I am currently reading a book on counseling theories; although I have taken the class, I feel I need a refresher once in a while just to keep myself in check. As I was reading, it became evident that I could not subscribe to one theory only and that the choice of using certain theories over the others is heavily influenced by who I am, my style, personality, personal experiences with therapy, etc. My interest in Gestalt therapy was apparent immediately after reading the existential chapter in my theories book a few years ago. Although I knew I could never use Gestalt only in my therapy, I left my options open and also discovered an interest in Jung and Adler.
Now, you may remember –from my previous articles- that I identify as an immigrant to the United States. I get the feeling that my choice of theories has much to do with my cultural background. The reason why I say and think this is because after carefully weeding through the massive number of theoretical approaches out there, I took a closer look at myself: how I am, the way I behave, my beliefs, and just attitude towards life. I sometimes think “I am such a Romanian, my readers can probably feel my harsh tone and thick Romanian accent in my writing”-my accent, many times confused with Russian, my tone of voice is serious, I don’t smile when I talk to people unless someone says something funny, and I carry myself in a professional manner most of the time, even when I go to the grocery store.
Given the confrontational nature of Gestalt techniques, it’s not hard to see why it chose me: it fits me, my style, like a hand-glove. I feel that many times we choose to live in a dream-world and as a therapist it is my duty to bring the present into awareness, help a client get back to the “here and now”, rather than witnessing a stagnation in the past, or a fixation with the future. Also, a deep interest in dream interpretation and its relevance to one’s awareness of the unconscious can be traced back to the way we, Romanians are brought up…storytelling and dreams are fundamental aspects of our childhood. How could I dismiss such important factors when many of my beliefs are drawn from these very areas?
As counselors, it is important to know ourselves and stay in touch with our true nature and our cultural background. The choices we make reflect upon us and can say much to the ones around about who we are and where we come from. A counselor’s cultural identity is part of this equation –in fact a rather large part- therefore it shouldn’t be overlooked. When working with clients, we should be aware of the fact that many times, our biases come from our own cultural background (and mistakenly direct our attention strictly on the client rather than just looking at ourselves, even worse pathologizing in our client’s disadvantage), so recognizing it can improve our chances of getting closer to our clients, and overcoming complications in the therapeutic relationship –not to mention addressing some resistance issues on our part.
Diana C. Pitaru is a counselor-in-training, and a student at Walden University. Her theoretical interests are in Gestalt, Art, and Narrative therapy while focusing on multicultural issues and eating disorders.