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Cross Cultural Awareness Practices, Cultural Diversity & Ethical Boundaries:
In the last section, we discussed transference and countertransference as they relate to cross-cultural counseling. Regarding transference, we discussed the traditional analytical framework of the primary caretaker as used in traditional counseling experiences, and compared it to the more appropriate cultural framework that may be necessary in cross-cultural counseling experiences. Regarding countertransference, we discussed the importance of the therapist’s ability to recognize countertransference as well as the importance of admitting one’s own racist attitudes and ethnic stereotypes.
In this section, we will discuss topics that relate to multicultural group counseling. Obviously one of the components of effective group counseling is the creation of a social microcosm. Thus culturally diverse counseling groups are typically more reflective of today’s reality. I have found that for this reason alone, ethically the therapist may have a higher interest in forming culturally diverse groups. However, the success of the group will depend largely upon the leader’s facility in dealing with such diversity. Make sense?
In the rest of this section, we will discuss three important issues in multicultural group counseling. The three issues that we will discuss are, 1. Heterogeneous Versus Homogeneous Groups, 2. Projective Identification in Multicultural Groups, and 3. Racial/Cultural Identity Development in Groups. Have you started a multicultural group or are you considering starting one? Have you considered these issues and the ethical implications they may have on your group’s effectiveness?
Ethics - Three Important Issues in Multicultural Group Counseling
I have found that these two attitudes oversimplify the problem, though. As such, heterogeneity and homogeneity may be considered in light of the group’s purpose and along different dimensions. According to Yalom, therapists forming groups should strive for heterogeneity in conflict areas and homogeneity in ego strength. Group members with a lot of disparity in their ability to handle conflict, obviously, may find it extremely difficult to achieve cohesiveness.
#2 Projective Identification
In my experience, when working with a racially diverse group, it is generally appropriate for the leader of the group to facilitate a discussion of the group’s racial composition in the early stages. Surprised? While the group may at first resist dealing with such hot topics as race, the leader’s comfort and ease with these issues will often largely determine the comfort level of the group. Even if the group resists, the fact that you have externalized racial issues in such a manner will usually have communicated to the group that discussion of such issues will also be permitted in the future.
If this attitude seems difficult, Sciarra states it is helpful to keep in mind a fundamental principle of human interaction, which is, "If it’s mentionable, then it’s manageable and anything human is mentionable." In other words, conflicts based on race are conflicts based on an aspect of humanity, and your group members may manage that conflict by discussing the racial issues. Hence if conflictual issues in a group are not mentioned, they will usually be acted out in ways that are injurious to the group’s effectiveness.
#3 Racial and Cultural Identity Development in Groups
Clearly if a counseling group is indeed a social microcosm, then reflected in the group will usually be the more influential majority and the less influential minority of the larger society. Racial and cultural identity development levels may also be responsible for subgroupings and coalitions. In my experience, coalitions and subgroups are one way that members deal with their anxiety and fear of being isolated and alone in the group. Does this agree with your experiences in leading multicultural counseling groups? I have found that coalitions tend to form around those sharing the same or near the same racial or cultural identity development level.
In addition, as you may have noticed, coalitions themselves will usually enjoy either majority or minority status. Thus the role of the leader in facilitating the development of racial identity within the group setting is crucial. Obviously, knowledge of such issues and a distinct feel for one’s own level of racial identity are essential for the therapist leading multicultural groups. I have found that a therapist leading the group is not immune to being seduced into joining one of the coalitions formed around racial identity.
Obviously, the ethical implication of the therapist joining one of the coalitions is that it can harm the group’s overall effectiveness. This is because the coalition that includes the leader tends to receive a higher status within the group and then exercises stronger influence within the group. To summarize, your group’s ability to promote the racial and cultural identity development of its members is largely dependent upon your facility, as a leader, in dealing with such controversial and provocative issues of social interaction.
In this section, we have discussed three important issues to consider in starting a multicultural group. The three important issues to consider were Heterogeneous Versus Homogeneous Groups, Projective Identification in Multicultural Groups, and Racial and Cultural Identity Development in Groups.
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