Diversity in the therapy room
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Firstly, I would like to introduce the meaning of culture. According to Patricia D’Ardenne and Aruna Mahtani “... ‘culture’ means the shared history, practices, beliefs and values of a racial, regional or religious group of people.” To me, what stands out the most is the aspect of being part of a group - or in other words, 'belonging'. It represents the plurality of individuals where certain aspects bind them through similar background, actions, values and/or belief system. Through contact, these individuals have a connection that might facilitate each other’s understanding. Thus, bringing a sense of belonging.
Culture is not a definite nor stagnant concept – but dynamic. There are social influences that play a big role on the formation of the self. Being in touch with other cultures opens an opportunity for each individual to see ‘facts’ from different perspectives and perhaps allowing change and growth to happen within the self.
As individuals, we all come from different backgrounds and experiences which affects the way we see things. Therefore, the ‘self’ sees and approaches life according to their unique way of understanding the world.
To become aware and acknowledge all of our parts (including our cultural background) is key for transformation to happen. To look at the parts that compose the self to then own a more wholesome self. It is understood that change happens when there is acknowledgement of the reality that constructs the self. Denying parts, hoping that only certain chosen aspects represent the self is denying the opportunity to grow. Acceptance through awareness leads the way to transformation.
In the counselling room, change can happen with the mutual effort of the client and the counsellor. The therapeutic relationship is key for development to happen. Laura Perls states that: “...the true essence of Gestalt therapy was the relationship formed between therapist and client.” (Fundamentals of the Gestalt Approach to Counselling, page 16.) The therapeutic relationship is a meeting point between two selves, where although in part is focused on the client, both selves have an equal opportunity to grow through awareness.
One of the main goals of Gestalt therapy is to encourage the client in developing self-awareness. Once the sense of self is established through an integration of all the parts that complete the whole, action can be taken. It becomes an invitation to the ‘self’ to know and accept the feelings that emerge and a ‘self’ that has an understanding of individual needs.
Individuality is thus encouraged. In the Vedas it is stated that we are all part of the same but our individuality is never compromised. One’s individuality is unique due to different factors such as cultural family of origin, later cultural influences, gender, age, etc. To support this point, Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Bhagavad Gita As It Is, page 89)
In the therapeutic intercultural relationship difficulties may arise based on our own prejudices or ideologies. However, therapy is a self-reflective practice that invites challenges as an opportunity to explore differences and grow. The therapeutic relationship ideally allows a safe place to address all the existing shades between black and white - meaning, each one’s unique phenomenology. This may vary and be projected in diverse ways which only represents our own and individual inner world. Any intensified feeling arising within this relationship is a light that discloses one part of the whole.
- Clarkson, P. (1989) Fundamentals of the Gestalt Approach to Counselling. SAGE Publications Ltd. London.
- D'Ardenne, P. & Mahtani, A. (1989). Transcultural Counselling in Action. SAGE Publications Ltd. London.
- Prabhupada, A.C.B.S. (2006). Bhagavad Gita As It Is. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.