Our art, as therapists, includes our ability to ask questions about the meanings and impacts of mutual social positionings and relative levels of social, environmental and economic (dis-)advantage. It is not enough to be respectful of the other or to assert ‘acceptance’ of a client’s culture, religion, and so on, however different they may be. We must guard against making assumptions based on stereotypical generalisations derived from recognizing the ethnicity/race, class, gender/sexuality, age, (dis-)ability etc and do more to open up sensitive relational dialogue.
Yet, navigating social-cultural identities and complexity is tricky. We might have good intentions to be respectful but then inadvertently cause offense (as in the recent case). It is becoming all the more important these days to check out what pronoun the other person goes by or what their cultural identity, particularly regarding ethnicity, means for them. We clearly need to ask questions, but the hard bit is thinking about how, when and what we ask. It’s about trying to be alert and sensitive to the cues. And if we don’t know about a particular culture, we have the responsibility to educate ourselves while focusing on what we don’t know about the particular individual other in humility. It’s important to view cultural dialogue as an opportunity to connect and not to think in terms of right/wrong/’shoulds’ and instead to embrace the opportunity to open up dialogue about difference.
The concept of cultural humility as a way of ‘being’ is one that I appreciate over and above the ‘doing’/skills focus of current discourse on cultural competence. Cultural humility highlights the idea of lifelong learning and the need to keep questioning taken-for-granted assumptions and dogma (particularly about a position being ‘right’ or ‘superior’). Having grown up in a multi-cultural context myself, I learned early that there are always different perspectives, that there is no one truth or fixed reality for all. I also learned how much I can learn from the ‘other’. The important thing, I believe, is for us all to be more reflexive about issues around intersectionality, power and to actively open up relational dialogues where we can share and listen to each other. I would like to stress that this isn’t about ‘political correctness’ (a problematic, politically-loaded term often deployed in disparaging, dismissive ways to deny the reality of discrimination and oppression) so much as its about being respectfully, reflexively relational.