Domain I: Acknowledge the Ubiquitous Nature of Culture in Counselling
Appreciate and reflect critically on the complexity and intersectionality of cultural identities and relationalities
The second core competency for CRSJ counselling (Collins, 2018) focuses on the complex and multifaceted nature of both counsellor and client cultural identities. In most competency models, counsellor self-awareness and awareness of client worldview continue to be treated as separate domains (Nassar-McMillan, 2014; Ratts, Singh, Nassar-McMillan, Butler, & McCullough, 2015, 2016). From a teaching and learning perspective, however, the key concepts and learning outcomes in the CRSJ counselling model below apply equally to counsellor and client. Focusing learners from the outset on the interface of client–counsellor cultural identities reinforces the relational and contextual nature of culture and cultural identities. Integrating Indigenous principles of relationality and relationship to land and place challenges Western, individualist worldviews by critically analyzing the cultural relevance of concepts such as identity (Fellner, John, & Cottell, 2016). It is also important for learners to appreciate the fluidity and intersectionality of both their own and their clients’ multiple cultural identities (Collins, 2010; McNair, 2017).
The learning activities below are designed to support competency development related to the key concepts above. Click on any of the key concepts in the table to go the relevant activities, exercises, and learning resources.
Many people operate under the misconception that various aspects of cultural identity are essentialized or fixed in time and place; however, even those aspects of identity that people often take for granted may be more complex than they realize. Choose a nationality or ethnicity that you have less affiliation or openness towards than others. Be honest with yourself about the perceptions and assumptions you hold of this population. One of the goals of this course is to support the uncovering of assumptions and biases that we all hold as human beings. Then watch the YouTube video below as individuals from various ethnic backgrounds share their perceptions of others and then are faced with an unexpected outcome.
- What are your reactions to this video, and how does it offer you a different way of viewing those who are culturally different from you?
- What are the implications for challenging the myth of essentialized/fixed identities in other areas, such as gender, class, sexual orientation, ability?
- How might you carry the moral of this story forward into your work with your clients?
One of the ways in which dominant discourses are preserved and protected in society is through the use of language that infers there is only one way to view lived experience. In the case of gender, you don’t need to look far to see examples that reinforce these false assumptions or myths: for example, signage that proclaims washrooms as being for either men or women reinforces the false assumption that there are only two genders. Review the Definition of Terms provided by the University of California Berkeley, Gender Equity Resource Center. Then, consider the definitions provided in Appendix A of the America Counseling Association ALGBTIC Competencies for Counseling LGBQIQA. Go through these lists of definitions and review the terms with which you are less familiar. It is now widely accepted that gender identity and sexual orientation are nonbinary categories of human experience. In other words, they are best understood as continua of experience/identity rather than distinct and exclusive categories. Pay particular attention to defining the terms sex, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
To position yourself on this landscape of diversity, take a moment to reflect on the Gender Unicorn presented by the Trans Student Education Resources. They often assume heterosexual and cisgender normativity; they view sexuality in binary (either/or) terms; and/or they are unaware of the breadth of diversity on these spectra. Take note of what it is like for you—emotionally, cognitively, behaviourally—to consider your personal cultural identity relative to this spectrum of lived experiences. Consider the implications for your use of language related to gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation in casual conversation and in your professional roles, particularly in your interactions with clients.
Canadian historical contexts have influenced the lived experience of members of various nondominant populations in different time periods. The Canadian Human Rights Commission (n.d.) has created a database to illustrate how human rights have changed over the last century or so in Canada: Human Rights in Canada: A Historical Perspective. Exploring this site gives you an opportunity to evaluate critically how historical context shapes cultural identities.
- Select a Time Portal website. Get a sense from the time colour-coded flags on the map where gains and losses in human rights have occurred across the country. Explore some of these gains and losses (by clicking on the flags on the map or on the numbers in the chronological list below).
- Who was affected, positively or negatively, by these events?
- What was the historical, sociocultural, political context of the time, and how did that influence these changes? (Note: Use the Get Briefed On… tab for contextual information for different dates.)
- Imagine what it might have been like to have, or not have, basic human rights at these times. Picture yourself in these situations, either gaining or losing ground.
- Attend to what aspects of cultural identity were validated or invalidated in different periods of time.
- Next, use the Browse by Subject tab to select a particular nondominant cultural group and review the evolution of human rights for this group over time.
- Choose one year in middle of the list of human rights events and create an image in your mind of life for a particular person with this specific cultural identity during this time period.
- What challenges did this person face? What basic human rights did they possess or lack? How might this have impacted their lives on a day-to-day basis?
- How might this context have shaped how they viewed themselves, how they might have foregrounded or backgrounded certain aspects of their cultural identity, and how they might have related to the dominant cultural groups?
- Review the events prior to this year and after this year. Imagine yourself in their shoes experiencing past gains and still fighting for future rights. What effects might these battles have on your sense of personal or collective cultural identity? How might your sense of self and expression of cultural identity to those around you change over time?
- Reflect critically on our current sociocultural/political context in Canada. In what ways does this context continue to influence the lived experience and expression of dominant and nondominant cultural identities and human rights?
Before completing this activity, take your computer or e-reader and move to a comfortable space, preferably outdoors, where you can enjoy the environment around you. Then, listed to the Mayor of Edmonton read the story of Shi-shi-etko by Campbell (2005) to a group of attentive children.
Before you connect with your partner, take a few minutes to write down your reactions to this video. I encourage you to be creative and spontaneous in your writing. Pay attention the way in which land is position as central to Indigenous identity in this story. Consider also them impact of loss of connection to land and place on individuals, families, and communities. Share your writing and debrief with your partner.
[Permanent link: https://mem.on-linelearning.ca/crsjcounselling/chapter/cc2/#shishietko]
Heather is a 32-year-old single mom, with no extended family. She receives limited financial support from the government. She has problems finding daycare and works at two part-time jobs to support her children. Heather’s seven-year-old is showing behavioural and learning problems in grade 1. Heather is having difficulty sleeping and has experienced weight loss, anxiety, and exhaustion. She is attending college on a part-time basis, but she is considering dropping out.
- What cultural identity factors might you take into account in working with Heather?
- What cultural identity factors might be most salient to her current situation and presenting concerns?
- What other information would you want to gather as part of your intake assessment to ensure you fully understand Heather’s situation?
- What initial hypotheses do you hold about Heather’s presenting concerns?
- What aspects of your own cultural identities potentially facilitate your understanding of Heather’s challenges?
- What aspects of your cultural identities might lead to differences in values, worldview, life experiences, and privilege?
Now read the additional components of this vignette: Heather II. What is your immediate, uncensored emotional reaction to this new information? How does this information about Heather alter your responses to the questions above?
Finally, let’s switch Heather’s situation up a bit by considering the alternative background for the vignette in Heather III. What response does this information elicit in you, personally and professionally? How would you respond to the questions above now?
Take a moment to think about the three versions of Heather and respond to some or all of the prompts below.
- To which version did you feel the most immediate connection?
- Which one did you shy away from emotionally?
- What do these initial reactions tell you?
- Which did you feel the most, and the least, competent to work with?
- How did the complexity of her cultural identities factor into your reactions?
- How might you increase your competency for working with clients with multiple nondominant identities?
[Permanent link: https://mem.on-linelearning.ca/crsjcounselling/chapter/cc2/#whoisheather]
Create a short vignette to post for discussion based on your own experiences of working with, observing, or being in community with, persons who hold multiple, intersecting nondominant identities. Demonstrate your understanding of the principles in the lesson readings in this vignette. Post one thought-provoking question about this scenario that is focused specifically on the complexity of intersecting cultural identity(ies) for your peers’ response. Try to come up with a question that you, yourself, are struggling to answer. Treat this exercise as if you were engaging in a peer consultation on this case.
Share a photo, image, or other visual arts example that captures the essence of what you have learned about the complexity and intersectionality of cultural identity. Provide your own analysis of the artefact you selected, and then pose a question for critical reflection by your peers. The question you pose should provide evidence of the depth of your consideration of the issues.
Note: You must pay attention to copyright in posting images online. Here are some tips on Open Learning Resources to help you find appropriate resources to use.
Campbell, N. (2005). Shi-shi-etko. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.
Canadian Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Human rights in Canada: A historical perspective. Retrieved from http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/en/index.asp
Collins, S. (2010). The complexity of identity: Appreciating multiplicity and intersectionality. In N. Arthur & S. Collins (Eds.). Culture-infused counselling (2nd ed., pp. 247-258). Calgary, AB: Counselling Concepts.
Collins, S. (2018). Embracing cultural responsivity and social justice: Re-shaping professional identity in counselling psychology [Epub version]. Victoria, BC: Counselling Concepts. Retrieved from http://www.counsellingconcepts.ca
Fellner, K., John, R., & Cottell, S. (2016). Counselling Indigenous peoples in a Canadian context. In N. Gazzola, M. Buchanan, O. Sutherland, & S. Nuttgens (Eds.), Handbook of counselling and psychotherapy in Canada (pp. 123-147). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.
McNair, R. P. (2017). Multiple identities and their intersections with queer health and wellbeing. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 38, 443-452. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07256868.2017.1341398
Nassar-McMillan, S. C. (2014). A framework for cultural competence, advocacy, and social justice: Applications for global multiculturalism and diversity. International Journal for Education and Vocational Guidance, 14, 103-118. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10775-014-9265-3
Ratts, M. J., Singh, A. A., Nassar-McMillan, S., Butler, S. K., & McCullough, J. R. (2015). Multicultural and social justice competencies. Retrieved from Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, Division of American Counselling Association website: http://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/competencies/multicultural-and-social-justice-counseling-competencies.pdf?sfvrsn=14
Ratts, M. J., Singh, A. A., Nassar-McMillan, S., Butler, S. K., & McCullough, J. R. (2016). Multicultural and social justice counseling competencies: Guidelines for the counseling profession. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 44, 28-48. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jmcd.12035