Cultural Differences in Medical Setting Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Counseling Report

The field of counseling is very complex and multi-dimensional. This report includes a general description of counseling, how cultural insensitivity can occur within the construct of counseling, the impacts of cultural of said insensitivity in counseling as well as the broader workplaces of Australia and the broader world, the types and forms of cultural insensitivity that a counselor can endure and encounter while working and two ways in which cultural insensitivity can be addressed and responded to in a counseling setting. While some people project their insensitivities on others and counselors can be both good and bad in terms of cultural sensitivity, it is always best for counselors and indeed everyone else to be sensitive to the religious, cultural and societal differences that exist between us.


To be sure, there are going to be situations in the lives and careers of therapists and counselors where a counselor is addressing a person with a culture or background with which they are not familiar. Indeed, counselors and therapist are charged with helping people address topics and situations such as grief, sadness, mourning and depression (Stuart, 2010). However, if there is a cultural disconnect between practitioner and patient and this matters at all to the patient (and it often does), then the experience for both the patient and the provider can be awkward if not maddening. Throw in a situation with a child or adolescent, and the stakes can get higher a lot more quickly (Lopez, 2011).

Cultural insensitivity is the general practice of actively disregarding or being ignorant of a person's culture and background. The sources and facets of this background can include country of origin, culture, language, geographical region and so forth. Quite often, cultural concerns are not about race and background as region of origin and socioeconomic status can have a demonstrative effect on a counseling or therapy situation. Mental health situations in particular are susceptible to problems as a patient is going to be at least somewhat mentally fragile and vulnerable when they are in need of mental health. To put it more concisely than before, cultural insensitivity is when a counselor cannot or will not properly factor in the mental health needs of a patient relative to culture (Lopez, 2011).

The potential impacts of cultural insensitivity are not hard to figure out. The effects can be rendered and seen quite easily if one pays attention. This can happen in both the workplace and in the general practice of counseling. Even in countries and areas that are part of larger countries and cultures can see this happen. Take Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, as an example. Much like the contiguous United States, Puerto Rico has seen a shift from an agrarian economy to one of industrialization. The mainland United States has since shifted again to more of a service-based sector, but the overall historical pattern is basically the same. However, while Puerto Rico and the regular states of the United States show some paralells, there are some massive cultural differences. This can be seen in both the workplace as well as the counseling profession. Indeed, Puerto Rico, which is situated in the same general part of the world as Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the oceans between the southeastern United States and the northern edge of South America, used to be controlled by Spain but was ceded by Spain to the United States as a consequence of the Spanish-American war. Puerto Rico became a commonwealth in 1947 so that they could govern and regulate themselves, but they still remain an American-controlled territory. Even with the strong parallels between Puerto Rico and the mainland, Puerto Rico is a very different bird from the United States and the implications for the workplace and counseling are no exception. The cultural differential between the two is actually stunning and abrupt. For example, American clinicians are famous for being driven by hard data and the questionnaire. However, there is far more complexity and depth to issues that surround counseling patients in Puerto Rico and this is true in Australia and other corners of the world as well (Rogler, 1999).

Even if it is less than optimal, cultural insensitivity with regard to the workplace and the counseling profession leads to suspicion and is an active hindrance to results when trying to reach someone in a work or medical setting of any sort. People are more comfortable with their own sort of people or at least people that they know understand their plight and their lives. If someone is actively showing themselves to be ignorant and less than impartial concerning cultural differences, it will close down line of communication between the parties involved and will be a drag on any possible progress or good outcomes (Rogler, 2014). When reflecting on what the author of this report might experience as a counselor, it is not hard to imagine what could or would happen given certain circumstances. For example, if a person who is seeking counseling has recently emigrated from another part of the world such as Africa or South America, there is a good chance that they will know few or no people that are of the same culture as them. Perhaps they moved to Australia to be with a family member but they themselves were minority in Australia. The barriers involved would obviously be cultural and could involve language, norms, skin color and other things. The patient would be tepid, unsure, suspicious and unwilling to open up. However, if they approach the author of this report as a counselor, this surely means that something needs to be addressed in the view of the patient. However, they may shut down and remove themselves from the counseling process if there is not a strong amount of cultural and other sensitivities made obvious and apparent to the patient. The patient surely understands that they are not going to find a lot of people, let alone clinicians, that know their lives but they are much more likely to open up and cooperate in the process if they know that the counselor truly wants to know what "makes them tick" and what is leading to their mental health or similar issues.

As far as how to deal with that condition, counselors can start things off with low-pressure comments like a person's family background and cultural history. Rather than be cold or clinical about the situation, a good counselor would ask and present the questions in a way that would have them open up. Rather than ask the question from a position of ignorance and fear, the counselor can act genuinely interested as a means to understand and fathom what the patient is dealing with. Indeed, mental health issues are compounded by culture blocks but culture can also lead to standard medical disparities such as rates of breast cancer and diabetes. However, since this report focuses on mental health in particular, it should also be pointed out that culture and background will also drive the mental health issues that will tend to emerge and it would also guide how they should be properly dealt with. While differences in outcomes with different cultural groups, even in the same setting, can be based on racism and cultural insensitivity, it could also be based on real differences and trends compounded by being submerged in a dominant culture that is very different and confusing (Atkin, 2003).

One way to constructively deal with cultural insensitivity, at least in some instances, can include taking the "my brother's keeper" mentality. While this can be taken too far quite easily, it can also be quite useful. For example, Jewish counselors are very sensitive to their fellow Jews being subjected to insensitivity if not outright anti-Semitism by clinicians and non-clinicians alike. Indeed, the brother's keeper credo is actually something specific to the Jewish faith as it is actually part of the holy Torah document that Jews hold dear. Constructively dealing with cultural insensitivity or outright racism (or the equivalent if race is not the issue) is that being distinct and different in a culture almost automatically makes the situation very dicey and difficult to deal with. As such, keeping a patient at ease and assuring them that they are among a friend, even if that "friend" is of a different culture, is paramount. Many people see being unique and different as a source of strength but wider societies have a way of making that a liability and the minority in groups know this lesson full well (Weinrach, 2003).

Also important is for the clinicians and any supervisors to work in concert so that there is a united front of attending to the cultural differences and concerns of a patient. There are obviously limitations to this but any reasonable accommodations and allaying of concerns is a noble endeavor for a counselor or therapist. This whole concept and idea needs to be drilled in early and often in a counselor's career. This is good as…

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