Canada is one of the most diverse nations in the world. As counsellors increasingly deal with people from many different cultures and backgrounds, there is a need to shift from Eurocentric counselling theories and methods towards an approach that recognizes diversity and new world perspectives.
Bringing a fresh Canadian outlook to the field of multicultural counselling, this collection provides valuable information about many cultural groups in Canada with practical perspectives on subjects such as treating Muslim clients, the specific needs of Indo-Canadians, the role of traditional healing methods in Aboriginal cultures, and helping immigrant children cope with acculturation in the school system. Fully revised and updated, the second edition of Diversity, Culture and Counselling also includes brand-new topics on dealing with refugee trauma, working with people with disabilities, practicing yoga therapy, and harnessing the power of storytelling.
Chapter 1: Counselling across Cultures: Identity, Race and Communication M. Honore France
“How have Torontonians gone from around 3% visible minorities in the early 1960s to more than 50% now without any major disruption, while the people of Los Angeles, experiencing about the same degree of change over the same period, felt the need to burn down parts of their city not once but twice?”
— Gwynne Dyer (2001, p. 45)
Nega Mezlekia’s novel Notes from the Hyena’s Belly (2000), which won the Governor General’s Literary Award, begins with a metaphor of a donkey and a hyena. A lion, leopard, hyena and donkey come together to discuss why their land is in such poor state. In turn, they explain that the turmoil is due to a sin that has displeased God. Each animal, except the donkey, tells a story of attacking another animal and eating it, but each animal is told that eating an animal is an animal’s nature, so it is not wrong. When it is the donkey’s turn, he relates that while his human master was busy talking with another man, the donkey went off the trail and ate some grass. The other animals become enraged and tell the donkey that he is the one who has caused the problems by going off the path and eating the grass; they attack the donkey, kill him and eat him. Mezlekia concludes by saying that “we children lived like the donkey, careful not to wander off the beaten trail and end up in the hyena’s belly” (p. 7).
Moving away from one’s routines and traditions has a price; dangers are always present, and change is a constant. There is a subtle warning too in the metaphor: being different, like the donkey, can be dangerous. Mezlekia’s metaphor is an apt warning not to take risks while at the same time showing that undertaking new challenges is a part of being human. Despite our best-laid plans, there are dangers in the world and down the street. Since the terrorist bombings on New York City and the fallout from the war in Iraq, the challenge for counsellors is that new tensions and new alliances abound. For counsellors, these new tensions and new alliances emerge from working in the reality of the multicultural, multi-ethnic and multilingual society that is Canada today.
The rapid changes in this society need to be addressed in a realistic yet positive manner, in which differences are not homogenized but celebrated because diversity is beautiful and strengthening. Being accepting and open to differences is often elusive. But why is this so? According to Baron, Kerr and Miller (1992), it is “the human tendency to disparage, distrust and dislike groups other than our own” (p. 134). One tendency of societies in general is that people exclude others who are different. In fact, it is not uncommon for people from the majority cultural and racial group to see someone different as being a stranger in their midst. Diller (2003) relates the story of someone of Asian extraction whose family has been living in North America for over a hundred years being taken as a foreign visitor because the country is seen as a country of European immigrants. People who are different “are deeply disturbed by their second-class citizenry” (Diller, 2003, p. 26). In Canada, people of colour who are not from the original founders of the Canadian state are called visible minorities; this label includes the original inhabitants—First Nations people. Visible minorities is a distinctive Canadian term that is often used as a shorthand to describe racial minorities who are not of European origin and who have physical characteristics that distinguish them from Canada’s traditional mainstream of English and French peoples (Labelle, 2007).
The changing nature of society makes the argument for or against multiculturalism moot; but if society is to avoid cultural and racial misunderstanding, then the institutions of society need to adapt to the new realities. For counsellors, this adaptation may mean adopting a frame of reference in which counselling can be described as a working alliance. In other words, the counsellor creates a common ground with clients by establishing an avenue to resolution rather than first building on the idea of a trusting relationship. For people from some racial or ethnic backgrounds, trust of the counsellor may not be inherent, nor can it be established in the traditional manner that theoreticians like Carl Rogers suggested.
So, how does one establish a trusting relationship? Adopting the idea of a working alliance, counsellors and clients work in a collaborative way to accomplish clients’ goals. Furthermore, we must consider that all counselling is potentially multicultural in one way or another, because it always deals with a range of variables that may be contradictory from situation to situation. Sciarra (1999) provides the following example: “the personalismo of the Latino culture can require a less formal and more affective counsellor, whereas these same counsellor characteristics may be alienating to some Asian clients” (p. 10). Adapting the process to suit the situation is fundamental, therefore, because there will always be some cultural differences between clients and counsellors.
Rationale for Diversity and Multicultural Counselling
The rationale for multicultural counselling arises in part from the growing multicultural factor in everyday life and from the increasingly small world brought about by more efficient communication and transportation systems. In early 2003, as the war in Iraq began, tensions between Christians and Muslims increased, along with more tensions between the developed and developing world, which only highlights cultural differences that divide people around the world. Waging war when differences are greater may be easier and more acceptable. In counselling, the challenge is to understand differences and enhance communication across cultures. More importantly, cultural differences exist not just between one group of people in the West and another group in the Middle East, but within the borders of Canada. Therefore, Canadians have no choice but to face the challenge of diversity issues and the changing mosaic of the Canadian nation.
Do societies made up from a variety of ethnic backgrounds experience more ethnic conflict than those that are more homogeneous? Certainly; and cultural differences in a counselling group usually stem from issues in the way the members communicate with one another. In the post 9/11 political environment, the issues of culture and religious values have been important factors in how terrorism and the invasion of Iraq have been dealt with in the media and everyday life. North American society cannot close its eyes to the issue of culture, race and language. In a world where most people are not Westerners, Caucasian or Christian—and in a world that is growing smaller—becoming multicultural is not only enriching but also protective. Everyone must be aware that humanity, as a community, has the power to destroy our world through nuclear war and pollution. War has its genesis in society’s disrespect for people who are different. People have to learn not only how to control their willingness to harm those who have different customs and views, but also how to live in harmony with others and the environment.
Regardless of our language, race or culture, every community is interdependent with others. Therefore, when society discriminates, marginalizes and ostracizes people because they are different, everyone suffers. Society has come a long way in being more accepting of differences among people, yet it has a long way to go in creating a society that respects diversity. According to Suzuki, Ponterotto, Alexander and Casas (2009), when cultural aspects are added to the counselling process, the following rules have to be considered in order to be sensitive to different people:
1. A tolerance for logical inconsistency and paradox suggests a subjective definition of knowledge to supplement the more familiar rules of objective, rational logic;
2. The primary importance of relationships and collectivism contrasts with the more familiar bias toward individualism;
3. The implicit or explicit differentiation between modernization and Westernization ignores the possibility that other cultures may have good solutions to our problems;
4. The implicit assumption that change and progress are good must be challenged by clients having to deal with change as both good and bad at the same time;
5. The metaphor of a natural ecological setting reminds us of the many unknown and perhaps unknowable mysteries of the relationships among people and their environments;
6. The absolute categories of problem and solution and success and failure must be brought into question as inadequate;
7. The need to apply familiar counselling concepts to less familiar multicultural settings must be emphasized;
8. The need for new conceptual and methodological approaches to deal with the complexities of culture is apparent; and
9. The need for a grounded theory of multicultural counselling is essential to all counsellors is not an exotic or specialized perspective. (p. 23)
The world is changing swiftly where ethnic boundaries are changing. In the past, European cultural groups made up the vast majority of new immigrants in North America, whereas today Asian groups top the list. According to the Canadian Census Bureau (cited in Cohen, 2012), two-thirds of the country’s population growth is now fuelled by immigration. More than half of those immigrants are from Asia, particularly from China and India, with fewer immigrants from Europe. In addition, the Aboriginal population increased by 3.4 per cent during the period between 1996 and 2001, and if current trends continue, Aboriginal people “may well be heading to majority status in many cities within the next 25 to 50 years” from Saskatchewan to northwestern Ontario (Dyer, 2001, p. 49). The Census Bureau has also estimated that by 2030 the province of British Columbia will have a majority non-white population. Already many urban areas of Canada are composed largely of racial minorities. What is making a remarkable impact, however, is the large number of immigrants settling in North American cities. This trend can already be seen in cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, where more than 70 per cent of immigrants settle. The multicultural reality is also evident in North American schools, where large numbers of students do not come from the “founding” ethnic groups. However, the issue goes much deeper than accommodating the new multicultural fact to changing the structures of our schools that were initially designed for a homogeneous population. The multicultural reality has changed the nature of a Eurocentric counselling theory and practice that fits a homogeneous population into a system that emphasizes diversity and a world perspective. Lorde (in Siccone, 1995) says, “it is a waste of time hating a mirror or its reflection instead of stopping the hand that makes glass with distortions” (p. xvi).
The Cost of Racism
“It is hard to understand a culture that justifies the killing of millions in past wars, and is at this very moment preparing bombs to kill even greater numbers. It is hard for me to understand a culture that spends more on wars and weapons to kill, than it does on education and welfare to help and develop. It is hard for me to understand a culture that not only hates and fights his brothers but also even attacks nature and abuses her.” (George, 1994, p. 38)
The pain and sorrow in Chief Dan George’s words in describing the cultural misunderstandings between First Nations people and “white” people typifies like nothing else the nature of prejudice and racism. Diller (2003) suggests that helpers need to understand important elements of racism in order to help people work together in a multicultural society. First, racism is a universal phenomenon that exists in all societies around the world among all races. Secondly, most people are uncomfortable with talking about racism and even deny that it exists. There is a difference between prejudice and racism. Prejudice is an unfair and negative belief about the inferiority of a group of people, often based on faulty knowledge and a generalized view of others who are different. Racism “involves the total social structure where one group has conferred advantage through institutional polices . . . it is a social construction based on sociopolitical attitudes that demean specific racial characteristics” (Robinson & Howard-Hamilton, 2000, p. 58). It is not a natural response, but one learned from societal norms and observations of parents, friends and neighbours. Not surprisingly, prejudice does not result from constant negative experience with someone who is different, but through occasional contacts and reinforcement, such as a negative experience in a bar or an ethnic joke.
In Canada, minorities have been subjected to three forms of discrimination: individual racism, institutional racism and cultural racism. The most obvious forms of individual racism involve personal expressions that one race is superior to another. Institutional racism is communicated through established practices that perpetuate inequities, while cultural racism involves believing in the inferiority of one culture over another. The Government of Canada established the residential school system in order to “help” Aboriginals assimilate into majority society; however, the result was very different and demonstrates the cost of racism to individuals and communities:
“Social maladjustment, abuse of self and others and family breakdown are some of the symptoms prevalent among First Nation Babyboomers. The “Graduates” of the “Ste. Anne’s Residential School” era are now trying and often failing to come to grips with life as adults after being raised as children in an atmosphere of fear, loneliness and loathing.
Fear of caretakers. Loneliness, knowing that elders and family were far away. Loathing from learning to hate oneself, because of repeated physical, verbal or sexual abuse suffered at the hands of various adult caretakers. This is only a small part of the story.” (in Milloy, 2001, pp. 295-96)
The reason for discriminating against others is not really complex. Consider that when people are faced with evidence of prejudice, they tend to reject it: “I’m not prejudiced against Indians, but most of them want to live on government assistance.” There is of course some cognitive dissonance going on, because prejudice and racism are difficult to admit. It is easy for a society to judge situations in other nations as racist or oppressive, such as Apartheid in South Africa or the practices of the Israeli occupation forces on the West Bank. Some might respond by saying, “It’s their fault that their culture has disintegrated.” While this is not an uncommon response, it is a curious one, because it blames the victim for being victimized. Aboriginals are penalized for being culturally different, because of a system that neither allowed them citizenship nor allowed them to practice their language and culture. Chief Dan George (in de Montigny, 1972) said:
“Do you know what it is like to have your race belittled. . . — You don’t know for you have never tasted its bitterness. . . . It is like not caring about tomorrow for what does tomorrow matter? It is having a reserve that looks like a junk yard because the beauty in the soul is dead. . . . Why should the soul express an external beauty that does not match it? It is like getting drunk for a few brief moments, an escape from the ugly reality and feeling a sense of importance. It is most of all like awaking next morning to the guilt of betrayal. For the alcohol did not fill the emptiness but only dug it deeper.” (pp. 162-163)
The dehumanization of “enemies” can clearly be observed when examining the emotional demonstrations of Arabs shouting “Down with America” or the indifference of American leaders to the welfare of civilians during the first and second Gulf wars. In the war against Iraq, American President George W. Bush constantly compared Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with Stalin and other despots, ignoring the fact that millions of people in the Middle East regarded Hussein as a hero, a symbol of defiance, for standing up against the firepower of the US military. In war, the enemy has to be dehumanized in order to sustain hate; this dehumanization occurs in all wars. Such an image certainly helps to alleviate any guilt one nation may feel for waging war against another. In the same way, accepting stereotypes about a people, such as those voiced by Chief Dan George, can justify actions such as war, colonization and the establishment of residential schools. These rationalizations are really a façade for an attitude that allows one to treat the in-group differently than the out-group. Conversely, co-operative activities can reduce racial tension if both parties work in a strategic alliance. According to Baron, Kerr and Miller (1992), “cooperation may break down group boundary lines (the ‘us versus them’ mentality) to some degree” (p. 150). People must become cognizant of the effect of prejudice on others.
Ethnic stereotypes create a problem when they are inaccurate and produce a negative evaluation of other people. In a multicultural society, such stereotypes bring a sense of exclusiveness that can result in a strong feeling of superiority. Interestingly, research evidence suggests that individuals need to maintain a sense of group distinctiveness (Berry, Poortinga, Segall & Dasen, 2002). Sometimes people refer to this as “group pride,” but why does pride hinge on a feeling of superiority? Pride in doing things well or in a feeling of solidarity with one’s ethnic group is beneficial, but when it evolves into superiority, it is destructive. There also seems to be a relationship between prejudicial attitudes and people who have a disposition towards authoritarianism. People who are overly submissive, feel inadequate or are overly suspicious seem to be more prone to prejudice than others. While these examples suggest how racism may be used to deprive others of their human qualities, the process is similar for sexism, ageism, religious bigotry and homophobia.
The kind of prejudice experienced by ethnic and racial minorities, intentionally or unintentionally, is the essence of the challenge of an open society, and an insidious aspect of racism is the manner in which it is reinforced by society’s institutions. The scope of the issue is associated with integrating the culturally different into society, however: “According to a Leger Marketing poll, Canadians are divided on whether racism poses a problem for them: 52 per cent say it’s significant while 47 per cent consider it to be insignificant” (Song, 2011). These results are not comforting.
The Causes of Conflict and Prejudice
There has been a good deal of research examining what creates conflict and gives birth to prejudice. Is it a part of the human experience? Are people born feeling prejudice? Consider that when people compete for scarce resources, they form groups to help them get ahead. Often, these groups are based on similarities within the group, which becomes the in-group. Those who are different become the out-group. Differences could be based on a number of factors including group norms, language, race, religion or even goals. On a smaller scale, even people who are similar but who have different goals become frustrated with others whose goals are different. According to Baron, Kerr and Miller (1992), however, people become less aggressive, and thus more cooperative—thereby reducing prejudice—if goals are mutual. In fact, friendships develop and differences of colour or race are minimized when goals are mutual. Generally, people from one group are more generous or overcompensate for those in their group; at the same time, they may be less generous and under-compensate for those from another group. In other words, people from one cultural group will be more forgiving of those in their group and less forgiving of those from another group. For some reason, there is a tendency to exaggerate similarities with the in-group while exaggerating differences with other groups. People react to each other based on their group membership. Since they do not know the others, viewing the others as faceless and interchangeable is common. It is easy to see others in a different light than we ourselves and so differences become exaggerated (e.g., others don’t value human life the way we do).
Is it human nature to try to simplify the environment, despite the fact that most day-to-day interactions among people are positive? A good question. One bias is that members of one group will “naturally” see themselves as acting responsibly, but see the other group and its members as being irresponsible. According to Baron, Kerr and Miller (1992), this bias is a factor of the human experience. For whatever reason, people also tend to promote negative views about others who are distinct and different. Thus, the bias is reinforced with each “negative” experience one has. In the end, one’s attitude becomes more rigid and ideological, part of one’s cultural norm. This outcome means, for example, that if one’s attitudes are negative towards the police, one will see examples that reinforce this bias more often than if one does not have the bias.
There is also the reciprocity rule, or the notion of “tit for tat,” in which if one “wrong” is done, the harmed party retaliates, causing a series of behaviours that reinforce one’s beliefs. Social comparison is also a factor in creating a sense of anger, prejudice and aggression. And finally, if there is a “triggering” event, people may react on the basis of emotion and do something that produces a chain of events that can last for decades. Consider, for example, the Kosovo situation in which Serbs fought Albanians. Historical “wrongs” were enmeshed within the differing groups’ attitudes about each other. The Turkish invasion during the sixteenth century continues to be played out in the twenty-first century. People adopt these historical attitudes and make them part of their behaviour, thus creating another myth that reinforces prejudice.
Culture is a human necessity, because it is the way people establish and maintain a relationship with their environment. As people of understanding interact with those who are culturally different, they must explore the socialization forces that affect behaviour, values and language. For example, notice the dichotomy between the ways of understanding the relationship of people with nature: control and good/bad versus harmony and good. The stress of control over nature produces a feeling of seeing other people in terms of good and bad, which corresponds exactly with how humanity ought to be treated. If people are not good or consistent with societal norms, then they need to be controlled. Taking this attitude one step further, people may also seek to control the urges they feel within themselves. Even in a relatively homogeneous population, there are cultural differences that are easier to be aware of in others than in the self. According to many social scientists, culture is both a critical aspect of a person’s lifestyle and an essential element of human behaviour. While the clothes people wear and the attitudes they voice may reflect the dominant culture they inhabit, it is their cultural background that shapes their thinking and feelings, as is reflected in the expression “blood is thicker than water.” There are strong indicators that cultural conditioning reflects how people communicate with others (Pedersen, Draguns, Lonner & Trimble, 2002).
The biological force is universal: no matter who people are or where they are from, they are human beings. Some biological differences include age, shape, size, colour and gender. With few exceptions, these differences do not change nor can they be manipulated. In all societies biological differences have produced attitudes relating to behaviour and how people interact with others. For example, someone large is viewed as powerful and possibly aggressive; as a result, more deference may be shown towards that person. A big and muscular person may be seen as a brute, a lean and slight person as effeminate, someone with rough features as unrefined; in some groups, plumpness is healthy while in others it is negative. The cultural norms that dictate reactions to biological differences are infinite, with each group having its own interpretation about the meaning of physical and biological characteristics.
All cultures are affected psychologically by various influences on the group. People in the group are continuously subjected to pressures to conform to the norms of the group. In this respect, personality is to a large extent formed through group norms. The family, as a primary socializing agent, is responsible for the basic values people exhibit. This is particularly true of Asian cultural values of respect for authority, tradition and learning. Exposure to significant others, relatives, friends, teachers and peers enhances one’s repertoire, inculcating the social mores and behaviours of the entire culture. This trait is obvious if we compare the ways people feel, think and act in different cultures. For example, according to Salagame (2011), people from different places in the world have a different construct of self:
“It is observed, in general, the Western Concept of Self is of an individual who is separate, autonomous, and atomized (made up of a set of discrete traits, abilities, values, and motives, seeking separateness and independence from others). In contrast, in Eastern cultures relatedness, connectedness, and interdependence are sought, rooted in a concept of the self not as a discrete entity, but as inherently linked to others. The person is only made “whole” when situated in his or her place in a social unit.” (p. 133)
Behaviour may also be affected by ideology or one’s characteristic manner of thinking (e.g., assertions, theories or aims). The ideological foundation of an individual’s culture will, to a large degree, have an impact on his/her behaviour. It is from such foundations that people derive religious, social and political beliefs that direct and govern their behaviour. Being born in a certain culture occasions the display of certain characteristics that are behaviourally right for that culture. In other words, people have a cultural or national way of thinking and seeing the world, which is reflected in their language, values and beliefs, norms, socio-political history and the like. The ideological differences can be observed in the behaviour of group members who come from different ethnic groups.
The ideology of a nation dictates to people certain attitudes, beliefs and ways of thinking that frame their existence. Beliefs about life, death and marriage, for instance, determine relationship behaviours. People tend to respond to their environment in consistent ways that are dictated by the attitudes of their society. Minorities have partially adopted the ideology of the dominant culture in order to survive, but the adoption may or may not be fully ingrained in their personality. Consider that even after three generations of living in the United States, some Mexican-American adolescents modified their basic cultural characteristics in only a few small ways (cited in France, 2001). Yet such minorities are also dissimilar to the cultures of their origin. For example, African-Canadians and Arab-Canadians may have more in common with one another than with people in Ethiopia or Jordan. This dissimilarity creates a strain for visible minorities who can feel that they are neither here nor there. It is also true that some beliefs and values are more affected by gender than cultural differences—for instance, that men have more freedom of choice regardless of culture. Finally, ecological forces refer to how the environment has influenced culture and behaviour. Someone born on an isolated island may develop a different view of the world than someone born on a large continent. Climate, terrain, prosperity and population density can also play a role in developing distinct cultural norms. People born in highly populated areas may have to be more assertive because that is the only way to survive, while someone born in a less populous area may be more relaxed and quiet.
Class, Language and Diversity
As a primary form of communication, language is of great importance to people in groups. Language patterns reflect people’s culture or subculture (Berry, Poortinga, Segall & Dasen, 2002). Even when people are speaking the same language, there may be misunderstanding because of individual differences. Thus, it becomes easy to imagine why people who do have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds misunderstand each other. An inaccurate picture of another person’s issue formed from verbal responses—or in some cases formed from what is not said—produces real conflict. Certain phrases in one language may be un-interpretable in another or, if translated literally, may not convey the many dimensions the phrase encompasses.
Some words, phrases or expressions might have negative meanings that are acceptable to some people from a cultural group but not to others. For example, many high school and professional sports teams have names and logos like “Braves,” “Indians” and “Redskins.” First Nations communities have protested such names on the basis that they reinforce negative stereotypes, use Aboriginal images and icons in a disrespectful manner, and trivialize their ethnic background. A recent incident in greater Vancouver created controversy when the Musqueam name Spull'u'kwuks was proposed for a school. Authorities felt the name, meaning “place of bubbling waters,” could be used in a negative way because of the potential for rhyming with “the F word” or “sucks” or so on. The response from the Musqueam First Nation was “it was their language . . . and . . . it should be celebrated, not made the subject of humour” (France, 2002).
Even non-verbal gestures are relatively different from culture to culture. According to Matsumoto and Juang (2012), “being unaware of these differences can definitely cause problems” (p. 352), because each culture develops unique patterns of non-verbal communication. Eye contact and personal space, for example, differ from culture to culture. In North America, people are taught that eye contact communicates closeness and attention, while lack of eye contact communicates dislike, lack of interest or disrespect. Arabic societies gaze even longer than North Americans do (Matsumoto & Juang, 2012), but the degrees of eye contact may have different implications for different cultures. According to Sue and Sue (2007), white middle-class people, when speaking to others, look away (eye avoidance) approximately 50 per cent of the time. When whites listen, however, they make eye contact with the speaker over 80 per cent of the time. But blacks make more eye contact when speaking and infrequent eye contact when listening. This difference reinforces the idea that we should be careful when we try to attribute reasons for the amount of eye contact we encounter. Eye contact is not necessarily related to aggressiveness, shyness or inattentiveness but rather may depend on cultural patterns.
Physical distance is another cultural variable. Francophones touch more in conversation and kiss those they feel close to, while Anglophones touch far less and rarely kiss both cheeks in greeting. In North America, proximity is closely related to relationships. In an intimate relationships, people may come within 0 to 1.5 feet of one another; in a personal relationship, from 1.5 to 4 feet; in a social consultative relationship from 4 to 8 feet; and in a public relationship up to 10 feet. According to Matsumoto and Juang (2012), Latinos feel more comfortable in close proximity than those of European ancestry.
According to Pedersen and Carey (2003), socio-economic factors affect the way people communicate and interact. For example, groups with members from lower economic and educational levels appear to prefer more concrete and structured activities. These people may want direct advice or at least a chance to talk in terms of concreteness and tangible outcomes. In general, those in the lower socio-economic spheres report that counselling activities are “all talk and no action.” In addition, people from different cultures may be unfamiliar with the dynamics of groups, which may be incongruent with what they expect. This inexperience may in turn block their progress in counselling groups.
As counsellors, we must be aware of and able to identify the values of different people that we work with. All people tend to project their cultural values in their behaviour, and verbal and emotional expressions. Obviously, these differences may create distances between people. Individuals from some cultural groups may be reluctant to disclose their feelings because their culture places a high priority on restraint in expressing feelings and thoughts, particularly to strangers. If one misinterprets the reasons behind the reluctance to self-disclose, the results may produce a block of communication, severe anxiety and extreme discomfort.
Another important cultural value is the family relationship. People of European ancestry and those acculturated by this ancestry tend to centre on personal responsibility; their decisions may be made based on the good of the individual. Other cultures emphasize the family or the collective good. If someone from a culture that emphasizes family involvement in decision-making makes a personal decision, the family might block attempts to achieve the individual’s goals. One Asian-Canadian client, for example, stated, “Whenever I disagreed with my mother, it seemed to her that I was questioning her character” (France, 2002, p. 220). In this client’s family, the authority of the parents is paramount and not to be questioned by the child. When the client made a decision without consulting her family, her mother felt hurt and angry. The client loved her mother but felt a desire to assert her individuality, and this desire produced many conflicting feelings. There are also positive aspects to cultural values in which adult children make important choices only after consulting with their parents. For example, a Brazilian woman, aged 30, said that she and her husband felt it necessary to ask her parents whether their decision to buy a particular apartment was a good one. Upon hearing her, a Canadian male responded that, if he asked his parents what they thought, the response would be, “You’re an adult now; decide what you think is best.”
Cross-Cultural Communication Difficulties
When people encounter cultural differences as sojourners, they find “that adjustment problems were greatest at the beginning and decreased over time” (Berry, Poortinga, Segall & Dasen, 2001, p. 409). Interestingly, there is a “honeymoon period” in adjustment in which the sojourner is enthusiastic; this is followed by anxiety, frustration, and adjustment difficulties. However, these dissipate as the sojourner develops new coping mechanisms. This experience is sometimes referred to as the U- or W-shaped curve, as cultural adjustment occurs. But what are some of the blocks that challenge people in cross-cultural communication? To be sensitive to and aware of another person’s frame of reference is elementary, but it is particularly significant with those of diverse cultural backgrounds. In some ways the following list of stumbling blocks applies to almost any group but is especially pertinent in cross-cultural groups (France, 2002).
Language: Vocabulary, syntax, idiom, slang and dialect can create problems of understanding. The problem is the tenacity with which people cling to “the” meaning of a word or phrase in the new language, regardless of its connotation or the context.
Non-verbal areas: People from different cultures employ different non-verbal sensory words. They see, hear, feel and smell only that which has some meaning or importance for them. They extract whatever significance fits their personal world of recognition and then interpret it through the frame of reference of their own culture.
Tendency to evaluate: Some people from different cultures need to approve or disapprove the statements and actions of others, rather than to try to comprehend the thoughts and feelings expressed. This bias prevents the open-minded attention needed to look at attitudes and behaviour patterns from others’ frame of reference. This is heightened when feelings and emotions are deeply involved. Yet this is the time when listening with understanding is most needed. As counsellors, we especially need to examine values that are negatively evaluative towards those who are different.
High anxiety: This stumbling block is not distinct but underlies and compounds the others. Its presence is very common because of uncertainties present when people function in a foreign language where the normal flow of verbal and nonverbal interaction cannot be sustained. There is a sense of threat by the unknown knowledge, experience and evaluation of others, therefore bringing the potential for scrutiny and rejection by the self. There is also the added tension of having to cope with the differing pace, climate and culture. Self-esteem is often intolerably undermined unless people employ defences such as withdrawal into their reference group or into themselves, thus screening out or misperceiving stimuli, rationalizing, overcompensating or even showing hostility. (p. 219)
Multicultural experiences can enhance a counsellor’s personal power and improve overall communication skills not only with culturally different clients but with clients in general. What counsellors say and do can either promote or reduce their credibility and effectiveness with others. Their style of self-disclosure, perceived trustworthiness and counselling style emphasize just a few of the variables. In this regard, the cultural background of counsellors is not as important to how effective they are as the way their credibility, attractiveness and trustworthiness are perceived by clients. In studies on evaluating the effects of counsellors’ race and ethnic background on perceived effectiveness in communication, people were affected by the person’s race and ethnic background either negatively or positively (cited in France, 2002). In counselling situations, the evidence suggests that, for culturally different people, the issue of expertise is raised more often than whether the person has a similar cultural or racial background (Pedersen & Carey, 2003). This finding suggests that group members will have to be sensitive and develop strategies that will attenuate or eliminate this effect, particularly if the effect is negative. In other words, using appropriate communication skills and strategies that are congruent with the client’s values is more important than race or ethnic background. There seems to be no particular communication strategy that proves more successful with specific populations. Yet the approach used by group members from the majority culture must be consistent with those from other cultures’ lifestyles, along with flexibility for individual differences within a culture: not all people with a similar cultural background behave in the same way.
On the other hand, equal treatment in communication may be discriminatory treatment. If group members proceed on the basis that everyone is the same without recognizing differences, this approach may have a negative effect. If we could all be more aware and appreciate other cultures’ different attributes, perhaps we could be more accepting of cultural differences in others.
The Process of Cultural Adjustment
The process of adaptation is a universal phenomenon that everyone experiences in growing from infancy to adulthood within a given cultural milieu. According to Sciarra (1999), “counselors working with clients from non-dominant cultural backgrounds need to assess their acculturative levels and the amount of stress resulting from living in a different environment” (p. 25). Okun, Fried and Okun (1999) emphasize that cultural adaptation and “development can be considered as a series of fluctuations between agency or the ability to carry out one’s purpose or function and communion or the ability to connect with another” (p. 24). Such is the challenge of being oneself while being able to connect with others who may be different. How one does this can determine how safe one feels in any different cultural situation. However, three categories of processes of adaptation have been identified:
- Unidirectional, or adapting to one culture and away from another;
- Bidirectional, or adapting by moving back and forth between two cultures while feeling at home in both;
- Multidirectional, or adapting to other cultures but feeling positively grounded in one’s own culture.
In the example of the war in Iraq, there was much talk about the evils of terrorism, and Islam was sometimes portrayed as the root cause of the terror. Terms like “regime change” conveyed the idea that somehow the invasion of Iraq was a positive endeavour; such language dehumanizes the “other” side. Dyer (1999) argues that each nation invents the myths of nationhood just as each country decides what is “good” or “bad.” In effect, reasons behind various national policies are subjective. But reality is subjective: it looks different from an Arab perspective compared to an American perspective. Each side views the other as either an “Axis of Evil” or the “Big Satan,” when in fact, both sides are made up of human beings who love their children.
Many of the issues that have divided people historically are still unchanged. Over time the enemy changes, but the process of dehumanizing stays the same; for instance, the Russians are now like us, while Muslims are seen very differently. Despite openness to new ideas, people in North America may be quite ignorant of other world literature, customs and languages. The more people foster the notion that there are multiple explanations or sides to an issue, the less the chance that we will be ignorant and fear the unknown. Fear, after all, is the culprit behind racism.
Encouragement of Cultural Identity
All people want acceptance from others, yet regardless of how they adapt to new cultural situations, their cultural roots bind them and this binding in turn affects how they feel about themselves and are perceived by others. Sciarra (1999) stresses that “attitudes and behaviors are the result of complex cognitive and emotional processes around the relationship people have to their own cultural group” (p. 47).
Racial-ethnic identity development may be defined as pride in one’s racial, ethnic and cultural heritage. People who have strong cultural identities seem to have a greater sense of control over their lives. Sue and Sue (2007) suggest that counsellors’ cultural identity can adversely affect how they interact with clients by reinforcing negative self-esteem if the client is experiencing dissonance about his/her cultural development. Helms (2010) proposes two models of identity development to describe how minorities form their identity compared to the majority group. There are six stages in the Majority Racial Identity Development Model:
1. Lack of awareness: A person has no sense that there are any differences in cultures simply because he/she has no contact.
2. Contact: A person has contact with someone who is different. This stage is characterized by curiosity and the recognition that there are differences among people—colour, race, language, and so on.
3. Conflict: Once differences are identified, there is a great chance for conflict. Differences become exaggerated and “war” is inevitable. People become frustrated and differences create fear; people may become defensive and sometimes aggressive.
4. Pro-minority stance: Once people understand that conflict is not a positive option, they begin to reach out to others. In their desire to connect, members of the dominant group embrace minority characteristics and values (e.g., language, dress, etc.). However, this strategy is bound to fail because those reaching out can never be minority members because they cannot change their complexion or culture.
5. Pro-majority stance: This stage occurs when the pro-minority stance is not accepted. Members of the dominant group embrace an attitude that is not diverse or accepting of others (that is, they support only their own).
6. Internalization: At this stage, people accept themselves as coming from a certain ethnic group and accept others in the same way. They have a good sense of their own boundaries and those of others, and recognize that their ethnic identity is a part of themselves and is built on a positive foundation. They accept others who are different and value others based on their behaviours, not on their colour.
In the Minority Identity Development Model, Helms (2010) suggests that if counsellors want to understand minority people, they must understand the individual’s identity development. If there are problems, they may have something to do with the person’s identity development. The model consists of five stages:
1. Conformity: The acceptance of majority standards and values at the cost of one’s own ethnic identity.
2. Dissonance: The person perceives a difference between what he/she feels and what he/she experiences.
3. Resistance: Based on their sense of dissonance, people revolt. A sense of power and even exclusiveness takes place (e.g., “Black Power”).
4. Introspection: Based on the sense that resistance doesn’t always accomplish what one wants, the individual looks for reasons for the whys and hows. What happens is an examination of everything.
5. Synergistic articulation and awareness: This stage occurs when one accepts oneself.
What about mixed race people? The National Film Board video Domino (1990) relates stories of growing up biculturally. Biracial identity development, however, is a much more complex and undefined process. Poston (in France, 2002) developed the Biracial Identity Development Model to address the inherent weakness of the previously mentioned models and to recognize the increasing numbers of biracial youth. Admittedly, this progressive, developmental model is tentative and based on the scant research on biracial individuals and information from support groups. Nevertheless, the following five-stage model does have implications for personal identity constructs (e.g., self-esteem) for biracial youth:
1. Personal identity: Biracial children tend to display identification problems when they internalize outside prejudices and values. Young children’s reference-group observation attitudes are not yet developed, so their identity is primarily based on personal factors such as self-esteem and feelings of self-worth within their primary reference group.
2. Choice of group categorization: Youth at this stage are pushed to choose an identity, usually of one ethnic group. Numerous factors can influence the individual’s identity choice (e.g., status, social support, personal appeals). It is unusual for an individual to choose a multi-ethnic identity because this choice requires a level of knowledge of multiple ethnicities, races and cultures and a level of cognitive development beyond what is characteristic of this age group.
3. Enmeshment or denial: This stage is characterized by confusion and guilt at having to choose one identity that is not fully expressive of one’s background. Biracial youth may experience alienation at the Choice stage and make a choice even if they are uncomfortable with it.
4. Appreciation: Individuals at this stage begin to appreciate their multiple identities and broaden their reference group orientation. They might begin to learn about their racial/ethnic/cultural heritage, but they still tend to identity with one group.
5. Integration: Individuals at this stage experience wholeness and integration. They tend to recognize and value all of their racial and ethnic identities. At this level, biracial youth develop a secure, integrated identity.
This model is similar to the previously mentioned models in that it integrates a lifespan focus. Yet this model is different in that it underscores the uniqueness of biracial identity development. In addition, it recognizes that the most difficult times of adjustment and identification confusion are during the Choice stage and Enmeshment/Denial stage. Helping professionals who understand and accept the five stages will be better prepared to assist biracial youth in their identity development.
It is vital for the practitioner to be in sync with the client and to facilitate movement toward the client’s goals (Sue & Sue, 2007). The practitioner’s goal should be to help clients to develop functional environmental mastery behaviours that lead to personal adjustment and optimal mental health, with the operational therapeutic objective of helping these clients empower themselves for environmental mastery and competence. Many helping professionals, however, assume that all people from a specific ethnic or cultural group are the same and that one theoretical orientation is universally applicable in any intervention effort. Such an assumption is just as harmful for biracial youth as it is for youth from any specific ethnic background. Professionals with this perspective may approach clients not as distinct human beings with individual experiences, but rather merely as cultural stereotypes.
Social ostracism and racism continue to direct stressors on many interracial couplings even though most legal barriers to interracial marriage and coupling have been abolished. A greater acceptance of interracial unions exists today than even 15 to 20 years ago (Matsumoto & Juang, 2012). This increase in acceptance is reflected in the steady growth in the number of interracial couples and their offspring. Helping professionals therefore need to be cognizant of and prepared to address this increasing population in their professions. Matsumoto and Juang (2012) say that studies of intercultural marriages have
“shown that conflicts arise in several major areas, including the expression of love and intimacy, the nature of commitment and attitudes towards the marriage itself, and approaches to child rearing when couples have children. Other potential sources of conflict include differences in perceptions of male-female roles, differences in domestic money management, differences in perceptions of relationships with extended family and defences in the definition of marriage itself.” (p. 419)
Interestingly, “anecdotal evidence suggests intercultural marriages are not necessarily associated with higher divorce rates than intra-cultural marriages” (p. 421). Thus, the factors that contribute to a successful intercultural marriage are the same ingredients that make for successful multicultural counselling. That is, the ability to compromise flexibly and a commitment to the relationship, as well as the ability to negotiate differences existing within the relationship, the willingness to make compromises and the desire to stay together regardless of the challenges.
Queen Noor (2003) of Jordan recalls how shocked and insulted she was when US President George Bush, during the first Gulf War, said he would not allow Saddam Hussein to control 25 per cent of the “civilized” world’s oil. Queen Noor’s story reflects how Arabs are perceived by people in other parts of the world, particularly in North America. It is possible, though, that there was a cultural misunderstanding in Bush’s expression, thus underscoring the importance of meaning and language in communication. All counsellors working with people who are different need to realize how behaviours and words influence the communication process. People, like nations, have a tendency to look at the outside world from their own perspective. This is natural and perhaps necessary, for all people are “prisoners” of a particular space and time. A global view of the group is that everyone is a stranger, just as everyone is a neighbour. In fact, at one time all of us were foreigners, outsiders, perhaps even outcasts. The challenge for counsellors is to be more culturally sensitive yet maintain a sense of their own cultural identity.
According to Berry, Poortinga, Segall and Dasen (2001), “a common core to psychotherapeutic practices may exist, but with different historical and cultural roots, and with highly varied cultural expression” (p. 441). In other words, while there may be some universals in regards to counselling, the way in which they are perceived and used is influenced by culture. A multicultural orientation has tremendous implications for counselling practice because being knowledgeable and sensitive to cultural diversity makes all the difference between success and failure. Multicultural counselling is concerned with the usual developmental issues, but with the added element of cultural differences. We live in a society in which the world is represented by our major cities, which demand that we become engaged in intercultural communication for our survival. If the interaction is to be significant, and if cross-cultural communication and multiculturalism are to foster increased understanding and cooperation, then counsellors must be aware of the factors that may affect how we relate to others. Counsellors must not only avoid actions that hinder effective communication, but must be actively engaged in helping others deal with diversity issues. It is axiomatic to suggest that the success of cross-cultural communication may well depend on the attitudes and philosophies people adopt. The way in which people in a group relate to each other often reflects their larger philosophy towards life and themselves.
Counsellors must be models for promoting the acceptance of diversity and for encouraging others not only to be culturally sensitive but also to fight discrimination and racism. All people are capable of change from day to day and from situation to situation, but counsellors who work with people from different cultures have a unique opportunity to act as agents of change. Siccone (1995) reminds us, “Every bigot was once a child free of prejudice” (p. 133); therefore, celebrating diversity must begin early. Many attitudes and behaviours are deeply ingrained in people’s psyches and many of them are subject to ethnocentrism. The challenge for counsellors is to help people become grounded in their cultural identity, develop an appreciation for others who are culturally different, and look for ways of reaching out to others who are different. The changes required are not simple, nor are they easy. They require that people possess a willingness to communicate, show empathy toward foreign and alien cultures, tolerate views that differ from their own and develop a more open approach to communication with others from different cultural groups. In order to increase acceptance of people who are different, more contact with minorities is particularly important (Berry, Poortinga, Segall & Dasen, 2002). If people have the resolve to adapt their behaviours and attitudes and the desire to overcome ethnocentrism, they may begin to know the feelings of exhilaration that come when they have made contact with those from cultures far removed from their own sphere of experience. This willingness to realize interdependency is voiced eloquently by McGaa (1990):
“Our survival is dependent on the realization that Mother Earth is a truly holy being, that all things in this world are holy and must not be violated, and that we must share and be generous with one another. . . . Think of your fellow men and women as holy people who were put here by the Great Spirit. Think of being related to all things.” (p. 208)
The budding counselors of Canada who would inevitably encounter individuals from diverse contexts regardless of their practice setting will find the book informative.