Transcultural Therapy and How it Differs from Mainstream Counselling


In this blog, I am going to look at Transcultural Therapy (also known as Intercultural Therapy) and explore how it differs from mainstream counselling. The approach considers the whole being of the client and the client’s cultural experience in the world both past and present. I thought to introduce the topic of this blog, I would begin by introducing myself culturally with only information that is already in the public arena and will relate this to the theory of Transcultural Therapy. Counselling or Psychotherapy in general is a very western model. In undeveloped countries you would need to be working with the individual as part of that community. Here in the western world we tend to work with the individual, or when using systemic thinking work with the wider family in mind.

I was born into a middle class traditional Orthodox community, White, Jewish, Gender Queer and Disabled. I have struggled with the term privileged to describe myself, when there are so many layers to my identity that do not make me privileged. My ethnic whiteness, even though its roots are a blend of English, Polish and Russian, allow me to be invisible in the world. Jafar Kareem provides a context of transcultural/ intercultural in his paper “Intercultural Therapy, the Nafsiyat Intercultural Therapy: The Nafsiyat Intercultural Therapy Centres Ideas and Experiences” he describes the work of the Nafsiyat Centre that was the model of my core training: “A psychotherapeutic process that does not take into account the person’s whole life experience, or denies consideration of their race, culture, gender or social values, can only fragment that person. Similarly, we believe that racial difference between the therapist and the patient is counter therapeutic when it is institutionalised in systems of power”.

When looking at the transcultural relationship in the therapy room or as a wider subject in the community or your own work setting. I would say that you cannot look at the subject without being aware of privilege. This can be conscious or unconscious to us. Privilege is our perceived advantage that is only available to a person or group. Since Brexit in the United Kingdom, through my clients and peers sharing the affect this had on their anxiety levels and mood, this political decision came from a very privileged place.

In the transcultural counselling relationship, both parties experience the myths and stereotypes of the other, and the defences that are formed because of those myths and stereotypes. Often in the therapeutic relationship the feedback I have had from clients from Black and Ethnic Minority clients who had a bad experience of previous therapy, when looking for a new therapist they explained that the previous therapist was too politically correct. They went on to explain that in their previous experience they felt that often the therapist overlooked their culture or faith in the work and often feared getting something wrong.

For some Black and Ethnic Minority clients that came from a faith background and were dealing with issues around their gender or sexuality, they were told that they needed to make a choice between being open about their gender or sexuality and having a faith. I would argue that this is not just anti-therapeutic but also unethical. Pheonix (1997) proposed three reasons for the difficulty in acknowledging whiteness: “1. Power. 2. A general failure of the dominant to reflect on dominance. 3. A lack of recognition of historical power relations between white and black people”. The power dynamic in the therapy room often mirrors the community and society both the client and I live in. For my Black or Minority clients they cannot blend into the world and often assumptions are made of their heritage.

The question of who I am, then who am I culturally, is asked of us when looking at our morning papers, the television and social media where we often say, ‘here I am’ or ‘for today this is my identity’. If we are not comfortable in our own skin, then Transcultural Therapy allows us to look at the wider context of how the outside word is affecting our inner world and supports us to feel more at home with the cultural background we have come from.

Blog originally published here.
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