Microaggressions and Cultural Humility in Psychotherapy

Authored by: Joanna M. Drinane , Jesse Owen , Joshua N. Hook , Don E. Davis , Everett L. Worthington

Handbook of Humility

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138960008
eBook ISBN: 9781315660462
Adobe ISBN: 9781317337164


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Hook and Watkins (2015) pose the following question:

Why is it that many psychologists—despite such increasingly diversifying opportunities for cultural contact, despite being trained and steeped in the values of multiculturalism, and despite being designated as leaders in promoting multiculturalism and positive cultural engagement—continue to seemingly struggle to positively engage with culturally different individuals and groups?

In this chapter, we seek to address this dilemma. No amount of training can fully prepare a psychotherapist for the unique dynamics that result from the interaction of cultural identities, both visible and invisible, within each psychotherapeutic dyad. These dialogues can be perceived as threatening and have the potential to arouse feelings of dread, anxiety, anger, and frustration, which can disrupt communication and behaviors (Sue, 2013). The experience of emotionality and anxiety in the face of cultural difference can be all too common among people, regardless of context. That said, in the intimate, “protected” psychotherapy setting, even the most culturally oriented psychotherapists are not capable of addressing all situations in the exact way that their clients need or want. Despite the relaxed and unassuming stance certain psychotherapists take in psychotherapy, their reactions or attempts to initiate cultural conversations can at times be inattentive to or mistaken about clients’ feelings. As a result, cultural misunderstandings or ruptures can occur when psychotherapists make assumptions or overgeneralize about the ways that culture influences clients’ day-to-day experiences. Although psychotherapists may be well meaning and have positive intentions, they sometimes are unable to navigate the depth and subsequent influence of their own biases.

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