The Treatment of Multicultural Issues in Contemporary Forensic Psychology Textbooks

By Powell, Martine B.; Bartholomew, Terence | Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, April 2003 | Go to article overview

The Treatment of Multicultural Issues in Contemporary Forensic Psychology Textbooks


Powell, Martine B., Bartholomew, Terence, Psychiatry, Psychology and Law


This article examines whether practice issues relating to clients from different cultural or ethnic groups are adequately addressed in a wide selection of contemporary forensic psychology textbooks. Specifically, we examine the extent to which cross-cultural issues are engaged within these texts, and how well the information provided informs forensic practice. While most of the reviewed texts acknowledged the need to consider cultural issues, there was relatively little discussion of specific issues, and practical guidelines were rarely offered. It is argued that without more widespread acknowledgment of the direct implications of cultural issues for forensic practice, it is unlikely that a fair and reliable system for the investigation and treatment of complaints made by and against people from different cultural groups will be obtained.

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It is widely recognised that minority racial and ethnic groups are over-represented in all Western judicial and penal systems (Manson, 1997; Mildren, 1997; Robin, Chester, Rasmussen, Jaranson, & Goldman, 1997; Singer, 1996; Thomas, 1987). As a result, the cultural diversity of clients within the justice system poses a major challenge for forensic psychologists. The fundamental tasks of these professionals are to gather (and often present) relevant, detailed and accurate information about the client and/or the alleged offence for the court, and to recommend and/or implement appropriate therapeutic strategies. When there are fundamental differences between the professional's and the client's language and culture, there is increased risk that information elicited will be unreliable, and that decisions based on this information will be partially flawed (e.g., R. v Anunga, 1976).

Given the unchallenged importance of providing equal access to due process protections (Chang & Araujo, 1975; Fine, 1984), it should be reasonable to assume that textbooks directed towards forensic psychologists would place a high priority on informing these professionals about the range of issues that emerge when working with witnesses, victims and offenders from minority groups. However, in the past, this has not been the case. In 1989, Young examined the extent to which issues relating to what he referred to as "multicultural counselling" had been discussed in 12 widely used correctional psychology textbooks (published between 1977 and 1988). Young used the term "multicultural counselling" to refer to "the clinical application of comparative research on culture, behaviour and personality". His content analysis highlighted that consideration of cultural issues had no visible position in how correctional psychology was being presented to readers of these texts. Ten of the books did not include topics relating to multicultural counselling, and merely provided a mono-cultural (i.e., Eurocentric) and essentialistic account of treatment issues. In the remaining two books, discussion of cultural considerations was brief. One of the books devoted four paragraphs to cultural values, five paragraphs to minorities and treatment, and nine paragraphs to supervising black offenders. The other offered a chapter on factors related to parole outcomes for Native Americans. This result was seen as particularly concerning because content within prominent textbooks is a useful indicator of the degree to which certain considerations are regarded as central to a discipline or specialty's body of knowledge (see Young, 1989).

With the above issues in mind, the aim of the current article was to examine whether and how issues related to working with clients from a range of cultural backgrounds are addressed in current texts for forensic psychology students and practitioners (1). It is important to note that this investigation was not limited to counselling per se, but instead focused on a range of functions that psychologists perform within the legal system. Specifically, we sought to address two questions: to what extent are issues related to cultural sensitivity and relativity presented in current forensic psychology texts (in terms of breadth of coverage), and how useful is this content for forensic practitioners? …

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