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Cross Cultural Equity, Cultural Diversity, the Marginalized, & Ethical Boundaries: Coping with the Challenges
Ethics and Cultural Diversity  continuing education social worker CEUs

Section 7
Cultural and Historical Perspectives in Counseling
Marginalized Native American Clients

Ethics CEU Question 7 | Ethics CE Test | Table of Contents
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last section, we discussed Luisa’s case and the effect the Hispanic value system had on her family’s counseling experience.

In this section, we will discuss the cultural and historical perspectives in counseling culturally different clients who are Native American. We will also discuss the implications of these cultural and historical perspectives.

The suppression that Native Americans have suffered historically still has effects on Native Americans today. Centuries ago suppression of the Native Americans was a legal matter, done in the form of taking land and posing cultural bias on the Native American. Today, suppression still exists through white America's imposition on the Native American culture. In both cases, Native Americans have learned to be distrustful of most white Americans. Thus there are many ethical issues to consider in counseling a culturally different Native American client for the non-Native American therapist.

♦ Values System and Perceptions
As you are well aware, a central facet of the Native American value system is to respect all things, alive and dead. Native Americans see everyone and everything as equal and believe all should be treated as such. Obviously this directly conflicts with the American system of compartmentalizing, ranking in order, and showing supremacy. Because the value systems conflict, the Native Americans, as you know, have often been deceived in dealings with white Americans, especially those in professional fields such as government and counseling.

The Native American experience with white Americans is often an experience of white imposition on the Native American culture. Native Americans generally view the members of the dominant white American culture as obsessive-compulsive, arrogant, and masters at discounting their own inadequacies. As a result, a Native American client will often prefer a Native American therapist to a white one.

I have found that therapists counseling Native American clients often seem to be walking a fine line. It goes without saying that traditional counseling has bits and pieces that are applicable to counseling a Native American client. Culturally different clients who are Native American see nondirective techniques as valuable to individual growth and independence.

However, other traditional counseling techniques that use the textbook approach and are isolated tend to emphasize Western values. As such, Native American clients may perceive them as tools of cultural oppression and antagonistic to the Native American value system. Think of the techniques you have been using with your Native American client from an ethical perspective. Are there any that your client may perceive as antagonistic to his or her culture?

4 Cultural & Historical Considerations for Ethically Counseling Your Client
I have found that there are a variety of methods for counseling Native American clients.

♦ 1. Minimize Your Authoritarian Role
For instance, as a therapist to a Native American client, you may want to minimize your authoritarian role. As you probably know, mere suggestions may seem like orders to a Native American, especially coming from an authoritative white therapist. Remember the central facet of the Native American belief system that we discussed earlier in this section? Native American clients tend to view everyone as equal and will be disinclined to trust a therapist who adopts a superior, authoritarian role.

♦ 2. Building Rapport
I have also found that you may be able to have a successful counseling relationship with your Native American client by building rapport. Obviously building rapport is often as simple as honoring and respecting the Native American client and his or her way of life. For example, if you do not know much about the Native American culture, you may want to begin the counseling experience by admitting your ignorance to your Native American client. In my experience, the Native American client appreciates the honesty and will then correct errors if you say something offensive to them instead of being offended.

Respecting the Native American client’s culture also includes not staring. I have found that in counseling Native American clients, it is often better to stare at something rather than looking directly at the client. You may also show respect for the culture by having Native American pictures or genuine Native American artifacts in your office. It goes without saying that this shows the Native American client that you have a legitimate respect for their way of life. Finally you may respect the Native American client’s presence by offering him or her a cup of coffee or tea. Have you tried any of these techniques to build rapport with your culturally different client who is Native American?

♦ 3. The Attitude of Listening
In addition to minimizing your authoritarian role and building rapport, in counseling the Native American client, you may want to assume the attitude that you can best help by listening. As with most clients, Native American clients will often communicate both verbally and through clues with their bodies, eyes, and tone of voice. However, as you know, Native Americans believe that white American society is compulsive and they believe that members of the society cannot settle for stating one simple sentence. Your Native American client may interpret your talking as a tirade if it goes on too long.  In listening, you may also want to ask permission before taking notes.

♦ 4. Avoid Patronizing with Pseudosecrecy Statements
Clearly to avoid any statements that might be considered by your Native American client as patronizing, avoid making pseudosecrecy statements. By pseudosecrecy statement, I mean one that begins with a phrase like, "Feel free to tell me" or "You can rest assured I won’t tell anyone." I have found that if a Native American trusts his or her therapist, a pseudosecrecy statement will cause him or her to question why that therapist would feel so insecure that he or she had to make the statement. Obviously this then causes the Native American to lose that trust that he or she had to begin with.

Do you have a culturally different client who is Native American? How might the historical experiences of the Native American people be impacting your counseling sessions? Do you understand the Native American value system and how it differs from the traditional Western value system? What are the ethical implications these differences in value systems might have on effective counseling? The NBCC Code of Ethics states, "Through an awareness of the impact of stereotyping and unwarranted discrimination, that is, biases based on age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, certified counselors guard the individual rights and personal dignity of the client in the counseling relationship."

In this section, we have discussed the cultural and historical perspectives in counseling culturally different clients who are Native American. We have also discussed the implications of these cultural and historical perspectives.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Clearing-Sky, M. (2007). Review of Healing the soul wound: Counseling with American Indians and other Native peoples [Review of the book Healing the soul wound: Counseling with american indians and other native peoples, by E. Duran & A. E. Ivey]. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 13(3), 264–265.

Gone, J. P. (2013). A community-based treatment for Native American historical trauma: Prospects for evidence-based practice. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1(S), 78–94.

Haviland, M. G., Horswill, R. K., O'Connell, J. J., & Dynneson, V. V. (1983). Native American college students' preference for counselor race and sex and the likelihood of their use of a counseling center. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 30(2), 267–270.

Lopez, J. D. (2021). Examining construct validity of the Scale of Native Americans Giving Back. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 14(4), 519–529.

Meyer, M. L., & Young, E. (2021). Best practice recommendations for psychologists working with marginalized populations impacted by COVID-19. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 52(4), 309–317

Novack, M. A., Standley, M., Bang, M., Washinawatok, K., Medin, D., & Waxman, S. (2021). Hands on: Nonverbal communication in Native and non-Native American parent–child dyads during informal learning. Developmental Psychology.

Sandeen, E., Moore, K. M., & Swanda, R. M. (2018). Reflective local practice: A pragmatic framework for improving culturally competent practice in psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 49(2), 142–150.

Watson-Singleton, N. N., Lewis, J. A., & Dworkin, E. R. (2021). Toward a socially just diversity science: Using intersectional mixed methods research to center multiply marginalized Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.

What are examples of pseudosecrecy statements that should be avoided when treating a Native American client? To select and enter your answer go to Ethics CE Test.

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