Sunday, July 8, 2012
Working with Culture
Richard Leland Neal
In this interview Dr. Sanders-Thompson discusses multicultural competence, the skills necessary for competence and how they may be acquired and what makes this important. In a two-page paper discuss what this means to you, areas in or populations with which you feel you currently are competent, and what you still need to develop.
A major point to address when examining diversity is that the opposite of worldliness is ignorance and ignorant people make poor mental health professionals. The occasion where a professional is working with a homogenous client population is in itself an oddity. Were as we may often deal with a vastly naturalized population, those who have a strong command of our language, are aware of social taboos, and function in ways that we can easily understand, an understanding of other cultures can still be a useful tool in working with clients.
An important point to remember is that every culture has met the needs of the people in a unique way. Asian cultures often have a number of mental health tradition and cultural practices that date back some time. In addition, the Asian cultures are known for forms of exercise that involve less equipment. I once worked with a man who claimed that the Japanese art of origami originated from the destruction of property in flooding. When working with poor clients a clinician may find useful living tips when examining Japanese culture. A poor family could make toys for their children out of junk mail if a few lessons from the Japanese were learned. A knowledge of cultural diversity may serve the clinician and client even if this knowledge appears unrelated.
Clients with a culture heritage of weak currency, like immigrants from Mexico, often prefer to keep their funds in material objects or use money as it comes in because in antiquity saving was useless. Cultures with a strong survive and subsist background will have lower grades, more children per household. They may be trapped in poverty as much by tradition as economy.
As a general note, whenever I work with a client from another culture I often find something in my mental storeroom that connects me to that culture. I once had a client who had a strong tie to her native African roots. I knew nothing of her own tribe but a few facts about other tribes and the expressing of my knowledge earned me a good deal of respect.
As a general point I have always preferred to get my information on culture directly from the people of the culture. Whenever I come across someone from a different background I try to pick their brain. They often have a few interesting anecdotes about their experiences in my culture. Second to that has always been documentaries. This gives a view of real life. Film and other forms of media may show characters or action that are culturally significant but that I fail to grasp. Much like showing a character biting the end off a cigar is a sign of lack of refinement and dignity in our own culture. Few Americans would know that in the modern day and one could come across something like that in the film of another culture and not know.
The largest weak spot in my own knowledge is my vocabulary in Spanish. I have been told that I speak it like a native but I know too few words to communicate.
In more specific circumstances, clients who have less acculturation may be put at ease by even a small gesture from there experiences.