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.


Healthy Relationship Series #2

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

The healthy relationship series hosted in November was the first of five series. The series focused on learning about the foundations of healthy relationship, understanding healthy boundaries, and exploring unhealthy relationships. This introductory conversation begins to identify intergenerational patterns in relationships.

The healthy relationship course covered the following topics: healthy relationships and building a foundation, intimacy and knowing your voice,

Healthy Relationships & Building Foundation: This session opened the series by identifying what healthy relationships are and are not with the use of various criteria.  The foundation of a relationship was identified as being significant to its progress and success or failure.  Some elements of a healthy foundation include having a strong support system (the inner circle) whose love is unconditional, having an adequate outer circle of friends, peers, and acquaintances,  having well-established boundaries, and lastly, routinely caring for self in a way that focuses on self-reflection, management of emotions, and developing awareness.  Though the listed criteria is not universal, the message was about becoming familiar with the various factors that are included in creating an adequate foundation to promote the best relationships.  Another area that was examined was trauma and attachment.  Together the group examined the different attachment styles and how early childhood attachment manifests in adult relationships.  Further, the impact of trauma on relationships was explored as well as the types of trauma.  This topic piqued the interest of attendees and the group was temporarily divided into smaller teams to continue the discussion.  Peoples’ beliefs about relationships come from different sources like culture, gender roles, and societal norms among others.  The group discussed how relationships are influenced by culture, gender, and sexual identity.  In addition, this session covered ways to enhance one’s own relationship and develop and use healthy communication while comparing g mainstream beliefs about relationships.

Intimacy & Knowing Your Voice: In this week of healthy relationships the group explored themes of intimacy and having a voice.  Everyone’s right to be safe in relationships and to make use of boundaries was emphasized.  Some types of boundaries the group spoke about include emotional, sexual, material, financial, and physical.  In keeping with the theme of knowing your voice, each person’s right and responsibility to ask for what they need was explained.  To emphasize this, a list of criteria for affirming needs in relationships was shared including mutual respect, trust, and honesty.  Trauma and how it relates to attachment styles were covered previously.  This week trauma was discussed based on how it can impact the way individuals think, feel, behave, and respond to minor and major life events.  Presenting different scenarios generated discussion about conflict management in relationships followed by sharing information about affirmative consent.  At the end of this session, the team gave attendees an assignment to assess their needs in their relationships and to determine how they would work through communicating their needs.

Unpacking patterns in relationships & intergenerational trauma: Affirmative consent was reintroduced during this session.  Affirmative consent explains how consent can be given, that silence does not mean consent, and that the definition of consent does not vary.  The plan for this week’s session was to show how healthy relationship patterns are developed from childhood when children form attachment styles based upon those early experiences and responses (or the lack thereof) from parents/caregivers.  The group then considered intergenerational patterns which look at how trauma is passed down.  Using discussion generated from a given scenario the group examined the impact of trauma on a child which is further developed and replicated through behavior and perception.  The group then identifies any themes that show up as fear of abandonment and/or inability to accept love.  The reality of intergenerational patterns is considered as trauma can be transferred through family systems, race, culture, and/or identity.  At this point, the group directly addressed questions of patterns observed in their own families and/or themes that have occurred in themselves or their families. To conclude the session the presentation focused on how patterns that do not serve individuals can be interrupted/changed.  Patterns like intimate partner violence and substance abuse can be stopped.  The group discussed actions to take towards breaking the cycle and disrupting patterns between one’s past, present, and future.  Some steps include increasing awareness; exploring one’s emotions; repairing patterns by addressing shame, fear, and guilt; understanding the conflict and resulting emotional impact, and re-establishing healthy behaviors which can then lead to healthy relationships.  

Featuring Guest host: Ms. Elizabeth Evans presented on unhealthy relationships and intimate partner violence.  Ms. Evans explained that abuse occurs on a spectrum.  I.e., some people do not worry until the signals are undeniable.  It also means that the violence is not always physical and can be what she calls ‘silent violence’.  A key message from Ms. Evans’ talk is to ‘listen to your gut; heed your intuition’ because there is meaning to the signals from one’s intuition.  A recommended movie from Ms. Evans is called ‘Maid’.  Adapted from Stephanie Land's bestselling 2019 memoir, it follows a young mother, Alex (Margaret Qualley), as she scrabbles to save herself and her daughter, Maddy, two, from a crushing cycle of domestic abuse.

Reclaiming Ourselves: Self Love: This being the last session, the focus was on re-establishing self-love.  Through the introduction of art activity, group members were engaged in self-reflection about what matters to each person, what helped in their personal growth, what are some strengths, gifts, talents, and cherished personality traits they each possessed?  Following this the group discussed ways to create safety within relationships, identifying relationships that help and those that hinder, establishing boundaries, and using communication as a way to enrich relationships.  The group also watched a video about deep listening and ended the session with a gratitude activity.  This week’s series ending session was used to promote self-love and self (re)discovery.  Some additional tips to actively connect with oneself were shared like the following: practice holistic health, find your purpose, forgiveness, mindfulness, giving back, and being grateful. Kemetic yoga expert, Ms. Natasha Eck closed the session by guiding the group through a brief exercise.  Kemetic yoga is special because it focuses mostly on the breath not just physical bodily movements.

Access the online course

The healthy relationships series is also available online in the attached course. Register for the free course. The course takes approximately 2-3 hours to complete. The course includes attached articles, videos, and further information to enhance your learning,

Healing Race Trauma

I attended my first Black funeral in January 2012. My beautiful grandmother had passed away a few days prior, and my mother, sister and I arrived to Port of Spain, Trinidad West Indies within a few hours. I loved my trips to Trinidad, but this one was bittersweet. Each day, before the funeral we sat in my grandmother’s home as visitors came to visit every day. The visitors brought food, told stories, prayed, played music, hugged, and connected with each other.

So after learning of Mr. Floyd’s passing, I think the world engaged in a similar experience of mourning. The world developed community, told stories, prayed, shouted hymns, and marched. People all around the world highlighted that anti-Black racism continues to exist, and that the lives of Black children, youth and adults remain in danger across the world, and #BlackLivesMatter. In the days after Mr. Floyd’s passing, the world became divided, but also unified. The work that was started centuries ago, is now entering another process. It is also stirring up the impact of race trauma.

I discovered that I was Black, well actually, referred to in the traditional slave master terminology in a kindergarten playground in junior kindergarten. I was 4. Race is a social construct. Someone decided to create the concept of “race”. When this occurred, someone decided to divide people based on colour, into categories of superiority and inferiority. Thus, whiteness became superior. Whiteness came with unearned privileges, that those considered inferior could not participate in. Whiteness defined the way of being for the world. Thus, at 4 years old, I was indoctrinated to know that I was inferior, I was “less than”, and “not good enough” than everyone else.

"Race trauma creates further post traumatic stress that can lead to symptoms such as chronic physical pain, depression, anger, anxiety, disease, unhelpful thinking patterns, substance use, lack of motivation, mood disorders, hyper vigilance, night terrors and flashbacks, repeated traumas, and more".

As a four year old, this experience shaped the next 40 years of my life. And now, as I write this article, I reflect back on how the constant name calling, belittling, microaggression, avoidance, lack of mentorship, isolation, ignoring, silencing, exclusion, misunderstanding, disregarding, mocking, petting, gaslighting perpetuated on me. This truly impacted my sense of self worth, my disconnection from my identity and my culture, my opportunities for the “Canadian Dream”, my relationships with others and the ability to form trusting relationships, and so much more. Race trauma creates further post traumatic stress that can lead to symptoms such as chronic physical pain, depression, anger, anxiety, disease, unhelpful thinking patterns, substance use, lack of motivation, mood disorders, hyper vigilance, night terrors and flashbacks, repeated traumas, and more. And, I have not even started to discuss: intergenerational trauma, health inequities, gender inequality, disproportionate involvement with child welfare, educational penal systems and the criminal justice systems which are intertwined and intersected with race.

Today, the world is focusing on highlighting that anti-Black racism is not a political issue but an undeniable human right to not experience racism. Nevertheless, the impact of race trauma exists for Black people across the diaspora and our world. Our white counterparts watched in horror as Mr. Floyd was murdered by the systems, and Black people could only cry and turn their heads. There was no way I could watch the horror show. Instead I cried. I cried for my ancestors. My grandparents. My parents, aunties, uncles and elders of my community. I cried for my child. My child clients and the many youth in my life. I cried for my cousins. My cousins. I cried for my nephews and the unborn children. Our lives are forever shaped because of whiteness, white privilege, racism, hate, inferiority, and injustice.

During a session, I was asked, “can you tell me some tips on how to deal with racism at work?”. I said and I always say, “it is ridiculous, that I have to tell you how to deal with racism.”. This angers me. We should not have to tell the oppressed how they should accept their oppression, and stand in complacency to the injustices of racism. But we do. We need to heal. All I know is that, I can not cry for us any longer.

Take good care of yourself

If there was a step, this is STEP 1:

Put yourself first. Develop a self-care routine. Ensure your needs are met. Create space for your emotional needs. Attend counselling. Learn to say no. No. Be mindful of your body’s needs. Reduce your work when you can. Take time off. Take your vacations… travel or stay home or do nothing. Exercise. Invest in your friends and close connections. Embrace Joy. Show love to yourself and others. Be kind, compassionate, and find other values as rooted into your foundation. Practice mindfulness. Take good care of you.

Build a supportive community

Do you know the phrase, “it takes a village”. It really does. Your village is your people of friends, aunties and uncles, mentors and elders who guide you along your way. Invest in these key relationships to provide you the support you require. Choose wisely. Not all elders are made for you. Choose people in your life who shares your values, your belief systems, and can inspire you to be your best self. A key piece to healing trauma is social engagement, relationships, and positive life experiences.

Create Positive Life Experiences

I may not have had many positive memories at elementary school. But I had a wealth of positive life experiences at home, at my church, my aunties homes, and my travels to the United States with family. When I reflect upon my past, I remember these experiences as though they were experienced yesterday. Positive life experiences helps to re frame the messages of self and identity that Black people receive from their educators, their employers, in the community, in the media and on television, and the whiteness culture. Positive experiences reaffirm that you are, “good”. You are worthy. You are loved and appreciated. Life is pleasant and can be joyful. You are apart of something greater. Finally, creating positive life experiences builds your overall resiliency which further builds your health and mental wellness.

Incorporating a healthier way of being focusing on healing the impact of trauma, and protecting yourself from further harm.

We are Kings and Queens and People

destined for greatness and to meet our human counterparts as people. People deserving to exercise the rights and privileges of humanity. I do have a dream. While we should not have to heal from racism, we do. Race trauma creates post traumatic stress which passes down from generations. We need to create space, and recognize that our healing is central to this process.

Oshun: Family Innovation Project

I’m a woman; Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me. Now you understand, Just why my head’s not bowed. I don’t shout or jump about Or have to talk real loud. When you see me passing, It ought to make you proud. I say, It’s in the click of my heels, The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand, The need for my care. ’Cause I’m a woman"

Maya Angelou

Why Oshun?

Our commitment to supporting women, families, and communities

Through Ifarada: Centre for Excellence, Oshun group was developed.  Oshun brings together women from different experiences to collaborate, share and support each other.  Oshun women’s group is a collective group which includes three core members.  Through our core membership, we aspire to develop the following projects to support parents and families.  We believe that our women are often leading their lives and their families with limited support, and isolated from resources and community to best support their achievements. We know that many of our women are seeking entry into the professional world, while dealing with anti-Black racism and systemic oppression. They need our support. We seek to hold onto our women who are raising children with limited financial resources, with histories of trauma, with educational systems designed to see their children fail, and their youth at risk for further difficulties. We hold our women who lost children to murder. We hold our women whose children are serving life sentences. We hold our women who live in fear after leaving their partners, and are faced with helping their children heal from trauma. This is our purpose. This is Oshun's Women.

Our Objectives

Helping Families facing conflict and trauma to heal and strengthen their relationships.

Support families with integration after traumatic incidents such as abuse, trauma, and criminal activity.

Support families with navigating systems such as child welfare, criminal justice system, and education.

Our core member, Nicole Perryman (Executive Director) has led Aset Group Consulting and Counselling Services.  In this established role, she has learned of the experiences of women affected by intergenerational trauma, early life experiences, grief and loss, abuse, sexual abuse and trauma, systemic oppression, and poverty.  Ifarada brings together social workers, parents, and professionals to develop psychoeducational workshops, and Oshun-led support groups and counselling support for families and parents. Oshun works in collaboration with the core members who plan and initiate projects with the support of Ifarada, its staff team and resources. Oshun is collaboration of women and mothers we service, our families and community partners. Currently, our community partners play a critical role in sending us referrals, showcasing our work at their events, and providing us in-kind resources to support our initiatives. As we move forward into the upcoming decade, we are seeking to enrich our services.

Our Group Structure

Past Accomplishments:

Our Future Projects:

Our core group members are visionaries, and hope to make a larger impact in our community. With the support of potential funders, we strive to support our families and women in a powerful way.

Our Unique-ness

We are proud to be the only group in Durham Region providing this service. However, while we are trailblazers in our field we are want to build our communities' efficacy to develop programs which are culturally-relevant & responsive, and which are founded on a rich African culture and heritage. Through our asset mapping projects of mental health services & social work professionals, we hope to bring these services together to collaborate and build a resource center for our families.

We aspire to:

Our Change Principles

Parents will have access to resources which will help them navigate challenges they experience within their families. Website
Navigation Teams (future)
Parents will have access to mental health support, especially to address intergenerational trauma. Website
Women will have access to mental health support and social support Website
Support Groups
Women will have access to professionals who can support them in their initiatives, in their careers, and with their finances Mentorship program (future)
Psycho-educational programs
Women will have access to information about topics pertinent their experience from an equity seeking group. Psycho-educational workshops
Support Groups
Women with similar experiences will have the opportunity to connect with each other to improve their social support, guidance, and healing. Support Groups
Online Support Groups

Want to learn more? Wish to collaborate with us?

Contact us today!