Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Engaging Clients with Cultural Humility

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Engaging Clients with Cultural Humility

Article excerpt

As a young counseling psychologist, I entered a field that had a heavy emphasis on multicultural competence. I was taught the importance of developing (a) self-awareness of my own cultural background and experiences, (b) knowledge about the various cultural groups that comprised the clients I worked with, and (c) counseling skills for working with clients from various cultural groups (Sue et al., 1982). The ethics code of my profession prioritized respect for people's rights and dignity, including respect for cultural differences (APA, 2002).

At the beginning of my training, I engaged with diversity issues (and clients from different cultural backgrounds) with a combination of interest and fear. I think my interest in multicultural counseling and diversity issues was related to the reasons I chose to pursue psychology in the first place. I am naturally curious, and have always been interested in people and their backgrounds, including their families and broader cultural upbringing. So the idea of connecting with and trying to understand individuals who had different worldviews than I did was exciting.

On the other hand, I also experienced fear around diversity issues. I was scared about offending clients, and saying the wrong thing due to my inexperience. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and had limited experiences with diversity in my neighborhoods and schools. I went to college at a laige state university that was diverse; however, the large size of the university made it easy for me to surround myself with friends who looked and thought similarly to the way I did. Graduate school was the first time that I engaged more intimately in relationships with individuals who were markedly different from me culturally.

Throughout my graduate training and early professional career, I had a series of professional and personal experiences that led me to engage deeply in the multicultural counseling discussion. For example, when I first attended graduate school, the advisor that I planned to work with was on sabbatical, so I worked closely with an African American faculty member for two years, which focused my early research on issues related to race-related stress and minority mental health and well-being. In one of my graduate courses, I was tasked with interviewing a prominent counseling psychologist, and I had a deeply moving discussion with Joseph Ponterroto, who is a White male and a leader in the multicultural counseling movement. One of my best friends from the church I attended in graduate school came out as gay, which prompted me to wrestle with the topic of religion and sexual orientation, and to figure out what I believed about that issue.

One byproduct of joining a community that deeply values diversity and multiculturalism was that I began to see myself through other people's eyes-I was the face of the oppressor and I had to come to terms with this. I remember a class in which we were discussing first impressions of each other, and an African-American student remarked that I reminded her of everything she disliked about my undergraduate institution (which she had also attended). At the time, I was surprised, not understanding why she had reacted to me in this manner. However, looking back, I recognize that I did harbor negative attitudes toward other racial groups that I had little experience with, and I did not openly acknowledge my position of privilege. Throughout graduate school (and partly because of my interactions with that student), I became increasingly aware of my privilege as a White, male, heterosexual, middle-class, Christian. I became convinced that to have integrity as a Christian, I had to integrate back into my identity the subtle ways that I had been desensitized to privilege and oppression. For example, I had to own that Christians have done great good, but we have also colluded in major forms of oppression. I am still working to hold this tension-that my faith holds a potential for both participating in God's redemptive work, as well as joining with dehumanizing forces in the world. …

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