Research shows that the rapport between counsellor and client has a big impact on how effective that therapy is likely to be (1).
If we decide to seek out counselling, it is only natural to try to find a therapist that is like-minded or from a similar cultural background. For example, as I am originally from Sri Linka, other Sri Lankans may be drawn to make an appointment with me.
However it is not always possible to find a therapist with a similar cultural background, which is why in a multicultural society like Australia, mental health professionals are trained to provide culturally responsive and inclusive practice.
This is an area about which I am particularly passionate, perhaps due to my own background and experiences as an immigrant, so I have undertaken professional development/further training in working with culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
How Culture Affects Us
An individual’s “culture” is acquired “by virtue of membership in some social group – society. And a whole grab bag of things, from knowledge to habits to capabilities, makes up culture” (2).
Culture impacts how we see the world, and make sense out of life: how we conceptualise meaning from thoughts, behaviours and events.
It also influences customs, norms, values and belief systems as well as how we understand, interpret and respond – to ourselves, and others.
It impacts how we define ill health, wellbeing, and mental illness – including how we might deal with them. For example, in some communities there is a huge stigma associated with mental illness, which can be a barrier for seeking therapy; while there are other cultures which consider homosexuality to be a mental illness.
When working with a client from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background, as a psychotherapist I understand the importance of considering the various factors that influence their mental health, such as:
- language barriers;
- family dynamics;
- history of trauma;
- and religion/spirituality.
For example, when providing trauma counselling support to a client from an Islamic background who was experiencing domestic violence, I not only supported her to deal with the trauma, but also her feelings of guilt in having to share about her family and cultural practices and expectations.
Understanding Aboriginal Culture
From my time working in an indigenous health service, I experienced how Aboriginal mental health needs to be understood within a broader context of health and wellbeing which not only includes the social and emotional, but also the cultural and spiritual context of the person’s behaviour.
For example, seeing spirits, hearing voices and seeing deceased loved ones are common occurrences with Aboriginal people.
Furthermore, the social and emotional wellbeing concept is extremely broad, and recognises the importance of connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community and how all these affect the individual. It must be recognised that indigenous people have a deeper understanding of the relationship between people and their environment; family and kinship must be recognised in the broader concepts of family and bonds of reciprocal affection, responsibility and caring.
This connection to land, culture, ancestry, family and community can serve as a reservoir of resilience and recovery in overcoming adversity and the impact of intergenerational trauma on the social and emotional wellbeing at the individual, family and community level. As a result, I may find it appropriate to involve the client’s family in the recovery process, while maintaining confidentiality.
If you are looking for a therapist with understanding and experience of the many cultural considerations in counselling, I welcome you to make an appointnment with me.
Author: Jayani Jayatilake, BA (Soc Sc), M Social Work, AMHSW.
With a Masters degree in Social Work and a strong interest in the cultural considerations in counselling, Jayani considers each individual to be the expert in their own life. As such, she encourages her clients to take an active role in therapy. By helping them to recognise and draw on their own strengths, resourcefulness and resilience, Jayani supports them to overcome obstacles and create the life they want. Jayani is able to provide English and Sinhalese counselling.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- Ardito RB, Rabellino D. Therapeutic alliance and outcome of psychotherapy: historical excursus, measurements, and prospects for research. Front Psychol. 2011;2:270. Published 2011 Oct 18. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00270
- Spencer-Oatey, H. (2012) What is culture? A compilation of quotations. GlobalPAD Core Concepts. Available at GlobalPAD Open House http://www.warwick.ac.uk/globalpadintercultural