An Exploration of my Values-in-Action in Working Towards Cultural Diversity in a
My research concerns how the practice of psychotherapy could be enhanced if cultural diversity was more often and more fully taken into account. At present people involved in the profession of psychotherapy – psychotherapists, students and clients – tend not to be
very culturally diverse, being made up mostly of white women. This lack of cultural diversity extends to cultural awareness in theorising and practice. However, I have found that cultural diversity is always present in some form however homogeneous the group. Although much of my impetus for carrying out this research arises from my concern that psychotherapy is not diverse enough, I also want to explore the way in which cultural difference affects everyone and every encounter. Having said that issues of race and class are central to my concerns, particularly as there is so little racial or even class diversity to be found within psychotherapy.
This inquiry therefore concerns both the work involved in moving towards greater diversity at an organisational level and the minutiae of the encounter between psychotherapist and client. In my research I want to explore how the cultural difference between them is a factor in the relationship which often remains unexplored and can become a source of misunderstanding and lead to a missed opportunity to deepen the work.
The focus of this paper is an exploration of some of the complicated dichotomies which underlie the values I bring to this work particularly as I myself come from the majority, western culture.
An attempt to understand my values has dogged my progress since I started to undertake the work at Bath. In particular, the question of why this subject should be interesting to me has been particularly thorny. I have tried to engage with this in various ways in my
diploma paper but, to my supervision group, it has never been satisfactorily answered. The, often painful, struggle to understand what the group are saying to me must be part of the work I am undertaking. (I say ‘must be’ as I always find that the processes surrounding the work are fruitful ground for throwing light upon it.) The question which has been asked of me in various ways since I came to CARRP: whether this is a proper subject for me as a white, middle class woman, seems to stand before me waiting to be answered. I find in myself a sort of angry defiance in asserting my right to do the work which, if I allow myself to listen to the music underneath, is probably tied up in my very desire to undertake it. However, unless I am prepared to engage with the questions and my responses, I am sure the work will not reach its potential. I do believe that the extent to which the work has been undertaken with real integrity at all levels, will be a measure of its usefulness both to my own development and to others who want to build on it. Because of this I must take the challenges made to me seriously.
I turn again to this question: what factors have led to my choosing this area for research. As I look into this I find many painful dichotomies. One of these and, at the time of writing, seems to be a fundamental one, is the way in which I have felt myself to be both
privileged and underprivileged. I was sent to a boarding school for which I did not have to pay fees because my father was a Unitarian minister. My parents would not have been able to afford them. Other girls who attended the school came from moneyed backgrounds in the south of England. My parents were lower middle class, we lived in the North of England and my father was a socialist. My accent, manners and dress picked me out as different to my class-mates. Soon after coming to the school I met the first black person I had ever met and the painful and complex feelings surrounding my relationship with her I explored in an earlier paper. (Ryde 1999) Whilst my ‘difference’ from other girls in the school was extremely painful to me, I dealt with it by deciding to glory in it. I was proud to belong to any minority group and felt a moral superiority in that position. This had the effect of helping my self-esteem and ingratiated me with my father who took a similar stance to life. He fed me lines to spout from a soap-box in our school’s mock election during the general election of 1958 in which I was the only
representative of Labour. I may have been reviled at school but my father was proud of me! (Interestingly, the major topic in our mock election was whether or not England should grant independence to the colonies!)
From this point of view, maybe, my interest in tackling this subject is rooted in my identification with oppressed people but also in a self-concept (Rogers 1959) of the one who champions them. I can see that any lurking feelings of inferiority are soothed by this stance.
In exploring feelings of inferiority I have unearthed feelings about the birth of my sister. Like most first children I was used to being the sole apple of my parent’s eye. They felt
that they had cleverly ‘dealt’ with any likelihood of sibling rivalry by asserting that my sister was ‘for me’. It now seems that this only served to drive envious feelings underground. To compound it, my sister seemed to earn the praise of my father by being rather like him in her aptitudes and attitudes and seemed to me to gain his praise far more easily. She has a quick sharp mind and knows her point of view very clearly. Here I was ‘different’ and more like my mother who was generally regarded by the family as rather
Though I have experienced rejection through being different at a formative time in my life, I can hardly claim that this is in any way comparable with racial discrimination, harassment and abuse. I am clearly privileged in terms of my culture, class and education. I live in a white area and most of my friends are white. Clearly a ‘living contradiction’ (Whitehead 1989). So is my guilt at being amongst the majority, some identification with oppressed people and a desire to please my father by taking a similar political stance enough to account for my desire to encourage diversity in psychotherapy?
My workplace, a Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy in Bath, is where much of the ‘action’ of my research takes place. My work to encourage greater diversity and a
better understanding of cultural difference takes place in many different ways. One of these is a short introductory course to counselling called Listening in a Multicultural Setting. This is a challenging course for me to run, partly because I am used to working with senior students of psychotherapy and these are people with little experience and no
training in the area of counselling. In my usual teaching settings I can take a knowledge of the basics as read and I can expect that we share certain attitudes to the work. The participants of the introductory course itself is more diverse than is often found at the Centre. Out of nine participants four have non-western backgrounds and I am being assisted by a senior trainee who is black. Although the multicultural aspect of the course brings a challenge with it, I also find myself feeling somewhere at rest within the diversity of the group. This feeling of ‘being at rest’ needs further inquiry to better understand it. I can only note it at present. The satisfaction I have in working with my assistant grows all the time as I see her gain in confidence. I find that she teaches in a different way to other colleagues quite naturally. I have tried to encourage her to do things in her own way whilst discussing with her times when I feel that the way she responded to the group was not useful or missed the point. I give her a lot of genuine praise and she trusts me enough to hear my reservations undefensively. One surprise for me is the way that she is far more self-revealing than trainers normally are, even in her discussion of theory. She clearly shows her own emotional responses to the theory. This brings it to life and helps the students relate to it in a way that my more obviously ‘competent’ work does not. In a recent presentation of the work of Carl Rogers, she showed her identification with his religious background and subsequent way of responding to it. This was quite unexpected to me who had thought that she would bring out cultural differences with him.
Reflecting on my work with this assistant/colleague I can see how I may use my relationship with her to sooth my guilty feelings. I have to be aware that it could be as if her ‘job’ is to reassure me. Nevertheless, her confidence seems to me and to her (she
tells me) to have improved considerably since we started work together. (At the time of writing we are on week five of our second ten-week course). Maybe my responses are a complex mix of guilt about my privilege, pride because I have managed to get this course off the ground, pleasure in her development and the way we can have a laugh together, enjoyment of the diversity, anxiety about not being up to this, fear of getting it wrong and being ‘found out’ and other factors that I have so far not been able to think about. Further inquiry is necessary to better understand my responses here. Some second person research may be useful to improve the validity of this aspect of my work.
Another scenario from my work, which might throw light on how my lived and espoused theories may affect my work, is the process surrounding the appointment of a black staff member. Largely as a result of my work at the Centre, the question of our lack of diversity is one that is now being taken seriously by the teaching staff group, the training committee and the trustees. A policy decision was taken some time ago to advertise staff posts in the black press and also to make sure that black therapists that are known to us are aware that a post is available. In spite of this we had not had any black applicants. While this is probably partly because there are not many black psychotherapists and even fewer who are senior enough to become trainers, we felt that it may also be because it was not clear whether the Centre would be a welcoming place for black trainers. Through our experience of recruiting black students, we can see that we are more successful if we approach black people and organisations directly. Building on this experience we decided to take the bull by the horns and advertise directly for a black staff
member. We discussed the matter with someone from the Bath Racial Equality Council who has been advising and helping us. He said that we could, in law, specify a black person in our advertising if we could demonstrate a direct need. He felt that we could justify this because black students within our organisation would clearly benefit by the support.
Having made this decision we realised that the situation was quite complex and needed careful thinking about before and after we employed someone. We thought that we should take into account how it might feel to enter the staff team as a sessional staff member. We usually employ staff first on this basis. Our present need is for someone to do a few sessions in various teaching years and to work with me on the introductory course mentioned above with a view to taking it over. (My present assistant is not experienced enough to take charge of the course but may continue the work with a new staff member.) There is a potential for further work to become available as time goes on. It is our usual practice to employ staff in the first instance in this way but do not usually expect these people, who do so little work in comparison to others, to attend monthly staff meetings. We felt that in this case it may be important revise this decision and have a new black staff member come to our monthly staff meetings and staff ‘away’ weekend. This would help to ensure that they felt well enough supported and that their concerns were heard and taken on board by the organisation. We also recognised that other supportive measures may need to be put into place such as regular contact with the black therapist who has been acting as a consultant to us on intercultural matters.
We have found that when there is one person ‘representing’ a particular group such as one man, one lesbian or one black person in our teaching groups or in the staff group that this person usually carries a lot of projections. Working with this is difficult and usually only partially successful. We have seen how easy it is to ‘go to sleep’ on these issues and only ‘wake up’ when a crisis hits us. For instance we had two men in a staff group of seven. One of these men decided at fairly short notice that he wished to take a sabatical year off. The next person who entered the staff group was a woman. We now only had one man on the staff team. Not only did this man feel unsupported, particularly by our next appointment being a woman, he also felt that as an organisation we had become blind to the ‘feminising’ of the organisation at all levels in a way which was very undermining of himself and male students. Maintaining his own sense of himself as a man in this situation felt overwhelming, particularly as he was the sole man in the teaching staff to whom students, both male and female, could relate.
It may be interesting at this point to mention an internal process of my own which is becoming familiar to me. When I trip over a realisation that I am not able to understand something because of a cultural difference, it is an almost visceral sense of disjunction which would be easy to ignore and pass over but is fruitful to catch hold of. In the case of the male staff member mentioned above, I felt slightly impatient with his protests. The only male applicant had not been nearly as suitable for the job as other applicants were. Surely, I thought, he can see that, nice as it would be to have a male staff member, it was impossible. He refused to give up, determined we should see where the problem lay. I caught an angry and despairing look in his eye and this visceral feeling struck me. My
gut was telling me that I was missing something important. As I was beginning to recognise this feeling which I had first identified for myself when running a course called Working with Difference, I told myself to start again with my attempt to try and understand what he was saying. Maybe this is an important research tool for further consideration.
We are aware that one black staff member may well feel something similar to our one male staff member, and feel it even more acutely. We hope nevertheless that by genuinely listening to his/her concerns and those of our black consultant and by making a determined and sustained effort at encouraging diversity, that we will manage to make the necessary cultural changes.
Various questions have arisen for me in this paper which are of central importance for my research:
1. Is the question of cultural diversity one that is suitable for a white western woman to
2. Under what conditions could it be valid?
3. What further motivation can I find for having chosen this subject to those mentioned
above viz: my guilt, my identification and my desire to please my father? 4. How can I use my emotional feeling responses to inform this work and if so how?
Rogers, Carl (1959) A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships, As Developed in the Client-Centred Approach in Kirschenbaum, H. and Land Henderson, V. (1990) The Carl Rogers Reader. Constable: London
Ryde, J. (1999) Memories of Abiola, Appendix to CARRP diploma paper
Whitehead, J. (1989) Creating a Living Educational Theory from Questions of the kind ‘How Do I improve my Practice?’ Cambridge Journal of Education
rd3 November 2000