Beyond Cultural Competence

June 10, 2022

Cultural Competency and related terminology is used to describe service providers who are conscious of, aware of, and actively seeking to understand the cultural diversity with the individuals they service. However, in our practice at Aset Group, we go beyond awareness of cultures… we understand the trauma-related symptoms associated with racism embedded within services and especially within the mental health field. I recently asked our counsellors, both permanent and interns to describe their understanding of how counsellors need to be aware of culture within the counselling practice. Each counsellor responded with their own story and perspective the practice. I hope this experience will be meaningful as a service user of counselling and psychotherapy, and empower you to ensure that your counsellor uses the best approach in supporting you with your needs and healing journey. With peace, love & wellness… Nicole

As a counsellor, I identify as a heterosexual Italian-Canadian female. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had throughout my education and I am grateful that I have found a career that I am passionate about. As a clinician, I try my best to approach all people from a place of genuine curiosity. I try to treat everyone I interact with in the same way I would wish to be treated if sitting in their shoes. I encourage clients to share their story and their experiences and make all efforts to ensure I respond in a non-judgmental, respectful, and compassionate way.

I want clients to feel safe at all times, and even in moments where they are most vulnerable I want to build a relationship of mutual trust and respect that they can feel comfortable to tell me when these vulnerabilities arise.

Using a systems perspective, I try to look at all aspects of the clients’ life to try to empathize with the various circumstances they are experiencing in their life. After watching the “Beyond Cultural Competency – Cultural Safety and Implication for Clinical Practice” webinar, the key term that stood out for me is “cultural safety”. As social workers, we learn a lot about “cultural competency” throughout our education but I, along with many of my colleagues, have questioned whether we can be truly culturally competent and whether using language such as “competence” implies a full understanding of, or expertise in, culture? Cultural safety on the other hand does not imply that we need to be fully competent in this area but rather that we continuously strive to ensure that we provide an environment that is socially, spiritually, physically and therapeutically safe for our clients.

This involves understanding our own cultural identity and how this can impact the work we do with others and how we can place value and importance on the cultures of those we work with.

This opens up conversations about culture with our clients and allows for a space that is respectful, open, welcoming, compassionate, and most importantly safe for all

clients. This term will change my practice with others by shifting my focus to my clients as the expert of their own culture and identify and using my clients’ experiences of culture to shape my understanding of what culture means and its impact. Culture is not something we can fully understand and it is not something we can be trained on out of a manual; culture is something we need to learn to experience, reflect on, and learn about through the experiences and descriptions of others, and to encounter and embrace. Culture has so many different meanings and I do not believe we can ever fully be culturally competent, rather we can strive to create a place of cultural safety, and a place of genuine interest and openness. It is important that we reflect on the terms shared in this webinar, both for ourselves and for our clients. Culture is ever-changing; it is important that we constantly reflect on our own experiences of culture if we truly want to create a safe space for our clients to do the same (Deanna).

I am a cis-gendered heterosexual European-Canadian female living in Canada. I approach people as a clinician with a culturally sensitive and trauma- informed perspective. I believe in the theoretical application based on an intersectional understanding of an individuals’ race, gender, culture, sexuality, age and class. I am mindful of my client’s experience in therapy and help guide them to be the ideal person they want to be using CBT and CBT-based therapeutic approaches. I feel like using CBT as the base of my therapeutic practice is an opportunity to be objective and considerate of how the client communicates and perceives the social world around them. Some keywords that had me consider my own counselling practice including culturally safe, cultural fluidity and the future considerations based on Donna Alexander’s webinar presentation.

As a clinician keeping in mind the concept of cultural safety provides the reminder to ask clients questions about their culture such as their family background, parent’s upbringing, family traditions. This can help empower clients to guide the direction of therapy and share information about their experience. This approach helps therapists possibly be accessed to a more multicultural population and help provide more service throughout the community. Ms. Alexander emphasizes that culture is fluid which is helpful as a practitioner to consider and reminds you to keep learning, growing and exploring what other cultures have to offer for oneself and clients. Other cultures have a lot of offer in one’s life in general helps and can help provide a more informed and culturally sensitive therapeutic practice based on understanding and trust. In addition to the key words based from the presentation I want to note a statement from the webinar which includes, …

“She was just writing things down”. This statement resonates with me as I feel like this could be seen as an innocent act of writing information details down in sake for therapy. However unintentionally, it can also create and unsafe environment and distrust initially in the relationship with the client.

As I clinician I hope I keep this mind in general when I am working with my client population and keep my pen down and fully engage with my client and actively listen. Donna Alexander’s webinar was an informative presentation providing the consideration to always move forward in your therapeutic approaches. Providing culturally safe therapy is based on practice and always being mindful that every individual has an interpretation of what the word ‘culture’ means to them. I enjoy providing space for at least one session to have the client reflect of their thoughts and feelings which can be a helpful way in getting to know your client. As stated As I continue to grow as a therapist I am reminded that you keep growing and growth is a continuous process that I continue to strive for in the future. Reading, learning, growing, attending is how I can become the culturally competent therapist I intend to be and always keeping this in mind no matter who the client is in front of me. Stephanie

As a Black, male therapist whose parents are from the Caribbean. I approach people when doing therapy from a cultural understanding with a focus on family dynamics and attachment. The importance of cultural safety with clients resonated with me. Learning to understand the client’s culture and also knowing your own is important in building rapport with a client. It helps me as a therapist to better understand the client and to be aware of any cultural ideas or speech that could be inappropriate when speaking to my client. A key term that I found of value was cultural privilege. It is important in my own practice as a therapist and also as a Christian to know that their may be some clients who do not relate to or have been harmed by those within Christian circles. Clients may come forward with issues that they feel would not be welcomed within a Christian community and they may not feel safe talking about certain experiences that they have had because of judgemental attitudes from they have experienced from Christians.

As a therapist it is beneficial to my own practice to have knowledge of other cultural ideas and beliefs and to ask questions of clients on their own experiences and culture that does not come off as judgemental.

If not, the client will not feel safe and would choose to not come back because of their fear of not being understood or loved. Even if the client chooses to stay, they may not speak on issues or experiences that need to be expressed and unpacked further and so there may not be progress during therapy. I believe it is important for the therapist to know their own cultural privilege when speaking to their clients, even if the therapist is a visible minority. The clinician should not believe that they are on equal footing because they come from a similar background or believe the client copes with issues in a similar way or to that of your own community. I believe by going into the communities that the clients that I normally work with frequent, it can help in understanding the clients I come across. The speaker had mentioned that many clinicians tend to like to stay in the office and not visit the outside world and see violence and those who live in poverty which I believe is needed when working with your clients. Reaching out to these communities and interacting and engaging with people who are in them will help with your own prejudice as you learn to see them as actual people and develop empathy towards them. It will also help to better understand the struggles that people are facing and gain a better understanding from others who work within those communities as to what helps people struggling with various issues. Andrew

As a clinician, I approach people with a genuine interest to learn as much as I can about them. I recognize that every person is unique and has been shaped by their experiences and interactions with the world. I want to know what they have decided about themselves as a result of their positive and negative interactions with others. I approach people fully aware that I will need to check my assumptions about who they are and why they think the way they do. I am responsible to question and unpack my beliefs and values that contribute to any meanings or assessments I make of clients. Two terms that really resonated with me are cultural conditioning and cultural safety.

Cultural conditioning is the way we think, speak, act, our religious beliefs, and what we consider right or wrong. Being mindful to cultural conditioning will impact my practice as I will pay attention to, not only what clients bring but, what I am bringing to sessions in terms of embedded values and opinions. I can use the concept of cultural conditioning to assist clients to explore how they came to know things about themselves and others.

Helping clients to see that they had no choice in feeling or thinking the way they did as a result of cultural conditioning can potentially be freeing to clients who feel oppressed and/or conflicted. Cultural safety speaks to an environment that is spiritually, socially, physically, and therapeutically safe for clients where there is no denial of their identities of who they are, and what they need. Cultural safety is about shared respect, shared knowledge, and collaboration. This will change my practice in the following ways: if I have an office space, I will decorate it in a manner that is culturally diverse (e.g. art work from other countries) and therapeutically sensitive (e.g. low lights); I will include culturally identity as a part of the intake assessment so that, right from the beginning, understanding who the client is in all aspects is valued; and, I will seek clarification from clients about whether their culture is a source of support or stress and encourage the co-construction of the therapeutic alliance based on a mutual learning about culture. People need to know that cultural competency is an ongoing journey. Helen

Given that everyone has their own unique experience of culture, the journey to learn never ends. People need to know that culture is fluid, therefore, our endeavour to know must also continue to evolve.