Cultural Awareness in Counselling Practices

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Cultural Awareness in Counselling practices

I have chosen to focus this assignment on the Aboriginal and Vietnamese cultures. I hope to be working in an area which will have these two cultures as the dominant groups. The reason I have focussed on Vietnamese refugees instead of the culture of Vietnam as a whole is that the facility I hope to work in has refugees as its main client group. I will give an overview of my research into how best to work in a counselling relationship with people from Aboriginal and Vietnamese cultures, ensuring that I am as culturally sensitive and aware as possible.

Aboriginal culture and counselling:

Most research indicates that cultural barriers are the major reason why Aboriginal people are discouraged or dissuaded from using the mental health service. As practitioners, counsellors have often failed to identify, acknowledge and recognise the central role of Indigenous culture. Historically, there has been a long period of mistrust among the Aboriginal people and white Australians. Federal governments for much of the twentieth century developed paternalistic policies and practices that regarded the removal of children from Aboriginal families as essential for their welfare. Continuing statutory responsibilities for the protection of children have made many Aboriginal women fear approaching the Department of Family and Community Services for assistance, especially in domestic violence and child abuse issues. It is a fact that Aboriginal people have and continue to experience being discriminated against by white Australians. A large socio-economic gap exists between white Australians and Aboriginal people.

Despite there having been recorded experiences of both Aboriginal counsellors and non-Aboriginal counsellors attempting to keep Aboriginal clients engaged in the mental health service, it is evident that some Aboriginal clients may only turn up for one or two sessions but drop out of the system. The possible factors behind their lack of motivation to keep engaging in counselling service may lie in the means of assistance they are looking for.

The problems of engaging Aboriginal clients in mental health services exist mainly because mainstream services have not provided relevant responses to their crisis situation. Aboriginal clients would first seek practical assistance such as refugee accommodation and food, and they would also seek assistance from their families, extended families or their own communities. Aboriginal people have retained strong kinship ties and extended family commitments. As in traditional times, Aboriginal people feel a great obligation to their kinship ties. The extended family will always be first in helping if there is a crisis or even a slight problem. Only when they cannot get enough or suitable help from their extended family or their own community, will they turn to outside help or support.

There are particular issues to be aware of when working in a counselling role with Aboriginal clients. For example, it is not suitable to refer to a dead person by name and Aboriginal people view hallucination or delusion as spiritual experience not necessarily as symptoms of mental illness. Eye contact is considered offensive to Aboriginal people. Making eye contact (particularly with some one of the opposite sex) is shaming. Gender rules within Aboriginal cultures are important and must be respected whenever possible regarding intervention. Ideally, women staff should work with women and male staff should work with men. Women may feel embarrassed talking to male staff and men may feel shame if helped by female staff. In building a trust with Aboriginal people, most Aboriginal people would prefer to work with an Aboriginal worker regarding their problems. However situations may arise where clients may know or be related to an Aboriginal worker. They may feel shame or be restricted through kinship rules in discussing personal problems with them. Fear that the...
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