Domain I: Acknowledge the Ubiquitous Nature of Culture in Counselling
The third core competency for CRSJ counselling (Collins, 2018) highlights the need for counsellors to recognize that how they view others, the world, and the counselling process is often a reflection of their own values, beliefs, and worldview. Stepping outside their myopic perspective is an essential skill for building cultural empathy and embracing diverse perspectives on health and healing. Recognizing the ubiquitous nature of culture (Sinacore et al., 2011), the uniqueness of each individual’s personal cultural identities, and the diversity of worldviews alerts counsellors to attend actively to cultural distance–similarity (Gupta, 2017) in each client–counsellor encounter. However, it is the responsibility of the counsellor to forefront client beliefs, values, and assumptions and to actively challenge their own tendencies towards cultural encapsulation to avert stereotyping or imposition of their subjective lens on clients. For learners, embracing the subjectivity of their own worldview and cultural lenses opens space for truly understanding and valuing others.
Take a moment to consider what it would be like to live in a world without gender, for example, or social class, or religion. Alternatively, imagine a world in which people were organized into social groups and society was stratified based on eye colour, astrological signs, vegetarianism versus fish and meat consumption, or beliefs about having, or not having, animals as pets. How might this affect the worldviews of various dominant and nondominant groups? Consider the following YouTube video, attending to your emotional and cognitive reactions as you watch it.
© BBC Studies (2010, June 7)
Next, try to identify ways in which people have been grouped historically based on characteristics that are no longer relevant today? What does this suggest about the randomness of social classifications and stratification?
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Picture yourself in the second week of your practicum or your first job as a counsellor. Then, consider each of the following scenarios. The information has been gathered by the intake person at the counselling organization. Attend to your thoughts, feelings, and embodied responses as you read through each one. [Note: Where I have used gendered pronouns below, individuals identified as male or female on the intake form.]
- Elise identifies as a Hari Krishna devotee. She is single and lives in a communal house with other group members. She has worked in a provincial government office for the past two years. She recently received a poor performance assessment (the second in row), and she believes she is being discriminated against for her spiritual beliefs.
- Adam is a major league hockey player, separated, and a father of two young boys. His wife recently took out a restraining order against him that also prohibits unsupervised visits with his children. He has suffered a number of concussions and is aware that they have impacted his moods. He admits to aggression in his interactions with his family.
- Abila is an international student. She is in her mid-twenties. She has been in Canada for three years and is set to return home to Lebanon in six months. Her family is very conservative and expects her to marry the Lebanese man to whom she was engaged before she came to Canada. She is suffering from depression and anxiety.
- Ethan has spent the last two years in the United States hoping to gain asylum because of the civil war in his home country in central Africa. He recently and illegally crossed the border into Canada and has taken refuge in a church that has opened its doors to a small group of refugees in similar positions. His wife died in the conflict in his home country, and he has a three-year old boy, Isaiah, with him. He does not speak English, so he came to the intake session with an interpreter from the church community.
- James specifically requested to see an Indigenous counsellor, but was informed that none are available through the organization. James grew up in the city in a Caucasian neighbourhood and with Caucasian parents, but he has recently started exploring his Indigenous roots along with new his partner, Albert, whom he met through a local Indigenous community centre.
- Sarah was picked up for prostitution and has been mandated to attend counselling. She left home at 14 and is now 23. She does not list a home address on the intake form, only a cell phone number. She does not offer presenting concerns, because she says she is just here to put in her time to satisfy the judge.
- Shigeko wants to talk about relationship issues. Where gender was solicited on the intake form, the options for male or female have both been crossed out. Shigeko works as a community activist for LGBTTQI1 rights.
- Sergey is married with two children in private schools. He recently lost his job of 25 years because the company moved its operations overseas. He has a part-time position with a political organization; you recognize the organization as associated with strong anti-immigration agendas.
- Anna is in her late 70s and recently lost her spouse of 40 years. She joined a grief group at the organization several months ago and is seeking individual counselling now. She lives with her adult daughter and grandchild.
- Sophia has come for counselling with her 13-year-old daughter who has multiple sclerosis. She has been home schooling Isabella for the last few years, but she is feeling overwhelmed as Isabella moves on to high school curricula. Sophia has a high school education and studied in Spanish as a child and adolescent in Colombia.
The concept of cultural difference is a social construction: We create and define difference based on our socialization and personal choices. Consider how your reactions are tied to your personal cultural identities, lived experiences, and possibly your social locations. What competencies (i.e., knowledge, attitudes, or skills) might you seek to develop to prepare to work with those clients with whom you felt the least comfortable or competent?
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The purpose of this exercise is to provide insight into the use of symbolism in Indigenous art. Artistic expression, tightly integrated with daily life, is typical of most First Nations. Decoration is used on everything from moccasins and coats to baseball caps and paintings. However, this decoration is not just added to make things pretty. Based on the Medicine Wheel, it is typically composed of messages from symbolic pictures. These may be recommended directly by an elder, or they may be passed along through the collective unconscious. Through this exercise, you will apply the use of symbolism in producing something artistic; describe yourself, using traditional Indigenous symbolism; begin to analyze yourself with your own strengths, weaknesses, and desires; and look at your core symbolism to further investigate who you are, thinking in the terms of the circle.
CAUTION: You have been invited to use these symbols to increase your understanding of Indigenous worldviews. If you are a non-Indigenous person, before you complete this exercise, consider what boundaries you might place around it to avoid cultural appropriation.
- A peace shield is a personal object that was used traditionally during ceremonies. It looks like a shield used for defence in that it is a round frame with eagle feathers falling from it. However it is made with delicate leather and fine stitching and would be of absolutely no use in battle. On it is painted a symbolic representation of who the person is, often based on the Medicine Wheel.
- Do a search online for examples of medicine wheels. Search also for the types of symbols that are often used to communicate particular meanings. Here are few examples of Indigenous Cultural Symbols. Please remember that there are many different First Nations who attach different meaning to cultural symbols; these are intended as examples not generalizations.
- Make a circular drawing of yourself using the symbols presented, or any other set of symbols that are meaningful to you. You can do this using a draw program to create an electronic image or using paper and art supplies.
- Add three or four feathers to the bottom of the peace shield, representing major accomplishments in your life that required effort, for example, finishing a degree, completing a difficult job, accomplishing a physical feat, bringing up a child, etc.
- Reflect on the meaning you attach to your peace shield.
As a non-Indigenous practitioner how might you respectfully invite Indigenous clients to connect with their cultural worldview, recognizing that Indigenous symbols, metaphors, or other cultural healing practices should not be integrated into your counselling practice except as brought forth by the client or through your own training and supervision with Indigenous teachers or guides?
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Using either library or credible Internet resources, create a list of characteristics of Indigenous worldviews, remembering that there are considerable within-group differences among Indigenous peoples in Canada. Next, consider the narrative below. You are required to incorporate your research on Indigenous worldviews into the class discussion, paying particular attention to the specifics of Cheryl’s story.
Cheryl is an Indigenous woman who grew up in a white home in a rural community in Prince Edward Island (PEI). She has had no contact with her Indigenous family and knows only that she comes from one of the Mi’kmaq First Nations in the Annapolis Valley. She came to Acadia University six months ago to study counselling and encountered a second-year student from the Mi’kmaq First Nations. Cheryl has very mixed feelings about associating with this student, because Cheryl sees herself as a PEI native, and all she knows is the Irish heritage and traditions of her family and home community. Nonetheless, she felt an inexplicable ease in this young woman’s presence that she rarely experiences outside of her close family.
Cheryl’s parents’ families came to PEI in the 1820’s to escape religious persecution; they were skilled tradespersons and farmers who welcomed the chance at freedom and prosperity, in both economic and spiritual spheres. She has a younger brother and an older sister; her sister was also adopted from an Indigenous family in northern Quebec. Cheryl went through what she describes as a phase in high school when she became curious about her birth parents, but this created tension with her older sister, whom she admires, so she abandoned her interest in them. Her parents know little about her Indigenous heritage other than her surname at birth. Her birth certificate listed “Baby Girl Gloade,” and there was no first name on record when they picked her up at the hospital.
In her graduate multicultural counselling course this semester, she has been confronted with the expectation of examining her personal cultural identities and social locations as part of positioning herself as a cultural being in her work with clients. The second year Mi’kmaq student is a teaching assistant in the course, and she has invited Cheryl to come visit her home community, which is about 50 km from Wolfville, where the university is located. The invitation alone has created considerable anxiety for Cheryl. She suddenly feels like an outsider in her own life. She has come to see you at the University Counselling Services to talk about the possibility of either withdrawing from the course or requesting an alternative assignment, stating that the course instructor is demanding personal information to which they should not be privy. She states that she has been having dreams of old people calling out to her and then disappearing into thin air. She also complains of pain in her chest and abdomen, which she attributes to the stress she is under. She has always been an A student, and she is angry that this assignment is putting her performance at risk.
Carefully consider Cheryl’s story in light of your research on Indigenous worldviews. You may want to think about some of the questions below (all optional) as you engage with your peers in talking through this scenario.
- Where might you begin in your work with Cheryl?
- What principles would you draw on to demonstrate cultural sensitivity?
- What might you want to inquire about to more fully understand her perspectives and needs?
- What tentative hypotheses do you hold about Cheryl’s distress?
- If you were in Cheryl’s shoes, what might you be looking for through the counselling process?
- How would your awareness of Indigenous worldviews influence your work with, and perhaps your hopes for, Cheryl?
- How might your identity as either an Indigenous or a non-Indigenous counsellor influence your perspectives and approach?
- How would you balance Cheryl’s right to determine the goals of the counselling process with your emergent cultural awareness and cultural hypotheses?
Treat this conversation as a peer consultation. If this is an online discussion, ensure that you carefully attend to the posts of your peers in crafting your contributions to the ongoing dialogue.
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Some of you have grown up in contexts that mirrored the Western individualist worldview that historically undergirds most of the concepts, processes, and perspectives in counselling and psychology. Others may come from cultural backgrounds that uphold a collectivist worldview. Participate together in creating a list of the ways of knowing, being, and doing inherent in each of these perspectives. Generate as many specific points as you can, and wherever possible, pair corresponding points up under each type of worldview.
Then, consider how worldview is played out in ideologies related to various cultural identities: gender, gender identity, class, Indigeneity, ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, and religion/spirituality. For example, the reductionism and dualism in the Western worldview plays out in gender binaries (male versus female) as it does in discourses of good versus evil. Push yourselves to think critically about these ideas, recognizing that worldviews are also fluid, dynamic, and not mutually exclusive. Be respectful to only add one or two ideas to start so that others have a chance to contribute. Feel free to use whatever resources you like. You do not need to provide citations for these ideas; however, if you find a great resource that might be helpful to your peers, feel free to start a shared bibliography.
Once your lists are complete, try to position yourself within the lived experience of those who adopt the lens that is least familiar to you. How might their ways of knowing, being, and doing differ? Or, if you embrace bicultural identities, consider what elements of each worldview you integrate.
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As you listen to this music clip from the A Tribe Called Red, Ft. Black Bear – Stadium Pow Wow, write a list of descriptors for how Indigenous people have been portrayed in the media.
© A Tribe Called Red (2016, June 16)
Now, write a second list of the messages that you have received through your family and early socialization. Reflect on the following questions. If you are a Indigenous counsellor, replace these reflections with your observations and perceptions of non-Indigenous peoples.
- What is your experience in life with Indigenous people?
- What do you know of First Nations music? How does it reflect aspects of the culture?
- What early traditional songs, prayers, pictographs, or archeological sites have you encountered? What did they mean? How are the lived experiences depicted different from today?
- What Indigenous rituals are you familiar with and what meaning do you attach to them?
- What images of Indigenous peoples do you carry forward with you from movies you have watched? How many of these were written and/or produced by indigenous persons?
- How much of your current perception is likely based on stereotypes of Indigenous people?
- Based on your knowledge or lack of knowledge of Indigenous peoples, what potential biases might you need to examine in your professional role when counselling Indigenous clients?
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Complete this short quiz to assess your awareness of the current lived experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Try to answer honestly, rather than giving what you think is the right or acceptable answer.
- True or False: All Indigenous peoples hold the same basic values, cultural norms, beliefs, and practices.
- True or False: It is only recently that Indigenous peoples have obtained the same basic rights as other people in Canada.
- True or False: Although I recognize past abuses, Indigenous peoples are responsible for their situation here and now.
- True or False: What most people don’t realize is that Indigenous peoples have a lot of money.
- True or False: Indigenous peoples get a lot of financial support from the government; they don’t have to pay for their housing, education, or medical expenses.
- True or False: Indigenous peoples have the same obligations to pay taxes as other Canadians.
- True or False: Indigenous peoples are very adept at interfacing with, and adapting to, life in mainstream Canadian society.
- True or False: Indigenous peoples have not developed the same work ethic as people from other cultural groups; they have high rates of turnover and absenteeism.
- True or False: There are many Indigenous peoples who are well qualified for a wide variety of jobs.
- True or False: Setting out to specifically hire Indigenous peoples is a form of reverse discrimination against other Canadians.
Keep your responses to the completed the quiz open and compare them to the Circles for Reconciliation (2017) Dispelling the Myths About Indigenous People. Finally, read the Executive Summary (pp. 5-7) of the Environics Instititute for Survey Research (2016) Canadian Public Opinion on Aboriginal Peoples, Final Report, and consider the implications for your personal and professional roles in truth-telling related to colonization.
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Work together with your partner or group to identify several gay men in popular media (television, film, literature). Then, generate a list of as many verbal qualities (e.g., voice tone, inflection, and pitch) and nonverbal qualities (e.g., mannerisms, body posture, and other traits or characteristics) that reflect stereotypes of the gay male. Record that list in column 1 of the Challenging Stereotypes document. This exercise is about gaining awareness. Have fun with this, but at the same time be respectful and recognize that there are likely one or two gay peers in your class.
Duplicate this list for each person, and then individually write the opposite of these qualities on the right column of each page. For example, if one verbal quality of gay men written down is “having a high-pitched voice,” the opposite in the next column would be “having a low-pitched voice.” Share your work with one another and discuss the following:
- To what degree do gay males have a mixture of qualities found in both columns?
- To what degree do heterosexual males have a mixture of qualities found in both columns?
- What are the implications of this exercise for your assumptions about gay men?
- What are the implications for overgeneralizations about members of other nondominant groups?
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There is an implicit irony related to social class worldview: The assumptions, beliefs, and values associated with social class are pervasive and cross boundaries of gender, ethnicity, Indigeneity, age and other dimensions of cultural identity; however, most individuals, including counsellors, lack awareness of differences in worldview across social classes. Understanding of these differences is particularly important because most counsellors come from the middle class; yet, the majority of Canadians belong to the working class or poverty class.
Complete the Nondominant and dominant class assumptions, beliefs, and values exercise. Then, consider the following questions for reflection.
- What are the implications of your assumptions, beliefs, and values for your social class identity?
- To what degree were you conscious of, and reflective about, your class worldview prior to completing this exercise?
- What are the implications for working with clients from other social classes?
- What are the risks of functioning from a position of class unconsciousness in terms of unintentional oppression and marginalization of clients from nondominant social classes?
- How might you actively mitigate these risks by attending to the subjectivity of your worldview?
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One of the reasons the CRSJ counselling model focuses on core competencies rather than specific nondominant populations is that within-group differences can often be as significant as between-group differences. When the multiplicity and intersectionality of cultural identities is considered, it becomes essential to view each client as a unique cultural being. Consider the YouTube video, What Kind of Asian Are You? by Ken Tanaka. [Note: I have linked out to this video, because of copyright restrictions on embedding it in the teaching and learning guide.]
Share your reactions to this short video, drawing on the concepts of stereotyping and within-group differences, in particular. Bring your personal and professional selves into the discussion by being honest about your own experiences of being stereotyped or of applying stereotypes to others. Begin to discuss together strategies for treating each client as a unique cultural being. Identify challenges, hesitations, or counter-arguments to this approach.
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Collins, S. (2018). Embracing cultural responsivity and social justice: Re-shaping professional identity in counselling psychology [Epub version]. Victoria, BC: Counselling Concepts. Retrieved from http://www.counsellingconcepts.ca
Gupta, R. (2017). What does being an “American” look like in the therapy room? Smith College Studies in Social Work, 87, 137-152. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00377317.2017.1324012
Sinacore, A. L., Borgen, W. A., Daniluk, J., Kassan, A., Long, B. C., & Nicol, J. (2011). Canadian counselling psychologists’ contributions to applied psychology. Canadian Psychology, 52, 276-288. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0025549