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Cultural Sensitivity

“Differences don’t just have to be endured;

only through them do the opposites arise,

between which our creativity strikes dialectical sparks”

Audre Lorde

Berlin and especially Neukölln are places with diverse identity-related characteristics. This pluralism offers encounter, enrichment, growth, opportunities and challenges.

Questions of identity often play an important role in psychotherapy and counseling, especially at this location and at this time. Identity characteristics can have a profound impact on how we perceive ourselves and others, how we are seen and treated in the world. I therefore strive to include the often complex influences of such characteristics in our collaborative work in order to be able to understand and validate individual experiences. 

Why do I make the aspect of culture explicit?

1. BIPoC, ethnic minorities, expats or people with a migration background use psychotherapy and counseling significantly less often than people from the local cultural majority society.

This is due, among other things, to the fact that the possibilities of the health system are not sufficiently known, there are too few culturally specific offers or those affected fear discrimination, which also occurs in the health system.

2. So that patients/clients know that I intend to take their experience seriously.

For example, it happens that BIPoC, ethnic minorities, expats or people with a migration background feel inhibited about coming into contact with a white and/or German therapist. They ask themselves whether they can be safe from discrimination, whether their life experiences are known, taken seriously and understood. Whether they are allowed to speak openly about discrimination, racism and disadvantage. Whether they can openly articulate their perceptions without causing offense or being punished.   Whether the different identity aspects and privileges could complicate the relationship.

Of course, I can't rule out negative experiences with myself. I haven't had your life experiences, I don't know your living conditions as well as you, my knowledge of cultures is limited, I have blind spots and make mistakes. However, my intentions are to take you seriously, to acquire specialist knowledge, to develop myself further and, if necessary, to apologize if I have behaved insensitively. It is important to me that you can discuss your experience openly. I value cultural diversity and would like to support you in feeling safe, self-confident and comfortable with your experience of identity.

3. To clearly state that (inter/trans)cultural factors can play an important role in the development, maintenance and interaction of psychological complaints.

Anti-Semitism, racism, discrimination and marginalization are not fictions, but structural, institutional and interpersonal realities. These can be interpreted and processed differently personally, but they are not perceptual disorders or distortions of reality. I believe it is an ethical and professional duty to address this openly. 

4. Because psychotherapy can also be culture-blind.

For example, most models were developed based on and with a view to a white, Western-influenced middle class. However, ideas from other cultures (e.g. regarding values and appropriate behavior) can differ greatly. Diagnostic methods rarely provide culture-specific comparison samples, which can make interpretation of test results difficult. There are difficulties in understanding, not only at the linguistic level, but also at the level of various meanings (e.g. metaphors, “organ ciphers”). A lack of knowledge and prejudices can also have serious consequences. Misdiagnosis and incorrect treatment can therefore occur in treatment if cultural aspects are not adequately taken into account. 

How do I imagine culturally sensitive therapy?

1. How you want to deal with the cultural aspect will always be up to you.

This is a personal decision that is subject to the therapeutic quality aspect of the patient/client’s autonomy. My contribution can only be to show different perspectives and their consequences. As a culturally privileged (white, German) person, it is not my place to expect a certain attitude from you. As a psychotherapist, coach or supervisor, I am entrusted with your well-being and the only question that is relevant to me is how you deal with the cultural aspect.

2. Do we need to emphasize these aspects?

No, of course not. My intention is not to force this aspect, but to be ready for it if you want to discuss it or if it seems relevant. Categorizing or dividing thinking in “I vs. Others” (ingroup vs. outgroup) can lead to feelings of isolation, alienation, lack of connection or belonging. Some people experience a heightened awareness of issues such as discrimination and racism, which can increase their level of suffering. Some people don't think the cultural aspect is personally relevant and I think that's just as legitimate.

3. What is my professional perspective on cultural aspects?

Cultural identity always arises in relation to certain marked groups that are judged to be equal or unequal with regard to certain characteristics. It is thus created by differentiating (supposed) similarities and differences with (groups of) others. The comparative characteristics used are in principle arbitrary, but historically significant. For example, a person can be perceived as a person of color in Germany, but as white or light-skinned in Africa or South America, and thus have very different experiences of privilege. I view cultural identity aspects as cognitive categories formed by social experiences that can be made relevant in interactional and social events. Certain aspects (e.g. skin color, nationality, language) can bring with them similar experiences and privileges, e.g. with regard to power and resources.

An important current theory in the analysis of cultural aspects is intersectionality. This examines and describes the interactions between different identity characteristics and their consequences (e.g. with regard to privileges and discrimination) for the individual. For example, individuals can be privileged with regard to some characteristics (e.g. cissexuality and heterosexuality) and disadvantaged with regard to other aspects (nationality, skin color). In addition, carriers of the same characteristic (e.g. homosexual) can have very different experiences due to various other characteristics (e.g. coming from a secular upper class vs. from a traditional religious working class). Another important theory that influences my work is poststructuralism. This states that knowledge cannot be objective but is influenced by discourses, power relations and social conventions. Poststructuralism emphasizes the almost infinite variety of interpretations and perspectives.

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