This Section 10 Student Blog piece by Bridgett Boxley discusses the important issue of diversity in mental health treatment.
It is a widely accepted concept in social and clinical psychology that self-identification begins with acceptance and exclamation of one’s chosen identity. How an individual arrives at this stage of wholeness is complex for multiple reasons. For example, the individual must weigh their internal experiences (cognitive, emotional, and physical) with the expectations of their social context. If there are inconsistencies or even dissent experienced in the development and expression of one’s chosen identity, the individual may experience a psychological crisis. Clinicians, especially those in the therapeutic setting, should be aware of how a client’s selected identity can affect their mental health.
There are multiple ways to understand an individual’s chosen identity (developmental, neurological, sociological, psychological, ecological, and biological); however, the individual’s contextual experiences must remain the primary source of information pertaining to their identity (Capuzzi, Stauffer, and O’Neil, 2016). A brief, but sufficient understanding of multiple contributors to identity can guard against therapeutic rupture, ethical violations, and over-pathologizing clients out of ignorance.
Clinical psychologists are duty-bound to assist clients in navigation of their identities to arrive at the best version of themselves; or, at the very least, to not further marginalize the client (APA, 2018). The later assertion is where some early career psychologists experience the most angst as they become increasingly aware of differing cultures, potential interpersonal follies, and their own internal experiences that were previously unexamined (Sommers-Flanagan and Sommers- Flanagan, 2017). In spite of the increasingly complex world of culture and therapeutic technique, there are multiple resources available for mental health professionals in assisting clients, as well as assisting young, anxious professionals.
APA offers many avenues for seeking advisement, assistance, and training on cross-cultural work. The young psychologist should hold the mantra “when in doubt, seek it out” as a means of acknowledging and upholding APA best practices. It is possible to reduce some biases or mistaken information regarding various cultures, but it is virtually impossible to eliminate ALL potential for misstep; this holds true regardless of intention. Students, early career psychologists, as well as established psychologists can minimize potential psychological damage to minority clients by seeking advisement, operating under supervision, consulting research, gaining mentorship, and attending regular trainings. These actions demonstrate a respect and investment in understanding and assisting cultures in a client-centered fashion. However, if in spite of your best effort and best practices, you do find yourself in the dreaded position of the “offender”, it is important to keep in mind that a sincere and apologetic conversation that is centered around openness and understanding can do wonders to heal wounds.
About the Author
Bridgett Boxley is a doctoral student at the Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, TX and a SCP/ Section 10 (Graduate Students and Early Career Psychologists) campus representative.
Capuzzi, D., & Stauffer, M. D., O’Neil, T. (2016). Theories of Human Development. In Capuzzi,
D., & Stauffer, M. D. (2016) Human growth and development across the lifespan: applications for counselors. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 25-54
Sommers-Flanagan, J., & Sommers-Flanagan, R. (2017). Clinical interviewing. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.