Discuss a way in which the population(s) served by your practicum site are oppressed, marginalized, alienated, or given unequal access to opportunity or power over their lives. Service is for an Outpatient service for clients with severe Mental Health issues and Severe Drug addiction. List of concerns Clients have to follow a kosher diet even if they are not Jewish. Clients want to achieve independent living – No opportunity to cook as no kitchen is available for them to utilize. Clients’ vast majority not working therefore limited income to save for rental deposit. No availability of outreach workers, if clients should obtain a private rented home. Realistically, very few clients have the ability to live independently. Due to their drug dependency or mental health issue. Some clients sleep through the entire training program and have accessed the service for decades. Some clients come and go as they please. They will sit and eat breakfast and lunch but will not remain in program. There are no consequences to not adhering to the program rules. Predominately men of color who access the service. The area is deemed to be an inner-city poverty trap. Very few clients are working most receive SSI the ones who are working receiving cash in hand. Some clients are mandated to attend the program via the Court system. Some clients simply resent being in the service. Many of the staff members are young men and women who have no experience of mental health awareness or issues the clients do not respect them. How do you relate to these concerns in terms of your own privileges or marginalization? How would authentically discuss your own privilege or marginalization with clients, colleagues, or your supervisor? Reading Resources Being Open Diversity makes for a rich tapestry. We must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value, no matter their color; equal in importance no matter their texture. -Maya Angelou As we embark on these conversations in the context of real practice, it can be easy to put up our defenses. We all want to show how aware we are of oppression and cultural diversity. Yet the ethical duty to become culturally competent requires us to do the opposite: to expose our assumptions, to be willing to be shown our blind spots. For example, let’s say that you grew up in a neighborhood where jobs were scarce and small stores were owned mostly by a single minority. You were taught that members of this minority are different, that they are greedy, and that they are prejudiced against your group. It so happens that the agency where you are placed has similar dynamics and demographics. How then will you process your first reactions to a member of that minority who seeks your help? How will you respond if a client starts complaining about a store owner of that group, and you find yourself inwardly agreeing? To share that you have prejudices – literally, judgment that precede experience – is a crucial step in addressing them. By creating the norm within our class that we all have prejudices and we won’t judge each other for them, we can accelerate our journey toward greater levels of humility, sensitivity, and competence. In other words, let’s not be prejudiced against each other for having prejudices. Identity and Privilege in the Client-Social Worker Relationship Much of the literature in the fields of social work, counseling and psychology assumes that the helping professional is from the dominant cultural and socioeconomic group. This was never necessarily true, and it is less and less true as these professions become increasingly diverse. Ratts, Singh, Butler, Nassar-McMillan, and McCullough (2016) addressed this issue by identifying four ways that privilege can intersect between counselor and client, noting that across different identities, one relationship could land in all four quadrants. We change the name of the profession here from counselor to social worker, but the paradigm remains just as applicable. Quadrant I: Quadrant II: Privileged Social Worker–Marginalized Client Privileged Social Worker–Privileged Client Quadrant III: Quadrant IV: Marginalized Social Worker–Privileged Client Marginalized Social Worker–Marginalized Client Within each quadrant, the social worker moves among four domains. Again, we have changed the name of the profession from the original, which was focused on the counseling profession. How you would perceive each domain would depend on which quadrant you were focused on. For example, if you were looking at the ways in which both you and the client are marginalized, then self-awareness might entail recognizing that you feel drawn to seeing both of you as victims of an oppressive system. This might make it challenging to identify ways of empowering your client, or you might advocate for the client in ways that act out your own need to empower yourself. By understanding the client’s worldview as it has been influenced by oppression, and being aware of how your own worldview is related yet distinct, you can develop a deeper relationship with your client that will help them deal with that oppression in more effective ways. MSW550_M3_model_image This model is helpful to understand some of the possible issues of perception that can arise from both similarities and differences. Let’s go back to our example. Imagine that in your childhood, you grew up in different economic segments from our client (blue collar versus small business owner) but similar income strata. By fostering hatred between underprivileged minorities, the political power structure made members of your in-group and the client’s in-group suspect and dislike each other, attributing to each other stereotypes like greedy or lazy. Through education you have risen in socioeconomic status, and your client has not. Although your client remains in the merchant class, his group also has privilege through their close-knit network that can help get his daughter into a good college. Let’s say the presenting issue is that your client is fearful of his daughter dating a man outside of his ethnic group. He doesn’t say so, but you surmise that her boyfriend comes from your own group. Here, all four quadrants apply, but the presenting problem aligns most with Quadrant III: Marginalized Social Worker-Privileged Client. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that the client and his family do not have a secure standing in gaining privilege; in fact, this is the crux of the presenting problem. You can use this awareness to build a bridge of understanding to the client. The narrative growing up was that members of his minority gain wealth at your community’s expense, but the reality is that each of your groups is oppressed in different ways. Your group is criminalized, and your client’s group, at least in his generation, is barred through lack of access to higher education from socioeconomic ladders other than entrepreneurship. Practice Exercise Strategy: Pros and Cons – 1 Match pros and cons (bottom) to the strategies by dragging them to the placeholders under each strategy. Click See Answers for correct answer pairs. Pros and Cons Client worldviewSocial worker self-awarenessSocial worker-client relationshipMicro-level and advocacy interventions Strategy 1. Self-disclosure of the common yet different struggles can help cross the divide. 2. Providing a social justice lens can help your client see that behind his fears for his daughter are legitimate observations about how an unequal society is run. 3. You can acknowledge that your client might perceive you as a representative of his daughter’s boyfriend’s racial group and assume you will be biased in the boyfriend’s favor. 4. You can use your self-awareness to determine whether you do automatically identify with the boyfriend and feel an urge to defend him. Submit ResetThis exercise was split in two. Please complete the one below as well. Strategy: Pros and Cons – 2 Match pros and cons (bottom) to the strategies by dragging them to the placeholders under each strategy. Click See Answers for correct answer pairs. Pros and Cons Social worker-client relationshipSocial worker self-awarenessMicro-level and advocacy interventionsClient worldview Strategy 5. You can be transparent about this urge and explain how you are able to bracket that defensive reaction and partner with your client in helping him find out more about the boyfriend and his family without causing a backlash from his daughter. 6. You can help him navigate the differing levels of acculturation between his collectivist generation that would never bring shame upon the family, and his daughter’s more individualistic approach to pursuing her own dreams. 7. You can explore your own biases regarding individual happiness versus family harmony. 8. You can link him with college readiness resources for his daughter, as well as scholarship opportunities that correspond to her background. Submit Reset As this exercise illustrates, there is no linear process across the four domains identified by Ratts et al. (2016). The process is iterative and ongoing. Being able to shift nimbly across domains requires you to integrate empathy, self-monitoring, and conceptualization skills. By asking yourself the following questions, you can be sure not to miss out on any of the four domains. Ask Yourself… What am I feeling right now and where is it coming from? What am I learning right now about my client’s way of viewing themselves and their world? What is happening between me and the client right now, and what does this say about their view of our relationship? What can I do right now to help my client reach their goals, given our relationship, their worldview, and my own feelings? Understanding and Challenging Your Cultural Biases As you describe your reactions to clients in your field journal, you may find to difficult to identify where cultural biases assert themselves. After all, your blind spots are, by definition, something you can’t see. So how do they become visible? One useful way to discover where biases of all kinds are operating is to use a thought record, a common tool used in cognitive-behavioral therapy that can also be used in supervision and self-development (Fischer & Mendez, 2019). An advantage of the thought record is that you can start anywhere – your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, or the situation – and fill in the rest. Here’s an example: Situation My interpretation My emotions My behaviors and client reaction White teacher complains about a Sudanese refugee boy’s classroom behavior. He has been getting out of his seat and running to the window. If this teacher understood what this boy had been through, she wouldn’t judge. She is exhibiting white privilege and she is so narrow in her thinking Frustrated with teacher, empathetic toward boy Said to teacher, “You know he lost his parents, don’t you?” Teacher said, “Are you going to help me or not?” and walked away. When you sat down to write in your journal, you probably had some aspects of the situation replaying in your mind. You might have been more aware of some aspects than others, depending on whether you are more attuned to your emotions or your thoughts. Or you may have just replayed the situation in your mind, vaguely aware that you did not feel good about it. In any case, you can start with whatever is top of mind and fill it in, then work across. Once you have each aspect filled in, you can ask yourself questions: What made it hard for me to engage successfully? I was too upset with the teacher to be understanding of her position. I was upset because I felt protective toward the boy. What were the effects of my intervention? I only got the teacher mad at me, and now she may not trust me as a resource. What were my underlying biases and values? I feel strongly that adults who deal with traumatized children hurt them more when they only look at their behavior. Where do my biases come from in my personal history? I have my own trauma history and some of my teachers just made it worse by seeing me as a bad kid. How could I more fully assess the situation? I could try to understand what is triggering the child to run to the window, and what strategies the teacher is using. How will I do things differently next time? I will express empathy for the teacher first and contain my feelings. She is doing her best and she needs me as an ally. Now, you can complete a new record that expands your possibilities: Situation My interpretation My emotions My behaviors and client reaction White teacher complains about a Sudanese refugee boy’s classroom behavior. He has been getting out of his seat and running to the window. “She’s frustrated so it’s hard for her to take the boy’s trauma into account. If I empathize with her first, then she may be open to understanding. Then we can work on a solution. Empathy toward both teacher and student Said to teacher, “That must be really hard when you’re trying to manage the whole classroom.” She said, “Yes, it is! Can you talk to him?” I said, “Sure, then can we meet together all three of us?” Helpful Ideas A few key ideas may be helpful in these complicated and emotionally intense situations: We all have histories and biases. This does not mean that anyone involved has bad intentions. My client is not just the student. My clients are everyone involved. I don’t have to solve the problem right away or control anyone’s behavior. I need to follow the steps in order: engage, assess, intervene, evaluate. What’s the difference between a bias and a value? In the example above, one value that is clear in the social work student is, “Vulnerable people must be protected.” No one would argue with that, yet the behavior – judging the teacher – that resulted from that value did not help protect the Sudanese boy. Often, our values get mixed in with our biases, and then we find it difficulty to tease them apart and figure out what is keeping us from being effective. So, what is the difference? A value is a belief that guides our behavior toward what we consider good and just. A bias is an emotionally charged belief that guides our behavior toward what relieves that emotion and ignores important context. Remember the initial interpretation of the situation with the teacher? “If this teacher understood what this boy had been through, she wouldn’t judge. She is exhibiting white privilege and she is so narrow in her thinking.” In the field journal, the student then wrote, “I was too upset with the teacher to be understanding of her position. I was upset because I felt protective toward the boy.” The student went on to realize that her own trauma history added extra emotional charge that kept her from being able to treat the teacher with empathy. She wanted to relieve that emotional charge and made a cutting comment to the teacher, standing up to the adult in a way she was powerless to do as a child. The important context being ignored here is that the teacher is coming to the social work student for help. If the student is to protect the child, she must bring her engagement and assessment skills to bear rather than acting out on unresolved feelings. If she wants to distinguish between the values-based feelings and the feelings arising from bias, then she can observe how the global values of embracing otherness and seeing the humanity in all humans are being short-circuited. While she has maintained empathy for the boy, she hasn’t for the teacher. Right now, the social work student is seeing the teacher as “other” and having difficulty embracing her humanity, even if the student shares more cultural and socioeconomic background with the teacher than with the Sudanese child. The challenge is to put ourselves in everyone’s shoes, especially when people act in ways that go against our values. Thought Exercise Using a written format to explore biases isn’t the only way. We can also use the power of imagination. Find yourself a quiet space and picture someone you interact with at your practicum site who triggers biases and associated emotions. Sit with those emotions for a few minutes, noticing where you feel them in your body. Breathe into those parts of your body, sending compassion to yourself. Once you begin to feel a little less tense, return to visualizing the person who is triggering difficult feelings, and breathe out compassion toward them as well. See if you can allow yourself to notice the pain they are carrying. You may not know much about it, but if you can sense it then you can get beyond your biases. Write down your responses to this exercise. You may want to share them in the class discussion for this week. Summary In this first module focused on engaging diversity, we have explored the self-awareness dimension. We have sought to understand how to untangle biases from values, and how to empathize with people we see as “other.” We have embedded our understanding of relationships with clients in a theory of social justice that integrates the multiple identities and relative privilege of both social worker and client. We have applied this theory to a nonlinear process of exploring the domains of self-awareness, client worldview, the dynamics of the helping relationship, and interventions that include advocacy for social justice. Finally, we have used cognitive-behavioral and compassion-based methods to become aware of and transcend biases so that we can re-center ourselves in global values. In our next module, we will continue to develop our ability to engage diversity and difference by applying two key concepts: intersectionality and cultural humility. References Fischer, J., & Mendez, D. M. (2019). Increasing the use of evidence-based practices in counseling: CBT as a supervision modality in private practice mental health. Journal of Counselor Preparation & Supervision, 12(4), 1-33. Ratts, M. J., Singh, A. A., Butler, S. K., Nassar-McMillan, S., & McCullough, J. R. (2016). Multicultural and social justice counseling competencies: Practical applications in counseling. Counseling Today, 58(8), 40-45. Please use Permalink for all citations used.