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Stacee Reicherzer
May 07, 2012

Don’t Pretend You’re Culturally Competent If You’re Not

I missed blogging last week due to work I was doing in Costa Rica with a group of distance-based students. It was enormously rewarding in many ways, learning about both the local community as well the larger and varied texture of Hispanic culture representing different countries and regions of Latin America. It’s a real blessing to do the work that I do.

Of note, I was working with a student who was finding himself challenged by operating in systems in which people in the U.S., which unfortunately included sadly other counseling professionals, expected him to interact based on their expectations of his culture. As an example, he talked about how the counseling literature often refers to machismo as a Latino phenomenon. In his country, in fact, the women’s liberation movement has far surpassed many of our efforts in the U.S. As a reference, he found that people’s expectations, framed within an expectation that machismo would be a cultural norm for him, grossly misinterpreted his experience both individually and culturally.

I guess the part that felt most compelling for me, and that led me to my desire to use the power of the pen to give voice to this (“power of the pen” is a much more powerful reference than “power of the keyboard,” isn’t it?) is that we often try to reach people by applying the stereotypes and caricatures we’ve learned in books to their stories. Machismo is a good example. Whereas we can perhaps say that it has some cultural relevance in understanding some phenomenon some of the time, we’ve run with this concept and used it to explain away individual and community experiences within Latino culture.

We have a convenient description and learning stops there. We foreclose.

Always one to interrogate subjugation, I have to ask how many of us are simply trying to show how culturally competent we are by throwing out a few buzzwords we learned in a textbook written by someone doing the very same thing. My recommendation? Let our clients, students, research participants, and supervisees be the ones to tell us their stories about who they are and the culture(s) from which they come. We need to continue to interrogate the things we learn and ask ourselves how well experience is being represented.

Stacee Reicherzer is a counselor, a faculty member at Walden University, and a private consultant with special interests that include: transgender issues in counseling, lateral (within-group) marginalization, and sexual abuse survival.

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