Beyond Cultural Competence

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.


Who we are

Our programs are designed to meet the needs of our community & improve our outcomes.

Our African-Canadian youth are growing up in the world where culture and identity continues to remain dynamic and acquiescent.  Cultural identity is as crucial to the development of self as much as other factors such as gender, sexual identity, personality and self-esteem (Ishwaran, 1979).  Research demonstrates that during adolescence, young people undertake an essential journey in formulating their self-identity, their goals and passions which inform their self-esteem and self-worth, and their connections with other people (Wilkinson, 2003).  Without a strong connection with one’s cultural identity, there is a self-erosion which occurs.  Youth who do not have the opportunity to learn about and connect with their cultural identity risk assimilation, alienation, withdrawal and integration (Wilkinson, 2003 and Wallace, 2005).  In this sense, the youth seeks to fulfill their needs of belonging with other venues some of which are self-destructive and take time further away from their divine purpose. 

Our programs are culturally focused, geared to build youth's identity but also address the inequities Black youth experience in their lives...

African-Canadian youth in Canada are over represented in child welfare as there is a higher percentage of African-Canadian youth in care than in the general population.  This experience is directly linked to systematic racism and discrimination with the child welfare system and the community (Bonnie and Pon, 2015).  One of the challenges for African-Canadian youth in child welfare care is being disconnected from their cultural identity through apprehensions into foster homes, displacement from their home community, and isolation from their family and kin.  Some of the difficulties African-Canadian youth in child welfare experience leads to an increase in depressive symptoms, low-self-esteem, and learned maladaptive strategies to address symptoms of distress (Scott and House, 2005).  Cultural displacement of youth in care further leads to a loss of culture, faith-based practices and social connections with their community (Clarke, 2011). Our young people continue to experience systemic racism and discrimination in the education system, youth justice and policing system, and the mental health system.

Programs made for us, by us...

Our priorities focus on group membership and leadership, culturally and community work, and recognition of equity and anti-oppressive practice:

Group Membership & Leadership

Our programs raise leaders. We have a diverse Board of Directors team. We have a firm dedication to encouraging youth from 13 to 29 to join our board team. Our executive director & key visionary is Nicole Perryman. Learn more about Nicole Perryman from her website. Adrianna Perryman, our Youth Board of Directors members developed Wonderfully Made designed to support build young girls (aged 8 to 13 years old) self-esteem, confidence, healthy body image, and wellness. Wonderfully Made is led by our young women from Girls who Lead. Adrianna Perryman, who believed that by equipping young women to mentor and lead workshops they can create effectively build younger girls to improve greater outcomes. Finally, through Our Strong Leadership programs we hope to bring our young people to connect with professionals, life coaches, holistic care practitioners, and elders (Mzee to Youth).

Our policy: Young people have the potential to support each other, to engage in their community and to make decisions which impact their lives.

Our strategy: create opportunities for young people to learn, to grow, to feel safe, and to develop options.

Culturally-Inclusive and Community Engagement

In 2013, Nicole Perryman with the collaboration of her team developed, Aset Group Consulting and Counselling Services, currently a leading provider for counselling and mental health support in Durham Region. We have serviced over 1,000 community members, hosted several groups for girls and women, and participated in many community events from Children's Aid Society, Ontario Association for Social Workers, and the University of Toronto. We have proven success in providing holistic, anti-oppressive and strength-based programs and services. Through counselling and psychotherapy services, Aset Group Consulting and Counselling Services seeks to best support our cultural and ethnic heritage through self-awareness, psycho-education and training.

Our policy: develop programs only designed to support youth using a culturally-inclusive approach.

Our Strategy: develop best practices, evidence-based & supported interventions designed to support African-Canadian Youth & Indigenous Youth.

Rites of passage ceremonies and programs are essential features of African culture.  Narratives or story telling was a way in which elders shared the culture, morals and lessons to young people.  Such story telling was a way to pass down information from one generation to the next.  This is an essential part of African culture and consists of oral traditions, proverbs, parables, music, dance, art and rituals are some of the approaches used to support healing, to educate and develop identity for its members (Sutherland, 2011).Teaching our young people about their history before and after Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, major contributors of African history and world history, the growth of spirituality and belief system, and more are the only ways we can transfer our history onto the next generation.  We cannot rely upon the education system to teach our youth our history. In addition to teaching our young people about their history, it is important to teach young people to critically analyse and deconstruct systematic racism and oppression.  Encourage youth to develop a higher sense of social responsibility and community focus when engaging in learning about injustices and inequality.  Understanding anti-oppressive practice and helping youth identify barriers in their lives so they do not become discouraged, but resilient and challenged to overcome them.Trauma experiences can create a long lasting impact upon up to seven generations.  As African peoples, our history is embedded in trauma experiences and trauma reactions which has not been helpful to our healing and growth.  If we can identify that trauma experiences impact our emotional and social well-being, we can learn ways to heal in a healthy way. As “elders” we have a duty to support our young people through mentorship and guidance.  Think about the people who shaped your development.  Our children need the same people in their lives. Supporting our African owned businesses and initiatives helps build community, reduce unemployment rates, and open up opportunities for youth’s success.

Equity and Anti-Oppressive Practice

Aset Group Consulting and Counselling Services is focused on providing services which are anti-oppressive, strength-based and holistic approach. Our clinicians and therapists have a strong understanding of trauma-focused approach and inter-generational trauma. Ifarada seeks also to do the same in developing anti-oppressive practices and promoting inclusive, barrier-free, and holistic approach to supporting communities and families. We produce literature and develop programs which uniquely address anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, systemic oppression and biases. Our programs seek to build our community and support our members to achieve better outcomes.

Our Policy: our families, children & youth deserve the opportunity to achieve their goals.

Policy: our community members deserve to live in safe communities & to have positive life outcomes without barriers due to race, poverty, discrimination or trauma.

Strategy: develop barrier-free access to programs and services, ensure our Board of Directors, mentors and teams understand anti-oppressive practice (AOP), develop & promote literature and training in AOP, and promote equitable practices.

For further reflection, review our article: Creating Enriching Cultural Experiences for African-Canadian Youth


Bonnie, N & Pon, G. (2015) Critical well-being in child welfare: A journey towards creating a new social contract for Black communities in Conere, Jeannine & Strega, Susan, 2nd Edition: Walking this Path Together Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppressive Child Welfare Practice. Halifax: Fenwood Publishing.

Clarke, J. (2011). The challenges of child welfare involvement for Afro-Caribbean Canadian families in Toronto in Children and Youth Services Review, 33(2).

Ishwaran (1979) Childhood and Adolescene in Canada.  Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Rankin, J., & Ng, P. (2013, March). Unequal justice: Aboriginal and black inmates disproportionately fill Ontario jails. Retrieved May 2, 2015, from The Toronto Star:

Scott, L. D., & House, L. E. (2005). Relationship of distress and perceived control to coping with perceived racial discrimination among Black youth. The Journal of Black Psychology, 31(3), 254-272. doi:10.1177/0095798405278494

Wallace, Stuart and Ali (2005) The Ryerson-Wellesley Determinants of Health Framework for Urban Youth  Wilkinson, Deanna (2003) Guns, Violence and Identity Among African American and Latino Youth.  New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing.


Culturally-Based Leadership Programs

Ifarada is proud to develop culturally-based leadership programs for youth of color.

Be Proud, Cultivate Your Identity, Build Your Confidence

Our Leadership Program is designed to support young people to connect with their cultural identity, and identities around the world. We want to celebrate our identity not defined but North America, but defined by our culture and heritage.

Be Proud... be open to talk about your identity and the traditions that have made your experiences unique.

Cultivate your identity... and the culture that you have grown up within. Our culture is not just our traditions, but it is our way of being, our languages, our values and beliefs, our spiritual understandings, and our interactions with others in our culture.

Build your confidence... and learn to develop leadership skills! As you proudly embrace your identity and culture, you will be able to share with others. At Ifarada, we have developed leadership programs which include: embracing knowledge of self and culture, working with others of different perspectives and experiences, building interpersonal skills, managing our emotions in a healthy way, improving problem solving skills and empowering others.

Want to learn more....

Contact us today at:

Ifarada: Our Story

African-Canadian youth and families in Canada have had a rich history and culture from experiences of trans-Atlantic trade, to the freedom land, to mass immigration from Caribbean nations to refugees from war-torn African countries. These shifts in movement created disruptions in their community, furthering changing the landscape of knowledge, language, spirituality, and culture.  Centuries of disruptions and displacements have influenced the growth and wellness in African communities in Canada.

The Ifarada Institute seeks to reclaim African culture, beliefs and values while supporting youth, adults and families enhance their cultural, social and mental wellness.  The Ifarada Institute administers a range of programs and services, training and equity programming, and demonstrates community leadership.  The Institute targets child, youth and families’ disparities by targeting the identified needs of the community and developing intervention programs to reduce re-occurrence and prevention programs to support healthy development and growth.  The Institute uses African -owned businesses, mentors, leaders and professionals to support initiatives.

Through a rich array of program and services, the Ifarada Institute hopes to develop a strong healthy community through strong leadership, mentorship programs, self-esteem and personal life coaching, advocacy and civic engagement.  The Institute acknowledges the presence and experience of oppression and racism has influenced outcomes for African families and community, and thus targets programs to address these disparities and create opportunities for growth within African communities.

Our Mission Statement

Ifarada seeks to support and heal the African-Canadian community through use of holistic interventions.  We seek to re-claim African culture, beliefs and values while supporting youth, adults and families enhance their cultural, social and mental wellness. We identify and targets programs designed to improve outcomes for African-Canadian youth and families.

Let the youth teach the young and our elders guide our future.