Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Intercultural Counseling Class

So in class we were assigned to read about multicultural counseling competencies [See the important book by Sue here from google books]. I wrote the below assigned reflection for class (our accountability that we are reading). My professor wants to talk more with me about it. I think for however much I like my first counselor I have some things to work out regarding how I was counseled regarding being gay. It's really hard for me to talk about because I respect him and like him a ton. AND.......

I can tell this class is going to be challenging for me. This week in particular the three articles we read on multicultural counseling competencies brought into focus a question I've been living with for a while and that is: "Is cross-cultural competency even possible?" I am a bit jaded I think. Ultimately striving to be anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti- can only help counseling. And yes it is really important. But, I keep thinking of times when for all a counselors good intentions they ultimately "do harm" anyway accidentally because multicultural counseling competencies are so fluid and complex that despite best intentions they fail anyway.

Some days I think the ultimate competency is referring, and sometimes doing what is not recommended, naming what you believe or think even if it sounds racist or ignorant so that the client knows they need to find another counselor. Obviously this is triggered by the intersection between my own experience and reading these articles.

From a racial and ethnic point of view I am not convinced that systematic racism can ever be overcome. It's so prevalent in our society and in the structures of power how can in not negatively impact the counseling relationship when a white counselor is counseling a client of another ethnicity. For all my education, racial righteousness bus trips to the south, and training on fighting racism and power and systems I still find it scary to think of how I would counsel someone, no matter my competencies. I hope this class helps me with some of this fear.

And on a totally different cultural issue, I feel strongly about referring as the ultimate cultural competency because of the many Christian counselors who try and "change" their gay and lesbian clients. For years I saw a Christian counselor who believed homosexuality was sin. Which is one thing in a church and an entirely different thing in a counseling office. For quite a while I was trying to heal or change and not able to accept being gay was part of my identity so that was fine. But ultimately I think it did me harm because he did not refer me.

Eventually he told me how he thought and I was able to quit and find another counselor. This decreased my self hate. It took me years longer to accept myself because I wasn't referred and because I did not know what he really thought. And he did actually follow the multicultural competencies in many ways. And he was a really great counselor AND I feel bad about even posting this.


Zuzu said...

I can't even comment on the relationship with the counselor. It pains me to hear that someone you sought help from would be consumed by their own issues and not open themselves up to understanding - regardless of their personal opinions. I've done a lot of work in cross cultural settings over the years. I've learned tons. I DO believe it's possible to help someone - especially if as you're continuing to help someone you lay your concerns about your own inabilities on the table, provide other resources, and proceed with compassion.

Mostly, at our core, we're humans and we all have basic human desires and needs. Our cultural references, ways of being and learning, may be different from one another. As long as one remains open, continues to read, learn, understand, more and more about cross-cultural differences (be that culture the Black American cultures - note I pluralize that - there's not just one - gay culture, lebian culture, Latino/a cultures, Christian cultures, etc.) the more we each bring to the table. We don't have to agree with someone's beliefs or lifestyle choices in order to connect with them and be helpful. Often just being very honest about our own limitations (people have a hard time with that - their ego gets in the way and/or they "think" they know when they're really clueless!) is often all it takes for someone to be both willing and able to work with us - to teach us as we help them. But we MUST respect them enough to recognize we have something to learn - they have something to teach us - and be open to listen and ask respectful questions that will help us.

Bentley has done some really phenomenal cross-cultural community building (with predominantly white rural farmers and Latino/a immigrants) and has incredible insights into cross-cultural issues between the Amish and secular/non-Amish society.

While I'm not working with people in matters as core as their psyche, often times deeper issues, residing in cultural roots and beliefs, are ultimately what we are talking about - when it comes to matters of how someone values their life, the way they make decisions and the power they can or can't see to impact their surroundings and future. When I work with Black Americans in the Bay Area, I may relay nearly the same information that I do their predominantly white counterparts, but the WAY I relay the information is different. I don't necessarily set out for it to be different - but as I listen and respond to a group's needs, I find invariably when working with Black Americans (from/in the community - not community leaders or gatekeepers per se) that the group changes the format to be more conversational, interactive, with more personal references and based on everyone's personal experiences. White folks seem to want to keep personal experiences more "private" - sometimes, almost, cloaking those private and personal experiences in shame or maybe a better term.. "embarrassment." Any generalization isn't really helpful, however, when it comes to working with individuals - because ultimately people are different and it's recognizing that and meeting the individual where they actually are at - rather than where one presumes they're at or "should be."

If your therapist would have said, "I'm not sure I can help you with this. I'm not terribly educated on this area and I feel I might have preconceived ideas that might not be useful. BUT, I'm willing to be open, learn and listen as long as you know my guidance and wisdom may fall short of your needs. I'm willing to try and learn..." Then, of course, he'd be a different person, but it would also demonstrate a competency in working across cultures even if that didn't equate with a deep knowledge of the culture or vast depths of wisdom about proceeding.. the wisdom would be gained by being willing to take the journey with you - and the client may be more willing to be the person someone "cuts their teeth on" in that learning if the individual is honest.. and respectful. Thoughts?

just me said...

zu - Wow good stuff. And I love this line of conversation am curious to what I'll continue to learn.

I was thinking about these two lines in your thoughts: "We don't have to agree with someone's beliefs or lifestyle choices in order to connect with them and be helpful."

And this one: If your therapist would have said, "I'm not sure I can help you with this. I'm not terribly educated on this area and I feel I might have preconceived ideas that might not be useful. BUT, I'm willing to be open, learn and listen as long as you know my guidance and wisdom may fall short of your needs. I'm willing to try and learn..."

The thing is he sortof did say this. He said he would work with me no matter what. He was helpful even though he had an opinion on homosexuality. He said he has counceled one client at least who choose to not "change" but make his relationship healthier with his partner. But in the midst of all this I knew what he thought.

He did not say "I'm not sure I can help you or I'm not terribly education on this area. Or I might have preconceived ideas that might not be useful." But that would be true about him. He said I will work with anyone towards any goal (which is basically like saying we don't have to agree in order for me to be helpful). I do think it was important that he told me he thought homosexuality was sin because that way I could leave and go figured out myself in a more neutral environment. Maybe I'm starting to think that this is where a separation from faith and psychology is needed. Religion can muddy psychological conversations sometimes when there's an issue that may or may not be religious as well. In the area of coming out and sexual identity I am starting to think that you can't clearly talk about mental health and sexual identity and health while you are talking about sin. You can talk about sin in another time and place but, and forgive my swearing, I think merging the psychology and the religion lines of thought fucks everything up.

And I guess I haven't even covered the ethnicity and culture piece yet!

Zuzu said...

yeah, I hear you. Regardless of what is being discussed in therapy, it seems inappropriate to bring in concepts of "sin" and impose that judgment. I would think that part of the purpose of therapy is to help people to figure out what's right and wrong for them - on their own - not impose the moral framework. I mean, even if you're talking about someone being a clepto - I wouldn't think in the context of therapy it would be so helpful to 'tell' the client that stealing is wrong - so much as the goal is to explore what drives the desire to steal, examine it and assist a client in getting to a place where they understand that desire in their life. I'm not comparing being a clepto to sexuality - far from it - but moreso thinking that the concept of something being labeled sinful seems antithetical to the goals of a therapeutic session.

What I think your therapist did that was good was to own up and fess up and by doing so allowed you to make a choice. I think that does represent competency.. don't you?