking same language as theirs, common food habits, celebrating festivals and other practices.

Culture as a part of counseling has been an unexplored field in counseling in India. Several researches have been conducted in other countries but when it comes to India we have limited resources. In countries like America counselors are taught about multicultural competence, organizations like ACA have special division called the AMCD i.e. Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development which outlines important characteristics for culturally competent counselor and also offers certain courses to educate the counselors.

Western psychology arrived in India in the early 20th century. Calcutta University opened the first Indian psychology department in 1916, and the Indian Psychological Association appeared in 1925. In keeping with India’s role as a British colony until 1947, Indian psychology was heavily influenced by British traditions. Convinced of the universal applicability of Western psychology, many Indian psychologists tried to keep the discipline free of any Indian traditions.

“This kind of “culture blind” psychology leads to misunderstandings”, says Girishwar Misra, PhD, a past president of the National Academy of Psychology and editor of Psychological Studies. Western psychology’s emphasis on independence, for instance, is at odds with Indian notions of extended families and community contexts. “Things that are normal in one culture appear quite pathological when viewed in a different cultural context,” he explains.

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