Multicultural Competence and Cultural Identity

Abstract

The formation of cultural identity is influenced by cultural influences, adopted values, social expectations, and norms of behavior. Cultural and social identity affects communication, and may influence the professional performance of psychologists in a negative way. The prejudices and biases may unintentionally provoke miscommunication or result in discrimination and harassment. However, the awareness of own cultural background may provide significant support in the practice of psychology. Thus, it is important for the professionals to build multicultural competence and increase the awareness of own cultural advantages and disadvantages.

Introduction

Cultural identity, social and ethnic backgrounds affect individual’s decisions and actions. Although some people do not pay great attention to own backgrounds and life experiences, they still may be largely influenced by the culture, family traditions, or past events subconsciously. In the professional performance that requires a specialist to be objective and unprejudiced, such as psychological counseling, the cultural biases may create significant barriers to the provision of high-quality services.

Racial, gender, and other prejudices based on the demographic factors interfere with the establishment of professional relationships and increase misunderstanding and, thus, the lack of cultural awareness may be regarded as a critical incompetency of a therapist. A psychologist needs to raise awareness regarding his/her own cultural and social experiences, and work on the revealed subjective attitudes. Through building the cultural competence, a specialist attains opportunity to use his/her backgrounds as a support for the increase in the level of professionalism and compliance with the important ethical standards.

Cultural Background

As a female who was born and raised in Haiti, I have a strong ethnic identity which, to some extent, influenced the formation of my personal values and life choices. Over the history, Haiti was exposed to multiple social transformations due to the invasion of the West, colonization, and other historical events. It is possible to say that nowadays Haitian community remains multicultural and diverse but, nevertheless, Haitians managed to preserve their cultural heritage and many people, especially in the rural areas, stay loyal to the customs and traditions.

Haitians have some distinct norms of social behavior. On the national scale, people share the common ideas about the acceptable manners in social interactions. The etiquette requires showing respect to each other through the formal rules and expressions. As a nation, Haitians are welcoming and open. However, at the level of social structure, there is a strict class division that may implicitly affect social relations. People from urban and rural areas usually have different social statuses. Moreover, the social structure also imposes the roles and expectations on each gender and social class.

I was born in the urban area where women are less repressed and have relatively equal rights as men. Some women work and even take the managerial positions, however, the presence of females in the Haitian economic playfield and business is limited due to the scarcity of opportunities and vacancies. In this way, males dominate the job market, and the females are usually responsible for the household.

In Haiti, as in many other countries, the social members consider that family and children are the major interests in woman’s life. This belief rather exists on the subconscious level and is commonly perceived as a social norm. The prejudices on the basis of gender may largely affect women’s self-identity in a negative way and may prevent them from academic and professional development, self-realization, and engagement in the occupation they feel passionate about.

At the same time, women can be prone to the overvaluation of their disadvantaged position in the society and may develop hostile attitudes to another gender group. In the practice of psychology, and in professional communication, both mentioned sides of gender prejudices create obstacles to the establishment of the connection between a psychologist and a client, development of trust, and effectiveness of treatment.

The robust socioeconomic division of society is another risk factor for the development of cultural biases. Historically, Haitian society was divided into wealthy elite and poor masses, and the social inequity and unequal distribution of resources often became a basis for social conflicts and controversies. However, the middle class is growing nowadays. As a result, opportunities in education and labor become available for a greater number of citizens.

Raised in the middle-class family, I had access to good education and had a larger range of options for the choice of profession and self-realization than people from poor rural districts. In the context of Haitian society, my socioeconomic position is an undeniable privilege. My socioeconomic status fostered the early engagement into the process of multicultural communication and provided access to various informational resources that I used to build knowledge and develop skills of critical thinking and evaluation of global and scientific events. These skills facilitate the acceptance of diversity and understanding, and they can be applied in the professional practice to establish better relationships with different people.

Multicultural Issues and Multicultural Competence

Discrimination may be regarded as a critical form of cultural incompetence, and it is interrelated with violation of multiple ethical standards. The discrimination of a person based on any social or cultural factors is prohibited by the ethical code (American Psychological Association [APA], 2010). In some states, discriminatory attitudes expressed by the specialists in the professional communication with clients are perceived as the violation of law.

Another extreme form of prejudice expression is harassment. The intentional engagement of psychologists in the behavior that can be demeaning to clients or colleagues is impermissible and unethical (APA, 2010). But a person may behave disrespectfully even not being aware of the psychological discomfort caused to another person. Since many prejudices and cultural biases are implicit, they can be expressed in an indirect way, and the recipient’s reaction to the latent prejudices can be hidden as well. It is possible to say that the hidden prejudices belong to the most common type of biases.

The researchers believe that the unconscious and unintentional manifestation of prejudices damage the relationships by supporting miscommunication and mistrust (Dovidio, Gaertner, Kawakami, & Hodson, 2002). In the practice of psychology, trust is a vital element of professional communication with clients, and the failure to communicate adequately and respectfully decreases psychologists’ proficiency. Thus, intercultural competence fostering objectivity and attentiveness to diversity is essential to psychologists’ professionalism.

Multicultural competence, as well as the professional competence, is based on the sensitivity towards individual differences in patients and co-workers. Cultural competence is meant to eliminate the racial, ethnic, gender and cultural inequalities within the healthcare system to ensure the availability of professional services for the diverse populations (Delphin-Rittmon, Andres-Hyman, Flanagan, & Davidson, 2013).

The religious beliefs and connectedness to cultural traditions are the major sources of support for people. In this way, the recognition of individuals’ cultural peculiarities and demonstration of respect towards personal identity can help a psychologist to develop trust and improve communication. Therefore, cultural sensitivity may affect treatment in a positive way, but the inattentiveness towards cultural differences may decrease the effectiveness of service.

Strategies for the Development of Multicultural Competence

According to Hays (2008), people usually pay greater attention to their disadvantaged positions while the cultural and social privileges are less recognized. Recognition of one’s lack of awareness is the initial phase of the educational process. When a person shows the willingness to change shehe becomes more open to the reception of new knowledge, transformation of a cultural perspective, expansion and development of new personal and cultural values.

In the field of psychology, it is possible to build intercultural competence through the investigation of professional ethical standards and exploration of multiple informational sources. It can be useful to develop the professional or personal relations within the multicultural professional or academic contexts. Hays (2008) suggests the psychologists analyze their cultural heritage and develop the understanding of how cultural values affect interactions with diverse people.

The development of cultural and social sensitivity is closely associated with the ability to be open, emotionally available, and emphatic. The development of these qualities can be challenging, but it can be achieved through practice and constant engagement in the learning process. Self-assessment is an effective instrument for the development of own cultural awareness. It includes the evaluation of personal strengths and weaknesses, negative or positive social and cultural influences and experiences that can be implemented in work with clients.

The development of cultural awareness is important for every psychologist, and it is an intrinsic part of the professional competence which is liable for the success of communication, maintenance of objectivity, and compliance with a great number of ethical standards and principles.

References

American Psychological Association. (2010). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Web.

Delphin-Rittmon, M., Andres-Hyman, R., Flanagan, E. H., & Davidson, L. (2013). Seven essential strategies for promoting and sustaining systemic cultural competence. Psychiatric Quarterly, 84(1), 53-64. Web.

Dovidio, J. F., Gaertner, S. E., Kawakami, K., & Hodson, G. (2002). Why can’t we just get along? interpersonal biases and interracial distrust. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 8(2), 88-102. Web.

Hays, P. A. (2008). Looking into the clinician’s mirror: Cultural self-assessment. In P. A. Hays (Ed.), Addressing cultural complexities in practice: Assessment, diagnosis, and therapy (pp. 41–62). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.