2. Therapists & Potential Diversity - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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2. Therapists & Potential Diversity

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > All Relationships MultiCult

All Relationships and Therapy are Multi-Cultural- Family and Cross-Cultural Complications
by Ronald Mah

Differences or the diversity between the therapist and clients can be managed for productive multi-cultural and cross-cultural therapy.  There are many potential interactions culturally between the therapist and clients.  Bhurga and De Silva (2000) state, "These include, for the couple: race, class, level of education and culture, which can be broadly termed 'external' factors; and self-concept, religious belief and language, which may be termed 'internal' factors.  They also include various key factors in the therapist: race, class, gender, language as general background factors, and professional training, experience and preconceptions in the therapeutic setting.  Needless to say, in each partner as well as in the therapist, these factors constantly interact.  And they also influence, separately and in combination, the therapeutic relationship.  However 'objective' a therapist claims to be, the operation of these factors in the therapeutic relationship is inevitable and needs to be acknowledged" (page 185).

The therapist's knowledge and comfort or discomfort with diverse populations or anyone not of the same demographics can affect clients' attitudes toward the therapist and therapy.  The individual, couple, or family may feel uncomfortable with the therapist whom they perceive as being different from them.  The therapist should be willing to overtly check and discuss potential differences that may lead to individuals questioning the therapist's ability to relate to their cultural and personal worldviews.  The therapist who is not aware of certain cultural differences, may make incorrect assumptions about the presence of some differences or the relevance of others.  For example, the therapist working with an educated upper middle-class professional African-American couple or other economically privileged couple of color may assume that because of their socioeconomic status that the couple is not subject to experiences of discrimination.  Thus, the therapist may fail to ask about possible racial experiences that may have affected their relationship.  On the other hand, an African-American therapist or racially conscious therapist working with a low-income African-American or another minority couple may prompt discussion about racial discrimination but fail to look for socioeconomic-related stress and discrimination.  LaTaillade (2006) suggests, "that ethnic similarity may be an issue for some couples but not for others.  Because there is more variability within racial and ethnic groups than across racial and ethnic groups, however, it is recommended that rather than relying on racial and ethnic matching of clients and therapists, therapists should instead address each couple's underlying assumptions about the implications of racial and ethnic matching for therapist trustworthiness, knowledge, expertise, understanding, and credibility (page 350).  The therapist who is fearful of being rejected, found inadequate, or hold universalistic cultural perspectives (used to avoid feeling inadequate about cultural competency) would tend to avoid this recommendation.  The therapist would tend to proceed at risk to clinical integrity to ignore potential cultural transference or counter-transference.  Bhugra and De Silva (2000) present some common pitfalls by therapists and the consequences for therapy and clients (page 191).

TABLE III. Some common pitfalls
Colour blindness: Assumption that minority culture client is the same as majority culture client

Colour consciousness: All problems result from the minority status

Cultural transference: Client's feelings result from therapist's race

Cultural counter-transference: Therapist's feelings towards client result from their race

Cultural ambivalence: Therapist wishes to help but needs to control to maintain power

Over-identification: Minority therapist over identifies everything in terms of racism and defines problems as racially based (same as colour consciousness)

Identification with oppressor: Minority therapist denies his/her status by virtue of power and because it is painful
3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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