Cultural Competence and Professional Psychology Training: Creating the Architecture for Change

By Giannet, Stanley | Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Cultural Competence and Professional Psychology Training: Creating the Architecture for Change


Giannet, Stanley, Journal of Evolutionary Psychology


Culture is defined as a highly variable system of meanings which are learned and shared by an identifiable racial, ethnic, religious or social group. It includes components of life that are transmitted intergenerationally (Rohner, 1984). These systems of meanings include thoughts, communication styles, customs, beliefs, values and institutions (Cross, Bazron, Dennis & Isaacs, 1989). A voluminous body of research explores the importance of understanding the role that culture plays in influencing behavior. Psychologists have referred to ethnoculturalism as the "fourth force" in mental health counseling. Yet, the examination and application of culture in mainstream psychology currently occupies diminished importance. A powerful assumption is that the study of ethnoculturalism does not significantly contribute to an understanding of psychological variables and clinical practice in the United States. (Betancourt &Regresar Lopez,1993).

Ponterotto and Casas(1987) noted that "Although extensive rhetoric has focused on the need to revamp and update training programs to sensitize them to racial and ethnic minority programs, progess has been slow and adequate cross cultural perspectives are lacking (p.430)." They further advocate guild-organized efforts toward multicultural infusion in all traning programs.

Historically, surveys of American Psychological Association accredited clinical and counseling graduate training and internship programs have revealed that ethnocultural training is minimally covered (Wyatt & Parnham,1985). In 1982 60% of accredited clinical psychology programs did not provide a multicultural course to trainees and no program had a required multicultural course (Bernal & Padilla,1982). The profession is currently experiencing a gradually evolving emphasis with a higher percentage of programs offering multicultural courses, although they are not required as core or primary courses (Hills & Strozier,1992). A review of graduate programs with specific concentrations in multicultural competencies evidenced only fourteen programs (International Association of Cross Cultural Psychology,1997). Three of these programs were education focused, and thus addressed children's issues. None of the remaining specifically included specializations in children's mental health.

The American Psychological Association has required the inclusion of programs that explore multicultural issues. Moreover, multicultural counseling skills are ethically imperative (Altimer,1933;; APA, 1986; Altimer, 1993). Therefore, a plausible argument can be made that clinicians who are not competent in ethnocultural issues may be practicing unethically (Casas, Pontoretto, & Gutierrez,1986). Despite these mandates, a formal requirement for demonstrated skill and competence is lacking (Jones,1985). Additionally, knowledge in ethnocultural issues is not being assessed in the same way as knowledge in other training areas (Altmaier, 1993). One problem is that there is little agreement as to what ethnocultural training should involve and how these competencies are defined (Jones, 1985; Ponterotto & Casas,1987).

OPERATIONALLY DEFINING CULTURAL COMPETENCE

Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes and policies and strategies that join in a system, agency, or among professionals and enable them to work effectively in cross-cultural situations both in prevention. and treatment contexts (Cross, Bazron, Dennis,&.Isaacs,1989). Furthermore, cultural competent strategies should be specifically based on and reflect the values, preferences and expectations of the specific identified group. (Marin,1989).

Several dramatic findings show the importance of planning and implementing cultural competence in psychology practice. For instance, children and adolescents of color are more likely to be diagnosed with serious emotional disturbance, yet the system fails to offer effective interventions in helping to meet their needs (Gibbs & Huang, 1989). …

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