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Cultural Competence and Professional Training
Identify the training, workshop, seminar, or conference on diversity or cultural competence you selected for the Unit 9 study (name of association, title of training, dates of training, location, cost, et cetera).
Describe to your course room colleagues why this would be a worthwhile training to attend (learning opportunities, CEU credits available, networking opportunities, speakers, et cetera). Relate your comments to Sue (2010), Chapters 10–12.
Eleven Bob’s Story The Good Christian Son
In Bob’s story, we read about how he views himself in terms of his cultural identity and the shifts that occurred in his religious life as a result of family relationships, his move from the South to the Northeast, and his rethinking about his role in society and in his family. He also talks about what influenced his first career choice as a minister in an Evangelical Christian church and what accounted for the choice of his second career as a teacher. As you read, pay attention to his shifts in personality traits and in his understanding of his religious affiliation and other shifts in his cultural identity.
Bob’s Story
I must admit from the outset that I was somewhat surprised that someone would even be interested in my story. What I mean by that is, when it comes to culture, I have often thought that my life was somewhat void of it. I’m just another White guy with a job, two children, and a wife. I have nothing special to offer in the way of a story, right? Upon further reflection however, I have come to realize that one’s cultural heritage is not about being impressive or unique. Rather, each person’s history is more significant than he or she could ever imagine—at least to them and those with whom they come in contact. So what follows is a sort of snapshot of my life from a cultural and especially spiritual identity standpoint.
I was born in south central Kentucky in a town that had no hospital. My mother and father had to travel several miles to access the needed medical assistance for my birth. This was not seen as a hardship or even an inconvenience, just how things were. My mother was the daughter of a farmer and a homemaker. She was the youngest of 10 children, 7 daughters and 3 sons. My father was from another town in Kentucky. His father was a professional in the trucking industry, and his mother taught music. My father met my mother while he was a college student in music education. He was also the music director of the small rural Southern Baptist church where my mother was a member. My mother’s ethnic background was Scottish and Welsh. Her maiden name reflects that heritage. My father’s ethnic heritage was Dutch and English. I cannot say that these historical roots made any significant contributions to my cultural heritage. Both of my parents seemed to prefer the notion that they were “American,” and that was all that was necessary to them.
In the region of Kentucky I grew up in, people tended to be either Baptist or “unbelievers.” Being an unbeliever meant you did not believe the standard tenets of the Christian faith regarding Jesus, but, most important, being an unbeliever meant you were going to hell. This was not a happy proposition—eternal burning in a lake of fire, gnashing of teeth, and so on.
The Evangelical Christian faith was a significant part of both of my parents’ lives from early on. It would prove to be a powerful influence in mine as well. I learned as a child that one’s faith was an integral part of decision making. The question of what God’s will was in a given situation or relationship was a constant quest: “Does God want my father to take that job?” “Would God be pleased if I were to date this girl?” On and on it went. As a young person, I couldn’t help but wonder if God was really all that interested in such miniscule items in light of world hunger, war, and other such global challenges. However, the Bible speaks of God knowing the “number of hairs on your head.” In light of that, my older brother and I were taught that God was therefore interested in every detail of our lives. I had friends who literally prayed for good parking places! Interwoven into this Christian heritage was the fact that I was a White male Southerner. I have extended family members who still characterize the Civil War as “the war of Northern aggression.” There was significant pride in being born and raised south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I was taught that those to the north were not to be automatically trusted because of how they had treated us throughout history.
Exposure to persons of color was nearly nonexistent in my upbringing. My family was White. My community was White. My church family was White. In fact, my house was White! Appreciation for cultural diversity was not an intentional part of my upbringing. It came through the back door, so to speak. It came through the arts. I remember growing up in my White neighborhoods and being the only person who knew of Black musicians like Sammy Davis, Jr., Ray Charles, and Nat King Cole. I also knew of Latino musicians, such as Chita Rivera and Tito Puente. My parents listened to music from different parts of the world, and, as a result, I grew to appreciate sounds that most of my friends did not even know existed. I believe that this exposure made me aware of a world beyond the South. My parents’ appreciation for these artists taught me that beauty and talent are to be appreciated, regardless of its origin.
My father eventually left church music and began to teach music in the public schools. My parents listened to music and loved to watch old movies. I was exposed to various art forms at a very early age and began to gain an appreciation for music from around the world. Along with that, my parents had a commitment to treating all people with respect, regardless of skin color. This view was unique compared with the view of many of my friends. However, there was a merging of my ethnic and regional identity and my spiritual formation that is still difficult for me to distinguish at times. The world around me was seen through so many filters that it became difficult to determine the legitimacy of almost any perspective I adopted. Was I seeing things in a particular way because I was told to? Was I seeing things that way because I wanted to please those around me? These were questions that were nearly impossible for me to answer.
Interestingly, it was evident to me that while my older brother completely embraced his identity as a Southerner, he did not seem to embrace this quest for God’s will. He was a person of fierce independence—much to my parents’ chagrin. He engaged in all the significant no-no’s that we were taught to avoid—smoking, drinking, dancing, card playing, and enjoying the opposite sex. I was not nearly as interested in what I was missing by not doing those things as I was concerned about the pain that my parents were experiencing as they began to conceptualize themselves as failures as parents. My mother and father could not understand why my brother, who is 4 years my senior, would not respond to their directions or change his behaviors in light of their sometimes harsh punishments. In fact, their hearts were breaking. I knew I could not do the same thing to them.
Thus, I decided to become the ideal Southern Christian son. I did well in school, attended church regularly, was involved in extracurricular activities such as sports and drama club, and held down a part-time job. I graduated as president of my senior class and was motivated to attend a southern state university my father and grandfather had attended.
During college I began to seriously consider my career options. What did God want me to do with my life? What would please my parents? Later I came to learn that these questions would be almost identical in my conceptualization of them. Ministry seemed like the most obvious choice for a career. God would be happy. My parents would be happy. My brother’s deficits would be compensated for. My happiness was not a concern aside from how well I was meeting the expectations of others. As I look back at this time in my life, I can see where I was being driven by a culture of pleasing God and family, everyone but oneself. This self-deprivation was seen as humble and servantlike.
In point, it became clear to me upon reflection that many of my White Christian peers in the South experienced the same lack of personal agency and integrity. I might have disliked a person or disagreed with him or her, but that person would likely never know it. I was so consumed with being “nice” that how I really felt or what I really thought were altogether lost and unimportant. This inevitably led to forming inauthentic relationships. I did not feel the freedom or have the courage to interact with another honestly if there was a chance that the person might not like me or might not approve of me. Thus, my relationships could not be built honestly. It wasn’t until later that I began to realize that it was only when my identity was based on authentic thoughts and feelings that relationships could be meaningful and fulfilling. My mother’s death was a significant factor in this shift of character.
It was too risky to not be seen as the good Christian son, so I never thought much about what I wanted. What if what I wanted wasn’t Christian or, better yet, wasn’t perceived as Christian to those to whom I relinquished my locus of control?
I majored in religious studies in college and after graduation went on to seminary where I received a Master of Divinity. I knew during my studies that the field was not for me, but what could I do? Could I turn my back on God, my family? The time of study, while interesting, became uninteresting to me. I began to feel like I was the wrong person in the wrong place because the priorities of the people around me were not similar to my own. Although I might agree that the issues were important, they were not issues for which I wanted to dedicate my life, personally and professionally. However, because of my continuing fears of what others might think, I completed the degree and worked in congregational ministry for 12 years. I was never happy, but I was always faithful, or so I thought. The most pivotal moment that served as an important challenge to my culture of pleasing others and Christian fundamentalism came at the untimely death of my mother. She was 60 years old and had suffered a major heart attack. I was serving at a church 90 miles from home in a big city in Kentucky when I was called about her hospitalization. During the drive, I spent substantial time praying and asking God to heal my mother. I was confident that one like me who had sacrificed so much for God and family could expect that God would answer my prayers. After all, hadn’t I completed a degree that I disliked and been involved in work that I hated for some time now? It was all for Him. He owed me!
My mother was not healed, and her death shook me. It shook my understanding of faith as well as family. I had never realized how matriarchal my family was. My mother led the family, and she often did so through guilt and manipulation. Who would lead us now? Who would dole out affirmation in accordance to our good behavior? Where would our sense of self-esteem come from now?
I became angry. I was angry at God, and I was angry at the church. My ministry at the church began to dissolve, and my wife and I moved to New York City for her to pursue graduate education. I worked for a while in computer and book sales. I was lost.
My name was given to a church in the New York area, and I took the position of minister because I believed I didn’t know how to do anything else. Besides, shouldn’t that put me back in God’s good graces? Even though the church was made up of White, Christian, transplanted Southerners, things were not what I hoped they would be. The parishioners at this church were people like those with whom I had grown up. They were in the New York area because of career or educational opportunities, but they had not allowed themselves to become integrated into the culturally diverse surroundings that New York offered. They were seeking others like themselves with whom to worship. Within a year of starting at the church, I was unhappy again and found myself looking at classified ads. My wife encouraged me to seek counseling during the time, and I did so. I was forced to ask questions that challenged my understanding of God and how people make decisions. I was forced to answer a question that I had never allowed myself to ask before: “What did I want?” In my cultural understanding of spiritual self, this question had never been an important one. What I wanted was totally unimportant. In fact, it was something to be ignored or changed to please God and family.
I came to learn that what I loved about ministry was service, but what I struggled with was church hierarchy and spiritual oppression. The gifts that I had been given—effective communication and the desire to help others—transitioned well into teaching. I was able to do something meaningful, but I was free within it. This was new territory for me. I must admit that I still struggle with pleasing others, but I have come to learn that such influences are much more about my own history than with a God who is looking for ways to judge me.
Being a person of faith still serves me. Although the negative aspects motivated significant pain and dissonance, positive aspects of my faith, such as hope, justice, and service to others, have become quite valuable to me. These components of my faith help foster appreciation for what I have and a sense of mission to help those in need. Although this service is no longer motivated by my desire to prove my worth or please others, it is still a vitally important piece of who I am.
Further, my Southern heritage is also valuable. I was raised with very few luxuries and had to work very hard on family farms. The work ethic I was given has challenged me to try to earn the things I receive and not feel entitled to them.
Also, the commitment to family that I was taught, albeit somewhat unhealthy at times, has been tempered through the years with clear boundaries and emotional separation, which enables me to be a more effective husband and father. I have taken my family down home to Kentucky on several occasions and have shown my sons the little house where I was raised in a small town in Kentucky. They have seen the Confederate flags, and I have been able to teach them about the dangers of hatred and prejudice. They have seen my mother’s grave, and I have been able to teach them about love and commitment to family.
I believe that I am nowhere near the same person culturally as a resident in New York City that I was as a child in a small town in Kentucky. Yet my skin color, family of origin, and Scottish and Welsh bloodlines remain the same.
Content Themes
There are two important content themes in Bob’s story as he describes his religious identity development. The first theme is the socialization to religion that he experienced not only from his family, but also from his community and the region in which he was raised. The second theme is his shift from a fundamentalist Evangelical perspective to his own sense of religion and spirituality.
Religious Socialization
For Bob, socialization for religion existed in the family and was reinforced through his community and the regional area where he was born. His family was of an Evangelical Christian faith, and religion was taught to the children as a way of life. Every part of his life was based in or grounded on Biblical teachings and following God. Although Bob felt uncertainty about the importance of God’s direction in all parts of his life, he nonetheless followed family socialization and attempted to include God and His will as part of his life. The socialization messages on religion were so strong that Bob seems to have felt that there was little personal choice. In fact, he was distressed that his older brother seemed not to follow the norms set by the family and engaged in behaviors that upset his parents. To the degree that he took responsibility for sparing the suffering of his parents, he became “the good Christian son.”
Bob also makes a strong connection between his geographic origin, the rural South, the Evangelical Christian beliefs of his relatives and peers, his work ethic, and his ethnicity. His religious socialization was enforced by his entire ecosystem. For him it is still difficult to distinguish between his ethnicity, his regional identity, and his religious formation. This is understandable because there is a relationship between geographic origin, ethnic background, and religious affiliation. Bob was raised in the Bible Belt, where religious affiliation, particularly Protestant and Evangelical faiths, is more important than other cultural or personality characteristics. The result of the internalization of the socialization led Bob to choose a career as a minister to please his parents and to become closer to God. What is most interesting is that Bob did not consider himself to have much choice in career selection because making choices that were pleasing to his family and God were a lifestyle for him and consistent with the rest of his ecosystem. Even though he knew during his studies that the field of ministry was not for him, he could not turn his back on God and his family.
Shift in Religious Identity
The evolving nature of Bob’s cultural identity is seen most clearly in the shift in his relationships with God and the church and his change of career from minister to teacher. As Bob traces the beginning of the shifts that occurred in his life, he tells us of the three factors that led to the change: the untimely death of his mother and his subsequent anger at God, his lack of personal fulfillment in working in formal ministry, and his move from the rural South to the urban Northeast. His was a process that culminates in slow but progressive changes in the way he views his religious identity. He talks about shifting from a Christian fundamentalist perspective, which included having a personalized view of his relationship with God and a more literal interpretation of the scriptures, to a less fundamentalist view of his relationship with God.
Bob interprets his plunge into Christian fundamentalism and eventually the ministry as a career choice, as having stemmed from the behaviors of his brother, and as a way to please his brokenhearted parents. Although he was unhappy when entering the seminary, he describes how the sense of fulfillment or happiness seemed irrelevant. This changed, however, when his mother suddenly became ill. Because of his level of faith, Bob believed that his prayers for her healing would be answered. He also believed this because he had made sacrifices in his own happiness to serve God. Bob was confused and overwhelmed by his mother’s death and felt disappointed by God. This was an extremely significant occurrence for him and in his words the “most pivotal moment,” the one that seemed to initiate his change in religious beliefs. The experience of being lost that Bob described that extended to his career as a minister eventually led to his growing awareness and his acceptance of the lack of fulfillment that he felt in ministry. He moved with his wife and was able to obtain another position in the church. But it was shortly after accepting the position that he realized that ministry was not for him. His feelings led him to counseling. Such shifts from religious fundamentalism to more liberal views of religious doctrine are not uncommon as individuals begin to question their adherence to the beliefs of the family of origin. After his mother died, Bob may have felt more free to explore the meaning of his religious beliefs and less constrained to continue with fundamentalist religious beliefs solely to please his parents, which he was previously compelled to do because of his brother’s behavior. With hindsight, he now experiences his previous way of life as inauthentic, lacking in personal agency or integrity.
Internal Migration and Religious Identity
Bob’s discomfort and dissonance experienced in New York City amid what he describes as the segregated community of Southern Whites transplanted to the Northeast may have influenced his shift just as much as the death of his mother or his own search for authenticity. Internal migrations, such as the one experienced by Bob, from the more conservative rural South to the more liberal urban Northeast call for acculturation processes that may be just as relevant as the ones that take place when people move from one country to another. The sudden exposure to dramatically different cultural milieus within the same country may have an effect on an individual’s cultural identity and religious beliefs or practices. It seems fair to wonder to what extent Bob’s religious ideas would have shifted had he stayed in the South, in the same community, and around the same peers. At the same time, one wonders whether the seeds of change were already present in Bob, which may have made it possible for him to move in the first place, because those who move or emigrate are already open to the idea of dramatically changing their lives (Grinberg & Grinberg, 2000).
Clinical Applications
This section comprises assessment questions related to the theme of shifts in religious beliefs and in career choice.
Conversations about religion are not always easy to conduct, particularly between therapists and clients. There is a well-documented historical relationship between secularism and psychotherapy that persists in the taboo of discussing a person’s faith in depth in the culture in general and in the therapeutic situation in particular. Many therapists, especially if they are unfamiliar with the religious background of the client, may not consider themselves qualified enough to have these conversations. It is important, however, to assess the degree to which a person’s religious beliefs, religious affiliations, and religious allegiance may shift according to a person’s experience, place of residence, family events, and so on. If someone like Bob were to seek help at the time of the transition, how the therapist handles these issues is of crucial importance for the well-being of the client. It is also important to assess the career choices of individuals and how they arrived at those decisions because many people who are unhappy with their career choice may have a difficult time exploring family connections to their choice or may struggle while figuring out their future if it involves issues of self-determination or authenticity. Many counselors not specifically trained in dealing with the career issues of their clients may fail to address them. Following are some of the relevant questions therapists should ask.
Shifts in Religious Beliefs

Were there any events in your life that may have influenced your religious commitment, fervor, or affiliation?
Has your religious observance, commitment, fervor, or affiliation changed in the course of your life?
Did your parents have the same or different religious affiliations, observance, or commitment?
How has your siblings’ level of religious observance, affiliation, or commitment influenced your relationship with them?

Shifts in Career Choice

How did you make your initial career choice?
How satisfied are you with your career choice?
Are you aware of familial pressures or traditions that may have influenced your career choice?
If you are switching careers, is it going to be viewed negatively or positively in your family?

Techniques and Interventions
There were critical events in Bob’s life that took him on a different path than the one he was on originally. As Bob describes, his strong religious identity was initially shaped by events in his family, his parents’ religious affiliation, the behavior of his sibling, his geographic origin, and his ethnic affiliation as a White, religiously conservative Southerner. At a certain point in his life, he determined that he needed to make a change of course, which took him onto a completely different track. Such dramatic switches can be difficult for the therapist to follow, support, and elicit, particularly if the therapist is of a different religious orientation than that of the client or if the therapist thinks that he or she has not been trained in dealing with career-related issues (Worthington, Hook, Davis, & McDaniel, 2011). Therapists often treat career, religious, or ethnicity issues as if they were special issues (Giordano & McGoldrick, 1996) rather than basic to understanding personal identity. No matter what stage of the life cycle individuals are going through, helping them sort through important career or religious paths may be one of the most vital benefits of therapy for those experiencing dramatic shifts in their life paths. Often, early career decisions and early religious affiliations are closely tied to identifications with family of origin, as in Bob’s case. Helping clients tease out these early identifications with family of origin from the personal goals and aspirations may make a difference in clients’ lives and help them go from living to please or appease others to a more personally fulfilling career or religious life. Therapists also need to help clients as they shift and change in their religious identity. Clients often experience loss or trauma that causes a shift in their thinking and religious beliefs. This can create a void that is difficult to fill. Focusing on the spiritual needs of clients (Fukuyama & Sevig, 1999) can be a way to help them begin to sift and tease out religious teachings and beliefs from their socialization experiences.
One useful technique to help clients sort out the different aspects of themselves is called Voice Dialogue and involves identifying parts of the self, naming them, and encouraging dialogues between the self and the part or between the different parts (Zweifel, 2002). Once a part is identified, the self can have a dialogue with the part and ask, “What is your job in my life? What do you want? What do you need? Do you get enough airtime? If you had more airtime, what would you do? What do you know about the other parts?” Eliciting an internal search-and-find mission can lead to integration and more effective decision making (Zweifel, 2002), particularly when it comes to choosing a path that involves lifelong commitments, such as a career or the fulfillment of spiritual needs. The Internal Family Systems model (Schwartz, 1995) is another model that recognizes the multiple selves of the personality. Allowing the parts to surface is helpful for self-exploration, and that, in turn, can help solve dilemmas.
Clinicians sometimes hold strong opinions about issues that appear to be foreign, strange, or too “other.” This can get in the way of sound clinical practice. If the therapist is not able to dissolve the negative countertransference, it might be important to refer the client to someone else. In general terms, it is not possible to conduct meaningful therapeutic work when the counselor is disgusted with, fearful of, or too critical of the choices of their clients.
Negative Reactions to Strict Religious Practices
Clinicians often have strong reactions to individuals raised and socialized with strict evangelical religious traditions. For many, the notion of restricting behaviors, such as dancing, playing cards, wearing makeup, or watching television, seems odd and unusual. However, this is often the case for clients, and clinicians need to be respectful of clients’ beliefs. Attempting to teach clients that these beliefs are wrong or too restrictive can be damaging to the therapeutic relationship, particularly if these issues are not related to the presenting problem.
Overreaction to Clients Who Are Excommunicated
The other reaction that counselors often have is to overreact to the hurt that clients feel from their religious background. One of us, Anita, had a client who was excommunicated from her church and family and divorced from her husband because she took her child to the movies, a behavior that was strictly prohibited by the church. When students hear the story, they often become outraged at the church’s and the family’s response. Although this anger may be a natural reaction to the situation, expressing the anger and encouraging anger in the client may be inappropriate. The client in this case needed to grieve and mourn the loss of her only support system and to reconcile her relationship with God and her religious identity. Although expressing anger was certainly a part of her grieving process, the clinician who focuses too much on this feeling disrupts and hinders the therapeutic process.
Applying Voice Dialogue (Zweifel, 2002) or multiple self-work (Schwartz, 1995) to the countertransference reaction might be a useful way for clinicians to observe the parts of themselves that are rejecting, disgusted by, or angry with the client’s decisions, the client’s family, or the client’s church. Allowing a dialogue between the self of the therapist and the disgusted, rejecting, or angry part of the therapist may bring some interesting information to the surface that may dissolve the disgust or anger of the clinician, increase her or his empathy, and allow for some creative ideas for helping the clients move forward.
Toolbox Activity—Bob