The diverse nature of the world we live in provides both a source of inspiration and challenge. The challenging aspects of diversity are heightened within a counseling environment where the crossroads of identity and culture meet and intersect. To be successful in any counseling attempt the psychic power of empathy must be employed in order to reach out and communicate to the one seeking help.
The concept of the self becomes very important in developing new behavioral habits that can be funneled in a constructive manner that aligns with the greater societal needs and blends, in harmony, the internal ideals of the self. Race and ethnicity are important factors in understanding oneself and holds key information about how one can realize their true self within the presence and context of others.
The purpose of this essay is to explain the synthesis of both race and ethnicity into the self defining mechanisms of patients and clients that seek healing and assistance in psychological counseling. To perform this task, this essay will first define key terms that will help frame the discussion. The essay will also discuss the subjective nature of psychology and the self and how understanding the limitations of both objectiveness and material society, can mislead individuals into false paradigms that do not promote healing or well being. Ultimately this essay will explain how race and ethnicity, and the conflation of these ideas, are misunderstood in a general fashion and that too much emphasis on these factors are placed on these defining terms that tend to harm rather than help.
Defining Race and Ethnicity
The terms "race" and "ethnicity" are often conflated and not appropriately parsed in a fine sense that could help better understand the meaning of their usage. Race has been placed as a means to stereotype and group individuals in certain fashion. Race is often used as an intellectual shortcut and an explanation for all the ill will of society. The tendencies towards science and academia is to dissect things down to its smallest particle and ignore the bigger picture of things fit into a society or group. As a result of these ideas, race and ethnicity have become conflated due to the simple and subtle tendency to take intellectual shortcuts.
Race is not chosen by the individual and is issued to a person at birth. Race is a biological condition. Racial features include skin color, hair color and type, skull shape, muscle formations and other physical traits. The human race is noted as being the most general of races and suggests that all others are merely offshoots of this main artery. Races do not have exact scientific definitions and different cultures identify different races for different reasons. The problems of race are purely related to the ability to understand and define race in simple terms, a challenge in and of itself.
Ethnicity is different than race, because it categorizes people in a cultural manner. Culture is based on the word "cult" which may often have dangerous connotations itself. Ethnic groups have a shared history and common roots that help them identify their selves through the customs and culture of those historic roots. Ethnicity is not biological at face value but provides insight on how different racial groups create and utilize culture for their own practical advantage.
The Impact of Religion
The idea of religion is extremely impactful on how the individual views him or herself within the context of the greater collective. Religion is based on the idea of linking to the source of existence, or lack of existence in some cases. Religion drives many and sets the course for cultural and societal norms. This spiritual connection is correlated to how race and ethnicity are intertwined as varying forms of practicing religions are expressed in the practice and understanding of religion.
For many science and rationale thought have provided a religious connection for those in today's technological-based world. The temptation to rely on cold reason is dangerous because it ignores the subjective interpretation of the interpreter and the impact of that interpretation on the event itself. Regardless of the counselors' religious beliefs, a firm understanding of how these forces work on both the creation of culture and society and on the individual itself helps reveal important attributes towards understanding the relationship between these variables.
Global Pressures on Culture and Psychology
Christopher et al. (2014) exposed the uniqueness and specificity of culture as it related to psychological treatment. The impact of globalization was used as a means of expressing the dangers of exporting concepts, practices and values of U.S. centered psychology on certain geographical areas where these values etc. are not accepted nor understood. The literature aimed to demonstrate how culture, and hence subjective interpretation of one's own standing directly affects the mental health of a person. The authors wrote "Science -- whether in the form of methodological controls or evidence-based practice guidelines -- cannot produce "pure" forms of knowledge unaffected by the knowers' place in historical time and geographic space. Because global connectedness is projected to increase dramatically in the foreseeable future, U.S. psychologists need to apprise themselves of the moral visions and folk psychologies that are embedded in their own assumptions, methods, and practices. Hermeneutic thought, along with the research methods it has inspired, provides tools for examining the ways that culture shapes human experience, and the ways that culture -- in the form of folk psychologies and moral visions -- shapes every psychology," (p.653).
The hermeneutic approach holds value in many psychological objectives including identifying patterns of racial and ethnic adaptation. This formula also allows for subjective interpretations to be accepted without moral judgment which can often impact the mental health and healing abilities of any individual not at ease within society.
Hardin et al. (2014) introduced a clinical tool to help in identifying some of these ideas within the practice of psychology. The critical lens approach (CLA) theory is used to demonstrate a scholars' ability to summarize knowledge about cultural differences. The research's premise is that culture is a very import contributor to positive psychology and that having a means to test the awareness of this ability can help guide the practice into integrating culture more into the operations.
The authors ultimately concluded that "The CLA is so widely relevant because it is not limited to assessing the cultural validity of individual differences measures, but it may be applied more broadly to assess the cultural validity of theoretical propositions about the relationships between constructs and the cultural validity of experimental manipulations and behavioral operationalizations." In other words an assessment such as the CLA becomes very valuable at evaluating the evaluation. This self teaching mechanism can assist in becoming aware of the subjective biases that psychologists must incorporate in their understanding of the patient's situation. This article further demonstrated the importance of the subjective interpretation as being critical and the dangers of becoming overly objective. In this case an objective measure is taken to evaluate subjectivness, a balanced a reasonable approach to integrating both sides of the equation.
The Use of Understanding One's Self
To help understand this in more depth, a specific research example can be useful in interpreting objective understandings of racial and ethnic positions. Oser et al. (2014) examined how black women may be more vulnerable to stressful lifetime events as a result of a disassociation with their self in relation to their race and place in society. The idea of knowing oneself and their place in society is placed highly in this article's research as it sought to conduct a study to determine if such a relationship does exist. The article used data from a study that used data from 204 black women in a southeastern U.S. city where the ideas of racism, sexism and stressful life events are explored in a social context.
The research suggested that "It is important to note that sociocontextual risk may also explain the significant, positive correlation of racism and sexism to every other stressful life event measured in this study across a range of social contexts and life domains. These findings support the existing research and theoretical constructs of intersectionality suggesting that African-American women's social location may increase their susceptibility to adverse life events and chronic stressors, often resulting in psychological distress," (p.567).
The conclusions of this research further suggest that culture and the way that it is subjectively interpreted provides the necessary stimuli to either progress or regress in mental advancement and adapting to change. The lack of stress appears dependent on the ability to adapt to and make sense of one's own place in society, using race, gender and sociocultural position as a means of translating this experience.
Ethnicity as a Tool
By examining how ethnicity and race can be used in a practical situation, Stein et al. (2014) examined Asian-American Adolescents and how they used their unique characteristics as a buffering tool in social situations. The research ultimately concluded that "These findings suggest that…