I understand my client’s everyday functioning through an overarching cultural lens.
Oftentimes, the symptoms that are causing client’s distress often can be a reflection of a the person’s adaptation from a series of cultural and contextual issues that have affected them. I work with individuals that often share a life so rich in context, both historical and cultural, generational and individual, and that the treatment I provide often demands a holistic and cultural framework.
When considering the psychological functioning of people whose culture is different than North American, French or German, there can be a failure to discuss the political and social implications of distress and so there is a perception that people are seen as genetically deficient with fatal temperaments (Martin-Baro, 1998).
An exploration of how culture and values have affected Western and non-Western worldviews is critical in evaluating and providing treatment for mental health. This can also help clarify some of the issues that are already rooted within the mental health system. Western values are often embedded into the treatment goals and are considered markers of progress in treatment where, for example, individualism will be ranked as a key value rather than considering the importance of collectivism and connection to a community.
Theoretical frameworks of most mainstream psychological schools of thought have served disadvantageous to communities of color as well as to the LGBTQIA+ community. Considering an indigenous framing of distress and using empirically validated methods of treatment can holistically allow me to consider all facets of a client’s life and how it impacts treatment and healing. Cultural identity and values are concepts that identify people with others and are most often combined with the historical effects of patterns of discrimination. Traditional psychological theories and models have historically identified people of color, at a deficit in functioning because of their focus on developing their self within the community in relation to their own individual growth (Martín-Baró, 1998).
Well-intentioned actions and treatment modalities of mainstream mental health professionals can be the products of a larger paradigm of political, religious, and social systems that have historically oppressed people of color for centuries (Duran, Firehammer, and Gonzalez, 2008). We also know that the current literature emphasizes that cultural values continue to be a “consistent source of protective factors” in developing resiliency in communities that are not culturally supportive (German, Gonzalez, & Dumka, 2009). Co-developed treatment goals are culturally relevant and centered to reflect the client’s upbringing, language, and cultural history. Optimal functioning from a liberation framework includes developing and fostering healthy relationships while reconnecting with a cultural community. In addition, helping the client recognize the effects of historical, political and sociological events in their life and upbringing can foster growth and healing from unprocessed trauma in the client’s life (Goodkind, et al 2012). The culturally competent clinician can use these as notions of empowerment and re-establishing roots into his cultural history.