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Friday, October 7, 2022

Why is “Attending” behavior a great therapeutic tool?

By Ardain IsmaCSMS Magazine Staff WriterCultural sensitivity is a tool that mental health counselors and other therapists can’t do without. Failure to understand the diversity surrounding the community in which they operate could bring serious repercussion to the effectiveness of their work. Evans, Hearn, Uhleman and Ivey tell us “a fundamental skill in humanizing relationships is good communication.” Effective practice lies between the ability to recognize cultural differences and the desire to tolerate those differences. Thus comes “attending” behavior, which is used during an interview process to build confidence between the interviewer (the therapist) and the client. Experts agree that positive results are impossible to achieve unless confidence-building measures are put in place, especially when it comes to psychotherapy.              No problem can be fixed if it is not understood. Clients won’t talk frantically unless they feel empowered to do so; and understanding a client’s cultural background will play a lot in bringing about trust in a therapeutic relationship.  The ability to understand and to relate to a client’s problem will eventually build trust.            This goes the same for the school system. Lack of sensitivity to students’ cultural differences lead to misdiagnoses, as guidance counselors, teachers and social workers label slow-learners and hyperactive students ESE and convince ill-informed parents to sign papers they don’t understand, thereby stamping an everlasting label on their children’s future.            Julie Peterson is an ESOL Team Leader at a Middle School in Broward County, Florida. She has been a Team Leader for over 4 years, and she truly understands the importance of cross-cultural awareness. Her classroom can easily be described as a United Nations, having students from Asia to Europe to Latin America and the Caribbean. Over the years, she has managed to establish a cordial relationship with both students as well as their parents. “I have to admit that I learn a lot form my students. Before I started teaching ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages,) I had a not-so-friendly attitude toward my immigrant students,” said Julie with a smile. Learning how to adjust one’s own culture to that of his/her students is something of utmost importance, especially when it comes to teaching in diverse classrooms or trying to establish a workable, therapeutic relationship with a client.            “As I interact with my students and as I hold parent conferences, I have learned over the years how to react to or interpret a certain behavior, totally different from what I am used to,” Julies continued. I agree with her and also with the authors mentioned above. “Attending behavior facilitates client communication by helping a client communicate in a free and open manner.”  The authors also explain that as an interviewer, minimizing comments, controlling the tone of voice and the rate of speech not only will protect clients from alienation, but also promote caring and involvement in the therapeutic relationship.             For instance, I had the privilege to observe a therapeutic process last term as part of a project, where the therapist used “Solution-focused” therapy to try to bring a desired solution to a major problem that a married couple was facing. Although the couple arrived into therapy with predisposed desires to work out their differences, in the end the process failed, and one of the reasons were that the approach used to solve the problem was not compatible to the clients being counseled and a lack of cross-cultural awareness from the part of the therapist.            What pleases one culture can be very detrimental to another. Also, there is a misconception with regards to “Latino” culture. There is no such culture if one wants to give an intellectual approach to this issue. Latin America is made up of people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds differed in their customs, local dialects, and a wide range of religious beliefs. The differences do not vanish in one stroke, as the individual crosses the border into the United States. A Mayan Indian from Guatemala has very little in common with an Argentine of Italian or German descent. A Dominican has more in common with a Haitian than he does with a fellow Spanish-speaking Chilean.            As we intend to become professional therapists, who will most likely work with inner-city dwellers where ethnic and cultural diversity is always higher, knowing these differences will tremendously improve our ability to provide good, constructive and long lasting services to our prospective clients.Comment this article or e-mail it to a friend. NoteDr. Ardain Isma is also a novelist and chief editor of CSMS Magazine. He teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at Nova southeastern University. You can read a synopsis of his latest novel “Alicia.” Click herehttp://www.themulticulturalgroup.com/books.htmlAlso see Contemporary Novelhttp://www.csmsmagazine.org/news.php?pg=20050626I9And see Best tips for emerging writersand also Helping our children understand the magic of academic writing

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