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Embracing Cultural Responsivity and Social Justice: Re-Shaping Professional Identity in Counselling Psychology

Sandra Collins

(The following excerpts from the e-book have been included here so that the interactivity between the learning outcomes and key concepts from Domain III in the CRSJ counselling model can be demonstrated. In the actual e-book, additional terms are interlinked; however, only those used in the sample glossary are actively linked below. Also, I have chosen sections below that mirror the four key concepts I am exemplifying, so the active links appear more repetitive than they will in the e-book itself.)


Excerpt from Chapter 8 by Sandra Collins

Fostering Social Change: Assuming an Anti-Oppressive and Justice-Doing Stance
(Core Competency 8)

Cultural Humility as a Foundation for Cultural Competency

In recent years there has been a shift towards talking about cultural humility as inextricably intertwined with, and foundational to, cultural competency. [Please review the glossary definitions for these important key concepts.] Hook, Davis, Owen, Worthington, and Utsey (2013) argued that the traditional models of multicultural counselling competency focused on doing rather than being, which poses a limitation to assessing the development and mastery of multicultural counselling competency. The CRSJ counselling model speaks more comprehensively than earlier competency models to the way of being of the counselor, in particular to the expression of a set of professional values related to cultural responsivity and social justice and to the application of those values within a strongly relational practice. Although the CRSJ counselling model contains essential and foundational competencies related to multicultural and social justice knowledge and skills, CRSJ also recognized that the person of the counsellor is intimately integrated into the vision of cultural competency.


Qualifiers of Cultural Humility

The following phrases have been used to describe the meaning of cultural humility by First Nations and other writers within the health care systems (First Nations Health Authority, n.d., 2016; Hook et al., 2016; Waters & Asbill, 2013). As you read through the list of qualifiers of cultural humility, consider how each of them supports you to focus attention on the values, assumptions, beliefs, knowledge sources, and views of health and healing of the other person or peoples by setting aside your own cultural lenses.

  • Honour truth-telling
  • Acknowledge current processes of colonization and psycholonization
  • Challenge personal cultural assumptions and biases
  • Examine the social determinants of health
  • Foster safety and freedom from discrimination
  • Celebrate voice and diversity of perspectives
  • Respect cultural knowledge about health and healing
  • Enhance self-determination
  • Invite collaborative partnerships
  • Position yourself as a life-long learner
  • Hold an open heart and an open mind
  • Engage in continuous and critical self-reflection
  • Seek out cultural knowledge and consultation
  • Acknowledge what you don’t know
  • Express genuine curiosity
  • Centre relationships in care
  • Equalize power
  • Enhance mutuality
  • Earn trust
  • Welcome feedback and accountability
  • Advocate for systems level change

Reflect on the following assertion from the First Nations Health Authority (2016) in terms of its implications for a stance of cultural humility: “We will know that we’ve achieved cultural safety when the voice of the people receiving our services tells us we have.”


Additional excerpt from Chapter 8 by Sandra Collins

Reflective Practice

In the context of CRSJ counselling, the skill of reflectivity requires us to focus the lens of critical thinking and cognitive complexity on our own values, beliefs, assumptions, worldviews, and ways of being in the world, and on the way these play out in practice as we interact with clients from diverse cultural backgrounds (Coulson & Homewood, 2016). As you will see from the glossary definition, reflective practice occurs both in the moment, as you interact with clients and others, and as you look back on your own thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours.

Throughout this e-book, the other writers and I have shared some of our reflections on each of our own evolving awareness of ourselves as cultural beings and the raising of our own consciousness about the influence of culture and social justice on our interactions with, and understanding of, others. We have also deliberately posed questions to encourage your self-reflection. Consider the following questions for reflection, before you continue to read this chapter.


Questions for Reflection

  • What barriers do you experience to stopping, breathing, and reflecting on, both your own thinking and your moment-by-moment interactions with others?
  • Which practices might you introduce into your personal, educational, or work life to begin to build the habit of reflectivity?
  • Where are your growing edges in terms of your awareness of your own cultural identities and social locations and those of your clients?
  • How might thinking about your thinking, feeling, and behaving support your continued competency development?


The attitude of cultural humility and the skills of critical thinking, cognitive complexity, and reflective practice all actively support your ability to engage with clients in a way that is culturally responsive. Mintz and colleagues (2009) introduced the concepts world travelling or mobile positioning to support their argument that graduate counselling students must be willing and able to consider alternative beliefs, values, and worldviews and to hold tentatively to their own assumptions about how problems develop, what constitutes health and well-being, and what the possibilities are for change. By doing so, they become able to open to the cultural information they are receiving from clients and to respond in a way that demonstrates cultural humility and cultural competence. Cognitive complexity, critical thinking, and reflective practice develop through exercising your brain, in the same way that physical flexibility is only possible through regular exercising of your body. My colleagues and I invite you into an experience of world travelling through the client and counsellor stories in this e-book. If you find yourself shutting down or leaning away from the lived experiences or the perspectives presented, return to these metacognitive skills, and consider exercising your mind by experimenting with a more critical, complex, reflective, and responsive stance.


Excerpt from Case Study by Judy Chew

In feminist supervision, self-disclosure is used to empower trainees. Feminist therapists have the responsibility of serving as a role model for the trainees they supervise, which requires us to adopt a stance of cultural humility. Brown (2016) states that the teaching about our own challenges and mistakes not only underscores the unpredictable nature of clinical work to trainees, but also promotes their willingness to risk and be transparent in the supervision. As our supervision session draws to a close, I invite Olivia’s feedback and comments. Olivia states that she is buoyed and encouraged by our discussion. She tells me she is realizing the importance of working closely in supervision. She expresses relief that she has shared her experiences, “exposed” her work to me, and is further able to allow herself to grow in the safety and respectfulness of our working connection. I assure Olivia that our conversations will continue to be generative and growth-promoting.


Excerpt from Case Study by Mateo Huezo

Decolonization requires cultural humility and a level of cognitive complexity that supports an ability to adapt, to be reflexive, and to handle ambiguity. Without the solid assurance that the structures of psychology will inevitably help all clients, you may be more open to learning about how to tailor change processes, but you may also feel somewhat directionless until you find the research, literature, training, and consultation to support you. Cultural responsivity means being able to self-reflect and adapt one’s practice to emerging client needs. My own understanding of the therapeutic relationship I had with Martin was challenged when I realized our ethnic differences might be an issue for him. It was clear to me how to apply the principle of centring his voice when our focus was on his particular lived experience as a trans person. However, when centring his voice has changed from a focus on trans voice to that of white supremacy, which he has used to harm his peers and potentially himself, how do I continue to hold a decolonizing space for him? As I move into this new intercultural space with Martin, I wonder:

  • How can I openly invite his reflections on why and how he is relating to white supremacy?
  • What are the underlying needs that he is trying to meet by joining such a movement?
  • How can we meet those needs with minimal harm to Martin, to me, to his peers and supports, and to the diverse trans community?


Excerpt from Case Study by Fisher Lavell

So, I listened to Mike. Tannis was clearly fine with him doing the talking. So while Mike and I had a conversation, I continued to include Tannis through eye contact and check-ins from time to time. I showed Mike all my degrees, I talked about my background in working with anxiety, and explained how I usually do that. I wanted to communicate truthfully with him and give him a sense of security in my competence. I was also being directly responsive to Mike’s assertion that people who are supposed to be helping them, are not helping them. I was deliberately respecting the ways in which authority and hierarchy are expressed in working-class families, particularly in country families, instead of seeing Mike as trying to control Tannis, trying to control me, or inappropriately questioning my authority.


Excerpt from Case Study by Cristelle Audet

I argue here that dynamics of power and privilege can be manifested as cultural transference and cultural countertransference. Reflective practice is an important skill for effectively navigating these dynamics and engaging in ethical decision-making. Evaluating how I felt in the brief instance of Mary challenging my age, I could have responded from my place of vulnerability and disempowerment in one of the following ways:

  • Immediately side with Mary’s view that I am too young and refer her to an older counsellor at the agency, citing as the reason incompatibility, an issue of poor client-counsellor match, or having a full schedule that precludes me from seeing new clients. Although a referral would have brought me back to my comfort zone, it did not feel authentic and likely would have minimized Mary’s concerns. Mary could have experienced the referral as a rejection, particularly given my perceived alignment with the institution. Moreover, with this referral, I risked colluding with Mary’s view that younger counsellors are indeed inexperienced and less competent, ultimately reinforcing faulty beliefs she may possess about youth.
  • Exert power over Mary by citing reasons why I should remain her counsellor, asserting my competence, despite her expressed concerns about me, which could also be oppressive to Mary.
  • Try to prove my credibility to Mary to maintain the referential power associated with a professional role.
  • React from a child stance by recapitulating some power dynamics from my childhood.


Excerpt from Case Study by Jeff Chang

Conceptualizing Community Services

This chapter describes only the initial program development of WEP. Over the last eight years, I’ve had many opportunities to speak about it, which has forced me to engage in reflective practice about what it is that we do. Working back from the end product or outcome is known as an inductive approach. It’s a process of working from practice back to overall principles (e.g., what works). We did a great deal of brainstorming about what seemed to work. We looked at success stories of both individual children and our efforts as a whole.

We made sure we were in good communication with one another, and that we communicated well, as a program, with the schools. Because schools sometimes have tense relationships with systems like child protection authorities and police, we worked hard to make sure that our interactions with these services were transparent. We also supported families to connect with other government and community services. In short, we supported positive interfaces between systems.

We assisted members of the entire school community to develop skills. Students needed to learn skills like organization, anger management, conflict resolution, studying, overcoming shyness, and internet safety. Teachers wanted to learn about mental health issues, behaviour management, and constructive discipline. Parents also asked for help with discipline strategies and wanted to know how to support their children when they experienced academic or mental health problems.

We worked hard to see behaviour as embedded in systems. This is not a matter of letting people off the hook for inappropriate behaviour, but rather of understanding the context of any behaviour and how the context constrains and informs people.

We realized that the students and teachers had developed connections with us, as we had with them. We did this by being present for the everyday (i.e., lunchroom or playground supervision; hanging out in the staffroom) and the profound (e.g., funerals, crisis debriefing). These connections helped others trust us, and the connections were activated in a different way when community members needed services. The notion of a safe and caring school rests on the connections people experience. It’s not the same as developing rapport in a formal counselling relationship. It’s about being part of a community; I might say, “a village.

Finally, we noticed that we all had trouble with transitions sometimes. These could have been transitions during the school day (i.e., getting students off the bus and into the classroom), or during the school year (i.e., keeping them motivated in the run-up to the Winter Break), or in a student’s school career (i.e., when entering the school or when leaving junior high for high school). In addition to these, there could be familial transitions that were either expected (e.g., having a new baby in the family) or unexpected (e.g., divorce; bereavement).

These elements (interfaces, skills, systems, connections, transitions) formed an imperfect acronym: InterSSCT. We ended up using the acronym as an heuristic for planning counselling interventions, evaluating our services, or troubleshooting relationships. We would ask ourselves about each of the elements and think out loud about how things were working.

Questions for reflection:

Think about a system in which you are a member.

  • What elements of the InterSSCT heuristic are working well?
  • Which could use some support?
  • How might you apply this conceptualization to your work?



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