As an intercultural therapist, when I meet a potential client or when delivering training I am interested in the whole being of participants and also their cultural life experience in the world both past and present. Since qualifying in 2008 as a psychodynamic therapist, I have become far more integrative in my style and approach. With some clients a blank screen is useful, for others this can be very traumatising. Any good therapist should be able to provide Carl Rogers core conditions: empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard. With some clients I sometimes ask myself “is this enough”?
I agree with Jafar Kareem (2000) when he says that there is a cultural difference between European and non-European cultural norms ‘that are not just confined to certain concepts of distress, dysphoria, or mental illness’. In my work I want to know the differences of cultural groups in terms of how they lead their daily lives, notions of family, education, religion, obligations to family life and community. In the developed west we often think of the individual and when working with other cultures I am always mindful that we need to think of the individual as well as the wider communities they are a member of.
I remember my own experience of looking for a therapist when I was younger, obviously only yesterday, the therapist telling me that if my faith was causing me a problem then just give it up. I have learnt through my training how unethical this advice was. In my personal therapy and through my work with clients we are often striving to find connection with another, a sense of belonging to a community or tribe, somewhere where we can feel we belong.
The English dictionary defines community: ‘a group of people having cultural, religious or other characteristics in common’. I know I often think about the communities I belong to, sometimes those communities overlap, each of those communities offer me a shared experience and a sense of belonging. I am also mindful when I think of the communities that I choose not to belong to. Or those I have rejected as they did not offer me an environment I could feel safe in.
I often sense the foundations of a community are like when we were growing and developing in our mother’s womb. To feel that we are part of the community we need to give ourselves time to develop trust with others, it needs to be a safe place that provides us with security and it needs to have the right nutrients in order that we can fully develop to feel a part of the community. Like a plant we all need the right conditions to grow and function well in our wider community.
Wishing you all the best in whatever community you belong to or on your journey to finding a community in which you feel you can belong.
Exercise: Finding your Community
Take a moment with a piece of A4 paper, draw a large circle, place a photo of yourself in the centre of the circle, or if you are feeling artistic you can drawer a small picture of yourself.
Draw a small circle around the picture in the centre of the circle. Shut your eyes for a second, listen to your breathing & have a think to yourself what communities you belong to. Around the centre image of yourself, write the communities that are closest to your core values, you can even write down what those core values are if that feels easier.
Once you have done this, draw another circle around these. You should end up with three circles like the image below. Around the second circle, think about the significant factors in your life that you feel make you the person you are today, you can illustrate these however you feel comfortable.
Around the third circle, think about the wider community/ world that we all belong to. What does that wider community offer you? If you do not feel you belong to that wider community/ world, think about the values you would like to see in the wider community, or think about what reasonable responsibility you can take in the wider community to help form what you would like to see.
Now take a step back, look at the circles you have drawn, see how it feels to look at the circles from a different side, perhaps turn the paper upside down. We do not get permission often to turn our community upside down. How does that feel? Are there any words that feel uncomfortable, what is bubbling deep inside when you see these words? What is going on in your body? Can you hear yourself breathing? Is it fast or slow?
To finish this exercise, is there someone that you can trust to share what you have learnt? This can be a close friend, a counsellor or someone who offers you support in another capacity. If you do not have that person trust yourself, feel free to write down on another piece of paper the feelings left from the exercise.
You can download the exercise here, you need to download both documents