Diversity in Social Work Term Paper

Pages: 7 (2561 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 14  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Psychology

Diversity in Social Work

In my personal statement, I described my own upbringing in a rather xenophobic culture and my struggles to overcome these biases not only professionally, but in my own life as well. In this essay I will examine more thoroughly how I plan to ensure that I remain aware of the potential for these previous belief systems to influence my work and exactly how I will deal with any of these former cultural biases, should they appear.

First, however, I will briefly explain why I think this is such an important skill to develop in preparing for a social work career. I stated in my prior paper that my upbringing had reinforced Matras's feelings of separateness and, in turn, superiority when confronted with the "other," whether that other was race, culture, language, religion, or a host of other factors (1984). I believe that an awareness of this tendency is the first step to confronting and overcoming the bias it inspires; through my own experience, my education, and my chosen career path in social work I will regularly confront situations in which my personal biases can influence my actions and will be able to be aware of the potential for bias and undue influence on the actions or advice that I choose.

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Bias" is a disputed term, and some scholars have even stated that assessing it is futile exercise due to its myriad interpretations (Longres 1994). Since society is constantly evolving, the idea of "normal" is also changing, potentially discriminating against different groups with each shift in self-definition. For example, at one point women were not looked upon as equals in the Western world; today they share voting and employment rights with males on an equal basis. These shifts in what is culturally acceptable result in the definition of "bias" being in constant flux.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Diversity in Social Work Assignment

However, just because the definition is evolving does not mean that we cannot set some parameters for self-examination to avoid discriminatory behavior. The Australian Aboriginal experience is one specific example of cultural stereotyping that has become less and less acceptable with time; as I stated in my personal essay, during my youth, it was perfectly acceptable to view the Aborigine as below human. This national bias resulted in some incredibly discriminatory practices- notably, the placement of Aborigine children into white homes, taken away from their biological parents for no reason other than the race of the family (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1999).

This checkered Australian past with regard to "other" races has inculcated bias and discrimination toward not just Aborigines, but to any racial minority or immigrant group; the White Australia policy that excluded Asians and other nonwhites especially contributes to this mindset, even decades after it was officially rescinded by the government (Babakan and Gopalkrishnan 2005). Despite the fact that Australia has a vast "history of displacement, disruption, journeys, and resettlement...attitudes toward immigrants reflect confusion, anxiety, skepticism, ambivalence, lack of knowledge, and racism" (ibid, p. 153 and 151).

An awareness of these discriminatory factors must be incorporated into any responsive social work practice; they act upon any interpretation of national identification, of heritage and pride in one's history, and of cultural identity. From a white standpoint, a certain sense of guilt is inherent in any dealings regarding Aboriginal or immigrant populations due to the way that my ancestors treated their people at one point in our nation's history. And more obviously, from the standpoint of these traditionally persecuted peoples, any interaction with whites is going to be tempered with a certain amount of distrust and unwillingness to open up, in light of the past generations' treatment of their groups. A successful social work interaction with someone from one of these groups will not only accommodate the sensitivities of the client, who may be reluctant to share his or her experience fully with the counselor, but will also incorporate measures to ensure that the counselor is not allowing any personal bias or guilt feelings about our shared history influence the interaction between client and counselor.

This is not to discount any accommodation of cultural factors in a client-counselor relationship; on the contrary, it must be considered that culture is a significant criteria in many clients' situations. A narrative approach to establishing a relationship is especially effective in ensuring that cultural factors are accounted for in assessing a client's situation and preparing a method of response; this has been described as "accessing the culturally embedded, unique meaning of the client's perceived problem and solution..." (Lee and Green 1999, p. 30, cited in Cooper and Lesser, 2005, p. 169). This particular type of therapy also encourages "solutions...that are both culturally specific and culturally respectful" (Cooper and Lesser, 2005, p. 169).

This necessity of cultural awareness is vital in becoming aware of and dealing with any cultural biases that may be harbored in the therapist-in my case, any "leftovers" from my upbringing and its views that white Australians were superior. In Cooper and Lesser's chapter on cross-cultural practice, it is noted that this type of therapy requires "that the clinician be able to examine her own cultural group and the ways in which it has contributed to discrimination and prejudice" (2005, p. 64). Self-awareness, not just awareness of the situation at hand and of the client's past, is vital to properly addressing any issues that may arise or in dispensing unbiased advice and aid. Even if a therapist, such as myself, believes that he or she has confronted racism and does not harbor any residual cultural biases, the "insidious" nature of racism requires that the therapist "stretch to understand the client's racial and cultural experiences...[this will make him/her] more authentic and truly empathetic...then the therapeutic relationship provides the context in which growth may occur" (Cooper and Lesser 2005, p. 79).

The narrative approach is one broad method of ensuring that all factors, cultural and otherwise, are taken into account during a client-counselor discussion. However, Atkinson, Thompson, and Grant have established seven specific guidelines for cross-cultural practice (1993, pp. 264-270, cited in Cooper and Lesser 2005, p. 67). In the following pages, I will state each of these seven roles to be filled by the therapist and follow with a brief explanation of how I will implement each into my practice and how I think it will encourage an open perspective on my part, without unconscious biases or feelings of guilt or superiority.

The first role is as "adviser to clients regarding potential problems they may encounter as minority immigrants." (Atkinson, et.al. 1993, cited in Cooper and Lesser 2005, p. 67). Although the phrasing refers only to "immigrants," the role played as adviser may apply to any racial minority in a predominantly white society. I believe that this role will be relatively easy to fill, even if an unconscious bias crept into a therapist's mindset, because it is a relatively straightforward explanation of facts. The difficulties facing racial minorities are easily documented and verifiable, and relaying these potential obstacles to a client should not be influenced by personal ideas of race or of discrimination; if it is a well-known fact that minority languages are not accommodated in the school system, a therapist's personal bias (if one is harbored) cannot change this fact. I believe that I am a sufficiently unbiased individual that I recognize my duty to instruct clients of possible setbacks and obstacles in their path, and that if I was aware of any of these potential pitfalls, I would have no problem at all passing along the information to my clients.

The second role to be played by the therapist is "advocate who works on behalf of clients who are having problems related to oppression and discrimination" (Atkinson, et.al. 1993, pp. 264-270, cited in Cooper and Lesser 2005, p. 67). This criteria would be harder to fulfill if the therapist held biased views about the client's sociocultural group. For example, a therapist might suggest that instances of discrimination were imagined by the client, or that the status quo was acceptable, instead of actively advocating against these biases and discriminations. On the other end of that spectrum, a therapist who truly believed in the equality of individuals would actively seek opportunities to speak and act on behalf of oppressed individuals and groups; an example of this might be starting a petition about a certain issue, or contacting with lawmakers and other authority figures with control over an area of potentially discriminatory behavior. I believe that my own experiences with the "other;" my own alcoholism and my mother's mental illness, would allow me to fill this role almost seamlessly; my personal knowledge of being discriminated against is what inspires me to protect others from this same treatment.

Atkinson, et. al list the next role to be filled by the therapist as "person having knowledge of the client's indigenous support systems and the ability to facilitate the development of such systems in the client's new culture" (1993, pp. 264-270, cited in Cooper and Lesser, 2005, p. 67).… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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