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Cultural landscapes in counselling and psychotherapy: Introduction to the Theme Section

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Cultural landscapes in counselling and psychotherapy: Introduction to the Theme Section

Abstract

The concept of ‘culture’ is gaining in significance within the discourse of counselling and psychotherapy, as a means of making sense of the ways in which shared identities and behaviours are constructed and maintained. The selection of papers included within this Theme Section explore different aspects of the use of the idea of culture within counselling and psychotherapy. In this introductory piece, we seek to place this work in a social and professional context.
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Counselling and Psychotherapy
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Linking research with practice
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Cultural landscapes in counselling and psychotherapy:
Introduction to the Theme Section
William West
a
; John McLeod
b
a
ESI, Faculty of Education, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
b
Tayside Institute for Health Studies, University of Abertay Dundee, Dundee,
Scotland
Online Publication Date: 01 June 2003
To cite this Article: West, William and McLeod, John (2003) 'Cultural landscapes in
counselling and psychotherapy: Introduction to the Theme Section', Counselling and
Psychotherapy Research, 3:2, 82 - 85
To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/14733140312331384432
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14733140312331384432
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Theme Section
Culture and Therapy
COUNSELLING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY RESEARCH, 2003, VOL 3, NO 2
82
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COUNSELLING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY RESEARCH, 2003, VOL 3, NO 2
Cultural landscapes in counselling and psychotherapy:
Introduction to the Theme Section
William West
1
and John McLeod
2
1
ESI, Faculty of Education, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
2
Tayside Institute for Health Studies, University of Abertay Dundee, Dudhope Castle, Dundee DD3 6HF, Scotland
Email: mewcsww@fs1.ed.man.ac.uk; j.mcleod@tay.ac.uk
Counselling and Psychotherapy Research 3(2) (2003) 82-85
ISSN: 1473 3145
Published by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, 1 Regent Place, Rugby, CV21 2PJ, UK
Counselling and psychotherapy are inevitably
bound up with understandings of culture: any
client, however autonomous they experience them-
selves to be, lives and has their being in some cul-
tural context. The influence of culture can be
considered in terms of many different overlapping
cultural arenas: family environment, communities
defined by ethnicity, religion, age or sexual orien-
tation, workplace sub-culture, and many more. We
exist in a postmodern world characterised by cul-
tural fragmentation, complexity and conflict. The
issue of culture — how to understand it, how to
work with it in therapy — is of critical importance
to contemporary counsellors and psychotherapists.
Roy Moodley (1998, 1999) has written about
clients who make use of traditional healers at the
same time as undergoing psychodynamic therapy.
Shiva, a South Asian man, visits the Vaid — a tradi-
tional healer within his cultural tradition:
“...through the traditional healer he was able to
identify cultural metaphors, symbols and arche-
types which may have been outside the param-
eters of Western counselling and therapy... The
process with the Vaid offered him an alternative
narrative in interrogating his disturbances and
conflicts” (Moodley, 1999: 148).
A black woman, Jo-Anne, consults a local
Obeahman (traditional African Caribbean healer).
Moodley (1998) comments that “...clearly it seems
that Jo-Anne was at a stage that necessitated this
move from a Western-trained therapist to a tradi-
tional black healer” (1998: 501). For Moodley,
when these clients move from Western counselling
to traditional healing, perhaps they engage with a
deeper level of their consciousness. Does this pos-
sibility exist for all of us? Are there other cultures of
healing, outside mainstream counselling and psy-
chotherapy, which may have more to offer?
Pittu Laungani vividly describes his move from
India to England as a young man:
“England, to me, came as a shock! I was bewil-
dered by the English! There were as many
accents there as there are dialects in India — or
almost. Each of them as though spoken in a dif-
ferent tongue, and a few even in forked
tongues! It was difficult to distinguish between
levity and seriousness, between jest and truth,
between praise and censure, between affection
and affectation, between acceptance and rejec-
tion” (Laungani, 2001: 4-5).
There was a lack of interest, or even curiosity,
shown in his cultural background; he felt pushed to
give up his own culture:
“I soon began to realise that in order to relate
with the English and thus get on in a reasonable
The concept of ‘culture’ is gaining in significance within the discourse of counselling and psychother-
apy, as a means of making sense of the ways in which shared identities and behaviours are constructed
and maintained. The selection of papers included within this Theme Section explore different aspects
of the use of the idea of culture within counselling and psychotherapy. In this introductory piece, we
seek to place this work in a social and professional context.
Key words: counselling, culture, psychotherapy, society
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COUNSELLING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY RESEARCH, 2003, VOL 3, NO 2
84
but superficial manner with them, it would be I
who would be expected to make all the adjust-
ments. Not they. In other words, I would have to
learn to assimilate into their culture — if I could
get round to understanding it” (p.6).
Laungani reflects that, for him, the result of 30 years
of living in England and engaging with English cul-
ture has been that:
“When I am in India, I am accused of being too
English (whatever that means) and in England,
when the English can bring themselves to
express an opinion, I am accused of being ‘too
Indian’ (whatever that might mean). I am thus in
a no-win situation” (Laungani, 2001:21).
He offers a metaphor of the turtle: the shell is our
cultural heritage — destroy the shell and you destroy
the turtle. How many clients share this dilemma, this
painful exposed sense of dislocation, of not belong-
ing? How well prepared are therapists to respond to
such issues?
In its first three years, Counselling and
Psychotherapy Research has published a steady
stream of papers concerned with the impact of cul-
tural factors on the therapeutic process. Ryden and
Loewenthal (2001) described the struggle of lesbian
clients to discover whether their therapist under-
stood their world. Tuckwell (2001) analysed the
complex dynamics and avoidances that occur in the
interaction between therapists and clients who are
culturally/racially different. Cornforth (2001)
explored the ways in which cultural assumptions and
realities are conveyed both in, and beyond, lan-
guage. Engaging in counsellor training is typically
experienced in terms of entering a different culture:
Fetherston (2002) deconstructed this experience
from the point of view of a visitor from social sci-
ence; Hill (2002) investigated the role of community
meetings in constructing the micro-culture of train-
ing. Millar (2002) evaluated the effect of counselling
within the occupational culture of the police service.
Ankrah (2002) has researched the responsiveness of
counsellors to ‘spiritual emergencies’: non-European
clients were much less likely to be satisfied with how
their counsellor dealt with such issues. Issues of cul-
tural identity and difference, and how they are
negotiated in relationships, appear to have become
a major theme within counselling and psychother-
apy in Britain. The publication of Multicultural
Counselling (Palmer, 2002) has made available a
valuable collection of papers concerning theory,
practice and research in culture-focused therapy.
Racial Identity, White Counsellors and Therapists
(Tuckwell, 2002) has provided a powerful, research-
based text, which invites practitioners to reflect on
the implications of their racial identity. The widely
read research report by Netto et al (2001) has docu-
mented the views of members of Asian communi-
ties regarding the relevance and provision of coun-
selling.
The increasing attention being given to the con-
cept of culture within the counselling and psy-
chotherapy profession in Britain (and possibly also in
other places) reflects the political climate of the
times, for example in national debates around immi-
gration, Muslim-Christian tensions, the role of
nationalist political parties and regional assemblies,
recognition of gay and lesbian marriages, and resist-
ance to American cultural hegemony. This attention
also reflects certain facets of thinking within the psy-
chotherapy profession about what therapists actu-
ally do in practice, and what constitutes the
knowledge base for this practice. Polkinghorne
(1992) has argued that, in their everyday work,
therapists do not follow the guidelines and proce-
dures laid down in the standard textbooks.
Polkinghorne (1992) suggests that therapists oper-
ate from a postmodern epistemology of practice,
which is sensitive to cultural difference and eschews
‘universalist’ theoretical generalisations.
The papers in this Theme Section represent jour-
neys into a range of diverse cultural landscapes.
Kamer Shoaib has explored the experiences of a
group of Kashmiri women, who possess a strong
cultural and ethnic identity, and documents their
experiences and preferences in relation to coun-
selling and mental health services in Britain. Sue
Pattison analyses some of the ways in which an
international training programme can act as a cul-
tural microcosm and create opportunities for cul-
tural awareness. Iain Edgar is a social anthropologist,
a specialist in the study of cultures. He takes one of
the basic tools of therapy — understanding and
analysing dreams — and shows how members of a
range of cultural groups have very different ways of
positioning themselves in relation to the meaning-
fulness and practical significance of dream material.
William West summarises recent research into the
practice and experience of supervision in counselling
and psychotherapy, and argues that some of the dif-
ficulties in establishing useful supervision relation-
ships that have been reported in research can be
understood in terms of the creation of a professional
‘culture of surveillance’. Jan Grove, a counsellor in
an agency that works mainly with heterosexual cou-
ples and their relationship problems, explores the
cultural barriers that may prevent gay and lesbian
couples from accessing its services. Finally, Isha
Mckenzie-Mavinga and Roy Moodley reflect on the
different meanings of culture that exist within coun-
selling, psychotherapy and other disciplines, and
how the terminology we use always betrays our
underlying assumptions. Isha Mckenzie-Mavinga
invites us to consider the importance of taking a his-
torical approach to black issues; Roy Moodley argues
that is necessary for research participants to define
CULTURE AND THERAPY
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their own understanding of their ethnic or cultural
identity, rather than be categorised by the
researcher.
It may be useful to view the reality of everyday
life in postmodern industrial societies as that of
living within a cultural landscape. There are some
places or territories within this landscape that are
safe and familiar, where we feel ‘at home’. There
are other landscapes that are unknown, frighten-
ing, dangerous. There is a horizon, beyond which
other landscapes wait to be discovered. Some
people are travellers across this landscape; others
are interpreters, translators or guides across the
border lands. Within this landscape, the role of
counsellors and psychotherapists is perhaps to help
people to be better able to face up to the threat of
the other (Tuckwell, 2001), so that cultural encoun-
ters, whether external or internal, may more often
become occasions for learning and conviviality,
rather than destructive conflict.
References
Ankrah L (2002) Spiritual emergency and counselling: an
exploratory study. Counselling and Psychotherapy
Research, 2: 55-60.
Cornforth S (2001) Culture: the song without words.
Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 1: 194-9.
Fetherston B (2002) Double bind: an essay on counsellor
training. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 2:
108-26.
Hill A (2002) Let’s stay and hate: the role of community
meetings on counsellor training courses. Counselling
and Psychotherapy Research, 2: 215-222.
Laungani P (2001) Cross-cultural psychology: a hand-
maiden to mainstream Western psychology: a personal
view. Keynote address to 1st International South Asia
Regional Conference, Mubai, India, December.
Millar A (2002) Beyond resolution of presenting issues:
clients’ experiences of an in-house police counselling
service. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 2:
159-66.
Moodley R (1998) ‘I say what I like’: frank talk(ing) in
counselling and psychotherapy. British Journal of
Guidance and Counselling, 26: 495 -508.
Moodley R (1999) Challenges and transformations:
counselling in a multicultural context. International
Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 21: 139-
52.
Netto G, Gaag S, Thanki M, Bondi E and Munro M
(2001) A Suitable Space: Improving Counselling Services
for Asian People. Bristol: Policy Press.
Palmer S (ed) (2002) Multicultural Counselling: a Reader.
London: Sage.
Polkinghorne D (1992) Postmodern epistemology of
practice. In Kvale S (ed) Psychology and Postmodernism.
London: Sage.
Ryden J and Loewenthal D (2001) Psychotherapy for les-
bians: the influence of therapist sexuality. Counselling
and Psychotherapy Research, 1: 42-52.
Tuckwell G (2001) ‘The threat of the Other’: using mixed
quantitative and qualitative methods to elucidate racial
and cultural dynamics in the counselling process.
Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 1: 154-62.
Tuckwell G (2002) Racial Identity, White Counsellors and
Therapists. Buckingham: Open University Press.
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COUNSELLING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY RESEARCH, 2003, VOL 3, NO 2
CULTURE AND THERAPY
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