What is cultural competency? There has been much energy around the words “cultures”, “diversity”, “justice”, “inclusion”, and “equality” within recent weeks. How can cultural competency be helpful in energetic times like these? By increasing one’s cultural competency, it allows a person feel more in control over one’s external world. Cultural competency begins with us. During the last year and half, there has been an insurmountable amount of grief, confusion, and unrest and incorporating methods of cultural competency can support us in feeling less of those distressing emotions. In this final article for “The Journey Here”, I will talk about the meaning of cultural competency and how this is an important practice in the therapeutic room.
I hate to break it to you, but there is no one definition for “cultural competency”. Just in this article alone, there are 12 definitions! For the sake of brain space and time, I will focus on cultural competency in the therapeutic sector. According to Dr. Crawford, an associate professor at Boston University, competency can be defined as “the quality of being adequate or well qualified”. He then defines culture as the “totality of socially transmitted behavioral patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other works of human thought.” In the therapeutic world, he would conclude that cultural competency is the state of being well-qualified or adequate to provide services in the context of one’s totality of socially transmitted works of human thought. Cultural competency is a therapist’s ability to communicate respectively and empathetically with those who harness cultural identities and backgrounds that may differ from their own. Without cultural competency, therapists risk dividing or even unintentionally harming their patients. Cultural competency in the therapeutic room is vital in honoring and fostering a safe space in order to facilitate genuine curiosity and empathy for our patients.
At TheraCare Wellness, our psychologists and psychotherapists deeply value our patient’s personal journey in exploring one’s identity. We understand the importance of honoring our patients’ unique experiences and staying curious about their journey. I have appreciated the time and space to share my own cultural experiences, and I’m grateful that you have followed along. Thank you for staying curious throughout this series.
As I was sitting at a local SF eatery earlier this year in March, a man walked across the street and yelled, “F*** China!”. I was confused because I assumed SF being a very progressive and largely accepting city. I was angry because this person felt compelled to yell such negatively driven phrase for all to hear. I was sad that I witnessed this in the 21st century and during what I would have considered a peaceful dinner out. Racial discrimination is still happening, and I believe that it will continue to happen. However, I also believe that society has made progress in bridging the gap between the words of ‘others’ and ‘us’. There is still much more work to do, and I can hope that we continue to make progress towards unity. In this second article feature, I will briefly describe my family’s journey to the United States of America as well as my continual journey to balance between my two identities as an Asian American. I will also share some guidance in exploring one’s racial identity.
My family immigrated to America in 1990 in hopes to pursue the ‘American Dream’ apart from Vietnam. Their dreams, goals, and hopes were very similar to those of who seek out this dream. My parents wanted a more sustainable lifestyle and a brighter future for their growing family. My family often remind me of my mom’s health condition during their move here. She was 6 months pregnant with me!
Growing up, I teetered in finding the balance between social/familial norms in American culture and the expectations within my traditional Vietnamese home. There were times when I thought I was appropriately expressing my emotions while my parents had a hard time understanding them (Side Note: I wanted to share my emotions like I saw my friends doing with their parents. Mental health and emotions was a big learning curve for a family to grasp due to its absence in Vietnamese culture). I internalized the standard for beauty was having blonde/ light colored hair, light colored eyes, and light colored skin. I remember asking my father to go to the local drugstore and picking out the blonde hair color box. I begged him to lift my extremely dark hair to look like the hair color on the box. To my dismay, he gently reminded me that the color would not lift my natural hair color. I insisted that he tried, and he lovingly did. I was disappointed to find out that he was right when the box color barely lifted my hair color to an auburn. This is just one of the times I attempted to change my appearance. I tried to change the color of my eyes by wearing colored contacts. I felt deep embarrassment that I looked different than my community who were largely white/Caucasian. Not only did I differ in physical appearance, I was also different in my upbringing. When I had an opportunity to stay overnight for a friend’s birthday, I tried to convince my parents to let me stay. My parents strongly disagreed because it was not part of our cultural to sleep at someone else’s house when we had our own. So, I left the birthday party late at night when my dad picked me up. These are just a few examples of the pull I felt growing up identifying as bicultural. I often felt confused and had difficulties gauging what was considered right or wrong. I didn’t know how to reconcile my conflict between both cultural standards. I didn’t fully identify with one culture over the other. If I spoke my mind and shared my opinions that may have differed from my parents, it was considered as disrespecting the very people who raised me. If I didn’t do exactly what my peers did for fun and entertainment, my family was viewed as strict. If I enjoyed eating different body parts of an animal that normally wouldn’t be appetizing to my friends, I was judged hearing statements such as “gross”, “that’s nasty”, and “you guys eat THAT?”. I also felt embarrassed. I felt hurt. I felt ostracized. It wasn’t until I found a term that I strongly identify with through my exploration of my Vietnamese culture and trip to Vietnam in 2011. When I first heard of the word, “Asian- America”, my world opened up. I finally felt understood for being first generation born in America and growing up in a traditional Vietnamese home. I felt relief to know that both parts of me can and needs to coexist to feel fully me. Below are some guiding tips to explore one’s cultural identity:
1. Ask questions and lots of them!
• It is our human condition to have an innate desire to feel heard, seen, and understood. This allows space for us to feel loved and to have a sense of belonging. My recommendation to jumpstart your journey in finding your own cultural identity would be to ask lots of questions about your own history. If you have family members or others who might know your history, I found that asking questions has opened opportunities for me to hear stories of my family’s journey to America. By hearing these stories, it allowed me to have compassion and understanding of their assimilation process instead of making assumptions about their intentions.
2. Share your experiences with others.
Through my experience of discovering my cultural identity, I had the opportunity to share my experiences with other Asian Americans in a safe setting. I shared some of my painful experiences during meetings, and it was helpful to know that I wasn’t only in my experiences. It was relieving to hear others’ experience as they were very similar to mine. It felt normalizing.
3. If or when this is in your realm of possibilities, travel!
• My trip to Vietnam was life changing for me. I was able to gain more perspective to my parents’ way of life and have greater compassion for my family’s experience assimilating to America. I believe travel is a wonderful opportunity for us to have a different perspective of life and meaning.
Meditation can be a deeply spiritual practice for many. Whether we connect with a meditation or yoga class, through an app on our phones, or in therapy, meditation can invoke a spiritual experience. There are many forms of meditation, and meditation can look different based on which culture the practice stems from. It can also be uniquely personalized and tailed to the individual’s experience.
Guided Visualization can include anything that feels soothing, peaceful, or healing. Sometimes Guided Visualizations may include looking within the Self to uncover deeper truths or unresolved hurts that need healing. Guided Visualizations can also offer safety, a healthy form of escape, and hope for the future. A regular meditation practice can promote emotional regulation, mindfulness and balance, and a way to fulfill spiritual needs.
One form of Guided Visualization is a Safe Space Visualization. This includes visualizing in the mind’s eye a safe space; this can be some place the person has been before, a place they have always wanted to go, or some place that is completely imaginary but is created specifically for the purpose of providing safety to the person. It might be a space that relates to a spiritual experience one has had in their life. This place might include a protector, or even their higher power, that aid the person in feeling safe. A Safe Space Visualization may include utilizing all five senses to connect with the safety of the space. There may also be a form of ritual included that the person could practice in their safe space. This form of visualization can be powerful in healing trauma, soothing anxiety, and quieting negative self-talk.
Another form of Guided Visualization is a Manifestation Visualization. This includes identifying goals, hopes for the future, or desires that the person wants to invite into their life. The person can visualize in their mind’s eye that they have attained whatever it is they are trying to manifest. They can observe how their life might be different, how their needs might be met, how they would feel, and how they would interact with the people in their life and the world. An element of prayer can also be utilized in this type of meditation to practice faith and increase feelings of hope. This form of visualization can be powerful in gaining insight to the direction we want our lives to go in.
Guided Visualizations may also include Chakra work. The Chakras are spiritual centers within the body and include The Root Chakra (base of the spine), The Sacral Chakra (lower abdomen), The Solar Plexus Chakra (upper abdomen), The Heart Chakra (center of the chest), The Throat Chakra (throat), The Third Eye Chakra (the space between the eyes), and the Crown Chakra (top of the head). This may also include some Affirmation work to heal each Chakra (such as “I am grounded” for The Root Chakra or “I speak my truth” for The Throat Chakra or “I connect with my Higher Power” for The Crown Chakra). It is important that when we practice meditation, we honor the culture and heritage that we borrow this practice from. By learning about Chakras, we can practice this honoring. This form of visualization can be powerful in fostering connection between spiritual experience in the body as well as empowering body acceptance.
Guided Visualization allows us to not only get in touch with out intuition, but also with our Inner Child and the Inner Child’s natural predilection for creativity. Another form of Guided Visualization is to connect with the Inner Child. This might include interacting with the Inner Child in a safe space, as your current age self, assuming the role of the protector. It might include visualizing a painful childhood memory a rewriting the memory by imagining that your current age self, your protector, or your Higher Power intervene in some way and save the inner child from pain. This type of visualization can be powerful in healing trauma or unresolved pain from childhood.
If you are interested in experiencing a Guided Visualization Meditation focusing on healing the Inner Child, please join us on 2/25/21 at 7 PM for a meditation practice specifically targeted at this type of healing. We offer a 30-minute Guided Meditation Class every week on Thursday’s at 7 PM for $15. We would love to hold space for you while you practice this deeply healing experience.
– Alejandra Rose, LMFT