(((I am currently studying for a licensure exam & completing an internship. This blog post is intended as a study exercise.)))
PART ONE – A Cultural Self-Assessment….
According to our textbook, a bias is simply a “tendency to think, act, or feel in a particular way.” (Hays, 2008, p24). Personal biases emerge as a result of our upbringing and sociocultural background, (Hays, 2008). Our life history provides us a worldview, value system, identity and cultural background that produce the very biases we carry into therapeutic relationships, (Hays, 2008). In light of this fact, a cultural self-assessment is the first step toward developing greater multicultural competency as a counselor. I start this self-assessment by utilizing the Addressing Model to provide a rough overview of my sociocultural history. I then move on to a series of interview questions, which can help to shed light on areas of privilege, as well as value systems, and identities.
Utilizing the Addressing Model
Age and Generational Influences
My Parent’s Generation.
My mother was born in 1938 and my father was born in 1941. They are members of the “silent generation”, born just prior to the baby boom (Martin, 2004). Their earliest years of life occurred while the world was at war. My mother, from the Philippines, grew up in the middle of war. My dad, an American, was ignorant of war altogether. They were both raised to work hard, get an education, and pursue the American Dream. For my mother’s family this meant gathering resources to put both of their two daughters through medical school and then help them to immigrate to the states. For my father’s family, this meant raising their sons in a strict household, expecting them to work hard, and then put themselves to school. In the end, they all did so, earning advanced degrees.
I was born in 1969, and grew up in a small college town in South Dakota. Unlike many of my generation, I was spared from having to experience divorce first-hand, with divorce rates soaring to 50% in my childhood (Amato & Cheadle, 2005). With everyone in my extended family enjoying long and happy marriages, I have come to value the commitment of marriage and family.
Typical of many women in generation, I am fairly skeptical of the idea of “having it all”; a popular notion existing in westernized cultures in the aftermath feminist movement (Genz, 2010). While very appreciative of the strides made, I’ve witnessed many women struggle to keep up with home and work life in frustration. With many women in my generation have chosen to put off family, or opt out all together, I’ve chosen to put off career pursuits in favor of focusing on my family life, while my kids were young (Genz, 2010).
Fortunately, I have no physical disabilities or health issues whatsoever. I’ve had the privilege of ignorance that comes with living in a healthy body, and never having to think about living with disability. (Hays, 2008). Nonetheless, I’ve found plenty of opportunity in my life to learn about living with disability. As a Hospital Tech I have had a great deal of opportunity to work with disabled individuals. As the mother to a son with a congenital defect, I’ve gained insight into experience of raising a child with special needs. I’ve developed an awareness of what it is to deal with physical disability on a daily basis. In fact, I’ve felt a great deal of satisfaction from these experiences, and wish to explore this area as a potential career path.
Religion and Spiritual Orientation
My religious background is complicated, by the fact that my family isn’t unified in its religious beliefs. My father is an atheist, my mother is devoutly catholic, and my sister considers herself a “born-again” evangelical Christian. As an agnostic, I can see everyone’s point of view and respect each one, as right for that person. I don’t feel it is right for anyone to impose their religious beliefs on others. Nonetheless, I do find the other members of my family disagreeing on matters quite often. My sister and mother disagree with the others beliefs on the grounds that it goes against their own. My father refuses to talk about it altogether and this annoys my mother and sister.
Ethnic & Racial Identity
“The ecological model of racial identity development acknowledges that there are many different ways people of mixed racial heritage may identify themselves….These identities do not necessarily coincide with how other persons identify them. Thus the private identity may be different from the public identity assumed or validated by others.” (Root, 1998, p240).
I am a biracial individual, born to a Filipino mother and White father. A book written about my hometown, by author May-Lee Chai, titled “Hapa Girl” (2007), provides a good depiction of my childhood environment overall. Also biracial, she was a senior in high school when I was a freshman and endured much of what I did growing up.
My racial identity can be best described as a personal knowledge I hold within. It isn’t reflected in my phenotypic appearance and consequently is rarely acknowledged in my interaction with others. (Root, 1998). As a result, my identity as biracial is held with pride despite often being refuted and criticized by others. Additionally, because I’ve never been to the Philippines, it isn’t based on any cultural heritage. (Root, 1998) While purely American, from a cultural perspective, I claim both my Asian and American heritage from an identity viewpoint.
The socioeconomic status of my family of origin is solidly upper middle class. In contrast, my family of procreation would most likely be somewhere in the lower middle class. My husband comes a working class background, and had a rough home life. Adding to this, until recently, I’ve put off career pursuits in favor of family. As a result, I have experienced some downwardly mobile, in a matter of speaking. By marrying someone of a different socioeconomic class, I’m aware of the huge cultural divide between my husband’s family and my own. I feel comfortable in both worlds, yet my husband doesn’t enjoy being around my extended family, (despite getting along with my parents). A quote from a book titled “Reading Classes” by Barbara Jensen (2012) that sums up my husband’s experiences well:
“I knew I wasn’t middle class like some others in the movement, and I believed I wasn’t as smart as they were. I knew my brain worked okay, but they knew more, lots more, and I wanted what they had. They often referred to authors I had never read or even heard of. They used words I didn’t understand, and they often talked about their college experiences, worldly travel, orchestral music, and other things with which I had little opportunity and experience. They appeared to all understand one another, but sometimes I just pretended I understood, and then I felt ashamed of both not knowing and pretending.” (Jensen, 2012, p18)
Sexual Orientation & Gender
Sexual Orientation & Cisgender Status.
Regarding the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity, I happen to be a cisgendered heterosexual. Being cisgender, I moved through life with a body that matches my gender of identification, (Levy, 2013). Being a heterosexual, I have a sexual preference that is deemed acceptable by all facets of our society (Levy, 2013). I have never felt the need to think about my sexual orientation or gender identity to the extent I have my racial identity. Any thought I do give to such matters has been purely political in nature, since I’ve always been very supportive of LGBT rights. Having said this, I do feel simply believing in equal rights isn’t enough With ignorance, can come a lack of awareness of things such as subtleties of interaction and the imposition of our biases that can indeed be felt as discriminatory, regardless of their intention, (Hays, 2008)
While being a female certainly implies a second-class status, it must be noted that the degree to which this is experience varies by culture. Fortunately, my sociocultural background has been one which values and empowers women. Having said this, it would be fruitful to learn about the implications of being female in cultures other than my own, as a matter of perspective.
Indigenous Heritage & National Origin.
On the one hand, I’m an American living in the United States and have no experience living in another country. I am neither an immigrant nor of indigenous heritage. On the other hand, with a mother who emigrated from the Philippines, I’ve witnessed a bit of what it is like to balance the influences of two competing cultures. Described best as a biculturalism, or dual identity status, (Framboise, 1993), raising a family in a foreign culture was certainly problematic for my mom. From my perspective, the cultural gap that resulted did require time to work through. Having not occurred until well into my own adulthood, I have a relationship with my mother today, which is very different from that of my childhood.
Cultural Self-Assessment Interview
In this portion of the paper, I move on to a series of self-assessment interview questions. It is my intention to answer each within the Addressing Model framework. I will consider how each question applies to my sociocultural history as described within this model.
“When I was born what were the social expectations for a person of my identity?” (Ajuoga, 2014).
My biggest struggles with social expectations associated with identity, are in the areas of: (1) gender roles, (2) race identity, (3) socioeconomic class, and (4) religious affiliation. Other addressing components such as disability, sexual orientation, and indigenous heritage, have been of little concern. I will address these areas of struggle in turn, leaving female gender roles issues, for later.
Racial & Ethnic Identity. As mentioned already, I have experienced a great deal of confusion regarding my ethnic identity. My own biracial identity has been largely met with messages of disapproval, with others needing to inform me what they believe is the correct one (Root, 1998). It has taken some time, to sort through this issue as I’ve learned to let go of the idea that validation from others is ever a realistic expectation.
Religious Identity. While my mother’s family is devoutly catholic, my father’s family is predominantly agnostic and atheistic. The competing perspectives from this interfaith family background yielded an array of contradictory expectations (McCarthy, 2007). As my sister and I matured, our chosen routes diverged greatly. I came to identify myself as agnostic, while my sister has joined an evangelical church and embraced those ideals. The biggest issues in our family have come as we’ve tried to maintain a sense of integrity while also respecting others’ beliefs (McCarthy, 2007).
Socioeconomic Identity. Maria Root discusses in her work on mixed race identity, that individuals from such backgrounds can often develop negative biases against one side of their family as result of negative treatment, (Root, 1998). Within my father’s extended family I have experienced just this growing up. The ignorance and ethnocentrism they display, alongside the pride, and unwillingness to see any other perspective has been the source of much pain. As a byproduct of this experience, I’ve developed a negative bias against their upper middle class socioeconomic ideals (Root, 1998). It’s only in my adulthood, that I’ve been aware of how much I rejected this component of my identity, while embracing husband’s working class background instead, (Root, 1998). Coming to terms with this will be essential in my growth as a counselor (Hays, 2008).
“When I was a teenager, what were the norms, values, and gender roles supported within my family, by my peers, in my culture and in the dominant culture” (Ajouga, 2014)
Overall, a great deal of conflict exists regarding norms, values, and gender role expectations within my extended family. In her article an article on biculturalism, Teresa LaFrombroise, discuss the impact of living between cultures (LaFrombroise, et al, 1993). This article mentions feelings of psychological discomfort as the initial result of a dual identity-based conscious that can have potential benefits in the long run, (LaFrombroise, et al, 1993). Having many conflicting identities, as mentioned previously, I’ve experienced much of this discomfort and have likewise developed many fruitful life lessons as a result.
Within my family, gender roles brought about much confusion as a child. Conflicting messages existed as a result of complex familial generational and cultural gaps. My dad’s family came from a traditional background, with the belief that women were supposed to stay at home. In contrast, my mother’s family was very forward thinking. Since my maternal grandparents were both teachers, it was very important their daughters go to school. Having two daughters finish medical school was a source of great pride.
These competing perspectives left me with a conflicting and contradictory array of familial gender-based role expectations. Against this backdrop, was the generational influence of being born in the aftermath of the feminist movement, (Genz, 2010). Not feeling the need to having it all, I have instead discovered a path that has worked for me.
Norms and Values. While there were many conflicting norms and values within my extended family, this wasn’t really the biggest issue in the context of day-to-day life as a child. The greatest source of conflict existed between the values and norms my parents held me to in contrast to what was expected in my hometown. Norms and values regarding: (1) relationships and dating, (2) parental roles, (3) rules of emotional expression, as well as (4) appearance and demeanor stand at the forefront as most problematic.
In keeping with her cultural background, my mother assumed the role of matriarch, and was largely responsible for setting parental limits. My dad, busy at work most of the time, didn’t want to interfere. As a result, my mothers cultural belief systems were the standard we complied with at home. Naturally unbeknownst to them, this key factor resulted in an array of problems throughout my childhood, when it came to fitting in (Chai, 2004; Fortune, 2012).
For example, regarding the issue of appearance, my mother didn’t allow me to shave my legs or wear makeup, and I was bullied endlessly for it (Chai, 2004). In the arena of dating, I was absolutely forbidden from even considering it until we finished college, because that’s how it was for her growing up, (Fortune, 2012). Added difficulties resulted from differences in parenting role expectations between my mom’s culture and my hometown environment, (Root, 1998). Cultural differences such as these, caused many parents and teachers to misunderstand my mother. They often thought poorly of her parenting style, because it was so different from what they knew. This added to my difficulties in trying fitting in at school.
“How was my view of the world shaped by the social movements of my teen years?” (Ajouga, 2014)
With a population that was mostly white, middle class, and well educated, my hometown had a very ethnocentric feel to it (Chai, 2004). At school, a large portion of my classmates came from families that called this town home for several generations. This gave many of my classmates the benefit of a large social and familial network, as well as consistent socialization, on how to follow the values and norms of the local culture (Chai, 2004). Without this knowledge base or support system, fitting in was difficult, and I was bullied throughout much of my childhood, (Chai, 2004). As per Brene’s Brown work on shame, my personal view of the world was based on an underlying identity based on shame as she defines it:
“The definition of shame that emerged from the research is, ‘ an intensely painful or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance, and belonging.” (Brown, 2006, p45)
“When I was a young adult, what educational opportunities were available to me? And now?” (Ajouga, 2014)
While I did enter college with many opportunities for learning, my ability to make the most of them limited by my problematic childhood history. Nonetheless, having been born into an upper-middle class environment to two highly educated parents, provided me with many privileges I failed to appreciate at the time, (Hays, 2008). Today, after having come to terms with my past through counseling, I’m grateful for the opportunity to make the most of these privileges and pursue this degree.
“What generational rules make up my core identity (eg., auntie, father, adult child, grandparent)?” (Ajouga, 2014)
Key generational roles which are strongly associated with my identity, include my roles as a daughter and mother. In fact, I hold my role as parent before any others in my life. Having nearly lost my oldest after several open heart surgeries and then suffering a miscarriage before giving birth to my youngest, I value my time with my kids greatly. It’s been my goal in life to learn the lessons from my parents, and be there in ways they were not able to. Making sacrifices for my kids, showering them with affection and cherishing our time together are key priorities in my daily life.
Regarding my role as daughter, while I’m not as close to them as I’d wish, I do strongly identify with my duties to them. As the oldest child with a background in health care, its expected that I be there to care for them when they age. I plan on trying my best to live up to this expectation as a show if respect and love, knowing action and not words work best a communicating such things with them.
PART ONE: Conclusion
In completing this assignment, I’m actually surprised at how much I learned about myself. Rereading my personal history has been quite enlightening, as a much-needed perspective within to contextualize the outcome of my life. It’s cleared while my complex sociocultural history yielded much stress as a child, its also provided me with wonderful opportunities for personal growth. Inspired by this fact, I am committed to a lifelong process of learning as a counselor and plan to use these insights as I worked completing my degree.
PART TWO: Becoming a Culturally Competent Counselor
“Every man is in certain respects; (a) like all other men, (b) like some other men, and (c) like no other men” (Leong, F.T.L., 2011, p. 150). We are inextricably connected to culture, defining it while simultaneously existing as a byproduct of it. (Leong, F.T.L., 2011). It is clear that counseling can’t occur in isolation of society at large (Sue & McDavis, 1992), and that counseling interventions are never culturally neutral (Framboise, et al., 1993). Consequently multicultural competence must be an integral component of ethical therapeutic practice . A multimodal approach will be needed to consider varied factors from multiple viewpoints.
Towards a Solution
A quick review of literature reflects the complexity of the issue, with a complexity of approaches encompassing an array of factors to consider from multiple perspectives. For example, the AMCD Multicultural Counseling Competencies, includes an awareness of one’s own cultural perspective, the clients, as well as knowledge of appropriate interventions based on these factors. (Arredondo, et al., 1996). Assessing one’s beliefs, knowledge base, and skill set, within these three areas is essential for multicultural competence (Arredondo, et al., 1996). Adding to this perspective, is insight from an article which says our personal development can be understood from a universal, group oriented and finally individual one (Leong, F.T.L, 2011). In keeping with the idea that the individual and society at large are mutually definitive and interrelated in a complexity of ways, this perspective can be useful from a variety of theoretical perspectives. Additionally, it could provide useful insight when utilized alongside the ADDRESSING Model discussed in our textbook (Hays, P, 2008).
A Tentative Plan
With multicultural competence such a complex issue, a plan is essential as a general guide to the development of this skill. In this section, I provide a tentative outline of how I plan to develop multicultural competence. In doing so, I will utilize the Bellevue University MCC Graduate Student Disposition Rubric to organize my thoughts (Bellevue University, 2014). Additionally, in the spirit of this assignment, I believe a more informal and honestly self-reflective discussion is essential to make the most of this exercise.
Professionalism: Maturity & Responsibility.
“Seeks solutions independently and/or identifies faculty who can assist…uses discretion by discussing the problem with only the appropriate person(s); focuses on solutions rather than blame….is respective to constructive comments….maintains confidentiality….always displays a thorough preparation…always demonstrates behaviors that exemplify honesty, and integrity…” (Bellevue University, 2014).
When reflecting upon the above, I feel my work as a C.N.A./Psych Tech has prepared me fairly well overall. Confidentiality and discretion are very familiar concepts, (Catholic Health Initiative, 2014). Additionally, maintaining a sense of integrity is what keeps me going during even the most difficult shifts. This concept of integrity has meant thinking of the well being of clients first, and doing right by them first and foremost. In doing so, this has meant letting go of any ego-based need to blame someone else. Regardless of who is to blame, I have had to learn to understand the perspective of those whom I provide care for. Adding to this, work-oriented skill development are my personal experiences as a biracial individual. I’ve developed an understanding of the concept of cultural relativity and feel a heightened self-awareness has been an adaptive response to this experience. The result is a greater willingness and open-mindedness to idea of understand cultural perspectives other than my own.
Area of Growth.
Being thoroughly prepared from the standpoint of multicultural competency, will have to be an ongoing commitment. On the one hand, I’m a very self-aware individual, in terms of my own cultural values and biases (Arredondo, et al, 1996) Additionally, I am very willing to learn about other cultures (Arredondo, et al, 1996). At the same time, I do need to gain greater knowledge and skills when through interpersonal work within those communities I hope to serve (Arredondo, et al, 1996; Hays, 2008).
Direct interaction with individuals in communities I hope to serve within will need to be a priority. Finding volunteer work, and opportunities for exposure to other cultures will be important.
Professionalism & Valuing Others.
“Interactions…respectful of differing opinions. Treats others with courtesy, respect, and open-mindedness. Listens to and shows interest in the ideas and opinions of others. Seeks opportunities to include or show appreciation for those who may be excluded. Demonstrates concern….” (Bellevue University, 2014).
When considering how this applies to multicultural competence, valuing others will start with a self awareness of my own cultural background (Arredondo, et al, 1996) Being open-minded and willing to respect other cultural perspectives will be vital (Arredondo, et al, 1996) In these respects, I do believe I’m well on my way to expressing my desire to show I value others. Nonetheless, a knowledge base and set of interpersonal skills is again essential to add to this attitudinal perspective. Without it, I can have the best of intentions, but fail to meet my desired mark.
Areas of Growth.
According to an article on biculturalism by Theresa LaFramboise, a culturally competent individuals hold a strong identity, possesses a knowledge of cultural beliefs and values, is able to display sensitivity to the affective, behavioral and language components in a cultural, while negotiating their way through social relationships and institutions in that culture. (LaFramboise, et al, 1993). Its clear without these components, serious errors in communication can occur. Culture can be seen as a paradigmatic foundation in a person’s life, defining not just values and beliefs, but how we feel, think, and relates to others(Hays, P., 2008). As I’m well aware, within the familial cultural gaps existing in my own extended family, failing to understand this can relate to terrible misunderstandings.
As stated before, developing this skill and knowledge will mean: (1) developing a knowledge base of therapeutic interventions, (2) gaining opportunities to be exposed to other cultures. While doing so, our Hays (2008) textbook mentions the importance of humility as a critical element to professional growth which I believe will be important throughout the learning process:
“When people are humble, they recognize that other viewpoints, beliefs, and traditions, may be just as valid as their own….people with genie humility are effective helpers, because they are realistic about what they have to offer….critical thinking skills are essential, because they involve the abilities to identify and challenge assumptions….examine contextual influences…and imagine and explore alternatives. (Hays, P., 2008, p29).
Professionalism & Networking.
“Counselor is highly active in professional organizations and views professional organizations as a valuable medium through which ideas and information can be freely and consistently shared.” (Bellevue University, 2014).
Areas of Growth.
When reviewing the above criterion, it is clear this is an area in which much growth is needed. I don’t honestly have a lot of opportunity for networking on the job. I work the weekend night shift in a nursing float pool throughout the Alegent Creighton Health System. I also go to school, and have a family, while jet lagged from my night shift hours.
The crucial importance of networking from the perspective of multicultural competence is it provides an opportunity for others to challenge your views offering valuable counterpoints you may not consider on your own. Without this, I’m leaving a critical opportunity for learning out of the mix, in my educational and career pursuits.
I intend to focus on developing strong supervisory relationships within any internship and volunteer opportunities while earning my degree. Getting involved in organizations opportunities as a student therapist is another goal. Finally, taking time to talk with those in the field, has been an ongoing priority, so I can plan my career path accordingly based on any shared insights.
Professionalism: Appearance & Self Care.
“Reflects upon and revises counseling practices and expertly applies revised practices…consistently seeks out self-care and prevention of burnout…participates in various ongoing educational and staff development activities….Is a role model of professionalism through personal appearance, attire, and cleanliness.” (Bellevue University, 2014).
Areas of Growth.
As is often said amongst caretakers in the field, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Making time to engage in adequate self care, is a critical priority in my overall life path. As someone who spends much time caring for others, I’m at a high risk of burnout. “Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual depletion characterized by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, (Corey, et al, 2011, p69). The critical problem with burnout and heightened stress, are their ability to rob your ability to care for others with any degree of competence. You can’t give to others any more than you’re willing or able to give yourself (Corey, et al, 2011). It goes without saying, that no headway will be made in attaining multicultural effectiveness, if I can’t make this criterion a priority.
First and foremost in my self care regimen, is the need for adequate sleep. After having switched to a different work schedule, and paying of some lingering debt, I find I’m able to cut down on my work hours. As a result, I’m making time to take care of myself, and am currently exercising and eating healthier with the goal to lose weight. Additionally, I’ve saved up some money, for a more professional wardrobe, since nursing scrubs will no longer be appropriate.
PART TWO: Conclusion
From the outset, choosing to enter the field of therapy, has been more than a career move. It is a new life path, and a logical extension, from my past personal life progression of personal growth. Much of what I’ve learned through this education process, has taken on a very personally reflective quality. My most critical steps from this point forward will involve taking action, through direct interpersonal experience, as well as consistency in effort and commitment over time. With my greatest challenges being self care and the need for networking opportunities, these have been my biggest focuses, in moving forward.
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